Yes, he was conscious—he was very conscious; so Bernard reflected during th_wo or three first days of his visit to his friend. Gordon knew it must see_trange to so irreverent a critic that a man who had once aspired to the han_f so intelligent a girl—putting other things aside—as Angela Vivian should,
as the Ghost in "Hamlet" says, have "declined upon" a young lady who, in forc_f understanding, was so very much Miss Vivian's inferior; and this knowledg_ept him ill at his ease and gave him a certain pitiable awkwardness.
Bernard's sense of the anomaly grew rapidly less acute; he made variou_bservations which helped it to seem natural. Blanche was wonderfully pretty;
she was very graceful, innocent, amusing. Since Gordon had determined to marr_ little goose, he had chosen the animal with extreme discernment. It ha_uite the plumage of a swan, and it sailed along the stream of life with a_xtraordinary lightness of motion. He asked himself indeed at times whethe_lanche were really so silly as she seemed; he doubted whether any woman coul_e so silly as Blanche seemed. He had a suspicion at times that, for ends o_er own, she was playing a part—the suspicion arising from the fact that, a_sually happens in such cases, she over-played it. Her empty chatter, he_utility, her childish coquetry and frivolity—such light wares could hardly b_he whole substance of any woman's being; there was something beneath the_hich Blanche was keeping out of sight. She had a scrap of a mind somewhere,
and even a little particle of a heart. If one looked long enough one migh_atch a glimpse of these possessions. But why should she keep them out o_ight, and what were the ends that she proposed to serve by this uncomfortabl_erversity? Bernard wondered whether she were fond of her husband, and h_eard it intimated by several good people in New York who had had som_bservation of the courtship, that she had married him for his money. He wa_ery sorry to find that this was taken for granted, and he determined, on th_hole, not to believe it. He was disgusted with the idea of such a want o_ratitude; for, if Gordon Wright had loved Miss Evers for herself, the youn_ady might certainly have discovered the intrinsic value of so disinterested _uitor. Her mother had the credit of having made the match. Gordon was know_o be looking for a wife; Mrs. Evers had put her little feather-head of _aughter very much forward, and Gordon was as easily captivated as a child b_he sound of a rattle. Blanche had an affection for him now, however; Bernar_aw no reason to doubt that, and certainly she would have been a very flims_reature indeed if she had not been touched by his inexhaustible kindness. Sh_ad every conceivable indulgence, and if she married him for his money, a_east she had got what she wanted. She led the most agreeable lif_onceivable, and she ought to be in high good-humor. It was impossible to hav_ prettier house, a prettier carriage, more jewels and laces for the adornmen_f a plump little person. It was impossible to go to more parties, to giv_etter dinners, to have fewer privations or annoyances. Bernard was so muc_truck with all this that, advancing rapidly in the intimacy of his graciou_ostess, he ventured to call her attention to her blessings. She answered tha_he was perfectly aware of them, and there was no pretty speech she was no_repared to make about Gordon.
"I know what you want to say," she went on; "you want to say that he spoil_e, and I don't see why you should hesitate. You generally say everything yo_ant, and you need n't be afraid of me. He does n't spoil me, simply because _m so bad I can't be spoiled; but that 's of no consequence. I was spoile_ges ago; every one spoiled me—every one except Mrs. Vivian. I was always fon_f having everything I want, and I generally managed to get it. I always ha_ovely clothes; mamma thought that was a kind of a duty. If it was a duty, _on't suppose it counts as a part of the spoiling. But I was very muc_ndulged, and I know I have everything now. Gordon is a perfect husband; _elieve if I were to ask him for a present of his nose, he would cut it of_nd give it to me. I think I will ask him for a small piece of it some day; i_ill rather improve him to have an inch or two less. I don't say he '_andsome; but he 's just as good as he can be. Some people say that if you ar_ery fond of a person you always think them handsome; but I don't agree wit_hat at all. I am very fond of Gordon, and yet I am not blinded by affection,
as regards his personal appearance. He 's too light for my taste, and too red.
And because you think people handsome, it does n't follow that you are fond o_hem. I used to have a friend who was awfully handsome—the handsomest man _ver saw—and I was perfectly conscious of his defects. But I 'm not consciou_f Gordon's, and I don't believe he has got any. He 's so intensely kind; it
's quite pathetic. One would think he had done me an injury in marrying me,
and that he wanted to make up for it. If he has done me an injury I have n'_iscovered it yet, and I don't believe I ever shall. I certainly shall not a_ong as he lets me order all the clothes I want. I have ordered five dresse_his week, and I mean to order two more. When I told Gordon, what do you thin_e did? He simply kissed me. Well, if that 's not expressive, I don't kno_hat he could have done. He kisses me about seventeen times a day. I suppos_t 's very improper for a woman to tell any one how often her husband kisse_er; but, as you happen to have seen him do it, I don't suppose you will b_candalized. I know you are not easily scandalized; I am not afraid of you.
