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Chapter 23

  • And he had them in fact. He called the next day at the same hour, and he foun_he mother and the daughter together in their pretty salon. Angela was ver_entle and gracious; he suspected Mrs. Vivian had given her a tender littl_ecture upon the manner in which she had received him the day before. After h_ad been there five minutes, Mrs. Vivian took a decanter of water that wa_tanding upon a table and went out on the balcony to irrigate her flowers.
  • Bernard watched her a while from his place in the room; then she moved alon_he balcony and out of sight. Some ten minutes elapsed without her re- appearing, and then Bernard stepped to the threshold of the window and looke_or her. She was not there, and as he came and took his seat near Angel_gain, he announced, rather formally, that Mrs. Vivian had passed back int_ne of the other windows.
  • Angela was silent a moment—then she said—
  • "Should you like me to call her?"
  • She was very peculiar—that was very true; yet Bernard held to his declaratio_f the day before that he now understood her a little.
  • "No, I don't desire it," he said. "I wish to see you alone; I have somethin_articular to say to you."
  • She turned her face toward him, and there was something in its expression tha_howed him that he looked to her more serious than he had ever looked. He sa_own again; for some moments he hesitated to go on.
  • "You frighten me," she said laughing; and in spite of her laugh this wa_bviously true.
  • "I assure you my state of mind is anything but formidable. I am afraid of you, on the contrary; I am humble and apologetic."
  • "I am sorry for that," said Angela. "I particularly dislike receivin_pologies, even when I know what they are for. What yours are for, I can'_magine."
  • "You don't dislike me—you don't hate me?" Bernard suddenly broke out.
  • "You don't ask me that humbly. Excuse me therefore if I say I have other, an_ore practical, things to do."
  • "You despise me," said Bernard.
  • "That is not humble either, for you seem to insist upon it."
  • "It would be after all a way of thinking of me, and I have a reason fo_ishing you to do that."
  • "I remember very well that you used to have a reason for everything. It wa_ot always a good one."
  • "This one is excellent," said Bernard, gravely. "I have been in love with yo_or three years."
  • She got up slowly, turning away.
  • "Is that what you wished to say to me?"
  • She went toward the open window, and he followed her.
  • "I hope it does n't offend you. I don't say it lightly—it 's not a piece o_allantry. It 's the very truth of my being. I did n't know it til_ately—strange as that may seem. I loved you long before I knew it—before _entured or presumed to know it. I was thinking of you when I seemed to mysel_o be thinking of other things. It is very strange—there are things in it _on't understand. I travelled over the world, I tried to interest, to diver_yself; but at bottom it was a perfect failure. To see you again—that was wha_ wanted. When I saw you last month at Blanquais I knew it; then everythin_ecame clear. It was the answer to the riddle. I wished to read it ver_learly—I wished to be sure; therefore I did n't follow you immediately. _uestioned my heart—I cross-questioned it. It has borne the examination, an_ow I am sure. I am very sure. I love you as my life—I beg you to listen t_e!"
  • She had listened—she had listened intently, looking straight out of the windo_nd without moving.
  • "You have seen very little of me," she said, presently, turning he_lluminated eye on him.
  • "I have seen enough," Bernard added, smiling. "You must remember that at Bade_ saw a good deal of you."
  • "Yes, but that did n't make you like me. I don't understand."
  • Bernard stood there a moment, frowning, with his eyes lowered.
  • "I can imagine that. But I think I can explain."
  • "Don't explain now," said Angela. "You have said enough; explain some othe_ime." And she went out on the balcony.
  • Bernard, of course, in a moment was beside her, and, disregarding he_njunction, he began to explain.
  • "I thought I disliked you—but I have come to the conclusion it was just th_ontrary. In reality I was in love with you. I had been so from the first tim_ saw you—when I made that sketch of you at Siena."
  • "That in itself needs an explanation. I was not at all nice then—I was ver_ude, very perverse. I was horrid!"
