Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 5

Life at baden-baden proved a very sociable affair, and Bernard Longueville perceived that he should not lack opportunity for the exercise of those gifts of intelligence to which Gordon Wright had appealed. The two friends took long walks through the woods and over the mountains, and they mingled with human life in the crowded precincts of the Conversation-house. They engaged in a ramble on the morning after Bernard’s arrival, and wandered far away, over hill and dale. The Baden forests are superb, and the composition of the landscape is most effective. There is always a bosky dell in the foreground, and a purple crag embellished with a ruined tower at a proper angle. A little timber-and-plaster village peeps out from a tangle of plum-trees, and a way-side tavern, in comfortable recurrence, solicits concessions to the national custom of frequent refreshment. Gordon Wright, who was a dogged pedestrian, always enjoyed doing his ten miles, and Longueville, who was an incorrigible stroller, felt a keen relish for the picturesqueness of the country. But it was not, on this occasion, of the charms of the landscape or the pleasures of locomotion that they chiefly discoursed. Their talk took a more closely personal turn. It was a year since they had met, and there were many questions to ask and answer, many arrears of gossip to make up. As they stretched themselves on the grass on a sun-warmed hill-side, beneath a great German oak whose arms were quiet in the blue summer air, there was a lively exchange of impressions, opinions, speculations, anecdotes. Gordon Wright was surely an excellent friend. He took an interest in you. He asked no idle questions and made no vague professions; but he entered into your situation, he examined it in detail, and what he learned he never forgot. Months afterwards, he asked you about things which you yourself had forgotten. He was not a man of whom it would be generally said that he had the gift of sympathy; but he gave his attention to a friend’s circumstances with a conscientious fixedness which was at least very far removed from indifference. Bernard had the gift of sympathy — or at least he was supposed to have it; but even he, familiar as he must therefore have been with the practice of this charming virtue, was at times so struck with his friend’s fine faculty of taking other people’s affairs seriously that he constantly exclaimed to himself, “The excellent fellow — the admirable nature!”

Bernard had two or three questions to ask about the three persons who appeared to have formed for some time his companion’s principal society, but he was indisposed to press them. He felt that he should see for himself, and at a prospect of entertainment of this kind, his fancy always kindled. Gordon was, moreover, at first rather shy of confidences, though after they had lain on the grass ten minutes there was a good deal said.

“Now what do you think of her face?” Gordon asked, after staring a while at the sky through the oak-boughs.

“Of course, in future,” said Longueville, “whenever you make use of the personal pronoun feminine, I am to understand that Miss Vivian is indicated.”

“Her name is Angela,” said Gordon; “but of course I can scarcely call her that.”

“It ‘s a beautiful name,” Longueville rejoined; “but I may say, in answer to your question, that I am not struck with the fact that her face corresponds to it.”

“You don’t think her face beautiful, then?”

“I don’t think it angelic. But how can I tell? I have only had a glimpse of her.”

“Wait till she looks at you and speaks — wait till she smiles,” said Gordon.

“I don’t think I saw her smile — at least, not at me, directly. I hope she will!” Longueville went on. “But who is she — this beautiful girl with the beautiful name?”

“She is her mother’s daughter,” said Gordon Wright. “I don’t really know a great deal more about her than that.”

“And who is her mother?”

“A delightful little woman, devoted to Miss Vivian. She is a widow, and Angela is her only child. They have lived a great deal in Europe; they have but a modest income. Over here, Mrs. Vivian says, they can get a lot of things for their money that they can’t get at home. So they stay, you see. When they are at home they live in New York. They know some of my people there. When they are in Europe they live about in different places. They are fond of Italy. They are extremely nice; it ‘s impossible to be nicer. They are very fond of books, fond of music, and art, and all that. They always read in the morning. They only come out rather late in the day.”

“I see they are very superior people,” said Bernard. “And little Miss Evers — what does she do in the morning? I know what she does in the evening!”

“I don’t know what her regular habits are. I have n’t paid much attention to her. She is very pretty.”

“Wunderschon!” said Bernard. “But you were certainly talking to her last evening.”

“Of course I talk to her sometimes. She is totally different from Angela Vivian — not nearly so cultivated; but she seems very charming.”

“A little silly, eh?” Bernard suggested.

“She certainly is not so wise as Miss Vivian.”

“That would be too much to ask, eh? But the Vivians, as kind as they are wise, have taken her under their protection.”

“Yes,” said Gordon, “they are to keep her another month or two. Her mother has gone to Marienbad, which I believe is thought a dull place for a young girl; so that, as they were coming here, they offered to bring her with them. Mrs. Evers is an old friend of Mrs. Vivian, who, on leaving Italy, had come up to Dresden to be with her. They spent a month there together; Mrs. Evers had been there since the winter. I think Mrs. Vivian really came to Baden–Baden — she would have preferred a less expensive place — to bring Blanche Evers. Her mother wanted her so much to come.”

“And was it for her sake that Captain Lovelock came, too?” Bernard asked.

Gordon Wright stared a moment.

“I ‘m sure I don’t know!”

“Of course you can’t be interested in that,” said Bernard smiling. “Who is Captain Lovelock?”

“He is an Englishman. I believe he is what ‘s called aristocratically connected — the younger brother of a lord, or something of that sort.”

“Is he a clever man?”

“I have n’t talked with him much, but I doubt it. He is rather rakish; he plays a great deal.”

“But is that considered here a proof of rakishness?” asked Bernard. “Have n’t you played a little yourself?”

Gordon hesitated a moment.

“Yes, I have played a little. I wanted to try some experiments. I had made some arithmetical calculations of probabilities, which I wished to test.”

Bernard gave a long laugh.

“I am delighted with the reasons you give for amusing yourself! Arithmetical calculations!”

“I assure you they are the real reasons!” said Gordon, blushing a little.

“That ‘s just the beauty of it. You were not afraid of being ‘drawn in,’ as little Miss Evers says?”

“I am never drawn in, whatever the thing may be. I go in, or I stay out; but I am not drawn,” said Gordon Wright.

“You were not drawn into coming with Mrs. Vivian and her daughter from Dresden to this place?”

“I did n’t come with them; I came a week later.”

“My dear fellow,” said Bernard, “that distinction is unworthy of your habitual candor.”

“Well, I was not fascinated; I was not overmastered. I wanted to come to Baden.”

“I have no doubt you did. Had you become very intimate with your friends in Dresden?”

“I had only seen them three times.”

“After which you followed them to this place? Ah, don’t say you were not fascinated!” cried Bernard, laughing and springing to his feet.

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