Confidence (London: Macmillan & Co., 1921)/Chapter 12
For the three or four days that followed his departure, Bernard saw nothing of the ladies who had been committed to his charge. They chose to remain in seclusion, and he was at liberty to interpret this fact as an expression of regret at the loss of Gordon's good offices. He knew other people at Baden, and he went to see them, and endeavoured, by cultivating their society, to await in patience the reappearance of Mrs. Vivian and her companions. But on the fourth day he became conscious that other people were much less interesting than the trio of American ladies who had lodgings above the confectioner's, and he made bold to go and knock at their door. He had been asked to take care of them, and this function presupposed contact. He had met Captain Lovelock the day before, wandering about with a rather crestfallen aspect, and the young Englishman had questioned him eagerly as to the whereabouts of Mrs. Vivian.
"Gad, I believe they've left the place—left the place without giving a fellow warning!" cried Lovelock.
"Oh no, I think they are here still," said Bernard. "My friend Wright has gone away for a week or two, but I suspect the ladies are simply staying at home."
"Gad, I was afraid your friend Wright had taken them away with him; he seems to keep them all in his pocket. I was afraid he had given them marching orders; they'd have been sure to go—they're so awfully fond of his pocket! I went to look them up yesterday—upon my word I did. They live at a baker's in a little back street; people do live in rum places when they come abroad! But I assure you, when I got there, I'm damned if I could make out whether they were there or not. I don't speak a word of German, and there was no one there but the baker's wife. She was a low brute of a woman—she couldn't understand a word I said, though she gave me plenty of her own tongue. I had to give it up. They were not at home, but whether they had left Baden or not—that was beyond my finding out. If they are here, why the deuce don't they show. Fancy coming to Baden-Baden to sit moping at a pastry-cook's!"
Captain Lovelock was evidently irritated, and it was Bernard's impression that the turn of luck over yonder where the gold pieces were chinking had something to do with the state of his temper. But more fortunate himself, he ascertained from the baker's wife that though Mrs. Vivian and her daughter had gone out, their companion, "the youngest lady—the little young lady"—was above in the sitting-room.
Blanche Evers was sitting at the window with a book, but she relinquished the volume with an alacrity that showed it had not been absorbing, and began to chatter with her customary frankness.
"Well, I must say I am glad to see some one!" cried the young girl, pausing before the mirror and giving a touch to her charming tresses.
"Even if it's only me," Bernard exclaimed, laughing.
"I didn't mean that. I am sure I am very glad to see you—I should think you would have found out that by this time. I mean I am glad to see any one—especially a man. I suppose it's improper for me to say that—especially to you! There—you see I do think more of you than of some gentlemen. Why especially to you? Well, because you always seem to me to want to take advantage. I didn't say a base advantage; I didn't accuse you of any thing dreadful. I'm sure I want to take advantage too—I take it whenever I can. You see I take advantage of your being here—I've got so many things to say. I haven't spoken a word in three days, and I'm sure it is a pleasant change—a gentleman's visit. All of a sudden we have gone into mourning; I'm sure I don't know who's dead. Is it Mr. Gordon Wright? It's some idea of Mrs. Vivian's—I'm sure it isn't mine. She thinks we have been often enough to the Kursaal. I don't know whether she thinks it's wicked or what. If it's wicked the harm's already done; I can't be any worse than I am now. I have seen all the improper people, and I have learnt all their names; Captain Lovelock has told me their names, plenty of times. I don't see what good it does me to be shut up here with all those names running in my ears. I must say I do prefer society. We haven't been to the Kursaal for four days—we have only gone out for a drive. We have taken the most interminable drives. I do believe we have seen every old ruin in the whole country. Mrs. Vivian and Angela are so awfully fond of scenery—they talk about it by the half-hour. They talk about the mountains and trees as if they were people they knew—as if they were gentlemen! I mean as if the mountains and trees were gentlemen. Of course scenery is lovely, but you can't walk about with a tree. At any rate, that has been all our society—foliage! Foliage and women; but I suppose women are a sort of foliage. They are always rustling about and dropping off. That's why I couldn't make up