So far as a direct approach was concerned Sarah had neglected him, for the week now about to end, with a civil consistency of chill that, giving him a higher idea of her social resource, threw him back on the general reflexion that a woman could always be amazing. It indeed helped a little to console him that he felt sure she had for the same period also left Chad's curiosity hanging; though on the other hand, for his personal relief, Chad could at least go through the various motions — and he made them extraordinarily numerous — of seeing she had a good time. There wasn't a motion on which, in her presence, poor Strether could so much as venture, and all he could do when he was out of it was to walk over for a talk with Maria. He walked over of course much less than usual, but he found a special compensation in a certain half-hour during which, toward the close of a crowded empty expensive day, his several companions seemed to him so disposed of as to give his forms and usages a rest. He had been with them in the morning and had nevertheless called on the Pococks in the afternoon; but their whole group, he then found, had dispersed after a fashion of which it would amuse Miss Gostrey to hear. He was sorry again, gratefully sorry she was so out of it — she who had really put him in; but she had fortunately always her appetite for news. The pure flame of the disinterested burned in her cave of treasures as a lamp in a Byzantine vault. It was just now, as happened, that for so fine a sense as hers a near view would have begun to pay. Within three days, precisely, the situation on which he was to report had shown signs of an equilibrium; the effect of his look in at the hotel was to confirm this appearance. If the equilibrium might only prevail! Sarah was out with Waymarsh, Mamie was out with Chad, and Jim was out alone. Later on indeed he himself was booked to Jim, was to take him that evening to the Varieties — which Strether was careful to pronounce as Jim pronounced them.
Miss Gostrey drank it in. "What then to-night do the others do?"
"Well, it has been arranged. Waymarsh takes Sarah to dine at Bignons."
She wondered. "And what do they do after? They can't come straight home."
"No, they can't come straight home — at least Sarah can't. It's their secret, but I think I've guessed it." Then as she waited: "The circus."
It made her stare a moment longer, then laugh almost to extravagance. "There's no one like you!"
"Like ME?" — he only wanted to understand.
"Like all of you together — like all of us: Woollett, Milrose and their products. We're abysmal — but may we never be less so! Mr. Newsome," she continued, "meanwhile takes Miss Pocock — ?"
"Precisely — to the Francais: to see what you took Waymarsh and me to, a family-bill."
"Ah then may Mr. Chad enjoy it as I did!" But she saw so much in things. "Do they spend their evenings, your young people, like that, alone together?"
"Well, they're young people — but they're old friends."
"I see, I see. And do THEY dine — for a difference — at Brebant's?"
"Oh where they dine is their secret too. But I've my idea that it will be, very quietly, at Chad's own place."
"She'll come to him there alone?"
They looked at each other a moment. "He has known her from a child. Besides," said Strether with emphasis, "Mamie's remarkable. She's splendid."
She wondered. "Do you mean she expects to bring it off?"
"Getting hold of him? No — I think not."
"She doesn't want him enough? — or doesn't believe in her power?" On which as he said nothing she continued: "She finds she doesn't care for him?"
"No — I think she finds she does. But that's what I mean by so describing her. It's IF she does that she's splendid. But we'll see," he wound up, "where she comes out."
"You seem to show me sufficiently," Miss Gostrey laughed, "where she goes in! But is her childhood's friend," she asked, "permitting himself recklessly to flirt with her?"
"No — not that. Chad's also splendid. They're ALL splendid!" he declared with a sudden strange sound of wistfulness and envy. "They're at least HAPPY."
"Happy?" — it appeared, with their various difficulties, to surprise her.
"Well — I seem to myself among them the only one who isn't."
She demurred. "With your constant tribute to the ideal?"
He had a laugh at his tribute to the ideal, but he explained after a moment his impression. "I mean they're living. They're rushing about. I've already had my rushing. I'm waiting."
"But aren't you," she asked by way of cheer, "waiting with ME?"
He looked at her in all kindness. "Yes — if it weren't for that!"
"And you help me to wait," she said. "However," she went on, "I've really something for you that will help you to wait and which you shall have in a minute. Only there's something more I want from you first. I revel in Sarah."
"So do I. If it weren't," he again amusedly sighed, "for THAT — !"
"Well, you owe more to women than any man I ever saw. We do seem to keep you going. Yet Sarah, as I see her, must be great."
"She IS" Strether fully assented: "great! Whatever happens, she won't, with these unforgettable days, have lived in vain."
Miss Gostrey had a pause. "You mean she has fallen in love?"
"I mean she wonders if she hasn't — and it serves all her purpose."