The Ambassadors By Henry James Book 10: Chapter I


"She isn't then pleased with what he has to show?"

"On the contrary; she's pleased with it as with his capacity to do this kind of thing — more than she has been pleased with anything for a long time. But she wants him to show it THERE. He has no right to waste it on the likes of us."

Strether wondered. "She wants him to move the whole thing over?"

"The whole thing — with an important exception. Everything he has 'picked up' — and the way he knows how. She sees no difficulty in that. She'd run the show herself, and she'll make the handsome concession that Woollett would be on the whole in some ways the better for it. Not that it wouldn't be also in some ways the better for Woollett. The people there are just as good."

"Just as good as you and these others? Ah that may be. But such an occasion as this, whether or no," Strether said, "isn't the people. It's what has made the people possible."

"Well then," his friend replied, "there you are; I give you my impression for what it's worth. Mrs. Pocock has SEEN, and that's to-night how she sits there. If you were to have a glimpse of her face you'd understand me. She has made up her mind — to the sound of expensive music."

Strether took it freely in. "Ah then I shall have news of her."

"I don't want to frighten you, but I think that likely. However," little Bilham continued, "if I'm of the least use to you to hold on by — !"

"You're not of the least!" — and Strether laid an appreciative hand on him to say it. "No one's of the least." With which, to mark how gaily he could take it, he patted his companion's knee. "I must meet my fate alone, and I SHALL — oh you'll see! And yet," he pursued the next moment, "you CAN help me too. You once said to me" — he followed this further — "that you held Chad should marry. I didn't see then so well as I know now that you meant he should marry Miss Pocock. Do you still consider that he should? Because if you do" — he kept it up — "I want you immediately to change your mind. You can help me that way."

"Help you by thinking he should NOT marry?"

"Not marry at all events Mamie."

"And who then?"

"Ah," Strether returned, "that I'm not obliged to say. But Madame de Vionnet — I suggest — when he can.'

"Oh!" said little Bilham with some sharpness.

"Oh precisely! But he needn't marry at all — I'm at any rate not obliged to provide for it. Whereas in your case I rather feel that I AM."

Little Bilham was amused. "Obliged to provide for my marrying?"

"Yes — after all I've done to you!"

The young man weighed it. "Have you done as much as that?"

"Well," said Strether, thus challenged, "of course I must remember what you've also done to ME. We may perhaps call it square. But all the same," he went on, "I wish awfully you'd marry Mamie Pocock yourself."

Little Bilham laughed out. "Why it was only the other night, in this very place, that you were proposing to me a different union altogether."

"Mademoiselle de Vionnet?" Well, Strether easily confessed it. "That, I admit, was a vain image. THIS is practical politics. I want to do something good for both of you — I wish you each so well; and you can see in a moment the trouble it will save me to polish you off by the same stroke. She likes you, you know. You console her. And she's splendid."

Little Bilham stared as a delicate appetite stares at an overheaped plate. "What do I console her for?"

It just made his friend impatient. "Oh come, you knows"

"And what proves for you that she likes me?"

"Why the fact that I found her three days ago stopping at home alone all the golden afternoon on the mere chance that you'd come to her, and hanging over her balcony on that of seeing your cab drive up. I don't know what you want more."

Little Bilham after a moment found it. "Only just to know what proves to you that I like HER."

"Oh if what I've just mentioned isn't enough to make you do it, you're a stony-hearted little fiend. Besides" — Strether encouraged his fancy's flight — "you showed your inclination in the way you kept her waiting, kept her on purpose to see if she cared enough for you."

His companion paid his ingenuity the deference of a pause. "I didn't keep her waiting. I came at the hour. I wouldn't have kept her waiting for the world," the young man honourably declared.

"Better still — then there you are!" And Strether, charmed, held him the faster. "Even if you didn't do her justice, moreover," he continued, "I should insist on your immediately coming round to it. I want awfully to have worked it. I want" — and our friend spoke now with a yearning that was really earnest — "at least to have done THAT."

"To have married me off — without a penny?"

"Well, I shan't live long; and I give you my word, now and here, that I'll leave you every penny of my own. I haven't many, unfortunately, but you shall have them all. And Miss Pocock, I think, has a few. I want," Strether went on, "to have been at least to that extent constructive even expiatory. I've been sacrificing so to strange gods that I feel I want to put on record, somehow, my fidelity — fundamentally unchanged after all — to our own. I feel as if my hands were embrued with the blood of monstrous alien altars — of another faith altogether. There it is — it's done." And then he further explained. "It took hold of me because the idea of getting her quite out of the way for Chad helps to clear my ground."

The young man, at this, bounced about, and it brought them face to face in admitted amusement. "You want me to marry as a convenience to Chad?"

"No," Strether debated — "HE doesn't care whether you marry or not. It's as a convenience simply to my own plan FOR him."

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At the end, Strether decides to