my mind to go out with them this afternoon. They've gone to see the Waterworths—the Waterworths arrived yesterday and are staying at some hotel. Five daughters—all unmarried! I don't know what kind of foliage they are; some peculiar kind—they don't drop off. I thought I had had about enough ladies' society—three women all sticking together! I don't think it's good for a young girl to have nothing but ladies' society—it's so awfully limited. I suppose I ought to stand up for my own sex and tell you that when we are alone together we want for nothing. But we want for everything, as it happens! Women's talk is limited—every one knows that. That's just what mamma didn't want when she asked Mrs. Vivian to take charge of me. Now, Mr. Longueville, what are you laughing at?—you are always laughing at me. She wanted me to be unlimited—is that what you say? Well, she didn't want me to be narrowed down; she wanted me to have plenty of conversation. She wanted me to be fitted for society—that's what mamma wanted. She wanted me to have ease of manner; she thinks that if you don't acquire it when you are young you never have it at all. She was so happy to think I should come to Baden; but she wouldn't approve of the life I've been leading the last four days. That's no way to acquire ease of manner—sitting all day in a small parlour with two persons of one's own sex! Of course Mrs. Vivian's influence—that's the great thing. Mamma said it was like the odour of a flower. But you don't want to keep smelling a flower all day, even the sweetest; that's the shortest way to get a headache. Apropos of flowers, do you happen to have heard whether Captain Lovelock is alive or dead? Do I call him a flower? No; I call him a flower-pot. He always has some fine young plant in his button-hole. He hasn't been near me these ten years—I never heard of anything so rude!"
Captain Lovelock came on the morrow, Bernard finding him in Mrs. Vivian's little sitting-room on paying a second visit. On this occasion the two other ladies were at home, and Bernard was not exclusively indebted to Miss Evers for entertainment. It was to this source of hospitality, however, that Lovelock mainly appealed, following the young girl out upon the little balcony that was suspended above the confectioner's window. Mrs. Vivian sat writing at one of the windows of the sitting-room, and Bernard addressed his conversation to Angela.
"Wright requested me to keep an eye on you," he said; "but you seem very much inclined to keep out of my jurisdiction."
"I supposed you had gone away," she answered—"now that your friend is gone."
"By no means. Gordon is a charming fellow, but he is by no means the only attraction of Baden. Besides, I have promised him to look after you—to take care of you."
The girl looked at him a moment in silence—a little askance.
"I thought you had probably undertaken some thing of that sort," she presently said.
"It was of course a very natural request for Gordon to make."
Angela got up and turned away; she wandered about the room and went and stood at one of the windows. Bernard found the movement abrupt, and not particularly gracious; but the young man was not easy to snub. He followed her, and they stood at the second window—the long window that opened upon the balcony. Miss Evers and Captain Lovelock were leaning on the railing, looking into the street, and apparently amusing themselves highly with what they saw.
"I am not sure it was a natural request for him to make," said Angela.
"What could have been more so—devoted as he is to you?"
She hesitated a moment; then with a little laugh—
"He ought to have locked us up and said nothing about it."
"It's not so easy to lock you up," said Bernard. "I know Gordon has great influence with you, but you are, after all, independent beings."
"I am not an independent being. If my mother and Mr. Wright were to agree together to put me out of harm's way, they could easily manage it."
"You seem to have been trying something of that sort," said Bernard. "You have been so terribly invisible."
"It was because I thought you had designs upon us; that you were watching for us—to take care of us."
"You contradict yourself! You said just now that you believed I had left Baden."
"That was an artificial—a conventional speech. Isn't a lady always supposed to say something of that sort to a visitor by way of pretending to have noticed that she has not seen him?"
"You know I would never have left Baden without coming to bid you good-bye," said Bernard.
The girl made no rejoinder; she stood looking out at the little sunny, slanting, rough-paved German street.
"Are you taking care of us now?" she asked in a moment. "Has the operation begun? Have you heard the news, mamma?" she went on. "Do you know that Mr. Wright has made us over to Mr. Longueville, to be kept till called for? Suppose Mr. Wright should never call for us!"
