The Ambassadors by Henry James - HTML preview
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[Note: In the 1909 New York Edition the following two chapters were placed in the reverse of the order appearing below. Since 1950, most scholars have agreed, because of the internal evidence of the two chapters, that an editorial error caused them to be printed in reverse order. This Etext, like other editions of the past four decades, corrects the apparent error.
-- Richard D. Hathaway, preparer of this electronic text]
He went late that evening to the Boulevard Malesherbes, having his impression that it would be vain to go early, and having also, more than once in the course of the day, made enquiries of the concierge. Chad hadn't come in and had left no intimation; he had affairs, apparently, at this juncture--as it occurred to Strether he so well might have--that kept him long abroad. Our friend asked once for him at the hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, but the only contribution offered there was the fact that every one was out. It was with the idea that he would have to come home to sleep that Strether went up to his rooms, from which however he was still absent, though, from the balcony, a few moments later, his visitor heard eleven o'clock strike. Chad's servant had by this time answered for his reappearance; he HAD, the visitor learned, come quickly in to dress for dinner and vanish again. Strether spent an hour in waiting for him--an hour full of strange suggestions, persuasions, recognitions; one of those that he was to recall, at the end of his adventure, as the particular handful that most had counted. The mellowest lamplight and the easiest chair had been placed at his disposal by Baptiste, subtlest of servants; the novel half-uncut, the novel lemon-coloured and tender, with the ivory knife athwart it like the dagger in a contadina's hair, had been pushed within the soft circle--a circle which, for some reason, affected Strether as softer still after the same Baptiste had remarked that in the absence of a further need of anything by Monsieur he would betake himself to bed. The night was hot and heavy and the single lamp sufficient; the great flare of the lighted city, rising high, spending itself afar, played up from the Boulevard and, through the vague vista of the successive rooms, brought objects into view and added to their dignity. Strether found himself in possession as he never yet had been; he had been there alone, had turned over books and prints, had invoked, in Chad's absence, the spirit of the place, but never at the witching hour and never with a relish quite so like a pang.
He spent a long time on the balcony; he hung over it as he had seen little Bilham hang the day of his first approach, as he had seen Mamie hang over her own the day little Bilham himself might have seen her from below; he passed back into the rooms, the three that occupied the front and that communicated by wide doors; and, while he circulated and rested, tried to recover the impression that they had made on him three months before, to catch again the voice in which they had seemed then to speak to him. That voice, he had to note, failed audibly to sound; which he took as the proof of all the change in himself. He had heard, of old, only what he COULD then hear; what he could do now was to think of three months ago as a point in the far past. All voices had grown thicker and meant more things; they crowded on him as he moved about--it was the way they sounded together that wouldn't let him be still. He felt, strangely, as sad as if he had come for some wrong, and yet as excited as if he had come for some freedom. But the freedom was what was most in the place and the hour, it was the freedom that most brought him round again to the youth of his own that he had long ago missed. He could have explained little enough to-day either why he had missed it or why, after years and years, he should care that he had; the main truth of the actual appeal of everything was none the less that everything represented the substance of his loss put it within reach, within touch, made it, to a degree it had never been, an affair of the senses. That was what it became for him at this singular time, the youth he had long ago missed--a queer concrete presence, full of mystery, yet full of reality, which he could handle, taste, smell, the deep breathing of which he could positively hear. It was in the outside air as well as within; it was in the long watch, from the balcony, in the summer night, of the wide late life of Paris, the unceasing soft quick rumble, below, of the little lighted carriages that, in the press, always suggested the gamblers he had seen of old at Monte Carlo pushing up to the tables. This image was before him when he at last became aware that Chad was behind.
