"Oh you don't require 'much'!" she reassuringly declared. But she immediately changed her ground. "I hope you remember your promise of the other day."
"To 'save' you, as you called it?"
"I call it so still. You WILL?" she insisted. "You haven't repented?"
He wondered. "No — but I've been thinking what I meant."
She kept it up. "And not, a little, what I did?"
"No — that's not necessary. It will be enough if I know what I meant myself."
"And don't you know," she asked, "by this time?"
Again he had a pause. "I think you ought to leave it to me. But how long," he added, "do you give me?"
"It seems to me much more a question of how long you give ME. Doesn't our friend here himself, at any rate," she went on, "perpetually make me present to you?"
"Not," Strether replied, "by ever speaking of you to me."
"He never does that?"
She considered, and, if the fact was disconcerting to her, effectually concealed it. The next minute indeed she had recovered. "No, he wouldn't. But do you NEED that?"
Her emphasis was wonderful, and though his eyes had been wandering he looked at her longer now. "I see what you mean."
"Of course you see what I mean."
Her triumph was gentle, and she really had tones to make justice weep. "I've before me what he owes you."
"Admit then that that's something," she said, yet still with the same discretion in her pride.
He took in this note but went straight on. "You've made of him what I see, but what I don't see is how in the world you've done it."
"Ah that's another question!" she smiled. "The point is of what use is your declining to know me when to know Mr. Newsome — as you do me the honour to find him — IS just to know me."
"I see," he mused, still with his eyes on her. "I shouldn't have met you to-night."
She raised and dropped her linked hands. "It doesn't matter. If I trust you why can't you a little trust me too? And why can't you also," she asked in another tone, "trust yourself?" But she gave him no time to reply. "Oh I shall be so easy for you! And I'm glad at any rate you've seen my child."
"I'm glad too," he said; "but she does you no good."
"No good?" — Madame de Vionnet had a clear stare. "Why she's an angel of light."
"That's precisely the reason. Leave her alone. Don't try to find out. I mean," he explained, "about what you spoke to me of — the way she feels."
His companion wondered. "Because one really won't?"
"Well, because I ask you, as a favour to myself, not to. She's the most charming creature I've ever seen. Therefore don't touch her. Don't know — don't want to know. And moreover — yes — you won't."
It was an appeal, of a sudden, and she took it in. "As a favour to you?"
"Well — since you ask me."
"Anything, everything you ask," she smiled. "I shan't know then — never. Thank you," she added with peculiar gentleness as she turned away.
The sound of it lingered with him, making him fairly feel as if he had been tripped up and had a fall. In the very act of arranging with her for his independence he had, under pressure from a particular perception, inconsistently, quite stupidly, committed himself, and, with her subtlety sensitive on the spot to an advantage, she had driven in by a single word a little golden nail, the sharp intention of which he signally felt. He hadn't detached, he had more closely connected himself, and his eyes, as he considered with some intensity this circumstance, met another pair which had just come within their range and which struck him as reflecting his sense of what he had done. He recognised them at the same moment as those of little Bilham, who had apparently drawn near on purpose to speak to him, and little Bilham wasn't, in the conditions, the person to whom his heart would be most closed. They were seated together a minute later at the angle of the room obliquely opposite the corner in which Gloriani was still engaged with Jeanne de Vionnet, to whom at first and in silence their attention had been benevolently given. "I can't see for my life," Strether had then observed, "how a young fellow of any spirit — such a one as you for instance — can be admitted to the sight of that young lady without being hard hit. Why don't you go in, little Bilham?" He remembered the tone into which he had been betrayed on the garden-bench at the sculptor's reception, and this might make up for that by being much more the right sort of thing to say to a young man worthy of any advice at all. "There WOULD be some reason."
"Some reason for what?"
"Why for hanging on here."
"To offer my hand and fortune to Mademoiselle de Vionnet?"
"Well," Strether asked, "to what lovelier apparition COULD you offer them? She's the sweetest little thing I've ever seen."
"She's certainly immense. I mean she's the real thing. I believe the pale pink petals are folded up there for some wondrous efflorescence in time; to open, that is, to some great golden sun. I'M unfortunately but a small farthing candle. What chance in such a field for a poor little painter-man?"