Confidence, by Henry James

Chapter 9

Bernard talked of this matter rather theoretically, inasmuch as to his own sense, he was in a state neither of incipient nor of absorbed fascination. He got on very easily, however, with Angela Vivian, and felt none of the mysterious discomfort alluded to by his friend. The element of mystery attached itself rather to the young lady’s mother, who gave him the impression that for undiscoverable reasons she avoided his society. He regretted her evasive deportment, for he found something agreeable in this shy and scrupulous little woman, who struck him as a curious specimen of a society of which he had once been very fond. He learned that she was of old New England stock, but he had not needed this information to perceive that Mrs. Vivian was animated by the genius of Boston. “She has the Boston temperament,” he said, using a phrase with which he had become familiar and which evoked a train of associations. But then he immediately added that if Mrs. Vivian was a daughter of the Puritans, the Puritan strain in her disposition had been mingled with another element. “It is the Boston temperament sophisticated,” he said; “perverted a little — perhaps even corrupted. It is the local east-wind with an infusion from climates less tonic.” It seemed to him that Mrs. Vivian was a Puritan grown worldly — a Bostonian relaxed; and this impression, oddly enough, contributed to his wish to know more of her. He felt like going up to her very politely and saying, “Dear lady and most honored compatriot, what in the world have I done to displease you? You don’t approve of me, and I am dying to know the reason why. I should be so happy to exert myself to be agreeable to you. It ‘s no use; you give me the cold shoulder. When I speak to you, you look the other way; it is only when I speak to your daughter that you look at me. It is true that at those times you look at me very hard, and if I am not greatly mistaken, you are not gratified by what you see. You count the words I address to your beautiful Angela — you time our harmless little interviews. You interrupt them indeed whenever you can; you call her away — you appeal to her; you cut across the conversation. You are always laying plots to keep us apart. Why can’t you leave me alone? I assure you I am the most innocent of men. Your beautiful Angela can’t possibly be injured by my conversation, and I have no designs whatever upon her peace of mind. What on earth have I done to offend you?”

These observations Bernard Longueville was disposed to make, and one afternoon, the opportunity offering, they rose to his lips and came very near passing them. In fact, however, at the last moment, his eloquence took another turn. It was the custom of the orchestra at the Kursaal to play in the afternoon, and as the music was often good, a great many people assembled under the trees, at three o’clock, to listen to it. This was not, as a regular thing, an hour of re-union for the little group in which we are especially interested; Miss Vivian, in particular, unless an excursion of some sort had been agreed upon the day before, was usually not to be seen in the precincts of the Conversation-house until the evening. Bernard, one afternoon, at three o’clock, directed his steps to this small world-centre of Baden, and, passing along the terrace, soon encountered little Blanche Evers strolling there under a pink parasol and accompanied by Captain Lovelock. This young lady was always extremely sociable; it was quite in accordance with her habitual geniality that she should stop and say how d’ ye do to our hero.

“Mr. Longueville is growing very frivolous,” she said, “coming to the Kursaal at all sorts of hours.”

“There is nothing frivolous in coming here with the hope of finding you,” the young man answered. “That is very serious.”

“It would be more serious to lose Miss Evers than to find her,” remarked Captain Lovelock, with gallant jocosity.

“I wish you would lose me!” cried the young girl. “I think I should like to be lost. I might have all kinds of adventures.”

“I ‘guess’ so!” said Captain Lovelock, hilariously.

“Oh, I should find my way. I can take care of myself!” Blanche went on.

“Mrs. Vivian does n’t think so,” said Bernard, who had just perceived this lady, seated under a tree with a book, over the top of which she was observing her pretty protege. Blanche looked toward her and gave her a little nod and a smile. Then chattering on to the young men —

“She ‘s awfully careful. I never saw any one so careful. But I suppose she is right. She promised my mother she would be tremendously particular; but I don’t know what she thinks I would do.”

“That is n’t flattering to me,” said Captain Lovelock. “Mrs. Vivian does n’t approve of me — she wishes me in Jamaica. What does she think me capable of?”

“And me, now?” Bernard asked. “She likes me least of all, and I, on my side, think she ‘s so nice.”

“Can’t say I ‘m very sweet on her,” said the Captain. “She strikes me as feline.”

