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Confidence

Confidence

Henry James

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • It was in the early days of April; Bernard Longueville had been spending th_inter in Rome. He had travelled northward with the consciousness of severa_ocial duties that appealed to him from the further side of the Alps, but h_as under the charm of the Italian spring, and he made a pretext fo_ingering. He had spent five days at Siena, where he had intended to spend bu_wo, and still it was impossible to continue his journey. He was a young ma_f a contemplative and speculative turn, and this was his first visit t_taly, so that if he dallied by the way he should not be harshly judged. H_ad a fancy for sketching, and it was on his conscience to take a fe_ictorial notes. There were two old inns at Siena, both of them very shabb_nd very dirty. The one at which Longueville had taken up his abode wa_ntered by a dark, pestiferous arch-way, surmounted by a sign which at _istance might have been read by the travellers as the Dantean injunction t_enounce all hope. The other was not far off, and the day after his arrival, as he passed it, he saw two ladies going in who evidently belonged to th_arge fraternity of Anglo-Saxon tourists, and one of whom was young an_arried herself very well. Longueville had his share—or more than his share—o_allantry, and this incident awakened a regret. If he had gone to the othe_nn he might have had charming company: at his own establishment there was n_ne but an aesthetic German who smoked bad tobacco in the dining-room. H_emarked to himself that this was always his luck, and the remark wa_haracteristic of the man; it was charged with the feeling of the moment, bu_t was not absolutely just; it was the result of an acute impression made b_he particular occasion; but it failed in appreciation of a providence whic_ad sprinkled Longueville's career with happy accidents—accidents, especially, in which his characteristic gallantry was not allowed to rust for want o_xercise. He lounged, however, contentedly enough through these bright, stil_ays of a Tuscan April, drawing much entertainment from the hig_icturesqueness of the things about him. Siena, a few years since, was _lawless gift of the Middle Ages to the modern imagination. No other Italia_ity could have been more interesting to an observer fond of reconstructin_bsolete manners. This was a taste of Bernard Longueville's, who had a relis_or serious literature, and at one time had made several lively excursion_nto mediaeval history. His friends thought him very clever, and at the sam_ime had an easy feeling about him which was a tribute to his freedom fro_edantry. He was clever indeed, and an excellent companion; but the rea_easure of his brilliancy was in the success with which he entertaine_imself. He was much addicted to conversing with his own wit, and he greatl_njoyed his own society. Clever as he often was in talking with his friends, _m not sure that his best things, as the phrase is, were not for his own ears.
  • And this was not on account of any cynical contempt for the understanding o_is fellow-creatures: it was simply because what I have called his own societ_as more of a stimulus than that of most other people. And yet he was not fo_his reason fond of solitude; he was, on the contrary, a very sociable animal.
  • It must be admitted at the outset that he had a nature which seemed at severa_oints to contradict itself, as will probably be perceived in the course o_his narration.
  • He entertained himself greatly with his reflections and meditations upo_ienese architecture and early Tuscan art, upon Italian street-life and th_eological idiosyncrasies of the Apennines. If he had only gone to the othe_nn, that nice-looking girl whom he had seen passing under the dusky porta_ith her face turned away from him might have broken bread with him at thi_ntellectual banquet. Then came a day, however, when it seemed for a momen_hat if she were disposed she might gather up the crumbs of the feast.
  • Longueville, every morning after breakfast, took a turn in the great square o_iena—the vast piazza, shaped like a horse-shoe, where the market is hel_eneath the windows of that crenellated palace from whose overhanging cornic_ tall, straight tower springs up with a movement as light as that of a singl_lume in the bonnet of a captain. Here he strolled about, watching a brow_ontadino disembarrass his donkey, noting the progress of half an hour'_haffer over a bundle of carrots, wishing a young girl with eyes like animate_gates would let him sketch her, and gazing up at intervals at the beautiful, slim tower, as it played at contrasts with the large blue air. After he ha_pent the greater part of a week in these grave considerations, he made up hi_ind to leave Siena. But he was not content with what he had done for hi_ortfolio. Siena was eminently sketchable, but he had not been industrious. O_he last morning of his visit, as he stood staring about him in the crowde_iazza, and feeling that, in spite of its picturesqueness, this was an awkwar_lace for setting up an easel, he bethought himself, by contrast, of a quie_orner in another part of the town, which he had chanced upon in one of hi_irst walks—an angle of a lonely terrace that abutted upon the city-wall, where three or four superannuated objects seemed to slumber in th_unshine—the open door of an empty church, with a faded fresco exposed to th_ir in the arch above it, and an ancient beggar-woman sitting beside it on _hree-legged stool. The little terrace had an old polished parapet, about a_igh as a man's breast, above which was a view of strange, sad-colored hills.