"She tells me you put it all on ME"--he had arrived after this promptly enough at that information; which expressed the case however quite as the young man appeared willing for the moment to leave it. Other things, with this advantage of their virtually having the night before them, came up for them, and had, as well, the odd effect of making the occasion, instead of hurried and feverish, one of the largest, loosest and easiest to which Strether's whole adventure was to have treated him. He had been pursuing Chad from an early hour and had overtaken him only now; but now the delay was repaired by their being so exceptionally confronted. They had foregathered enough of course in all the various times; they had again and again, since that first night at the theatre, been face to face over their question; but they had never been so alone together as they were actually alone--their talk hadn't yet been so supremely for themselves. And if many things moreover passed before them, none passed more distinctly for Strether than that striking truth about Chad of which he had been so often moved to take note: the truth that everything came happily back with him to his knowing how to live. It had been seated in his pleased smile--a smile that pleased exactly in the right degree--as his visitor turned round, on the balcony, to greet his advent; his visitor in fact felt on the spot that there was nothing their meeting would so much do as bear witness to that facility. He surrendered himself accordingly to so approved a gift; for what was the meaning of the facility but that others DID surrender themselves? He didn't want, luckily, to prevent Chad from living; but he was quite aware that even if he had he would himself have thoroughly gone to pieces. It was in truth essentially by bringing down his personal life to a function all subsidiary to the young man's own that he held together. And the great point, above all, the sign of how completely Chad possessed the knowledge in question, was that one thus became, not only with a proper cheerfulness, but with wild native impulses, the feeder of his stream. Their talk had accordingly not lasted three minutes without Strether's feeling basis enough for the excitement in which he had waited. This overflow fairly deepened, wastefully abounded, as he observed the smallness of anything corresponding to it on the part of his friend. That was exactly this friend's happy case; he "put out" his excitement, or whatever other emotion the matter involved, as he put out his washing; than which no arrangement could make more for domestic order. It was quite for Strether himself in short to feel a personal analogy with the laundress bringing home the triumphs of the mangle.
When he had reported on Sarah's visit, which he did very fully, Chad answered his question with perfect candour. "I positively referred her to you--told her she must absolutely see you. This was last night, and it all took place in ten minutes. It was our first free talk--really the first time she had tackled me. She knew I also knew what her line had been with yourself; knew moreover how little you had been doing to make anything difficult for her. So I spoke for you frankly--assured her you were all at her service. I assured her I was too," the young man continued; "and I pointed out how she could perfectly, at any time, have got at me. Her difficulty has been simply her not finding the moment she fancied."
"Her difficulty," Strether returned, "has been simply that she finds she's afraid of you. She's not afraid of ME, Sarah, one little scrap; and it was just because she has seen how I can fidget when I give my mind to it that she has felt her best chance, rightly enough to be in making me as uneasy as possible. I think she's at bottom as pleased to HAVE you put it on me as you yourself can possibly be to put it."
"But what in the world, my dear man," Chad enquired in objection to this luminosity, "have I done to make Sally afraid?"
"You've been 'wonderful, wonderful,' as we say--we poor people who watch the play from the pit; and that's what has, admirably, made her. Made her all the more effectually that she could see you didn't set about it on purpose--I mean set about affecting her as with fear."
Chad cast a pleasant backward glance over his possibilities of motive. "I've only wanted to be kind and friendly, to be decent and attentive--and I still only want to be."
Strether smiled at his comfortable clearness. "Well, there can certainly be no way for it better than by my taking the onus. It reduces your personal friction and your personal offence to almost nothing."
Ah but Chad, with his completer conception of the friendly, wouldn't quite have this! They had remained on the balcony, where, after their day of great and premature heat, the midnight air was delicious; and they leaned back in turn against the balustrade, all in harmony with the chairs and the flower-pots, the cigarettes and the starlight. "The onus isn't REALLY yours--after our agreeing so to wait together and judge together. That was all my answer to Sally," Chad pursued-- "that we have been, that we are, just judging together."
"I'm not afraid of the burden," Strether explained; "I haven't come in the least that you should take it off me. I've come very much, it seems to me, to double up my fore legs in the manner of the camel when he gets down on his knees to make his back convenient. But I've supposed you all this while to have been doing a lot of special and private judging--about which I haven't troubled you; and I've only wished to have your conclusion first from you. I don't ask more than that; I'm quite ready to take it as it has come."
Chad turned up his face to the sky with a slow puff of his smoke. "Well, I've seen."
Strether waited a little. "I've left you wholly alone; haven't, I think I may say, since the first hour or two--when I merely preached patience--so much as breathed on you."
"Oh you've been awfully good!"
"We've both been good then--we've played the game. We've given them the most liberal conditions."
