"Precisely. Therefore I say again what I said at first. You must take things as they come. Besides," Miss Gostrey added, "I'm not afraid for myself."
"For yourself — ?"
"Of your seeing her. I trust her. There's nothing she'll say about me. In fact there's nothing she CAN."
Strether wondered — little as he had thought of this. Then he broke out. "Oh you women!"
There was something in it at which she flushed. "Yes — there we are. We're abysses." At last she smiled. "But I risk her!"
He gave himself a shake. "Well then so do I!" But he added as they passed into the house that he would see Chad the first thing in the morning.
This was the next day the more easily effected that the young man, as it happened, even before he was down, turned up at his hotel. Strether took his coffee, by habit, in the public room; but on his descending for this purpose Chad instantly proposed an adjournment to what he called greater privacy. He had himself as yet had nothing — they would sit down somewhere together; and when after a few steps and a turn into the Boulevard they had, for their greater privacy, sat down among twenty others, our friend saw in his companion's move a fear of the advent of Waymarsh. It was the first time Chad had to that extent given this personage "away"; and Strether found himself wondering of what it was symptomatic. He made out in a moment that the youth was in earnest as he hadn't yet seen him; which in its turn threw a ray perhaps a trifle startling on what they had each up to that time been treating as earnestness. It was sufficiently flattering however that the real thing — if this WAS at last the real thing — should have been determined, as appeared, precisely by an accretion of Strether's importance. For this was what it quickly enough came to — that Chad, rising with the lark, had rushed down to let him know while his morning consciousness was yet young that he had literally made the afternoon before a tremendous impression. Madame de Vionnet wouldn't, couldn't rest till she should have some assurance from him that he WOULD consent again to see her. The announcement was made, across their marble-topped table, while the foam of the hot milk was in their cups and its plash still in the air, with the smile of Chad's easiest urbanity; and this expression of his face caused our friend's doubts to gather on the spot into a challenge of the lips. "See here" — that was all; he only for the moment said again "See here." Chad met it with all his air of straight intelligence, while Strether remembered again that fancy of the first impression of him, the happy young Pagan, handsome and hard but oddly indulgent, whose mysterious measure he had under the street-lamp tried mentally to take. The young Pagan, while a long look passed between them, sufficiently understood. Strether scarce needed at last to say the rest — "I want to know where I am." But he said it, adding before any answer something more. "Are you engaged to be married — is that your secret? — to the young lady?"
Chad shook his head with the slow amenity that was one of his ways of conveying that there was time for everything. "I have no secret — though I may have secrets! I haven't at any rate that one. We're not engaged. No."
"Then where's the hitch?"
"Do you mean why I haven't already started with you?" Chad, beginning his coffee and buttering his roll, was quite ready to explain. "Nothing would have induced me — nothing will still induce me — not to try to keep you here as long as you can be made to stay. It's too visibly good for you." Strether had himself plenty to say about this, but it was amusing also to measure the march of Chad's tone. He had never been more a man of the world, and it was always in his company present to our friend that one was seeing how in successive connexions a man of the world acquitted himself. Chad kept it up beautifully. "My idea — voyons! — is simply that you should let Madame de Vionnet know you, simply that you should consent to know HER. I don't in the least mind telling you that, clever and charming as she is, she's ever so much in my confidence. All I ask of you is to let her talk to you. You've asked me about what you call my hitch, and so far as it goes she'll explain it to you. She's herself my hitch, hang it — if you must really have it all out. But in a sense," he hastened in the most wonderful manner to add, "that you'll quite make out for yourself. She's too good a friend, confound her. Too good, I mean, for me to leave without — without — " It was his first hesitation.
"Well, without my arranging somehow or other the damnable terms of my sacrifice."
"It WILL be a sacrifice then?"
"It will be the greatest loss I ever suffered. I owe her so much."
It was beautiful, the way Chad said these things, and his plea was now confessedly — oh quite flagrantly and publicly — interesting. The moment really took on for Strether an intensity. Chad owed Madame de Vionnet so much? What DID that do then but clear up the whole mystery? He was indebted for alterations, and she was thereby in a position to have sent in her bill for expenses incurred in reconstruction. What was this at bottom but what had been to be arrived at? Strether sat there arriving at it while he munched toast and stirred his second cup. To do this with the aid of Chad's pleasant earnest face was also to do more besides. No, never before had he been so ready to take him as he was. What was it that had suddenly so cleared up? It was just everybody's character; that is everybody's but — in a measure — his own. Strether felt HIS character receive for the instant a smutch from all the wrong things he had suspected or believed. The person to whom Chad owed it that he could positively turn out such a comfort to other persons — such a person was sufficiently raised above any "breath" by the nature of her work and the young man's steady light. All of which was vivid enough to come and go quickly; though indeed in the midst of it Strether could utter a question. "Have I your word of honour that if I surrender myself to Madame de Vionnet you'll surrender yourself to me?"
Chad laid his hand firmly on his friend's. "My dear man, you have it."