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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesConfidence - Chapter XXIX
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Confidence - Chapter XXIX Post by :ebonilic Category :Long Stories Author :Henry James Date :January 2011 Read :3374

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Confidence - Chapter XXIX

This statement was very effective, but it might well have seemed
at first to do more credit to her satiric powers than to her faculty
of observation. This was the light in which it presented itself
to Bernard; but, little by little, as she amplified the text, he grew
to think well of it, and at last he was quite ready to place it,
as a triumph of sagacity, on a level with that other discovery
which she had made the evening before and with regard to which
his especial errand to-day had been to congratulate her afresh.
It brought him, however, less satisfaction than it appeared to bring
to his clever companion; for, as he observed plausibly enough,
Gordon was quite out of his head, and, this being the case, of what
importance was the secret of his heart?

"The secret of his heart and the condition of his head are one
and the same thing," said Angela. "He is turned upside down by
the wretchedly false position that he has got into with his wife.
She has treated him badly, but he has treated her wrongly.
They are in love with each other, and yet they both do nothing
but hide it. He is not in the least in love with poor me--
not to-day any more than he was three years ago.
He thinks he is, because he is full of sorrow and bitterness,
and because the news of our engagement has given him a shock.
But that 's only a pretext--a chance to pour out the grief
and pain which have been accumulating in his heart under a sense
of his estrangement from Blanche. He is too proud to attribute
his feelings to that cause, even to himself; but he wanted
to cry out and say he was hurt, to demand justice for a wrong;
and the revelation of the state of things between you and me--
which of course strikes him as incongruous; we must allow
largely for that--came to him as a sudden opportunity.
No, no," the girl went on, with a generous ardor in her face,
following further the train of her argument, which she appeared
to find extremely attractive, "I know what you are going to say
and I deny it. I am not fanciful, or sophistical, or irrational,
and I know perfectly what I am about. Men are so stupid;
it 's only women that have real discernment. Leave me alone,
and I shall do something. Blanche is silly, yes, very silly;
but she is not so bad as her husband accused her of being,
in those dreadful words which he will live to repent of.
She is wise enough to care for him, greatly, at bottom,
and to feel her little heart filled with rage and shame
that he does n't appear to care for her. If he would take
her a little more seriously--it 's an immense pity he married
her because she was silly!--she would be flattered by it,
and she would try and deserve it. No, no, no! she does n't,
in reality, care a straw for Captain Lovelock, I assure you,
I promise you she does n't. A woman can tell. She is
in danger, possibly, and if her present situation, as regards
her husband, lasts, she might do something as horrid as he said.
But she would do it out of spite--not out of affection
for the Captain, who must be got immediately out of the way.
She only keeps him to torment her husband and make Gordon
come back to her. She would drop him forever to-morrow."
Angela paused a moment, reflecting, with a kindled eye. "And she
shall!"

Bernard looked incredulous.

"How will that be, Miss Solomon?"

"You shall see when you come back."

"When I come back? Pray, where am I going?"

"You will leave Paris for a fortnight--as I promised our poor friend."

Bernard gave an irate laugh.

"My dear girl, you are ridiculous! Your promising it was almost
as childish as his asking it."

"To play with a child you must be childish. Just see the effect of this
abominable passion of love, which you have been crying up to me so!
By its operation Gordon Wright, the most sensible man of our acquaintance,
is reduced to the level of infancy! If you will only go away, I will
manage him."

"You certainly manage me! Pray, where shall I go?"

"Wherever you choose. I will write to you every day."

"That will be an inducement," said Bernard. "You know I have never received
a letter from you."

"I write the most delightful ones!" Angela exclaimed;
and she succeeded in making him promise to start that night
for London.

She had just done so when Mrs. Vivian presented herself,
and the good lady was not a little astonished at being informed
of his intention.

"You surely are not going to give up my daughter to oblige Mr. Wright?"
she observed.

"Upon my word, I feel as if I were!" said Bernard.

"I will explain it, dear mamma," said Angela. "It is very interesting.
Mr. Wright has made a most fearful scene; the state of things between him
and Blanche is dreadful."

Mrs. Vivian opened her clear eyes.

"You really speak as if you liked it!"

"She does like it--she told Gordon so," said Bernard. "I don't
know what she is up to! Gordon has taken leave of his wits;
he wishes to put away his wife."

"To put her away?"

"To repudiate her, as the historians say!"

