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.
"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,
"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.