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Chapter 17

  • 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—
  • "Do you know that he leaves us to-morrow?"