The Other House, by Henry James

xxii

AT the sight of the two persons in the garden Rose came straight down to them, and Mrs. Beever, sombre and sharp, still seeking relief in the oppor tunity for satire, remarked to her companion in a manner at once ominous and indifferent that her guest was evidently in eager pursuit of him. Tony replied with gaiety that he awaited her with fortitude, and Rose, reaching them, let him know that as she had something more to say to him she was glad he had not, as she feared, quitted the garden. Mrs. Beever hereupon signified her own intention of taking this course: she would leave their visitor, as she said, to Rose to deal with.

Rose smiled with her best grace. “ That’s as I leave Paul to you. I’ve just been with him.”

Mrs. Beever testified not only to interest, but to approval. “ In the library? ”

“In the drawing-room.” Rose the next moment conscientiously showed by a further remark her appreciation of the attitude that, on the part of her hostess, she had succeeded in producing. “ Miss Martle’s in the library.”

“And Effie?” Mrs. Beever asked.

“Effie, of course, is where Miss Martle is. ”

Tony, during this brief colloquy, had lounged away as restlessly as if, instead of beaming on the lady of Eastmead, Rose were watching the master of the other house. He promptly turned round. “I say, dear lady, you know be kind to her! ”

“To Effie?” Mrs. Beever demanded.

“To poor Jean.”

Mrs. Beever, after an instant’s reflection, took a humorous view of his request. “ I don’t know why you call her ‘ poor ’! She has declined an excellent settlement, but she’s not in misery yet.” Then she said to Rose: “ I’ll take Paul first.”

Rose had put down her parasol, pricking the point of it, as if with a certain shyness, into the close, firm lawn. “If you like, when you take Miss Martle ” She paused in deep contemplation of Tony.

“When I take Miss Martle?” There was a new encouragement in Mrs. Beever’s voice.

The apparent effect of this benignity was to make Miss Armiger’s eyes widen strangely at their com panion. “Why, I’ll come back and take the child.”

Mrs. Beever met this offer with an alertness not hitherto markedly characteristic of her intercourse with Rose. “ I’ll send her out to you.” Then by way of an obeisance to Tony, directing the words well at him: “ It won’t indeed be a scene for that poor lamb!” She marched off with her duty emblazoned on her square satin back.

Tony, struck by the massive characters in which it was written there, broke into an indulgent laugh, but even in his mirth he traced the satisfaction she took in letting him see that she measured with some complacency the embarrassment Rose might cause him. “ Does she propose to tear Miss Martle limb from limb?” he playfully inquired.

“Do you ask that,” said Rose, “ partly because you’re apprehensive that it’s what I propose to do to you? ”

“By no means, my dear Rose, after your just giving me so marked a sign of the pacific as your coming round ”

“On the question,” Rose broke in, “of one’s relation to that little image and echo of her adored mother? That isn’t peace, my dear Tony. You give me just the occasion to let you formally know that it’s war.”

Tony gave another laugh. “ War? ”

“Not on you I pity you too much.”

“Then on whom? ”

Rose hesitated. “ On any one, on every one, who may be likely to find that small child small as she is! inconvenient. Oh, I know,” she went on, “you’ll say I come late in the day for this and you’ll remind me of how very short a time ago it was that I declined a request of yours to occupy myself with her at all. Only half an hour has elapsed, but what has happened in it has made all the difference.”

She spoke without discernible excitement, and Tony had already become aware that the face she actually showed him was not a thing to make him estimate directly the effect wrought in her by the incongruous result of the influence he had put forth under pressure of her ardour. He needed no great imagination to conceive that this consequence might, on the poor girl’s part, well be mainly lodged in such depths of her nature as not to find an easy or an immediate way to the surface. That he had her to reckon with he was reminded as soon as he caught across the lawn the sheen of her white dress; but what he most felt was a lively, unreasoning hope that for the hour at least, and until he should have time to turn round and see what his own situation exactly contained for him, her mere incontestable cleverness would achieve a revolution during which he might take breath. This was not a hope that in any way met his difficulties it was a hope that only avoided them; but he had lately had a vision of something in which it was still obscure to him whether the bitter or the sweet prevailed, and he was ready to make almost any terms to be allowed to surrender himself to these first quick throbs of response to what was at any rate an impression of perfect beauty. He was in bliss with a great chill and in despair with a great lift, and confused and assured and alarmed divided between the joy and the pain of knowing that what Jean Martle had done she had done for Tony Bream, and done full in the face of all he couldn’t do to repay her. That Tony Bream might never marry was a simple enough affair, but that this rare creature mightn’t suddenly figured to him as formidable and exquisite. Therefore he found his nerves rather indebted to Rose for her being if that was the explanation too proud to be vulgarly vindictive. She knew his secret, as even after seeing it so freely handled by Mrs. Beever he still rather artlessly called the motive of his vain appeal; knew it better than before, since she could now read it in the intenser light of the knowledge of it betrayed by another. If on this advantage he had no reason to look to her for generosity, it was at least a comfort that he might look to her for good manners. Poor Tony had the full consciousness of needing to think out a line, but it weighed somewhat against that oppression to feel that Rose also would have it. He was only a little troubled by the idea that, ardent and subtle, she would probably think faster than he. He turned over a moment the revelation of these qualities conveyed in her announcement of a change, as he might call it, of policy.

