She had wound up with a laugh of enjoyment over her embroidery of her idea — an enjoyment that her face communicated to Strether, who almost wished none the less at this moment that she would let poor Waymarsh alone. HE knew more or less what she meant; but the fact wasn't a reason for her not pretending to Waymarsh that he didn't. It was craven of him perhaps, but he would, for the high amenity of the occasion, have liked Waymarsh not to be so sure of his wit. Her recognition of it gave him away and, before she had done with him or with that article, would give him worse. What was he, all the same, to do? He looked across the box at his friend; their eyes met; something queer and stiff, something that bore on the situation but that it was better not to touch, passed in silence between them. Well, the effect of it for Strether was an abrupt reaction, a final impatience of his own tendency to temporise. Where was that taking him anyway? It was one of the quiet instants that sometimes settle more matters than the outbreaks dear to the historic muse. The only qualification of the quietness was the synthetic "Oh hang it!" into which Strether's share of the silence soundlessly flowered. It represented, this mute ejaculation, a final impulse to burn his ships. These ships, to the historic muse, may seem of course mere cockles, but when he presently spoke to Miss Gostrey it was with the sense at least of applying the torch. "Is it then a conspiracy?"
"Between the two young men? Well, I don't pretend to be a seer or a prophetess," she presently replied; "but if I'm simply a woman of sense he's working for you to-night. I don't quite know how — but it's in my bones." And she looked at him at last as if, little material as she yet gave him, he'd really understand. "For an opinion THAT'S my opinion. He makes you out too well not to."
"Not to work for me to-night?" Strether wondered. "Then I hope he isn't doing anything very bad."
"They've got you," she portentously answered.
"Do you mean he IS — ?"
"They've got you," she merely repeated. Though she disclaimed the prophetic vision she was at this instant the nearest approach he had ever met to the priestess of the oracle. The light was in her eyes. "You must face it now."
He faced it on the spot. "They HAD arranged — ?"
"Every move in the game. And they've been arranging ever since. He has had every day his little telegram from Cannes."
It made Strether open his eyes. "Do you KNOW that?"
"I do better. I see it. This was, before I met him, what I wondered whether I WAS to see. But as soon as I met him I ceased to wonder, and our second meeting made me sure. I took him all in. He was acting — he is still — on his daily instructions."
"So that Chad has done the whole thing?"
"Oh no — not the whole. WE'VE done some of it. You and I and 'Europe.'"
"Europe — yes," Strether mused.
"Dear old Paris," she seemed to explain. But there was more, and, with one of her turns, she risked it. "And dear old Waymarsh. You," she declared, "have been a good bit of it."
He sat massive. "A good bit of what, ma'am?"
"Why of the wonderful consciousness of our friend here. You've helped too in your way to float him to where he is."
"And where the devil IS he?"
She passed it on with a laugh. "Where the devil, Strether, are you?"
He spoke as if he had just been thinking it out. "Well, quite already in Chad's hands, it would seem." And he had had with this another thought. "Will that be — just all through Bilham — the way he's going to work it? It would be, for him, you know, an idea. And Chad with an idea — !"
"Well?" she asked while the image held him.
"Well, is Chad — what shall I say? — monstrous?"
"Oh as much as you like! But the idea you speak of," she said, "won't have been his best. He'll have a better. It won't be all through little Bilham that he'll work it."
This already sounded almost like a hope destroyed. "Through whom else then?"
"That's what we shall see!" But quite as she spoke she turned, and Strether turned; for the door of the box had opened, with the click of the ouvreuse, from the lobby, and a gentleman, a stranger to them, had come in with a quick step. The door closed behind him, and, though their faces showed him his mistake, his air, which was striking, was all good confidence. The curtain had just again arisen, and, in the hush of the general attention, Strether's challenge was tacit, as was also the greeting, with a quickly deprecating hand and smile, of the unannounced visitor. He discreetly signed that he would wait, would stand, and these things and his face, one look from which she had caught, had suddenly worked for Miss Gostrey. She fitted to them all an answer for Strether's last question. The solid stranger was simply the answer — as she now, turning to her friend, indicated. She brought it straight out for him — it presented the intruder. "Why, through this gentleman!" The gentleman indeed, at the same time, though sounding for Strether a very short name, did practically as much to explain. Strether gasped the name back — then only had he seen Miss Gostrey had said more than she knew. They were in presence of Chad himself.