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Chapter 26

  • Bernard sat thinking for a long time; at first with a good deal o_ortification—at last with a good deal of bitterness. He felt angry at last; but he was not angry with himself. He was displeased with poor Gordon, an_ith Gordon's displeasure. He was uncomfortable, and he was vexed at hi_iscomfort. It formed, it seemed to him, no natural part of his situation; h_ad had no glimpse of it in the book of fate where he registered on a fai_lank page his betrothal to a charming girl. That Gordon should be surprised, and even a little shocked and annoyed—this was his right and his privilege; Bernard had been prepared for that, and had determined to make the best of it.
  • But it must not go too far; there were limits to the morsel of humble pie tha_e was disposed to swallow. Something in Gordon's air and figure, as he wen_ff in a huff, looking vicious and dangerous—yes, that was positively hi_ook—left a sinister impression on Bernard's mind, and, after a while, mad_im glad to take refuge in being angry. One would like to know what Gordo_xpected, par exemple! Did he expect Bernard to give up Angela simply to sav_im a shock; or to back out of his engagement by way of an ideal reparation?
  • No, it was too absurd, and, if Gordon had a wife of his own, why in the nam_f justice should not Bernard have one?
  • Being angry was a relief, but it was not exactly a solution, and Bernard, a_ast, leaving his place, where for an hour or two he had been absolutel_nconscious of everything that went on around him, wandered about for som_ime in deep restlessness and irritation. At one moment he thought of goin_ack to Gordon's hotel, to see him, to explain. But then he became aware tha_e was too angry for that—to say nothing of Gordon's being too angry also; and, moreover, that there was nothing to explain. He was to marry Angel_ivian; that was a very simple fact—it needed no explanation. Was it s_onderful, so inconceivable, an incident so unlikely to happen? He went, as h_lways did on Sunday, to dine with Mrs. Vivian, and it seemed to him that h_erceived in the two ladies some symptoms of a discomposure which had the sam_rigin as his own. Bernard, on this occasion, at dinner, failed to mak_imself particularly agreeable; he ate fast—as if he had no idea what he wa_ating, and talked little; every now and then his eyes rested for some tim_pon Angela, with a strange, eagerly excited expression, as if he were lookin_er over and trying to make up his mind about her afresh. This young lady bor_is inscrutable scrutiny with a deal of superficial composure; but she wa_lso silent, and she returned his gaze, from time to time, with an air o_nusual anxiety. She was thinking, of course, of Gordon, Bernard said t_imself; and a woman's first meeting, in after years, with an ex-lover mus_lways make a certain impression upon her. Gordon, however, had never been _over, and if Bernard noted Angela's gravity it was not because he fel_ealous. "She is simply sorry for him," he said to himself; and by the time h_ad finished his dinner it began to come back to him that he was sorry, too.
  • Mrs. Vivian was probably sorry as well, for she had a slightly confused an_reoccupied look—a look from which, even in the midst of his chagrin, Bernar_xtracted some entertainment. It was Mrs. Vivian's intermittent conscienc_hat had been reminded of one of its lapses; her meeting with Gordon Wrigh_ad recalled the least exemplary episode of her life—the time when sh_hispered mercenary counsel in the ear of a daughter who sat, grave and pale, looking at her with eyes that wondered. Mrs. Vivian blushed a little now, whe_he met Bernard's eyes; and to remind herself that she was after all _irtuous woman, talked as much as possible about superior and harmles_hings—the beauty of the autumn weather, the pleasure of seeing French papa_alking about on Sunday with their progeny in their hands, the peculiaritie_f the pulpit-oratory of the country as exemplified in the discourse of _rotestant pasteur whom she had been to hear in the morning.
  • When they rose from table and went back into her little drawing-room, she lef_er daughter alone for awhile with Bernard. The two were standing togethe_efore the fire; Bernard watched Mrs. Vivian close the door softly behind her.
  • Then, looking for a moment at his companion—
  • "He is furious!" he announced at last.
  • "Furious?" said Angela. "Do you mean Mr. Wright?"
  • "The amiable, reasonable Gordon. He takes it very hard."
  • "Do you mean about me?" asked Angela.
  • "It 's not with you he 's furious, of course; it is with me. He won't let m_ff easily."
  • Angela looked for a moment at the fire.
  • "I am very sorry for him," she said, at last.
  • "It seems to me I am the one to be pitied," said Bernard; "and I don't se_hat compassion you, of all people in the world, owe him."
  • Angela again rested her eyes on the fire; then presently, looking up—
  • "He liked me very much," she remarked.
  • "All the more shame to him!" cried Bernard.
  • "What do you mean?" asked the girl, with her beautiful stare.
  • "If he liked you, why did he give you up?"
  • "He did n't give me up."
  • "What do you mean, please?" asked Bernard, staring back at her.
  • "I sent him away—I refused him," said Angela.
  • "Yes; but you thought better of it, and your mother had persuaded you that i_e should ask you again, you had better accept him. Then it was that he backe_ut—in consequence of what I said to him on his return from England."
  • She shook her head slowly, with a strange smile.
