Confidence (London: Macmillan & Co., 1921)/Chapter 31
Some three evenings after he received this last report of the progress of affairs in Paris, Bernard, upon whom the burden of exile sat none the more lightly as the days went on, turned out of the Strand into one of the theatres. He had been gloomily pushing his way through the various London densities—the November fog, the nocturnal darkness, the jostling crowd. He was too restless to do anything but walk, and he had been saying to himself, for the thousandth time, that if he had been guilty of a misdemeanour in succumbing to the attractions of the admirable girl who showed to such advantage in letters of twelve pages, his fault was richly expiated by these days of impatience and bereavement. He gave little heed to the play; his thoughts were elsewhere, and, while they rambled, his eyes wandered round the house. Suddenly, on the other side of it, he beheld Captain Lovelock, seated squarely in his orchestra stall, but, if Bernard was not mistaken, paying as little attention to the stage as he himself had done. The Captain's eyes, it is true, were fixed upon the scene; his head was bent a little, his magnificent beard rippled over the expanse of his shirt front. But Bernard was not slow to see that his gaze was heavy and opaque, and that, though he was staring at the actresses, their charms were lost upon him. He saw that, like himself, poor Lovelock had matter for reflexion in his manly breast, and he concluded that Blanche's ponderous swain was also suffering from a sense of disjunction. Lovelock sat in the same posture all the evening, and that his imagination had not projected itself into the play was proved by the fact that, during the entr'actes, he gazed with the same dull fixedness at the curtain. Bernard forbore to interrupt him; we know that he was not at this moment socially inclined, and he judged that the Captain was as little so, inasmuch as causes even more imperious than those which had operated in his own case, must have been at the bottom of his sudden appearance in London. On leaving the theatre, however, Bernard found himself detained with the crowd in the vestibule near the door, which, wide open to the street, was a scene of agitation and confusion. It had come on to rain, and the raw dampness mingled itself with the dusky uproar of the Strand. At last, among the press of people, as he was passing out, our hero became aware that he had been brought into contact with Lovelock, who was walking just beside him. At the same moment Lovelock noticed him—looked at him for an instant, and then looked away. But he looked back again the next instant, and the two men then uttered that inarticulate and inexpressive exclamation which passes for a sign of greeting among gentlemen of the Anglo-Saxon race in their moments of more acute self-consciousness.
"Oh, are you here?" said Bernard. "I thought you were in Paris."
"No; I ain't in Paris," Lovelock answered, with some dryness. "Tired of the beastly hole!"
"Oh, I see," said Bernard. "Excuse me while I put up my umbrella."
He put up his umbrella, and from under it, the next moment, he saw the Captain waving two fingers at him out of the front of a hansom. When he returned to his hotel he found on his table a letter, superscribed in Gordon Wright's hand. This communication ran as follows—
Bernard hardly knew whether to regard these few words as a further declaration of war, or as an overture to peace; but he lost no time in complying with the summons they conveyed. He started for Paris the next morning, and in the evening, after he had removed the dust of his journey and swallowed a hasty dinner, he rang at Mrs. Vivian's door. This lady and her daughter gave him a welcome which—I will not say satisfied him, but which, at least, did something toward soothing the still unhealed wounds of separation.
"And what is the news of Gordon?" he presently asked.
"We have not seen him for three days," said Angela.
"He is cured, dear Bernard; he must be. Angela has been wonderful," Mrs. Vivian declared.
"You should have seen mamma with Blanche," her daughter said, smiling. "It was most remarkable."
Mrs. Vivian smiled too, very gently.
"Dear little Blanche! Captain Lovelock has gone to London."
"Yes, he thinks it a beastly hole. Ah no," Bernard added, "I have got it wrong."
But it little mattered. Late that night, on his return to his own rooms, Bernard sat gazing at his fire. He had not begun to undress; he was thinking of a good many things. He was in the midst of his reflexions when there came a rap at his door, which the next moment was flung open. Gordon Wright stood there, looking at him—with a gaze which Bernard returned for a moment, before bidding him to come in. Gordon came in and came up to him; then he held out his hand. Bernard took it with great satisfaction; his last feeling had been that he was very weary of this ridiculous quarrel, and it was an extreme relief to find it was over. "It was very good of you to go to London," said Gordon, looking at him with all the old serious honesty of his eyes.
"I have always tried to do what I could to oblige you," Bernard answered, smiling.
"You must have cursed me over there," Gordon went on.
"I did, a little. As you were cursing me here, it was permissible."
"That's over now," said Gordon. "I came to welcome you back. It seemed to me I couldn't lay my head upon my pillow without speaking to you."
"I am glad to get back," Bernard admitted, smiling still. "I can't deny that. And I find you as I believed I should." Then he added seriously—"I knew Angela would keep us good friends."
For a moment Gordon said nothing. Then at last—
"Yes, for that purpose it didn't matter which of us should marry her. If it had been I," he added, "she would have made you accept it equally."
"Ah, I don't know!" Bernard exclaimed.
"I am sure of it," said Gordon earnestly—almost argumentatively. "She's an extraordinary woman."
