The Ambassadors HTML version

Chapter VI.1
It was quite by half-past five--after the two men had been together in Madame de
Vionnet's drawing-room not more than a dozen minutes-- that Chad, with a look at his
watch and then another at their hostess, said genially, gaily: "I've an engagement, and I
know you won't complain if I leave him with you. He'll interest you immensely; and as for
her," he declared to Strether, "I assure you, if you're at all nervous, she's perfectly safe."
He had left them to be embarrassed or not by this guarantee, as they could best
manage, and embarrassment was a thing that Strether wasn't at first sure Madame de
Vionnet escaped. He escaped it himself, to his surprise; but he had grown used by this
time to thinking of himself as brazen. She occupied, his hostess, in the Rue de
Bellechasse, the first floor of an old house to which our visitors had had access from an
old clean court. The court was large and open, full of revelations, for our friend, of the
habit of privacy, the peace of intervals, the dignity of distances and approaches; the
house, to his restless sense, was in the high homely style of an elder day, and the
ancient Paris that he was always looking for--sometimes intensely felt, sometimes more
acutely missed--was in the immemorial polish of the wide waxed staircase and in the
fine boiseries, the medallions, mouldings, mirrors, great clear spaces, of the greyish-
white salon into which he had been shown. He seemed at the very outset to see her in
the midst of possessions not vulgarly numerous, but hereditary cherished charming.
While his eyes turned after a little from those of his hostess and Chad freely talked--not
in the least about HIM, but about other people, people he didn't know, and quite as if he
did know them--he found himself making out, as a background of the occupant, some
glory, some prosperity of the First Empire, some Napoleonic glamour, some dim lustre
of the great legend; elements clinging still to all the consular chairs and mythological
brasses and sphinxes' heads and faded surfaces of satin striped with alternate silk.
The place itself went further back--that he guessed, and how old Paris continued in a
manner to echo there; but the post-revolutionary period, the world he vaguely thought of
as the world of Chateaubriand, of Madame de Stael, even of the young Lamartine, had
left its stamp of harps and urns and torches, a stamp impressed on sundry small
objects, ornaments and relics. He had never before, to his knowledge, had present to
him relics, of any special dignity, of a private order-- little old miniatures, medallions,
pictures, books; books in leather bindings, pinkish and greenish, with gilt garlands on
the back, ranged, together with other promiscuous properties, under the glass of brass-
mounted cabinets. His attention took them all tenderly into account. They were among
the matters that marked Madame de Vionnet's apartment as something quite different
from Miss Gostrey's little museum of bargains and from Chad's lovely home; he
recognised it as founded much more on old accumulations that had possibly from time
to time shrunken than on any contemporary method of acquisition or form of curiosity.
Chad and Miss Gostrey had rummaged and purchased and picked up and exchanged,
sifting, selecting, comparing; whereas the mistress of the scene before him, beautifully
passive under the spell of transmission--transmission from her father's line, he quite
made up his mind--had only received, accepted and been quiet. When she hadn't been