The Other House, by Henry James

xxi

HE directed his face to the house, however, only to find himself in the presence of his mother, who had come back to her tea-table and whom he saw veri tably glare at the small object in his hands. From this object her scrutiny jumped to his own countenance, which, to his great discomfort, was not conscious of very successfully baffling it. He knew therefore a momentary relief when her observation attached itself to Jean Martle, whom Tony, planted on the lawn, was also undisguisedly watching and who was already introducing Effie to the treasure laid up in the shade of the tea-table. The girl had caught up the child on her strong young arm, where she sat robust and radiant, befrilled and besashed, hugging the biggest of the dolls; and in this position erect, active, laughing, her rosy burden, almost on her shoulder, mingling its brightness with that of her crown of hair, and her other hand grasping, for Effie’s further delight, in the form of another puppet from the pile, a still rosier imitation of it antici pated quickly the challenge, which, as Paul saw, Mrs. Beever was on the point of addressing her.

“Our wonderful cake’s not coming out?”

“It’s too big to transport,” said Mrs. Beever: “ it’s blazing away in the dining-room.”

Jean Martle turned to Tony. “ I may carry her in to see it? ”

Tony assented. “ Only please remember she’s not to partake.”

Jean smiled — at him. “ I’ll eat her share!” And she passed swiftly over the lawn while the three pair of eyes followed her.

“She looks,” said Tony, “ like the goddess Diana playing with a baby-nymph.”

Mrs. Beever’s attention came back to her son. “That’s the sort of remark one would expect to hear from you! You’re not going with her? ”

Paul showed vacant and vast. “ I’m going in.”

“To the dining-room? ”

He wavered. “ To speak to Miss Armiger.”

His mother’s gaze, sharpened and scared, had reverted to his morocco case. “ To ask her to keep that again? ”

At this Paul met her with spirit. “ She may keep it for ever!” Giving another toss to his missile, while his companions stared at each other, he took the same direction as Jean.

Mrs. Beever, disconcerted and flushed, broke out on the spot to Tony. “ Heaven help us all she has refused him! ”

Tony’s face reflected her alarm. “ Pray, how do you know? ”

“By his having his present to her left on his hands a jewel a girl would jump at! I came back to hear it was settled

“And you haven’t heard it’s not! ”

“What I haven’t heard I’ve seen. That it’s < not ’ sticks out of them! If she won’t accept the gift,” Mrs. Beever cried, “how can she accept the giver? ”

Tony’s appearance, for some seconds, was an echo of her question. “Why, she just promised me she would! ”

This only deepened his neighbour’s surprise. “Promised you? ”

Tony hesitated. “ I mean she left me to infer that I had determined her. She was so good as to listen most appreciatively to what I had to say.”

“And, pray, what had you to say?” Mrs. Beever asked with austerity.

In the presence of a rigour so immediate he found himself so embarrassed that he considered. “ Well everything. I took the liberty of urging Paul’s claim.”

Mrs. Beever stared. “ Very good of you! What did you think you had to do with it? ”

“Why, whatever my great desire that she should accept him gave me.”

“Your great desire that she should accept him? This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

Once more Tony pondered. “ Did I never speak of it to you? ”

“Never that I can remember. From when does it date?” Mrs. Beever demanded.

“From the moment I really understood how much Paul had to hope.”

“How ‘much’?” the lady of Eastmead derisively repeated. “ It wasn’t so much that you need have been at such pains to make it less! ”

Tony’s comprehension of his friend’s discomfiture was written in the smile of determined good humour with which he met the asperity of her successive inquiries; but his own uneasiness, which was not the best thing in the world for his temper, showed through this superficial glitter. He looked suddenly as blank as a man can look who looks annoyed. “How in the world could I have supposed I was making it less? ”

Mrs. Beever faltered in her turn. “ To answer that question I should need to have been present at your appeal.”

Tony’s eyes put forth a fire. “ It seems to me that your answer, as it is, will do very well for a. charge of disloyalty. Do you imply that I didn’t act in good faith? ”

“Not even in my sore disappointment. But I imply that you made a gross mistake.”

Tony lifted his shoulders; with his hands in his pockets he had begun to fidget about the lawn bringing back to her as he did so the worried figure that, in the same attitude, the day of poor Julia’s death, she had seen pace the hall at the other house. “But what the deuce then was I to do? ”

“You were to let her alone.”

