Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 29

This statement was very effective, but it might well have seemed at first to do more credit to her satiric powers than to her faculty of observation. This was the light in which it presented itself to Bernard; but, little by little, as she amplified the text, he grew to think well of it, and at last he was quite ready to place it, as a triumph of sagacity, on a level with that other discovery which she had made the evening before and with regard to which his especial errand today had been to congratulate her afresh. It brought him, however, less satisfaction than it appeared to bring to his clever companion; for, as he observed plausibly enough, Gordon was quite out of his head, and, this being the case, of what importance was the secret of his heart?

“The secret of his heart and the condition of his head are one and the same thing,” said Angela. “He is turned upside down by the wretchedly false position that he has got into with his wife. She has treated him badly, but he has treated her wrongly. They are in love with each other, and yet they both do nothing but hide it. He is not in the least in love with poor me — not today any more than he was three years ago. He thinks he is, because he is full of sorrow and bitterness, and because the news of our engagement has given him a shock. But that ‘s only a pretext — a chance to pour out the grief and pain which have been accumulating in his heart under a sense of his estrangement from Blanche. He is too proud to attribute his feelings to that cause, even to himself; but he wanted to cry out and say he was hurt, to demand justice for a wrong; and the revelation of the state of things between you and me — which of course strikes him as incongruous; we must allow largely for that — came to him as a sudden opportunity. No, no,” the girl went on, with a generous ardor in her face, following further the train of her argument, which she appeared to find extremely attractive, “I know what you are going to say and I deny it. I am not fanciful, or sophistical, or irrational, and I know perfectly what I am about. Men are so stupid; it ‘s only women that have real discernment. Leave me alone, and I shall do something. Blanche is silly, yes, very silly; but she is not so bad as her husband accused her of being, in those dreadful words which he will live to repent of. She is wise enough to care for him, greatly, at bottom, and to feel her little heart filled with rage and shame that he does n’t appear to care for her. If he would take her a little more seriously — it ‘s an immense pity he married her because she was silly! — she would be flattered by it, and she would try and deserve it. No, no, no! she does n’t, in reality, care a straw for Captain Lovelock, I assure you, I promise you she does n’t. A woman can tell. She is in danger, possibly, and if her present situation, as regards her husband, lasts, she might do something as horrid as he said. But she would do it out of spite — not out of affection for the Captain, who must be got immediately out of the way. She only keeps him to torment her husband and make Gordon come back to her. She would drop him forever tomorrow.” Angela paused a moment, reflecting, with a kindled eye. “And she shall!”

Bernard looked incredulous.

“How will that be, Miss Solomon?”

“You shall see when you come back.”

“When I come back? Pray, where am I going?”

“You will leave Paris for a fortnight — as I promised our poor friend.”

Bernard gave an irate laugh.

“My dear girl, you are ridiculous! Your promising it was almost as childish as his asking it.”

“To play with a child you must be childish. Just see the effect of this abominable passion of love, which you have been crying up to me so! By its operation Gordon Wright, the most sensible man of our acquaintance, is reduced to the level of infancy! If you will only go away, I will manage him.”

“You certainly manage me! Pray, where shall I go?”

“Wherever you choose. I will write to you every day.”

“That will be an inducement,” said Bernard. “You know I have never received a letter from you.”

“I write the most delightful ones!” Angela exclaimed; and she succeeded in making him promise to start that night for London.

She had just done so when Mrs. Vivian presented herself, and the good lady was not a little astonished at being informed of his intention.

“You surely are not going to give up my daughter to oblige Mr. Wright?” she observed.

“Upon my word, I feel as if I were!” said Bernard.

“I will explain it, dear mamma,” said Angela. “It is very interesting. Mr. Wright has made a most fearful scene; the state of things between him and Blanche is dreadful.”

Mrs. Vivian opened her clear eyes.

“You really speak as if you liked it!”

“She does like it — she told Gordon so,” said Bernard. “I don’t know what she is up to! Gordon has taken leave of his wits; he wishes to put away his wife.”

“To put her away?”

