Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 26

Bernard sat thinking for a long time; at first with a good deal of mortification — at last with a good deal of bitterness. He felt angry at last; but he was not angry with himself. He was displeased with poor Gordon, and with Gordon’s displeasure. He was uncomfortable, and he was vexed at his discomfort. It formed, it seemed to him, no natural part of his situation; he had had no glimpse of it in the book of fate where he registered on a fair blank page his betrothal to a charming girl. That Gordon should be surprised, and even a little shocked and annoyed — this was his right and his privilege; Bernard had been prepared for that, and had determined to make the best of it. But it must not go too far; there were limits to the morsel of humble pie that he was disposed to swallow. Something in Gordon’s air and figure, as he went off in a huff, looking vicious and dangerous — yes, that was positively his look — left a sinister impression on Bernard’s mind, and, after a while, made him glad to take refuge in being angry. One would like to know what Gordon expected, par exemple! Did he expect Bernard to give up Angela simply to save him a shock; or to back out of his engagement by way of an ideal reparation? No, it was too absurd, and, if Gordon had a wife of his own, why in the name of justice should not Bernard have one?

Being angry was a relief, but it was not exactly a solution, and Bernard, at last, leaving his place, where for an hour or two he had been absolutely unconscious of everything that went on around him, wandered about for some time in deep restlessness and irritation. At one moment he thought of going back to Gordon’s hotel, to see him, to explain. But then he became aware that he was too angry for that — to say nothing of Gordon’s being too angry also; and, moreover, that there was nothing to explain. He was to marry Angela Vivian; that was a very simple fact — it needed no explanation. Was it so wonderful, so inconceivable, an incident so unlikely to happen? He went, as he always did on Sunday, to dine with Mrs. Vivian, and it seemed to him that he perceived in the two ladies some symptoms of a discomposure which had the same origin as his own. Bernard, on this occasion, at dinner, failed to make himself particularly agreeable; he ate fast — as if he had no idea what he was eating, and talked little; every now and then his eyes rested for some time upon Angela, with a strange, eagerly excited expression, as if he were looking her over and trying to make up his mind about her afresh. This young lady bore his inscrutable scrutiny with a deal of superficial composure; but she was also silent, and she returned his gaze, from time to time, with an air of unusual anxiety. She was thinking, of course, of Gordon, Bernard said to himself; and a woman’s first meeting, in after years, with an exlover must always make a certain impression upon her. Gordon, however, had never been a lover, and if Bernard noted Angela’s gravity it was not because he felt jealous. “She is simply sorry for him,” he said to himself; and by the time he had finished his dinner it began to come back to him that he was sorry, too. Mrs. Vivian was probably sorry as well, for she had a slightly confused and preoccupied look — a look from which, even in the midst of his chagrin, Bernard extracted some entertainment. It was Mrs. Vivian’s intermittent conscience that had been reminded of one of its lapses; her meeting with Gordon Wright had recalled the least exemplary episode of her life — the time when she whispered mercenary counsel in the ear of a daughter who sat, grave and pale, looking at her with eyes that wondered. Mrs. Vivian blushed a little now, when she met Bernard’s eyes; and to remind herself that she was after all a virtuous woman, talked as much as possible about superior and harmless things — the beauty of the autumn weather, the pleasure of seeing French papas walking about on Sunday with their progeny in their hands, the peculiarities of the pulpit-oratory of the country as exemplified in the discourse of a Protestant pasteur whom she had been to hear in the morning.

When they rose from table and went back into her little drawing-room, she left her daughter alone for awhile with Bernard. The two were standing together before the fire; Bernard watched Mrs. Vivian close the door softly behind her. Then, looking for a moment at his companion —

“He is furious!” he announced at last.

“Furious?” said Angela. “Do you mean Mr. Wright?”

“The amiable, reasonable Gordon. He takes it very hard.”

“Do you mean about me?” asked Angela.

“It ‘s not with you he ‘s furious, of course; it is with me. He won’t let me off easily.”

Angela looked for a moment at the fire.

“I am very sorry for him,” she said, at last.

“It seems to me I am the one to be pitied,” said Bernard; “and I don’t see what compassion you, of all people in the world, owe him.”

Angela again rested her eyes on the fire; then presently, looking up —

“He liked me very much,” she remarked.

“All the more shame to him!” cried Bernard.

“What do you mean?” asked the girl, with her beautiful stare.

“If he liked you, why did he give you up?”

“He did n’t give me up.”

“What do you mean, please?” asked Bernard, staring back at her.

“I sent him away — I refused him,” said Angela.

“Yes; but you thought better of it, and your mother had persuaded you that if he should ask you again, you had better accept him. Then it was that he backed out — in consequence of what I said to him on his return from England.”

She shook her head slowly, with a strange smile.