“Ah, but I should have had to begin that earlier! ” he exclaimed with ingenuous promptitude.

Mrs. Beever gave a laugh of despair. “ Years and years earlier! ”

“I mean,” returned Tony with a blush, “ that from the first of her being here I made a point of giving her the impression of all the good I thought of Paul.”

His hostess continued sarcastic. “ If it was a question of making points and giving impressions, perhaps then you should have begun later still! ” She gathered herself a moment; then she brought out: “ You should have let her alone, Tony Bream, because you’re madly in love with her! ”

Tony dropped into the nearest chair; he sat there looking up at the queen-mother. “Your proof of that’s my plea for your son? ”

She took full in the face his air of pity for her lapse. “ Your plea was not for my son your plea was for your own danger.”

“My own Manger’?” Tony leaped to his feet again in illustration of his security. “ Need I inform you at this time of day that I’ve such a thing as a conscience? ”

“Far from it, my dear man. Exactly what I complain of is that you’ve quite too much of one.” And she gave him, before turning away, what might have been her last look and her last word. “ Your conscience is as big as your passion, and if both had been smaller you might perhaps have held your tongue! ”

She moved off in a manner that added emphasis to her words, and Tony watched her with his hands still in his pockets and his long legs a little apart. He could turn it over that she accused him, after all, only of having been a particularly injurious jool. “ I was under the same impression as you,” he said “ the impression that Paul was safe.”

This arrested and brought her sharply round, “And were you under the impression that Jean was? ”

“On my honour as far as I’m concerned! ”

“It’s of course of you we’re talking,” Mrs. Beever replied. “ If you weren’t her motive are you able to suggest who was? ”

“Her motive for refusing Paul?” Tony looked at the sky for an inspiration. “ I’m afraid I’m too surprised and distressed to have a theory.”

“Have you one by chance as to why, if you thought them both so safe, you interfered? ”

“’ Interfered’ is a hard word,” said Tony. “I felt a wish to testify to my great sympathy with Paul from the moment I heard what I didn’t at all know that this was the occasion on which he was, in more senses than one, to present his case.”

“May I go so far as to ask,” said Mrs. Beever, “if your sudden revelation proceeded from Paul himself?”

“No not from Paul himself.”

“And scarcely from Jean, I suppose?”

“Not in the remotest degree from Jean.”

“Thank you,” she replied; “ you’ve told me,”

She had taken her place in a chair and fixed her eyes on the ground. “ I’ve something to tell you myself, though it may not interest you so much.” Then raising her eyes: “ Dennis Vidal is here.”

Tony almost jumped. “ In the house? ”

“On the river paddling about.” After which, as his blankness grew, “ He turned up an hour ago,” she explained.

“And no one has seen him? ”

“The Doctor and Paul. But Paul didn’t know ”

“And didn’t ask?” Tony panted.

“What does Paul ever ask? He’s too stupid! Besides, with all my affairs, he sees my people come and go. Mr. Vidal vanished when he heard that Miss Armiger’s here.”

Tony went from surprise to mystification. “ Not to come back? ”

“On the contrary, I hope, as he took’ my boat.”

“But he wishes not to see her? ”

“He’s thinking it over.”

Tony wondered. “What, then, did he corne for? ”

Mrs. Beever hung fire. “ He came to see Effte.”

“Effie? ”

“To judge if you’re likely to lose her.”

Tony threw back his head. “ How the devil does that concern him? ”

Again Mrs. Beever faltered; then, as she rose, “Hadn’t I better leave you to think it out?” she demanded.

Tony, in spite of his bewildered face, thought it out with such effect that in a moment he exclaimed: “Then he still wants that girl? ”

“Very much indeed. That’s why he’s afraid ”

Tony took her up. “ That Effie may die? ”

“It’s a hideous thing to be talking about,” said Mrs. Beever. “But you’ve perhaps not forgotten who were present! ”

“I’ve not forgotten who were present! I’m greatly honoured by Mr. Vidal’s solicitude,” Tony continued; “ but I beg you to tell him from me that I think I can take care of my child.”

“You must take more care than ever,” Mrs. Beever pointedly observed. “ But don’t mention him to her!” she as sharply added. Rose Armiger’s white dress and red parasol had reappeared on the steps of the house.

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