Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 15

Now that gordon was gone, at any rate, gone for good, and not to return, he felt a sudden and singular sense of freedom. It was a feeling of unbounded expansion, quite out of proportion, as he said to himself, to any assignable cause. Everything suddenly appeared to have become very optional; but he was quite at a loss what to do with his liberty. It seemed a harmless use to make of it, in the afternoon, to go and pay another visit to the ladies who lived at the confectioner’s. Here, however, he met a reception which introduced a fresh element of perplexity into the situation that Gordon had left behind him. The door was opened to him by Mrs. Vivian’s maid-servant, a sturdy daughter of the Schwartzwald, who informed him that the ladies — with much regret — were unable to receive any one.

“They are very busy — and they are ill,” said the young woman, by way of explanation.

Bernard was disappointed, and he felt like arguing the case.

“Surely,” he said, “they are not both ill and busy! When you make excuses, you should make them agree with each other.”

The Teutonic soubrette fixed her round blue eyes a minute upon the patch of blue sky revealed to her by her open door.

“I say what I can, lieber Herr. It ‘s not my fault if I ‘m not so clever as a French mamsell. One of the ladies is busy, the other is ill. There you have it.”

“Not quite,” said Bernard. “You must remember that there are three of them.”

“Oh, the little one — the little one weeps.”

“Miss Evers weeps!” exclaimed Bernard, to whom the vision of this young lady in tears had never presented itself.

“That happens to young ladies when they are unhappy,” said the girl; and with an artless yet significant smile she carried a big red hand to the left side of a broad bosom.

“I am sorry she is unhappy; but which of the other ladies is ill?”

“The mother is very busy.”

“And the daughter is ill?”

The young woman looked at him an instant, smiling again, and the light in her little blue eyes indicated confusion, but not perversity.

“No, the mamma is ill,” she exclaimed, “and the daughter is very busy. They are preparing to leave Baden.”

“To leave Baden? When do they go?”

“I don’t quite know, lieber Herr; but very soon.”

With this information Bernard turned away. He was rather surprised, but he reflected that Mrs. Vivian had not proposed to spend her life on the banks of the Oos, and that people were leaving Baden every day in the year. In the evening, at the Kursaal, he met Captain Lovelock, who was wandering about with an air of explosive sadness.

“Damn it, they ‘re going — yes, they ‘re going,” said the Captain, after the two young men had exchanged a few allusions to current events. “Fancy their leaving us in that heartless manner! It ‘s not the time to run away — it ‘s the time to keep your rooms, if you ‘re so lucky as to have any. The races begin next week and there ‘ll be a tremendous crowd. All the grand-ducal people are coming. Miss Evers wanted awfully to see the Grand Duke, and I promised her an introduction. I can’t make out what Mrs. Vivian is up to. I bet you a ten-pound note she ‘s giving chase. Our friend Wright has come back and gone off again, and Mrs. Vivian means to strike camp and follow. She ‘ll pot him yet; you see if she does n’t!”

“She is running away from you, dangerous man!” said Bernard.

