"So that they can't marry?"
The young man waited a moment. "Not being able to marry is all they've with any confidence to look forward to. A woman — a particular woman — may stand that strain. But can a man?" he propounded.
Strether's answer was as prompt as if he had already, for himself, worked it out. "Not without a very high ideal of conduct. But that's just what we're attributing to Chad. And how, for that matter," he mused, "does his going to America diminish the particular strain? Wouldn't it seem rather to add to it?"
"Out of sight out of mind!" his companion laughed. Then more bravely: "Wouldn't distance lessen the torment?" But before Strether could reply, "The thing is, you see, Chad ought to marry!" he wound up.
Strether, for a little, appeared to think of it. "If you talk of torments you don't diminish mine!" he then broke out. The next moment he was on his feet with a question. "He ought to marry whom?"
Little Bilham rose more slowly. "Well, some one he CAN — some thoroughly nice girl."
Strether's eyes, as they stood together, turned again to Jeanne. "Do you mean HER?"
His friend made a sudden strange face. "After being in love with her mother? No."
"But isn't it exactly your idea that he ISn't in love with her mother?"
His friend once more had a pause. "Well, he isn't at any rate in love with Jeanne."
"I dare say not."
"How CAN he be with any other woman?"
"Oh that I admit. But being in love isn't, you know, here" — little Bilham spoke in friendly reminder — "thought necessary, in strictness, for marriage."
"And what torment — to call a torment — can there ever possibly be with a woman like that?" As if from the interest of his own question Strether had gone on without hearing. "Is it for her to have turned a man out so wonderfully, too, only for somebody else?" He appeared to make a point of this, and little Bilham looked at him now. "When it's for each other that people give things up they don't miss them." Then he threw off as with an extravagance of which he was conscious: "Let them face the future together!"
Little Bilham looked at him indeed. "You mean that after all he shouldn't go back?"
"I mean that if he gives her up — !"
"Well, he ought to be ashamed of himself." But Strether spoke with a sound that might have passed for a laugh.