Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 20

Bernard walked beside her, and for some moments nothing was said between them. As the silence continued, he became aware of it, and it vexed him that she should leave certain things unsaid. She had asked him no question — neither whence he had come, nor how long he would stay, nor what had happened to him since they parted. He wished to see whether this was intention or accident. He was already complaining to himself that she expressed no interest in him, and he was perfectly aware that this was a ridiculous feeling. He had come to speak to her in order to tell her that he was going away, and yet, at the end of five minutes, he had asked leave to come and see her. This sudden gyration of mind was grotesque, and Bernard knew it; but, nevertheless, he had an immense expectation that, if he should give her time, she would manifest some curiosity as to his own situation. He tried to give her time; he held his tongue; but she continued to say nothing. They passed along a sort of winding lane, where two or three fishermen’s cottages, with old brown nets suspended on the walls and drying in the sun, stood open to the road, on the other side of which was a patch of salt-looking grass, browsed by a donkey that was not fastidious.

“It ‘s so long since we parted, and we have so much to say to each other!” Bernard exclaimed at last, and he accompanied this declaration with a laugh much more spontaneous than the one he had given a few moments before.

It might have gratified him, however, to observe that his companion appeared to see no ground for joking in the idea that they should have a good deal to say to each other.

“Yes, it ‘s a long time since we spent those pleasant weeks at Baden,” she rejoined. “Have you been there again?”

This was a question, and though it was a very simple one, Bernard was charmed with it.

“I would n’t go back for the world!” he said. “And you?”

“Would I go back? Oh yes; I thought it so agreeable.”

With this he was less pleased; he had expected the traces of resentment, and he was actually disappointed at not finding them. But here was the little house of which his companion had spoken, and it seemed, indeed, a rather bad one. That is, it was one of those diminutive structures which are known at French watering-places as “chalets,” and, with an exiguity of furniture, are let for the season to families that pride themselves upon their powers of contraction. This one was a very humble specimen of its class, though it was doubtless a not inadequate abode for two quiet and frugal women. It had a few inches of garden, and there were flowers in pots in the open windows, where some extremely fresh white curtains were gently fluttering in the breath of the neighboring ocean. The little door stood wide open.

“This is where we live,” said Angela; and she stopped and laid her hand upon the little garden-gate.

“It ‘s very fair,” said Bernard. “I think it ‘s better than the pastry-cook’s at Baden.”

They stood there, and she looked over the gate at the geraniums. She did not ask him to come in; but, on the other hand, keeping the gate closed, she made no movement to leave him. The Casino was now quite out of sight, and the whole place was perfectly still. Suddenly, turning her eyes upon Bernard with a certain strange inconsequence —

“I have not seen you here before,” she observed.

He gave a little laugh.

“I suppose it ‘s because I only arrived this morning. I think that if I had been here you would have noticed me.”

“You arrived this morning?”

“Three or four hours ago. So, if the remark were not in questionable taste, I should say we had not lost time.”

“You may say what you please,” said Angela, simply. “Where did you come from?”

Interrogation, now it had come, was most satisfactory, and Bernard was glad to believe that there was an element of the unexpected in his answer.

“From California.”

“You came straight from California to this place?”

“I arrived at Havre only yesterday.”

“And why did you come here?”

“It would be graceful of me to be able to answer —‘Because I knew you were here.’ But unfortunately I did not know it. It was a mere chance; or rather, I feel like saying it was an inspiration.”

Angela looked at the geraniums again.

“It was very singular,” she said. “We might have been in so many places besides this one. And you might have come to so many places besides this one.”

“It is all the more singular, that one of the last persons I saw in America was your charming friend Blanche, who married Gordon Wright. She did n’t tell me you were here.”

“She had no reason to know it,” said the girl. “She is not my friend — as you are her husband’s friend.”

“Ah no, I don’t suppose that. But she might have heard from you.”

“She does n’t hear from us. My mother used to write to her for a while after she left Europe, but she has given it up.” She paused a moment, and then she added —“Blanche is too silly!”

Bernard noted this, wondering how it bore upon his theory of a spiteful element in his companion. Of course Blanche was silly; but, equally of course, this young lady’s perception of it was quickened by Blanche’s having married a rich man whom she herself might have married.

“Gordon does n’t think so,” Bernard said.

Angela looked at him a moment.

“I am very glad to hear it,” she rejoined, gently.

“Yes, it is very fortunate.”

“Is he well?” the girl asked. “Is he happy?”

“He has all the air of it.”

“I am very glad to hear it,” she repeated. And then she moved the latch of the gate and passed in. At the same moment her mother appeared in the open door-way. Mrs. Vivian had apparently been summoned by the sound of her daughter’s colloquy with an unrecognized voice, and when she saw Bernard she gave a sharp little cry of surprise. Then she stood gazing at him.