“Do you mean on account of Miss Evers? Well, I admire Miss Evers — I don’t mind admitting that; but I ain’t dangerous,” said Captain Lovelock, with a lustreless eye. “How can a fellow be dangerous when he has n’t ten shillings in his pocket? Desperation, do you call it? But Miss Evers has n’t money, so far as I have heard. I don’t ask you,” Lovelock continued —“I don’t care a damn whether she has or not. She ‘s a devilish charming girl, and I don’t mind telling you I ‘m hit. I stand no chance — I know I stand no chance. Mrs. Vivian ‘s down on me, and, by Jove, Mrs. Vivian ‘s right. I ‘m not the husband to pick out for a young woman of expensive habits and no expectations. Gordon Wright’s the sort of young man that ‘s wanted, and, hang me, if Mrs. Vivian did n’t want him so much for her own daughter, I believe she ‘d try and bag him for the little one. Gad, I believe that to keep me off she would like to cut him in two and give half to each of them! I ‘m afraid of that little woman. She has got a little voice like a screw-driver. But for all that, if I could get away from this cursed place, I would keep the girl in sight — hang me if I would n’t! I ‘d cut the races — dash me if I would n’t! But I ‘m in pawn, if you know what that means. I owe a beastly lot of money at the inn, and that impudent little beggar of a landlord won’t let me out of his sight. The luck ‘s dead against me at those filthy tables; I have n’t won a farthing in three weeks. I wrote to my brother the other day, and this morning I got an answer from him — a cursed, canting letter of good advice, remarking that he had already paid my debts seven times. It does n’t happen to be seven; it ‘s only six, or six and a half! Does he expect me to spend the rest of my life at the Hotel de Hollande? Perhaps he would like me to engage as a waiter there and pay it off by serving at the table d’hote. It would be convenient for him the next time he comes abroad with his seven daughters and two governesses. I hate the smell of their beastly table d’hote! You ‘re sorry I ‘m hard up? I ‘m sure I ‘m much obliged to you. Can you be of any service? My dear fellow, if you are bent on throwing your money about the place I ‘m not the man to stop you.” Bernard’s winnings of the previous night were burning a hole, as the phrase is, in his pocket. Ten thousand francs had never before seemed to him so heavy a load to carry, and to lighten the weight of his good luck by lending fifty pounds to a less fortunate fellow-player was an operation that not only gratified his good-nature but strongly commended itself to his conscience. His conscience, however, made its conditions. “My dear Longueville,” Lovelock went on, “I have always gone in for family feeling, early associations, and all that sort of thing. That ‘s what made me confide my difficulties to Dovedale. But, upon my honor, you remind me of the good Samaritan, or that sort of person; you are fonder of me than my own brother! I ‘ll take fifty pounds with pleasure, thank you, and you shall have them again — at the earliest opportunity. My earliest convenience — will that do? Damn it, it is a convenience, is n’t it? You make your conditions. My dear fellow, I accept them in advance. That I ‘m not to follow up Miss Evers — is that what you mean? Have you been commissioned by the family to buy me off? It ‘s devilish cruel to take advantage of my poverty! Though I ‘m poor, I ‘m honest. But I am honest, my dear Longueville; that ‘s the point. I ‘ll give you my word, and I ‘ll keep it. I won’t go near that girl again — I won’t think of her till I ‘ve got rid of your fifty pounds. It ‘s a dreadful encouragement to extravagance, but that ‘s your lookout. I ‘ll stop for their beastly races and the young lady shall be sacred.”

Longueville called the next morning at Mrs. Vivian’s, and learned that the three ladies had left Baden by the early train, a couple of hours before. This fact produced in his mind a variety of emotions — surprise, annoyance, embarrassment. In spite of his effort to think it natural they should go, he found something precipitate and inexplicable in the manner of their going, and he declared to himself that one of the party, at least, had been unkind and ungracious in not giving him a chance to say good-bye. He took refuge by anticipation, as it were, in this reflection, whenever, for the next three or four days, he foresaw himself stopping short, as he had done before, and asking himself whether he had done an injury to Angela Vivian. This was an idle and unpractical question, inasmuch as the answer was not forthcoming; whereas it was quite simple and conclusive to say, without the note of interrogation, that she was, in spite of many attractive points, an abrupt and capricious young woman. During the three or four days in question, Bernard lingered on at Baden, uncertain what to do or where to go, feeling as if he had received a sudden check — a sort of spiritual snub — which arrested the accumulation of motive. Lovelock, also, whom Bernard saw every day, appeared to think that destiny had given him a slap in the face, for he had not enjoyed the satisfaction of a last interview with Miss Evers.

“I thought she might have written me a note,” said the Captain; “but it appears she does n’t write. Some girls don’t write, you know.”

Bernard remarked that it was possible Lovelock would still have news of Miss Blanche; and before he left Baden he learned that she had addressed her forsaken swain a charming little note from Lausanne, where the three ladies had paused in their flight from Baden, and where Mrs. Vivian had decreed that for the present they should remain.

“I ‘m devilish glad she writes,” said Captain Lovelock; “some girls do write, you know.”

Blanche found Lausanne most horrid after Baden, for whose delights she languished. The delights of Baden, however, were not obvious just now to her correspondent, who had taken Bernard’s fifty pounds into the Kursaal and left them there. Bernard, on learning his misfortune, lent him another fifty, with which he performed a second series of unsuccessful experiments; and our hero was not at his ease until he had passed over to his luckless friend the whole amount of his own winnings, every penny of which found its way through Captain Lovelock’s fingers back into the bank. When this operation was completed, Bernard left Baden, the Captain gloomily accompanying him to the station.

