"Well," she said, taking that menace bravely and philosophically enough, "the only thing that really matters is that you shall get on with me."
"Ah but I don't!" he immediately returned.
It gave her another pause; which, however, she happily enough shook off. "Will you consent to go on with me a little — provisionally — as if you did?"
Then it was that he saw how she had decidedly come all the way; and there accompanied it an extraordinary sense of her raising from somewhere below him her beautiful suppliant eyes. He might have been perched at his door-step or at his window and she standing in the road. For a moment he let her stand and couldn't moreover have spoken. It had been sad, of a sudden, with a sadness that was like a cold breath in his face. "What can I do," he finally asked, "but listen to you as I promised Chadwick?"
"Ah but what I'm asking you," she quickly said, "isn't what Mr. Newsome had in mind." She spoke at present, he saw, as if to take courageously ALL her risk. "This is my own idea and a different thing."
It gave poor Strether in truth — uneasy as it made him too — something of the thrill of a bold perception justified. "Well," he answered kindly enough, "I was sure a moment since that some idea of your own had come to you."
She seemed still to look up at him, but now more serenely. "I made out you were sure — and that helped it to come. So you see," she continued, "we do get on."
"Oh but it appears to me I don't at all meet your request. How can I when I don't understand it?"
"It isn't at all necessary you should understand; it will do quite well enough if you simply remember it. Only feel I trust you — and for nothing so tremendous after all. Just," she said with a wonderful smile, "for common civility."
Strether had a long pause while they sat again face to face, as they had sat, scarce less conscious, before the poor lady had crossed the stream. She was the poor lady for Strether now because clearly she had some trouble, and her appeal to him could only mean that her trouble was deep. He couldn't help it; it wasn't his fault; he had done nothing; but by a turn of the hand she had somehow made their encounter a relation. And the relation profited by a mass of things that were not strictly in it or of it; by the very air in which they sat, by the high cold delicate room, by the world outside and the little plash in the court, by the First Empire and the relics in the stiff cabinets, by matters as far off as those and by others as near as the unbroken clasp of her hands in her lap and the look her expression had of being most natural when her eyes were most fixed. "You count upon me of course for something really much greater than it sounds."
"Oh it sounds great enough too!" she laughed at this.
He found himself in time on the point of telling her that she was, as Miss Barrace called it, wonderful; but, catching himself up, he said something else instead. "What was it Chad's idea then that you should say to me?"
"Ah his idea was simply what a man's idea always is — to put every effort off on the woman."
"The 'woman' — ?" Strether slowly echoed.
"The woman he likes — and just in proportion as he likes her. In proportion too — for shifting the trouble — as she likes HIM."
Strether followed it; then with an abruptness of his own: "How much do you like Chad?"
"Just as much as THAT — to take all, with you, on myself." But she got at once again away from this. "I've been trembling as if we were to stand or fall by what you may think of me; and I'm even now," she went on wonderfully, "drawing a long breath — and, yes, truly taking a great courage — from the hope that I don't in fact strike you as impossible."
"That's at all events, clearly," he observed after an instant, "the way I don't strike YOU."
"Well," she so far assented, "as you haven't yet said you WON'T have the little patience with me I ask for — "
"You draw splendid conclusions? Perfectly. But I don't understand them," Strether pursued. "You seem to me to ask for much more than you need. What, at the worst for you, what at the best for myself, can I after all do? I can use no pressure that I haven't used. You come really late with your request. I've already done all that for myself the case admits of. I've said my say, and here I am."
"Yes, here you are, fortunately!" Madame de Vionnet laughed. "Mrs. Newsome," she added in another tone, "didn't think you can do so little."
He had an hesitation, but he brought the words out. "Well, she thinks so now."
"Do you mean by that — ?" But she also hung fire.
"Do I mean what?"
She still rather faltered. "Pardon me if I touch on it, but if I'm saying extraordinary things, why, perhaps, mayn't I? Besides, doesn't it properly concern us to know?"
"To know what?" he insisted as after thus beating about the bush she had again dropped.
She made the effort. "Has she given you up?"
He was amazed afterwards to think how simply and quietly he had met it. "Not yet." It was almost as if he were a trifle disappointed — had expected still more of her freedom. But he went straight on. "Is that what Chad has told you will happen to me?"