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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesConfidence - Chapter II
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Confidence - Chapter II Post by :E-Bookbiz4u Category :Long Stories Author :Henry James Date :January 2011 Read :957

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Confidence - Chapter II

Two months later Bernard Longueville was at Venice,
still under the impression that he was leaving Italy.
He was not a man who made plans and held to them.
He made them, indeed--few men made more--but he made them as a
basis for variation. He had gone to Venice to spend a fortnight,
and his fortnight had taken the form of eight enchanting weeks.
He had still a sort of conviction that he was carrying out
his plans; for it must be confessed that where his pleasure
was concerned he had considerable skill in accommodating his
theory to his practice. His enjoyment of Venice was extreme,
but he was roused from it by a summons he was indisposed to resist.
This consisted of a letter from an intimate friend who was
living in Germany--a friend whose name was Gordon Wright.
He had been spending the winter in Dresden, but his letter
bore the date of Baden-Baden. As it was not long, I may give
it entire.

"I wish very much that you would come to this place. I think
you have been here before, so that you know how pretty it is,
and how amusing. I shall probably be here the rest of the summer.
There are some people I know and whom I want you to know.
Be so good as to arrive. Then I will thank you properly for your
various Italian rhapsodies. I can't reply on the same scale--
I have n't the time. Do you know what I am doing?
I am making love. I find it a most absorbing occupation.
That is literally why I have not written to you before.
I have been making love ever since the last of May.
It takes an immense amount of time, and everything else has got
terribly behindhand. I don't mean to say that the experiment
itself has gone on very fast; but I am trying to push
it forward. I have n't yet had time to test its success;
but in this I want your help. You know we great physicists
never make an experiment without an 'assistant'--a humble
individual who burns his fingers and stains his clothes
in the cause of science, but whose interest in the problem
is only indirect. I want you to be my assistant, and I will
guarantee that your burns and stains shall not be dangerous.
She is an extremely interesting girl, and I really want you
to see her--I want to know what you think of her. She wants
to know you, too, for I have talked a good deal about you.
There you have it, if gratified vanity will help you on the way.
Seriously, this is a real request. I want your opinion,
your impression. I want to see how she will affect you.
I don't say I ask for your advice; that, of course,
you will not undertake to give. But I desire a definition,
a characterization; you know you toss off those things.
I don't see why I should n't tell you all this--I have always
told you everything. I have never pretended to know anything
about women, but I have always supposed that you knew everything.
You certainly have always had the tone of that sort
of omniscience. So come here as soon as possible and let
me see that you are not a humbug. She 's a very handsome
girl."

Longueville was so much amused with this appeal that he very
soon started for Germany. In the reader, Gordon Wright's
letter will, perhaps, excite surprise rather than hilarity;
but Longueville thought it highly characteristic of his friend.
What it especially pointed to was Gordon's want of imagination--
a deficiency which was a matter of common jocular allusion
between the two young men, each of whom kept a collection
of acknowledged oddities as a playground for the other's wit.
Bernard had often spoken of his comrade's want of imagination
as a bottomless pit, into which Gordon was perpetually inviting
him to lower himself. "My dear fellow," Bernard said, "you must
really excuse me; I cannot take these subterranean excursions.
I should lose my breath down there; I should never come up alive.
You know I have dropped things down--little jokes and metaphors,
little fantasies and paradoxes--and I have never heard them
touch bottom!" This was an epigram on the part of a young
man who had a lively play of fancy; but it was none the less
true that Gordon Wright had a firmly-treading, rather than
a winged, intellect. Every phrase in his letter seemed,
to Bernard, to march in stout-soled walking-boots, and nothing
could better express his attachment to the process of reasoning
things out than this proposal that his friend should come
and make a chemical analysis--a geometrical survey--of the lady
of his love. "That I shall have any difficulty in forming
an opinion, and any difficulty in expressing it when formed--
of this he has as little idea as that he shall have any difficulty
in accepting it when expressed." So Bernard reflected,
as he rolled in the train to Munich. "Gordon's mind," he went on,
"has no atmosphere; his intellectual process goes on in the void.
There are no currents and eddies to affect it, no high
winds nor hot suns, no changes of season and temperature.
His premises are neatly arranged, and his conclusions are perfectly
calculable."

