Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 3

He had not specified, in writing to Gordon Wright, the day on which he should arrive at Baden–Baden; it must be confessed that he was not addicted to specifying days. He came to his journey’s end in the evening, and, on presenting himself at the hotel from which his friend had dated his letter, he learned that Gordon Wright had betaken himself after dinner, according to the custom of Baden–Baden, to the grounds of the Conversation-house. It was eight o’clock, and Longueville, after removing the stains of travel, sat down to dine. His first impulse had been to send for Gordon to come and keep him company at his repast; but on second thought he determined to make it as brief as possible. Having brought it to a close, he took his way to the Kursaal. The great German watering-place is one of the prettiest nooks in Europe, and of a summer evening in the gaming days, five-and-twenty years ago, it was one of the most brilliant scenes. The lighted windows of the great temple of hazard (of as chaste an architecture as if it had been devoted to a much purer divinity) opened wide upon the gardens and groves; the little river that issues from the bosky mountains of the Black Forest flowed, with an air of brook-like innocence, past the expensive hotels and lodging-houses; the orchestra, in a high pavilion on the terrace of the Kursaal, played a discreet accompaniment to the conversation of the ladies and gentlemen who, scattered over the large expanse on a thousand little chairs, preferred for the time the beauties of nature to the shuffle of coin and the calculation of chance; while the faint summer stars, twinkling above the vague black hills and woods, looked down at the indifferent groups without venturing to drop their light upon them.

Longueville, noting all this, went straight into the gaming-rooms; he was curious to see whether his friend, being fond of experiments, was trying combinations at roulette. But he was not to be found in any of the gilded chambers, among the crowd that pressed in silence about the tables; so that Bernard presently came and began to wander about the lamp-lit terrace, where innumerable groups, seated and strolling, made the place a gigantic conversazione. It seemed to him very agreeable and amusing, and he remarked to himself that, for a man who was supposed not to take especially the Epicurean view of life, Gordon Wright, in coming to Baden, had certainly made himself comfortable. Longueville went his way, glancing from one cluster of talkers to another; and at last he saw a face which brought him to a stop. He stood a moment looking at it; he knew he had seen it before. He had an excellent memory for faces; but it was some time before he was able to attach an identity to this one. Where had he seen a little elderly lady with an expression of timorous vigilance, and a band of hair as softly white as a dove’s wing? The answer to the question presently came — Where but in a grass-grown corner of an old Italian town? The lady was the mother of his inconsequent model, so that this mysterious personage was probably herself not far off. Before Longueville had time to verify this induction, he found his eyes resting upon the broad back of a gentleman seated close to the old lady, and who, turning away from her, was talking to a young girl. It was nothing but the back of this gentleman that he saw, but nevertheless, with the instinct of true friendship, he recognized in this featureless expanse the robust personality of Gordon Wright. In a moment he had stepped forward and laid his hand upon Wright’s shoulder.

His friend looked round, and then sprang up with a joyous exclamation and grasp of the hand.

“My dear fellow — my dear Bernard! What on earth — when did you arrive?”

While Bernard answered and explained a little, he glanced from his friend’s good, gratified face at the young girl with whom Wright had been talking, and then at the lady on the other side, who was giving him a bright little stare. He raised his hat to her and to the young girl, and he became conscious, as regards the latter, of a certain disappointment. She was very pretty; she was looking at him; but she was not the heroine of the little incident of the terrace at Siena.

“It ‘s just like Longueville, you know,” Gordon Wright went on; “he always comes at you from behind; he ‘s so awfully fond of surprises.” He was laughing; he was greatly pleased; he introduced Bernard to the two ladies. “You must know Mrs. Vivian; you must know Miss Blanche Evers.”

Bernard took his place in the little circle; he wondered whether he ought to venture upon a special recognition of Mrs. Vivian. Then it seemed to him that he should leave the option of this step with the lady, especially as he had detected recognition in her eye. But Mrs. Vivian ventured upon nothing special; she contented herself with soft generalities — with remarking that she always liked to know when people would arrive; that, for herself, she never enjoyed surprises.

“And yet I imagine you have had your share,” said Longueville, with a smile. He thought this might remind her of the moment when she came out of the little church at Siena and found her daughter posturing to an unknown painter.

But Mrs. Vivian, turning her benignant head about, gave but a superficial reply.

“Oh, I have had my share of everything, good and bad. I don’t complain of anything.” And she gave a little deprecating laugh.