  • Outside, to the left, the wall of the town made an outward bend, and expose_ts rugged and rusty complexion. There was a smooth stone bench set into th_all of the church, on which Longueville had rested for an hour, observing th_omposition of the little picture of which I have indicated the elements, an_f which the parapet of the terrace would form the foreground. The thing wa_hat painters call a subject, and he had promised himself to come back wit_is utensils. This morning he returned to the inn and took possession of them, and then he made his way through a labyrinth of empty streets, lying on th_dge of the town, within the wall, like the superfluous folds of a garmen_hose wearer has shrunken with old age. He reached his little grass-grow_errace, and found it as sunny and as private as before. The old mendicant wa_umbling petitions, sacred and profane, at the church door; but save for thi_he stillness was unbroken. The yellow sunshine warmed the brown surface o_he city-wall, and lighted the hollows of the Etruscan hills. Longuevill_ettled himself on the empty bench, and, arranging his little portabl_pparatus, began to ply his brushes. He worked for some time smoothly an_apidly, with an agreeable sense of the absence of obstacles. It seemed almos_n interruption when, in the silent air, he heard a distant bell in the tow_trike noon. Shortly after this, there was another interruption. The sound o_ soft footstep caused him to look up; whereupon he saw a young woman standin_here and bending her eyes upon the graceful artist. A second glance assure_im that she was that nice girl whom he had seen going into the other inn wit_er mother, and suggested that she had just emerged from the little church. H_uspected, however—I hardly know why—that she had been looking at him for som_oments before he perceived her. It would perhaps be impertinent to inquir_hat she thought of him; but Longueville, in the space of an instant, made tw_r three reflections upon the young lady. One of them was to the effect tha_he was a handsome creature, but that she looked rather bold; the burden o_he other was that—yes, decidedly—she was a compatriot. She turned away almos_s soon as she met his eyes; he had hardly time to raise his hat, as, after _oment's hesitation, he proceeded to do. She herself appeared to feel _ertain hesitation; she glanced back at the church door, as if under th_mpulse to retrace her steps. She stood there a moment longer—long enough t_et him see that she was a person of easy attitudes—and then she walked awa_lowly to the parapet of the terrace. Here she stationed herself, leaning he_rms upon the high stone ledge, presenting her back to Longueville, and gazin_t rural Italy. Longueville went on with his sketch, but less attentively tha_efore. He wondered what this young lady was doing there alone, and then i_ccurred to him that her companion—her mother, presumably—was in the church.
  • The two ladies had been in the church when he arrived; women liked to sit i_hurches; they had been there more than half an hour, and the mother had no_nough of it even yet. The young lady, however, at present preferred the vie_hat Longueville was painting; he became aware that she had placed herself i_he very centre of his foreground. His first feeling was that she would spoi_t; his second was that she would improve it. Little by little she turned mor_nto profile, leaning only one arm upon the parapet, while the other hand, holding her folded parasol, hung down at her side. She was motionless; it wa_lmost as if she were standing there on purpose to be drawn. Yes, certainl_he improved the picture. Her profile, delicate and thin, defined itsel_gainst the sky, in the clear shadow of a coquettish hat; her figure wa_ight; she bent and leaned easily; she wore a gray dress, fastened up as wa_hen the fashion, and displaying the broad edge of a crimson petticoat. Sh_ept her position; she seemed absorbed in the view. "Is she posing—is sh_ttitudinizing for my benefit?" Longueville asked of himself. And then i_eemed to him that this was a needless assumption, for the prospect was quit_eautiful enough to be looked at for itself, and there was nothing impossibl_n a pretty girl having a love of fine landscape. "But posing or not," he wen_n, "I will put her into my sketch. She has simply put herself in. It wil_ive it a human interest. There is nothing like having a human interest." So, with the ready skill that he possessed, he introduced the young girl's figur_nto his foreground, and at the end of ten minutes he had almost mad_omething that had the form of a likeness. "If she will only be quiet fo_nother ten minutes," he said, "the thing will really be a picture."
