Confidence (London: Macmillan & Co., 1921)/Chapter 29
This observation struck Bernard as extremely ingenious and worthy of his mistress's fine intelligence; he greeted it with enthusiasm, and thought of it for the next twelve hours. The more he thought of it the more felicitous it seemed to him, and he went to Mrs. Vivian's the next day almost for the express purpose of saying to Angela that, decidedly, she was right. He was admitted by his old friend, the little femme de chambre, who had long since bestowed upon him, definitively, her confidence; and as in the ante chamber he heard the voice of a gentleman raised and talking with some emphasis, come to him from the salon, he paused a moment, looking at her with an interrogative eye.
"Yes," said Mrs. Vivian's attendant, "I must tell Monsieur frankly that another gentleman is there. Moreover, what does it matter? Monsieur would perceive it for himself."
"Has he been here long?" asked Bernard.
"A quarter of an hour. It probably doesn't seem long to the gentleman!"
"Is he alone with Mademoiselle?"
"He asked for Mademoiselle only. I introduced him into the salon, and Mademoiselle, after conversing a little while with Madame, consented to receive him. They have been alone together, as I have told Monsieur, since about three o'clock. Madame is in her own apartment. The position of Monsieur," added this discriminating woman, "certainly justifies him in entering the salon."
Bernard was quite of this opinion, and in a moment more he had crossed the threshold of the little drawing-room and closed the door behind him.
Angela sat there on a sofa, leaning back, with her hands clasped in her lap and her eyes fixed upon Gordon Wright, who stood squarely before her, as if he had been making her a resolute speech. Her face wore a look of distress, almost of alarm; she kept her place, but her eyes gave Bernard a mute welcome. Gordon turned and looked at him slowly from head to foot. Bernard remembered, with a good deal of vividness, the last look his friend had given him in the Champs Elysées the day before; and he saw with some satisfaction that this was not exactly a repetition of that expression of cold horror. It was a question, however, whether the horror had been eliminated. Poor Gordon looked intensely sad, grievously wronged. The keen resentment had faded from his face, but an immense reproach was there—a heavy, helpless, appealing reproach. Bernard saw that he had not a scene of violence to dread—and yet, when he perceived what was coming, he would almost have preferred violence. Gordon did not offer him his hand, and before Bernard had had time to say anything, began to speak again, as if he were going on with what he had been saying to Angela.
"You have done me a great wrong—you have done me a cruel wrong! I have been telling it to Miss Vivian; I came on purpose to tell her. I can't really tell her; I can't tell her the details; it's too painful! But you know what I mean! I couldn't stand it any longer. I thought of going away—but I couldn't do that. I must come and say what I feel. I can't bear it now."
This outbreak of a passionate sense of injury in a man habitually so undemonstrative, so little disposed to call attention to himself, had in it something at once of the touching and the terrible. Bernard, for an instant, felt almost bewildered; he asked himself whether he had not, after all, been a monster of duplicity. He was guilty of the weakness of taking refuge in what is called, I believe, in legal phrase, a side-issue.
"Don't say all this before Angela!" he exclaimed, with a kind of artificial energy. "You know she is not in the least at fault, and that it can only give her pain. The thing is between ourselves."
Angela was sitting there, looking up at both the men. "I like to hear it," she said.
"You have a singular taste!" Bernard declared.
"I know it's between ourselves," cried Gordon, "and that Miss Vivian is not at fault. She is only too lovely, too wise, too good! It is you and I that are at fault—horribly at fault! You see, I admit it, and you don't. I never dreamed that I should live to say such things as this to you; but I never dreamed you would do what you have done! It's horrible, most horrible, that such a difference as this should come between two men who believed themselves—or whom I believed, at least—the best friends in the world. For it is a difference—it's a great gulf, and nothing will ever fill it up. I must say so; I can't help it. You know I don't express myself easily; so if I break out this way, you may know what I feel. I know it is a pain to Miss Vivian, and I beg her to forgive me. She has so much to forgive that she can forgive that too. I can't pretend to accept it; I can't sit down and let it pass. And then, it isn't only my feelings; it's the right; it's the justice. I must say to her that you have no right to marry her; and beg of her to listen to me and let you go."
"My dear Gordon, are you crazy?" Bernard demanded, with an energy which, this time at least, was sufficiently real.
"Very likely I am crazy. I am crazy with disappointment, and the bitterness of what I have lost. Add to that the wretchedness of what I have found!"
"Ah, don't say that, Mr. Wright," Angela begged.
He stood for an instant looking at her, but not heeding her words. "Will you listen to me again? Will you forget the wrong I did you?—my stupidity and folly and unworthiness? Will you blot out the past and let me begin again? I see you as clearly now as the light of that window. Will you give me another chance?"
Angela turned away her eyes and covered her face with her hands. "You do pain me!" she murmured.