Gordon Wright shook hands with Bernard again; he seemed really very glad to see him. Longueville, remembering that Gordon had written to him that he had been “making love,” began to seek in his countenance for the ravages of passion. For the moment, however, they were not apparent; the excellent, honest fellow looked placid and contented. Gordon Wright had a clear gray eye, short, straight, flaxen hair, and a healthy diffusion of color. His features were thick and rather irregular; but his countenance — in addition to the merit of its expression — derived a certain grace from a powerful yellow moustache, to which its wearer occasionally gave a martial twist. Gordon Wright was not tall, but he was strong, and in his whole person there was something well-planted and sturdy. He almost always dressed in light-colored garments, and he wore round his neck an eternal blue cravat. When he was agitated he grew very red. While he questioned Longueville about his journey and his health, his whereabouts and his intentions, the latter, among his own replies, endeavored to read in Wright’s eyes some account of his present situation. Was that pretty girl at his side the ambiguous object of his adoration, and, in that case, what was the function of the elder lady, and what had become of her argumentative daughter? Perhaps this was another, a younger daughter, though, indeed, she bore no resemblance to either of Longueville’s friends. Gordon Wright, in spite of Bernard’s interrogative glances, indulged in no optical confidences. He had too much to tell. He would keep his story till they should be alone together. It was impossible that they should adjourn just yet to social solitude; the two ladies were under Gordon’s protection. Mrs. Vivian — Bernard felt a satisfaction in learning her name; it was as if a curtain, half pulled up and stopped by a hitch, had suddenly been raised altogether — Mrs. Vivian sat looking up and down the terrace at the crowd of loungers and talkers with an air of tender expectation. She was probably looking for her elder daughter, and Longueville could not help wishing also that this young lady would arrive. Meanwhile, he saw that the young girl to whom Gordon had been devoting himself was extremely pretty, and appeared eminently approachable. Longueville had some talk with her, reflecting that if she were the person concerning whom Gordon had written him, it behooved him to appear to take an interest in her. This view of the case was confirmed by Gordon Wright’s presently turning away to talk with Mrs. Vivian, so that his friend might be at liberty to make acquaintance with their companion.

Though she had not been with the others at Siena, it seemed to Longueville, with regard to her, too, that this was not the first time he had seen her. She was simply the American pretty girl, whom he had seen a thousand times. It was a numerous sisterhood, pervaded by a strong family likeness. This young lady had charming eyes (of the color of Gordon’s cravats), which looked everywhere at once and yet found time to linger in some places, where Longueville’s own eyes frequently met them. She had soft brown hair, with a silky-golden thread in it, beautifully arranged and crowned by a smart little hat that savoured of Paris. She had also a slender little figure, neatly rounded, and delicate, narrow hands, prettily gloved. She moved about a great deal in her place, twisted her little flexible body and tossed her head, fingered her hair and examined the ornaments of her dress. She had a great deal of conversation, Longueville speedily learned, and she expressed herself with extreme frankness and decision. He asked her, to begin with, if she had been long at Baden, but the impetus of this question was all she required. Turning her charming, conscious, coquettish little face upon him, she instantly began to chatter.

“I have been here about four weeks. I don’t know whether you call that long. It does n’t seem long to me; I have had such a lovely time. I have met ever so many people here I know — every day some one turns up. Now you have turned up today.”

“Ah, but you don’t know me,” said Longueville, laughing.

“Well, I have heard a great deal about you!” cried the young girl, with a pretty little stare of contradiction. “I think you know a great friend of mine, Miss Ella Maclane, of Baltimore. She ‘s travelling in Europe now.” Longueville’s memory did not instantly respond to this signal, but he expressed that rapturous assent which the occasion demanded, and even risked the observation that the young lady from Baltimore was very pretty. “She ‘s far too lovely,” his companion went on. “I have often heard her speak of you. I think you know her sister rather better than you know her. She has not been out very long. She is just as interesting as she can be. Her hair comes down to her feet. She ‘s travelling in Norway. She has been everywhere you can think of, and she ‘s going to finish off with Finland. You can’t go any further than that, can you? That ‘s one comfort; she will have to turn round and come back. I want her dreadfully to come to Baden–Baden.”

“I wish she would,” said Longueville. “Is she travelling alone?”

“Oh, no. They ‘ve got some Englishman. They say he ‘s devoted to Ella. Every one seems to have an Englishman, now. We ‘ve got one here, Captain Lovelock, the Honourable Augustus Lovelock. Well, they ‘re awfully handsome. Ella Maclane is dying to come to Baden–Baden. I wish you ‘d write to her. Her father and mother have got some idea in their heads; they think it ‘s improper — what do you call it? — immoral. I wish you would write to her and tell her it is n’t. I wonder if they think that Mrs. Vivian would come to a place that ‘s immoral. Mrs. Vivian says she would take her in a moment; she does n’t seem to care how many she has. I declare, she ‘s only too kind. You know I ‘m in Mrs. Vivian’s care. My mother ‘s gone to Marienbad. She would let me go with Mrs. Vivian anywhere, on account of the influence — she thinks so much of Mrs. Vivian’s influence. I have always heard a great deal about it, have n’t you? I must say it ‘s lovely; it ‘s had a wonderful effect upon me. I don’t want to praise myself, but it has. You ask Mrs. Vivian if I have n’t been good. I have been just as good as I can be. I have been so peaceful, I have just sat here this way. Do you call this immoral? You ‘re not obliged to gamble if you don’t want to. Ella Maclane’s father seems to think you get drawn in. I ‘m sure I have n’t been drawn in. I know what you ‘re going to say — you ‘re going to say I have been drawn out. Well, I have, to-night. We just sit here so quietly — there ‘s nothing to do but to talk. We make a little party by ourselves — are you going to belong to our party? Two of us are missing — Miss Vivian and Captain Lovelock. Captain Lovelock has gone with her into the rooms to explain the gambling — Miss Vivian always wants everything explained. I am sure I understood it the first time I looked at the tables. Have you ever seen Miss Vivian? She ‘s very much admired, she ‘s so very unusual. Black hair ‘s so uncommon — I see you have got it too — but I mean for young ladies. I am sure one sees everything here. There ‘s a woman that comes to the tables — a Portuguese countess — who has hair that is positively blue. I can’t say I admire it when it comes to that shade. Blue ‘s my favorite color, but I prefer it in the eyes,” continued Longueville’s companion, resting upon him her own two brilliant little specimens of the tint.

