The Other House, by Henry James

xix

TONY went toward his messenger, who, as she saw Rose apparently leaving the garden, pressingly called out: “ Would you. Miss Armiger, very kindly go over for Effie? She wasn’t even yet ready,” she explained as she came back up the slope with her friend, “ and I was afraid to wait after promising Paul to meet him.”

“He’s not here, you see,” said Tony; “it’s he who, most ungallantly, makes you wait. Never mind; you’ll wait with me.” He looked at Rose as they overtook her. “Will you go and bring the child, as our friend here asks, or is such an act as that also, and still more, inconsistent with your mysterious principles? ”

“You must kindly excuse me,” Rose said directly to Jean. “ I’ve a letter to write in the house. Now or never I must catch the post.”

“Don’t let us keep you, then,” Tony returned, “I’ll go over myself as soon as Paul comes back.”

“I’ll send him straight out.” And Rose Armiger retired in good order.

Tony followed her with his eyes; then he ex claimed: “ It’s, upon my soul, as if she couldn’t trust herself!” His remark, which he checked,

dropped into a snap of his fingers while Jean Martle wondered.

“To do what?” she asked.

Tony hesitated. “To do nothing! The child’s all right? ”

“Perfectly right. It’s only that the great Gorham has decreed that she’s to have her usual little supper before she comes, and that, with her ribbons and frills all covered with an enormous bib, Effie had just settled down to that extremely solemn function.”

Tony in his turn wondered. “Why shouldn’t she have her supper here? ”

“Ah, you must ask the great Gorham! ”

“And didn’t you ask her? ”

“I did better I divined her,” said Jean. “She doesn’t trust our kitchen.”

Tony laughed. “ Does she apprehend poison? ”

“She apprehends what she calls ‘ sugar and spice.’ ”

“‘And all that’s nice?’ Well, there’s too much that’s nice here, certainly! Leave the poor child then, like the little princess you all make of her, to her cook and her ( taster,’ to the full rigour of her royalty, and stroll with me here till Paul comes out to you.” He looked at his watch and about at the broad garden where the shadows of the trees were still and the long afternoon had grown rich. “ This is remarkably peaceful, and there’s plenty of time.” Jean concurred with a murmur as soft as the stir of the breeze, a “ Plenty, plenty,” as serene as if, to oblige Tony Bream, so charming a day would be sure to pause in its passage. They went a few steps, but he stopped again with a question. “Do you know what Paul wants of you? ”

Jean looked a moment at the grass by her feet. “I think I do.” Then raising her eyes without shy ness, but with unqualified gravity, “ Do you know, Mr. Bream?” she asked.

“Yes I’ve just now heard.”

“From Miss Armiger? ”

“From Miss Armiger. She appears to have had it from Paul himself.”

The girl gave out her mild surprise. “ Why has he told her? ”

Tony hesitated. “ Because she’s such a good person to tell things to.”

“Is it her immediately telling them again that makes her so?” Jean inquired with a faint smile.

Faint as this smile was, Tony met it as if he had been struck by it, and as if indeed, in the midst of an acquaintance which four years had now conse crated, he had not quite got used to being struck. That acquaintance had practically begun, on an un forgettable day, with his opening his eyes to it from an effort which had been already then the effort to forget his suddenly taking her in as he lay on the sofa in his hall. From the way he sometimes looked at her it might have been judged that he had even now not taken her in completely that the act of slow, charmed apprehension had yet to melt into accepted knowledge. It had in truth been made continuous by the continuous expansion of its object. If the sense of lying there on the sofa still sometimes came back to Tony, it was because he was interested in not interrupting by a rash motion the process taking place in the figure before him, the capricious rotation by which the woman peeped out of the child and the child peeped out of the woman. There was no point at which it had begun and none at which it would end, and it was a thing to gaze at with an attention refreshingly baffled. The frightened child had become a tall, slim nymph on a cloud, and yet there had been no moment of anything so gross as catching her in the act of change. If there had been he would have met it with some punctual change of his own; whereas it was his luxurious idea unob-scured till now that in the midst of the difference so delightfully ambiguous he was free just not to change, free to remain as he was and go on liking her on trivial grounds. It had seemed to him that there was no one he had ever liked whom he could like quite so comfortably: a man of his age had had what he rather loosely called the “ usual ” flashes of fondness. There had been no worrying question of the light this particular flash might kindle; he had never had to ask himself what his appreciation of Jean Martle might lead to. It would lead to exactly nothing that had been settled all round in advance. This was a happy, lively provision that kept every thing down, made sociability a cool, public, out-of-door affair, without a secret or a mystery confined it, as one might say, to the breezy, sunny forecourt of the temple of friendship, forbidding it any dream of access to the obscure and comparatively stuffy interior. Tony had acutely remarked to himself that a thing could be led to only when there was a practi cable road. As present to him today as on that other day was the little hour ot violence so strange and sad and sweet which in his life had effectually suppressed any thoroughfare, making this expanse so pathless that, had he not been looking for a philosophic rather than a satiric term, he might almost have compared it to a desert. He answered his companion’s inquiry about Rose’s responsibility as an informant after he had satisfied himself that if she smiled exactly as she did it was only another illustration of a perfect instinct. That instinct, which at any time turned all talk with her away from flatness, told her that the right attitude for her now was the middle course between anxiety and resignation. “If Miss Armiger hadn’t spoken,” he said, “ I shouldn’t have known. And of course I’m in terested in knowing.”