  • "My poor Bernard, you are talking very wildly. He did ask me again."
  • "That night?" cried Bernard.
  • "The night he came back from England—the last time I saw him, until to-day."
  • "After I had denounced you?" our puzzled hero exclaimed, frownin_ortentously.
  • "I am sorry to let you know the small effect of your words!"
  • Bernard folded his hands together—almost devoutly—and stood gazing at her wit_ long, inarticulate murmur of satisfaction.
  • "Ah! then, I did n't injure you—I did n't deprive you of a chance?"
  • "Oh, sir, the intention on your part was the same!" Angela exclaimed.
  • "Then all my uneasiness, all my remorse, were wasted?" he went on.
  • But she kept the same tone, and its tender archness only gave a greate_weetness to his sense of relief.
  • "It was a very small penance for you to pay."
  • "You dismissed him definitely, and that was why he vanished?" asked Bernard, wondering still.
  • "He gave me another 'chance,' as you elegantly express it, and I declined t_ake advantage of it."
  • "Ah, well, now," cried Bernard, "I am sorry for him!"
  • "I was very kind—very respectful," said Angela. "I thanked him from the botto_f my heart; I begged his pardon very humbly for the wrong—if wrong i_as—that I was doing him. I did n't in the least require of him that he shoul_eave Baden at seven o'clock the next morning. I had no idea that he would d_o, and that was the reason that I insisted to my mother that we ourselve_hould go away. When we went I knew nothing about his having gone, and _upposed he was still there. I did n't wish to meet him again."
  • Angela gave this information slowly, softly, with pauses between th_entences, as if she were recalling the circumstances with a certain effort; and meanwhile Bernard, with his transfigured face and his eyes fixed upon he_ips, was moving excitedly about the room.
  • "Well, he can't accuse me, then!" he broke out again. "If what I said had n_ore effect upon him than that, I certainly did him no wrong."
  • "I think you are rather vexed he did n't believe you," said Angela.
  • "I confess I don't understand it. He had all the air of it. He certainly ha_ot the air of a man who was going to rush off and give you the last proof o_is confidence."
  • "It was not a proof of confidence," said Angela. "It had nothing to do wit_e. It was as between himself and you; it was a proof of independence. He di_elieve you, more or less, and what you said fell in with his ow_mpressions—strange impressions that they were, poor man! At the same time, a_ say, he liked me, too; it was out of his liking me that all his troubl_ame! He caught himself in the act of listening to you too credulously—an_hat seemed to him unmanly and dishonorable. The sensation brought with it _eaction, and to prove to himself that in such a matter he could be influence_y nobody, he marched away, an hour after he had talked with you, and, in th_eeth of his perfect mistrust, confirmed by your account of m_rregularities—heaven forgive you both!—again asked me to be his wife. But h_oped I would refuse!"
  • "Ah," cried Bernard, "the recreant! He deserved—he deserved—"
  • "That I should accept him?" Angela asked, smiling still.
  • Bernard was so much affected by this revelation, it seemed to him to make suc_ difference in his own responsibility and to lift such a weight off hi_onscience, that he broke out again into the liveliest ejaculations of relief.
  • "Oh, I don't care for anything, now, and I can do what I please! Gordon ma_ate me, and I shall be sorry for him; but it 's not my fault, and I owe hi_o reparation. No, no; I am free!"
  • "It 's only I who am not, I suppose," said Angela, "and the reparation mus_ome from me! If he is unhappy, I must take the responsibility."
  • "Ah yes, of course," said Bernard, kissing her.
  • "But why should he be unhappy?" asked Angela. "If I refused him, it was wha_e wanted."
  • "He is hard to please," Bernard rejoined. "He has got a wife of his own."
  • "If Blanche does n't please him, he is certainly difficult;" and Angela muse_ little. "But you told me the other day that they were getting on so well."
  • "Yes, I believe I told you," Bernard answered, musing a little too.
  • "You are not attending to what I say."
  • "No, I am thinking of something else—I am thinking of what it was that mad_ou refuse him that way, at the last, after you had let your mother hope." An_ernard stood there, smiling at her.
  • "Don't think any more; you will not find out," the girl declared, turnin_way.
  • "Ah, it was cruel of you to let me think I was wrong all these years," he wen_n; "and, at the time, since you meant to refuse him, you might have been mor_rank with me."
  • "I thought my fault had been that I was too frank."
  • "I was densely stupid, and you might have made me understand better."
  • "Ah," said Angela, "you ask a great deal of a girl!"
  • "Why have you let me go on so long thinking that my deluded words had had a_ffect upon Gordon—feeling that I had done you a brutal wrong? It was real t_e, the wrong—and I have told you of the pangs and the shame which, for s_any months, it has cost me! Why have you never undeceived me until to-day, and then only by accident?"
  • At this question Angela blushed a little; then she answered, smiling—
  • "It was my vengeance."
  • Bernard shook his head.
  • "That won't do—you don't mean it. You never cared—you were too proud to care; and when I spoke to you about my fault, you did n't even know what I meant.
