Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 8

He forbore to ask her his question again — she might tell him at her convenience. But the days passed by, and she never told him — she had her own reasons. Bernard talked with her very often; conversation formed indeed the chief entertainment of the quiet little circle of which he was a member. They sat on the terrace and talked in the mingled starlight and lamplight, and they strolled in the deep green forests and wound along the side of the gentle Baden hills, under the influence of colloquial tendencies. The Black Forest is a country of almost unbroken shade, and in the still days of midsummer the whole place was covered with a motionless canopy of verdure. Our friends were not extravagant or audacious people, and they looked at Baden life very much from the outside — they sat aloof from the brightly lighted drama of professional revelry. Among themselves as well, however, a little drama went forward in which each member of the company had a part to play. Bernard Longueville had been surprised at first at what he would have called Miss Vivian’s approachableness — at the frequency with which he encountered opportunities for sitting near her and entering into conversation. He had expected that Gordon Wright would deem himself to have established an anticipatory claim upon the young lady’s attention, and that, in pursuance of this claim, he would occupy a recognized place at her side. Gordon was, after all, wooing her; it was very natural he should seek her society. In fact, he was never very far off; but Bernard, for three or four days, had the anomalous consciousness of being still nearer. Presently, however, he perceived that he owed this privilege simply to his friend’s desire that he should become acquainted with Miss Vivian — should receive a vivid impression of a person in whom Gordon was so deeply interested. After this result might have been supposed to be attained, Gordon Wright stepped back into his usual place and showed her those small civilities which were the only homage that the quiet conditions of their life rendered possible — walked with her, talked with her, brought her a book to read, a chair to sit upon, a couple of flowers to place in the bosom of her gown, treated her, in a word, with a sober but by no means inexpressive gallantry. He had not been making violent love, as he told Longueville, and these demonstrations were certainly not violent. Bernard said to himself that if he were not in the secret, a spectator would scarcely make the discovery that Gordon cherished an even very safely tended flame. Angela Vivian, on her side, was not strikingly responsive. There was nothing in her deportment to indicate that she was in love with her systematic suitor. She was perfectly gracious and civil. She smiled in his face when he shook hands with her; she looked at him and listened when he talked; she let him stroll beside her in the Lichtenthal Alley; she read, or appeared to read, the books he lent her, and she decorated herself with the flowers he offered. She seemed neither bored nor embarrassed, neither irritated nor oppressed. But it was Bernard’s belief that she took no more pleasure in his attentions than a pretty girl must always take in any recognition of her charms. “If she ‘s not indifferent,” he said to himself, “she is, at any rate, impartial — profoundly impartial.”

It was not till the end of a week that Gordon Wright told him exactly how his business stood with Miss Vivian and what he had reason to expect and hope — a week during which their relations had been of the happiest and most comfortable cast, and during which Bernard, rejoicing in their long walks and talks, in the charming weather, in the beauty and entertainment of the place, and in other things besides, had not ceased to congratulate himself on coming to Baden. Bernard, after the first day, had asked his friend no questions. He had a great respect for opportunity, coming either to others or to himself, and he left Gordon to turn his lantern as fitfully as might be upon the subject which was tacitly open between them, but of which as yet only the mere edges had emerged into light. Gordon, on his side, seemed content for the moment with having his clever friend under his hand; he reserved him for final appeal or for some other mysterious use.

“You can’t tell me you don’t know her now,” he said, one evening as the two young men strolled along the Lichtenthal Alley —“now that you have had a whole week’s observation of her.”

“What is a week’s observation of a singularly clever and complicated woman?” Bernard asked.

“Ah, your week has been of some use. You have found out she is complicated!” Gordon rejoined.

“My dear Gordon,” Longueville exclaimed, “I don’t see what it signifies to you that I should find Miss Vivian out! When a man ‘s in love, what need he care what other people think of the loved object?”

“It would certainly be a pity to care too much. But there is some excuse for him in the loved object being, as you say, complicated.”

“Nonsense! That ‘s no excuse. The loved object is always complicated.”

