Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 14

Gordon asked him no questions for twenty-four hours after his return, then suddenly he began:

“Well, have n’t you something to say to me?”

It was at the hotel, in Gordon’s apartment, late in the afternoon. A heavy thunder-storm had broken over the place an hour before, and Bernard had been standing at one of his friend’s windows, rather idly, with his hands in his pockets, watching the rain-torrents dance upon the empty pavements. At last the deluge abated, the clouds began to break — there was a promise of a fine evening. Gordon Wright, while the storm was at its climax, sat down to write letters, and wrote half a dozen. It was after he had sealed, directed and affixed a postage-stamp to the last of the series that he addressed to his companion the question I have just quoted.

“Do you mean about Miss Vivian?” Bernard asked, without turning round from the window.

“About Miss Vivian, of course.” Bernard said nothing and his companion went on. “Have you nothing to tell me about Miss Vivian?”

Bernard presently turned round looking at Gordon and smiling a little.

“She ‘s a delightful creature!”

“That won’t do — you have tried that before,” said Gordon. “No,” he added in a moment, “that won’t do.” Bernard turned back to the window, and Gordon continued, as he remained silent. “I shall have a right to consider your saying nothing a proof of an unfavorable judgment. You don’t like her!”

Bernard faced quickly about again, and for an instant the two men looked at each other.

“Ah, my dear Gordon,” Longueville murmured.

“Do you like her then?” asked Wright, getting up.

“No!” said Longueville.

“That ‘s just what I wanted to know, and I am much obliged to you for telling me.”

“I am not obliged to you for asking me. I was in hopes you would n’t.”

“You dislike her very much then?” Gordon exclaimed, gravely.

“Won’t disliking her, simply, do?” said Bernard.

“It will do very well. But it will do a little better if you will tell me why. Give me a reason or two.”

“Well,” said Bernard, “I tried to make love to her and she boxed my ears.”

“The devil!” cried Gordon.

“I mean morally, you know.”

Gordon stared; he seemed a little puzzled.

“You tried to make love to her morally?”

“She boxed my ears morally,” said Bernard, laughing out.

“Why did you try to make love to her?”

This inquiry was made in a tone so expressive of an unbiassed truth-seeking habit that Bernard’s mirth was not immediately quenched. Nevertheless, he replied with sufficient gravity —

“To test her fidelity to you. Could you have expected anything else? You told me you were afraid she was a latent coquette. You gave me a chance, and I tried to ascertain.”

“And you found she was not. Is that what you mean?”

“She ‘s as firm as a rock. My dear Gordon, Miss Vivian is as firm as the firmest of your geological formations.”

Gordon shook his head with a strange positive persistence.

“You are talking nonsense. You are not serious. You are not telling me the truth. I don’t believe that you attempted to make love to her. You would n’t have played such a game as that. It would n’t have been honorable.”

Bernard flushed a little; he was irritated.

“Oh come, don’t make too much of a point of that! Did n’t you tell me before that it was a great opportunity?”

“An opportunity to be wise — not to be foolish!”

“Ah, there is only one sort of opportunity,” cried Bernard. “You exaggerate the reach of human wisdom.”

“Suppose she had let you make love to her,” said Gordon. “That would have been a beautiful result of your experiment.”

“I should have seemed to you a rascal, perhaps, but I should have saved you from a latent coquette. You would owe some thanks for that.”

“And now you have n’t saved me,” said Gordon, with a simple air of noting a fact.

“You assume — in spite of what I say — that she is a coquette!”

“I assume something because you evidently conceal something. I want the whole truth.”

Bernard turned back to the window with increasing irritation.

“If he wants the whole truth he shall have it,” he said to himself.

He stood a moment in thought and then he looked at his companion again.

“I think she would marry you — but I don’t think she cares for you.”

Gordon turned a little pale, but he clapped his hands together.

“Very good,” he exclaimed. “That ‘s exactly how I want you to speak.”

“Her mother has taken a great fancy to your fortune and it has rubbed off on the girl, who has made up her mind that it would be a pleasant thing to have thirty thousand a year, and that her not caring for you is an unimportant detail.”

“I see — I see,” said Gordon, looking at his friend with an air of admiration for his frank and lucid way of putting things.

Now that he had begun to be frank and lucid, Bernard found a charm in it, and the impulse under which he had spoken urged him almost violently forward.

