Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 6

That evening, in the gardens of the Kursaal, he renewed acquaintance with Angela Vivian. Her mother came, as usual, to sit and listen to the music, accompanied by Blanche Evers, who was in turn attended by Captain Lovelock. This little party found privacy in the crowd; they seated themselves in a quiet corner in an angle of one of the barriers of the terrace, while the movement of the brilliant Baden world went on around them. Gordon Wright engaged in conversation with Mrs. Vivian, while Bernard enjoyed an interview with her daughter. This young lady continued to ignore the fact of their previous meeting, and our hero said to himself that all he wished was to know what she preferred — he would rigidly conform to it. He conformed to her present programme; he had ventured to pronounce the word Siena the evening before, but he was careful not to pronounce it again. She had her reasons for her own reserve; he wondered what they were, and it gave him a certain pleasure to wonder. He enjoyed the consciousness of their having a secret together, and it became a kind of entertaining suspense to see how long she would continue to keep it. For himself, he was in no hurry to let the daylight in; the little incident at Siena had been, in itself, a charming affair; but Miss Vivian’s present attitude gave it a sort of mystic consecration. He thought she carried it off very well — the theory that she had not seen him before; last evening she had been slightly confused, but now she was as self-possessed as if the line she had taken were a matter of conscience. Why should it be a matter of conscience? Was she in love with Gordon Wright, and did she wish, in consequence, to forget — and wish him not to suspect — that she had ever received an expression of admiration from another man? This was not likely; it was not likely, at least, that Miss Vivian wished to pass for a prodigy of innocence; for if to be admired is to pay a tribute to corruption, it was perfectly obvious that so handsome a girl must have tasted of the tree of knowledge. As for her being in love with Gordon Wright, that of course was another affair, and Bernard did not pretend, as yet, to have an opinion on this point, beyond hoping very much that she might be.

He was not wrong in the impression of her good looks that he had carried away from the short interview at Siena. She had a charmingly chiselled face, with a free, pure outline, a clear, fair complexion, and the eyes and hair of a dusky beauty. Her features had a firmness which suggested tranquillity, and yet her expression was light and quick, a combination — or a contradiction — which gave an original stamp to her beauty. Bernard remembered that he had thought it a trifle “bold”; but he now perceived that this had been but a vulgar misreading of her dark, direct, observant eye. The eye was a charming one; Bernard discovered in it, little by little, all sorts of things; and Miss Vivian was, for the present, simply a handsome, intelligent, smiling girl. He gave her an opportunity to make an allusion to Siena; he said to her that his friend told him that she and her mother had been spending the winter in Italy.

“Oh yes,” said Angela Vivian; “we were in the far south; we were five months at Sorrento.”

“And nowhere else?”

“We spent a few days in Rome. We usually prefer the quiet places; that is my mother’s taste.”

“It was not your mother’s taste, then,” said Bernard, “that brought you to Baden?”

She looked at him a moment.

“You mean that Baden is not quiet?”

Longueville glanced about at the moving, murmuring crowd, at the lighted windows of the Conversation-house, at the great orchestra perched up in its pagoda.

“This is not my idea of absolute tranquillity.”

“Nor mine, either,” said Miss Vivian. “I am not fond of absolute tranquillity.”

“How do you arrange it, then, with your mother?”

Again she looked at him a moment, with her clever, slightly mocking smile.

“As you see. By making her come where I wish.”

“You have a strong will,” said Bernard. “I see that.”

“No. I have simply a weak mother. But I make sacrifices too, sometimes.”

“What do you call sacrifices?”

“Well, spending the winter at Sorrento.”

Bernard began to laugh, and then he told her she must have had a very happy life —“to call a winter at Sorrento a sacrifice.”

“It depends upon what one gives up,” said Miss Vivian.

“What did you give up?”

She touched him with her mocking smile again.

“That is not a very civil question, asked in that way.”

“You mean that I seem to doubt your abnegation?”

“You seem to insinuate that I had nothing to renounce. I gave up — I gave up —” and she looked about her, considering a little —“I gave up society.”

“I am glad you remember what it was,” said Bernard. “If I have seemed uncivil, let me make it up. When a woman speaks of giving up society, what she means is giving up admiration. You can never have given up that — you can never have escaped from it. You must have found it even at Sorrento.”

“It may have been there, but I never found it. It was very respectful — it never expressed itself.”

“That is the deepest kind,” said Bernard.

“I prefer the shallower varieties,” the young girl answered.

“Well,” said Bernard, “you must remember that although shallow admiration expresses itself, all the admiration that expresses itself is not shallow.”

Miss Vivian hesitated a moment.

“Some of it is impertinent,” she said, looking straight at him, rather gravely.

Bernard hesitated about as long.

“When it is impertinent it is shallow. That comes to the same thing.”

The young girl frowned a little.

“I am not sure that I understand — I am rather stupid. But you see how right I am in my taste for such places as this. I have to come here to hear such ingenious remarks.”

“You should add that my coming, as well, has something to do with it.”

“Everything!” said Miss Vivian.

“Everything? Does no one else make ingenious remarks? Does n’t my friend Wright?”

“Mr. Wright says excellent things, but I should not exactly call them ingenious remarks.”

“It is not what Wright says; it ‘s what he does. That ‘s the charm!” said Bernard.

His companion was silent for a moment. “That ‘s not usually a charm; good conduct is not thought pleasing.”

“It surely is not thought the reverse!” Bernard exclaimed.

“It does n’t rank — in the opinion of most people — among the things that make men agreeable.”

“It depends upon what you call agreeable.”

“Exactly so,” said Miss Vivian. “It all depends on that.”

“But the agreeable,” Bernard went on —“it is n’t after all, fortunately, such a subtle idea! The world certainly is agreed to think that virtue is a beautiful thing.”

Miss Vivian dropped her eyes a moment, and then, looking up,

“Is it a charm?” she asked.

“For me there is no charm without it,” Bernard declared.

“I am afraid that for me there is,” said the young girl.

Bernard was puzzled — he who was not often puzzled. His companion struck him as altogether too clever to be likely to indulge in a silly affectation of cynicism. And yet, without this, how could one account for her sneering at virtue?

“You talk as if you had sounded the depths of vice!” he said, laughing. “What do you know about other than virtuous charms?”

“I know, of course, nothing about vice; but I have known virtue when it was very tiresome.”

“Ah, then it was a poor affair. It was poor virtue. The best virtue is never tiresome.”

Miss Vivian looked at him a little, with her fine discriminating eye.

“What a dreadful thing to have to think any virtue poor!”

This was a touching reflection, and it might have gone further had not the conversation been interrupted by Mrs. Vivian’s appealing to her daughter to aid a defective recollection of a story about a Spanish family they had met at Biarritz, with which she had undertaken to entertain Gordon Wright. After this, the little circle was joined by a party of American friends who were spending a week at Baden, and the conversation became general.

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