Blanche Evers gave a little cry of horror.

“Stop, sir, this instant! I won’t have you talk that way about a lady who has been so kind to me.”

“She is n’t so kind to you. She would like to lock you up where I can never see you.”

“I ‘m sure I should n’t mind that!” cried the young girl, with a little laugh and a toss of her head. “Mrs. Vivian has the most perfect character — that ‘s why my mother wanted me to come with her. And if she promised my mother she would be careful, is n’t she right to keep her promise? She ‘s a great deal more careful than mamma ever was, and that ‘s just what mamma wanted. She would never take the trouble herself. And then she was always scolding me. Mrs. Vivian never scolds me. She only watches me, but I don’t mind that.”

“I wish she would watch you a little less and scold you a little more,” said Captain Lovelock.

“I have no doubt you wish a great many horrid things,” his companion rejoined, with delightful asperity.

“Ah, unfortunately I never have anything I wish!” sighed Lovelock.

“Your wishes must be comprehensive,” said Bernard. “It seems to me you have a good deal.”

The Englishman gave a shrug.

“It ‘s less than you might think. She is watching us more furiously than ever,” he added, in a moment, looking at Mrs. Vivian. “Mr. Gordon Wright is the only man she likes. She is awfully fond of Mr. Gordon Wright.”

“Ah, Mrs. Vivian shows her wisdom!” said Bernard.

“He is certainly very handsome,” murmured Blanche Evers, glancing several times, with a very pretty aggressiveness, at Captain Lovelock. “I must say I like Mr. Gordon Wright. Why in the world did you come here without him?” she went on, addressing herself to Bernard. “You two are so awfully inseparable. I don’t think I ever saw you alone before.”

“Oh, I have often seen Mr. Gordon Wright alone,” said Captain Lovelock —“that is, alone with Miss Vivian. That ‘s what the old lady likes; she can’t have too much of that.”

The young girl, poised for an instant in one of her pretty attitudes, looked at him from head to foot.

“Well, I call that scandalous! Do you mean that she wants to make a match?”

“I mean that the young man has six thousand a year.”

“It ‘s no matter what he has — six thousand a year is n’t much! And we don’t do things in that way in our country. We have n’t those horrid match-making arrangements that you have in your dreadful country. American mothers are not like English mothers.”

“Oh, any one can see, of course,” said Captain Lovelock, “that Mr. Gordon Wright is dying of love for Miss Vivian.”

“I can’t see it!” cried Blanche.

“He dies easier than I, eh?”

“I wish you would die!” said Blanche. “At any rate, Angela is not dying of love for Mr. Wright.”

“Well, she will marry him all the same,” Lovelock declared.

Blanche Evers glanced at Bernard.

“Why don’t you contradict that?” she asked. “Why don’t you speak up for your friend?”

“I am quite ready to speak for my friend,” said Bernard, “but I am not ready to speak for Miss Vivian.”

“Well, I am,” Blanche declared. “She won’t marry him.”

“If she does n’t, I ‘ll eat my hat!” said Captain Lovelock. “What do you mean,” he went on, “by saying that in America a pretty girl’s mother does n’t care for a young fellow’s property?”

“Well, they don’t — we consider that dreadful. Why don’t you say so, Mr. Longueville?” Blanche demanded. “I never saw any one take things so quietly. Have n’t you got any patriotism?”

“My patriotism is modified by an indisposition to generalize,” said Bernard, laughing. “On this point permit me not to generalize. I am interested in the particular case — in ascertaining whether Mrs. Vivian thinks very often of Gordon Wright’s income.”

Miss Evers gave a little toss of disgust.

“If you are so awfully impartial, you had better go and ask her.”

“That ‘s a good idea — I think I will go and ask her,” said Bernard.

Captain Lovelock returned to his argument.

“Do you mean to say that your mother would be indifferent to the fact that I have n’t a shilling in the world?”

“Indifferent?” Blanche demanded. “Oh no, she would be sorry for you. She is very charitable — she would give you a shilling!”

“She would n’t let you marry me,” said Lovelock.

“She would n’t have much trouble to prevent it!” cried the young girl.

Bernard had had enough of this intellectual fencing.

“Yes, I will go and ask Mrs. Vivian,” he repeated. And he left his companions to resume their walk.

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