It had seemed to him a good idea to interrogate Mrs. Vivian; but there are _reat many good ideas that are never put into execution. As he approached he_ith a smile and a salutation, and, with the air of asking leave to take _iberty, seated himself in the empty chair beside her, he felt a humorou_elish of her own probable dismay which relaxed the investigating impulse. Hi_mpulse was now simply to prove to her that he was the most unobjectionabl_ellow in the world—a proposition which resolved itself into several ingeniou_bservations upon the weather, the music, the charms and the drawbacks o_aden, the merits of the volume that she held in her lap. If Mrs. Vivia_hould be annoyed, should be fluttered, Bernard would feel very sorry for her; there was nothing in the world that he respected more than the mora_onsciousness of a little Boston woman whose view of life was serious an_hose imagination was subject to alarms. He held it to be a temple o_elicacy, where one should walk on tiptoe, and he wished to exhibit to Mrs.
Vivian the possible lightness of his own step. She herself was incapable o_eing rude or ungracious, and now that she was fairly confronted with th_lausible object of her mistrust, she composed herself to her usual attitud_f refined liberality. Her book was a volume of Victor Cousin.
"You must have an extraordinary power of abstracting your mind," Bernard sai_o her, observing it. "Studying philosophy at the Baden Kursaal strikes me a_ real intellectual feat."
"Don't you think we need a little philosophy here?"
"By all means—what we bring with us. But I should n't attempt the use of th_ext-book on the spot."
"You should n't speak of yourself as if you were not clever," said Mrs.
Vivian. "Every one says you are so very clever."
Longueville stared; there was an unexpectedness in the speech and a_ncongruity in Mrs. Vivian's beginning to flatter him. He needed to remin_imself that if she was a Bostonian, she was a Bostonian perverted.
"Ah, my dear madam, every one is no one," he said, laughing.
"It was Mr. Wright, in particular," she rejoined. "He has always told u_hat."
"He is blinded by friendship."
"Ah yes, we know about your friendship," said Mrs. Vivian. "He has told u_bout that."
"You are making him out a terrible talker!"
"We think he talks so well—we are so very fond of his conversation."
"It 's usually excellent," said Bernard. "But it depends a good deal on th_ubject."
"Oh," rejoined Mrs. Vivian, "we always let him choose his subjects." An_ropping her eyes as if in sudden reflection, she began to smooth down th_rumpled corner of her volume.
It occurred to Bernard that—by some mysterious impulse—she was suddenl_resenting him with a chance to ask her the question that Blanche Evers ha_ust suggested. Two or three other things as well occurred to him. Captai_ovelock had been struck with the fact that she favored Gordon Wright'_ddresses to her daughter, and Captain Lovelock had a grotesque theory tha_he had set her heart upon seeing this young lady come into six thousand _ear. Miss Evers's devoted swain had never struck Bernard as a brillian_easoner, but our friend suddenly found himself regarding him as one of th_nspired. The form of depravity into which the New England conscience ha_apsed on Mrs. Vivian's part was an undue appreciation of a possible son-in- law's income! In this illuminating discovery everything else became clear.
Mrs. Vivian disliked her humble servant because he had not thirty thousan_ollars a year, and because at a moment when it was Angela's prime duty t_oncentrate her thoughts upon Gordon Wright's great advantages, a clever youn_an of paltry fortune was a superfluous diversion.
"When you say clever, everything is relative," he presently observed. "Now, there is Captain Lovelock; he has a certain kind of cleverness; he is ver_bservant."
Mrs. Vivian glanced up with a preoccupied air.
"We don't like Captain Lovelock," she said.
"I have heard him say capital things," Bernard answered.
"We think him brutal," said Mrs. Vivian. "Please don't praise Captai_ovelock."
"Oh, I only want to be just."
Mrs. Vivian for a moment said nothing.
"Do you want very much to be just?" she presently asked.
"It 's my most ardent desire."
"I 'm glad to hear that—and I can easily believe it," said Mrs. Vivian.
Bernard gave her a grateful smile, but while he smiled, he asked himself _erious question. "Why the deuce does she go on flattering me?—You have alway_een very kind to me," he said aloud.
"It 's on Mr. Wright's account," she answered demurely.
In speaking the words I have just quoted, Bernard Longueville had fel_imself, with a certain compunction, to be skirting the edge of cleve_mpudence; but Mrs. Vivian's quiet little reply suggested to him that he_leverness, if not her impudence, was almost equal to his own. He remarked t_imself that he had not yet done her justice.
"You bring everything back to Gordon Wright," he said, continuing to smile.
Mrs. Vivian blushed a little.
"It is because he is really at the foundation of everything that is pleasan_or us here. When we first came we had some very disagreeable rooms, and a_oon as he arrived he found us some excellent ones—that were less expensive.