You are scandalized at my getting so many dresses? Well, I told you I wa_poiled—I freely acknowledge it. That 's why I was afraid to tel_ordon—because when I was married I had such a lot of things; I was suppose_o have dresses enough to last for a year. But Gordon had n't to pay for them,
so there was no harm in my letting him feel that he has a wife. If he thinks _m extravagant, he can easily stop kissing me. You don't think it would b_asy to stop? It 's very well, then, for those that have never begun!"
Bernard had a good deal of conversation with Blanche, of which, so far as sh_as concerned, the foregoing remarks may serve as a specimen. Gordon was awa_rom home during much of the day; he had a chemical laboratory in which he wa_reatly interested, and which he took Bernard to see; it was fitted up wit_he latest contrivances for the pursuit of experimental science, and was th_esort of needy young students, who enjoyed, at Gordon's expense, th_pportunity for pushing their researches. The place did great honor t_ordon's liberality and to his ingenuity; but Blanche, who had also paid it _isit, could never speak of it without a pretty little shudder.
"Nothing would induce me to go there again," she declared, "and I conside_yself very fortunate to have escaped from it with my life. It 's filled wit_ll sorts of horrible things, that fizzle up and go off, or that make you tur_ome dreadful color if you look at them. I expect to hear a great clap som_ay, and half an hour afterward to see Gordon brought home in several hundre_mall pieces, put up in a dozen little bottles. I got a horrid little stain i_he middle of my dress that one of the young men—the young savants—was so goo_s to drop there. Did you see the young savants who work under Gordon'_rders? I thought they were too forlorn; there is n't one of them you woul_ook at. If you can believe it, there was n't one of them that looked at me;
they took no more notice of me than if I had been the charwoman. They migh_ave shown me some attention, at least, as the wife of the proprietor. What i_t that Gordon 's called—is n't there some other name? If you say
'proprietor,' it sounds as if he kept an hotel. I certainly don't want to pas_or the wife of an hotel-keeper. What does he call himself? He must have som_ame. I hate telling people he 's a chemist; it sounds just as if he kept _hop. That 's what they call the druggists in England, and I formed the habi_hile I was there. It makes me feel as if he were some dreadful little man,
with big green bottles in the window and 'night-bell' painted outside. He doe_'t call himself anything? Well, that 's exactly like Gordon! I wonder h_onsents to have a name at all. When I was telling some one about the youn_en who work under his orders—the young savants—he said I must not say that—_ust not speak of their working 'under his orders.' I don't know what he woul_ike me to say! Under his inspiration!"
During the hours of Gordon's absence, Bernard had frequent colloquies with hi_riend's wife, whose irresponsible prattle amused him, and in whom he tried t_iscover some faculty, some quality, which might be a positive guarantee o_ordon's future felicity. But often, of course, Gordon was an auditor as well;
I say an auditor, because it seemed to Bernard that he had grown to be less o_ talker than of yore. Doubtless, when a man finds himself united to _arrulous wife, he naturally learns to hold his tongue; but sometimes, at th_lose of one of Blanche's discursive monologues, on glancing at her husban_ust to see how he took it, and seeing him sit perfectly silent, with a fixed,
inexpressive smile, Bernard said to himself that Gordon found the lesson o_istening attended with some embarrassments. Gordon, as the years went by, wa_rowing a little inscrutable; but this, too, in certain circumstances, was _sual tendency. The operations of the mind, with deepening experience, becam_ore complex, and people were less apt to emit immature reflections at fort_han they had been in their earlier days. Bernard felt a great kindness i_hese days for his old friend; he never yet had seemed to him such a goo_ellow, nor appealed so strongly to the benevolence of his disposition.
Sometimes, of old, Gordon used to irritate him; but this danger appeare_ompletely to have passed away. Bernard prolonged his visit; it gave hi_leasure to be able to testify in this manner to his good will. Gordon was th_indest of hosts, and if in conversation, when his wife was present, he gav_recedence to her superior powers, he had at other times a good deal o_leasant bachelor-talk with his guest. He seemed very happy; he had plenty o_ccupation and plenty of practical intentions. The season went on, and Bernar_njoyed his life. He enjoyed the keen and brilliant American winter, and h_ound it very pleasant to be treated as a distinguished stranger in his ow_and—a situation to which his long and repeated absences had relegated him.
The hospitality of New York was profuse; the charm of its daughters extreme;
the radiance of its skies superb. Bernard was the restless and professionles_ortal that we know, wandering in life from one vague experiment to another,
constantly gratified and never satisfied, to whom no imperious finality had a_et presented itself; and, nevertheless, for a time he contrived to limit hi_orizon to the passing hour, and to make a good many hours pass in th_rawing-room of a demonstrative flirt.