  • Unfortunately, the young lady was not quiet; she had apparently had enough o_er attitude and her view. She turned away, facing Longueville again, an_lowly came back, as if to re-enter the church. To do so she had to pass nea_im, and as she approached he instinctively got up, holding his drawing in on_and. She looked at him again, with that expression that he had mentall_haracterized as "bold," a few minutes before—with dark, intelligent eyes. He_air was dark and dense; she was a strikingly handsome girl.
  • "I am so sorry you moved," he said, confidently, in English. "You were so—s_eautiful."
  • She stopped, looking at him more directly than ever; and she looked at hi_ketch, which he held out toward her. At the sketch, however, she onl_lanced, whereas there was observation in the eye that she bent upo_ongueville. He never knew whether she had blushed; he afterward thought sh_ight have been frightened. Nevertheless, it was not exactly terror tha_ppeared to dictate her answer to Longueville's speech.
  • "I am much obliged to you. Don't you think you have looked at me enough?"
  • "By no means. I should like so much to finish my drawing."
  • "I am not a professional model," said the young lady.
  • "No. That 's my difficulty," Longueville answered, laughing. "I can't propos_o remunerate you."
  • The young lady seemed to think this joke in indifferent taste. She turned awa_n silence; but something in her expression, in his feeling at the time, i_he situation, incited Longueville to higher play. He felt a lively need o_arrying his point.
  • "You see it will be pure kindness," he went on,—"a simple act of charity. Fiv_inutes will be enough. Treat me as an Italian beggar."
  • She had laid down his sketch and had stepped forward. He stood there, obsequious, clasping his hands and smiling.
  • His interruptress stopped and looked at him again, as if she thought him _ery odd person; but she seemed amused. Now, at any rate, she was no_rightened. She seemed even disposed to provoke him a little.
  • "I wish to go to my mother," she said.
  • "Where is your mother?" the young man asked.
  • "In the church, of course. I did n't come here alone!"
  • "Of course not; but you may be sure that your mother is very contented. I hav_een in that little church. It is charming. She is just resting there; she i_robably tired. If you will kindly give me five minutes more, she will com_ut to you."
  • "Five minutes?" the young girl asked.
  • "Five minutes will do. I shall be eternally grateful." Longueville was amuse_t himself as he said this. He cared infinitely less for his sketch than th_ords appeared to imply; but, somehow, he cared greatly that this gracefu_tranger should do what he had proposed.
  • The graceful stranger dropped an eye on the sketch again.
  • "Is your picture so good as that?" she asked.
  • "I have a great deal of talent," he answered, laughing. "You shall see fo_ourself, when it is finished."
  • She turned slowly toward the terrace again.
  • "You certainly have a great deal of talent, to induce me to do what you ask."
  • And she walked to where she had stood before. Longueville made a movement t_o with her, as if to show her the attitude he meant; but, pointing wit_ecision to his easel, she said—
  • "You have only five minutes." He immediately went back to his work, and sh_ade a vague attempt to take up her position. "You must tell me if this wil_o," she added, in a moment.
  • "It will do beautifully," Longueville answered, in a happy tone, looking a_er and plying his brush. "It is immensely good of you to take so muc_rouble."
  • For a moment she made no rejoinder, but presently she said—
  • "Of course if I pose at all I wish to pose well."
  • "You pose admirably," said Longueville.
  • After this she said nothing, and for several minutes he painted rapidly and i_ilence. He felt a certain excitement, and the movement of his thoughts kep_ace with that of his brush. It was very true that she posed admirably; sh_as a fine creature to paint. Her prettiness inspired him, and also he_udacity, as he was content to regard it for the moment. He wondered abou_er—who she was, and what she was—perceiving that the so-called audacity wa_ot vulgar boldness, but the play of an original and probably interestin_haracter. It was obvious that she was a perfect lady, but it was equall_bvious that she was irregularly clever. Longueville's little figure was _uccess—a charming success, he thought, as he put on the last touches. Whil_e was doing this, his model's companion came into view. She came out of th_hurch, pausing a moment as she looked from her daughter to the young man i_he corner of the terrace; then she walked straight over to the young girl.
  • She was a delicate little gentlewoman, with a light, quick step.
  • Longueville's five minutes were up; so, leaving his place, he approached th_wo ladies, sketch in hand. The elder one, who had passed her hand into he_aughter's arm, looked up at him with clear, surprised eyes; she was _harming old woman. Her eyes were very pretty, and on either side of them, above a pair of fine dark brows, was a band of silvery hair, rathe_oquettishly arranged.
  • "It is my portrait," said her daughter, as Longueville drew near. "Thi_entleman has been sketching me."
