But it was as if, while her energetic image still held him, her enquiry fell short. "Mrs. Newsome," he wished further to explain, "hasn't moreover your courage on the question of contact. If she had come it would have been to see the person herself."
"The woman? Ah but that's courage."
"No — it's exaltation, which is a very different thing. Courage," he, however, accommodatingly threw out, "is what YOU have."
She shook her head. "You say that only to patch me up — to cover the nudity of my want of exaltation. I've neither the one nor the other. I've mere battered indifference. I see that what you mean," Miss Gostrey pursued, "is that if your friend HAD come she would take great views, and the great views, to put it simply, would be too much for her."
Strether looked amused at her notion of the simple, but he adopted her formula. "Everything's too much for her."
"Ah then such a service as this of yours — "
"Is more for her than anything else? Yes — far more. But so long as it isn't too much for ME — !"
"Her condition doesn't matter? Surely not; we leave her condition out; we take it, that is, for granted. I see it, her condition, as behind and beneath you; yet at the same time I see it as bearing you up."
"Oh it does bear me up!" Strether laughed.
"Well then as yours bears ME nothing more's needed." With which she put again her question. "Has Mrs. Newsome money?"
This time he heeded. "Oh plenty. That's the root of the evil. There's money, to very large amounts, in the concern. Chad has had the free use of a great deal. But if he'll pull himself together and come home, all the same, he'll find his account in it."
She had listened with all her interest. "And I hope to goodness you'll find yours!"
"He'll take up his definite material reward," said Strether without acknowledgement of this. "He's at the parting of the ways. He can come into the business now — he can't come later."
"Is there a business?"
"Lord, yes — a big brave bouncing business. A roaring trade."
"A great shop?"
"Yes — a workshop; a great production, a great industry. The concern's a manufacture — and a manufacture that, if it's only properly looked after, may well be on the way to become a monopoly. It's a little thing they make — make better, it appears, than other people can, or than other people, at any rate, do. Mr. Newsome, being a man of ideas, at least in that particular line," Strether explained, "put them on it with great effect, and gave the place altogether, in his time, an immense lift."
"It's a place in itself?"
"Well, quite a number of buildings; almost a little industrial colony. But above all it's a thing. The article produced."
"And what IS the article produced?"
Strether looked about him as in slight reluctance to say; then the curtain, which he saw about to rise, came to his aid. "I'll tell you next time." But when the next time came he only said he'd tell her later on — after they should have left the theatre; for she had immediately reverted to their topic, and even for himself the picture of the stage was now overlaid with another image. His postponements, however, made her wonder — wonder if the article referred to were anything bad. And she explained that she meant improper or ridiculous or wrong. But Strether, so far as that went, could satisfy her. "Unmentionable? Oh no, we constantly talk of it; we are quite familiar and brazen about it. Only, as a small, trivial, rather ridiculous object of the commonest domestic use, it's just wanting in-what shall I say? Well, dignity, or the least approach to distinction. Right here therefore, with everything about us so grand — !" In short he shrank.
"It's a false note?"
"Sadly. It's vulgar."
"But surely not vulgarer than this." Then on his wondering as she herself had done: "Than everything about us." She seemed a trifle irritated. "What do you take this for?"
"Why for — comparatively — divine!"
"This dreadful London theatre? It's impossible, if you really want to know."
"Oh then," laughed Strether, "I DON'T really want to know!"
It made between them a pause, which she, however, still fascinated by the mystery of the production at Woollett, presently broke. "'Rather ridiculous'? Clothes-pins? Saleratus? Shoe-polish?"
It brought him round. "No — you don't even 'burn.' I don't think, you know, you'll guess it."
"How then can I judge how vulgar it is?"
"You'll judge when I do tell you" — and he persuaded her to patience. But it may even now frankly be mentioned that he in the sequel never WAS to tell her. He actually never did so, and it moreover oddly occurred that by the law, within her, of the incalculable, her desire for the information dropped and her attitude to the question converted itself into a positive cultivation of ignorance. In ignorance she could humour her fancy, and that proved a useful freedom. She could treat the little nameless object as indeed unnameable — she could make their abstention enormously definite. There might indeed have been for Strether the portent of this in what she next said.
"Is it perhaps then because it's so bad — because your industry as you call it, IS so vulgar — that Mr. Chad won't come back? Does he feel the taint? Is he staying away not to be mixed up in it?"