Chad listened, but with all his own knowledge of the world. "She has had it, the pretext, these several years, yet she has never taken it."
"Do you mean YOU?" Strether after an instant enquired.
"Certainly — the lone exile. And whom do you mean?" said Chad.
"Oh I mean ME. I'm her pretext. That is — for it comes to the same thing — I'm your mother's."
"Then why," Chad asked, "doesn't Mother come herself?"
His friend gave him a long look. "Should you like her to?" And as he for the moment said nothing: "It's perfectly open to you to cable for her."
Chad continued to think. "Will she come if I do?"
"Quite possibly. But try, and you'll see."
"Why don't YOU try?" Chad after a moment asked.
"Because I don't want to."
Chad thought. "Don't desire her presence here?"
Strether faced the question, and his answer was the more emphatic. "Don't put it off, my dear boy, on ME!"
"Well — I see what you mean. I'm sure you'd behave beautifully but you DON'T want to see her. So I won't play you that trick.'
"Ah," Strether declared, "I shouldn't call it a trick. You've a perfect right, and it would be perfectly straight of you." Then he added in a different tone: "You'd have moreover, in the person of Madame de Vionnet, a very interesting relation prepared for her."
Their eyes, on this proposition, continued to meet, but Chad's pleasant and bold, never flinched for a moment. He got up at last and he said something with which Strether was struck. "She wouldn't understand her, but that makes no difference. Madame de Vionnet would like to see her. She'd like to be charming to her. She believes she could work it."
Strether thought a moment, affected by this, but finally turning away. "She couldn't!"
"You're quite sure?" Chad asked.
"Well, risk it if you like!"
Strether, who uttered this with serenity, had urged a plea for their now getting into the air; but the young man still waited. "Have you sent your answer?"
"No, I've done nothing yet."
"Were you waiting to see me?"
"No, not that."
"Only waiting" — and Chad, with this, had a smile for him — "to see Miss Gostrey?"
"No — not even Miss Gostrey. I wasn't waiting to see any one. I had only waited, till now, to make up my mind — in complete solitude; and, since I of course absolutely owe you the information, was on the point of going out with it quite made up. Have therefore a little more patience with me. Remember," Strether went on, "that that's what you originally asked ME to have. I've had it, you see, and you see what has come of it. Stay on with me."
Chad looked grave. "How much longer?"
"Well, till I make you a sign. I can't myself, you know, at the best, or at the worst, stay for ever. Let the Pococks come," Strether repeated.
"Because it gains you time?"
"Yes — it gains me time."
Chad, as if it still puzzled him, waited a minute. "You don't want to get back to Mother?"
"Not just yet. I'm not ready."
"You feel," Chad asked in a tone of his own, "the charm of life over here?"
"Immensely." Strether faced it. "You've helped me so to feel it that that surely needn't surprise you."
"No, it doesn't surprise me, and I'm delighted. But what, my dear man," Chad went on with conscious queerness, "does it all lead to for you?"
The change of position and of relation, for each, was so oddly betrayed in the question that Chad laughed out as soon as he had uttered it — which made Strether also laugh. "Well, to my having a certitude that has been tested — that has passed through the fire. But oh," he couldn't help breaking out, "if within my first month here you had been willing to move with me — !"
"Well?" said Chad, while he broke down as for weight of thought.
"Well, we should have been over there by now."
"Ah but you wouldn't have had your fun!"
"I should have had a month of it; and I'm having now, if you want to know," Strether continued, "enough to last me for the rest of my days."
Chad looked amused and interested, yet still somewhat in the dark; partly perhaps because Strether's estimate of fun had required of him from the first a good deal of elucidation. "It wouldn't do if I left you — ?"
"Left me?" — Strether remained blank.
"Only for a month or two — time to go and come. Madame de Vionnet," Chad smiled, "would look after you in the interval."
"To go back by yourself, I remaining here?" Again for an instant their eyes had the question out; after which Strether said: "Grotesque!"