"You go too far," said Bernard. "To what position does your extraordinary proposal relegate your wife?"
Gordon turned his pleading eyes on his old friend without a ray of concession; but for a moment he hesitated. "Don't speak to me of my wife. I have no wife."
"Ah, poor girl!" said Angela, springing up from the sofa.
"I am perfectly serious," Gordon went on, addressing himself again to her. "No, after all, I am not crazy; I see only too clearly—I see what should be; when people see that, you call them crazy. Bernard has no right—he must give you up. If you really care for him, you should help him. He is in a very false position; you shouldn't wish to see him in such a position. I can't explain to you—if it were even for my own sake. But Bernard must have told you; it is not possible that he has not told you?"
"I have told Angela everything, Gordon," said Bernard.
"I don't know what you mean by your having done me a wrong!" the girl interposed.
"If he has told you, then—I may say it! In listening to him, in believing him."
"But you didn't believe me," Bernard exclaimed, "since you immediately went and offered yourself to Miss Vivian!"
"I believed you all the same! When did I ever not believe you?"
"The last words I ever heard from Mr. Wright were words of the deepest kindness," said Angela.
She spoke with such a serious, tender grace, that Gordon seemed stirred to his depths again.
"Ah, give me another chance!" he moaned.
The poor girl could not help her tone, and it was in the same tone that she continued—
"If you think so well of me, try and be reasonable."
Gordon looked at her, slowly shaking his head.
"Reasonable—reasonable? Yes, you have a right to say that, for you are full of reason. But so am I. What I ask is within reasonable limits."
"Granting your happiness were lost," said Bernard—"I say that only for the argument—is that a ground for your wishing to deprive me of mine?"
"It is not yours—it is mine, that you have taken! You put me off my guard, and then you took it! Yours is elsewhere, and you are welcome to it!"
"Ah," murmured Bernard, giving him a long look and turning away, "it is well for you that I am willing still to regard you as my best friend!"
Gordon went on, more passionately, to Angela.
"He put me off my guard—I can't call it anything else. I know I gave him a great chance—I encouraged him, urged him, tempted him. But when once he had spoken he should have stood to it. He shouldn't have had two opinions—one for me, and one for himself! He put me off my guard. It was because I still resisted him that I went to you again, that last time. But I was still afraid of you, and in my heart I believed him. As I say, I always believed him; it was his great influence upon me. He is the cleverest, the most intelligent, the most brilliant of men. I don't think that a grain less than I ever thought it," he continued, turning again to Bernard. "I think it only the more, and I don't wonder that you find a woman to believe it. But what have you done but deceive me? It was just my belief in your intelligence that reassured me. When Miss Vivian refused me a second time, and I left Baden, it was at first with a sort of relief. But there came back a better feeling—a feeling faint compared to this feeling of to-day, but strong enough to make me uneasy and to fill me with regret. To quench my regret, I kept thinking of what you had said, and it kept me quiet. Your word had such weight with me."
"How many times more would you have wished to be refused, and how many refusals would have been required to give me my liberty?" asked Bernard.
"That question means nothing, because you never knew that I had again offered myself to Miss Vivian."
"No; you told me very little, considering all that you made me tell you!"
"I told you beforehand that I should do exactly as I chose."
"You should have allowed me the same liberty."
"Liberty!" cried Gordon. "Hadn't you liberty to range the whole world over? Couldn't he have found a thousand other women?"
"It is not for me to think so," said Angela, smiling a little.
Gordon looked at her a moment.
"Ah, you cared for him from the first!" he cried.
"I had seen him before I ever saw you," said the girl.
Bernard suppressed an exclamation. There seemed to flash through these words a sort of retrospective confession which told him something that she had never directly told him. She blushed as soon as she had spoken, and Bernard found a beauty in this of which the brightness blinded him to the awkward aspect of the fact she had just presented to Gordon. At this fact Gordon stood staring; then at last he apprehended it—largely.
"Ah, then it had been a plot between you!" he cried out.
Bernard and Angela exchanged a glance of pity.
"We had met for five minutes, and had exchanged a few words before I came to Baden. It was in Italy—at Siena. It was a simple accident that I never told you," Bernard explained.
"I wished that nothing should be said about it," said Angela.
"Ah, you loved him!" Gordon exclaimed.
Angela turned away—she went to the window. Bernard followed her for three seconds with his eyes; then he went on—
"If it were so, I had no reason to suppose it. You have accused me of deceiving you, but I deceived only myself. You say I put you off your guard, but you should rather say you put me on mine. It was thanks to that that I fell into the most senseless, the most brutal of delusions. The delusion passed away—it had contained the germ of better things. I saw my error, and I bitterly repented of it; and on the day you were married I felt free."