He listened with that expression of clear amusement which is not always an indication of high esteem, but which even pretty chatterers, who are not the reverse of estimable, often prefer to masculine inattention; and while he listened Bernard, according to his wont, made his reflections. He said to himself that there were two kinds of pretty girls — the acutely conscious and the finely unconscious. Mrs. Vivian’s protege was a member of the former category; she belonged to the genus coquette. We all have our conception of the indispensable, and the indispensable, to this young lady, was a spectator; almost any male biped would serve the purpose. To her spectator she addressed, for the moment, the whole volume of her being — addressed it in her glances, her attitudes, her exclamations, in a hundred little experiments of tone and gesture and position. And these rustling artifices were so innocent and obvious that the directness of her desire to be well with her observer became in itself a grace; it led Bernard afterward to say to himself that the natural vocation and metier of little girls for whom existence was but a shimmering surface, was to prattle and ruffle their plumage; their view of life and its duties was as simple and superficial as that of an Oriental bayadere. It surely could not be with regard to this transparent little flirt that Gordon Wright desired advice; you could literally see the daylight — or rather the Baden gaslight — on the other side of her. She sat there for a minute, turning her little empty head to and fro, and catching Bernard’s eye every time she moved; she had for the instant the air of having exhausted all topics. Just then a young lady, with a gentleman at her side, drew near to the little group, and Longueville, perceiving her, instantly got up from his chair.

“There ‘s a beauty of the unconscious class!” he said to himself. He knew her face very well; he had spent half an hour in copying it.

“Here comes Miss Vivian!” said Gordon Wright, also getting up, as if to make room for the daughter near the mother.

She stopped in front of them, smiling slightly, and then she rested her eyes upon Longueville. Their gaze at first was full and direct, but it expressed nothing more than civil curiosity. This was immediately followed, however, by the light of recognition — recognition embarrassed, and signalling itself by a blush.

Miss Vivian’s companion was a powerful, handsome fellow, with a remarkable auburn beard, who struck the observer immediately as being uncommonly well dressed. He carried his hands in the pockets of a little jacket, the button-hole of which was adorned with a blooming rose. He approached Blanche Evers, smiling and dandling his body a little, and making her two or three jocular bows.

“Well, I hope you have lost every penny you put on the table!” said the young girl, by way of response to his obeisances.

He began to laugh and repeat them.

“I don’t care what I lose, so long — so long —”

“So long as what, pray?”

“So long as you let me sit down by you!” And he dropped, very gallantly, into a chair on the other side of her.

“I wish you would lose all your property!” she replied, glancing at Bernard.

“It would be a very small stake,” said Captain Lovelock. “Would you really like to see me reduced to misery?”

While this graceful dialogue rapidly established itself, Miss Vivian removed her eyes from Longueville’s face and turned toward her mother. But Gordon Wright checked this movement by laying his hand on Longueville’s shoulder and proceeding to introduce his friend.

“This is the accomplished creature, Mr. Bernard Longueville, of whom you have heard me speak. One of his accomplishments, as you see, is to drop down from the moon.”

“No, I don’t drop from the moon,” said Bernard, laughing. “I drop from — Siena!” He offered his hand to Miss Vivian, who for an appreciable instant hesitated to extend her own. Then she returned his salutation, without any response to his allusion to Siena.

She declined to take a seat, and said she was tired and preferred to go home. With this suggestion her mother immediately complied, and the two ladies appealed to the indulgence of little Miss Evers, who was obliged to renounce the society of Captain Lovelock. She enjoyed this luxury, however, on the way to Mrs. Vivian’s lodgings, toward which they all slowly strolled, in the sociable Baden fashion. Longueville might naturally have found himself next Miss Vivian, but he received an impression that she avoided him. She walked in front, and Gordon Wright strolled beside her, though Longueville noticed that they appeared to exchange but few words. He himself offered his arm to Mrs. Vivian, who paced along with a little lightly-wavering step, making observations upon the beauties of Baden and the respective merits of the hotels.

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