Gordon walked on in silence a moment.

“Well, then, I don’t care a button what you think!”

“Bravo! That ‘s the way a man should talk,” cried Longueville.

Gordon indulged in another fit of meditation, and then he said —

“Now that leaves you at liberty to say what you please.”

“Ah, my dear fellow, you are ridiculous!” said Bernard.

“That ‘s precisely what I want you to say. You always think me too reasonable.”

“Well, I go back to my first assertion. I don’t know Miss Vivian — I mean I don’t know her to have opinions about her. I don’t suppose you wish me to string you off a dozen mere banalites —‘She ‘s a charming girl — evidently a superior person — has a great deal of style.’”

“Oh no,” said Gordon; “I know all that. But, at any rate,” he added, “you like her, eh?”

“I do more,” said Longueville. “I admire her.”

“Is that doing more?” asked Gordon, reflectively.

“Well, the greater, whichever it is, includes the less.”

“You won’t commit yourself,” said Gordon. “My dear Bernard,” he added, “I thought you knew such an immense deal about women!”

Gordon Wright was of so kindly and candid a nature that it is hardly conceivable that this remark should have been framed to make Bernard commit himself by putting him on his mettle. Such a view would imply indeed on Gordon’s part a greater familiarity with the uses of irony than he had ever possessed, as well as a livelier conviction of the irritable nature of his friend’s vanity. In fact, however, it may be confided to the reader that Bernard was pricked in a tender place, though the resentment of vanity was not visible in his answer.

“You were quite wrong,” he simply said. “I am as ignorant of women as a monk in his cloister.”

“You try to prove too much. You don’t think her sympathetic!” And as regards this last remark, Gordon Wright must be credited with a certain ironical impulse.

Bernard stopped impatiently.

“I ask you again, what does it matter to you what I think of her?”

“It matters in this sense — that she has refused me.”

“Refused you? Then it is all over, and nothing matters.”

“No, it is n’t over,” said Gordon, with a positive head-shake. “Don’t you see it is n’t over?”

Bernard smiled, laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder and patted it a little.

“Your attitude might almost pass for that of resignation.”

“I ‘m not resigned!” said Gordon Wright.

“Of course not. But when were you refused?”

Gordon stood a minute with his eyes fixed on the ground. Then, at last looking up,

“Three weeks ago — a fortnight before you came. But let us walk along,” he said, “and I will tell you all about it.”

“I proposed to her three weeks ago,” said Gordon, as they walked along. “My heart was very much set upon it. I was very hard hit — I was deeply smitten. She had been very kind to me — she had been charming — I thought she liked me. Then I thought her mother was pleased, and would have liked it. Mrs. Vivian, in fact, told me as much; for of course I spoke to her first. Well, Angela does like me — or at least she did — and I see no reason to suppose she has changed. Only she did n’t like me enough. She said the friendliest and pleasantest things to me, but she thought that she knew me too little, and that I knew her even less. She made a great point of that — that I had no right, as yet, to trust her. I told her that if she would trust me, I was perfectly willing to trust her; but she answered that this was poor reasoning. She said that I was trustworthy and that she was not, and — in short, all sorts of nonsense. She abused herself roundly — accused herself of no end of defects.”

“What defects, for instance?”

“Oh, I have n’t remembered them. She said she had a bad temper — that she led her mother a dreadful life. Now, poor Mrs. Vivian says she is an angel.”

“Ah yes,” Bernard observed; “Mrs. Vivian says that, very freely.”

“Angela declared that she was jealous, ungenerous, unforgiving — all sorts of things. I remember she said ‘I am very false,’ and I think she remarked that she was cruel.”

“But this did n’t put you off,” said Bernard.

“Not at all. She was making up.”

“She makes up very well!” Bernard exclaimed, laughing.

“Do you call that well?”

“I mean it was very clever.”

“It was not clever from the point of view of wishing to discourage me.”

“Possibly. But I am sure,” said Bernard, “that if I had been present at your interview — excuse the impudence of the hypothesis — I should have been struck with the young lady’s —” and he paused a moment.

