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XI


A few days afterwards, late in the evening, Gordon Wright came to his room at the hotel.

"I have just received a letter from my sister," he said. "I am afraid I shall have to go away."

"Ah, I am sorry for that," said Bernard, who was so well pleased with the actual that he desired no mutation.

"I mean only for a short time," Gordon explained. "My poor sister writes from England, telling me that my brother-in-law is suddenly obliged to go home. She has decided not to remain behind, and they are to sail a fortnight hence. She wants very much to see me before she goes, and as I don't know when I shall see her again I feel as if I ought to join her immediately and spend the interval with her. That will take about a fortnight."

"I appreciate the sanctity of family ties, and I project myself into your situation," said Bernard. "On the other hand, I don't envy you a breathless journey from Baden to Folkestone."

"It's the coming back that will be breathless," exclaimed Gordon, smiling.

"You will certainly come back, then?"

"Most certainly. Mrs. Vivian is to be here another month."

"I understand. Well, we shall miss you very much."

Gordon Wright looked for a moment at his companion.

"You will stay here, then? I am so glad of that."

"I was taking it for granted; but on reflexion what do you recommend?"

"I recommend you to stay."

"My dear fellow, your word is law," said Bernard.

"I want you to take care of those ladies," his friend went on. "I don't like to leave them alone."

"You are joking!" cried Bernard. "When did you ever hear of my 'taking care' of any one? It's as much as I can do to take care of myself."

"This is very easy," said Gordon. "I simply want to feel that they have a man about them."

"They will have a man at any rate—they have the devoted Lovelock."

"That's just why I want them to have another. He has only an eye to Miss Evers, who, by the way, is extremely bored with him. You look after the others. You have made yourself very agreeable to them, and they like you extremely."

"Ah," said Bernard, laughing, "if you are going to be coarse and flattering, I collapse. If you are going to titillate my vanity, I succumb."

"It won't be so disagreeable," Gordon observed, with an intention vaguely humorous.

"Oh no, it won't be disagreeable. I will go to Mrs. Vivian every morning, hat in hand, for my orders."

Gordon Wright, with his hands in his pockets and a meditative expression, took several turns about the room.

"It will be a capital chance," he said at last, stopping in front of his companion.

"A chance for what?"

"A chance to arrive at a conclusion about my young friend."

Bernard gave a gentle groan.

"Are you coming back to that? Didn't I arrive at a conclusion long ago? Didn't I tell you she was a delightful girl?"

"Do you call that a conclusion? The first comer could tell me that at the end of an hour."

"Do you want me to invent something different?" Bernard asked. "I can't invent anything better."

"I don't want you to invent anything. I only want you to observe her—to study her in complete independence. You will have her to yourself—my absence will leave you at liberty. Hang it, sir," Gordon declared, "I should think you would like it!"

"Damn it, sir, you're delicious!" Bernard answered; and he broke into an irrepressible laugh. "I don't suppose it's for my pleasure that you suggest the arrangement."

Gordon took a turn about the room again.

"No, it's for mine. At least it's for my benefit."

"For your benefit?"

"I have got all sorts of ideas—I told you the other day. They are all mixed up together, and I want a fresh impression."

"My impressions are never fresh," Bernard replied.

"They would be if you had a little good-will—if you entered a little into my dilemma." The note of reproach was so distinct in these words that Bernard stood staring. "You never take anything seriously," his companion went on.

Bernard tried to answer as seriously as possible.

"Your dilemma seems to me of all dilemmas the strangest."

"That may be; but different people take things differently. Don't you see," Gordon went on with a sudden outbreak of passion—"don't you see that I am horribly divided in mind? I care immensely for Angela Vivian—and yet—and yet—I am afraid of her."

"Afraid of her?"

"I am afraid she's cleverer than I—that she would be a difficult wife; that she might do strange things."

"What sort of things?"

"Well, that she might flirt, for instance."

"That's not a thing for a man to fear."

"Not when he supposes his wife to be fond of him—no. But I don't suppose that—I have given that up. If I should induce Angela Vivian to accept me she would do it on grounds purely reasonable. She would think it best, simply. That would give her a chance to repent."

Bernard sat for some time looking at his friend.

"You say she is cleverer than you. It's impossible to be cleverer than you."

"Oh, come, Longueville!" said Gordon angrily.

"I am speaking very seriously. You have done a remarkably clever thing. You have impressed me with the reality, and with—what shall I term it?—the estimable character, of what you call your dilemma. Now this fresh impression of mine—what do you propose to do with it when you get it?"

"Such things are always useful. It will be a good thing to have."

"I am much obliged to you; but do you propose to let anything depend upon it? Do you propose to take or to leave Miss Vivian—that is, to return to the charge or to give up trying—in consequence of my fresh impression?"

Gordon seemed perfectly unembarrassed by this question, in spite of the ironical light which it projected upon his sentimental perplexity.

"I propose to do what I choose!" he said.

"That's a relief to me," Bernard rejoined. "This idea of yours is, after all, only the play of the scientific mind."

"I shall contradict you flat if I choose," Gordon went on.

"Ah, it's well to warn me of that," said Bernard, laughing. "Even the most sincere judgement in the world likes to be notified a little of the danger of being contradicted."

"Is yours the most sincere judgement in the world?" Gordon inquired.

"That's a very pertinent question. Doesn't it occur to you that you may have reason to be jealous—leaving me alone, with an open field, with the woman of your choice?"

"I wish to heaven I could be jealous!" Gordon exclaimed. "That would simplify the thing—that would give me a lift."

And the next day, after some more talk, it seemed really with a hope of this contingency—though indeed he laughed about it—that he started for England.