“What you say is charming,” he good-naturedly replied, “ so far as it represents an accession to the ranks of my daughter’s friends. You will never without touching me remind me how nearly a sister you were to her mother; and I would rather express the pleasure I take in that than the bewilderment I feel at your allusion to any class of persons whose interest in her may not be sincere. The more friends she has, the better I welcome you all. The only thing I ask of you,” he went on, smiling, “ is not to quarrel about her among yourselves.”

Rose, as she listened, looked almost religiously calm, but as she answered there was a profane quaver in her voice that told him with what an effort she achieved that sacrifice to form for which he was so pusillanimously grateful. “ It’s very good of you to make the best of me; and it’s also very clever of you, let me add, my dear Tony and add with all deference to your goodness to succeed in implying that any other course is open to you. You may welcome me as a friend of the child or not. I’m present for her, at any rate, and present as I’ve never been before.”

Tony’s gratitude, suddenly contracting, left a little edge for irritation. “ You’re present, assuredly, my dear Rose, and your presence is to us all an advantage of which, happily, we never become uncon scious for an hour. But do I understand that the firm position among us that you allude to is one to which you see your way to attaching any possibility of permanence? ”

She waited as if scrupulously to detach from its stem the flower of irony that had sprouted in this speech, and while she inhaled it she gave her visible attention only to the little hole in the lawn that she continued to prick with the point of her parasol. “If that’s a graceful way of asking me,” she returned at last, “ whether the end of my visit here isn’t near at hand, perhaps the best satisfaction I can give you is to say that I shall probably stay on at least as long as Miss Martle. What I meant, however, just now,” she pursued, “ by saying that I’m more on the spot than heretofore, is simply that while I do stay

I stay to be vigilant. That’s what I hurried out to let you definitely know, in case you should be going home without our meeting again. I told you before I went into the house that I trusted you I needn’t recall to you for what. Mr. Beever after a while came in and told me that Miss Martle had refused him. Then I felt that, after what had passed between us, it was only fair to say to you ”

“That you’ve ceased to trust me?” Tony inter jected.

“By no means. I don’t give and take back.” And though his companion’s handsome head, with its fixed, pale face, rose high, it became appreciably handsomer and reached considerably higher, while she wore once more the air of looking at his mistake through the enlarging blur of tears. “ As I believe you did, in honour, what you could for Mr. Beever, I trust you perfectly still.”

Tony smiled as if he apologised, but as if also he couldn’t but wonder. “ Then it’s only fair to say to me? ”

“That I don’t trust Miss Martle.”

“Oh, my dear woman!” Tony precipitately laughed.

But Rose went on with all deliberation and dis tinctness. “ That’s what has made the difference that’s what has brought me, as you say, round to a sense of my possible use, or rather of my clear obligation. Half an hour ago I knew how much you loved her. Now I know how much she loves you.”

Tony’s laugh suddenly dropped; he showed the face of a man for whom a joke has sharply turned grave. “ And what is it that, in possession of this admirable knowledge, you see? ”

Rose faltered; but she had not come so far simply to make a botch of it. “ Why, that it’s the obvious interest of the person we speak of not to have too stupid a patience with any obstacle to her marrying you.”

This speech had a quiet lucidity of which the odd action was for an instant to make him lose breath so violently that, in his quick gasp, he felt sick. In the indignity of the sensation he struck out. “ Pray, why is it the person’s obvious interest any more than it’s yours? ”

“Seeing that I love you quite as much as she does? Because you don’t love me quite so much as you love her. That’s exactly ‘ why,’ dear Tony Bream!” said Rose Armiger.

She turned away from him sadly and nobly, as if she had done with him and with the subject, and he stood where she had left him, gazing at the foolish greenness at his feet and slowly passing his hand over his head. In a few seconds, however, he heard her utter a strange, short cry, and, looking round, saw her face to face across the interval of sloping lawn with a gentleman whom he had been suffi ciently prepared to recognise on the spot as Dennis Vidal.

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