  • You might have told me, therefore, that my remorse was idle, that what I sai_o Gordon had not been of the smallest consequence, and that the rupture ha_ome from yourself."
  • For some time Angela said nothing, then at last she gave him one of the deepl_erious looks with which her face was occasionally ornamented.
  • "If you want really to know, then—can't you see that your remorse seemed to m_onnected in a certain way with your affection; a sort of guarantee of it? Yo_hought you had injured some one or other, and that seemed to be mixed up wit_our loving me, and therefore I let it alone."
  • "Ah," said Bernard, "my remorse is all gone, and yet I think I love you abou_s much as ever! So you see how wrong you were not to tell me."
  • "The wrong to you I don't care about. It is very true I might have told yo_or Mr. Wright's sake. It would perhaps have made him look better. But as yo_ever attacked him for deserting me, it seemed needless for me to defend him."
  • "I confess," said Bernard, "I am quite at sea about Gordon's look in th_atter. Is he looking better now—or is he looking worse? You put it very wel_ust now; I was attending to you, though you said I was not. If he hoped yo_ould refuse him, with whom is his quarrel at present? And why was he so coo_o me for months after we parted at Baden? If that was his state of mind, wh_hould he accuse me of inconsistency?"
  • "There is something in it, after all, that a woman can understand. I don'_now whether a man can. He hoped I would refuse him, and yet when I had don_o he was vexed. After a while his vexation subsided, and he married poo_lanche; but, on learning to-day that I had accepted you, it flickered u_gain. I suppose that was natural enough; but it won't be serious."
  • "What will not be serious, my dear?" asked Mrs. Vivian, who had come back t_he drawing-room, and who, apparently, could not hear that the attribute i_uestion was wanting in any direction, without some alarm.
  • "Shall I tell mamma, Bernard?" said Angela.
  • "Ah, my dear child, I hope it 's nothing that threatens your mutua_appiness," mamma murmured, with gentle earnestness.
  • "Does it threaten our mutual happiness, Bernard?" the girl went on, smiling.
  • "Let Mrs. Vivian decide whether we ought to let it make us miserable," sai_ernard. "Dear Mrs. Vivian, you are a casuist, and this is a nice case."
  • "Is it anything about poor Mr. Wright?" the elder lady inquired.
  • "Why do you say 'poor' Mr. Wright?" asked Bernard.
  • "Because I am sadly afraid he is not happy with Blanche."
  • "How did you discover that—without seeing them together?"
  • "Well, perhaps you will think me very fanciful," said Mrs. Vivian; "but it wa_y the way he looked at Angela. He has such an expressive face."
  • "He looked at me very kindly, mamma," Angela observed.
  • "He regularly stared, my daughter. In any one else I should have said it wa_ude. But his situation is so peculiar; and one could see that he admired yo_till." And Mrs. Vivian gave a little soft sigh.
  • "Ah! she is thinking of the thirty thousand a year," Bernard said to himself.
  • "I am sure I hope he admires me still," the girl cried, laughing. "There is n_reat harm in that."
  • "He was comparing you with Blanche—and he was struck with the contrast."
  • "It could n't have been in my favor. If it 's a question of being looked at, Blanche bears it better than I."
  • "Poor little Blanche!" murmured Mrs. Vivian, sweetly.
  • "Why did you tell me he was so happy with her?" Angela asked, turning t_ernard, abruptly.
  • Bernard gazed at her a moment, with his eyebrows raised.
  • "I never saw any one ask such sudden questions!" he exclaimed.
  • "You can answer me at your leisure," she rejoined, turning away.
  • "It was because I adored you."
  • "You would n't say that at your leisure," said the girl.
  • Mrs. Vivian stood watching them.
  • "You, who are so happy together, you ought to think kindly of others who ar_ess fortunate."
  • "That is very true, Mrs. Vivian; and I have never thought of any one so kindl_s I have of Gordon for the last year."
  • Angela turned round again.
  • "Is Blanche so very bad, then?"
  • "You will see for yourself!"
  • "Ah, no," said Mrs. Vivian, "she is not bad; she is only very light. I am s_lad she is to be near us again. I think a great deal can be done b_ssociation. We must help her, Angela. I think we helped her before."
  • "It is also very true that she is light, Mrs. Vivian," Bernard observed, "an_f you could make her a little heavier, I should be tremendously grateful."
  • Bernard's prospective mother-in-law looked at him a little.
  • "I don't know whether you are laughing at me—I always think you are. But _hall not give up Blanche for that. I never give up any one that I have onc_ried to help. Blanche will come back to me."
  • Mrs. Vivian had hardly spoken when the sharp little vibration of her door-bel_as heard in the hall. Bernard stood for a moment looking at the door of th_rawing-room.
  • "It is poor Gordon come to make a scene!" he announced.
  • "Is that what you mean—that he opposed your marriage?" asked Mrs. Vivian, wit_ frightened air.
  • "I don't know what he proposes to do with Blanche," said Bernard, laughing.
  • There were voices in the hall. Angela had been listening.
  • "You say she will come back to you, mamma," she exclaimed. "Here she i_rrived!"