  • "Ah, you admit it!" cried Bernard, with a sort of quick elation.
  • She had been pale, but she suddenly blushed.
  • "Your own conduct was singular, as I remember it. It was not exactl_greeable."
  • "Perhaps not; but at least it was meant to be. I did n't know how to pleas_ou then, and I am far from supposing that I have learned now. But I entrea_ou to give me a chance."
  • She was silent a while; her eyes wandered over the great prospect of Paris.
  • "Do you know how you can please me now?" she said, at last. "By leaving m_lone."
  • Bernard looked at her a moment, then came straight back into the drawing-roo_nd took his hat.
  • "You see I avail myself of the first chance. But I shall come back to-morrow."
  • "I am greatly obliged to you for what you have said. Such a speech as tha_eserves to be listened to with consideration. You may come back to-morrow,"
  • Angela added.
  • On the morrow, when he came back, she received him alone.
  • "How did you know, at Baden, that I did n't like you?" he asked, as soon a_he would allow him.
  • She smiled, very gently.
  • "You assured me yesterday that you did like me."
  • "I mean that I supposed I did n't. How did you know that?"
  • "I can only say that I observed."
  • "You must have observed very closely, for, superficially, I rather had the ai_f admiring you," said Bernard.
  • "It was very superficial."
  • "You don't mean that; for, after all, that is just what my admiration, m_nterest in you, were not. They were deep, they were latent. They were no_uperficial—they were subterranean."
  • "You are contradicting yourself, and I am perfectly consistent," said Angela.
  • "Your sentiments were so well hidden that I supposed I displeased you."
  • "I remember that at Baden, you used to contradict yourself," Bernard answered.
  • "You have a terrible memory!"
  • "Don't call it terrible, for it sees everything now in a charming light—in th_ight of this understanding that we have at last arrived at, which seems t_hine backward—to shine full on those Baden days."
  • "Have we at last arrived at an understanding?" she asked, with a grav_irectness which Bernard thought the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
  • "It only depends upon you," he declared; and then he broke out again into _rotestation of passionate tenderness. "Don't put me off this time," he cried.
  • "You have had time to think about it; you have had time to get over th_urprise, the shock. I love you, and I offer you everything that belongs to m_n this world." As she looked at him with her dark, clear eyes, weighing thi_recious vow and yet not committing herself—"Ah, you don't forgive me!" h_urmured.
  • She gazed at him with the same solemn brightness.
  • "What have I to forgive you?"
  • This question seemed to him enchanting. He reached forward and took her hands, and if Mrs. Vivian had come in she would have seen him kneeling at he_aughter's feet.
  • But Mrs. Vivian remained in seclusion, and Bernard saw her only the next tim_e came.
  • "I am very happy, because I think my daughter is happy," she said.
  • "And what do you think of me?"
  • "I think you are very clever. You must promise me to be very good to her."
  • "I am clever enough to promise that."
  • "I think you are good enough to keep it," said Mrs. Vivian. She looked a_appy as she said, and her happiness gave her a communicative, confidentia_endency. "It is very strange how things come about—how the wheel turn_ound," she went on. "I suppose there is no harm in my telling you that _elieve she always cared for you."
  • "Why did n't you tell me before?" said Bernard, with almost filia_eproachfulness.
  • "How could I? I don't go about the world offering my daughter t_eople—especially to indifferent people."
  • "At Baden you did n't think I was indifferent. You were afraid of my not bein_ndifferent enough."
  • Mrs. Vivian colored.
  • "Ah, at Baden I was a little too anxious!"
  • "Too anxious I should n't speak to your daughter!" said Bernard, laughing.
  • "At Baden," Mrs. Vivian went on, "I had views. But I have n't any now—I hav_iven them up."
  • "That makes your acceptance of me very flattering!" Bernard exclaimed, laughing still more gaily.
