Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 23

And he had them in fact. He called the next day at the same hour, and he found the mother and the daughter together in their pretty salon. Angela was very gentle and gracious; he suspected Mrs. Vivian had given her a tender little lecture upon the manner in which she had received him the day before. After he had been there five minutes, Mrs. Vivian took a decanter of water that was standing upon a table and went out on the balcony to irrigate her flowers. Bernard watched her a while from his place in the room; then she moved along the balcony and out of sight. Some ten minutes elapsed without her re-appearing, and then Bernard stepped to the threshold of the window and looked for her. She was not there, and as he came and took his seat near Angela again, he announced, rather formally, that Mrs. Vivian had passed back into one of the other windows.

Angela was silent a moment — then she said —

“Should you like me to call her?”

She was very peculiar — that was very true; yet Bernard held to his declaration of the day before that he now understood her a little.

“No, I don’t desire it,” he said. “I wish to see you alone; I have something particular to say to you.”

She turned her face toward him, and there was something in its expression that showed him that he looked to her more serious than he had ever looked. He sat down again; for some moments he hesitated to go on.

“You frighten me,” she said laughing; and in spite of her laugh this was obviously true.

“I assure you my state of mind is anything but formidable. I am afraid of you, on the contrary; I am humble and apologetic.”

“I am sorry for that,” said Angela. “I particularly dislike receiving apologies, even when I know what they are for. What yours are for, I can’t imagine.”

“You don’t dislike me — you don’t hate me?” Bernard suddenly broke out.

“You don’t ask me that humbly. Excuse me therefore if I say I have other, and more practical, things to do.”

“You despise me,” said Bernard.

“That is not humble either, for you seem to insist upon it.”

“It would be after all a way of thinking of me, and I have a reason for wishing you to do that.”

“I remember very well that you used to have a reason for everything. It was not always a good one.”

“This one is excellent,” said Bernard, gravely. “I have been in love with you for three years.”

She got up slowly, turning away.

“Is that what you wished to say to me?”

She went toward the open window, and he followed her.

“I hope it does n’t offend you. I don’t say it lightly — it ‘s not a piece of gallantry. It ‘s the very truth of my being. I did n’t know it till lately — strange as that may seem. I loved you long before I knew it — before I ventured or presumed to know it. I was thinking of you when I seemed to myself to be thinking of other things. It is very strange — there are things in it I don’t understand. I travelled over the world, I tried to interest, to divert myself; but at bottom it was a perfect failure. To see you again — that was what I wanted. When I saw you last month at Blanquais I knew it; then everything became clear. It was the answer to the riddle. I wished to read it very clearly — I wished to be sure; therefore I did n’t follow you immediately. I questioned my heart — I cross-questioned it. It has borne the examination, and now I am sure. I am very sure. I love you as my life — I beg you to listen to me!”

She had listened — she had listened intently, looking straight out of the window and without moving.

“You have seen very little of me,” she said, presently, turning her illuminated eye on him.

“I have seen enough,” Bernard added, smiling. “You must remember that at Baden I saw a good deal of you.”

“Yes, but that did n’t make you like me. I don’t understand.”

Bernard stood there a moment, frowning, with his eyes lowered.

“I can imagine that. But I think I can explain.”

“Don’t explain now,” said Angela. “You have said enough; explain some other time.” And she went out on the balcony.

Bernard, of course, in a moment was beside her, and, disregarding her injunction, he began to explain.

“I thought I disliked you — but I have come to the conclusion it was just the contrary. In reality I was in love with you. I had been so from the first time I saw you — when I made that sketch of you at Siena.”

“That in itself needs an explanation. I was not at all nice then — I was very rude, very perverse. I was horrid!”

“Ah, you admit it!” cried Bernard, with a sort of quick elation.

She had been pale, but she suddenly blushed.

“Your own conduct was singular, as I remember it. It was not exactly agreeable.”

“Perhaps not; but at least it was meant to be. I did n’t know how to please you then, and I am far from supposing that I have learned now. But I entreat you to give me a chance.”

She was silent a while; her eyes wandered over the great prospect of Paris.

“Do you know how you can please me now?” she said, at last. “By leaving me alone.”

Bernard looked at her a moment, then came straight back into the drawing-room and took his hat.

“You see I avail myself of the first chance. But I shall come back tomorrow.”

“I am greatly obliged to you for what you have said. Such a speech as that deserves to be listened to with consideration. You may come back tomorrow,” Angela added.

On the morrow, when he came back, she received him alone.

“How did you know, at Baden, that I did n’t like you?” he asked, as soon as she would allow him.

She smiled, very gently.

“You assured me yesterday that you did like me.”

“I mean that I supposed I did n’t. How did you know that?”

“I can only say that I observed.”

“You must have observed very closely, for, superficially, I rather had the air of admiring you,” said Bernard.

“It was very superficial.”

