He winced at it as at the very voice of prophecy, and it kept him a moment quiet. He detained her, however, on her appearing about to leave him alone in the rather cold clearance their talk had made. "There positively isn't a sign of a hero to-night; the hero's dodging and shirking, the hero's ashamed. Therefore, you know, I think, what you must all REALLY be occupied with is the heroine."
Miss Barrace took a minute. "The heroine?"
"The heroine. I've treated her," said Strether, "not a bit like a hero. Oh," he sighed, "I don't do it well!"
She eased him off. "You do it as you can." And then after another hesitation: "I think she's satisfied."
But he remained compunctious. "I haven't been near her. I haven't looked at her."
"Ah then you've lost a good deal!"
He showed he knew it. "She's more wonderful than ever?"
"Than ever. With Mr. Pocock."
Strether wondered. "Madame de Vionnet — with Jim?"
"Madame de Vionnet — with 'Jim.'" Miss Barrace was historic.
"And what's she doing with him?"
"Ah you must ask HIM!"
Strether's face lighted again at the prospect. "It WILL be amusing to do so." Yet he continued to wonder. "But she must have some idea."
"Of course she has — she has twenty ideas. She has in the first place," said Miss Barrace, swinging a little her tortoise-shell, "that of doing her part. Her part is to help YOU."
It came out as nothing had come yet; links were missing and connexions unnamed, but it was suddenly as if they were at the heart of their subject. "Yes; how much more she does it," Strether gravely reflected, "than I help HER!" It all came over him as with the near presence of the beauty, the grace, the intense, dissimulated spirit with which he had, as he said, been putting off contact. "SHE has courage."
"Ah she has courage!" Miss Barrace quite agreed; and it was as if for a moment they saw the quantity in each other's face.
But indeed the whole thing was present. "How much she must care!"
"Ah there it is. She does care. But it isn't, is it," Miss Barrace considerately added, "as if you had ever had any doubt of that?"
Strether seemed suddenly to like to feel that he really never had. "Why of course it's the whole point."
"Voila!" Miss Barrace smiled.
"It's why one came out," Strether went on. "And it's why one has stayed so long. And it's also" — he abounded — "why one's going home. It's why, it's why — "
"It's why everything!" she concurred. "It's why she might be to-night — for all she looks and shows, and for all your friend 'Jim' does — about twenty years old. That's another of her ideas; to be for him, and to be quite easily and charmingly, as young as a little girl."
Strether assisted at his distance. "'For him'? For Chad — ?"
"For Chad, in a manner, naturally, always. But in particular to-night for Mr. Pocock." And then as her friend still stared: "Yes, it IS of a bravery But that's what she has: her high sense of duty." It was more than sufficiently before them. "When Mr. Newsome has his hands so embarrassed with his sister — "
"It's quite the least" — Strether filled it out — "that she should take his sister's husband? Certainly — quite the least. So she has taken him."
"She has taken him." It was all Miss Barrace had meant.
Still it remained enough. "It must be funny."
"Oh it IS funny." That of course essentially went with it.
But it brought them back. How indeed then she must cared, in answer to which Strether's entertainer dropped a comprehensive "Ah!" expressive perhaps of some impatience for the time he took to get used to it. She herself had got used to it long before.