The Ambassadors by Henry James - HTML preview
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He was to delay no longer to re-establish communication with Chad, and we have just seen that he had spoken to Miss Gostrey of this intention on hearing from her of the young man's absence. It was not moreover only the assurance so given that prompted him; it was the need of causing his conduct to square with another profession still--the motive he had described to her as his sharpest for now getting away. If he was to get away because of some of the relations involved in staying, the cold attitude toward them might look pedantic in the light of lingering on. He must do both things; he must see Chad, but he must go. The more he thought of the former of these duties the more he felt himself make a subject of insistence of the latter. They were alike intensely present to him as he sat in front of a quiet little cafe into which he had dropped on quitting Maria's entresol. The rain that had spoiled his evening with her was over; for it was still to him as if his evening HAD been spoiled--though it mightn't have been wholly the rain. It was late when he left the cafe, yet not too late; he couldn't in any case go straight to bed, and he would walk round by the Boulevard Malesherbes--rather far round--on his way home. Present enough always was the small circumstance that had originally pressed for him the spring of so big a difference--the accident of little Bilham's appearance on the balcony of the mystic troisieme at the moment of his first visit, and the effect of it on his sense of what was then before him. He recalled his watch, his wait, and the recognition that had proceeded from the young stranger, that had played frankly into the air and had presently brought him up--things smoothing the way for his first straight step. He had since had occasion, a few times, to pass the house without going in; but he had never passed it without again feeling how it had then spoken to him. He stopped short to-night on coming to sight of it: it was as if his last day were oddly copying his first. The windows of Chad's apartment were open to the balcony-- a pair of them lighted; and a figure that had come out and taken up little Bilham's attitude, a figure whose cigarette-spark he could see leaned on the rail and looked down at him. It denoted however no reappearance of his younger friend; it quickly defined itself in the tempered darkness as Chad's more solid shape; so that Chad's was the attention that after he had stepped forward into the street and signalled, he easily engaged; Chad's was the voice that, sounding into the night with promptness and seemingly with joy, greeted him and called him up.
That the young man had been visible there just in this position expressed somehow for Strether that, as Maria Gostrey had reported, he had been absent and silent; and our friend drew breath on each landing--the lift, at that hour, having ceased to work--before the implications of the fact. He had been for a week intensely away, away to a distance and alone; but he was more back than ever, and the attitude in which Strether had surprised him was something more than a return--it was clearly a conscious surrender. He had arrived but an hour before, from London, from Lucerne, from Homburg, from no matter where--though the visitor's fancy, on the staircase, liked to fill it out; and after a bath, a talk with Baptiste and a supper of light cold clever French things, which one could see the remains of there in the circle of the lamp, pretty and ultra-Parisian, he had come into the air again for a smoke, was occupied at the moment of Strether's approach in what might have been called taking up his life afresh. His life, his life!--Strether paused anew, on the last flight, at this final rather breathless sense of what Chad's life was doing with Chad's mother's emissary. It was dragging him, at strange hours, up the staircases of the rich; it was keeping him out of bed at the end of long hot days; it was transforming beyond recognition the simple, subtle, conveniently uniform thing that had anciently passed with him for a life of his own. Why should it concern him that Chad was to be fortified in the pleasant practice of smoking on balconies, of supping on salads, of feeling his special conditions agreeably reaffirm themselves, of finding reassurance in comparisons and contrasts? There was no answer to such a question but that he was still practically committed--he had perhaps never yet so much known it. It made him feel old, and he would buy his railway-ticket--feeling, no doubt, older--the next day; but he had meanwhile come up four flights, counting the entresol, at midnight and without a lift, for Chad's life. The young man, hearing him by this time, and with Baptiste sent to rest, was already at the door; so that Strether had before him in full visibility the cause in which he was labouring and even, with the troisieme fairly gained, panting a little.