“To repudiate her, as the historians say!”

“To repudiate little Blanche!” murmured Mrs. Vivian, as if she were struck with the incongruity of the operation.

“I mean to keep them together,” said Angela, with a firm decision.

Her mother looked at her with admiration.

“My dear daughter, I will assist you.”

The two ladies had such an air of mysterious competence to the task they had undertaken that it seemed to Bernard that nothing was left to him but to retire into temporary exile. He accordingly betook himself to London, where he had social resources which would, perhaps, make exile endurable. He found himself, however, little disposed to avail himself of these resources, and he treated himself to no pleasures but those of memory and expectation. He ached with a sense of his absence from Mrs. Vivian’s deeply familiar sky-parlor, which seemed to him for the time the most sacred spot on earth — if on earth it could be called — and he consigned to those generous postal receptacles which ornament with their brilliant hue the London street-corners, an inordinate number of the most voluminous epistles that had ever been dropped into them. He took long walks, alone, and thought all the way of Angela, to whom, it seemed to him, that the character of ministering angel was extremely becoming. She was faithful to her promise of writing to him every day, and she was an angel who wielded — so at least Bernard thought, and he was particular about letters — a very ingenious pen. Of course she had only one topic — the success of her operations with regard to Gordon. “Mamma has undertaken Blanche,” she wrote, “and I am devoting myself to Mr. W. It is really very interesting.” She told Bernard all about it in detail, and he also found it interesting; doubly so, indeed, for it must be confessed that the charming figure of the mistress of his affections attempting to heal a great social breach with her light and delicate hands, divided his attention pretty equally with the distracted, the distorted, the almost ludicrous, image of his old friend.

Angela wrote that Gordon had come back to see her the day after his first visit, and had seemed greatly troubled on learning that Bernard had taken himself off. “It was because you insisted on it, of course,” he said; “it was not from feeling the justice of it himself.” “I told him,” said Angela, in her letter, “that I had made a point of it, but that we certainly ought to give you a little credit for it. But I could n’t insist upon this, for fear of sounding a wrong note and exciting afresh what I suppose he would be pleased to term his jealousy. He asked me where you had gone, and when I told him —‘Ah, how he must hate me!’ he exclaimed. ‘There you are quite wrong,’ I answered. ‘He feels as kindly to you as — as I do.’ He looked as if he by no means believed this; but, indeed, he looks as if he believed nothing at all. He is quite upset and demoralized. He stayed half an hour and paid me his visit — trying hard to ‘please’ me again! Poor man, he is in a charming state to please the fair sex! But if he does n’t please me, he interests me more and more; I make bold to say that to you. You would have said it would be very awkward; but, strangely enough, I found it very easy. I suppose it is because I am so interested. Very likely it was awkward for him, poor fellow, for I can certify that he was not a whit happier at the end of his half-hour, in spite of the privilege he had enjoyed. He said nothing more about you, and we talked of Paris and New York, of Baden and Rome. Imagine the situation! I shall make no resistance whatever to it; I shall simply let him perceive that conversing with me on these topics does not make him feel a bit more comfortable, and that he must look elsewhere for a remedy. I said not a word about Blanche.”

She spoke of Blanche, however, the next time. “He came again this afternoon,” she said in her second letter, “and he wore exactly the same face as yesterday — namely, a very unhappy one. If I were not entirely too wise to believe his account of himself, I might suppose that he was unhappy because Blanche shows symptoms of not taking flight. She has been with us a great deal — she has no idea what is going on — and I can’t honestly say that she chatters any less than usual. But she is greatly interested in certain shops that she is buying out, and especially in her visits to her tailor. Mamma has proposed to her — in view of your absence — to come and stay with us, and she does n’t seem afraid of the idea. I told her husband today that we had asked her, and that we hoped he had no objection. ‘None whatever; but she won’t come.’ ‘On the contrary, she says she will.’ ‘She will pretend to, up to the last minute; and then she will find a pretext for backing out.’ ‘Decidedly, you think very ill of her,’ I said. ‘She hates me,’ he answered, looking at me strangely. ‘You say that of every one,’ I said. ‘Yesterday you said it of Bernard.’ ‘Ah, for him there would be more reason!’ he exclaimed. ‘I won’t attempt to answer for Bernard,’ I went on, ‘but I will answer for Blanche. Your idea of her hating you is a miserable delusion. She cares for you more than for any one in the world. You only misunderstand each other, and with a little good will on both sides you can easily get out of your tangle.’ But he would n’t listen to me; he stopped me short. I saw I should excite him if I insisted; so I dropped the subject. But it is not for long; he shall listen to me.”