  • "Sketching you, dearest?" murmured her mother. "Was n't it rather sudden?"
  • "Very sudden—very abrupt!" exclaimed the young girl with a laugh.
  • "Considering all that, it 's very good," said Longueville, offering hi_icture to the elder lady, who took it and began to examine it. "I can't tel_ou how much I thank you," he said to his model.
  • "It 's very well for you to thank me now," she replied. "You really had n_ight to begin."
  • "The temptation was so great."
  • "We should resist temptation. And you should have asked my leave."
  • "I was afraid you would refuse it; and you stood there, just in my line o_ision."
  • "You should have asked me to get out of it."
  • "I should have been very sorry. Besides, it would have been extremely rude."
  • The young girl looked at him a moment.
  • "Yes, I think it would. But what you have done is ruder."
  • "It is a hard case!" said Longueville. "What could I have done, then, decently?"
  • "It 's a beautiful drawing," murmured the elder lady, handing the thing bac_o Longueville. Her daughter, meanwhile, had not even glanced at it.
  • "You might have waited till I should go away," this argumentative young perso_ontinued.
  • Longueville shook his head.
  • "I never lose opportunities!"
  • "You might have sketched me afterwards, from memory."
  • Longueville looked at her, smiling.
  • "Judge how much better my memory will be now!"
  • She also smiled a little, but instantly became serious.
  • "For myself, it 's an episode I shall try to forget. I don't like the part _ave played in it."
  • "May you never play a less becoming one!" cried Longueville. "I hope that you_other, at least, will accept a memento of the occasion." And he turned agai_ith his sketch to her companion, who had been listening to the girl'_onversation with this enterprising stranger, and looking from one to th_ther with an air of earnest confusion. "Won't you do me the honor of keepin_y sketch?" he said. "I think it really looks like your daughter."
  • "Oh, thank you, thank you; I hardly dare," murmured the lady, with _eprecating gesture.
  • "It will serve as a kind of amends for the liberty I have taken," Longuevill_dded; and he began to remove the drawing from its paper block.
  • "It makes it worse for you to give it to us," said the young girl.
  • "Oh, my dear, I am sure it 's lovely!" exclaimed her mother. "It '_onderfully like you."
  • "I think that also makes it worse!"
  • Longueville was at last nettled. The young lady's perversity was perhaps no_xactly malignant; but it was certainly ungracious. She seemed to desire t_resent herself as a beautiful tormentress.
  • "How does it make it worse?" he asked, with a frown.
  • He believed she was clever, and she was certainly ready. Now, however, sh_eflected a moment before answering.
  • "That you should give us your sketch," she said at last.
  • "It was to your mother I offered it," Longueville observed.
  • But this observation, the fruit of his irritation, appeared to have no effec_pon the young girl.
  • "Is n't it what painters call a study?" she went on. "A study is of use to th_ainter himself. Your justification would be that you should keep your sketch, and that it might be of use to you."
  • "My daughter is a study, sir, you will say," said the elder lady in a little, light, conciliating voice, and graciously accepting the drawing again.
  • "I will admit," said Longueville, "that I am very inconsistent. Set it down t_y esteem, madam," he added, looking at the mother.
  • "That 's for you, mamma," said his model, disengaging her arm from he_other's hand and turning away.
  • The mamma stood looking at the sketch with a smile which seemed to express _ender desire to reconcile all accidents.
  • "It 's extremely beautiful," she murmured, "and if you insist on my takin_t—"
  • "I shall regard it as a great honor."
  • "Very well, then; with many thanks, I will keep it." She looked at the youn_an a moment, while her daughter walked away. Longueville thought her _elightful little person; she struck him as a sort of transfigured Quakeress—_ystic with a practical side. "I am sure you think she 's a strange girl," sh_aid.
  • "She is extremely pretty."
  • "She is very clever," said the mother.
  • "She is wonderfully graceful."
  • "Ah, but she 's good!" cried the old lady.
  • "I am sure she comes honestly by that," said Longueville, expressively, whil_is companion, returning his salutation with a certain scrupulous grace of he_wn, hurried after her daughter.
  • Longueville remained there staring at the view but not especially seeing it.
  • He felt as if he had at once enjoyed and lost an opportunity. After a while h_ried to make a sketch of the old beggar-woman who sat there in a sort o_alsied immobility, like a rickety statue at a church-door. But his attempt t_eproduce her features was not gratifying, and he suddenly laid down hi_rush. She was not pretty enough—she had a bad profile.