"Ah yes, I have no doubt you waited for that," cried Gordon. "It may interest you to know that my marriage is a miserable failure."
"I am sorry to hear it—but I can't help it."
"You have seen it with your own eyes. You know all about it, and I needn't tell you."
"My dear Mr. Wright," said Angela pleadingly, turning round, "in heaven's name, don't say that!"
"Why shouldn't I say it? I came here on purpose to say it. I came here with an intention—with a plan. You know what Blanche is—you needn't pretend, for kindness to me, that you don't. You know what a precious, what an inestimable wife she must make me—how devoted, how sympathetic she must be, and what a household blessing at every hour of the day. Bernard can tell you all about us—he has seen us in the sanctity of our home." Gordon gave a bitter laugh and went on, with the same strange, serious air of explaining his plan. "She despises me, she hates me, she cares no more for me than for the button on her glove; by which I mean that she doesn't care a hundredth part as much. You may say that it serves me right, and that I have got what I deserve. I married her because she was silly. I wanted a silly wife; I had an idea you were too wise. Oh, yes, that's what I thought of you; Blanche knew why I picked her out, and undertook to supply the article required. Heaven forgive her! She has certainly kept her engagement. But you can imagine how it must have made her like me—knowing why I picked her out. She has disappointed me all the same. I thought she had a heart; but that was a mistake. It doesn't matter, though, because everything is over between us."
"What do you mean, everything is over?" Bernard demanded.
"Everything will be over in a few weeks. Then I can speak to Miss Vivian seriously."
"Ah! I am glad to hear this is not serious," said Bernard.
"Miss Vivian, wait a few weeks," Gordon went on. "Give me another chance then. Then it will be perfectly right; I shall be free."
"You speak as if you were going to put an end to your wife!"
"She is rapidly putting an end to herself. She means to leave me."
"Poor, unhappy man, do you know what you are saying?" Angela murmured.
"Perfectly. I came here to say it. She means to leave me, and I mean to offer her every facility. She is dying to take a lover, and she has got an excellent one waiting for her. Bernard knows whom I mean; I don't know whether you do. She was ready to take one three months after our marriage. It is really very good of her to have waited all this time; but I don't think she can go more than a week or two longer. She is recommended a southern climate, and I am pretty sure that in the course of another ten days I may count upon their starting together for the shores of the Mediterranean. The shores of the Mediterranean, you know, are lovely, and I hope they will do her a world of good. As soon as they have left Paris I will let you know; and then you will, of course, admit that, virtually, I am free."
"I don't understand you."
"I suppose you are aware," said Gordon, "that we have the advantage of being natives of a country in which marriages may be legally dissolved."
Angela stared; then softly—
"Are you speaking of a divorce?"
"I believe that is what they call it," Gordon answered, gazing back at her with his densely-clouded blue eyes. "The lawyers do it for you; and if she goes away with Lovelock, nothing will be more simple than for me to have it arranged."
Angela stared, I say; and Bernard was staring too. Then the latter, turning away, broke out into a tremendous, irrepressible laugh.
Gordon looked at him a moment; then he said to Angela, with a deeper tremor in his voice,
"He was my dearest friend."
"I never felt more devoted to you than at this moment!" Bernard declared, smiling still.
Gordon had fixed his sombre eyes upon the girl again.
"Do you understand me now?"
Angela looked back at him for some instants.
"Yes," she murmured at last.
"And will you wait and give me another chance?"
"Yes," she said in the same tone.
Bernard uttered a quick exclamation, but Angela checked him with a glance, and Gordon looked from one of them to the other.
"Can I trust you?" Gordon asked.
"I will make you happy," said Angela.
Bernard wondered what under the sun she meant; but he thought he might safely add—
"I will abide by her choice."
Gordon actually began to smile.
"It won't be long, I think; two or three weeks."
Angela made no answer to this; she fixed her eyes on the floor.
"I shall see Blanche as often as possible," she presently said.
"By all means! The more you see her the better you will understand me."
"I understand you very well now. But you have shaken me very much, and you must leave me. I shall see you also—often."
Gordon took up his hat and stick; he saw that Bernard did not do the same.
"And Bernard?" he exclaimed.
"I shall ask him to leave Paris," said Angela.
"Will you go?"
"I will do what Angela requests," said Bernard.
"You have heard what she requests; it's for you to come now."
"Ah, you must at least allow me to take leave!" cried Bernard.
Gordon went to the door, and when he had opened it he stood for a while, holding it and looking at his companions. Then—
"I assure you she won't be long!" he said to Angela and rapidly passed out.
The others stood silent till they heard the outer door of the apartment close behind him.
"And now please to elucidate!" said Bernard, folding, his arms.
Angela gave no answer for some moments; then she turned upon him a smile which appeared incongruous, but which her words presently helped to explain.
"He is intensely in love with his wife!"