She was evidently charmed with the way he took it. "If you mean if we've talked of it — most certainly. And the question's not what has had least to do with my wishing to see you."
"To judge if I'm the sort of man a woman CAN — ?"
"Precisely," she exclaimed — "you wonderful gentleman! I do judge — I HAVE judged. A woman can't. You're safe — with every right to be. You'd be much happier if you'd only believe it."
Strether was silent a little; then he found himself speaking with a cynicism of confidence of which even at the moment the sources were strange to him. "I try to believe it. But it's a marvel," he exclaimed, "how YOU already get at it!"
Oh she was able to say. "Remember how much I was on the way to it through Mr. Newsome — before I saw you. He thinks everything of your strength."
"Well, I can bear almost anything!" our friend briskly interrupted. Deep and beautiful on this her smile came back, and with the effect of making him hear what he had said just as she had heard it. He easily enough felt that it gave him away, but what in truth had everything done but that? It had been all very well to think at moments that he was holding her nose down and that he had coerced her: what had he by this time done but let her practically see that he accepted their relation? What was their relation moreover — though light and brief enough in form as yet — but whatever she might choose to make it? Nothing could prevent her — certainly he couldn't — from making it pleasant. At the back of his head, behind everything, was the sense that she was — there, before him, close to him, in vivid imperative form — one of the rare women he had so often heard of, read of, thought of, but never met, whose very presence, look, voice, the mere contemporaneous FACT of whom, from the moment it was at all presented, made a relation of mere recognition. That was not the kind of woman he had ever found Mrs. Newsome, a contemporaneous fact who had been distinctly slow to establish herself; and at present, confronted with Madame de Vionnet, he felt the simplicity of his original impression of Miss Gostrey. She certainly had been a fact of rapid growth; but the world was wide, each day was more and more a new lesson. There were at any rate even among the stranger ones relations and relations. "Of course I suit Chad's grand way," he quickly added. "He hasn't had much difficulty in working me in."
She seemed to deny a little, on the young man's behalf, by the rise of her eyebrows, an intention of any process at all inconsiderate. "You must know how grieved he'd be if you were to lose anything. He believes you can keep his mother patient."
Strether wondered with his eyes on her. "I see. THAT'S then what you really want of me. And how am I to do it? Perhaps you'll tell me that."
"Simply tell her the truth."
"And what do you call the truth?"
"Well, any truth — about us all — that you see yourself. I leave it to you."
"Thank you very much. I like," Strether laughed with a slight harshness, "the way you leave things!"
But she insisted kindly, gently, as if it wasn't so bad. "Be perfectly honest. Tell her all."
"All?" he oddly echoed.
"Tell her the simple truth," Madame de Vionnet again pleaded.
"But what is the simple truth? The simple truth is exactly what I'm trying to discover."
She looked about a while, but presently she came back to him. "Tell her, fully and clearly, about US."
Strether meanwhile had been staring. "You and your daughter?"
"Yes — little Jeanne and me. Tell her," she just slightly quavered, "you like us."
"And what good will that do me? Or rather" — he caught himself up — "what good will it do YOU?"
She looked graver. "None, you believe, really?"
Strether debated. "She didn't send me out to 'like' you."
"Oh," she charmingly contended, "she sent you out to face the facts."
He admitted after an instant that there was something in that. "But how can I face them till I know what they are? Do you want him," he then braced himself to ask, "to marry your daughter?"
She gave a headshake as noble as it was prompt. "No — not that."
"And he really doesn't want to himself?"
She repeated the movement, but now with a strange light in her face. "He likes her too much."
Strether wondered. "To be willing to consider, you mean, the question of taking her to America?"
"To be willing to do anything with her but be immensely kind and nice — really tender of her. We watch over her, and you must help us. You must see her again."
Strether felt awkward. "Ah with pleasure — she's so remarkably attractive."