"To repudiate little Blanche!" murmured Mrs. Vivian, as if she were struck
with the incongruity of the operation.

"I mean to keep them together," said Angela, with a firm decision.

Her mother looked at her with admiration.

"My dear daughter, I will assist you."

The two ladies had such an air of mysterious competence
to the task they had undertaken that it seemed to Bernard that
nothing was left to him but to retire into temporary exile.
He accordingly betook himself to London, where he had social
resources which would, perhaps, make exile endurable.
He found himself, however, little disposed to avail himself
of these resources, and he treated himself to no pleasures
but those of memory and expectation. He ached with a sense
of his absence from Mrs. Vivian's deeply familiar sky-parlor,
which seemed to him for the time the most sacred spot on earth--
if on earth it could be called--and he consigned to those generous
postal receptacles which ornament with their brilliant hue
the London street-corners, an inordinate number of the most
voluminous epistles that had ever been dropped into them.
He took long walks, alone, and thought all the way of Angela,
to whom, it seemed to him, that the character of ministering
angel was extremely becoming. She was faithful to her promise
of writing to him every day, and she was an angel who wielded--
so at least Bernard thought, and he was particular about letters--
a very ingenious pen. Of course she had only one topic--
the success of her operations with regard to Gordon.
"Mamma has undertaken Blanche," she wrote, "and I am devoting
myself to Mr. W. It is really very interesting." She told
Bernard all about it in detail, and he also found it interesting;
doubly so, indeed, for it must be confessed that the charming
figure of the mistress of his affections attempting to heal
a great social breach with her light and delicate hands,
divided his attention pretty equally with the distracted,
the distorted, the almost ludicrous, image of his old
friend.

Angela wrote that Gordon had come back to see her the day
after his first visit, and had seemed greatly troubled
on learning that Bernard had taken himself off.
"It was because you insisted on it, of course," he said;
"it was not from feeling the justice of it himself." "I told him,"
said Angela, in her letter, "that I had made a point of it,
but that we certainly ought to give you a little credit for it.
But I could n't insist upon this, for fear of sounding a wrong
note and exciting afresh what I suppose he would be pleased
to term his jealousy. He asked me where you had gone,
and when I told him--'Ah, how he must hate me!' he exclaimed.
'There you are quite wrong,' I answered. 'He feels as kindly
to you as--as I do.' He looked as if he by no means believed this;
but, indeed, he looks as if he believed nothing at all.
He is quite upset and demoralized. He stayed half an hour
and paid me his visit--trying hard to 'please' me again!
Poor man, he is in a charming state to please the fair sex!
But if he does n't please me, he interests me more and more;
I make bold to say that to you. You would have said it would
be very awkward; but, strangely enough, I found it very easy.
I suppose it is because I am so interested. Very likely it
was awkward for him, poor fellow, for I can certify that he was
not a whit happier at the end of his half-hour, in spite of
the privilege he had enjoyed. He said nothing more about you,
and we talked of Paris and New York, of Baden and Rome.
Imagine the situation! I shall make no resistance whatever to it;
I shall simply let him perceive that conversing with me on
these topics does not make him feel a bit more comfortable,
and that he must look elsewhere for a remedy. I said not a word about
Blanche."

She spoke of Blanche, however, the next time. "He came again
this afternoon," she said in her second letter, "and he wore
exactly the same face as yesterday--namely, a very unhappy one.
If I were not entirely too wise to believe his account
of himself, I might suppose that he was unhappy because
Blanche shows symptoms of not taking flight. She has been
with us a great deal--she has no idea what is going on--
and I can't honestly say that she chatters any less than usual.
But she is greatly interested in certain shops that she
is buying out, and especially in her visits to her tailor.
Mamma has proposed to her--in view of your absence--to come
and stay with us, and she does n't seem afraid of the idea.
I told her husband to-day that we had asked her,
and that we hoped he had no objection. 'None whatever;
but she won't come.' 'On the contrary, she says she will.'
'She will pretend to, up to the last minute; and then she
will find a pretext for backing out.' 'Decidedly, you think
very ill of her,' I said. 'She hates me,' he answered,
looking at me strangely. 'You say that of every one,' I said.
'Yesterday you said it of Bernard.' 'Ah, for him there would
be more reason!' he exclaimed. 'I won't attempt to answer
for Bernard,' I went on, 'but I will answer for Blanche.
Your idea of her hating you is a miserable delusion.
She cares for you more than for any one in the world.
You only misunderstand each other, and with a little good
will on both sides you can easily get out of your tangle.'
But he would n't listen to me; he stopped me short.
I saw I should excite him if I insisted; so I dropped
the subject. But it is not for long; he shall listen to
me."

