She met it in all honesty. "Oh I won't pretend I don't miss him. Sometimes I see him every day. Our friendship's like that. Make what you will of it!" she whimsically smiled; a little flicker of the kind, occasional in her, that had more than once moved him to wonder what he might best make of HER. "But he's perfectly right," she hastened to add, "and I wouldn't have him fail in any way at present for the world. I'd sooner not see him for three months. I begged him to be beautiful to them, and he fully feels it for himself."
Strether turned away under his quick perception; she was so odd a mixture of lucidity and mystery. She fell in at moments with the theory about her he most cherished, and she seemed at others to blow it into air. She spoke now as if her art were all an innocence, and then again as if her innocence were all an art. "Oh he's giving himself up, and he'll do so to the end. How can he but want, now that it's within reach, his full impression? — which is much more important, you know, than either yours or mine. But he's just soaking," Strether said as he came back; "he's going in conscientiously for a saturation. I'm bound to say he IS very good."
"Ah," she quietly replied, "to whom do you say it?" And then more quietly still: "He's capable of anything."
Strether more than reaffirmed — "Oh he's excellent. I more and more like," he insisted, "to see him with them;" though the oddity of this tone between them grew sharper for him even while they spoke. It placed the young man so before them as the result of her interest and the product of her genius, acknowledged so her part in the phenomenon and made the phenomenon so rare, that more than ever yet he might have been on the very point of asking her for some more detailed account of the whole business than he had yet received from her. The occasion almost forced upon him some question as to how she had managed and as to the appearance such miracles presented from her own singularly close place of survey. The moment in fact however passed, giving way to more present history, and he continued simply to mark his appreciation of the happy truth. "It's a tremendous comfort to feel how one can trust him." And then again while for a little she said nothing — as if after all to HER trust there might be a special limit: "I mean for making a good show to them."
"Yes," she thoughtfully returned — "but if they shut their eyes to it!"
Strether for an instant had his own thought. "Well perhaps that won't matter!"
"You mean because he probably — do what they will — won't like them?"
"Oh 'do what they will' — ! They won't do much; especially if Sarah hasn't more — well, more than one has yet made out — to give."
Madame de Vionnet weighed it. "Ah she has all her grace!" It was a statement over which, for a little, they could look at each other sufficiently straight, and though it produced no protest from Strether the effect was somehow as if he had treated it as a joke. "She may be persuasive and caressing with him; she may be eloquent beyond words. She may get hold of him," she wound up — "well, as neither you nor I have."
"Yes, she MAY" — and now Strether smiled. "But he has spent all his time each day with Jim. He's still showing Jim round."
She visibly wondered. "Then how about Jim?"
Strether took a turn before he answered. "Hasn't he given you Jim? Hasn't he before this 'done' him for you?" He was a little at a loss. "Doesn't he tell you things?"
She hesitated. "No" — and their eyes once more gave and took. "Not as you do. You somehow make me see them — or at least feel them. And I haven't asked too much," she added; "I've of late wanted so not to worry him."
"Ah for that, so have I," he said with encouraging assent; so that — as if she had answered everything — they were briefly sociable on it. It threw him back on his other thought, with which he took another turn; stopping again, however, presently with something of a glow. "You see Jim's really immense. I think it will be Jim who'll do it."
She wondered. "Get hold of him?"
"No — just the other thing. Counteract Sarah's spell." And he showed now, our friend, how far he had worked it out. "Jim's intensely cynical."
"Oh dear Jim!" Madame de Vionnet vaguely smiled.
"Yes, literally — dear Jim! He's awful. What HE wants, heaven forgive him, is to help us."
"You mean" — she was eager — "help ME?"
"Well, Chad and me in the first place. But he throws you in too, though without as yet seeing you much. Only, so far as he does see you — if you don't mind — he sees you as awful."
"'Awful'?" — she wanted it all.
"A regular bad one — though of course of a tremendously superior kind. Dreadful, delightful, irresistible."
"Ah dear Jim! I should like to know him. I MUST."
"Yes, naturally. But will it do? You may, you know," Strether suggested, "disappoint him."
She was droll and humble about it. "I can but try. But my wickedness then," she went on, "is my recommendation for him?"
"Your wickedness and the charms with which, in such a degree as yours, he associates it. He understands, you see, that Chad and I have above all wanted to have a good time, and his view is simple and sharp. Nothing will persuade him — in the light, that is, of my behaviour — that I really didn't, quite as much as Chad, come over to have one before it was too late. He wouldn't have expected it of me; but men of my age, at Woollett — and especially the least likely ones — have been noted as liable to strange outbreaks, belated uncanny clutches at the unusual, the ideal. It's an effect that a lifetime of Woollett has quite been observed as having; and I thus give it to you, in Jim's view, for what it's worth. Now his wife and his mother-in-law," Strether continued to explain, "have, as in honour bound, no patience with such phenomena, late or early — which puts Jim, as against his relatives, on the other side. Besides," he added, "I don't think he really wants Chad back. If Chad doesn't come — "