The Other House, by Henry James

Book second

xiii

IT continued to be for the lady of Eastmead, as the years went on, a sustaining reflection that if in the matter of upholstery she yielded somewhat stiffly to the other house, so the other house was put out of all countenance by the mere breath of her garden. Tony could beat her indoors at every point, but when she took her stand on her lawn she could defy not only Bounds but Wilverley. Her stand, and still more her seat, in the summer days, was frequent there, as we easily gather from the fortified position in which we next encounter her. From May to October she was out, as she said, at grass, drawing from it most of the time a comfortable sense that on such ground as this her young friend’s love of new ness broke down. He might make his dinner-service as new as he liked; she triumphed precisely in the fact that her trees and her shrubs were old. He could hang nothing on his walls like her creepers and clusters; there was no velvet in his carpets like the velvet of her turf. She had everything, or almost everything she had space and time and the river. No one at Wilverley had the river as she had it; people might say of course there was little of it to have, but of whatever there was she was in intimate possession. It skirted her grounds and improved her property and amused her guests; she always held that her free access made up for being, as people said, on the wrong side of it. If she had not been on the wrong side she would not have had the little stone foot-bridge which was her special pride and the very making of her picture, and which she had heard compared she had an off-hand way of bringing it in to a similar feature, at Cambridge, of one of the celebrated “ backs.” The other side was the side of the other house, the side for the view the view as to which she entertained ihe merely qualified respect excited in us, after the first creative flush, by mysteries of our own making. Mrs. Beever herself formed the view and the other house was welcome to it, especially to those parts of it enjoyed through the rare gaps in an interposing leafy lane. Tony had a gate which he called his river-gate, but you didn’t so much as suspect the stream till you got well out of it. He had on his further quarter a closer contact with the town; but this was just what on both quarters she had with the country. Her approach to the town was by the “ long way ” and the big bridge, and by going on, as she liked to do, past the Doctor’s square red house. She hated stopping there, hated it as much as she liked his stopping at Eastmead: in the former case she seemed to consult him and in the latter to advise, which was the exercise of her wisdom that she decidedly preferred. Such degrees and dimensions, I hasten to add, had to do altogether with short relations and small things; but it was just the good lady’s reduced scale that held her little world together. So true is it that from strong compres sion the elements of drama spring and that there are conditions in which they seem to invite not so much the opera-glass as the microscope.

Never, perhaps, at any rate, had Mrs. Beever been more conscious of her advantages, or at least more surrounded with her conveniences, than on a beautiful afternoon of June on which we are again concerned with her. These blessings were partly embodied in the paraphernalia of tea, which had cropped up, with promptness and profusion, in a sheltered corner of the lawn and in the midst of which, waiting for custom, she might have been in charge of a refreshment-stall at a fair. Everything at the other house struck her as later and later, and she only regretted that, as the protest of her own tradition, she couldn’t move in the opposite direction without also moving from the hour. She waited for it now, at any rate, in the presence of a large red rug and. a large white tablecloth, as well as of sundry basket-chairs and of a hammock that swayed in the soft west wind; and she had meanwhile been occupied with a collection of parcels and paste board boxes that were heaped together on a bench. Of one of these parcels, enveloped in several layers of tissue-paper, she had just possessed herself, and, seated near her tea-table, was on the point of uncovering it. She became aware, at this instant, of being approached from behind; on which, looking over her shoulder and seeing Doctor Ramage, she straightway stayed her hands. These friends, in a long acquaintance, had dropped by the way so many preliminaries that absence, in their intercourse, was a mere parenthesis and conversation in general scarce began with a capital. But on this occasion the Doctor was floated to a seat not, as usual, on the bosom of the immediately previous.

“Guess whom I’ve just overtaken on your door step. The young man you befriended four years ago Mr. Vidal, Miss Armiger’s flame! ”

Mrs. Beever fell back in her surprise; it was rare for Mrs. Beever to fall back. “ He has turned up again?” Her eyes had already asked more than her friend could tell. “ For what in the world? ”

“For the pleasure of seeing you. He has evidently retained a very grateful sense of what you did for him.”

