"To keep you" — Strether took him straight up — "from carrying out your wish? Well, our idea has been that somebody has hitherto — or a good many persons perhaps — kept you pretty well from 'wanting.' That's what — if you're in anybody's hands — may again happen. You don't answer my question" — he kept it up; "but if you aren't in anybody's hands so much the better. There's nothing then but what makes for your going."
Chad turned this over. "I don't answer your question?" He spoke quite without resenting it. "Well, such questions have always a rather exaggerated side. One doesn't know quite what you mean by being in women's 'hands.' It's all so vague. One is when one isn't. One isn't when one is. And then one can't quite give people away." He seemed kindly to explain. "I've NEVER got stuck — so very hard; and, as against anything at any time really better, I don't think I've ever been afraid." There was something in it that held Strether to wonder, and this gave him time to go on. He broke out as with a more helpful thought. "Don't you know how I like Paris itself?"
The upshot was indeed to make our friend marvel. "Oh if THAT'S all that's the matter with you — !" It was HE who almost showed resentment.
Chad's smile of a truth more than met it. "But isn't that enough?"
Strether hesitated, but it came out. "Not enough for your mother!" Spoken, however, it sounded a trifle odd — the effect of which was that Chad broke into a laugh. Strether, at this, succumbed as well, though with extreme brevity. "Permit us to have still our theory. But if you ARE so free and so strong you're inexcusable. I'll write in the morning," he added with decision. "I'll say I've got you."
This appeared to open for Chad a new interest. "How often do you write?"
"And at great length?"
Strether had become a little impatient. "I hope it's not found too great."
"Oh I'm sure not. And you hear as often?"
Again Strether paused. "As often as I deserve."
"Mother writes," said Chad, "a lovely letter."
Strether, before the closed porte-cochere, fixed him a moment. "It's more, my boy, than YOU do! But our suppositions don't matter," he added, "if you're actually not entangled."
Chad's pride seemed none the less a little touched. "I never WAS that — let me insist. I always had my own way." With which he pursued: "And I have it at present."
"Then what are you here for? What has kept you," Strether asked, "if you HAVE been able to leave?"
It made Chad, after a stare, throw himself back. "Do you think one's kept only by women?" His surprise and his verbal emphasis rang out so clear in the still street that Strether winced till he remembered the safety of their English speech. "Is that," the young man demanded, "what they think at Woollett?" At the good faith in the question Strether had changed colour, feeling that, as he would have said, he had put his foot in it. He had appeared stupidly to misrepresent what they thought at Woollett; but before he had time to rectify Chad again was upon him. "I must say then you show a low mind!"
It so fell in, unhappily for Strether, with that reflexion of his own prompted in him by the pleasant air of the Boulevard Malesherbes, that its disconcerting force was rather unfairly great. It was a dig that, administered by himself — and administered even to poor Mrs. Newsome — was no more than salutary; but administered by Chad — and quite logically — it came nearer drawing blood. They HADn't a low mind — nor any approach to one; yet incontestably they had worked, and with a certain smugness, on a basis that might be turned against them. Chad had at any rate pulled his visitor up; he had even pulled up his admirable mother; he had absolutely, by a turn of the wrist and a jerk of the far-flung noose, pulled up, in a bunch, Woollett browsing in its pride. There was no doubt Woollett HAD insisted on his coarseness; and what he at present stood there for in the sleeping street was, by his manner of striking the other note, to make of such insistence a preoccupation compromising to the insisters. It was exactly as if they had imputed to him a vulgarity that he had by a mere gesture caused to fall from him. The devil of the case was that Strether felt it, by the same stroke, as falling straight upon himself. He had been wondering a minute ago if the boy weren't a Pagan, and he found himself wondering now if he weren't by chance a gentleman. It didn't in the least, on the spot, spring up helpfully for him that a person couldn't at the same time be both. There was nothing at this moment in the air to challenge the combination; there was everything to give it on the contrary something of a flourish. It struck Strether into the bargain as doing something to meet the most difficult of the questions; though perhaps indeed only by substituting another. Wouldn't it be precisely by having learned to be a gentleman that he had mastered the consequent trick of looking so well that one could scarce speak to him straight? But what in the world was the clue to such a prime producing cause? There were too many clues then that Strether still lacked, and these clues to clues were among them. What it accordingly amounted to for him was that he had to take full in the face a fresh attribution of ignorance. He had grown used by this time to reminders, especially from his own lips, of what he didn't know; but he had borne them because in the first place they were private and because in the second they practically conveyed a tribute. He didn't know what was bad, and — as others didn't know how little he knew it — he could put up with his state. But if he didn't know, in so important a particular, what was good, Chad at least was now aware he didn't; and that, for some reason, affected our friend as curiously public. It was in fact an exposed condition that the young man left him in long enough for him to feel its chill — till he saw fit, in a word, generously again to cover him. This last was in truth what Chad quite gracefully did. But he did it as with a simple thought that met the whole of the case. "Oh I'm all right!" It was what Strether had rather bewilderedly to go to bed on.