The Other House, by Henry James

xxvi

AT the end of some minutes, with the sense of being approached, she looked up and saw Paul Beever. Returning to the garden, he had stopped short at sight of her, and his arrival made her spring to her feet with the fear of having, in the belief that she was unobserved, shown him something she had never shown. But as he bent upon her his kind, ugly face there came into her own the comfort of a general admission, the drop of all attempt at a superfine surface: they stood together without saying a word, and there passed between them something sad and clear, something that was in its essence a recognition of the great, pleasant oddity of their being drawn closer by their rupture. They knew everything about each other now and, young and clean and good as they were, could meet not only without attenuations, but with a positive friendliness that was for each, from the other, a moral help. Paul had no need of speech to show Jean how he thanked her for understanding why he had not besieged her with a pressure more heroic, and she, on her side, could enter with the tread of a nurse in a sick-room into the spirit of that accom modation. They both, moreover, had been closeted with his mother an experience on which they could, with some dumb humour, compare notes. The girl, finally, had now, to this dear boy she didn’t love, something more to give than she had ever given; and after a little she could see the dawn of suspicion of it in the eyes with which he searched her grave face.

“I knew Miss Armiger had come back here, and I thought I should find her,” he presently ex plained.

“She was here a few minutes ago she has just left me,” Jean said.

“To go in again?” Paul appeared to wonder he had not met her on his way out.

“To go over to Bounds.”

He continued to wonder. “ With Mr. Bream? ”

“No with his little girl.”

Paul’s surprise increased. “She has taken her up?”

Jean hesitated; she uneasily laughed. “ Up up up: away up in her arms! ”

Her companion was more literal. “A young woman of Effie’s age must be a weight! ”

“I know what weight I’ve carried her. Miss Armiger did it precisely to prevent that.”

“To prevent your carrying her? ”

“To prevent my touching or, if possible, looking at her. She snatched her up and fled with her to get her away from me.”

“Why should she wish to do that?” Paul inquired.

“I think you had better ask her directly.” Then

Jean added: “ As you say, she has taken her up. She’s her occupation, from this time.”

“Why, suddenly, from this time? ”

“Because of what has happened.”

“Between you and me? ”

“Yes that’s one of her reasons.”

“One of them?” laughed Paul. “ She has so many? ”

“She tells me she has two.”

“Two? She speaks of it?”

Jean saw, visibly, that she mystified him; but she as visibly tried to let him see that this was partly because she spared him. “ She speaks of it with perfect frankness.”

“Then what’s her second reason? ”

“That if I’m not engaged” Jean hung fire, but she brought it out “ at least she herself is.”

“She herself? instead of you? ”

Paul’s blandness was so utter that his com panion’s sense of the comic was this time, and in spite of the cruelty involved in a correction, really touched. “To you? No, not to you, my dear Paul. To a gentleman I found with her here. To that Mr. Vidal,” said Jean.

Paul gasped. “ You found that Mr. Vidal with her? ” He looked bewilderedly about. “ Where then is he? ”

“He went over to Bounds.”

“And she went with him? ”

“No, she went after.”

Still Paul stood staring. “Where the dickens did he drop from? ”

“I haven’t the least idea.”

The young man had a sudden light. “Why, I saw him with mamma! He was here when I came off the river he borrowed the boat.”

“But you didn’t know it was he? ”

“I never dreamed and mamma never told me.”

Jean thought a moment. “ She was afraid. You see I’m not.”

Paul Beever more pitifully wondered; he re peated again the word she had left ringing in his ears. “She’s ‘engaged’?”

“So she informed me.”

His little eyes rested on her with a stupefaction so candid as almost to amount to a challenge; then they moved away, far away, and he stood lost in what he felt. She came, tenderly, nearer to him, and they turned back to her: on which he saw they were filled with the tears that another failure she knew of had no power to draw to them. “ It’s awfully odd!” he said.

“I’ve had to hurt you,” she replied. “ I’m very sorry for you.”

“Oh, don’t mind it!” Paul smiled.

“These are things for you to hear of straight.”

“From her? Ah, I don’t want to do that! You see, of course, I shan’t say anything.” And he covered, for an instant, working it clumsily, one of his little eyes with the base of one of his big thumbs.

Jean held out her hand to him. “ Do you love her?”

