Confidence (London: Macmillan & Co., 1921)/Chapter 23
It was opened by the little waiting-maid whom he had seen at Blanquais, and who looked at him very hard before she answered his inquiry.
"You see I have found Mrs. Vivian's dwelling, though you wouldn't give me the address," Bernard said to her, smiling.
"Monsieur has put some time to it!" the young woman answered drily. And she informed him that Madame was at home, though Mademoiselle, for whom he had not asked, was not.
Mrs. Vivian occupied a diminutive apartment at the summit of one of the tall white houses which ornament the neighbourhood of the Arc de Triomphe. The early days of September had arrived, but Paris was still a city of absentees. The weather was warm and charming, and a certain savour of early autumn in the air was in accord with the somewhat melancholy aspect of the empty streets and closed shutters of this honourable quarter, where the end of the monumental vistas seemed to be curtained with a hazy emanation from the Seine. It was late in the afternoon when Bernard was ushered into Mrs. Vivian's little high-nestling drawing-room, and the dying sunshine, faintly red, rested softly upon the gilded wall. Bernard had seen these ladies only in borrowed and provisional abodes; but here was a place where they were really living, and which was stamped with their tastes, their habits, their charm. The little salon was very elegant; it contained a multitude of pretty things, and it appeared to Bernard to be arranged in perfection. The long windows—the ceiling being low, they were really very short—opened upon one of those solid balconies, occupying the width of the apartment, which are often in Paris a compensation for living up five flights of stairs; and this balcony was filled with flowers and cushions. Bernard stepped out upon it to await the coming of Mrs. Vivian, and as she was not quick to appear he had time to see that his friends enjoyed a magnificent view. They looked up at the triumphal Arch, which presented itself at a picturesque angle, and over the green tree-tops of the Champs Elysées, beyond which they caught a broad gleam of the Seine, and a glimpse, blue in the distance, of the great towers of Notre Dame. The whole vast city lay before them and beneath them, with its ordered brilliancy and its mingled aspect of compression and expansion; and yet the huge Parisian murmur died away before it reached Mrs. Vivian's sky-parlour, which seemed to Bernard the brightest and quietest little habitation he had ever known.
His hostess came rustling in at last; she seemed agitated; she knocked over with the skirt of her dress a little gilded chair which was reflected in the polished parquet as in a sheet of looking-glass. Mrs. Vivian had a fixed smile—she hardly knew what to say.
"I found your address at the banker's," said Bernard. "Your maid, at Blanquais, refused to give it to me."
Mrs. Vivian gave him a little look—there was always more or less of it in her face—which seemed equivalent to an entreaty that her interlocutor should spare her.
"Maids are so strange," she murmured; "especially the French."
It pleased Bernard for the moment not to spare her, though he felt a sort of delight of kindness for her.
"Your going off from Blanquais so suddenly without leaving me any explanation, any clue, any message of any sort—made me feel at first as if you didn't wish that I should look you up. It reminded me of the way you left Baden—do you remember?—three years ago."
"Baden was so charming—but one couldn't stay for ever," said Mrs. Vivian.
"I had a sort of theory one could. Our life was so pleasant that it seemed a shame to break the spell, and if no one had moved I am sure we might be sitting there now."
Mrs. Vivian stared, still with her little fixed smile.
"I think we should have had bad weather."
"Very likely," said Bernard, laughing. "Nature would have grown jealous of our good-humour—of our tranquil happiness. And after all, here we are together again—that is, some of us. But I have only my own audacity to thank for it. I was quite free to believe that you were not at all pleased to see me reappear—and it is only because I am not easy to discourage—am, indeed, probably a rather impudent fellow—that I have ventured to come here to-day."
"I am very glad to see you reappear, Mr. Longueville," Mrs. Vivian declared with the accent of veracity.
"It was your daughter's idea, then, running away from Blanquais?"
Mrs. Vivian lowered her eyes.
"We were obliged to go to Fontainebleau. We have but just come back. I thought of writing to you," she softly added.
"Ah, what pleasure that would have given me!"
"I mean, to tell you where we were, and that we should have been so happy to see you."
"I thank you for the intention. I suppose your daughter wouldn't let you carry it out."
"Angela is so peculiar," Mrs. Vivian said simply.
"You told me that the first time I saw you."
"Yes, at Siena," said Mrs. Vivian.
"I am glad to hear you speak frankly of that place!"
"Perhaps it's better," Mrs. Vivian murmured. She got up and went to the window; then stepping upon the balcony, she looked down a moment into the street. "She will come back in a moment," she said, coming into the room again. "She has gone to see a friend who lives just beside us. We don't mind about Siena now," she added softly.
Bernard understood her—understood this to be a retraction of the request she had made of him at Baden.
"Dear little woman," he said to himself, "she wants to marry her daughter still—only now she wants to marry her to me!"
He wished to show her that he understood her, and he was on the point of seizing her hand, to do he didn't know what—to hold it, to press it, to kiss it—when he heard the sharp twang of the bell at the door of the little apartment.
Mrs. Vivian fluttered away.
"It's Angela!" she cried; and she stood there waiting and listening, smiling at Bernard, with her handkerchief pressed to her lips.
In a moment the girl came into the drawing-room, and on seeing Bernard she stopped, with her hand on the door-knob. Her mother went to her and kissed her.
"It's Mr. Longueville, dearest—he has found us out."
"Found us out!" repeated Angela, with a little laugh. "What a singular expression!"
She was blushing as she had blushed when she first saw him at Blanquais. She seemed to Bernard now to have a great and peculiar brightness—something she had never had before.
"I certainly have been looking for you," he said. "I was greatly disappointed when I found you had taken flight from Blanquais."
"Taken flight?" she repeated his words as she had repeated her mother's. "That is also a strange way of speaking!"
"I don't care what I say," said Bernard, "so long as I make you understand that I have wanted very much to see you again, and that I have wondered every day whether I might venture—"
"I don't know why you shouldn't venture," she interrupted, giving her little laugh again. "We are not so terrible, are we, mamma? That is, when once you have climbed our five flights of stairs."
"I came up very fast," said Bernard, "and I find your apartment enchanting."
"Mr. Longueville must come again, must he not, dear?" asked mamma.
"I shall come very often, with your leave," Bernard declared.
"It will be immensely kind," said Angela, looking away.
"I am not sure that you will think it that."
"I don't know what you are trying to prove," said Angela. "First that we ran away from you, and then that we are not nice to our visitors."
"Oh no, not that!" Bernard exclaimed; "for I assure you I shall not care how cold you are with me."
She walked away toward another door, which was masked with a curtain that she lifted.
"I am glad to hear that, for it gives me courage to say that I am very tired, and that I beg you will excuse me."
She glanced at him a moment over her shoulder; then she passed out, dropping the curtain.
Bernard stood there face to face with Mrs. Vivian, whose eyes seemed to plead with him more than ever. In his own there was an excited smile.
"Please don't mind that," she murmured. "I know it's true that she is tired."
"Mind it, dear lady?" cried the young man. "I delight in it. It's just what I like."
"Ah, she's very peculiar!" sighed Mrs. Vivian.
"She is strange yes. But I think I understand her a little."
"You must come back to-morrow, then."
"I hope to have many to-morrows!" cried Bernard as he took his departure.