"It has indeed," Maria laughed, "served women's purposes before!"
"Yes — for giving in. But I doubt if the idea — as an idea — has ever up to now answered so well for holding out. That's HER tribute to the ideal — we each have our own. It's her romance — and it seems to me better on the whole than mine. To have it in Paris too," he explained — "on this classic ground, in this charged infectious air, with so sudden an intensity: well, it's more than she expected. She has had in short to recognise the breaking out for her of a real affinity — and with everything to enhance the drama."
Miss Gostrey followed. "Jim for instance?"
"Jim. Jim hugely enhances. Jim was made to enhance. And then Mr. Waymarsh. It's the crowning touch — it supplies the colour. He's positively separated."
"And she herself unfortunately isn't — that supplies the colour too." Miss Gostrey was all there. But somehow — ! "Is HE in love?"
Strether looked at her a long time; then looked all about the room; then came a little nearer. "Will you never tell any one in the world as long as ever you live?"
"Never." It was charming.
"He thinks Sarah really is. But he has no fear," Strether hastened to add.
"Of her being affected by it?"
"Of HIS being. He likes it, but he knows she can hold out. He's helping her, he's floating her over, by kindness."
Maria rather funnily considered it. "Floating her over in champagne? The kindness of dining her, nose to nose, at the hour when all Paris is crowding to profane delights, and in the — well, in the great temple, as one hears of it, of pleasure?"
"That's just IT, for both of them," Strether insisted — "and all of a supreme innocence. The Parisian place, the feverish hour, the putting before her of a hundred francs' worth of food and drink, which they'll scarcely touch — all that's the dear man's own romance; the expensive kind, expensive in francs and centimes, in which he abounds. And the circus afterwards — which is cheaper, but which he'll find some means of making as dear as possible — that's also HIS tribute to the ideal. It does for him. He'll see her through. They won't talk of anything worse than you and me."
"Well, we're bad enough perhaps, thank heaven," she laughed, "to upset them! Mr. Waymarsh at any rate is a hideous old coquette." And the next moment she had dropped everything for a different pursuit. "What you don't appear to know is that Jeanne de Vionnet has become engaged. She's to marry — it has been definitely arranged — young Monsieur de Montbron."
He fairly blushed. "Then — if you know it — it's 'out'?"
"Don't I often know things that are NOT out? However," she said, "this will be out to-morrow. But I see I've counted too much on your possible ignorance. You've been before me, and I don't make you jump as I hoped."
He gave a gasp at her insight. "You never fail! I've HAD my jump. I had it when I first heard."
"Then if you knew why didn't you tell me as soon as you came in?"
"Because I had it from her as a thing not yet to be spoken of."
Miss Gostrey wondered. "From Madame de Vionnet herself?"
"As a probability — not quite a certainty: a good cause in which Chad has been working. So I've waited."
"You need wait no longer," she returned. "It reached me yesterday — roundabout and accidental, but by a person who had had it from one of the young man's own people — as a thing quite settled. I was only keeping it for you."
"You thought Chad wouldn't have told me?"
She hesitated. "Well, if he hasn't — "
"He hasn't. And yet the thing appears to have been practically his doing. So there we are."
"There we are!" Maria candidly echoed.
"That's why I jumped. I jumped," he continued to explain, "because it means, this disposition of the daughter, that there's now nothing else: nothing else but him and the mother."
"Still — it simplifies."
"It simplifies" — he fully concurred. "But that's precisely where we are. It marks a stage in his relation. The act is his answer to Mrs. Newsome's demonstration."
"It tells," Maria asked, "the worst?"
"But is the worst what he wants Sarah to know?"
"He doesn't care for Sarah."
At which Miss Gostrey's eyebrows went up. "You mean she has already dished herself?"
Strether took a turn about; he had thought it out again and again before this, to the end; but the vista seemed each time longer. "He wants his good friend to know the best. I mean the measure of his attachment. She asked for a sign, and he thought of that one. There it is."
"A concession to her jealousy?"