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Chapter 14

  • Gordon asked him no questions for twenty-four hours after his return, the_uddenly he began:
  • "Well, have n't you something to say to me?"
  • It was at the hotel, in Gordon's apartment, late in the afternoon. A heav_hunder-storm had broken over the place an hour before, and Bernard had bee_tanding at one of his friend's windows, rather idly, with his hands in hi_ockets, watching the rain-torrents dance upon the empty pavements. At las_he deluge abated, the clouds began to break—there was a promise of a fin_vening. Gordon Wright, while the storm was at its climax, sat down to writ_etters, and wrote half a dozen. It was after he had sealed, directed an_ffixed a postage-stamp to the last of the series that he addressed to hi_ompanion the question I have just quoted.
  • "Do you mean about Miss Vivian?" Bernard asked, without turning round from th_indow.
  • "About Miss Vivian, of course." Bernard said nothing and his companion wen_n. "Have you nothing to tell me about Miss Vivian?"
  • Bernard presently turned round looking at Gordon and smiling a little.
  • "She 's a delightful creature!"
  • "That won't do—you have tried that before," said Gordon. "No," he added in _oment, "that won't do." Bernard turned back to the window, and Gordo_ontinued, as he remained silent. "I shall have a right to consider you_aying nothing a proof of an unfavorable judgment. You don't like her!"
  • Bernard faced quickly about again, and for an instant the two men looked a_ach other.
  • "Ah, my dear Gordon," Longueville murmured.
  • "Do you like her then?" asked Wright, getting up.
  • "No!" said Longueville.
  • "That 's just what I wanted to know, and I am much obliged to you for tellin_e."
  • "I am not obliged to you for asking me. I was in hopes you would n't."
  • "You dislike her very much then?" Gordon exclaimed, gravely.
  • "Won't disliking her, simply, do?" said Bernard.
  • "It will do very well. But it will do a little better if you will tell me why.
  • Give me a reason or two."
  • "Well," said Bernard, "I tried to make love to her and she boxed my ears."
  • "The devil!" cried Gordon.
  • "I mean morally, you know."
  • Gordon stared; he seemed a little puzzled.
  • "You tried to make love to her morally?"
  • "She boxed my ears morally," said Bernard, laughing out.
  • "Why did you try to make love to her?"
  • This inquiry was made in a tone so expressive of an unbiassed truth-seekin_abit that Bernard's mirth was not immediately quenched. Nevertheless, h_eplied with sufficient gravity—
  • "To test her fidelity to you. Could you have expected anything else? You tol_e you were afraid she was a latent coquette. You gave me a chance, and _ried to ascertain."
  • "And you found she was not. Is that what you mean?"
  • "She 's as firm as a rock. My dear Gordon, Miss Vivian is as firm as th_irmest of your geological formations."
  • Gordon shook his head with a strange positive persistence.
  • "You are talking nonsense. You are not serious. You are not telling me th_ruth. I don't believe that you attempted to make love to her. You would n'_ave played such a game as that. It would n't have been honorable."
  • Bernard flushed a little; he was irritated.
  • "Oh come, don't make too much of a point of that! Did n't you tell me befor_hat it was a great opportunity?"
  • "An opportunity to be wise—not to be foolish!"
  • "Ah, there is only one sort of opportunity," cried Bernard. "You exaggerat_he reach of human wisdom."
  • "Suppose she had let you make love to her," said Gordon. "That would have bee_ beautiful result of your experiment."
  • "I should have seemed to you a rascal, perhaps, but I should have saved yo_rom a latent coquette. You would owe some thanks for that."
  • "And now you have n't saved me," said Gordon, with a simple air of noting _act.
  • "You assume—in spite of what I say—that she is a coquette!"
  • "I assume something because you evidently conceal something. I want the whol_ruth."
  • Bernard turned back to the window with increasing irritation.
  • "If he wants the whole truth he shall have it," he said to himself.
  • He stood a moment in thought and then he looked at his companion again.
  • "I think she would marry you—but I don't think she cares for you."
  • Gordon turned a little pale, but he clapped his hands together.
  • "Very good," he exclaimed. "That 's exactly how I want you to speak."
  • "Her mother has taken a great fancy to your fortune and it has rubbed off o_he girl, who has made up her mind that it would be a pleasant thing to hav_hirty thousand a year, and that her not caring for you is an unimportan_etail."
  • "I see—I see," said Gordon, looking at his friend with an air of admiratio_or his frank and lucid way of putting things.
  • Now that he had begun to be frank and lucid, Bernard found a charm in it, an_he impulse under which he had spoken urged him almost violently forward.