I have said that there had come over Bernard a singular sense of freedom. One of the uses he made of his freedom was to undertake a long journey. He went to the East and remained absent from Europe for upward of two years — a period of his life of which it is not proposed to offer a complete history. The East is a wonderful region, and Bernard, investigating the mysteries of Asia, saw a great many curious and beautiful things. He had moments of keen enjoyment; he laid up a great store of impressions and even a considerable sum of knowledge. But, nevertheless, he was not destined to look back upon this episode with any particular complacency. It was less delightful than it was supposed to be; it was less successful than it might have been. By what unnatural element the cup of pleasure was adulterated, he would have been very much at a loss to say; but it was an incontestable fact that at times he sipped it as a medicine, rather than quaffed it as a nectar. When people congratulated him on his opportunity of seeing the world, and said they envied him the privilege of seeing it so well, he felt even more than the usual degree of irritation produced by an insinuation that fortune thinks so poorly of us as to give us easy terms. Misplaced sympathy is the least available of superfluities, and Bernard at this time found himself thinking that there was a good deal of impertinence in the world. He would, however, readily have confessed that, in so far as he failed to enjoy his Oriental wanderings, the fault was his own; though he would have made mentally the gratifying reflection that never was a fault less deliberate. If, during the period of which I speak, his natural gayety had sunk to a minor key, a partial explanation may be found in the fact that he was deprived of the society of his late companion. It was an odd circumstance that the two young men had not met since Gordon’s abrupt departure from Baden. Gordon went to Berlin, and shortly afterward to America, so that they were on opposite sides of the globe. Before he returned to his own country, Bernard made by letter two or three offers to join him in Europe, anywhere that was agreeable to him. Gordon answered that his movements were very uncertain, and that he should be sorry to trouble Bernard to follow him about. He had put him to this inconvenience in making him travel from Venice to Baden, and one such favor at a time was enough to ask, even of the most obliging of men. Bernard was, of course, afraid that what he had told Gordon about Angela Vivian was really the cause of a state of things which, as between two such good friends, wore a perceptible resemblance to alienation. Gordon had given her up; but he bore Bernard a grudge for speaking ill of her, and so long as this disagreeable impression should last, he preferred not to see him. Bernard was frank enough to charge the poor fellow with a lingering rancor, of which he made, indeed, no great crime. But Gordon denied the allegation, and assured him that, to his own perception, there was no decline in their intimacy. He only requested, as a favor and as a tribute to “just susceptibilities,” that Bernard would allude no more either to Miss Vivian or to what had happened at Baden. This request was easy to comply with, and Bernard, in writing, strictly conformed to it; but it seemed to him that the act of doing so was in itself a cooling-off. What would be a better proof of what is called a “tension” than an agreement to avoid a natural topic? Bernard moralized a little over Gordon’s “just susceptibilities,” and felt that the existence of a perverse resentment in so honest a nature was a fact gained to his acquaintance with psychological science. It cannot be said, however, that he suffered this fact to occupy at all times the foreground of his consciousness. Bernard was like some great painters; his foregrounds were very happily arranged. He heard nothing of Mrs. Vivian and her daughter, beyond a rumor that they had gone to Italy; and he learned, on apparently good authority, that Blanche Evers had returned to New York with her mother. He wondered whether Captain Lovelock was still in pawn at the Hotel de Hollande. If he did not allow himself to wonder too curiously whether he had done a harm to Gordon, it may be affirmed that he was haunted by the recurrence of that other question, of which mention has already been made. Had he done a harm to Angela Vivian, and did she know that he had done it? This inquiry by no means made him miserable, and it was far from awaiting him regularly on his pillow. But it visited him at intervals, and sometimes in the strangest places — suddenly, abruptly, in the stillness of an Indian temple, or amid the shrillness of an Oriental crowd. He became familiar with it at last; he called it his Jack-inthe-box. Some invisible touch of circumstance would press the spring, and the little image would pop up, staring him in the face and grinning an interrogation. Bernard always clapped down the lid, for he regarded this phenomenon as strikingly inane. But if it was more frequent than any pang of conscience connected with the remembrance of Gordon himself, this last sentiment was certainly lively enough to make it a great relief to hear at last a rumor that the excellent fellow was about to be married. The rumor reached him at Athens; it was vague and indirect, and it omitted the name of his betrothed. But Bernard made the most of it, and took comfort in the thought that his friend had recovered his spirits and his appetite for matrimony.

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