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Chapter 12

  • It was affirmed at an early stage of this narrative that he was a young man o_ contemplative and speculative turn, and he had perhaps never been more tru_o his character than during an hour or two that evening as he sat by himsel_n the terrace of the Conversation-house, surrounded by the crowd of it_requenters, but lost in his meditations. The place was full of movement an_ound, but he had tilted back his chair against the great green box of a_range-tree, and in this easy attitude, vaguely and agreeably conscious of th_usic, he directed his gaze to the star-sprinkled vault of the night. Ther_ere people coming and going whom he knew, but he said nothing to any one—h_referred to be alone; he found his own company quite absorbing. He felt ver_appy, very much amused, very curiously preoccupied. The feeling was _ingular one. It partook of the nature of intellectual excitement. He had _ense of having received carte blanche for the expenditure of his wits.
  • Bernard liked to feel his intelligence at play; this is, perhaps, the highes_uxury of a clever man. It played at present over the whole field of Angel_ivian's oddities of conduct—for, since his visit in the afternoon, Bernar_ad felt that the spectacle was considerably enlarged. He had come to feel, also, that poor Gordon's predicament was by no means an unnatural one.
  • Longueville had begun to take his friend's dilemma very seriously indeed. Th_irl was certainly a curious study.
  • The evening drew to a close and the crowd of Bernard's fellow-lounger_ispersed. The lighted windows of the Kursaal still glittered in the bosk_arkness, and the lamps along the terrace had not been extinguished; but th_reat promenade was almost deserted; here and there only a lingerin_ouple—the red tip of a cigar and the vague radiance of a light dress—gav_nimation to the place. But Bernard sat there still in his tilted chair, beneath his orange-tree; his imagination had wandered very far and he wa_waiting its return to the fold. He was on the point of rising, however, whe_e saw three figures come down the empty vista of the terrace—figures whic_ven at a distance had a familiar air. He immediately left his seat and, taking a dozen steps, recognized Angela Vivian, Blanche Evers and Captai_ovelock. In a moment he met them in the middle of the terrace.
  • Blanche immediately announced that they had come for a midnight walk.
  • "And if you think it 's improper," she exclaimed, "it 's not my invention—it
  • 's Miss Vivian's."
  • "I beg pardon—it 's mine," said Captain Lovelock. "I desire the credit of it.
  • I started the idea; you never would have come without me."
  • "I think it would have been more proper to come without you than with you,"
  • Blanche declared. "You know you 're a dreadful character."
  • "I 'm much worse when I 'm away from you than when I 'm with you," sai_ovelock. "You keep me in order."
  • The young girl gave a little cry.
  • "I don't know what you call order! You can't be worse than you have been to- night."
  • Angela was not listening to this; she turned away a little, looking about a_he empty garden.
  • "This is the third time to-day that you have contradicted yourself," he said.
  • Though he spoke softly he went nearer to her; but she appeared not to hea_im—she looked away.
  • "You ought to have been there, Mr. Longueville," Blanche went on. "We have ha_ most lovely night; we sat all the evening on Mrs. Vivian's balcony, eatin_ces. To sit on a balcony, eating ices—that 's my idea of heaven."
  • "With an angel by your side," said Captain Lovelock.
  • "You are not my idea of an angel," retorted Blanche.
  • "I 'm afraid you 'll never learn what the angels are really like," said th_aptain. "That 's why Miss Evers got Mrs. Vivian to take rooms over th_aker's—so that she could have ices sent up several times a day. Well, I '_ound to say the baker's ices are not bad."
  • "Considering that they have been baked! But they affect the mind," Blanch_ent on. "They would have affected Captain Lovelock's—only he has n't any.
  • They certainly affected Angela's—putting it into her head, at eleven o'clock, to come out to walk."
  • Angela did nothing whatever to defend herself against this ingenious sally; she simply stood there in graceful abstraction. Bernard was vaguely vexed a_er neither looking at him nor speaking to him; her indifference seemed _ontravention of that right of criticism which Gordon had bequeathed to him.
  • "I supposed people went to bed at eleven o'clock," he said.
  • Angela glanced about her, without meeting his eye.
  • "They seem to have gone."
  • Miss Evers strolled on, and her Captain of course kept pace with her; so tha_ernard and Miss Vivian were left standing together. He looked at her a momen_n silence, but her eye still avoided his own.
  • "You are remarkably inconsistent," Bernard presently said. "You take a solem_ow of seclusion this afternoon, and no sooner have you taken it than yo_roceed to break it in this outrageous manner."
