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.
"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.