“The mother and daughter have agreed together to bag you, and Angela, I am sure, has made a vow to be as nice to you after marriage as possible. Mrs. Vivian has insisted upon the importance of that; Mrs. Vivian is a great moralist.”

Gordon kept gazing at his friend; he seemed positively fascinated.

“Yes, I have noticed that in Mrs. Vivian,” he said.

“Ah, she ‘s a very nice woman!”

“It ‘s not true, then,” said Gordon, “that you tried to make love to Angela?”

Bernard hesitated a single instant.

“No, it is n’t true. I calumniated myself, to save her reputation. You insisted on my giving you a reason for my not liking her — I gave you that one.”

“And your real reason —”

“My real reason is that I believe she would do you what I can’t help regarding as an injury.”

“Of course!” and Gordon, dropping his interested eyes, stared for some moments at the carpet. “But it is n’t true, then, that you discovered her to be a coquette?”

“Ah, that ‘s another matter.”

“You did discover it all the same?”

“Since you want the whole truth — I did!”

“How did you discover it?” Gordon asked, clinging to his right of interrogation.

Bernard hesitated.

“You must remember that I saw a great deal of her.”

“You mean that she encouraged you?”

“If I had not been a very faithful friend I might have thought so.”

Gordon laid his hand appreciatively, gratefully, on Bernard’s shoulder.

“And even that did n’t make you like her?”

“Confound it, you make me blush!” cried Bernard, blushing a little in fact. “I have said quite enough; excuse me from drawing the portrait of too insensible a man. It was my point of view; I kept thinking of you.”

Gordon, with his hand still on his friend’s arm, patted it an instant in response to this declaration; then he turned away.

“I am much obliged to you. That ‘s my notion of friendship. You have spoken out like a man.”

“Like a man, yes. Remember that. Not in the least like an oracle.”

“I prefer an honest man to all the oracles,” said Gordon.

“An honest man has his impressions! I have given you mine — they pretend to be nothing more. I hope they have n’t offended you.”

“Not in the least.”

“Nor distressed, nor depressed, nor in any way discomposed you?”

“For what do you take me? I asked you a favor — a service; I imposed it on you. You have done the thing, and my part is simple gratitude.”

“Thank you for nothing,” said Bernard, smiling. “You have asked me a great many questions; there is one that in turn I have a right to ask you. What do you propose to do in consequence of what I have told you?”

“I propose to do nothing.”

This declaration closed the colloquy, and the young men separated. Bernard saw Gordon no more that evening; he took for granted he had gone to Mrs. Vivian’s. The burden of Longueville’s confidences was a heavy load to carry there, but Bernard ventured to hope that he would deposit it at the door. He had given Gordon his impressions, and the latter might do with them what he chose — toss them out of the window, or let them grow stale with heedless keeping. So Bernard meditated, as he wandered about alone for the rest of the evening. It was useless to look for Mrs. Vivian’s little circle, on the terrace of the Conversation-house, for the storm in the afternoon had made the place so damp that it was almost forsaken of its frequenters. Bernard spent the evening in the gaming-rooms, in the thick of the crowd that pressed about the tables, and by way of a change — he had hitherto been almost nothing of a gambler — he laid down a couple of pieces at roulette. He had played but two or three times, without winning a penny; but now he had the agreeable sensation of drawing in a small handful of gold. He continued to play, and he continued to win. His luck surprised and excited him — so much so that after it had repeated itself half a dozen times he left the place and walked about for half an hour in the outer darkness. He felt amused and exhilarated, but the feeling amounted almost to agitation. He, nevertheless, returned to the tables, where he again found success awaiting him. Again and again he put his money on a happy number, and so steady a run of luck began at last to attract attention. The rumor of it spread through the rooms, and the crowd about the roulette received a large contingent of spectators. Bernard felt that they were looking more or less eagerly for a turn of the tide; but he was in the humor for disappointing them, and he left the place, while his luck was still running high, with ten thousand francs in his pocket. It was very late when he returned to the inn — so late that he forbore to knock at Gordon’s door. But though he betook himself to his own quarters, he was far from finding, or even seeking, immediate rest. He knocked about, as he would have said, for half the night — not because he was delighted at having won ten thousand francs, but rather because all of a sudden he found himself disgusted at the manner in which he had spent the evening. It was extremely characteristic of Bernard Longueville that his pleasure should suddenly transform itself into flatness. What he felt was not regret or repentance. He had it not in the least on his conscience that he had given countenance to the reprehensible practice of gaming. It was annoyance that he had passed out of his own control — that he had obeyed a force which he was unable to measure at the time. He had been drunk and he was turning sober. In spite of a great momentary appearance of frankness and a lively relish of any conjunction of agreeable circumstances exerting a pressure to which one could respond, Bernard had really little taste for giving himself up, and he never did so without very soon wishing to take himself back. He had now given himself to something that was not himself, and the fact that he had gained ten thousand francs by it was an insufficient salve to an aching sense of having ceased to be his own master. He had not been playing — he had been played with. He had been the sport of a blind, brutal chance, and he felt humiliated by having been favored by so rudely-operating a divinity. Good luck and bad luck? Bernard felt very scornful of the distinction, save that good luck seemed to him rather the more vulgar. As the night went on his disgust deepened, and at last the weariness it brought with it sent him to sleep. He slept very late, and woke up to a disagreeable consciousness. At first, before collecting his thoughts, he could not imagine what he had on his mind — was it that he had spoken ill of Angela Vivian? It brought him extraordinary relief to remember that he had gone to bed in extreme ill-humor with his exploits at roulette. After he had dressed himself and just as he was leaving his room, a servant brought him a note superscribed in Gordon’s hand — a note of which the following proved to be the contents.

