At four o'clock that afternoon he had still not seen him, but he was then, as to make up for this, engaged in talk about him with Miss Gostrey. Strether had kept away from home all day, given himself up to the town and to his thoughts, wandered and mused, been at once restless and absorbed — and all with the present climax of a rich little welcome in the Quartier Marboeuf. "Waymarsh has been, 'unbeknown' to me, I'm convinced" — for Miss Gostrey had enquired — "in communication with Woollett: the consequence of which was, last night, the loudest possible call for me."
"Do you mean a letter to bring you home?"
"No — a cable, which I have at this moment in my pocket: a 'Come back by the first ship.'"
Strether's hostess, it might have been made out, just escaped changing colour. Reflexion arrived but in time and established a provisional serenity. It was perhaps exactly this that enabled her to say with duplicity: "And you're going — ?"
"You almost deserve it when you abandon me so."
She shook her head as if this were not worth taking up. "My absence has helped you — as I've only to look at you to see. It was my calculation, and I'm justified. You're not where you were. And the thing," she smiled, "was for me not to be there either. You can go of yourself."
"Oh but I feel to-day," he comfortably declared, "that I shall want you yet."
She took him all in again. "Well, I promise you not again to leave you, but it will only be to follow you. You've got your momentum and can toddle alone."
He intelligently accepted it. "Yes — I suppose I can toddle. It's the sight of that in fact that has upset Waymarsh. He can bear it — the way I strike him as going — no longer. That's only the climax of his original feeling. He wants me to quit; and he must have written to Woollett that I'm in peril of perdition."
"Ah good!" she murmured. "But is it only your supposition?"
"I make it out — it explains."
"Then he denies? — or you haven't asked him?"
"I've not had time," Strether said; "I made it out but last night, putting various things together, and I've not been since then face to face with him."
She wondered. "Because you're too disgusted? You can't trust yourself?"
He settled his glasses on his nose. "Do I look in a great rage?"
"You look divine!"
"There's nothing," he went on, "to be angry about. He has done me on the contrary a service."
She made it out. "By bringing things to a head?"
"How well you understand!" he almost groaned. "Waymarsh won't in the least, at any rate, when I have it out with him, deny or extenuate. He has acted from the deepest conviction, with the best conscience and after wakeful nights. He'll recognise that he's fully responsible, and will consider that he has been highly successful; so that any discussion we may have will bring us quite together again — bridge the dark stream that has kept us so thoroughly apart. We shall have at last, in the consequences of his act, something we can definitely talk about."
She was silent a little. "How wonderfully you take it! But you're always wonderful."
He had a pause that matched her own; then he had, with an adequate spirit, a complete admission. "It's quite true. I'm extremely wonderful just now. I dare say in fact I'm quite fantastic, and I shouldn't be at all surprised if I were mad."
"Then tell me!" she earnestly pressed. As he, however, for the time answered nothing, only returning the look with which she watched him, she presented herself where it was easier to meet her. "What will Mr. Waymarsh exactly have done?"
"Simply have written a letter. One will have been quite enough. He has told them I want looking after."
"And DO you?" — she was all interest.
"Immensely. And I shall get it."
"By which you mean you don't budge?"
"I don't budge."
"No — I've made Chad do it."
"That you decline to come?"
"That HE declines. We had it out this morning and I brought him round. He had come in, before I was down, to tell me he was ready — ready, I mean, to return. And he went off, after ten minutes with me, to say he wouldn't."
Miss Gostrey followed with intensity. "Then you've STOPPED him?"
Strether settled himself afresh in his chair. "I've stopped him. That is for the time. That" — he gave it to her more vividly — "is where I am."
"I see, I see. But where's Mr. Newsome? He was ready," she asked, "to go?"
"And sincerely — believing YOU'D be?"
"Perfectly, I think; so that he was amazed to find the hand I had laid on him to pull him over suddenly converted into an engine for keeping him still."