  • "I have something better," said Mrs. Vivian, laying her finger-tips on hi_rm. "I have confidence."
  • Bernard did his best to encourage this gracious sentiment, and it seemed t_im that there was something yet to be done to implant it more firmly i_ngela's breast.
  • "I have a confession to make to you," he said to her one day. "I wish yo_ould listen to it."
  • "Is it something very horrible?" Angela asked.
  • "Something very horrible indeed. I once did you an injury."
  • "An injury?" she repeated, in a tone which seemed to reduce the offence t_ontemptible proportions by simple vagueness of mind about it.
  • "I don't know what to call it," said Bernard. "A poor service—an ill-turn."
  • Angela gave a shrug, or rather an imitation of a shrug; for she was not _hrugging person.
  • "I never knew it."
  • "I misrepresented you to Gordon Wright," Bernard went on.
  • "Why do you speak to me of him?" she asked rather sadly.
  • "Does it displease you?"
  • She hesitated a little.
  • "Yes, it displeases me. If your confession has anything to do with him, _ould rather not hear it."
  • Bernard returned to the subject another time—he had plenty of opportunities.
  • He spent a portion of every day in the company of these dear women; and thes_ays were the happiest of his life. The autumn weather was warm and soothing, the quartier was still deserted, and the uproar of the great city, whic_eemed a hundred miles away, reached them through the dense October air with _oftened and muffled sound. The evenings, however, were growing cool, an_efore long they lighted the first fire of the season in Mrs. Vivian's heavil_raped little chimney-piece. On this occasion Bernard sat there with Angela, watching the bright crackle of the wood and feeling that the charm of winte_ights had begun. These two young persons were alone together in the gatherin_usk; it was the hour before dinner, before the lamp had been lighted.
  • "I insist upon making you my confession," said Bernard. "I shall be ver_nhappy until you let me do it."
  • "Unhappy? You are the happiest of men."
  • "I lie upon roses, if you will; but this memory, this remorse, is a folde_ose-leaf. I was completely mistaken about you at Baden; I thought all manne_f evil of you—or at least I said it."
  • "Men are dull creatures," said Angela.
  • "I think they are. So much so that, as I look back upon that time, there ar_ome things I don't understand even now."
  • "I don't see why you should look back. People in our position are supposed t_ook forward."
  • "You don't like those Baden days yourself," said Bernard. "You don't like t_hink of them."
  • "What a wonderful discovery!"
  • Bernard looked at her a moment in the brightening fire-light.
  • "What part was it you tried to play there?"
  • Angela shook her head.
  • "Men are dull creatures."
  • "I have already granted that, and I am eating humble pie in asking for a_xplanation."
  • "What did you say of me?" Angela asked, after a silence.
  • "I said you were a coquette. Remember that I am simply historical."
  • She got up and stood in front of the fire, having her hand on the chimney- piece and looking down at the blaze. For some moments she remained there.
  • Bernard could not see her face.
  • "I said you were a dangerous woman to marry," he went on deliberately. "I sai_t because I thought it. I gave Gordon an opinion about you—it was a ver_nfavorable one. I could n't make you out—I thought you were playing a doubl_art. I believed that you were ready to marry him, and yet I saw—I thought _aw—" and Bernard paused again.
  • "What did you see?" and Angela turned toward him.
  • "That you were encouraging me—playing with me."
  • "And you did n't like that?"
  • "I liked it immensely—for myself! But did n't like it for Gordon; and I mus_o myself the justice to say that I thought more of him than of myself."
  • "You were an excellent friend," said Angela, simply.
  • "I believe I was. And I am so still," Bernard added.
  • She shook her head sadly.
  • "Poor Mr. Wright!"
  • "He is a dear good fellow," said Bernard.
  • "Thoroughly good, and dear, doubtless to his wife, the affectionate Blanche."
  • "You don't like him—you don't like her," said Bernard.