Chad offered him, as always, a welcome in which the cordial and the formal--so far as the formal was the respectful--handsomely met; and after he had expressed a hope that he would let him put him up for the night Strether was in full possession of the key, as it might have been called, to what had lately happened. If he had just thought of himself as old Chad was at sight of him thinking of him as older: he wanted to put him up for the night just because he was ancient and weary. It could never be said the tenant of these quarters wasn't nice to him; a tenant who, if he might indeed now keep him, was probably prepared to work it all still more thoroughly. Our friend had in fact the impression that with the minimum of encouragement Chad would propose to keep him indefinitely; an impression in the lap of which one of his own possibilities seemed to sit. Madame de Vionnet had wished him to stay--so why didn't that happily fit? He could enshrine himself for the rest of his days in his young host's chambre d'ami and draw out these days at his young host's expense: there could scarce be greater logical expression of the countenance he had been moved to give. There was literally a minute--it was strange enough--during which he grasped the idea that as he WAS acting, as he could only act, he was inconsistent. The sign that the inward forces he had obeyed really hung together would be that--in default always of another career--he should promote the good cause by mounting guard on it. These things, during his first minutes, came and went; but they were after all practically disposed of as soon as he had mentioned his errand. He had come to say good-bye--yet that was only a part; so that from the moment Chad accepted his farewell the question of a more ideal affirmation gave way to something else. He proceeded with the rest of his business. "You'll be a brute, you know--you'll be guilty of the last infamy--if you ever forsake her."
That, uttered there at the solemn hour, uttered in the place that was full of her influence, was the rest of his business; and when once he had heard himself say it he felt that his message had never before been spoken. It placed his present call immediately on solid ground, and the effect of it was to enable him quite to play with what we have called the key. Chad showed no shade of embarrassment, but had none the less been troubled for him after their meeting in the country; had had fears and doubts on the subject of his comfort. He was disturbed, as it were, only FOR him, and had positively gone away to ease him off, to let him down-- if it wasn't indeed rather to screw him up--the more gently. Seeing him now fairly jaded he had come, with characteristic good humour, all the way to meet him, and what Strether thereupon supremely made out was that he would abound for him to the end in conscientious assurances. This was what was between them while the visitor remained; so far from having to go over old ground he found his entertainer keen to agree to everything. It couldn't be put too strongly for him that he'd be a brute. "Oh rather!--if I should do anything of THAT sort. I hope you believe I really feel it."
"I want it," said Strether, "to be my last word of all to you. I can't say more, you know; and I don't see how I can do more, in every way, than I've done."
Chad took this, almost artlessly, as a direct allusion. "You've seen her?"
"Oh yes--to say good-bye. And if I had doubted the truth of what I tell you--"
"She'd have cleared up your doubt?" Chad understood--"rather"-- again! It even kept him briefly silent. But he made that up. "She must have been wonderful."
"She WAS," Strether candidly admitted--all of which practically told as a reference to the conditions created by the accident of the previous week.
They appeared for a little to be looking back at it; and that came out still more in what Chad next said. "I don't know what you've really thought, all along; I never did know--for anything, with you, seemed to be possible. But of course--of course--" Without confusion, quite with nothing but indulgence, he broke down, he pulled up. "After all, you understand. I spoke to you originally only as I HAD to speak. There's only one way--isn't there?--about such things. However," he smiled with a final philosophy, "I see it's all right."
Strether met his eyes with a sense of multiplying thoughts. What was it that made him at present, late at night and after journeys, so renewedly, so substantially young? Strether saw in a moment what it was--it was that he was younger again than Madame de Vionnet. He himself said immediately none of the things that he was thinking; he said something quite different. "You HAVE really been to a distance?"
"I've been to England." Chad spoke cheerfully and promptly, but gave no further account of it than to say: "One must sometimes get off."
Strether wanted no more facts--he only wanted to justify, as it were, his question. "Of course you do as you're free to do. But I hope, this time, that you didn't go for ME."
"For very shame at bothering you really too much? My dear man," Chad laughed, "what WOULDn't I do for you?"
Strether's easy answer for this was that it was a disposition he had exactly come to profit by. "Even at the risk of being in your way I've waited on, you know, for a definite reason."
Chad took it in. "Oh yes--for us to make if possible a still better impression." And he stood there happily exhaling his full general consciousness. "I'm delighted to gather that you feel we've made it."
There was a pleasant irony in the words, which his guest, preoccupied and keeping to the point, didn't take up. "If I had my sense of wanting the rest of the time--the time of their being still on this side," he continued to explain--"I know now why I wanted it."
He was as grave, as distinct, as a demonstrator before a blackboard, and Chad continued to face him like an intelligent pupil. "You wanted to have been put through the whole thing."