  • She looked at him now—a long time—longer than she had ever done before.
  • "This is part of the examination, I suppose," she said.
  • Bernard hesitated an instant.
  • "What examination?"
  • "The one you have undertaken—on Mr. Wright's behalf."
  • "What do you know about that?"
  • "Ah, you admit it then?" the girl exclaimed, with an eager laugh.
  • "I don't in the least admit it," said Bernard, conscious only for the momen_f the duty of loyalty to his friend and feeling that negation here was simpl_ point of honor.
  • "I trust more to my own conviction than to your denial. You have engaged t_ring your superior wisdom and your immense experience to bear upon me! That
  • 's the understanding."
  • "You must think us a pretty pair of wiseacres," said Bernard.
  • "There it is—you already begin to answer for what I think. When Mr. Wrigh_omes back you will be able to tell him that I am 'outrageous'!" And sh_urned away and walked on, slowly following her companions.
  • "What do you care what I tell him?" Bernard asked. "You don't care a straw."
  • She said nothing for a moment, then, suddenly, she stopped again, dropping he_yes.
  • "I beg your pardon," she said, very gently; "I care a great deal. It 's a_ell that you should know that."
  • Bernard stood looking at her; her eyes were still lowered.
  • "Do you know what I shall tell him? I shall tell him that about eleven o'cloc_t night you become peculiarly attractive."
  • She went on again a few steps; Miss Evers and Captain Lovelock had turne_ound and were coming toward her.
  • "It is very true that I am outrageous," she said; "it was extremely silly an_n very bad taste to come out at this hour. Mamma was not at all pleased, an_ was very unkind to her. I only wanted to take a turn, and now we will g_ack." On the others coming up she announced this resolution, and thoug_aptain Lovelock and his companion made a great outcry, she carried her point.
  • Bernard offered no opposition. He contented himself with walking back to he_other's lodging with her almost in silence. The little winding streets wer_till and empty; there was no sound but the chatter and laughter of Blanch_nd her attendant swain. Angela said nothing.
  • This incident presented itself at first to Bernard's mind as a sort o_eclaration of war. The girl had guessed that she was to be made a subject o_peculative scrutiny. The idea was not agreeable to her independent spirit, and she placed herself boldly on the defensive. She took her stand upon he_ight to defeat his purpose by every possible means—to perplex, elude, deceiv_im—in plain English, to make a fool of him. This was the construction whic_or several days Bernard put upon her deportment, at the same time that h_hought it immensely clever of her to have guessed what had been going on i_is mind. She made him feel very much ashamed of his critical attitude, and h_id everything he could think of to put her off her guard and persuade he_hat for the moment he had ceased to be an observer. His position at moment_eemed to him an odious one, for he was firmly resolved that between him an_he woman to whom his friend had proposed there should be nothing in the wa_f a vulgar flirtation. Under the circumstances, it savoured both o_lirtation and of vulgarity that they should even fall out with each other—_onsummation which appeared to be more or less definitely impending. Bernar_emarked to himself that his own only reasonable line of conduct would b_nstantly to leave Baden, but I am almost ashamed to mention the fact whic_ed him to modify this decision. It was simply that he was induced to make th_eflection that he had really succeeded in putting Miss Vivian off her guard.
  • How he had done so he would have found it difficult to explain, inasmuch as i_ne way or another, for a week, he had spent several hours in talk with her.
  • The most effective way of putting her off her guard would have been to leav_er alone, to forswear the privilege of conversation with her, to pass th_ays in other society. This course would have had the drawback of not enablin_im to measure the operation of so ingenious a policy, and Bernard liked, o_ll the things in the world, to know when he was successful. He believed, a_ll events, that he was successful now, and that the virtue of hi_onversation itself had persuaded this keen and brilliant girl that he wa_hinking of anything in the world but herself. He flattered himself that th_ivil indifference of his manner, the abstract character of the topics h_elected, the irrelevancy of his allusions and the laxity of his attention, all contributed to this result.
  • Such a result was certainly a remarkable one, for it is almost superfluous t_ntimate that Miss Vivian was, in fact, perpetually in his thoughts. He mad_t a point of conscience not to think of her, but he was thinking of her mos_hen his conscience was most lively. Bernard had a conscience—a conscienc_hich, though a little irregular in its motions, gave itself in the long run _reat deal of exercise; but nothing could have been more natural than that, curious, imaginative, audacious as he was, and delighting, as I have said, i_he play of his singularly nimble intelligence, he should have given himsel_p to a sort of unconscious experimentation. "I will leave her alone—I will b_anged if I attempt to draw her out!" he said to himself; and meanwhile he wa_oaming afield and plucking personal impressions in great fragrant handfuls.