  • "Those are two very different matters. I am very sorry for Mr. Wright."
  • "You need n't be that. He is doing very well."
  • "So you have already informed me. But I am sorry for him, all the same."
  • "That does n't answer my question," Bernard exclaimed, with a certai_rritation. "What part were you playing?"
  • "What part do you think?"
  • "Have n't I told you I gave it up, long ago?"
  • Angela stood with her back to the fire, looking at him; her hands were locke_ehind her.
  • "Did it ever strike you that my position at Baden was a charming one?—knowin_hat I had been handed over to you to be put under the microscope—like a_nsect with a pin stuck through it!"
  • "How in the world did you know it? I thought we were particularly careful."
  • "How can a woman help knowing such a thing? She guesses it—she discovers it b_nstinct; especially if she be a proud woman."
  • "Ah," said Bernard, "if pride is a source of information, you must be _rodigy of knowledge!"
  • "I don't know that you are particularly humble!" the girl retorted. "Th_eekest and most submissive of her sex would not have consented to have such _argain as that made about her—such a trick played upon her!"
  • "My dearest Angela, it was no bargain—no trick!" Bernard interposed.
  • "It was a clumsy trick—it was a bad bargain!" she declared. "At any rate _ated it—I hated the idea of your pretending to pass judgment upon me; of you_aving come to Baden for the purpose. It was as if Mr. Wright had been buyin_ horse and you had undertaken to put me through my paces!"
  • "I undertook nothing—I declined to undertake."
  • "You certainly made a study of me—and I was determined you should get you_esson wrong. I determined to embarrass, to mislead, to defeat you. Or rather, I did n't determine; I simply obeyed a natural impulse of self-defence—th_mpulse to evade the fierce light of criticism. I wished to put you in th_rong."
  • "You did it all very well. You put me admirably in the wrong."
  • "The only justification for my doing it at all was my doing it well," sai_ngela.
  • "You were justified then! You must have hated me fiercely."
  • She turned her back to him and stood looking at the fire again.
  • "Yes, there are some things that I did that can be accounted for only by a_ntense aversion."
  • She said this so naturally that in spite of a certain theory that was touche_pon a few pages back, Bernard was a good deal bewildered. He rose from th_ofa where he had been lounging and went and stood beside her a moment. The_e passed his arm round her waist and murmured an almost timorous—
  • "Really?"
  • "I don't know what you are trying to make me say!" she answered.
  • He looked down at her for a moment as he held her close to him.
  • "I don't see, after all, why I should wish to make you say it. It would onl_ake my remorse more acute."
  • She was musing, with her eyes on the fire, and for a moment she made n_nswer; then, as if her attention were returning—
  • "Are you still talking about your remorse?" she asked.
  • "You see I put it very strongly."
  • "That I was a horrid creature?"
  • "That you were not a woman to marry."
  • "Ah, my poor Bernard," said Angela, "I can't attempt to prove to you that yo_re not inconsistent!"
  • The month of September drew to a close, and she consented to fix a day fo_heir wedding. The last of October was the moment selected, and the selectio_as almost all that was wanting to Bernard's happiness. I say "almost," fo_here was a solitary spot in his consciousness which felt numb an_ead—unpervaded by the joy with which the rest of his spirit seemed to thril_nd tingle. The removal of this hard grain in the sweet savour of life wa_eeded to complete his felicity. Bernard felt that he had made the necessar_xcision when, at the end of the month, he wrote to Gordon Wright of hi_ngagement. He had been putting off the performance of this duty from day t_ay—it seemed so hard to accomplish it gracefully. He did it at the end ver_riefly; it struck him that this was the best way. Three days after he ha_ent his letter there arrived one from Gordon himself, informing Bernard tha_e had suddenly determined to bring Blanche to Europe. She was not well, an_hey would lose no time. They were to sail within a week after his writing.
  • The letter contained a postscript—"Captain Lovelock comes with us."