"Ah," said Chad, "splendid conditions! It was open to them, open to them"--he seemed to make it out, as he smoked, with his eyes still on the stars. He might in quiet sport have been reading their horoscope. Strether wondered meanwhile what had been open to them, and he finally let him have it. "It was open to them simply to let me alone; to have made up their minds, on really seeing me for themselves, that I could go on well enough as I was."
Strether assented to this proposition with full lucidity, his companion's plural pronoun, which stood all for Mrs. Newsome and her daughter, having no ambiguity for him. There was nothing, apparently, to stand for Mamie and Jim; and this added to our friend's sense of Chad's knowing what he thought. "But they've made up their minds to the opposite--that you CAN'T go on as you are."
"No," Chad continued in the same way; "they won't have it for a minute."
Strether on his side also reflectively smoked. It was as if their high place really represented some moral elevation from which they could look down on their recent past. "There never was the smallest chance, do you know, that they WOULD have it for a moment."
"Of course not--no real chance. But if they were willing to think there was--!"
"They weren't willing." Strether had worked it all out. "It wasn't for you they came out, but for me. It wasn't to see for themselves what you're doing, but what I'm doing. The first branch of their curiosity was inevitably destined, under my culpable delay, to give way to the second; and it's on the second that, if I may use the expression and you don't mind my marking the invidious fact, they've been of late exclusively perched. When Sarah sailed it was me, in other words, they were after."
Chad took it in both with intelligence and with indulgence. "It IS rather a business then-what I've let you in for!"
Strether had again a brief pause; which ended in a reply that seemed to dispose once for all of this element of compunction. Chad was to treat it, at any rate, so far as they were again together, as having done so. "I was 'in' when you found me."
"Ah but it was you," the young man laughed, "who found ME."
"I only found you out. It was you who found me in. It was all in the day's work for them, at all events, that they should come. And they've greatly enjoyed it," Strether declared.
"Well, I've tried to make them," said Chad.
His companion did himself presently the same justice. "So have I. I tried even this very morning--while Mrs. Pocock was with me. She enjoys for instance, almost as much as anything else, not being, as I've said, afraid of me; and I think I gave her help in that."
Chad took a deeper interest. "Was she very very nasty?"
Strether debated. "Well, she was the most important thing--she was definite. She was-at last--crystalline. And I felt no remorse. I saw that they must have come."
"Oh I wanted to see them for myself; so that if it were only for THAT--!" Chad's own remorse was as small.
This appeared almost all Strether wanted. "Isn't your having seen them for yourself then THE thing, beyond all others, that has come of their visit?"
Chad looked as if he thought it nice of his old friend to put it so. "Don't you count it as anything that you're dished--if you ARE dished? Are you, my dear man, dished?"
It sounded as if he were asking if he had caught cold or hurt his foot, and Strether for a minute but smoked and smoked. "I want to see her again. I must see her."
"Of course you must." Then Chad hesitated. "Do you mean--a--Mother herself?"
"Oh your mother--that will depend."
It was as if Mrs. Newsome had somehow been placed by the words very far off. Chad however endeavoured in spite of this to reach the place. "What do you mean it will depend on?"
Strether, for all answer, gave him a longish look. "I was speaking of Sarah. I must positively--though she quite cast me off--see HER again. I can't part with her that way."
"Then she was awfully unpleasant?" Again Strether exhaled. "She was what she had to be. I mean that from the moment they're not delighted they can only be--well what I admit she was. We gave them," he went on, "their chance to be delighted, and they've walked up to it, and looked all round it, and not taken it."
"You can bring a horse to water--!" Chad suggested.
"Precisely. And the tune to which this morning Sarah wasn't delighted--the tune to which, to adopt your metaphor, she refused to drink--leaves us on that side nothing more to hope."
Chad had a pause, and then as if consolingly: "It was never of course really the least on the cards that they would be 'delighted.'"
"Well, I don't know, after all," Strether mused. "I've had to come as far round. However"
-he shook it off--"it's doubtless MY performance that's absurd."
"There are certainly moments," said Chad, "when you seem to me too good to be true. Yet if you are true," he added, "that seems to be all that need concern me."