“But why is she interested in your doing so? ” Jean asked.

Tony walked on again. “ She has several reasons. One of them is that she greatly likes Paul and that, greatly liking him, she wishes the highest happiness conceivable for him. It occurred to her that as I greatly like a certain young lady I might not unnaturally desire for that young lady a corresponding chance, and that with a hint,” laughed Tony, “that she really is about to have it, I might perhaps see my way to putting in a word for the dear boy in advance.”

The girl strolled beside him, looking quietly before her. “ How does she know,” she demanded, “whom you ‘ greatly like ’? ”

The question pulled him up a little, but he resisted the impulse, constantly strong in him, to stop again and stand face to face with her. He continued to laugh and after an instant he replied: “ Why, I suppose I must have told her.”

“And how many persons will she have told? ”

“I don’t care how many,” Tony said, “ and I don’t think you need care either. Every one but she from lots of observation knows we’re good friends, and it’s because that’s such a pleasant old story with us all that I feel as if I might frankly say to you what I have on my mind.”

“About what Paul may have to say? ”

“The first moment you let him.”

Tony was going on when she broke in: “ How long have you had it on your mind? ”

He found himself, at her challenge, just a trifle embarrassed. “ How long? ”

“As it’s only since Miss Armiger has told you that you’ve known there’s anything in the air.”

This inquiry gave Tony such pause that he met it first with a laugh and then with a counter-appeal. “You make me feel dreadfully dense! Do you mind my asking how long you yourself have known that what may be in the air is on the point of alighting? ”

“Why, since Paul spoke to me.”

“Just now before you went to Bounds?” Tony wondered. “ You were immediately sure that that’s what he wants? ”

“What else can he want? He doesn’t want so much,” Jean added, “that there would have been many alternatives.”

“I don’t know what you call ‘ much ’!” Again Tony wondered. “ And it produces no more effect upon you ”

“Than I’m showing to you now?” the girl asked. “ Do you think me dreadfully stolid? ”

“No, because I know that, in general, what you show isn’t at all the full measure of what you feel. You’re a great little mystery. Still,” Tony blandly continued, “you strike me as calm as quite sub lime for a young lady whose fate’s about to be sealed. Unless, of course, you’ve regarded it,” he added, “ as sealed from far away back.”

They had strolled, in the direction they had followed, as far as they could go, and they neces sarily stopped for a turn. Without taking up his last words Jean stood there and looked obscurely happy, as it seemed to him, at his recognition of her having appeared as quiet as she wished. “ You haven’t answered my question,” she simply said. “You haven’t told me how long you’ve had it on your mind that you must say to me whatever it is you wish to say.”

“Why is it important I should answer it? ”

“Only because you seemed positively to imply that the time of your carrying your idea about had been of the shortest. In the case of advice, if to advise is what you wish ”

“It t’s what I wish,” Tony interrupted; “ strangely as it may strike you that, in regard to such a matter as we refer to, one should be eager for such a responsibility. The question of time doesn’t signify what signifies is one’s sincerity. I had an impression, I confess, that the prospect I a good while ago supposed you have accepted had what shall I call it? rather faded away. But at the same time I hoped” and Tony invited his com panion to resume their walk “ that it would charmingly come up again.”