For Mrs. Gordon was a flirt; that had become tolerably obvious. Bernard ha_nown of old that Blanche Evers was one, and two or three months' observatio_f his friend's wife assured him that she did not judge a certain etherea_oquetry to be inconsistent with the conjugal character. Blanche flirted, i_act, more or less with all men, but her opportunity for playing her harmles_atteries upon Bernard were of course exceptionally large. The poor fellow wa_erpetually under fire, and it was inevitable that he should reply with som_recision of aim. It seemed to him all child's play, and it is certain tha_hen his back was turned to his pretty hostess he never found himself thinkin_f her. He had not the least reason to suppose that she thought o_im—excessive concentration of mind was the last vice of which he accused her.
But before the winter was over, he discovered that Mrs. Gordon Wright wa_eing talked about, and that his own name was, as the newspapers say,
mentioned in connection with that of his friend's wife. The discovery greatl_isgusted him; Bernard Longueville's chronicler must do him the justice to sa_hat it failed to yield him an even transient thrill of pleasure. He though_t very improbable that this vulgar rumor had reached Gordon's ears; but h_evertheless—very naturally—instantly made up his mind to leave the house. H_ost no time in saying to Gordon that he had suddenly determined to go t_alifornia, and that he was sure he must be glad to get rid of him. Gordo_xpressed no surprise and no regret. He simply laid his hand on his shoulde_nd said, very quietly, looking at him in the eyes—
"Very well; the pleasantest things must come to an end."
It was not till an hour afterwards that Bernard said to himself that hi_riend's manner of receiving the announcement of his departure had been rathe_dd. He had neither said a word about his staying longer nor urged him to com_ack again, and there had been (it now seemed to Bernard) an audible underton_f relief in the single sentence with which he assented to his visitor'_ithdrawal. Could it be possible that poor Gordon was jealous of him, that h_ad heard this loathsome gossip, or that his own observation had given him a_larm? He had certainly never betrayed the smallest sense of injury; but i_as to be remembered that even if he were uneasy, Gordon was quite capable,
with his characteristic habit of weighing everything, his own honor included,
in scrupulously adjusted scales, of denying himself the luxury of activ_uspicion. He would never have let a half suspicion make a difference in hi_onduct, and he would not have dissimulated; he would simply have resiste_elief. His hospitality had been without a flaw, and if he had really bee_ishing Bernard out of his house, he had behaved with admirable self-control.
Bernard, however, followed this train of thought a very short distance. It wa_dious to him to believe that he could have appeared to Gordon, howeve_uiltlessly, to have invaded even in imagination the mystic line of th_arital monopoly; not to say that, moreover, if one came to that, he reall_ared about as much for poor little Blanche as for the weather-cock on th_earest steeple. He simply hurried his preparations for departure, and he tol_lanche that he should have to bid her farewell on the following day. He ha_ound her in the drawing-room, waiting for dinner. She was expecting compan_o dine, and Gordon had not yet come down.
She was sitting in the vague glow of the fire-light, in a wonderful blu_ress, with two little blue feet crossed on the rug and pointed at the hearth.
She received Bernard's announcement with small satisfaction, and expended _reat deal of familiar ridicule on his project of a journey to California.
Then, suddenly getting up and looking at him a moment—
"I know why you are going," she said.
"I am glad to hear my explanations have not been lost."
"Your explanations are all nonsense. You are going for another reason."
"Well," said Bernard, "if you insist upon it, it 's because you are too shar_ith me."
"It 's because of me. So much as that is true." Bernard wondered what she wa_oing to say—if she were going to be silly enough to allude to the mos_mpudent of fictions; then, as she stood opening and closing her blue fan an_miling at him in the fire-light, he felt that she was silly enough fo_nything. "It 's because of all the talk—it 's because of Gordon. You need n'_e afraid of Gordon."
"Afraid of him? I don't know what you mean," said Bernard, gravely.
Blanche gave a little laugh.
"You have discovered that people are talking about us—about you and me. I mus_ay I wonder you care. I don't care, and if it 's because of Gordon, you migh_s well know that he does n't care. If he does n't care, I don't see why _hould; and if I don't, I don't see why you should!"
"You pay too much attention to such insipid drivel in even mentioning it."
"Well, if I have the credit of saying what I should n't—to you or to any on_lse—I don't see why I should n't have the advantage too. Gordon does n'_are—he does n't care what I do or say. He does n't care a pin for me!"
She spoke in her usual rattling, rambling voice, and brought out thi_eclaration with a curious absence of resentment.
"You talk about advantage," said Bernard. "I don't see what advantage it is t_ou to say that."
"I want to—I must—I will! That 's the advantage!" This came out with a sudde_harpness of tone; she spoke more excitedly. "He does n't care a button fo_e, and he never did! I don't know what he married me for. He cares fo_omething else—he thinks of something else. I don't know what it is—I suppos_t 's chemistry!"
These words gave Bernard a certain shock, but he had his intelligenc_ufficiently in hand to contradict them with energy.
"You labor under a monstrous delusion," he exclaimed. "Your husband thinks yo_ascinating."
This epithet, pronounced with a fine distinctness, was ringing in the air whe_he door opened and Gordon came in. He looked for a moment from Bernard to hi_ife, and then, approaching the latter, he said, softly—