“I did nothing, my dear man I had to let it alone.”

“Tony’s condition of course I remember again required you. But you gave him a shelter,” said the Doctor, “ that wretched day and that night, and he felt (it was evidently much to him) that, in his rupture with his young woman, you had the right instinct of the matter and were somehow on his side.”

“I put him up for a few hours I saved him, in time, the embarrassment of finding himself in a house of death. But he took himself off. the next morning early bidding me good-bye only in a quiet little note.”

“A quiet little note which I remember you after wards showed me and which was a model of discretion and good taste. It seems to me,” the Doctor went on, “ that he doesn’t violate those virtues in considering that you’ve given him the right to reappear.”

“At the very time, and the only time, in so long a period that his young woman, as you call her, happens also to be again in the field! ”

“That’s a coincidence,” the Doctor replied, “ far too singular for Mr. Vidal to have had any forecast of it.”

“You didn’t then tell him? ”

“I told him nothing save that you were probably just where I find you, and that, as Manning is busy with her tea-things, I would come straight out for him and announce that he’s there.”

Mrs. Beever’s sense of complications evidently grew as she thought. “ By ‘ there ’ do you mean on the doorstep? ”

“Far from it. In the safest place in the world at least when you’re not in it.”

“In my own room?” Mrs. Beever asked.

“In that austere monument to Domestic Method which you’re sometimes pleased to call your boudoir. I took upon myself to show him into it and to close the door on him there. I reflected that you’d perhaps like to see him before any one else.”

Mrs. Beever looked at her visitor with apprecia tion. “ You dear, sharp thing! ”

“Unless, indeed,” the Doctor added, “ they have, in so many years, already met.”

“She told me only yesterday they haven’t.”

“I see. However, as I believe you consider that she never speaks the truth, that doesn’t particularly count.”

“I hold, on the contrary, that a lie counts double,” Mrs. Beever replied with decision.

Doctor Ramage laughed. “ Then why have you never in your life told one? I haven’t even yet quite made out,” he pursued, “ why especially with Miss Jean here you asked Miss Armiger down.”

“I asked her for Tony.”

“Because he suggested it? Yes, I know that.”

“I mean it,” said Mrs. Beever, “ in a sense I think you don’t know.” She looked at him a moment; but either her profundity or his caution were too great, and he waited for her to commit herself further. That was a thing she could always do rapidly without doing it recklessly. “ I asked her exactly on account of Jean.”

The Doctor meditated, but this seemed to deepen her depth. “ I give it up. You’ve mostly struck me as so afraid of every other girl Paul looks at.”

Mrs. Beever ’s face was grave. “ Yes, I’ve always been; but I’m not so afraid of them as of those at whom Tony looks.”

Her interlocutor started. “ He’s looking at Jean? ”

Mrs. Beever was silent a little. “ Not for the first time! ”

Her visitor also hesitated. “And do you think, Miss Armiger? ”

Mrs. Beever took him up. “ Miss Armiger’s better for him since he must have somebody! ”

“You consider she’d marry him? ”

“She’s insanely in love with him.” The Doctor tilted up his chin; he uttered an expressive “ Euh! She is indeed, poor thing!” he said. “ Since you frankly mention it, I as frankly agree with you, that I’ve never seen anything like it. And there’s monstrous little I’ve not seen. But if

Tony isn’t crazy too? ”

“It’s a kind of craze that’s catching. He must think of that sort of thing.”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘ thinking! ’ Do you imply that the dear man, on what we know?” The Doctor couldn’t phrase it.

His friend had greater courage. “ Would break his vow and marry again?” She turned it over, but at last she brought out: “ Never in the world.”

“Then how does the chance of his thinking of Rose help her? ”

“I don’t say it helps her. I simply say it helps poor me.”

