Strether pulled up. "Yes — call it that. Make it lurid — for that makes my problem richer."
"Certainly, let us have it lurid — for I quite agree with you that we want none of our problems poor. But let us also have it clear. Can he, in the midst of such a preoccupation, or on the heels of it, have seriously cared for Jeanne? — cared, I mean, as a young man at liberty would have cared?"
Well, Strether had mastered it. "I think he can have thought it would be charming if he COULD care. It would be nicer."
"Nicer than being tied up to Marie?"
"Yes — than the discomfort of an attachment to a person he can never hope, short of a catastrophe, to marry. And he was quite right," said Strether. "It would certainly have been nicer. Even when a thing's already nice there mostly is some other thing that would have been nicer — or as to which we wonder if it wouldn't. But his question was all the same a dream. He COULDn't care in that way. He IS tied up to Marie. The relation is too special and has gone too far. It's the very basis, and his recent lively contribution toward establishing Jeanne in life has been his definite and final acknowledgement to Madame de Vionnet that he has ceased squirming. I doubt meanwhile," he went on, "if Sarah has at all directly attacked him."
His companion brooded. "But won't he wish for his own satisfaction to make his ground good to her?"
"No — he'll leave it to me, he'll leave everything to me. I 'sort of' feel" — he worked it out — "that the whole thing will come upon me. Yes, I shall have every inch and every ounce of it. I shall be USED for it — !" And Strether lost himself in the prospect. Then he fancifully expressed the issue. "To the last drop of my blood."
Maria, however, roundly protested. "Ah you'll please keep a drop for ME. I shall have a use for it!" — which she didn't however follow up. She had come back the next moment to another matter. "Mrs. Pocock, with her brother, is trusting only to her general charm?"
"So it would seem."
"And the charm's not working?"
Well, Strether put it otherwise, "She's sounding the note of home — which is the very best thing she can do."
"The best for Madame de Vionnet?"
"The best for home itself. The natural one; the right one."
"Right," Maria asked, "when it fails?"
Strether had a pause. "The difficulty's Jim. Jim's the note of home."
She debated. "Ah surely not the note of Mrs. Newsome."
But he had it all. "The note of the home for which Mrs. Newsome wants him — the home of the business. Jim stands, with his little legs apart, at the door of THAT tent; and Jim is, frankly speaking, extremely awful."
Maria stared. "And you in, you poor thing, for your evening with him?"
"Oh he's all right for ME!" Strether laughed. "Any one's good enough for ME. But Sarah shouldn't, all the same, have brought him. She doesn't appreciate him."
His friend was amused with this statement of it. "Doesn't know, you mean, how bad he is?"
Strether shook his head with decision. "Not really."
She wondered. "Then doesn't Mrs. Newsome?"
It made him frankly do the same. "Well, no — since you ask me."
Maria rubbed it in. "Not really either?"
"Not at all. She rates him rather high." With which indeed, immediately, he took himself up. "Well, he IS good too, in his way. It depends on what you want him for."
Miss Gostrey, however, wouldn't let it depend on anything — wouldn't have it, and wouldn't want him, at any price. "It suits my book," she said, "that he should be impossible; and it suits it still better," she more imaginatively added, "that Mrs. Newsome doesn't know he is."
Strether, in consequence, had to take it from her, but he fell back on something else. "I'll tell you who does really know."
"Mr. Waymarsh? Never!"
"Never indeed. I'm not ALWAYS thinking of Mr. Waymarsh; in fact I find now I never am." Then he mentioned the person as if there were a good deal in it. "Mamie."
"His own sister?" Oddly enough it but let her down. "What good will that do?"
"None perhaps. But there — as usual — we are!"