It was an account of the matter Miss Gostrey could weigh. "Does he think the conversion sudden?"
"Well," said Strether, "I'm not altogether sure what he thinks. I'm not sure of anything that concerns him, except that the more I've seen of him the less I've found him what I originally expected. He's obscure, and that's why I'm waiting."
She wondered. "But for what in particular?"
"For the answer to his cable."
"And what was his cable?"
"I don't know," Strether replied; "it was to be, when he left me, according to his own taste. I simply said to him: 'I want to stay, and the only way for me to do so is for you to.' That I wanted to stay seemed to interest him, and he acted on that."
Miss Gostrey turned it over. "He wants then himself to stay."
"He half wants it. That is he half wants to go. My original appeal has to that extent worked in him. Nevertheless," Strether pursued, "he won't go. Not, at least, so long as I'm here."
"But you can't," his companion suggested, "stay here always. I wish you could."
"By no means. Still, I want to see him a little further. He's not in the least the case I supposed, he's quite another case. And it's as such that he interests me." It was almost as if for his own intelligence that, deliberate and lucid, our friend thus expressed the matter. "I don't want to give him up."
Miss Gostrey but desired to help his lucidity. She had however to be light and tactful. "Up, you mean — a — to his mother?"
"Well, I'm not thinking of his mother now. I'm thinking of the plan of which I was the mouthpiece, which, as soon as we met, I put before him as persuasively as I knew how, and which was drawn up, as it were, in complete ignorance of all that, in this last long period, has been happening to him. It took no account whatever of the impression I was here on the spot immediately to begin to receive from him — impressions of which I feel sure I'm far from having had the last."
Miss Gostrey had a smile of the most genial criticism. "So your idea is — more or less — to stay out of curiosity?"
"Call it what you like! I don't care what it's called — "
"So long as you do stay? Certainly not then. I call it, all the same, immense fun," Maria Gostrey declared; "and to see you work it out will be one of the sensations of my life. It IS clear you can toddle alone!"
He received this tribute without elation. "I shan't be alone when the Pococks have come."
Her eyebrows went up. "The Pococks are coming?"
"That, I mean, is what will happen — and happen as quickly as possible — in consequence of Chad's cable. They'll simply embark. Sarah will come to speak for her mother — with an effect different from MY muddle."
Miss Gostrey more gravely wondered. "SHE then will take him back?"
"Very possibly — and we shall see. She must at any rate have the chance, and she may be trusted to do all she can."
"And do you WANT that?"
"Of course," said Strether, "I want it. I want to play fair."
But she had lost for a moment the thread. "If it devolves on the Pococks why do you stay?"
"Just to see that I DO play fair — and a little also, no doubt, that they do." Strether was luminous as he had never been. "I came out to find myself in presence of new facts — facts that have kept striking me as less and less met by our old reasons. The matter's perfectly simple. New reasons — reasons as new as the facts themselves — are wanted; and of this our friends at Woollett — Chad's and mine — were at the earliest moment definitely notified. If any are producible Mrs. Pocock will produce them; she'll bring over the whole collection. They'll be," he added with a pensive smile "a part of the 'fun' you speak of."
She was quite in the current now and floating by his side. "It's Mamie — so far as I've had it from you — who'll be their great card." And then as his contemplative silence wasn't a denial she significantly added: "I think I'm sorry for her."
"I think I am!" — and Strether sprang up, moving about a little as her eyes followed him. "But it can't be helped."
"You mean her coming out can't be?"
He explained after another turn what he meant. "The only way for her not to come is for me to go home — as I believe that on the spot I could prevent it. But the difficulty as to that is that if I do go home — "
"I see, I see" — she had easily understood. "Mr. Newsome will do the same, and that's not" — she laughed out now — "to be thought of."
Strether had no laugh; he had only a quiet comparatively placid look that might have shown him as proof against ridicule. "Strange, isn't it?"
They had, in the matter that so much interested them, come so far as this without sounding another name — to which however their present momentary silence was full of a conscious reference. Strether's question was a sufficient implication of the weight it had gained with him during the absence of his hostess; and just for that reason a single gesture from her could pass for him as a vivid answer. Yet he was answered still better when she said in a moment: "Will Mr. Newsome introduce his sister — ?"
"To Madame de Vionnet?" Strether spoke the name at last. "I shall be greatly surprised if he doesn't."