The Other House, by Henry James

xvii

ROSE ARMIGER, in a few moments, was joined by Tony, and they came up the lawn together to where Jean Martle stood talking with Paul. Here, at the approach of the master of Bounds, this young lady anxiously inquired if Effie had not been well enough to accompany him. She had expected to find her there; then, failing that, had taken for granted he would bring her.

“I’ve left the question, my dear Jean, in her nurse’s hands,” Tony said. “ She had been bedizened from top to toe, and then, on some slight appearance of being less well, had been despoiled, denuded and disappointed. She’s a poor little lamb of sacrifice. They were at her again, when I came away, with the ribbons and garlands; but there was apparently much more to come, and I couldn’t answer for it that a single sneeze wouldn’t again lay everything low. It’s in the bosom of the gods. I couldn’t wait.”

“You were too impatient to be with dear, de lightful us” Rose suggested.

Tony, with a successful air of very light comedy, smiled and inclined himself. “ I was too impatient to be with you, Miss Armiger.” The lapse of four years still presented him in such familiar mourning as might consort with a country nook on a summer afternoon; but it also allowed undiminished relief to a manner of addressing women which was clearly instinctive and habitual and which, at the same time, by good fortune, had the grace of flattery without phrases and of irony without impertinence. He was a little older, but he was not heavier; he was a little worn, but he was not worn dull. His presence was, anywhere and at any time, as much as ever the clock at the moment it strikes. Paul Beever’s little eyes, after he appeared, rested on Rose with an expression which might have been that of a man counting the waves produced on a sheet of water by the plunge of a large object. For any like ripple on the fine surface of the younger girl he appeared to have no attention.

“I’m glad that remark’s not addressed to we” Jean said gaily; “for I’m afraid I must im mediately withdraw from you the light of my society.”

“On whom then do you mean to bestow it? ”

“On your daughter, this moment. I must go and judge for myself of her condition.”

Tony looked at her more seriously. “If you’re at all really troubled about her I’ll go back with you. You’re too beautifully kind; they told me of your having been with her this morning.”

“Ah, you were with her this morning?” Rose asked of Jean in a manner to which there was a clear effort to impart the intonation of the casual, but which had in it something that made the person addressed turn to her with a dim surprise. Jean stood there in her black dress and her fair beauty; but her wonder was not of a sort to cloud the extraordinary radiance of her youth. “ For ever so long. Don’t you know I’ve made her my peculiar and exclusive charge? ”

“Under the pretext,” Tony went on, to Rose, “ of saving her from perdition. I’m supposed to be in danger of spoiling her, but Jean treats her quite as spoiled; which is much the greater injury of the two.”

tl Don’t go back, at any rate, please,” Rose said to him with soft persuasion. “ I never see you, you know, and I want just now particularly to speak to you.” Tony instantly expressed submission, and Rose, checking Jean, who, at this, in silence, turned to take her way to the bridge, reminded Paul Beever that she had just heard from him of his having, on his side, some special purpose of an interview with Miss Martle.

At this Paul grew very red. “ Oh yes, I should rather like to speak to you, please,” he said to Jean.

She had paused half way down the little slope; she looked at him frankly and kindly. “Do you mean immediately? ”

“As soon as you’ve time.”

“I shall have time as soon as I’ve been to Effie,” Jean replied. “ I want to bring her over. There are four dolls waiting for her.”

“My dear child,” Rose familiarly exclaimed, “ at home there are about forty! Don’t you give her one every day or two?” she went on to Tony.

Her question didn’t reach him; he was too much interested in Paul’s arrangement with Jean, on whom his eyes were fixed. “ Go, then to be the sooner restored to us. And do bring the kid!” He spoke with jollity.

“I’m going in to change perhaps I shall presently find you here,” Paul put in.

“You’ll certainly find me, dear Paul. I shall be quick!” the girl called back. And she lightly went her way while Paul walked off to the house and the two others, standing together, watched her a minute. In spite of her black dress, of which the thin, voluminous tissue fluttered in the summer breeze, she seemed to shine in the afternoon light. They saw her reach the bridge, where, in the middle, she turned and tossed back at them a wave of her hand kerchief; after which she dipped to the other side and disappeared.

“Mayn’t I give you some tea?” Rose said to her companion. She nodded at the bright display of Mrs. Beever’s hospitality; Tony gratefully accepted her offer and they strolled on side by side. “ Why have you ceased to call me ‘ Rose ’?” she then suddenly demanded.

Tony started so that he practically stopped; on which she promptly halted. “Have I, my dear woman? I didn’t know ” He looked at her and, looking at her, after a moment flagrantly coloured: he had the air of a man who sees some thing that operates as a warning. What Tony Bream saw was a circumstance of which he had already had glimpses; but for some reason or other it was now written with a largeness that made it resemble a printed poster on a wall. It might have been, from the way he took it in, a big yellow advertisement to the publicity of whose message no artifice of type was wanting. This message was simply Rose Armiger’s whole face, exquisite and tragic in its appeal, stamped with a sensibility that was almost abject, a tenderness that was more than eager. The appeal was there for an instant with rare intensity, and what Tony felt in response to it he felt without fatuity or vanity. He could meet it only with a compassion as unreserved as itself. He looked confused, but he looked kind, and his com panion’s eyes lighted as with the sense of something that at last even in pure pity had come out to her. It was as if she let him know that since she had been at Eastmead nothing whatever had come out.

“When I was at Bounds four years ago,” she said, “you called me Rose and you called our friend there ” she made a movement in the direction Jean had taken “ nothing at all. Now you call her by name and you call me nothing at all.”

Tony obligingly turned it over. “ Don’t I call you Miss Armiger? ”

“Is that anything at all?” Rose effectively asked. “You’re conscious of some great difference.”

Tony hesitated; he walked on. “ Between you and Jean? ”

“Oh, the difference between me and Jean goes without saying. What I mean is the difference between my having been at Wilverley then and my being here now.”

They reached the tea-table, and Tony, dropping into a chair, removed his hat. “ What have I called you when we’ve met in London? ”

She stood before him closing her parasol. “ Don’t you even know? You’ve called me nothing.” She proceeded to pour out tea for him, busying herself delicately with Mrs. Beever’s wonderful arrangements for keeping things hot. “ Have you by any chance been conscious of what I’ve called you?” she said.

Tony let himself, in his place, be served. “ Doesn’t every one in the wide world call me the inevitable ‘Tony’? The name’s dreadful for a banker; it should have been a bar for me to that career. It’s fatal to dignity. But then of course I haven’t any dignity.”

“I think you haven’t much,” Rose replied. “ But I’ve never seen any one get on so well without it; and, after all, you’ve just enough to make Miss Martle recognise it.”

Tony wondered. “ By calling me ‘ Mr. Bream ’? Oh, for her I’m a greybeard and I address her as I addressed her as a child. Of course I admit,” he added with an intention vaguely pacific, “that she has entirely ceased to be that.”

“She’s wonderful,” said Rose, handing him some thing buttered and perversely cold.

He assented even to the point of submissively helping himself. “She’s a charming creature.”

“I mean she’s wonderful about your little girl.”

“Devoted, isn’t she? That dates from long ago. She has a special sentiment about her.”

Rose was silent a moment. “ It’s a little life to preserve and protect,” she then said. “ Of course! ”

“Why, to that degree that she seems scarcely to think the child safe even with its infatuated daddy! ”

Still on her feet beyond the table near which he sat, she had put up her parasol again, and she looked across at him from under it. Their eyes met, and he again felt himself in the presence of what, in them, shortly before, had been so deep, so exquisite. It represented something that no lapse could long quench something that gave out the measureless white ray of a light steadily revolving. She could sometimes tiirn it away, but it was always somewhere; and now it covered him with a great cold lustre that made everything for the moment look hard and ugly made him also feel the chill of a complication for which he had not allowed. He had had plenty of complications in life, but he had likewise had ways of dealing with them that were in general clever, easy, masterly indeed often really pleasant. He got up nervously: there would be nothing pleasant in any way of dealing with this one.

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