"I'm true, but I'm incredible. I'm fantastic and ridiculous-- I don't explain myself even TO myself. How can they then," Strether asked, "understand me? So I don't quarrel with them."
"I see. They quarrel," said Chad rather comfortably, "with US." Strether noted once more the comfort, but his young friend had already gone on. "I should feel greatly ashamed, all the same, if I didn't put it before you again that you ought to think, after all, tremendously well. I mean before giving up beyond recall--" With which insistence, as from a certain delicacy, dropped.
Ah but Strether wanted it. "Say it all, say it all."
"Well, at your age, and with what--when all's said and done-- Mother might do for you and be for you."
Chad had said it all, from his natural scruple, only to that extent; so that Strether after an instant himself took a hand. "My absence of an assured future. The little I have to show toward the power to take care of myself. The way, the wonderful way, she would certainly take care of me. Her fortune, her kindness, and the constant miracle of her having been disposed to go even so far. Of course, of course"--he summed it up. "There are those sharp facts."
Chad had meanwhile thought of another still. "And don't you really care--?"
His friend slowly turned round to him. "Will you go?" "I'll go if you'll say you now consider I should. You know," he went on, "I was ready six weeks ago."
"Ah," said Strether, "that was when you didn't know I wasn't! You're ready at present because you do know it."
"That may be," Chad returned; "but all the same I'm sincere. You talk about taking the whole thing on your shoulders, but in what light do you regard me that you think me capable of letting you pay?" Strether patted his arm, as they stood together against the parapet, reassuringly--seeming to wish to contend that he HAD the wherewithal; but it was again round this question of purchase and price that the young man's sense of fairness continued to hover. "What it literally comes to for you, if you'll pardon my putting it so, is that you give up money. Possibly a good deal of money."
"Oh," Strether laughed, "if it were only just enough you'd still be justified in putting it so! But I've on my side to remind you too that YOU give up money; and more than 'possibly'--quite certainly, as I should suppose--a good deal."
"True enough; but I've got a certain quantity," Chad returned after a moment. "Whereas you, my dear man, you--"
"I can't be at all said"--Strether took him up--"to have a 'quantity' certain or uncertain? Very true. Still, I shan't starve."
"Oh you mustn't STARVE!" Chad pacifically emphasised; and so, in the pleasant conditions, they continued to talk; though there was, for that matter, a pause in which the younger companion might have been taken as weighing again the delicacy of his then and there promising the elder some provision against the possibility just mentioned. This, however, he presumably thought best not to do, for at the end of another minute they had moved in quite a different direction. Strether had broken in by returning to the subject of Chad's passage with Sarah and enquiring if they had arrived, in the event, at anything in the nature of a "scene." To this Chad replied that they had on the contrary kept tremendously polite; adding moreover that Sally was after all not the woman to have made the mistake of not being. "Her hands are a good deal tied, you see. I got so, from the first," he sagaciously observed, "the start of her."
"You mean she has taken so much from you?"
"Well, I couldn't of course in common decency give less: only she hadn't expected, I think, that I'd give her nearly so much. And she began to take it before she knew it."
"And she began to like it," said Strether, "as soon as she began to take it!"
"Yes, she has liked it--also more than she expected." After which Chad observed: "But she doesn't like ME. In fact she hates me."
Strether's interest grew. "Then why does she want you at home?"
"Because when you hate you want to triumph, and if she should get me neatly stuck there she WOULD triumph."
Strether followed afresh, but looking as he went. "Certainly--in a manner. But it would scarce be a triumph worth having if, once entangled, feeling her dislike and possibly conscious in time of a certain quantity of your own, you should on the spot make yourself unpleasant to her."
"Ah," said Chad, "she can bear ME--could bear me at least at home. It's my being there that would be her triumph. She hates me in Paris."
"She hates in other words--"
"Yes, THAT'S it!"--Chad had quickly understood this understanding; which formed on the part of each as near an approach as they had yet made to naming Madame de Vionnet. The limitations of their distinctness didn't, however, prevent its fairly lingering in the air that it was this lady Mrs. Pocock hated. It added one more touch moreover to their established recognition of the rare intimacy of Chad's association with her. He had never yet more twitched away the last light veil from this phenomenon than in presenting himself as confounded and submerged in the feeling she had created at Woollett. "And I'll tell you who hates me too," he immediately went on.
