Strether seemed for a moment to look at it; but it brought him to a sigh. "Oh but she's not dead! It will take more than this to kill her."
His companion had a pause that might have been for pity. "No, I can't pretend I think she's finished — or that it's for more than to-night." She remained pensive as if with the same compunction. "It's only up to her chin." Then again for the fun of it: "She can breathe."
"She can breathe!" — he echoed it in the same spirit. "And do you know," he went on, "what's really all this time happening to me? — through the beauty of music, the gaiety of voices, the uproar in short of our revel and the felicity of your wit? The sound of Mrs. Pocock's respiration drowns for me, I assure you, every other. It's literally all I hear."
She focussed him with her clink of chains. "Well — !" she breathed ever so kindly.
"She IS free from her chin up," she mused; "and that WILL be enough for her."
"It will be enough for me!" Strether ruefully laughed. "Waymarsh has really," he then asked, "brought her to see you?"
"Yes — but that's the worst of it. I could do you no good. And yet I tried hard."
Strether wondered. "And how did you try?"
"Why I didn't speak of you."
"I see. That was better."
"Then what would have been worse? For speaking or silent," she lightly wailed, "I somehow 'compromise.' And it has never been any one but you."
"That shows" — he was magnanimous — "that it's something not in you, but in one's self. It's MY fault."
She was silent a little. "No, it's Mr. Waymarsh's. It's the fault of his having brought her."
"Ah then," said Strether good-naturedly, "why DID he bring her?"
"He couldn't afford not to."
"Oh you were a trophy — one of the spoils of conquest? But why in that case, since you do 'compromise' — "
"Don't I compromise HIM as well? I do compromise him as well," Miss Barrace smiled. "I compromise him as hard as I can. But for Mr. Waymarsh it isn't fatal. It's — so far as his wonderful relation with Mrs. Pocock is concerned — favourable." And then, as he still seemed slightly at sea: "The man who had succeeded with ME, don't you see? For her to get him from me was such an added incentive."
Strether saw, but as if his path was still strewn with surprises. "It's 'from' you then that she has got him?"
She was amused at his momentary muddle. "You can fancy my fight! She believes in her triumph. I think it has been part of her joy.
"Oh her joy!" Strether sceptically murmured.
"Well, she thinks she has had her own way. And what's to-night for her but a kind of apotheosis? Her frock's really good."
"Good enough to go to heaven in? For after a real apotheosis," Strether went on, "there's nothing BUT heaven. For Sarah there's only to-morrow."
"And you mean that she won't find to-morrow heavenly?"
"Well, I mean that I somehow feel to-night — on her behalf — too good to be true. She has had her cake; that is she's in the act now of having it, of swallowing the largest and sweetest piece. There won't be another left for her. Certainly I haven't one. It can only, at the best, be Chad." He continued to make it out as for their common entertainment. "He may have one, as it were, up his sleeve; yet it's borne in upon me that if he had — "
"He wouldn't" — she quite understood — "have taken all THIS trouble? I dare say not, and, if I may be quite free and dreadful, I very much hope he won't take any more. Of course I won't pretend now," she added, "not to know what it's a question of."
"Oh every one must know now," poor Strether thoughtfully admitted; "and it's strange enough and funny enough that one should feel everybody here at this very moment to be knowing and watching and waiting."
"Yes — isn't it indeed funny?" Miss Barrace quite rose to it. "That's the way we ARE in Paris." She was always pleased with a new contribution to that queerness. "It's wonderful! But, you know," she declared, "it all depends on you. I don't want to turn the knife in your vitals, but that's naturally what you just now meant by our all being on top of you. We know you as the hero of the drama, and we're gathered to see what you'll do."
Strether looked at her a moment with a light perhaps slightly obscured. "I think that must be why the hero has taken refuge in this corner. He's scared at his heroism — he shrinks from his part."
"Ah but we nevertheless believe he'll play it. That's why," Miss Barrace kindly went on, "we take such an interest in you. We feel you'll come up to the scratch." And then as he seemed perhaps not quite to take fire: "Don't let him do it."
"Don't let Chad go?"
"Yes, keep hold of him. With all this" — and she indicated the general tribute — "he has done enough. We love him here — he's charming."
"It's beautiful," said Strether, "the way you all can simplify when you will."
But she gave it to him back. "It's nothing to the way you will when you must."