Since the dispersion of the little party at Baden–Baden he had not devoted much meditation to this conscientious gentlewoman who had been so tenderly anxious to establish her daughter properly in life; but there had been in his mind a tacit assumption that if Angela deemed that he had played her a trick Mrs. Vivian’s view of his conduct was not more charitable. He felt that he must have seemed to her very unkind, and that in so far as a well-regulated conscience permitted the exercise of unpractical passions, she honored him with a superior detestation. The instant he beheld her on her threshold this conviction rose to the surface of his consciousness and made him feel that now, at least, his hour had come.

“It is Mr. Longueville, whom we met at Baden,” said Angela to her mother, gravely.

Mrs. Vivian began to smile, and stepped down quickly toward the gate.

“Ah, Mr. Longueville,” she murmured, “it ‘s so long — it ‘s so pleasant — it ‘s so strange —”

And suddenly she stopped, still smiling. Her smile had an odd intensity; she was trembling a little, and Bernard, who was prepared for hissing scorn, perceived with a deep, an almost violent, surprise, a touching agitation, an eager friendliness.

“Yes, it ‘s very long,” he said; “it ‘s very pleasant. I have only just arrived; I met Miss Vivian.”

“And you are not coming in?” asked Angela’s mother, very graciously.

“Your daughter has not asked me!” said Bernard.

“Ah, my dearest,” murmured Mrs. Vivian, looking at the girl.

Her daughter returned her glance, and then the elder lady paused again, and simply began to smile at Bernard, who recognized in her glance that queer little intimation — shy and cautious, yet perfectly discernible — of a desire to have a private understanding with what he felt that she mentally termed his better nature, which he had more than once perceived at Baden–Baden.

“Ah no, she has not asked me,” Bernard repeated, laughing gently.

Then Angela turned her eyes upon him, and the expression of those fine organs was strikingly agreeable. It had, moreover, the merit of being easily interpreted; it said very plainly, “Please don’t insist, but leave me alone.” And it said it not at all sharply — very gently and pleadingly. Bernard found himself understanding it so well that he literally blushed with intelligence.

“Don’t you come to the Casino in the evening, as you used to come to the Kursaal?” he asked.

Mrs. Vivian looked again at her daughter, who had passed into the door-way of the cottage; then she said —

“We will go this evening.”

“I shall look for you eagerly,” Bernard rejoined. “Auf wiedersehen, as we used to say at Baden!”

Mrs. Vivian waved him a response over the gate, her daughter gave him a glance from the threshold, and he took his way back to his inn.

He awaited the evening with great impatience; he fancied he had made a discovery, and he wished to confirm it. The discovery was that his idea that she bore him a grudge, that she was conscious of an injury, that he was associated in her mind with a wrong, had all been a morbid illusion. She had forgiven, she had forgotten, she did n’t care, she had possibly never cared! This, at least, was his theory now, and he longed for a little more light upon it. His old sense of her being a complex and intricate girl had, in that quarter of an hour of talk with her, again become lively, so that he was not absolutely sure his apprehensions had been vain. But, with his quick vision of things, he had got the impression, at any rate, that she had no vulgar resentment of any slight he might have put upon her, or any disadvantage he might have caused her. Her feeling about such a matter would be large and original. Bernard desired to see more of that, and in the evening, in fact, it seemed to him that he did so.

The terrace of the Casino was far from offering the brilliant spectacle of the promenade in front of the gaming-rooms at Baden. It had neither the liberal illumination, the distinguished frequenters, nor the superior music which formed the attraction of that celebrated spot; but it had a modest animation of its own, in which the starlight on the open sea took the place of clustered lamps, and the mighty resonance of the waves performed the function of an orchestra. Mrs. Vivian made her appearance with her daughter, and Bernard, as he used to do at Baden, chose a corner to place some chairs for them. The crowd was small, for most of the visitors had compressed themselves into one of the rooms, where a shrill operetta was being performed by a strolling troupe. Mrs. Vivian’s visit was a short one; she remained at the Casino less than half an hour. But Bernard had some talk with Angela. He sat beside her — her mother was on the other side, talking with an old French lady whose acquaintance she had made on the beach. Between Bernard and Angela several things were said. When his friends went away Bernard walked home with them. He bade them good-night at the door of their chalet, and then slowly strolled back to the Casino. The terrace was nearly empty; every one had gone to listen to the operetta, the sound of whose contemporary gayety came through the open, hot-looking windows in little thin quavers and catches. The ocean was rumbling just beneath; it made a ruder but richer music. Bernard stood looking at it a moment; then he went down the steps to the beach. The tide was rather low; he walked slowly down to the line of the breaking waves. The sea looked huge and black and simple; everything was vague in the unassisted darkness. Bernard stood there some time; there was nothing but the sound and the sharp, fresh smell. Suddenly he put his hand to his heart; it was beating very fast. An immense conviction had come over him — abruptly, then and there — and for a moment he held his breath. It was like a word spoken in the darkness — he held his breath to listen. He was in love with Angela Vivian, and his love was a throbbing passion! He sat down on the stones where he stood — it filled him with a kind of awe.

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