“My poor Bernard, you are talking very wildly. He did ask me again.”

“That night?” cried Bernard.

“The night he came back from England — the last time I saw him, until today.”

“After I had denounced you?” our puzzled hero exclaimed, frowning portentously.

“I am sorry to let you know the small effect of your words!”

Bernard folded his hands together — almost devoutly — and stood gazing at her with a long, inarticulate murmur of satisfaction.

“Ah! then, I did n’t injure you — I did n’t deprive you of a chance?”

“Oh, sir, the intention on your part was the same!” Angela exclaimed.

“Then all my uneasiness, all my remorse, were wasted?” he went on.

But she kept the same tone, and its tender archness only gave a greater sweetness to his sense of relief.

“It was a very small penance for you to pay.”

“You dismissed him definitely, and that was why he vanished?” asked Bernard, wondering still.

“He gave me another ‘chance,’ as you elegantly express it, and I declined to take advantage of it.”

“Ah, well, now,” cried Bernard, “I am sorry for him!”

“I was very kind — very respectful,” said Angela. “I thanked him from the bottom of my heart; I begged his pardon very humbly for the wrong — if wrong it was — that I was doing him. I did n’t in the least require of him that he should leave Baden at seven o’clock the next morning. I had no idea that he would do so, and that was the reason that I insisted to my mother that we ourselves should go away. When we went I knew nothing about his having gone, and I supposed he was still there. I did n’t wish to meet him again.”

Angela gave this information slowly, softly, with pauses between the sentences, as if she were recalling the circumstances with a certain effort; and meanwhile Bernard, with his transfigured face and his eyes fixed upon her lips, was moving excitedly about the room.

“Well, he can’t accuse me, then!” he broke out again. “If what I said had no more effect upon him than that, I certainly did him no wrong.”

“I think you are rather vexed he did n’t believe you,” said Angela.

“I confess I don’t understand it. He had all the air of it. He certainly had not the air of a man who was going to rush off and give you the last proof of his confidence.”

“It was not a proof of confidence,” said Angela. “It had nothing to do with me. It was as between himself and you; it was a proof of independence. He did believe you, more or less, and what you said fell in with his own impressions — strange impressions that they were, poor man! At the same time, as I say, he liked me, too; it was out of his liking me that all his trouble came! He caught himself in the act of listening to you too credulously — and that seemed to him unmanly and dishonorable. The sensation brought with it a reaction, and to prove to himself that in such a matter he could be influenced by nobody, he marched away, an hour after he had talked with you, and, in the teeth of his perfect mistrust, confirmed by your account of my irregularities — heaven forgive you both! — again asked me to be his wife. But he hoped I would refuse!”

“Ah,” cried Bernard, “the recreant! He deserved — he deserved —”

“That I should accept him?” Angela asked, smiling still.

Bernard was so much affected by this revelation, it seemed to him to make such a difference in his own responsibility and to lift such a weight off his conscience, that he broke out again into the liveliest ejaculations of relief.

“Oh, I don’t care for anything, now, and I can do what I please! Gordon may hate me, and I shall be sorry for him; but it ‘s not my fault, and I owe him no reparation. No, no; I am free!”

“It ‘s only I who am not, I suppose,” said Angela, “and the reparation must come from me! If he is unhappy, I must take the responsibility.”

“Ah yes, of course,” said Bernard, kissing her.

“But why should he be unhappy?” asked Angela. “If I refused him, it was what he wanted.”

“He is hard to please,” Bernard rejoined. “He has got a wife of his own.”

“If Blanche does n’t please him, he is certainly difficult;” and Angela mused a little. “But you told me the other day that they were getting on so well.”

“Yes, I believe I told you,” Bernard answered, musing a little too.

“You are not attending to what I say.”

“No, I am thinking of something else — I am thinking of what it was that made you refuse him that way, at the last, after you had let your mother hope.” And Bernard stood there, smiling at her.

“Don’t think any more; you will not find out,” the girl declared, turning away.

“Ah, it was cruel of you to let me think I was wrong all these years,” he went on; “and, at the time, since you meant to refuse him, you might have been more frank with me.”

“I thought my fault had been that I was too frank.”

“I was densely stupid, and you might have made me understand better.”

“Ah,” said Angela, “you ask a great deal of a girl!”

“Why have you let me go on so long thinking that my deluded words had had an effect upon Gordon — feeling that I had done you a brutal wrong? It was real to me, the wrong — and I have told you of the pangs and the shame which, for so many months, it has cost me! Why have you never undeceived me until today, and then only by accident?”

At this question Angela blushed a little; then she answered, smiling —

“It was my vengeance.”

Bernard shook his head.

“That won’t do — you don’t mean it. You never cared — you were too proud to care; and when I spoke to you about my fault, you did n’t even know what I meant. You might have told me, therefore, that my remorse was idle, that what I said to Gordon had not been of the smallest consequence, and that the rupture had come from yourself.”