Later she wrote that Blanche had in fact "backed out," and would
not come to stay with them, having given as an excuse that she
was perpetually trying on dresses, and that at Mrs. Vivian's she
should be at an inconvenient distance from the temple of these
sacred rites, and the high priest who conducted the worship.
"But we see her every day," said Angela, "and mamma is
constantly with her. She likes mamma better than me.
Mamma listens to her a great deal and talks to her a little--
I can't do either when we are alone. I don't know what she says--
I mean what mamma says; what Blanche says I know as well
as if I heard it. We see nothing of Captain Lovelock,
and mamma tells me she has not spoken of him for two days.
She thinks this is a better symptom, but I am not so sure.
Poor Mr. Wright treats it as a great triumph that Blanche should
behave as he foretold. He is welcome to the comfort he can get
out of this, for he certainly gets none from anything else.
The society of your correspondent is not that balm to his spirit
which he appeared to expect, and this in spite of the fact
that I have been as gentle and kind with him as I know
how to be. He is very silent--he sometimes sits for ten
minutes without speaking; I assure you it is n't amusing.
Sometimes he looks at me as if he were going to break out
with that crazy idea to which he treated me the other day.
But he says nothing, and then I see that he is not thinking of me--
he is simply thinking of Blanche. The more he thinks of her the
better."