Strether again, for a moment, said nothing; he turned his eyes away, and they lost themselves, through the open window, in the dusky outer air. "I shall learn from the Bank here where they're now having their letters, and my last word, which I shall write in the morning and which they're expecting as my ultimatum, will so immediately reach them." The light of his plural pronoun was sufficiently reflected in his companion's face as he again met it; and he completed his demonstration. He pursued indeed as if for himself. "Of course I've first to justify what I shall do."
"You're justifying it beautifully!" Chad declared.
"It's not a question of advising you not to go," Strether said, "but of absolutely preventing you, if possible, from so much as thinking of it. Let me accordingly appeal to you by all you hold sacred."
Chad showed a surprise. "What makes you think me capable--?"
"You'd not only be, as I say, a brute; you'd be," his companion went on in the same way, "a criminal of the deepest dye."
Chad gave a sharper look, as if to gauge a possible suspicion. "I don't know what should make you think I'm tired of her."
Strether didn't quite know either, and such impressions, for the imaginative mind, were always too fine, too floating, to produce on the spot their warrant. There was none the less for him, in the very manner of his host's allusion to satiety as a thinkable motive, a slight breath of the ominous. "I feel how much more she can do for you. She hasn't done it all yet. Stay with her at least till she has."
"And leave her THEN?" Chad had kept smiling, but its effect in Strether was a shade of dryness. "Don't leave her BEFORE. When you've got all that can be got--I don't say," he added a trifle grimly. "That will be the proper time. But as, for you, from such a woman, there will always be something to be got, my remark's not a wrong to her." Chad let him go on, showing every decent deference, showing perhaps also a candid curiosity for this sharper accent. "I remember you, you know, as you were."
"An awful ass, wasn't I?"
The response was as prompt as if he had pressed a spring; it had a ready abundance at which he even winced; so that he took a moment to meet it. "You certainly then wouldn't have seemed worth all you've let me in for. You've defined yourself better. Your value has quintupled."
"Well then, wouldn't that be enough--?"
Chad had risked it jocosely, but Strether remained blank. "Enough?"
"If one SHOULD wish to live on one's accumulations?" After which, however, as his friend appeared cold to the joke, the young man as easily dropped it. "Of course I really never forget, night or day, what I owe her. I owe her everything. I give you my word of honour," he frankly rang out, "that I'm not a bit tired of her." Strether at this only gave him a stare: the way youth could express itself was again and again a wonder. He meant no harm, though he might after all be capable of much; yet he spoke of being "tired" of her almost as he might have spoken of being tired of roast mutton for dinner. "She has never for a moment yet bored me-- never been wanting, as the cleverest women sometimes are, in tact. She has never talked about her tact--as even they too sometimes talk; but she has always had it. She has never had it more"--he handsomely made the point--"than just lately." And he scrupulously went further. "She has never been anything I could call a burden."
Strether for a moment said nothing; then he spoke gravely, with his shade of dryness deepened. "Oh if you didn't do her justice--!"
"I SHOULD be a beast, eh?"
Strether devoted no time to saying what he would be; THAT, visibly, would take them far. If there was nothing for it but to repeat, however, repetition was no mistake. "You owe her everything--very much more than she can ever owe you. You've in other words duties to her, of the most positive sort; and I don't see what other duties--as the others are presented to you--can be held to go before them."
Chad looked at him with a smile. "And you know of course about the others, eh?--since it's you yourself who have done the presenting."
"Much of it--yes--and to the best of my ability. But not all--from the moment your sister took my place."
"She didn't," Chad returned. "Sally took a place, certainly; but it was never, I saw from the first moment, to be yours. No one-- with us--will ever take yours. It wouldn't be possible."
"Ah of course," sighed Strether, "I knew it. I believe you're right. No one in the world, I imagine, was ever so portentously solemn. There I am," he added with another sigh, as if weary enough, on occasion, of this truth. "I was made so."
Chad appeared for a little to consider the way he was made; he might for this purpose have measured him up and down. His conclusion favoured the fact. "YOU have never needed any one to make you better. There has never been any one good enough. They couldn't," the young man declared.
His friend hesitated. "I beg your pardon. They HAVE."
Chad showed, not without amusement, his doubt. "Who then?"
Strether--though a little dimly--smiled at him. "Women--too."
"'Two'?"--Chad stared and laughed. "Oh I don't believe, for such work, in any more than one! So you're proving too much. And what IS beastly, at all events," he added, "is losing you."