“You don’t mean that; for, after all, that is just what my admiration, my interest in you, were not. They were deep, they were latent. They were not superficial — they were subterranean.”

“You are contradicting yourself, and I am perfectly consistent,” said Angela. “Your sentiments were so well hidden that I supposed I displeased you.”

“I remember that at Baden, you used to contradict yourself,” Bernard answered.

“You have a terrible memory!”

“Don’t call it terrible, for it sees everything now in a charming light — in the light of this understanding that we have at last arrived at, which seems to shine backward — to shine full on those Baden days.”

“Have we at last arrived at an understanding?” she asked, with a grave directness which Bernard thought the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

“It only depends upon you,” he declared; and then he broke out again into a protestation of passionate tenderness. “Don’t put me off this time,” he cried. “You have had time to think about it; you have had time to get over the surprise, the shock. I love you, and I offer you everything that belongs to me in this world.” As she looked at him with her dark, clear eyes, weighing this precious vow and yet not committing herself —“Ah, you don’t forgive me!” he murmured.

She gazed at him with the same solemn brightness.

“What have I to forgive you?”

This question seemed to him enchanting. He reached forward and took her hands, and if Mrs. Vivian had come in she would have seen him kneeling at her daughter’s feet.

But Mrs. Vivian remained in seclusion, and Bernard saw her only the next time he came.

“I am very happy, because I think my daughter is happy,” she said.

“And what do you think of me?”

“I think you are very clever. You must promise me to be very good to her.”

“I am clever enough to promise that.”

“I think you are good enough to keep it,” said Mrs. Vivian. She looked as happy as she said, and her happiness gave her a communicative, confidential tendency. “It is very strange how things come about — how the wheel turns round,” she went on. “I suppose there is no harm in my telling you that I believe she always cared for you.”

“Why did n’t you tell me before?” said Bernard, with almost filial reproachfulness.

“How could I? I don’t go about the world offering my daughter to people — especially to indifferent people.”

“At Baden you did n’t think I was indifferent. You were afraid of my not being indifferent enough.”

Mrs. Vivian colored.

“Ah, at Baden I was a little too anxious!”

“Too anxious I should n’t speak to your daughter!” said Bernard, laughing.

“At Baden,” Mrs. Vivian went on, “I had views. But I have n’t any now — I have given them up.”

“That makes your acceptance of me very flattering!” Bernard exclaimed, laughing still more gaily.

“I have something better,” said Mrs. Vivian, laying her finger-tips on his arm. “I have confidence.”

Bernard did his best to encourage this gracious sentiment, and it seemed to him that there was something yet to be done to implant it more firmly in Angela’s breast.

“I have a confession to make to you,” he said to her one day. “I wish you would listen to it.”

“Is it something very horrible?” Angela asked.

“Something very horrible indeed. I once did you an injury.”

“An injury?” she repeated, in a tone which seemed to reduce the offence to contemptible proportions by simple vagueness of mind about it.

“I don’t know what to call it,” said Bernard. “A poor service — an ill-turn.”

Angela gave a shrug, or rather an imitation of a shrug; for she was not a shrugging person.

“I never knew it.”

“I misrepresented you to Gordon Wright,” Bernard went on.

“Why do you speak to me of him?” she asked rather sadly.

“Does it displease you?”

She hesitated a little.

“Yes, it displeases me. If your confession has anything to do with him, I would rather not hear it.”

Bernard returned to the subject another time — he had plenty of opportunities. He spent a portion of every day in the company of these dear women; and these days were the happiest of his life. The autumn weather was warm and soothing, the quartier was still deserted, and the uproar of the great city, which seemed a hundred miles away, reached them through the dense October air with a softened and muffled sound. The evenings, however, were growing cool, and before long they lighted the first fire of the season in Mrs. Vivian’s heavily draped little chimney-piece. On this occasion Bernard sat there with Angela, watching the bright crackle of the wood and feeling that the charm of winter nights had begun. These two young persons were alone together in the gathering dusk; it was the hour before dinner, before the lamp had been lighted.

“I insist upon making you my confession,” said Bernard. “I shall be very unhappy until you let me do it.”

“Unhappy? You are the happiest of men.”

“I lie upon roses, if you will; but this memory, this remorse, is a folded rose-leaf. I was completely mistaken about you at Baden; I thought all manner of evil of you — or at least I said it.”

“Men are dull creatures,” said Angela.

“I think they are. So much so that, as I look back upon that time, there are some things I don’t understand even now.”

“I don’t see why you should look back. People in our position are supposed to look forward.”

“You don’t like those Baden days yourself,” said Bernard. “You don’t like to think of them.”

“What a wonderful discovery!”

Bernard looked at her a moment in the brightening fire-light.

“What part was it you tried to play there?”

Angela shook her head.

“Men are dull creatures.”