"My dear Bernard," she began on another occasion, "I hope
you are not dying of ennui, etc. Over here things are going
so-so. He asked me yesterday to go with him to the Louvre,
and we walked about among the pictures for half an hour.
Mamma thinks it a very strange sort of thing for me to be doing,
and though she delights, of all things, in a good cause, she is
not sure that this cause is good enough to justify the means.
I admit that the means are very singular, and, as far
as the Louvre is concerned, they were not successful.
We sat and looked for a quarter of an hour at the great
Venus who has lost her arms, and he said never a word.
I think he does n't know what to say. Before we separated
he asked me if I heard from you. 'Oh, yes,' I said,
'every day.' 'And does he speak of me?' 'Never!' I answered;
and I think he looked disappointed." Bernard had, in fact,
in writing to Angela, scarcely mentioned his name. "He had not
been here for two days," she continued, at the end of a week;
"but last evening, very late--too late for a visitor--he came in.
Mamma had left the drawing-room, and I was sitting alone;
I immediately saw that we had reached a crisis. I thought at first
he was going to tell me that Blanche had carried out his prediction;
but I presently saw that this was not where the shoe pinched;
and, besides, I knew that mamma was watching her too closely.
'How can I have ever been such a dull-souled idiot?'
he broke out, as soon as he had got into the room.
'I like to hear you say that,' I said, 'because it does n't seem
to me that you have been at all wise.' 'You are cleverness,
kindness, tact, in the most perfect form!' he went on.
As a veracious historian I am bound to tell you that he paid
me a bushel of compliments, and thanked me in the most
flattering terms for my having let him bore me so for a week.
'You have not bored me,' I said; 'you have interested me.'
'Yes,' he cried, 'as a curious case of monomania. It 's
a part of your kindness to say that; but I know I have bored
you to death; and the end of it all is that you despise me.
You can't help despising me; I despise myself. I used to think
that I was a man, but I have given that up; I am a poor creature!
I used to think I could take things quietly and bear them bravely.
But I can't! If it were not for very shame I could sit
here and cry to you.' 'Don't mind me,' I said; 'you know it
is a part of our agreement that I was not to be critical.'
'Our agreement?' he repeated, vaguely. 'I see you have
forgotten it,' I answered; 'but it does n't in the least matter;
it is not of that I wish to talk to you. All the more that it
has n't done you a particle of good. I have been extremely nice
with you for a week; but you are just as unhappy now as you
were at the beginning. Indeed, I think you are rather worse.'
'Heaven forgive me, Miss Vivian, I believe I am!' he cried.
'Heaven will easily forgive you; you are on the wrong road.
To catch up with your happiness, which has been running away from you,
you must take another; you must travel in the same direction
as Blanche; you must not separate yourself from your wife.'
At the sound of Blanche's name he jumped up and took his usual tone;
he knew all about his wife, and needed no information.
But I made him sit down again, and I made him listen to me.
I made him listen for half an hour, and at the end of the time
he was interested. He had all the appearance of it;
he sat gazing at me, and at last the tears came into his eyes.
I believe I had a moment of eloquence. I don't know what I said,
nor how I said it, to what point it would bear examination,
nor how, if you had been there, it would seem to you, as a
disinterested critic, to hang together; but I know that after
a while there were tears in my own eyes. I begged him not to give
up Blanche; I assured him that she is not so foolish as she seems;
that she is a very delicate little creature to handle, and that,
in reality, whatever she does, she is thinking only of him.
He had been all goodness and kindness to her, I knew that;
but he had not, from the first, been able to conceal
from her that he regarded her chiefly as a pretty kitten.
She wished to be more than that, and she took refuge in flirting,
simply to excite his jealousy and make him feel strongly about her.
He has felt strongly, and he was feeling strongly now;
he was feeling passionately--that was my whole contention.
But he had perhaps never made it plain to those rather near-sighted
little mental eyes of hers, and he had let her suppose something
that could n't fail to rankle in her mind and torment it.
'You have let her suppose,' I said, 'that you were thinking
of me, and the poor girl has been jealous of me. I know it,
but from nothing she herself has said. She has said nothing;
she has been too proud and too considerate. If you don't think
that 's to her honor, I do. She has had a chance every day
for a week, but she has treated me without a grain of spite.
I have appreciated it, I have understood it, and it has touched
me very much. It ought to touch you, Mr. Wright. When she heard
I was engaged to Mr. Longueville, it gave her an immense relief.
And yet, at the same moment you were protesting, and denouncing,
and saying those horrible things about her! I know how she appears--
she likes admiration. But the admiration in the world which she
would most delight in just now would be yours. She plays
with Captain Lovelock as a child does with a wooden harlequin,
she pulls a string and he throws up his arms and legs.
She has about as much intention of eloping with him as a little
girl might have of eloping with a pasteboard Jim Crow.
If you were to have a frank explanation with her,
Blanche would very soon throw Jim Crow out of the window.
I very humbly entreat you to cease thinking of me.
I don't know what wrong you have ever done me, or what kindness
I have ever done you, that you should feel obliged to trouble
your head about me. You see all I am--I tell you now.
I am nothing in the least remarkable. As for your thinking
ill of me at Baden, I never knew it nor cared about it.
If it had been so, you see how I should have got over it.
Dear Mr. Wright, we might be such good friends, if you
would only believe me. She 's so pretty, so charming,
so universally admired. You said just now you had bored me,
but it 's nothing--in spite of all the compliments you have paid me--
to the way I have bored you. If she could only know it--
that I have bored you! Let her see for half an hour that I
am out of your mind--the rest will take care of itself.
She might so easily have made a quarrel with me. The way she has
behaved to me is one of the prettiest things I have ever seen,
and you shall see the way I shall always behave to her!
Don't think it necessary to say out of politeness that I
have not bored you; it is not in the least necessary.
You know perfectly well that you are disappointed in
the charm of my society. And I have done my best, too.
I can honestly affirm that!' For some time he said nothing,
and then he remarked that I was very clever, but he did
n't see a word of sense in what I said. 'It only proves,'
I said, 'that the merit of my conversation is smaller than you
had taken it into your head to fancy. But I have done you good,
all the same. Don't contradict me; you don't know yet;
and it 's too late for us to argue about it. You will tell me
to-morrow.'"

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Some three evenings after he received this last report ofthe progress of affairs in Paris, Bernard, upon whom the burdenof exile sat none the more lightly as the days went on,turned out of the Strand into one of the theatres. He had beengloomily pushing his way through the various London densities--the November fog, the nocturnal darkness, the jostling crowd.He was too restless to do anything but walk, and he had beensaying to himself, for the thousandth time, that if he hadbeen guilty of a misdemeanor in succumbing to the attractionsof the admirable girl who showed to such advantage in lettersof
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This observation struck Bernard as extremely ingeniousand worthy of his mistress's fine intelligence; he greeted itwith enthusiasm, and thought of it for the next twelve hours.The more he thought of it the more felicitous it seemed to him,and he went to Mrs. Vivian's the next day almost for the expresspurpose of saying to Angela that, decidedly, she was right.He was admitted by his old friend, the little femme de chambre,who had long since bestowed upon him, definitively, her confidence;and as in the ante-chamber he heard the voice of a gentlemanraised and talking with some emphasis, come to him fromthe salon, he
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