“With her what?”

“With her ability.”

“Well, her ability was not sufficient to induce me to give up my idea. She told me that after I had known her six months I should detest her.”

“I have no doubt she could make you do it if she should try. That ‘s what I mean by her ability.”

“She calls herself cruel,” said Gordon, “but she has not had the cruelty to try. She has been very reasonable — she has been perfect. I agreed with her that I would drop the subject for a while, and that meanwhile we should be good friends. We should take time to know each other better and act in accordance with further knowledge. There was no hurry, since we trusted each other — wrong as my trust might be. She had no wish that I should go away. I was not in the least disagreeable to her; she liked me extremely, and I was perfectly free to try and please her. Only I should drop my proposal, and be free to take it up again or leave it alone, later, as I should choose. If she felt differently then, I should have the benefit of it, and if I myself felt differently, I should also have the benefit of it.”

“That ‘s a very comfortable arrangement. And that ‘s your present situation?” asked Bernard.

Gordon hesitated a moment.

“More or less, but not exactly.”

“Miss Vivian feels differently?” said Bernard.

“Not that I know of.”

Gordon’s companion, with a laugh, clapped him on the shoulder again.

“Admirable youth, you are a capital match!”

“Are you alluding to my money?”

“To your money and to your modesty. There is as much of one as of the other — which is saying a great deal.”

“Well,” said Gordon, “in spite of that enviable combination, I am not happy.”

“I thought you seemed pensive!” Bernard exclaimed. “It ‘s you, then, who feel differently.”

Gordon gave a sigh.

“To say that is to say too much.”

“What shall we say, then?” his companion asked, kindly.

Gordon stopped again; he stood there looking up at a certain particularly lustrous star which twinkled — the night was cloudy — in an open patch of sky, and the vague brightness shone down on his honest and serious visage.

“I don’t understand her,” he said.

“Oh, I ‘ll say that with you any day!” cried Bernard. “I can’t help you there.”

“You must help me;” and Gordon Wright deserted his star. “You must keep me in good humor.”

“Please to walk on, then. I don’t in the least pity you; she is very charming with you.”

“True enough; but insisting on that is not the way to keep me in good humor — when I feel as I do.”

“How is it you feel?”

“Puzzled to death — bewildered — depressed!”

This was but the beginning of Gordon Wright’s list; he went on to say that though he “thought as highly” of Miss Vivian as he had ever done, he felt less at his ease with her than in the first weeks of their acquaintance, and this condition made him uncomfortable and unhappy.

“I don’t know what ‘s the matter,” said poor Gordon. “I don’t know what has come between us. It is n’t her fault — I don’t make her responsible for it. I began to notice it about a fortnight ago — before you came; shortly after that talk I had with her that I have just described to you. Her manner has n’t changed and I have no reason to suppose that she likes me any the less; but she makes a strange impression on me — she makes me uneasy. It ‘s only her nature coming out, I suppose — what you might call her originality. She ‘s thoroughly original — she ‘s a kind of mysterious creature. I suppose that what I feel is a sort of fascination; but that is just what I don’t like. Hang it, I don’t want to be fascinated — I object to being fascinated!”

This little story had taken some time in the telling, so that the two young men had now reached their hotel.

“Ah, my dear Gordon,” said Bernard, “we speak a different language. If you don’t want to be fascinated, what is one to say to you? ‘Object to being fascinated!’ There ‘s a man easy to satisfy! Raffine, va!”

“Well, see here now,” said Gordon, stopping in the door-way of the inn; “when it comes to the point, do you like it yourself?”

“When it comes to the point?” Bernard exclaimed. “I assure you I don’t wait till then. I like the beginning — I delight in the approach of it — I revel in the prospect.”

“That’s just what I did. But now that the thing has come — I don’t revel. To be fascinated is to be mystified. Damn it, I like my liberty — I like my judgment!”

“So do I— like yours,” said Bernard, laughing, as they took their bedroom candles.

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