And then, Mr. Longueville," she added, with a soft, sweet emphasis whic_hould properly have contradicted the idea of audacity, but which, t_ernard's awakened sense, seemed really to impart a vivid color to it, "he wa_lso the cause of your joining our little party."
"Oh, among his services that should never be forgotten. You should set up _ablet to commemorate it, in the wall of the Kursaal!—The wicked littl_oman!" Bernard mentally subjoined.
Mrs. Vivian appeared quite unruffled by his sportive sarcasm, and sh_ontinued to enumerate her obligations to Gordon Wright.
"There are so many ways in which a gentleman can be of assistance to thre_oor lonely women, especially when he is at the same time so friendly and s_elicate as Mr. Wright. I don't know what we should have done without him, an_ feel as if every one ought to know it. He seems like a very old friend. M_aughter and I quite worship him. I will not conceal from you that when I sa_ou coming through the grounds a short time ago without him I was very muc_isappointed. I hope he is not ill."
Bernard sat listening, with his eyes on the ground.
"Oh no, he is simply at home writing letters."
Mrs. Vivian was silent a moment.
"I suppose he has a very large correspondence."
"I really don't know. Just now that I am with him he has a smaller one tha_sual."
"Ah yes. When you are separated I suppose you write volumes to each other. Bu_e must have a great many business letters."
"It is very likely," said Bernard. "And if he has, you may be sure he write_hem."
"Order and method!" Mrs. Vivian exclaimed. "With his immense property thos_irtues are necessary."
Bernard glanced at her a moment.
"My dear Lovelock," he said to himself, "you are not such a fool as yo_eem.—Gordon's virtues are always necessary, doubtless," he went on. "Bu_hould you say his property was immense?"
Mrs. Vivian made a delicate little movement of deprecation. "Oh, don't ask m_o say! I know nothing about it; I only supposed he was rich."
"He is rich; but he is not a Croesus."
"Oh, you fashionable young men have a standard of luxury!" said Mrs. Vivian, with a little laugh. "To a poverty-stricken widow such a fortune as Mr.
Wright's seems magnificent."
"Don't call me such horrible names!" exclaimed Bernard. "Our friend ha_ertainly money enough and to spare."
"That was all I meant. He once had occasion to allude to his property, but h_as so modest, so reserved in the tone he took about it, that one hardly kne_hat to think."
"He is ashamed of being rich," said Bernard. "He would be sure to represen_verything unfavorably."
"That 's just what I thought!" This ejaculation was more eager than Mrs.
Vivian might have intended, but even had it been less so, Bernard was in _ood to appreciate it. "I felt that we should make allowances for his modesty.
But it was in very good taste," Mrs. Vivian added.
"He 's a fortunate man," said Bernard. "He gets credit for his good taste—an_e gets credit for the full figure of his income as well!"
"Ah," murmured Mrs. Vivian, rising lightly, as if to make her words appea_ore casual, "I don't know the full figure of his income."
She was turning away, and Bernard, as he raised his hat and separated fro_er, felt that it was rather cruel that he should let her go withou_nlightening her ignorance. But he said to himself that she knew quite enough.
Indeed, he took a walk along the Lichtenthal Alley and carried out this lin_f reflection. Whether or no Miss Vivian were in love with Gordon Wright, he_other was enamored of Gordon's fortune, and it had suddenly occurred to he_hat instead of treating the friend of her daughter's suitor with civi_istrust, she would help her case better by giving him a hint of her state o_ind and appealing to his sense of propriety. Nothing could be more natura_han that Mrs. Vivian should suppose that Bernard desired his friend'_uccess; for, as our thoughtful hero said to himself, what she had hithert_aken it into her head to fear was not that Bernard should fall in love wit_er daughter, but that her daughter should fall in love with him. Watering- place life is notoriously conducive to idleness of mind, and Bernard strolle_or half an hour along the overarched avenue, glancing alternately at thes_wo insupposable cases.
A few days afterward, late in the evening, Gordon Wright came to his room a_he hotel.
"I have just received a letter from my sister," he said. "I am afraid I shal_ave to go away."
"Ah, I 'm sorry for that," said Bernard, who was so well pleased with th_ctual that he desired no mutation.
"I mean only for a short time," Gordon explained. "My poor sister writes fro_ngland, telling me that my brother-in-law is suddenly obliged to go home. Sh_as decided not to remain behind, and they are to sail a fortnight hence. Sh_ants very much to see me before she goes, and as I don't know when I shal_ee her again, I feel as if I ought to join her immediately and spend th_nterval with her. That will take about a fortnight."
"I appreciate the sanctity of family ties and I project myself into you_ituation," said Bernard. "On the other hand, I don't envy you a breathles_ourney from Baden to Folkestone."
"It 's the coming back that will be breathless," exclaimed Gordon, smiling.
"You will certainly come back, then?"
"Most certainly. Mrs. Vivian is to be here another month."
"I understand. Well, we shall miss you very much."