  • All this, as I say, was natural, given the man and the situation; the onl_ddity is that he should have fancied himself able to persuade the person mos_nterested that he had renounced his advantage.
  • He remembered her telling him that she cared very much what he should say o_er on Gordon Wright's return, and he felt that this declaration had _articular significance. After this, of her own movement, she never spoke o_ordon, and Bernard made up his mind that she had promised her mother t_ccept him if he should repeat his proposal, and that as her heart was not i_he matter she preferred to drop a veil over the prospect. "She is going t_arry him for his money," he said, "because her mother has brought out th_dvantages of the thing. Mrs. Vivian's persuasive powers have carried the day, and the girl has made herself believe that it does n't matter that she doe_'t love him. Perhaps it does n't—to her; it 's hard, in such a case, to pu_ne's self in the woman's point of view. But I should think it would matter, some day or other, to poor Gordon. She herself can't help suspecting it ma_ake a difference in his happiness, and she therefore does n't wish to see_ny worse to him than is necessary. She wants me to speak well of her; if sh_ntends to deceive him she expects me to back her up. The wish is doubtles_atural, but for a proud girl it is rather an odd favor to ask. Oh yes, she '_ proud girl, even though she has been able to arrange it with her conscienc_o make a mercenary marriage. To expect me to help her is perhaps to treat m_s a friend; but she ought to remember—or at least I ought to remember—tha_ordon is an older friend than she. Inviting me to help her as against m_ldest friend—is n't there a grain of impudence in that?"
  • It will be gathered that Bernard's meditations were not on the whole favorabl_o this young lady, and it must be affirmed that he was forcibly struck wit_n element of cynicism in her conduct. On the evening of her so-calle_idnight visit to the Kursaal she had suddenly sounded a note of swee_ubmissiveness which re-appeared again at frequent intervals. She was gentle, accessible, tenderly gracious, expressive, demonstrative, almost flattering.
  • From his own personal point of view Bernard had no complaint to make of thi_aidenly urbanity, but he kept reminding himself that he was not in questio_nd that everything must be looked at in the light of Gordon's requirements.
  • There was all this time an absurd logical twist in his view of things. In th_irst place he was not to judge at all; and in the second he was to judg_trictly on Gordon's behalf. This latter clause always served as _ustification when the former had failed to serve as a deterrent. When Bernar_eproached himself for thinking too much of the girl, he drew comfort from th_eflection that he was not thinking well. To let it gradually filter int_ne's mind, through a superficial complexity of more reverent preconceptions, that she was an extremely clever coquette—this, surely, was not to think well!
  • Bernard had luminous glimpses of another situation, in which Angela Vivian'_oquetry should meet with a different appreciation; but just now it was not a_tem to be entered on the credit side of Wright's account. Bernard wiped hi_en, mentally speaking, as he made this reflection, and felt like a grizzle_ld book-keeper, of incorruptible probity. He saw her, as I have said, ver_ften; she continued to break her vow of shutting herself up, and at the en_f a fortnight she had reduced it to imperceptible particles. On fou_ifferent occasions, presenting himself at Mrs. Vivian's lodgings, Bernar_ound Angela there alone. She made him welcome, receiving him as an America_irl, in such circumstances, is free to receive the most gallant of visitors.
  • She smiled and talked and gave herself up to charming gayety, so that ther_as nothing for Bernard to say but that now at least she was off her guar_ith a vengeance. Happily he was on his own! He flattered himself that h_emained so on occasions that were even more insidiously relaxing—when, in th_vening, she strolled away with him to parts of the grounds of th_onversation-house, where the music sank to sweeter softness and the murmur o_he tree-tops of the Black Forest, stirred by the warm night-air, becam_lmost audible; or when, in the long afternoons, they wandered in the wood_part from the others—from Mrs. Vivian and the amiable object of her mor_vowed solicitude, the object of the sportive adoration of the irrepressible, the ever-present Lovelock. They were constantly having parties in the woods a_his time—driving over the hills to points of interest which Bernard ha_ooked out in the guide-book. Bernard, in such matters, was extremely aler_nd considerate; he developed an unexpected talent for arranging excursions, and he had taken regularly into his service the red-waistcoated proprietor o_ big Teutonic landau, which had a courier's seat behind and was always at th_ervice of the ladies. The functionary in the red waistcoat was a capita_harioteer; he was constantly proposing new drives, and he introduced ou_ittle party to treasures of romantic scenery.