He took it, embarrassed, without meeting her look; then, suddenly, something of importance seemed to occur to him and he replied with simple alertness: “ I never mentioned it! ”

Dimly, but ever so kindly, Jean smiled. “ Because you hadn’t had your talk with me?” She kept hold of his hand. “ Dear Paul, I must say it again you’re beautiful! ”

He stared, not as yet taking this approval home; then with the same prompt veracity, “ But she knows it, you know, all the same!” he exclaimed.

Jean laughed as she released him; but it kept no gravity out of the tone in which she presently repeated: “ I’m sorry for you.”

“Oh, it’s all right! May I light a cigarette?” he asked.

“As many as you like. But I must leave you.”

He had struck a match, and at this he paused. “Because I’m smoking? ”

“Dear, no. Because I must go over to see Effie.” Facing wistfully to her little friend’s quarter, Jean thought aloud. “ I always bid her ‘ Good-night,’ I don’t see why on her birthday, of all evenings I should omit it.”

“Well, then, bid her ‘ Good-night ’ for me too.” She was halfway down the slope; Paul went in the same direction, puffing his cigarette hard. Then, stopping short, “ Tony puts him up?” he abruptly asked.

“Mr. Vidal? So it appears.”

He gazed a little, blowing his smoke, at this appearance. “ And she has gone over to see him? ”

“That may be a part of her errand.”

He hesitated again. “ They can’t have lost much time! ”

“Very little indeed.”

Jean went on again; but again he checked her with a question. “What has he, what has the matter you speak of, to do with her cutting in? ”

He paused as if in the presence of things painfully obscure.

“To the interest others take in the child? Ah,” said Jean, “if you feel as you do” she hesitated “don’t ask me. Ask her I”

She went her way, and, standing there in thought, he waited for her to come, after an interval, into sight on the curve of the bridge. Then as the minutes elapsed without her doing so, he lounged, heavy and blank, up again to where he had found her. Manning, while his back was turned, had arrived with one of her aids to carry off the tea-things; and from a distance, planted on the lawn, he bent on these evolutions an attention unnaturally fixed. The women marched and countermarched, dismantling the table; he broodingly and vacantly watched them; then, as he lighted a fresh cigarette, he saw his mother come out of the house to give an eye to their work. She reached the spot and dropped a command or two; after which, joining him, she took in that her little company had dispersed.

“What has become of every one? ”

Paul’s replies were slow; but he gave her one now that was distinct. “ After the talk on which I

lately left you I should think you would know pretty well what had become of me”

She gave him a keen look; her face softened. “What on earth’s the matter with you? ”

He placidly smoked. “I’ve had my head punched.”

“Nonsense for all you mind me!” She scanned him again. “ Are you ill, Paul? ”

“I’m all right,” he answered philosophically.

“Then kiss your old mammy.” Solemnly, silently he obeyed her; but after he had done so she still held him before her eyes. She gave him a sharp pat. “ You’re worth them all! ”

Paul made no acknowledgment of this tribute save to remark after an instant rather awkwardly: “I don’t know where Tony is.”

“I can do without Tony,” said his mother. “But where’s Tony’s child? ”

“Miss Armiger has taken her home.”

“The clever thing!” Mrs. Beever fairly applauded the feat. “ She was here when you came out? ”

“No, but Jean told me.”

“Jean was here? ”

“Yes; but she went over.”

“Over to Bounds after what has happened? ” Mrs. Beever looked at first incredulous; then she looked stern again. “ What in the name of good ness possesses her? ”

“The wish to bid Effie good-night.” Mrs. Beever was silent a moment. “ I wish to heaven she’d leave Effie alone! ”

“Aren’t there different ways of looking at that? ” Paul indulgently asked.

“Plenty, no doubt and only one decent one.” The grossness of the girl’s error seemed to loom larger. “I’m ashamed of her!” she declared.

“Well, I’m not!” Paul quietly returned.

“Oh, you of course you excuse her!” In the agitation that he had produced Mrs. Beever bounced across an interval that brought her into view of an object from which, as she stopped short at the sight of it, her emotion drew fresh sustenance. “ Why, there’s the boat! ”

“Mr. Vidal has brought it back,” said Paul.

She faced round in surprise. “You’ve seen him? ”

“No, but Jean told me.”

The lady of Eastmead stared. “She has seen him? Then where on earth is he? ”

“He’s staying at Bounds,” said Paul.

His mother’s wonderment deepened. “He has got there already? ”

Paul smoked a little: then he explained. “ It’s not very soon for Mr. