The Other House, by Henry James

xv

PAUL BEEVER was tall and fat, and his eyes, like his mother’s, were very small; but more even than to his mother nature had offered him a compensation for this defect in the extension of the rest of the face. He had large, bare, beardless cheeks and a wide, clean, candid mouth, which the length of the smooth upper lip caused to look as exposed as a bald head. He had a deep fold of flesh round his uncovered young neck, and his white flannels showed his legs to be all the way down of the same thickness. He promised to become massive early in life and even to attain a remarkable girth. His great tastes were for cigarettes and silence; but he was, in spite of his proportions, neither gross nor lazy. If he was indifferent to his figure he was equally so to his food, and he played cricket with his young towns men and danced hard with their wives and sisters. Wilverley liked him and Tony Bream thought well of him: it was only his mother who had not yet made up her mind. He had done a good deal at Oxford in not doing any harm, and he had subse quently rolled round the globe in the very groove with which she had belted it. But it was exactly in satisfying that he a little disappointed her: she had provided so against dangers that she found it a trifle dull to be so completely safe. It had become with her a question not of how clever he was, but of how stupid. Tony had expressed the view that he was distinctly deep, but that might only have been, in Tony’s florid way, to show that he himself was so. She would not have found it convenient to have to give the boy an account of Mr. Vidal; but now that, detached from her purposes and respect ful of her privacies, he sat there without making an inquiry, she was disconcerted enough slightly to miss the opportunity to snub him. On this occa sion, however, she could steady herself with the possibility that her hour would still come. He began to eat a bun his row justified that; and meanwhile she helped him to his tea. As she handed him the cup she challenged him with some sharpness. “ Pray, when are you going to give it? ”

He slowly masticated while he looked at her. “When do you think I had better? ”

“Before dinner distinctly. One doesn’t know what may happen.”

“Do you think anything at all will?” he placidly asked.

His mother waited before answering. “ Nothing, certainly, unless you take some trouble for it.” His perception of what she meant by this was clearly wanting, so that after a moment she con tinued: “ You don’t seem to grasp that I’ve done for you all I can do, and that the rest now depends on yourself.”

“Oh yes, mother, I grasp it,” he said without irritation. He took another bite of his bun and then added: “ Miss Armiger has made me quite do that.”

“Miss Armiger?” Mrs. Beever stared; she even felt that her opportunity was at hand. “ What in the world has she to do with the matter? ”

“Why I’ve talked to her a lot about it.”

“You mean she has talked to you a lot, I suppose. It’s immensely like her.”

“It’s like my dear mamma that’s whom it’s like,” said Paul. “ She takes just the same view as yourself. I mean the view that I’ve a great opening and that I must make a great effort.”

“And don’t you see that for yourself? Do you require a pair of women to tell you?” Mrs. Beever asked.

Paul, looking grave and impartial, turned her question over while he stirred the tea. “No, not exactly. But Miss Armiger puts everything so well.”

“She puts some things doubtless beautifully. Still, I should like you to be conscious of some better reason for making yourself acceptable to Jean than that another young woman, however brilliant, recommends it.”

The young man continued to ruminate, and it occurred to his mother, as it had occurred before, that his imperturbability was perhaps a strength. “I am,” he said at last. “ She seems to make clear to me what I feel.”

Mrs. Beever wondered. “You mean of course Jean does.”

“Dear no Miss Armiger! ”

The lady of Eastmead laughed out in her impatience. “ I’m delighted to hear you feel any thing. You haven’t often seemed to me to feel.”

“I feel that Jean’s very charming.”

She laughed again at the way he made it sound. “Is that the tone in which you think of telling her so?”

“I think she’ll take it from me in any tone,” Paul replied. “ She has always been most kind to me; we’re very good friends, and she knows what I want.”

“It’s more than I do, my dear! That’s exactly what you said to me six months ago when she liked you so much that she asked you to let her alone,”

“She asked me to give her six months for a definite answer, and she likes me the more for having consented to do that,” said Paul. “The time I’ve waited has improved our relations.”

“Well, then, they now must have reached per fection. You’ll get her definite answer, therefore, this very afternoon.”

“When I present the ornament? ”

“When you present the ornament. You’ve got it safe, I hope? ”

Paul hesitated; he took another bun; “ I imagine it’s all right.”

“Do you only ‘imagine’ with a thing Of that value? What have you done with it? ”

Again the young man faltered. “ I’ve given it to Miss Armiger. She was afraid I’d lose it.”

“And you were not afraid she would?” his mother cried.

“Not a bit. She’s to give it back to me on this spot. She wants me too much to succeed.”

Mrs. Beever was silent a little. “And how much do you want her to? ”

Paul looked blank. “ In what? ”

“In making a fool of you.” Mrs. Beever gathered herself. “Are you in love with Rose Armiger, Paul? ”

He judiciously weighed the question. “Not in the least. I talk with her of nobody and nothing but Jean.”

“And do you talk with Jean of nobody and nothing but Rose? ”

Paul appeared to make an effort to remember. “I scarcely talk with her at all. We’re such old friends that there’s almost nothing to say.”

“There’s this to say, my dear that you take too much for granted I ”

“That’s just what Miss Armiger tells me. Give me, please, some more tea.” His mother took his cup, but she look at him hard and searchingly. He bore it without meeting her eyes, only turning his own pensively to the different dainties on the table. “If I do take a great deal for granted,” he went on, “you must remember that you brought me up to it.”

Mrs. Beever found only after an instant a reply; then, however, she uttered it with an air of triumph. “ I may have brought you up but I didn’t bring up Jean! ”

“Well, it’s not of her I’m speaking,” the young man good-humouredly rejoined; “though I might remind you that she has been here again and again, and month after month, and has always been taught so far as you could teach her to regard me as her inevitable fate. Have you any real doubt,” he went on, “ of her recognising in a satisfactory way that the time has come? ”

Mrs. Beever transferred her scrutiny to the interior of her teapot. “ No!” she said after a moment.

“Then what’s the matter? ”

“The matter is that I’m nervous, and that your stolidity makes me so. I want you to behave to me as if you cared and I want you still more to behave so to her.” Paul made, in his seat, a movement in which his companion caught, as she supposed, the betrayal of a sense of oppression; and at this her own worst fear broke out. “Oh, don’t tell. me you dorit care for if you do I don’t know what I shall do to you!” He looked at her with an air he some times had, which always aggravated her impatience, an air of amused surprise, quickened to curiosity, that there should be in the world organisms capable of generating heat. She had thanked God, through life, that she was cold-blooded, but now it seemed to face her as a Nemesis that she was a volcano compared with her son. This transferred to him the advantage she had so long monopolised, that of always seeing, in any relation or discussion, the other party become the spectacle, while, sitting back in her stall, she remained the spectator and even the critic. She hated to perform to Paul as she had made others perform to herself; but she determined on the instant that, since she was condemned to do so, she would do it to some purpose. She would have to leap through a hoop, but she would land on her charger’s back. The next moment Paul was watching her while she shook her little flags at him. “There’s one thing, my dear, that I can give you my word of honour for the fact that if the influence that congeals, that paralyses you, happens by any chance to be a dream of what may be open to you in any other quarter, the sooner you utterly dismiss that dream the better it will be not only for your happiness, but for your dignity. If you entertain with no matter how bad a conscience a vain fancy that you’ve the smallest real chance of making the smallest real impression on anybody else, all I can say is that you prepare for yourself very nearly as much discomfort as you prepare disgust for your mother.” She paused a moment; she felt, before her son’s mild gape, like a trapezist in pink tights. “How much susceptibility, I should like to know, has Miss Armiger at her command for your great charms?”

Paul showed her a certain respect; he didn’t clap her that is he didn’t smile. He felt something, however, which was indicated, as it always was, by the way his eyes grew smaller: they contracted at times, in his big, fair face, to mere little conscious points. These points he now directed to the region of the house. “Well, mother,” he quietly replied, “if you would like to know it, hadn’t you better ask her directly?” Rose Armiger had come into view; Mrs. Beever, turning, saw her approach, bare headed, in a fresh white dress, under a showy red parasol. Paul, as she drew near, left his seat and strolled to the hammock, into which he immediately dropped. Extended there, while the great net bulged and its attachments cracked with his weight, he spoke with the same plain patience. “ She has come to give me up the ornament.”

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