Later she wrote that Blanche had in fact “backed out,” and would not come to stay with them, having given as an excuse that she was perpetually trying on dresses, and that at Mrs. Vivian’s she should be at an inconvenient distance from the temple of these sacred rites, and the high priest who conducted the worship. “But we see her every day,” said Angela, “and mamma is constantly with her. She likes mamma better than me. Mamma listens to her a great deal and talks to her a little — I can’t do either when we are alone. I don’t know what she says — I mean what mamma says; what Blanche says I know as well as if I heard it. We see nothing of Captain Lovelock, and mamma tells me she has not spoken of him for two days. She thinks this is a better symptom, but I am not so sure. Poor Mr. Wright treats it as a great triumph that Blanche should behave as he foretold. He is welcome to the comfort he can get out of this, for he certainly gets none from anything else. The society of your correspondent is not that balm to his spirit which he appeared to expect, and this in spite of the fact that I have been as gentle and kind with him as I know how to be. He is very silent — he sometimes sits for ten minutes without speaking; I assure you it is n’t amusing. Sometimes he looks at me as if he were going to break out with that crazy idea to which he treated me the other day. But he says nothing, and then I see that he is not thinking of me — he is simply thinking of Blanche. The more he thinks of her the better.”

“My dear Bernard,” she began on another occasion, “I hope you are not dying of ennui, etc. Over here things are going so-so. He asked me yesterday to go with him to the Louvre, and we walked about among the pictures for half an hour. Mamma thinks it a very strange sort of thing for me to be doing, and though she delights, of all things, in a good cause, she is not sure that this cause is good enough to justify the means. I admit that the means are very singular, and, as far as the Louvre is concerned, they were not successful. We sat and looked for a quarter of an hour at the great Venus who has lost her arms, and he said never a word. I think he does n’t know what to say. Before we separated he asked me if I heard from you. ‘Oh, yes,’ I said, ‘every day.’ ‘And does he speak of me?’ ‘Never!’ I answered; and I think he looked disappointed.” Bernard had, in fact, in writing to Angela, scarcely mentioned his name. “He had not been here for two days,” she continued, at the end of a week; “but last evening, very late — too late for a visitor — he came in. Mamma had left the drawing-room, and I was sitting alone; I immediately saw that we had reached a crisis. I thought at first he was going to tell me that Blanche had carried out his prediction; but I presently saw that this was not where the shoe pinched; and, besides, I knew that mamma was watching her too closely. ‘How can I have ever been such a dull-souled idiot?’ he broke out, as soon as he had got into the room. ‘I like to hear you say that,’ I said, ‘because it does n’t seem to me that you have been at all wise.’ ‘You are cleverness, kindness, tact, in the most perfect form!’ he went on. As a veracious historian I am bound to tell you that he paid me a bushel of compliments, and thanked me in the most flattering terms for my having let him bore me so for a week. ‘You have not bored me,’ I said; ‘you have interested me.’ ‘Yes,’ he cried, ‘as a curious case of monomania. It ‘s a part of your kindness to say that; but I know I have bored you to death; and the end of it all is that you despise me. You can’t help despising me; I despise myself. I used to think that I was a man, but I have given that up; I am a poor creature! I used to think I could take things quietly and bear them bravely. But I can’t! If it were not for very shame I could sit here and cry to you.’ ‘Don’t mind me,’ I said; ‘you know it is a part of our agreement that I was not to be critical.’ ‘Our agreement?’ he repeated, vaguely. ‘I see you have forgotten it,’ I answered; ‘but it does n’t in the least matter; it is not of that I wish to talk to you. All the more that it has n’t done you a particle of good. I have been extremely nice with you for a week; but you are just as unhappy now as you were at the beginning. Indeed, I think you are rather worse.’ ‘Heaven forgive me, Miss Vivian, I believe I am!’ he cried. ‘Heaven will easily forgive you; you are on the wrong road. To catch up with your happiness, which has been running away from you, you must take another; you must travel in the same direction as Blanche; you must not separate yourself from your wife.’ At the sound of Blanche’s name he jumped up and took his usual tone; he knew all about his wife, and needed no information. But I made him sit down again, and I made him listen to me. I made him listen for half an hour, and at the end of the time he was interested. He had all the appearance of it; he sat gazing at me, and at last the tears came into his eyes. I believe I had a moment of eloquence. I don’t know what I said, nor how I said it, to what point it would bear examination, nor how, if you had been there, it would seem to you, as a disinterested critic, to hang together; but I know that after a while there were tears in my own eyes. I begged him not to give up Blanche; I assured him that she is not so foolish as she seems; that she is a very delicate little creature to handle, and that, in reality, whatever she does, she is thinking only of him. He had been all goodness and kindness to her, I knew that; but he had not, from the first, been able to conceal from her that he regarded her chiefly as a pretty kitten. She wished to be more than that, and she took refuge in flirting, simply to excite his jealousy and make him feel strongly about her. He has felt strongly, and he was feeling strongly now; he was feeling passionately — that was my whole contention. But he had perhaps never made it plain to those rather near-sighted little mental eyes of hers, and he had let her suppose something that could n’t fail to rankle in her mind and torment it. ‘You have let her suppose,’ I said, ‘that you were thinking of me, and the poor girl has been jealous of me. I know it, but from nothing she herself has said. She has said nothing; she has been too proud and too considerate. If you don’t think that ‘s to her honor, I do. She has had a chance every day for a week, but she has treated me without a grain of spite. I have appreciated it, I have understood it, and it has touched me very much. It ought to touch you, Mr. Wright. When she heard I was engaged to Mr. Longueville, it gave her an immense relief. And yet, at the same moment you were protesting, and denouncing, and saying those horrible things about her! I know how she appears — she likes admiration. But the admiration in the world which she would most delight in just now would be yours. She plays with Captain Lovelock as a child does with a wooden harlequin, she pulls a string and he throws up his arms and legs. She has about as much intention of eloping with him as a little girl might have of eloping with a pasteboard Jim Crow. If you were to have a frank explanation with her, Blanche would very soon throw Jim Crow out of the window. I very humbly entreat you to cease thinking of me. I don’t know what wrong you have ever done me, or what kindness I have ever done you, that you should feel obliged to trouble your head about me. You see all I am — I tell you now. I am nothing in the least remarkable. As for your thinking ill of me at Baden, I never knew it nor cared about it. If it had been so, you see how I should have got over it. Dear Mr. Wright, we might be such good friends, if you would only believe me. She ‘s so pretty, so charming, so universally admired. You said just now you had bored me, but it ‘s nothing — in spite of all the compliments you have paid me — to the way I have bored you. If she could only know it — that I have bored you! Let her see for half an hour that I am out of your mind — the rest will take care of itself. She might so easily have made a quarrel with me. The way she has behaved to me is one of the prettiest things I have ever seen, and you shall see the way I shall always behave to her! Don’t think it necessary to say out of politeness that I have not bored you; it is not in the least necessary. You know perfectly well that you are disappointed in the charm of my society. And I have done my best, too. I can honestly affirm that!’ For some time he said nothing, and then he remarked that I was very clever, but he did n’t see a word of sense in what I said. ‘It only proves,’ I said, ‘that the merit of my conversation is smaller than you had taken it into your head to fancy. But I have done you good, all the same. Don’t contradict me; you don’t know yet; and it ‘s too late for us to argue about it. You will tell me tomorrow.’”

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