The Ambassadors HTML version

Chapter II.1
Those occasions on which Strether was, in association with the exile from Milrose, to
see the sacred rage glimmer through would doubtless have their due periodicity; but our
friend had meanwhile to find names for many other matters. On no evening of his life
perhaps, as he reflected, had he had to supply so many as on the third of his short stay
in London; an evening spent by Miss Gostrey's side at one of the theatres, to which he
had found himself transported, without his own hand raised, on the mere expression of
a conscientious wonder. She knew her theatre, she knew her play, as she had
triumphantly known, three days running, everything else, and the moment filled to the
brim, for her companion, that apprehension of the interesting which, whether or no the
interesting happened to filter through his guide, strained now to its limits his brief
opportunity. Waymarsh hadn't come with them; he had seen plays enough, he signified,
before Strether had joined him--an affirmation that had its full force when his friend
ascertained by questions that he had seen two and a circus. Questions as to what he
had seen had on him indeed an effect only less favourable than questions as to what he
hadn't. He liked the former to be discriminated; but how could it be done, Strether asked
of their constant counsellor, without discriminating the latter?
Miss Gostrey had dined with him at his hotel, face to face over a small table on which
the lighted candles had rose-coloured shades; and the rose-coloured shades and the
small table and the soft fragrance of the lady--had anything to his mere sense ever been
so soft?--were so many touches in he scarce knew what positive high picture. He had
been to the theatre, even to the opera, in Boston, with Mrs. Newsome, more than once
acting as her only escort; but there had been no little confronted dinner, no pink lights,
no whiff of vague sweetness, as a preliminary: one of the results of which was that at
present, mildly rueful, though with a sharpish accent, he actually asked himself WHY
there hadn't. There was much the same difference in his impression of the noticed state
of his companion, whose dress was "cut down," as he believed the term to be, in
respect to shoulders and bosom, in a manner quite other than Mrs. Newsome's, and
who wore round her throat a broad red velvet band with an antique jewel--he was rather
complacently sure it was antique--attached to it in front. Mrs. Newsome's dress was
never in any degree "cut down," and she never wore round her throat a broad red velvet
band: if she had, moreover, would it ever have served so to carry on and complicate, as
he now almost felt, his vision?
It would have been absurd of him to trace into ramifications the effect of the ribbon from
which Miss Gostrey's trinket depended, had he not for the hour, at the best, been so
given over to uncontrolled perceptions. What was it but an uncontrolled perception that
his friend's velvet band somehow added, in her appearance, to the value of every other
item--to that of her smile and of the way she carried her head, to that of her complexion,
of her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her hair? What, certainly, had a man conscious of a
man's work in the world to do with red velvet bands? He wouldn't for anything have so
exposed himself as to tell Miss Gostrey how much he liked hers, yet he HAD none the
less not only caught himself in the act--frivolous, no doubt, idiotic, and above all