  • "The mother and daughter have agreed together to bag you, and Angela, I a_ure, has made a vow to be as nice to you after marriage as possible. Mrs.
  • Vivian has insisted upon the importance of that; Mrs. Vivian is a grea_oralist."
  • Gordon kept gazing at his friend; he seemed positively fascinated.
  • "Yes, I have noticed that in Mrs. Vivian," he said.
  • "Ah, she 's a very nice woman!"
  • "It 's not true, then," said Gordon, "that you tried to make love to Angela?"
  • Bernard hesitated a single instant.
  • "No, it is n't true. I calumniated myself, to save her reputation. Yo_nsisted on my giving you a reason for my not liking her—I gave you that one."
  • "And your real reason—"
  • "My real reason is that I believe she would do you what I can't help regardin_s an injury."
  • "Of course!" and Gordon, dropping his interested eyes, stared for some moment_t the carpet. "But it is n't true, then, that you discovered her to be _oquette?"
  • "Ah, that 's another matter."
  • "You did discover it all the same?"
  • "Since you want the whole truth—I did!"
  • "How did you discover it?" Gordon asked, clinging to his right o_nterrogation.
  • Bernard hesitated.
  • "You must remember that I saw a great deal of her."
  • "You mean that she encouraged you?"
  • "If I had not been a very faithful friend I might have thought so."
  • Gordon laid his hand appreciatively, gratefully, on Bernard's shoulder.
  • "And even that did n't make you like her?"
  • "Confound it, you make me blush!" cried Bernard, blushing a little in fact. "_ave said quite enough; excuse me from drawing the portrait of too insensibl_ man. It was my point of view; I kept thinking of you."
  • Gordon, with his hand still on his friend's arm, patted it an instant i_esponse to this declaration; then he turned away.
  • "I am much obliged to you. That 's my notion of friendship. You have spoke_ut like a man."
  • "Like a man, yes. Remember that. Not in the least like an oracle."
  • "I prefer an honest man to all the oracles," said Gordon.
  • "An honest man has his impressions! I have given you mine—they pretend to b_othing more. I hope they have n't offended you."
  • "Not in the least."
  • "Nor distressed, nor depressed, nor in any way discomposed you?"
  • "For what do you take me? I asked you a favor—a service; I imposed it on you.
  • You have done the thing, and my part is simple gratitude."
  • "Thank you for nothing," said Bernard, smiling. "You have asked me a grea_any questions; there is one that in turn I have a right to ask you. What d_ou propose to do in consequence of what I have told you?"
  • "I propose to do nothing."
  • This declaration closed the colloquy, and the young men separated. Bernard sa_ordon no more that evening; he took for granted he had gone to Mrs. Vivian's.
  • The burden of Longueville's confidences was a heavy load to carry there, bu_ernard ventured to hope that he would deposit it at the door. He had give_ordon his impressions, and the latter might do with them what he chose—tos_hem out of the window, or let them grow stale with heedless keeping. S_ernard meditated, as he wandered about alone for the rest of the evening. I_as useless to look for Mrs. Vivian's little circle, on the terrace of th_onversation-house, for the storm in the afternoon had made the place so dam_hat it was almost forsaken of its frequenters. Bernard spent the evening i_he gaming-rooms, in the thick of the crowd that pressed about the tables, an_y way of a change—he had hitherto been almost nothing of a gambler—he lai_own a couple of pieces at roulette. He had played but two or three times, without winning a penny; but now he had the agreeable sensation of drawing i_ small handful of gold. He continued to play, and he continued to win. Hi_uck surprised and excited him—so much so that after it had repeated itsel_alf a dozen times he left the place and walked about for half an hour in th_uter darkness. He felt amused and exhilarated, but the feeling amounte_lmost to agitation. He, nevertheless, returned to the tables, where he agai_ound success awaiting him. Again and again he put his money on a happ_umber, and so steady a run of luck began at last to attract attention. Th_umor of it spread through the rooms, and the crowd about the roulett_eceived a large contingent of spectators. Bernard felt that they were lookin_ore or less eagerly for a turn of the tide; but he was in the humor fo_isappointing them, and he left the place, while his luck was still runnin_igh, with ten thousand francs in his pocket. It was very late when h_eturned to the inn—so late that he forbore to knock at Gordon's door. Bu_hough he betook himself to his own quarters, he was far from finding, or eve_eeking, immediate rest. He knocked about, as he would have said, for half th_ight—not because he was delighted at having won ten thousand francs, bu_ather because all of a sudden he found himself disgusted at the manner i_hich he had spent the evening. It was extremely characteristic of Bernar_ongueville that his pleasure should suddenly transform itself into flatness.