Strether had set himself in motion for departure, but at this he paused. "Are you afraid?"
"Of doing wrong. I mean away from my eye." Before Chad could speak, however, he had taken himself up. "I AM, certainly," he laughed, "prodigious."
"Yes, you spoil us for all the stupid--!" This might have been, on Chad's part, in its extreme emphasis, almost too freely extravagant; but it was full, plainly enough, of the intention of comfort, it carried with it a protest against doubt and a promise, positively, of performance. Picking up a hat in the vestibule he came out with his friend, came downstairs, took his arm, affectionately, as to help and guide him, treating him if not exactly as aged and infirm, yet as a noble eccentric who appealed to tenderness, and keeping on with him, while they walked, to the next corner and the next. "You needn't tell me, you needn't tell me!"--this again as they proceeded, he wished to make Strether feel. What he needn't tell him was now at last, in the geniality of separation, anything at all it concerned him to know. He knew, up to the hilt--that really came over Chad; he understood, felt, recorded his vow; and they lingered on it as they had lingered in their walk to Strether's hotel the night of their first meeting. The latter took, at this hour, all he could get; he had given all he had had to give; he was as depleted as if he had spent his last sou. But there was just one thing for which, before they broke off, Chad seemed disposed slightly to bargain. His companion needn't, as he said, tell him, but he might himself mention that he had been getting some news of the art of advertisement. He came out quite suddenly with this announcement while Strether wondered if his revived interest were what had taken him, with strange inconsequence, over to London. He appeared at all events to have been looking into the question and had encountered a revelation. Advertising scientifically worked presented itself thus as the great new force. "It really does the thing, you know."
They were face to face under the street-lamp as they had been the first night, and Strether, no doubt, looked blank. "Affects, you mean, the sale of the object advertised?"
"Yes--but affects it extraordinarily; really beyond what one had supposed. I mean of course when it's done as one makes out that in our roaring age, it CAN be done. I've been finding out a little, though it doubtless doesn't amount to much more than what you originally, so awfully vividly--and all, very nearly, that first night--put before me. It's an art like another, and infinite like all the arts." He went on as if for the joke of it--almost as if his friend's face amused him. "In the hands, naturally, of a master. The right man must take hold. With the right man to work it c'est un monde."
Strether had watched him quite as if, there on the pavement without a pretext, he had begun to dance a fancy step. "Is what you're thinking of that you yourself, in the case you have in mind, would be the right man?"
Chad had thrown back his light coat and thrust each of his thumbs into an armhole of his waistcoat; in which position his fingers played up and down. "Why, what is he but what you yourself, as I say, took me for when you first came out?"
Strether felt a little faint, but he coerced his attention. "Oh yes, and there's no doubt that, with your natural parts, you'd have much in common with him. Advertising is clearly at this time of day the secret of trade. It's quite possible it will be open to you-- giving the whole of your mind to it--to make the whole place hum with you. Your mother's appeal is to the whole of your mind, and that's exactly the strength of her case."
Chad's fingers continued to twiddle, but he had something of a drop. "Ah we've been through my mother's case!"
"So I thought. Why then do you speak of the matter?"
"Only because it was part of our original discussion. To wind up where we began, my interest's purely platonic. There at any rate the fact is--the fact of the possible. I mean the money in it."
"Oh damn the money in it!" said Strether. And then as the young man's fixed smile seemed to shine out more strange: "Shall you give your friend up for the money in it?" Chad preserved his handsome grimace as well as the rest of his attitude. "You're not altogether--in your so great 'solemnity'-- kind. Haven't I been drinking you in--showing you all I feel you're worth to me? What have I done, what am I doing, but cleave to her to the death? The only thing is," he good-humouredly explained, "that one can't but have it before one, in the cleaving-- the point where the death comes in. Don't be afraid for THAT. It's pleasant to a fellow's feelings," he developed, "to 'size-up' the bribe he applies his foot to."
"Oh then if all you want's a kickable surface the bribe's enormous."
"Good. Then there it goes!" Chad administered his kick with fantastic force and sent an imaginary object flying. It was accordingly as if they were once more rid of the question and could come back to what really concerned him. "Of course I shall see you tomorrow."
But Strether scarce heeded the plan proposed for this; he had still the impression--not the slighter for the simulated kick--of an irrelevant hornpipe or jig. "You're restless." "Ah," returned Chad as they parted, "you're exciting."