It was always the case for him in these counsels that each of his remarks, as it came, seemed to drop into a deeper well. He had at all events to wait a moment to hear the slight splash of this one. "I don't see why if Mr. Newsome wants to marry the young lady he hasn't already done it or hasn't been prepared with some statement to you about it. And if he both wants to marry her and is on good terms with them why isn't he 'free'?"
Strether, responsively, wondered indeed. "Perhaps the girl herself doesn't like him."
"Then why does he speak of them to you as he does?"
Strether's mind echoed the question, but also again met it. "Perhaps it's with the mother he's on good terms."
"As against the daughter?"
"Well, if she's trying to persuade the daughter to consent to him, what could make him like the mother more? Only," Strether threw out, "why shouldn't the daughter consent to him?"
"Oh," said Miss Gostrey, "mayn't it be that every one else isn't quite so struck with him as you?"
"Doesn't regard him you mean as such an 'eligible' young man? Is that what I've come to?" he audibly and rather gravely sought to know. "However," he went on, "his marriage is what his mother most desires — that is if it will help. And oughtn't ANY marriage to help? They must want him" — he had already worked it out — "to be better off. Almost any girl he may marry will have a direct interest in his taking up his chances. It won't suit HER at least that he shall miss them."
Miss Gostrey cast about. "No — you reason well! But of course on the other hand there's always dear old Woollett itself."
"Oh yes," he mused — "there's always dear old Woollett itself."
She waited a moment. "The young lady mayn't find herself able to swallow THAT quantity. She may think it's paying too much; she may weigh one thing against another."
Strether, ever restless in such debates, took a vague turn "It will all depend on who she is. That of course — the proved ability to deal with dear old Woollett, since I'm sure she does deal with it — is what makes so strongly for Mamie."
He stopped short, at her tone, before her; then, though seeing that it represented not vagueness, but a momentary embarrassed fulness, let his exclamation come. "You surely haven't forgotten about Mamie!"
"No, I haven't forgotten about Mamie," she smiled. "There's no doubt whatever that there's ever so much to be said for her. Mamie's MY girl!" she roundly declared.
Strether resumed for a minute his walk. "She's really perfectly lovely, you know. Far prettier than any girl I've seen over here yet."
"That's precisely on what I perhaps most build." And she mused a moment in her friend's way. "I should positively like to take her in hand!"
He humoured the fancy, though indeed finally to deprecate it. "Oh but don't, in your zeal, go over to her! I need you most and can't, you know, be left."
But she kept it up. "I wish they'd send her out to me!"
"If they knew you," he returned, "they would."
"Ah but don't they? — after all that, as I've understood you you've told them about me?"
He had paused before her again, but he continued his course "They WILL — before, as you say, I've done." Then he came out with the point he had wished after all most to make. "It seems to give away now his game. This is what he has been doing — keeping me along for. He has been waiting for them."
Miss Gostrey drew in her lips. "You see a good deal in it!"
"I doubt if I see as much as you. Do you pretend," he went on, "that you don't see — ?"
"Well, what?" — she pressed him as he paused.
"Why that there must be a lot between them — and that it has been going on from the first; even from before I came."
She took a minute to answer. "Who are they then — if it's so grave?"
"It mayn't be grave — it may be gay. But at any rate it's marked. Only I don't know," Strether had to confess, "anything about them. Their name for instance was a thing that, after little Bilham's information, I found it a kind of refreshment not to feel obliged to follow up."
"Oh," she returned, "if you think you've got off — !"
Her laugh produced in him a momentary gloom. "I don't think I've got off. I only think I'm breathing for about five minutes. I dare say I SHALL have, at the best, still to get on." A look, over it all, passed between them, and the next minute he had come back to good humour. "I don't meanwhile take the smallest interest in their name."
"Nor in their nationality? — American, French, English, Polish?"
"I don't care the least little 'hang,'" he smiled, "for their nationality. It would be nice if they're Polish!" he almost immediately added.
"Very nice indeed." The transition kept up her spirits. "So you see you do care."
He did this contention a modified justice. "I think I should if they WERE Polish. Yes," he thought — "there might be joy in THAT."