Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 7

But on the following evening, Bernard again found himself seated in friendly colloquy with this interesting girl, while Gordon Wright discoursed with her mother on one side, and little Blanche Evers chattered to the admiring eyes of Captain Lovelock on the other.

“You and your mother are very kind to that little girl,” our hero said; “you must be a great advantage to her.”

Angela Vivian directed her eyes to her neighbors, and let them rest a while on the young girl’s little fidgeting figure and her fresh, coquettish face. For some moments she said nothing, and to Longueville, turning over several things in his mind, and watching her, it seemed that her glance was one of disfavor. He divined, he scarcely knew how, that her esteem for her pretty companion was small.

“I don’t know that I am very kind,” said Miss Vivian. “I have done nothing in particular for her.”

“Mr. Wright tells me you came to this place mainly on her account.”

“I came for myself,” said Miss Vivian. “The consideration you speak of perhaps had weight with my mother.”

“You are not an easy person to say appreciative things to,” Bernard rejoined. “One is tempted to say them; but you don’t take them.”

The young girl colored as she listened to this observation.

“I don’t think you know,” she murmured, looking away. Then, “Set it down to modesty,” she added.

“That, of course, is what I have done. To what else could one possibly attribute an indifference to compliments?”

“There is something else. One might be proud.”

“There you are again!” Bernard exclaimed. “You won’t even let me praise your modesty.”

“I would rather you should rebuke my pride.”

“That is so humble a speech that it leaves no room for rebuke.”

For a moment Miss Vivian said nothing.

“Men are singularly base,” she declared presently, with a little smile. “They don’t care in the least to say things that might help a person. They only care to say things that may seem effective and agreeable.”

“I see: you think that to say agreeable things is a great misdemeanor.”

“It comes from their vanity,” Miss Vivian went on, as if she had not heard him. “They wish to appear agreeable and get credit for cleverness and tendresse, no matter how silly it would be for another person to believe them.”

Bernard was a good deal amused, and a little nettled.

“Women, then,” he said, “have rather a fondness for producing a bad impression — they like to appear disagreeable?”

His companion bent her eyes upon her fan for a moment as she opened and closed it.

“They are capable of resigning themselves to it — for a purpose.”

Bernard was moved to extreme merriment.

“For what purpose?”

“I don’t know that I mean for a purpose,” said Miss Vivian; “but for a necessity.”

“Ah, what an odious necessity!”

“Necessities usually are odious. But women meet them. Men evade them and shirk them.”

“I contest your proposition. Women are themselves necessities; but they are not odious ones!” And Bernard added, in a moment, “One could n’t evade them, if they were!”

“I object to being called a necessity,” said Angela Vivian. “It diminishes one’s merit.”

“Ah, but it enhances the charm of life!”

“For men, doubtless!”

“The charm of life is very great,” Bernard went on, looking up at the dusky hills and the summer stars, seen through a sort of mist of music and talk, and of powdery light projected from the softly lurid windows of the gaming-rooms. “The charm of life is extreme. I am unacquainted with odious necessities. I object to nothing!”

Angela Vivian looked about her as he had done — looked perhaps a moment longer at the summer stars; and if she had not already proved herself a young lady of a contradictory turn, it might have been supposed she was just then tacitly admitting the charm of life to be considerable.

“Do you suppose Miss Evers often resigns herself to being disagreeable — for a purpose?” asked Longueville, who had glanced at Captain Lovelock’s companion again.

“She can’t be disagreeable; she is too gentle, too soft.”

“Do you mean too silly?”

“I don’t know that I call her silly. She is not very wise; but she has no pretensions — absolutely none — so that one is not struck with anything incongruous.”

“What a terrible description! I suppose one ought to have a few pretensions.”

“You see one comes off more easily without them,” said Miss Vivian.

“Do you call that coming off easily?”

She looked at him a moment gravely.

“I am very fond of Blanche,” she said.