Yet for the man on whose character he so freely exercised his
wit Bernard Longueville had a strong affection. It is nothing
against the validity of a friendship that the parties to it have
not a mutual resemblance. There must be a basis of agreement,
but the structure reared upon it may contain a thousand disparities.
These two young men had formed an alliance of old, in college days,
and the bond between them had been strengthened by the simple fact
of its having survived the sentimental revolutions of early life.
Its strongest link was a sort of mutual respect. Their tastes,
their pursuits were different; but each of them had a high esteem for
the other's character. It may be said that they were easily pleased;
for it is certain that neither of them had performed any very
conspicuous action. They were highly civilized young Americans,
born to an easy fortune and a tranquil destiny, and unfamiliar
with the glitter of golden opportunities. If I did not shrink
from disparaging the constitution of their native land for their
own credit, I should say that it had never been very definitely
proposed to these young gentlemen to distinguish themselves.
On reaching manhood, they had each come into property sufficient
to make violent exertion superfluous. Gordon Wright, indeed,
had inherited a large estate. Their wants being tolerably modest,
they had not been tempted to strive for the glory of building up
commercial fortunes--the most obvious career open to young Americans.
They had, indeed, embraced no career at all, and if summoned to give
an account of themselves would, perhaps, have found it hard to tell
any very impressive story. Gordon Wright was much interested
in physical science, and had ideas of his own on what is called
the endowment of research. His ideas had taken a practical shape,
and he had distributed money very freely among the investigating classes,
after which he had gone to spend a couple of years in Germany,
supposing it to be the land of laboratories. Here we find him
at present, cultivating relations with several learned bodies and
promoting the study of various tough branches of human knowledge,
by paying the expenses of difficult experiments. The experiments,
it must be added, were often of his own making, and he must have the honor
of whatever brilliancy attaches, in the estimation of the world,
to such pursuits. It was not, indeed, a brilliancy that dazzled
Bernard Longueville, who, however, was not easily dazzled by anything.
It was because he regarded him in so plain and direct a fashion,
that Bernard had an affection for his friend--an affection to
which it would perhaps be difficult to assign a definite cause.
Personal sympathies are doubtless caused by something; but the causes
are remote, mysterious to our daily vision, like those of the particular
state of the weather. We content ourselves with remarking that it
is fine or that it rains, and the enjoyment of our likes and dislikes
is by no means apt to borrow its edge from the keenness of our analysis.
Longueville had a relish for fine quality--superior savour;
and he was sensible of this merit in the simple, candid, manly,
affectionate nature of his comrade, which seemed to him an excellent
thing of its kind. Gordon Wright had a tender heart and a strong will--
a combination which, when the understanding is not too limited,
is often the motive of admirable actions. There might sometimes be
a question whether Gordon's understanding were sufficiently unlimited,
but the impulses of a generous temper often play a useful part
in filling up the gaps of an incomplete imagination, and the general
impression that Wright produced was certainly that of intelligent
good-nature. The reasons for appreciating Bernard Longueville were much
more manifest. He pleased superficially, as well as fundamentally.
Nature had sent him into the world with an armful of good gifts.
He was very good-looking--tall, dark, agile, perfectly finished,
so good-looking that he might have been a fool and yet be forgiven.
As has already been intimated, however, he was far from being a fool.
He had a number of talents, which, during three or four years
that followed his leaving college, had received the discipline
of the study of the law. He had not made much of the law;
but he had made something of his talents. He was almost always spoken
of as "accomplished;" people asked why he did n't do something.
This question was never satisfactorily answered, the feeling
being that Longueville did more than many people in causing it
to be asked. Moreover, there was one thing he did constantly--
he enjoyed himself. This is manifestly not a career, and it
has been said at the outset that he was not attached to any
of the recognized professions. But without going into details,
he was a charming fellow--clever, urbane, free-handed, and with
that fortunate quality in his appearance which is known as
distinction.

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He had not specified, in writing to Gordon Wright,the day on which he should arrive at Baden-Baden; it mustbe confessed that he was not addicted to specifying days.He came to his journey's end in the evening, and, on presentinghimself at the hotel from which his friend had dated his letter,he learned that Gordon Wright had betaken himself after dinner,according to the custom of Baden-Baden, to the grounds ofthe Conversation-house. It was eight o'clock, and Longueville,after removing the stains of travel, sat down to dine.His first impulse had been to send for Gordon to comeand keep him company at his repast; but
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It was in the early days of April; Bernard Longueville had beenspending the winter in Rome. He had travelled northward withthe consciousness of several social duties that appealed to himfrom the further side of the Alps, but he was under the charmof the Italian spring, and he made a pretext for lingering.He had spent five days at Siena he had intended to spendbut two, and still it was impossible to continue his journey.He was a young man of a contemplative and speculative turn, and thiswas his first visit to Italy, so that if he dallied by the wayhe should
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