Gordon Wright looked for a moment at his companion.
"You will stay here, then? I am so glad of that."
"I was taking it for granted; but on reflection—what do you recommend?"
"I recommend you to stay."
"My dear fellow, your word is law," said Bernard.
"I want you to take care of those ladies," his friend went on. "I don't lik_o leave them alone."
"You are joking!" cried Bernard. "When did you ever hear of my 'taking care'
of any one? It 's as much as I can do to take care of myself."
"This is very easy," said Gordon. "I simply want to feel that they have a ma_bout them."
"They will have a man at any rate—they have the devoted Lovelock."
"That 's just why I want them to have another. He has only an eye to Mis_vers, who, by the way, is extremely bored with him. You look after th_thers. You have made yourself very agreeable to them, and they like yo_xtremely."
"Ah," said Bernard, laughing, "if you are going to be coarse and flattering, _ollapse. If you are going to titillate my vanity, I succumb."
"It won't be so disagreeable," Gordon observed, with an intention vaguel_umorous.
"Oh no, it won't be disagreeable. I will go to Mrs. Vivian every morning, ha_n hand, for my orders."
Gordon Wright, with his hands in his pockets and a meditative expression, too_everal turns about the room.
"It will be a capital chance," he said, at last, stopping in front of hi_ompanion.
"A chance for what?"
"A chance to arrive at a conclusion about my young friend."
Bernard gave a gentle groan.
"Are you coming back to that? Did n't I arrive at a conclusion long ago? Di_'t I tell you she was a delightful girl?"
"Do you call that a conclusion? The first comer could tell me that at the en_f an hour."
"Do you want me to invent something different?" Bernard asked. "I can't inven_nything better."
"I don't want you to invent anything. I only want you to observe her—to stud_er in complete independence. You will have her to yourself—my absence wil_eave you at liberty. Hang it, sir," Gordon declared, "I should think yo_ould like it!"
"Damn it, sir, you 're delicious!" Bernard answered; and he broke into a_rrepressible laugh. "I don't suppose it 's for my pleasure that you sugges_he arrangement."
Gordon took a turn about the room again.
"No, it 's for mine. At least, it 's for my benefit."
"For your benefit?"
"I have got all sorts of ideas—I told you the other day. They are all mixed u_ogether and I want a fresh impression."
"My impressions are never fresh," Bernard replied.
"They would be if you had a little good-will—if you entered a little into m_ilemma." The note of reproach was so distinct in these words that Bernar_tood staring. "You never take anything seriously," his companion went on.
Bernard tried to answer as seriously as possible.
"Your dilemma seems to me of all dilemmas the strangest."
"That may be; but different people take things differently. Don't you see,"
Gordon went on with a sudden outbreak of passion—"don't you see that I a_orribly divided in mind? I care immensely for Angela Vivian—and yet—and yet—_m afraid of her."
"Afraid of her?"
"I am afraid she 's cleverer than I—that she would be a difficult wife; tha_he might do strange things."
"What sort of things?"
"Well, that she might flirt, for instance."
"That 's not a thing for a man to fear."
"Not when he supposes his wife to be fond of him—no. But I don't suppos_hat—I have given that up. If I should induce Angela Vivian to accept me sh_ould do it on grounds purely reasonable. She would think it best, simply.
That would give her a chance to repent."
Bernard sat for some time looking at his friend.
"You say she is cleverer than you. It 's impossible to be cleverer than you."
"Oh, come, Longueville!" said Gordon, angrily.
"I am speaking very seriously. You have done a remarkably clever thing. Yo_ave impressed me with the reality, and with—what shall I term it?—th_stimable character of what you call your dilemma. Now this fresh impressio_f mine—what do you propose to do with it when you get it?"
"Such things are always useful. It will be a good thing to have."
"I am much obliged to you; but do you propose to let anything depend upon it?
Do you propose to take or to leave Miss Vivian—that is, to return to th_harge or to give up trying—in consequence of my fresh impression?"
Gordon seemed perfectly unembarrassed by this question, in spite of th_ronical light which it projected upon his sentimental perplexity.
"I propose to do what I choose!" he said.
"That 's a relief to me," Bernard rejoined. "This idea of yours is, after all, only the play of the scientific mind."
"I shall contradict you flat if I choose," Gordon went on.
"Ah, it 's well to warn me of that," said Bernard, laughing. "Even the mos_incere judgment in the world likes to be notified a little of the danger o_eing contradicted."
"Is yours the most sincere judgment in the world?" Gordon demanded.
"That 's a very pertinent question. Does n't it occur to you that you may hav_eason to be jealous—leaving me alone, with an open field, with the woman o_our choice?"
"I wish to heaven I could be jealous!" Gordon exclaimed. "That would simplif_he thing—that would give me a lift."
And the next day, after some more talk, it seemed really with a hope of thi_ontingency—though, indeed, he laughed about it—that he started for England.