Strether had in his hand his telegram, which he had kept there after attaching his watch, and he now offered it to Chad, who, however, with an odd movement, declined to take it. "Thanks, I'd rather not. Your correspondence with Mother's your own affair. I'm only WITH you both on it, whatever it is." Strether, at this, while their eyes met, slowly folded the missive and put it in his pocket; after which, before he had spoken again, Chad broke fresh ground. "Has Miss Gostrey come back?"
But when Strether presently spoke it wasn't in answer. "It's not, I gather, that your mother's physically ill; her health, on the whole, this spring, seems to have been better than usual. But she's worried, she's anxious, and it appears to have risen within the last few days to a climax. We've tired out, between us, her patience."
"Oh it isn't YOU!" Chad generously protested.
"I beg your pardon — it IS me." Strether was mild and melancholy, but firm. He saw it far away and over his companion's head. "It's very particularly me."
"Well then all the more reason. Marchons, marchons!" said the young man gaily. His host, however, at this, but continued to stand agaze; and he had the next thing repeated his question of a moment before. "Has Miss Gostrey come back?"
"Yes, two days ago."
"Then you've seen her?"
"No — I'm to see her to-day." But Strether wouldn't linger now on Miss Gostrey. "Your mother sends me an ultimatum. If I can't bring you I'm to leave you; I'm to come at any rate myself."
"Ah but you CAN bring me now," Chad, from his sofa, reassuringly replied.
Strether had a pause. "I don't think I understand you. Why was it that, more than a month ago, you put it to me so urgently to let Madame de Vionnet speak for you?"
"'Why'?" Chad considered, but he had it at his fingers' ends. "Why but because I knew how well she'd do it? It was the way to keep you quiet and, to that extent, do you good. Besides," he happily and comfortably explained, "I wanted you really to know her and to get the impression of her — and you see the good that HAS done you."
"Well," said Strether, "the way she has spoken for you, all the same — so far as I've given her a chance — has only made me feel how much she wishes to keep you. If you make nothing of that I don't see why you wanted me to listen to her."
"Why my dear man," Chad exclaimed, "I make everything of it! How can you doubt — ?"
"I doubt only because you come to me this morning with your signal to start."
Chad stared, then gave a laugh. "And isn't my signal to start just what you've been waiting for?"
Strether debated; he took another turn. "This last month I've been awaiting, I think, more than anything else, the message I have here."
"You mean you've been afraid of it?"
"Well, I was doing my business in my own way. And I suppose your present announcement," Strether went on, "isn't merely the result of your sense of what I've expected. Otherwise you wouldn't have put me in relation — " But he paused, pulling up.
At this Chad rose. "Ah HER wanting me not to go has nothing to do with it! It's only because she's afraid — afraid of the way that, over there, I may get caught. But her fear's groundless."
He had met again his companion's sufficiently searching look. "Are you tired of her?"
Chad gave him in reply to this, with a movement of the head, the strangest slow smile he had ever had from him. "Never."
It had immediately, on Strether's imagination, so deep and soft an effect that our friend could only for the moment keep it before him. "Never?"
"Never," Chad obligingly and serenely repeated.
It made his companion take several more steps. "Then YOU'RE not afraid."
"Afraid to go?"
Strether pulled up again. "Afraid to stay."
The young man looked brightly amazed. "You want me now to 'stay'?"
"If I don't immediately sail the Pococks will immediately come out. That's what I mean," said Strether, "by your mother's ultimatum ."
Chad showed a still livelier, but not an alarmed interest. "She has turned on Sarah and Jim?"
Strether joined him for an instant in the vision. "Oh and you may be sure Mamie. THAT'S whom she's turning on."
This also Chad saw — he laughed out. "Mamie — to corrupt me?"
"Ah," said Strether, "she's very charming."
"So you've already more than once told me. I should like to see her."
Something happy and easy, something above all unconscious, in the way he said this, brought home again to his companion the facility of his attitude and the enviability of his state. "See her then by all means. And consider too," Strether went on, "that you really give your sister a lift in letting her come to you. You give her a couple of months of Paris, which she hasn't seen, if I'm not mistaken, since just after she was married, and which I'm sure she wants but the pretext to visit."