Doctor Ramage was still mystified. “ But if they can’t marry? ”

“I don’t care whether they marry or not! ” She faced him with the bravery of this, and he broke into a happy laugh. “ I don’t know whether most to admire your imagination or your morality.”

“I protect my girl,” she serenely declared. Doctor Ramage made his choice. “ Oh, your morality! ”

“In doing so,” she went on, “ I also protect my boy. That’s the highest morality I know. I’ll see Mr. Vidal out here,” she added.

“So as to get rid of him easier? ”

“My getting rid of him will depend on what he wants. He must take, after all,” Mrs. Beever con tinued, “ his chance of meeting any embarrassment. If he plumps in without feeling his way ”

“It’s his own affair I see,” the Doctor said. What he saw was that his friend’s diplomacy had suffered a slight disturbance. Mr. Vidal was a new element in her reckoning; for if, of old, she had liked and pitied him, he had since dropped out of her problem. Her companion, who timed his pleasures to the minute, indulged in one of his frequent glances at his watch. “ I’ll put it then to the young man more gracefully than you do that you’ll receive him in this place.”

“I shall be much obliged to you.”

“But before I go,” Doctor Ramage inquired, “where are all our friends? ”

“I haven’t the least idea. The only ones I count on are Effie and Jean.”

The Doctor made a motion of remembrance. “ To be sure it’s their birthday: that fellow put it out of my head. The child’s to come over to you to tea, and just what I stopped for ”

“Was to see if I had got your doll?” Mrs. Beever interrupted him by holding up the muffled parcel in her lap. She pulled away the papers. “Allow me to introduce the young lady.”

The young lady was sumptuous and ample; he took her in his hands with reverence. “ She’s splendid she’s positively human! I feel like a Turkish pasha investing in a beautiful Circassian. I feel too,” the Doctor went on, “ how right I was to depend, in the absence of Mrs. Ramage, on your infallible taste.” Then restoring the effigy: “Kindly mention how much I owe you.”

“Pay at the shop,” said Mrs. Beever. “They ‘ trusted ’ me.”

“With the same sense of security that I had! ” The Doctor got up. “ Please then present the object and accompany it with nyy love and a kiss.”

“You can’t come back to give them yourself? ”

“What do I ever give ‘myself,’ dear lady, but medicine? ”

“Very good,” said Mrs. Beever; “ the presenta tion shall be formal. But I ought to warn you that your beautiful Circassian will have been no less than the fourth.” She glanced at the parcels on the bench. “I mean the fourth doll the child’s to receive today.”

The Doctor followed the direction of her eyes. “It’s a regular slave-market a perfect harem! ”

“We’ve each of us given her one. Each, that is, except Rose.”

“And what has Rose given her? ”

“Nothing at all.”

The Doctor thought a moment. “ Doesn’t she like her? ”

“She seems to wish it to be marked that she has nothing to do with her.”

Again Doctor Ramage reflected. “ I see that’s very clever.”

Mrs. Beever, from her chair, looked up at him. “What do you mean by ‘ clever ’? ”

“I’ll tell you some other time.” He still stood before the bench. “ There are no gifts for poor Jean? ”

“Oh, Jean has had most of hers.”

“But nothing from me.” The Doctor had but just thought of her; he turned sadly away. “I’m quite ashamed! ”

“You needn’t be,” said Mrs. Beever. “She has also had nothing from Tony.”

He seemed struck’. “ Indeed? On Miss Armi-ger’s system?” His friend remained silent, and he went on: “ That of wishing it to be marked that he has nothing to do with her? ”

Mrs. Beever, for a minute, continued not to reply; but at last she exclaimed: “ He doesn’t calculate! ”

“That’s bad for a banker!” Doctor Ramage laughed. “ What then has she had from Paul? ”

“Nothing either as yet. That’s to come this evening.”

“And what’s it to be? ”

Mrs. Beever hesitated. “ I haven’t an idea.”

“Ah, you can fib!” joked her visitor, taking leave.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/other_house/chapter13.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02