“Captain Lovelock is rather fond of her,” Bernard went on.

The girl assented.

“He is completely fascinated — he is very much in love with her.”

“And do they mean to make an international match?”

“I hope not; my mother and I are greatly troubled.”

“Is n’t he a good fellow?”

“He is a good fellow; but he is a mere trifler. He has n’t a penny, I believe, and he has very expensive habits. He gambles a great deal. We don’t know what to do.”

“You should send for the young lady’s mother.”

“We have written to her pressingly. She answers that Blanche can take care of herself, and that she must stay at Marienbad to finish her cure. She has just begun a new one.”

“Ah well,” said Bernard, “doubtless Blanche can take care of herself.”

For a moment his companion said nothing; then she exclaimed —

“It ‘s what a girl ought to be able to do!”

“I am sure you are!” said Bernard.

She met his eyes, and she was going to make some rejoinder; but before she had time to speak, her mother’s little, clear, conciliatory voice interposed. Mrs. Vivian appealed to her daughter, as she had done the night before.

“Dear Angela, what was the name of the gentleman who delivered that delightful course of lectures that we heard in Geneva, on — what was the title? —‘The Redeeming Features of the Pagan Morality.’”

Angela flushed a little.

“I have quite forgotten his name, mamma,” she said, without looking round.

“Come and sit by me, my dear, and we will talk them over. I wish Mr. Wright to hear about them,” Mrs. Vivian went on.

“Do you wish to convert him to paganism?” Bernard asked.

“The lectures were very dull; they had no redeeming features,” said Angela, getting up, but turning away from her mother. She stood looking at Bernard Longueville; he saw she was annoyed at her mother’s interference. “Every now and then,” she said, “I take a turn through the gaming-rooms. The last time, Captain Lovelock went with me. Will you come to-night?”

Bernard assented with expressive alacrity; he was charmed with her not wishing to break off her conversation with him.

“Ah, we ‘ll all go!” said Mrs. Vivian, who had been listening, and she invited the others to accompany her to the Kursaal.

They left their places, but Angela went first, with Bernard Longueville by her side; and the idea of her having publicly braved her mother, as it were, for the sake of his society, lent for the moment an almost ecstatic energy to his tread. If he had been tempted to presume upon his triumph, however, he would have found a check in the fact that the young girl herself tasted very soberly of the sweets of defiance. She was silent and grave; she had a manner which took the edge from the wantonness of filial independence. Yet, for all this, Bernard was pleased with his position; and, as he walked with her through the lighted and crowded rooms, where they soon detached themselves from their companions, he felt that peculiar satisfaction which best expresses itself in silence. Angela looked a while at the rows of still, attentive faces, fixed upon the luminous green circle, across which little heaps of louis d’or were being pushed to and fro, and she continued to say nothing. Then at last she exclaimed simply, “Come away!” They turned away and passed into another chamber, in which there was no gambling. It was an immense apartment, apparently a ball-room; but at present it was quite unoccupied. There were green velvet benches all around it, and a great polished floor stretched away, shining in the light of chandeliers adorned with innumerable glass drops. Miss Vivian stood a moment on the threshold; then she passed in, and they stopped in the middle of the place, facing each other, and with their figures reflected as if they had been standing on a sheet of ice. There was no one in the room; they were entirely alone.

“Why don’t you recognize me?” Bernard murmured quickly.

“Recognize you?”

“Why do you seem to forget our meeting at Siena?”

She might have answered if she had answered immediately; but she hesitated, and while she did so something happened at the other end of the room which caused her to shift her glance. A green velvet porti; agere suspended in one of the door-ways — not that through which our friends had passed — was lifted, and Gordon Wright stood there, holding it up, and looking at them. His companions were behind him.

“Ah, here they are!” cried Gordon, in his loud, clear voice.

This appeared to strike Angela Vivian as an interruption, and Bernard saw it very much in the same light.

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