Jean moved beside him and spoke with a colourless kindness which suggested no desire to challenge or cross-question, but a thoughtful interest in anything, in the connection in which they were talking, that he would be so good as to tell her and an earnest desire to be clear about it Perhaps there was also in her manner just the visible tinge of a confidence that he would tell her the absolute truth. “I see. You hoped it would charmingly come up again.”

“So that on learning that it is charmingly coming up, don’t you see?” Tony laughed, “ I’m so agree ably agitated that I spill over on the spot. I want, without delay, to be definite to you about the really immense opinion I have of dear Paul. It can’t do any harm, and it may do a little good, to mention that it has always seemed to me that we’ve only got to give him time. I mean, of course, don’t you know,” he added, “ for him quite to distinguish him self.”

Jean was silent a little, as if she were thoroughly taking this home. “ Distinguish himself in what way?” she asked with all her tranquillity.

“Well in every way,” Tony handsomely replied. “He’s full of stuff there’s a great deal of him: too much to come out all at once. Of course you know him you’ve known him half your life; but I see him in a strong and special light, a light in which he has scarcely been shown to you and which puts him to a real test. He has ability; he has ideas; he has absolute honesty; and he has more over a good stiff back of his own. He’s a fellow of head; he’s a fellow of heart. In short he’s a man of gold.”

“He’s a man of gold,” Jean repeated with punctual acceptance, yet as if it mattered much more that Tony should think so than that she should. “ It would be odd,” she went on, “ to be talking with you on a subject so personal to myself if it were not that I’ve felt Paul’s attitude for so long past to be rather publicly taken for granted. He has felt it so, too, I think, poor boy, and for good or for ill there has been in our situa tion very little mystery and perhaps not much modesty.”

“Why should there be, of the false kind, when even the true has nothing to do with the matter? You and Paul are great people: he’s the heir-apparent and you’re the most eligible princess in the Almanach de Gotha. You can’t be there and be hiding behind the window-curtain: you must step out on the balcony to be seen of the populace. Your most private affairs are affairs of state. At the smallest hint like the one I just mentioned even an old dunderhead like me catches on he sees the strong reasons for Paul’s attitude. However, it’s not of that so much that I wanted to say a word. I thought perhaps you’d just let me touch on your own.” Tony hesitated; he felt vaguely disconcerted by the special quality of stillness that, though she moved beside him, her attention, her expectation put forth. It came over him that for the purpose of his plea she was almost too prepared, and this made him speculate. He stopped short again and, uneasily, “May I light one more cigarette?” he asked. She assented with a flicker in her dim smile, and while he lighted he was increasingly conscious that she waited. He met the deep gentleness of her eyes and reflected afresh that if she was always beautiful she was beautiful at different times from different sources. What was the source of the impression she made on him at this moment if not a kind of refinement of patience, in which she seemed actually to hold her breath? “ In fact,” he said as he threw away his match, “ I have touched on it I mean on the great hope we all have that you do see your way to meeting your friend as he deserves.”

“You all have it?” Jean softly asked.

Tony hesitated again. “ I’m sure I’m quite right in speaking for Wilverley at large. It takes the greatest interest in Paul, and I needn’t at this time of day remind you of the interest it takes in yourself. But, I repeat, what I meant more particularly to utter was my own special confidence in your decision. Now that I’m fully enlightened it comes home to me that, as regards such a possibility as your taking your place here as a near neighbour and a permanent friend “ and Tony fixedly smiled “ why, I can only feel the liveliest suspense. I want to make thoroughly sure of you! ”

Jean took this in as she had taken the rest; after which she simply said: “ Then I think I ought to tell you that I shall not meet Paul in the way that what you’re so good as to say seems to point to.”

Tony had made many speeches, both in public and in private, and he had naturally been exposed to replies of the incisive no less than of the massive order. But no check of the current had ever made him throw back his head quite so far as this brief and placid announcement. “ You’ll not meet him —? ”

“I shall never marry him.”

He undisguisedly gasped. “ In spite of all the reasons? ”

“Of course I’ve thought the reasons over often and often. But there are reasons on the other side too. I shall never marry him,” she repeated.

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