Strether knew as immediately whom he meant, but with as prompt a protest. "Ah no! Mamie doesn't hate--well," he caught himself in time--"anybody at all. Mamie's beautiful."
Chad shook his head. "That's just why I mind it. She certainly doesn't like me."
"How much do you mind it? What would you do for her?"
"Well, I'd like her if she'd like me. Really, really," Chad declared.
It gave his companion a moment's pause. "You asked me just now if I don't, as you said, 'care' about a certain person. You rather tempt me therefore to put the question in my turn. Don't YOU care about a certain other person?"
Chad looked at him hard in the lamplight of the window. "The difference is that I don't want to."
Strether wondered. "'Don't want' to?"
"I try not to--that is I HAVE tried. I've done my best. You can't be surprised," the young man easily went on, "when you yourself set me on it. I was indeed," he added, "already on it a little; but you set me harder. It was six weeks ago that I thought I had come out." Strether took it well in. "But you haven't come out!"
"I don't know--it's what I WANT to know," said Chad. "And if I could have sufficiently wanted--by myself--to go back, I think I might have found out."
"Possibly"--Strether considered. "But all you were able to achieve was to want to want to! And even then," he pursued, "only till our friends there came. Do you want to want to still?" As with a sound half-dolorous, half-droll and all vague and equivocal, Chad buried his face for a little in his hands, rubbing it in a whimsical way that amounted to an evasion, he brought it out more sharply: "DO you?"
Chad kept for a time his attitude, but at last he looked up, and then abruptly, "Jim IS a damned dose!" he declared.
"Oh I don't ask you to abuse or describe or in any way pronounce on your relatives; I simply put it to you once more whether you're NOW ready. You say you've 'seen.' Is what you've seen that you can't resist?"
Chad gave him a strange smile--the nearest approach he had ever shown to a troubled one. "Can't you make me NOT resist?"
"What it comes to," Strether went on very gravely now and as if he hadn't heard him, "what it comes to is that more has been done for you, I think, than I've ever seen done-attempted perhaps, but never so successfully done--by one human being for another."
"Oh an immense deal certainly"--Chad did it full justice. "And you yourself are adding to it."
It was without heeding this either that his visitor continued. "And our friends there won't have it."
"No, they simply won't."
"They demand you on the basis, as it were, of repudiation and ingratitude; and what has been the matter with me," Strether went on, "is that I haven't seen my way to working with you for repudiation."
Chad appreciated this. "Then as you haven't seen yours you naturally haven't seen mine. There it is." After which he proceeded, with a certain abruptness, to a sharp interrogation. "NOW do you say she doesn't hate me?"
Strether hesitated. "'She'--?"
"Yes--Mother. We called it Sarah, but it comes to the same thing."
"Ah," Strether objected, "not to the same thing as her hating YOU." On which--though as if for an instant it had hung fire--Chad remarkably replied: "Well, if they hate my good friend, THAT comes to the same thing." It had a note of inevitable truth that made Strether take it as enough, feel he wanted nothing more. The young man spoke in it for his "good friend" more than he had ever yet directly spoken, confessed to such deep identities between them as he might play with the idea of working free from, but which at a given moment could still draw him down like a whirlpool. And meanwhile he had gone on. "Their hating you too moreover--that also comes to a good deal."
"Ah," said Strether, "your mother doesn't."
Chad, however, loyally stuck to it--loyally, that is, to Strether. "She will if you don't look out."
"Well, I do look out. I am, after all, looking out. That's just why," our friend explained, "I want to see her again."
It drew from Chad again the same question. "To see Mother?"
"To see--for the present--Sarah."
"Ah then there you are! And what I don't for the life of me make out," Chad pursued with resigned perplexity, "is what you GAIN by it."
Oh it would have taken his companion too long to say! "That's because you have, I verily believe, no imagination. You've other qualities. But no imagination, don't you see? at all."
"I dare say. I do see." It was an idea in which Chad showed interest. "But haven't you yourself rather too much?"
"Oh RATHER--!" So that after an instant, under this reproach and as if it were at last a fact really to escape from, Strether made his move for departure.