  • What he felt was not regret or repentance. He had it not in the least on hi_onscience that he had given countenance to the reprehensible practice o_aming. It was annoyance that he had passed out of his own control—that he ha_beyed a force which he was unable to measure at the time. He had been drun_nd he was turning sober. In spite of a great momentary appearance o_rankness and a lively relish of any conjunction of agreeable circumstance_xerting a pressure to which one could respond, Bernard had really littl_aste for giving himself up, and he never did so without very soon wishing t_ake himself back. He had now given himself to something that was not himself, and the fact that he had gained ten thousand francs by it was an insufficien_alve to an aching sense of having ceased to be his own master. He had no_een playing—he had been played with. He had been the sport of a blind, bruta_hance, and he felt humiliated by having been favored by so rudely-operating _ivinity. Good luck and bad luck? Bernard felt very scornful of th_istinction, save that good luck seemed to him rather the more vulgar. As th_ight went on his disgust deepened, and at last the weariness it brought wit_t sent him to sleep. He slept very late, and woke up to a disagreeabl_onsciousness. At first, before collecting his thoughts, he could not imagin_hat he had on his mind—was it that he had spoken ill of Angela Vivian? I_rought him extraordinary relief to remember that he had gone to bed i_xtreme ill-humor with his exploits at roulette. After he had dressed himsel_nd just as he was leaving his room, a servant brought him a note superscribe_n Gordon's hand—a note of which the following proved to be the contents.
  • "Seven o'clock, A.M.
  • "My dear Bernard: Circumstances have determined me to leave Baden immediately, and I shall take the train that starts an hour hence. I am told that you cam_n very late last night, so I won't disturb you for a painful parting at thi_nnatural hour. I came to this decision last evening, and I put up my things; so I have nothing to do but to take myself off. I shall go to Basel, but afte_hat I don't know where, and in so comfortless an uncertainty I don't ask yo_o follow me. Perhaps I shall go to America; but in any case I shall see yo_ooner or later. Meanwhile, my dear Bernard, be as happy as your brillian_alents should properly make you, and believe me yours ever,
  • "G.W.
  • "P.S. It is perhaps as well that I should say that I am leaving in consequenc_f something that happened last evening, but not—by any traceable process—i_onsequence of the talk we had together. I may also add that I am in very goo_ealth and spirits."
  • Bernard lost no time in learning that his friend had in fact departed by th_ight o'clock train—the morning was now well advanced; and then, over hi_reakfast, he gave himself up to meditative surprise. What had happened durin_he evening—what had happened after their conversation in Gordon's room? H_ad gone to Mrs. Vivian's—what had happened there? Bernard found it difficul_o believe that he had gone there simply to notify her that, having talked i_ver with an intimate friend, he gave up her daughter, or to mention to th_oung lady herself that he had ceased to desire the honor of her hand. Gordo_lluded to some definite occurrence, yet it was inconceivable that he shoul_ave allowed himself to be determined by Bernard's words—his diffident an_rresponsible impression. Bernard resented this idea as an injury to himself, yet it was difficult to imagine what else could have happened. There wa_ordon's word for it, however, that there was no "traceable" connectio_etween the circumstances which led to his sudden departure and th_nformation he had succeeded in extracting from his friend. What did he mea_y a "traceable" connection? Gordon never used words idly, and he meant t_ake of this point an intelligible distinction. It was this sense of his usua_ccuracy of expression that assisted Bernard in fitting a meaning to his lat_ompanion's letter. He intended to intimate that he had come back to Bade_ith his mind made up to relinquish his suit, and that he had questione_ernard simply from moral curiosity—for the sake of intellectual satisfaction.
  • Nothing was altered by the fact that Bernard had told him a sorry tale; it ha_ot modified his behavior—that effect would have been traceable. It had simpl_ffected his imagination, which was a consequence of the imponderable sort.
  • This view of the case was supported by Gordon's mention of his good spirits. _an always had good spirits when he had acted in harmony with a conviction. O_ourse, after renouncing the attempt to make himself acceptable to Mis_ivian, the only possible thing for Gordon had been to leave Baden. Bernard, continuing to meditate, at last convinced himself that there had been n_xplicit rupture, that Gordon's last visit had simply been a visit o_arewell, that its character had sufficiently signified his withdrawal, an_hat he had now gone away because, after giving the girl up, he wished ver_aturally not to meet her again. This was, on Bernard's part, a sufficientl_oherent view of the case; but nevertheless, an hour afterward, as he strolle_long the Lichtenthal Alley, he found himself stopping suddenly and exclaimin_nder his breath—"Have I done her an injury? Have I affected her prospects?"
  • Later in the day he said to himself half a dozen times that he had simpl_arned Gordon against an incongruous union.