“I have already granted that, and I am eating humble pie in asking for an explanation.”

“What did you say of me?” Angela asked, after a silence.

“I said you were a coquette. Remember that I am simply historical.”

She got up and stood in front of the fire, having her hand on the chimney-piece and looking down at the blaze. For some moments she remained there. Bernard could not see her face.

“I said you were a dangerous woman to marry,” he went on deliberately. “I said it because I thought it. I gave Gordon an opinion about you — it was a very unfavorable one. I could n’t make you out — I thought you were playing a double part. I believed that you were ready to marry him, and yet I saw — I thought I saw —” and Bernard paused again.

“What did you see?” and Angela turned toward him.

“That you were encouraging me — playing with me.”

“And you did n’t like that?”

“I liked it immensely — for myself! But did n’t like it for Gordon; and I must do myself the justice to say that I thought more of him than of myself.”

“You were an excellent friend,” said Angela, simply.

“I believe I was. And I am so still,” Bernard added.

She shook her head sadly.

“Poor Mr. Wright!”

“He is a dear good fellow,” said Bernard.

“Thoroughly good, and dear, doubtless to his wife, the affectionate Blanche.”

“You don’t like him — you don’t like her,” said Bernard.

“Those are two very different matters. I am very sorry for Mr. Wright.”

“You need n’t be that. He is doing very well.”

“So you have already informed me. But I am sorry for him, all the same.”

“That does n’t answer my question,” Bernard exclaimed, with a certain irritation. “What part were you playing?”

“What part do you think?”

“Have n’t I told you I gave it up, long ago?”

Angela stood with her back to the fire, looking at him; her hands were locked behind her.

“Did it ever strike you that my position at Baden was a charming one? — knowing that I had been handed over to you to be put under the microscope — like an insect with a pin stuck through it!”

“How in the world did you know it? I thought we were particularly careful.”

“How can a woman help knowing such a thing? She guesses it — she discovers it by instinct; especially if she be a proud woman.”

“Ah,” said Bernard, “if pride is a source of information, you must be a prodigy of knowledge!”

“I don’t know that you are particularly humble!” the girl retorted. “The meekest and most submissive of her sex would not have consented to have such a bargain as that made about her — such a trick played upon her!”

“My dearest Angela, it was no bargain — no trick!” Bernard interposed.

“It was a clumsy trick — it was a bad bargain!” she declared. “At any rate I hated it — I hated the idea of your pretending to pass judgment upon me; of your having come to Baden for the purpose. It was as if Mr. Wright had been buying a horse and you had undertaken to put me through my paces!”

“I undertook nothing — I declined to undertake.”

“You certainly made a study of me — and I was determined you should get your lesson wrong. I determined to embarrass, to mislead, to defeat you. Or rather, I did n’t determine; I simply obeyed a natural impulse of self-defence — the impulse to evade the fierce light of criticism. I wished to put you in the wrong.”

“You did it all very well. You put me admirably in the wrong.”

“The only justification for my doing it at all was my doing it well,” said Angela.

“You were justified then! You must have hated me fiercely.”

She turned her back to him and stood looking at the fire again.

“Yes, there are some things that I did that can be accounted for only by an intense aversion.”

She said this so naturally that in spite of a certain theory that was touched upon a few pages back, Bernard was a good deal bewildered. He rose from the sofa where he had been lounging and went and stood beside her a moment. Then he passed his arm round her waist and murmured an almost timorous —

“Really?”

“I don’t know what you are trying to make me say!” she answered.

He looked down at her for a moment as he held her close to him.

“I don’t see, after all, why I should wish to make you say it. It would only make my remorse more acute.”

She was musing, with her eyes on the fire, and for a moment she made no answer; then, as if her attention were returning —

“Are you still talking about your remorse?” she asked.

“You see I put it very strongly.”

“That I was a horrid creature?”

“That you were not a woman to marry.”

“Ah, my poor Bernard,” said Angela, “I can’t attempt to prove to you that you are not inconsistent!”

The month of September drew to a close, and she consented to fix a day for their wedding. The last of October was the moment selected, and the selection was almost all that was wanting to Bernard’s happiness. I say “almost,” for there was a solitary spot in his consciousness which felt numb and dead — unpervaded by the joy with which the rest of his spirit seemed to thrill and tingle. The removal of this hard grain in the sweet savour of life was needed to complete his felicity. Bernard felt that he had made the necessary excision when, at the end of the month, he wrote to Gordon Wright of his engagement. He had been putting off the performance of this duty from day to day — it seemed so hard to accomplish it gracefully. He did it at the end very briefly; it struck him that this was the best way. Three days after he had sent his letter there arrived one from Gordon himself, informing Bernard that he had suddenly determined to bring Blanche to Europe. She was not well, and they would lose no time. They were to sail within a week after his writing. The letter contained a postscript —“Captain Lovelock comes with us.”

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