"Oh the greatest we have — our prettiest brightest girl."
Miss Gostrey seemed to fix the poor child. "I know what they CAN be. And with money?"
"Not perhaps with a great deal of that — but with so much of everything else that we don't miss it. We DON'T miss money much, you know," Strether added, "in general, in America, in pretty girls."
"No," she conceded; "but I know also what you do sometimes miss. And do you," she asked, "yourself admire her?"
It was a question, he indicated, that there might be several ways of taking; but he decided after an instant for the humorous. "Haven't I sufficiently showed you how I admire ANY pretty girl?"
Her interest in his problem was by this time such that it scarce left her freedom, and she kept close to the facts. "I supposed that at Woollett you wanted them — what shall I call it? — blameless. I mean your young men for your pretty girls."
"So did I!" Strether confessed. "But you strike there a curious fact — the fact that Woollett too accommodates itself to the spirit of the age and the increasing mildness of manners. Everything changes, and I hold that our situation precisely marks a date. We SHOULD prefer them blameless, but we have to make the best of them as we find them. Since the spirit of the age and the increasing mildness send them so much more to Paris — "
"You've to take them back as they come. When they DO come. Bon!" Once more she embraced it all, but she had a moment of thought. "Poor Chad!"
"Ah," said Strether cheerfully "Mamie will save him!"
She was looking away, still in her vision, and she spoke with impatience and almost as if he hadn't understood her. "YOU'LL save him. That's who'll save him."
"Oh but with Mamie's aid. Unless indeed you mean," he added, "that I shall effect so much more with yours!"
It made her at last again look at him. "You'll do more — as you're so much better — than all of us put together."
"I think I'm only better since I've known YOU!" Strether bravely returned.
The depletion of the place, the shrinkage of the crowd and now comparatively quiet withdrawal of its last elements had already brought them nearer the door and put them in relation with a messenger of whom he bespoke Miss Gostrey's cab. But this left them a few minutes more, which she was clearly in no mood not to use. "You've spoken to me of what — by your success — Mr. Chad stands to gain. But you've not spoken to me of what you do."
"Oh I've nothing more to gain," said Strether very simply.
She took it as even quite too simple. "You mean you've got it all 'down'? You've been paid in advance?"
"Ah don't talk about payment!" he groaned.
Something in the tone of it pulled her up, but as their messenger still delayed she had another chance and she put it in another way. "What — by failure — do you stand to lose?"
He still, however, wouldn't have it. "Nothing!" he exclaimed, and on the messenger's at this instant reappearing he was able to sink the subject in their responsive advance. When, a few steps up the street, under a lamp, he had put her into her four-wheeler and she had asked him if the man had called for him no second conveyance, he replied before the door was closed. "You won't take me with you?"
"Not for the world."
"Then I shall walk."
"In the rain?"
"I like the rain," said Strether. "Good-night!"
She kept him a moment, while his hand was on the door, by not answering; after which she answered by repeating her question. "What do you stand to lose?"
Why the question now affected him as other he couldn't have said; he could only this time meet it otherwise. "Everything."
"So I thought. Then you shall succeed. And to that end I'm yours — "
"Ah, dear lady!" he kindly breathed.
"Till death!" said Maria Gostrey. "Good-night."