For some time Angela said nothing, then at last she gave him one of the deeply serious looks with which her face was occasionally ornamented.

“If you want really to know, then — can’t you see that your remorse seemed to me connected in a certain way with your affection; a sort of guarantee of it? You thought you had injured some one or other, and that seemed to be mixed up with your loving me, and therefore I let it alone.”

“Ah,” said Bernard, “my remorse is all gone, and yet I think I love you about as much as ever! So you see how wrong you were not to tell me.”

“The wrong to you I don’t care about. It is very true I might have told you for Mr. Wright’s sake. It would perhaps have made him look better. But as you never attacked him for deserting me, it seemed needless for me to defend him.”

“I confess,” said Bernard, “I am quite at sea about Gordon’s look in the matter. Is he looking better now — or is he looking worse? You put it very well just now; I was attending to you, though you said I was not. If he hoped you would refuse him, with whom is his quarrel at present? And why was he so cool to me for months after we parted at Baden? If that was his state of mind, why should he accuse me of inconsistency?”

“There is something in it, after all, that a woman can understand. I don’t know whether a man can. He hoped I would refuse him, and yet when I had done so he was vexed. After a while his vexation subsided, and he married poor Blanche; but, on learning today that I had accepted you, it flickered up again. I suppose that was natural enough; but it won’t be serious.”

“What will not be serious, my dear?” asked Mrs. Vivian, who had come back to the drawing-room, and who, apparently, could not hear that the attribute in question was wanting in any direction, without some alarm.

“Shall I tell mamma, Bernard?” said Angela.

“Ah, my dear child, I hope it ‘s nothing that threatens your mutual happiness,” mamma murmured, with gentle earnestness.

“Does it threaten our mutual happiness, Bernard?” the girl went on, smiling.

“Let Mrs. Vivian decide whether we ought to let it make us miserable,” said Bernard. “Dear Mrs. Vivian, you are a casuist, and this is a nice case.”

“Is it anything about poor Mr. Wright?” the elder lady inquired.

“Why do you say ‘poor’ Mr. Wright?” asked Bernard.

“Because I am sadly afraid he is not happy with Blanche.”

“How did you discover that — without seeing them together?”

“Well, perhaps you will think me very fanciful,” said Mrs. Vivian; “but it was by the way he looked at Angela. He has such an expressive face.”

“He looked at me very kindly, mamma,” Angela observed.

“He regularly stared, my daughter. In any one else I should have said it was rude. But his situation is so peculiar; and one could see that he admired you still.” And Mrs. Vivian gave a little soft sigh.

“Ah! she is thinking of the thirty thousand a year,” Bernard said to himself.

“I am sure I hope he admires me still,” the girl cried, laughing. “There is no great harm in that.”

“He was comparing you with Blanche — and he was struck with the contrast.”

“It could n’t have been in my favor. If it ‘s a question of being looked at, Blanche bears it better than I.”

“Poor little Blanche!” murmured Mrs. Vivian, sweetly.

“Why did you tell me he was so happy with her?” Angela asked, turning to Bernard, abruptly.

Bernard gazed at her a moment, with his eyebrows raised.

“I never saw any one ask such sudden questions!” he exclaimed.

“You can answer me at your leisure,” she rejoined, turning away.

“It was because I adored you.”

“You would n’t say that at your leisure,” said the girl.

Mrs. Vivian stood watching them.

“You, who are so happy together, you ought to think kindly of others who are less fortunate.”

“That is very true, Mrs. Vivian; and I have never thought of any one so kindly as I have of Gordon for the last year.”

Angela turned round again.

“Is Blanche so very bad, then?”

“You will see for yourself!”

“Ah, no,” said Mrs. Vivian, “she is not bad; she is only very light. I am so glad she is to be near us again. I think a great deal can be done by association. We must help her, Angela. I think we helped her before.”

“It is also very true that she is light, Mrs. Vivian,” Bernard observed, “and if you could make her a little heavier, I should be tremendously grateful.”

Bernard’s prospective mother-inlaw looked at him a little.

“I don’t know whether you are laughing at me — I always think you are. But I shall not give up Blanche for that. I never give up any one that I have once tried to help. Blanche will come back to me.”

Mrs. Vivian had hardly spoken when the sharp little vibration of her door-bell was heard in the hall. Bernard stood for a moment looking at the door of the drawing-room.

“It is poor Gordon come to make a scene!” he announced.

“Is that what you mean — that he opposed your marriage?” asked Mrs. Vivian, with a frightened air.

“I don’t know what he proposes to do with Blanche,” said Bernard, laughing.

There were voices in the hall. Angela had been listening.

“You say she will come back to you, mamma,” she exclaimed. “Here she is arrived!”

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