"Oh you're good enough," Strether threw out.
"Certainly I'm good enough. We're good enough, I consider, nous autres, for anything. But she's TOO good. There's the difference. They wouldn't look at me."
Strether, lounging on his divan and still charmed by the young girl, whose eyes had consciously strayed to him, he fancied, with a vague smile — Strether, enjoying the whole occasion as with dormant pulses at last awake and in spite of new material thrust upon him, thought over his companion's words. "Whom do you mean by 'they'? She and her mother?"
"She and her mother. And she has a father too, who, whatever else he may be, certainly can't be indifferent to the possibilities she represents. Besides, there's Chad."
Strether was silent a little. "Ah but he doesn't care for her — not, I mean, it appears, after all, in the sense I'm speaking of. He's NOT in love with her."
"No — but he's her best friend; after her mother. He's very fond of her. He has his ideas about what can be done for her."
"Well, it's very strange!" Strether presently remarked with a sighing sense of fulness.
"Very strange indeed. That's just the beauty of it. Isn't it very much the kind of beauty you had in mind," little Bilham went on, "when you were so wonderful and so inspiring to me the other day? Didn't you adjure me, in accents I shall never forget, to see, while I've a chance, everything I can? — and REALLY to see, for it must have been that only you meant. Well, you did me no end of good, and I'm doing my best. I DO make it out a situation."
"So do I!" Strether went on after a moment. But he had the next minute an inconsequent question. "How comes Chad so mixed up, anyway?"
"Ah, ah, ah!" — and little Bilham fell back on his cushions.
It reminded our friend of Miss Barrace, and he felt again the brush of his sense of moving in a maze of mystic closed allusions. Yet he kept hold of his thread. "Of course I understand really; only the general transformation makes me occasionally gasp. Chad with such a voice in the settlement of the future of a little countess — no," he declared, "it takes more time! You say moreover," he resumed, "that we're inevitably, people like you and me, out of the running. The curious fact remains that Chad himself isn't. The situation doesn't make for it, but in a different one he could have her if he would."
"Yes, but that's only because he's rich and because there's a possibility of his being richer. They won't think of anything but a great name or a great fortune."
"Well," said Strether, "he'll have no great fortune on THESE lines. He must stir his stumps."
"Is that," little Bilham enquired, "what you were saying to Madame de Vionnet?"
"No — I don't say much to her. Of course, however," Strether continued, "he can make sacrifices if he likes."
Little Bilham had a pause. "Oh he's not keen for sacrifices; or thinks, that is, possibly, that he has made enough."
"Well, it IS virtuous," his companion observed with some decision.
"That's exactly," the young man dropped after a moment, "what I mean."
It kept Strether himself silent a little. "I've made it out for myself," he then went on; "I've really, within the last half-hour, got hold of it. I understand it in short at last; which at first — when you originally spoke to me — I didn't. Nor when Chad originally spoke to me either."
"Oh," said little Bilham, "I don't think that at that time you believed me."
"Yes — I did; and I believed Chad too. It would have been odious and unmannerly — as well as quite perverse — if I hadn't. What interest have you in deceiving me?"
The young man cast about. "What interest have I?"
"Yes. Chad MIGHT have. But you?"
"Ah, ah, ah!" little Bilham exclaimed.
It might, on repetition, as a mystification, have irritated our friend a little, but he knew, once more, as we have seen, where he was, and his being proof against everything was only another attestation that he meant to stay there. "I couldn't, without my own impression, realise. She's a tremendously clever brilliant capable woman, and with an extraordinary charm on top of it all — the charm we surely all of us this evening know what to think of. It isn't every clever brilliant capable woman that has it. In fact it's rare with any woman. So there you are," Strether proceeded as if not for little Bilham's benefit alone. "I understand what a relation with such a woman — what such a high fine friendship — may be. It can't be vulgar or coarse, anyway — and that's the point."
"Yes, that's the point," said little Bilham. "It can't be vulgar or coarse. And, bless us and save us, it ISn't! It's, upon my word, the very finest thing I ever saw in my life, and the most distinguished."
Strether, from beside him and leaning back with him as he leaned, dropped on him a momentary look which filled a short interval and of which he took no notice. He only gazed before him with intent participation. "Of course what it has done for him," Strether at all events presently pursued, "of course what it has done for him — that is as to HOW it has so wonderfully worked — isn't a thing I pretend to understand. I've to take it as I find it. There he is."
"There he is!" little Bilham echoed. "And it's really and truly she. I don't understand either, even with my longer and closer opportunity. But I'm like you," he added; "I can admire and rejoice even when I'm a little in the dark. You see I've watched it for some three years, and especially for this last. He wasn't so bad before it as I seem to have made out that you think — "