Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 4

“Which of them is it?” asked Longueville of his friend, after they had bidden good-night to the three ladies and to Captain Lovelock, who went off to begin, as he said, the evening. They stood, when they had turned away from the door of Mrs. Vivian’s lodgings, in the little, rough-paved German street.

“Which of them is what?” Gordon asked, staring at his companion.

“Oh, come,” said Longueville, “you are not going to begin to play at modesty at this hour! Did n’t you write to me that you had been making violent love?”

“Violent? No.”

“The more shame to you! Has your love-making been feeble?”

His friend looked at him a moment rather soberly.

“I suppose you thought it a queer document — that letter I wrote you.”

“I thought it characteristic,” said Longueville smiling.

“Is n’t that the same thing?”

“Not in the least. I have never thought you a man of oddities.” Gordon stood there looking at him with a serious eye, half appealing, half questioning; but at these last words he glanced away. Even a very modest man may wince a little at hearing himself denied the distinction of a few variations from the common type. Longueville made this reflection, and it struck him, also, that his companion was in a graver mood than he had expected; though why, after all, should he have been in a state of exhilaration? “Your letter was a very natural, interesting one,” Bernard added.

“Well, you see,” said Gordon, facing his companion again, “I have been a good deal preoccupied.”

“Obviously, my dear fellow!”

“I want very much to marry.”

“It ‘s a capital idea,” said Longueville.

“I think almost as well of it,” his friend declared, “as if I had invented it. It has struck me for the first time.”

These words were uttered with a mild simplicity which provoked Longueville to violent laughter.

“My dear fellow,” he exclaimed, “you have, after all, your little oddities.”

Singularly enough, however, Gordon Wright failed to appear flattered by this concession.

“I did n’t send for you to laugh at me,” he said.

“Ah, but I have n’t travelled three hundred miles to cry! Seriously, solemnly, then, it is one of these young ladies that has put marriage into your head?”

“Not at all. I had it in my head.”

“Having a desire to marry, you proceeded to fall in love.”

“I am not in love!” said Gordon Wright, with some energy.

“Ah, then, my dear fellow, why did you send for me?”

Wright looked at him an instant in silence.

“Because I thought you were a good fellow, as well as a clever one.”

“A good fellow!” repeated Longueville. “I don’t understand your confounded scientific nomenclature. But excuse me; I won’t laugh. I am not a clever fellow; but I am a good one.” He paused a moment, and then laid his hand on his companion’s shoulder. “My dear Gordon, it ‘s no use; you are in love.”

“Well, I don’t want to be,” said Wright.

“Heavens, what a horrible sentiment!”

“I want to marry with my eyes open. I want to know my wife. You don’t know people when you are in love with them. Your impressions are colored.”

“They are supposed to be, slightly. And you object to color?”

“Well, as I say, I want to know the woman I marry, as I should know any one else. I want to see her as clearly.”

“Depend upon it, you have too great an appetite for knowledge; you set too high an esteem upon the dry light of science.”

“Ah!” said Gordon promptly; “of course I want to be fond of her.”

Bernard, in spite of his protest, began to laugh again.

“My dear Gordon, you are better than your theories. Your passionate heart contradicts your frigid intellect. I repeat it — you are in love.”

“Please don’t repeat it again,” said Wright.

Bernard took his arm, and they walked along.

“What shall I call it, then? You are engaged in making studies for matrimony.”

“I don’t in the least object to your calling it that. My studies are of extreme interest.”

“And one of those young ladies is the fair volume that contains the precious lesson,” said Longueville. “Or perhaps your text-book is in two volumes?”

“No; there is one of them I am not studying at all. I never could do two things at once.”

“That proves you are in love. One can’t be in love with two women at once, but one may perfectly have two of them — or as many as you please — up for a competitive examination. However, as I asked you before, which of these young ladies is it that you have selected?”

Gordon Wright stopped abruptly, eying his friend.

“Which should you say?”

“Ah, that ‘s not a fair question,” Bernard urged. “It would be invidious for me to name one rather than the other, and if I were to mention the wrong one, I should feel as if I had been guilty of a rudeness towards the other. Don’t you see?”

Gordon saw, perhaps, but he held to his idea of making his companion commit himself.

“Never mind the rudeness. I will do the same by you some day, to make it up. Which of them should you think me likely to have taken a fancy to? On general grounds, now, from what you know of me?” He proposed this problem with an animated eye.

“You forget,” his friend said, “that though I know, thank heaven, a good deal of you, I know very little of either of those girls. I have had too little evidence.”

“Yes, but you are a man who notices. That ‘s why I wanted you to come.”

“I spoke only to Miss Evers.”

“Yes, I know you have never spoken to Miss Vivian.” Gordon Wright stood looking at Bernard and urging his point as he pronounced these words. Bernard felt peculiarly conscious of his gaze. The words represented an illusion, and Longueville asked himself quickly whether it were not his duty to dispel it. The answer came more slowly than the question, but still it came, in the shape of a negative. The illusion was but a trifling one, and it was not for him, after all, to let his friend know that he had already met Miss Vivian. It was for the young girl herself, and since she had not done so — although she had the opportunity — Longueville said to himself that he was bound in honor not to speak. These reflections were very soon made, but in the midst of them our young man, thanks to a great agility of mind, found time to observe, tacitly, that it was odd, just there, to see his “honor” thrusting in its nose. Miss Vivian, in her own good time, would doubtless mention to Gordon the little incident of Siena. It was Bernard’s fancy, for a moment, that he already knew it, and that the remark he had just uttered had an ironical accent; but this impression was completely dissipated by the tone in which he added —“All the same, you noticed her.”

“Oh, yes; she is very noticeable.”

“Well, then,” said Gordon, “you will see. I should like you to make it out. Of course, if I am really giving my attention to one to the exclusion of the other, it will be easy to discover.”

Longueville was half amused, half irritated by his friend’s own relish of his little puzzle. “‘The exclusion of the other’ has an awkward sound,” he answered, as they walked on. “Am I to notice that you are very rude to one of the young ladies?”

“Oh dear, no. Do you think there is a danger of that?”

“Well,” said Longueville, “I have already guessed.”

Gordon Wright remonstrated. “Don’t guess yet — wait a few days. I won’t tell you now.”

“Let us see if he does n’t tell me,” said Bernard, privately. And he meditated a moment. “When I presented myself, you were sitting very close to Miss Evers and talking very earnestly. Your head was bent toward her — it was very lover-like. Decidedly, Miss Evers is the object!”

For a single instant Gordon Wright hesitated, and then —“I hope I have n’t seemed rude to Miss Vivian!” he exclaimed.

Bernard broke into a light laugh. “My dear Gordon, you are very much in love!” he remarked, as they arrived at their hotel.

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