"Keeping you good friends with me—that's a great thing. But it's nothing to her keeping you good friends with your wife."
Gordon looked at Bernard for an instant; then he fixed his eyes for some time on the fire.
"Yes, that is the greatest of all things. A man should value his wife. He should believe in her. He has taken her, and he should keep her—especially when there is a great deal of good in her. I was a great fool the other day," he went on. "I don't remember what I said. It was very weak."
"It seemed to me feeble," said Bernard. "But it is quite within a man's rights to be a fool once in a while, and you had never abused the license."
"Well, I have done it for a lifetime—for a lifetime." And Gordon took up his hat. He looked into the crown of it for a moment, and then he fixed his eyes on Bernard's again. "But there is one thing I hope you won't mind my saying. I have come back to my old impression of Miss Vivian."
"Your old impression?"
And Miss Vivian's accepted lover frowned a little.
"I mean that she's not simple. She's very strange."
Bernard's frown cleared away in a sudden, almost eager, smile.
"Say at once that you dislike her! That will do capitally."
Gordon shook his head, and he, too, almost smiled a little.
"It's not true. She's very wonderful. And if I did dislike her, I should struggle with it. It would never do for me to dislike your wife!"
After he had gone, when the night was half over, Bernard, lying awake a while, gave a laugh in the still darkness, as this last sentence came back to him.
On the morrow he saw Blanche, for he went to see Gordon. The latter, at first, was not at home; but he had a quarter of an hour's talk with his wife, whose powers of conversation were apparently not in the smallest degree affected by anything that had occurred.
"I hope you enjoyed your visit to London," she said. "Did you go to buy Angela a set of diamonds in Bond Street? You didn't buy anything—you didn't go into a shop? Then pray what did you go for? Excuse my curiosity—it seems to me it's rather flattering. I never know anything unless I am told. I haven't any powers of observation. I noticed you went—oh yes, I observed that much; and I thought it very strange, under the circumstances. Your most intimate friend arrived in Paris, and you choose the next day to make a little tour! I don't like to see you treat my husband so; he would never have done it to you. And if you didn't stay for Gordon, you might have stayed for Angela. I never heard of anything so monstrous as a gentleman rushing away from the object of his affection, for no particular purpose that any one could discover, the day after she has accepted him. It was not the day after? Well, it was too soon, at any rate. Angela wouldn't in the least tell me what you had gone for; she said it was for a 'change.' That was a charming reason! But she was very much ashamed of you and so was I; and at last we all sent Captain Lovelock after you to bring you back. You came back without him? Ah, so much the better; I suppose he is still looking for you, and, as he isn't very clever, that will occupy him for some time. We want to occupy him; we don't approve of his being so idle. However, for my own part, I am very glad you were away. I was a great deal at Mrs. Vivian's, and I shouldn't have felt nearly so much at liberty to go if I had known I should always find you there making love to Mademoiselle. It wouldn't have seemed to me discreet—I know what you are going to say—that it's the first time you ever heard of my wishing to avoid an indiscretion. It's a taste I have taken up lately—for the same reason you went to London, for a 'change.'" Here Blanche paused for an appreciable moment; and then she added—"Well, I must say, I have never seen anything so lovely as Mrs. Vivian's influence; I hope mamma won't be disappointed in it this time!"
When Bernard next saw the other two ladies, he said to them that he was surprised at the way in which clever women incurred moral responsibilities.
"We like them," said Mrs. Vivian. "We delight in them!"
"Well," said Bernard, "I wouldn't for the world have it on my conscience to have reconciled poor Gordon to Mrs. Blanche."
"You are not to say a word against Blanche," Angela declared. "She's a little miracle."
"It will be all right, dear Bernard," Mrs. Vivian added, with soft authority.
"I have taken a great fancy to her," the younger lady went on.
Bernard gave a little laugh.
"Gordon is right in his ultimate opinion. You are very strange!"
"You may abuse me as much as you please; but I will never hear a word against Mrs. Gordon."
And she never would in future; though it is not recorded that Bernard availed himself in any special degree of the license offered him in conjunction with this warning.
Blanche's health within a few days had, according to her own account, taken a marvellous turn for the better; but her husband appeared still to think it proper that they should spend the winter beneath a brilliant sun, and he presently informed his friends that they had at last settled it between them that a voyage up the Nile must be for a thoroughly united couple a very agreeable pastime. To perform this expedition advantageously they must repair to Cairo without delay, and for this reason he was sure that Bernard and Angela would easily understand their not making a point of waiting for the wedding. These happy people quite understood it. Their nuptials were to be celebrated with extreme simplicity. If, however, Gordon was not able to be present, he, in conjunction with his wife, presented Angela, as a bridal gift, with a necklace of the most beautiful pearls the Rue de la Paix could furnish; and on his arrival at Cairo, while he waited for his dragoman to give the signal for starting, he found time, in spite of the exactions of that large correspondence which has been more than once mentioned in the course of our narrative, to write Bernard the longest letter he had ever addressed to him. The letter reached Bernard in the middle of his honeymoon.
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