Mrs. Vivian left her writing-table and came towards Bernard, smiling at him and pressing her hands together.
"There is no fear of that, I think," she said, "I am sure I am very glad we have a gentleman near us. I think you will be a very good care-taker, Mr. Longueville, and I recommend my daughter to put great faith in your judgement." And Mrs. Vivian gave him an intense—a pleasing, almost affecting—little smile.
"I am greatly touched by your confidence, and I shall do everything I can think of to merit it," said the young man.
"Ah, mamma's confidence is wonderful!" Angela exclaimed. "There was never anything like mamma's confidence. I am very different; I have no confidence. And then I don't like being deposited, like a parcel, or being watched, like a curious animal. I am too fond of my liberty."
"That is the second time you have contradicted yourself," said Bernard. "You said just now that you were not an independent being."
Angela turned towards him quickly, smiling and frowning at once.
"You do watch one, certainly! I see it has already begun." Mrs. Vivian laid her hand upon her daughter's with a little murmur of tender deprecation, and the girl bent over and kissed her. "Mamma will tell you it's the effect of agitation," she said—"that I am nervous, and don't know what I say. I am supposed to be agitated by Mr. Wright's departure; isn't that it, mamma?"
Mrs. Vivian turned away, with a certain soft severity.
"I don't know, my daughter. I don't understand you."
A charming pink flush had come into Angela's cheek and a noticeable light into her eye. She looked admirably handsome, and Bernard frankly gazed at her. She met his gaze an instant, and then she went on—
"Mr. Longueville doesn't understand me either. You must know that I am agitated," she continued. "Every now and then I have moments of talking nonsense. It's the air of Baden, I think; it's too exciting. It's only lately I have been so. When you go away I shall be horribly ashamed."
"If the air of Baden has such an effect upon you," said Bernard, "it is only a proof the more that you need the solicitous attention of your friends."
"That may be; but, as I told you just now, I have no confidence—none whatever, in any one or anything. Therefore, for the present, I withdraw from the world—I shall seclude myself. Let us go on being quiet, mamma; three or four days of it have been so charming. Let the parcel lie till it's called for—it is much safer it shouldn't be touched at all. I shall assume that, metaphorically speaking, Mr. Wright, who, as you have intimated, is our earthly providence, has turned the key upon us. I am locked up. I shall not go out, except upon the balcony!" And with this, Angela stepped out of the long window and went and stood beside Miss Evers.
Bernard was extremely amused, but he was also a good deal puzzled, and it came over him that it was not a wonder that poor Wright should not have found this young lady's disposition a perfectly decipherable page. He remained in the room with Mrs. Vivian—he stood there looking at her with his agreeably mystified smile. She had turned away, but on perceiving that her daughter had gone outside she came towards Bernard again, with her habitual little air of eagerness mitigated by discretion. There instantly rose before his mind the vision of that moment when he had stood face to face with this same apologetic mamma, after Angela had turned her back, on the grass-grown terrace at Siena. To make the vision complete, Mrs. Vivian took it into her head to utter the same words.
"I am sure you think she is a strange girl."
Bernard recognised them, and he gave a light laugh.
"You told me that the first time you ever saw me—in that quiet little corner of an Italian town."
Mrs. Vivian gave a little faded, elderly blush.
"Don't speak of that," she murmured, glancing at the open window. "It was a little accident of travel."
"I am dying to speak of it," said Bernard. "It was such a charming accident for me! Tell me this, at least—have you kept my sketch?"
Mrs. Vivian coloured more deeply, and glanced at the window again.
"No," she just whispered.
Bernard looked out of the window too. Angela was leaning against the railing of the balcony, in profile, just as she had stood, while he painted her, against the polished parapet at Siena. The young man's eyes rested on her a moment, then, as he glanced back at her mother—
"Has she kept it?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Vivian, with decision.
The decision was excessive—it expressed the poor lady's distress at having her veracity tested. "Dear little daughter of the Puritans—she can't tell a fib!" Bernard exclaimed to himself. And with this flattering conclusion he took leave of her.