“Seven o’clock, A.M.

“My dear Bernard: Circumstances have determined me to leave Baden immediately, and I shall take the train that starts an hour hence. I am told that you came in very late last night, so I won’t disturb you for a painful parting at this unnatural hour. I came to this decision last evening, and I put up my things; so I have nothing to do but to take myself off. I shall go to Basel, but after that I don’t know where, and in so comfortless an uncertainty I don’t ask you to follow me. Perhaps I shall go to America; but in any case I shall see you sooner or later. Meanwhile, my dear Bernard, be as happy as your brilliant talents should properly make you, and believe me yours ever,


“P.S. It is perhaps as well that I should say that I am leaving in consequence of something that happened last evening, but not — by any traceable process — in consequence of the talk we had together. I may also add that I am in very good health and spirits.”

Bernard lost no time in learning that his friend had in fact departed by the eight o’clock train — the morning was now well advanced; and then, over his breakfast, he gave himself up to meditative surprise. What had happened during the evening — what had happened after their conversation in Gordon’s room? He had gone to Mrs. Vivian’s — what had happened there? Bernard found it difficult to believe that he had gone there simply to notify her that, having talked it over with an intimate friend, he gave up her daughter, or to mention to the young lady herself that he had ceased to desire the honor of her hand. Gordon alluded to some definite occurrence, yet it was inconceivable that he should have allowed himself to be determined by Bernard’s words — his diffident and irresponsible impression. Bernard resented this idea as an injury to himself, yet it was difficult to imagine what else could have happened. There was Gordon’s word for it, however, that there was no “traceable” connection between the circumstances which led to his sudden departure and the information he had succeeded in extracting from his friend. What did he mean by a “traceable” connection? Gordon never used words idly, and he meant to make of this point an intelligible distinction. It was this sense of his usual accuracy of expression that assisted Bernard in fitting a meaning to his late companion’s letter. He intended to intimate that he had come back to Baden with his mind made up to relinquish his suit, and that he had questioned Bernard simply from moral curiosity — for the sake of intellectual satisfaction. Nothing was altered by the fact that Bernard had told him a sorry tale; it had not modified his behavior — that effect would have been traceable. It had simply affected his imagination, which was a consequence of the imponderable sort. This view of the case was supported by Gordon’s mention of his good spirits. A man always had good spirits when he had acted in harmony with a conviction. Of course, after renouncing the attempt to make himself acceptable to Miss Vivian, the only possible thing for Gordon had been to leave Baden. Bernard, continuing to meditate, at last convinced himself that there had been no explicit rupture, that Gordon’s last visit had simply been a visit of farewell, that its character had sufficiently signified his withdrawal, and that he had now gone away because, after giving the girl up, he wished very naturally not to meet her again. This was, on Bernard’s part, a sufficiently coherent view of the case; but nevertheless, an hour afterward, as he strolled along the Lichtenthal Alley, he found himself stopping suddenly and exclaiming under his breath —“Have I done her an injury? Have I affected her prospects?” Later in the day he said to himself half a dozen times that he had simply warned Gordon against an incongruous union.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38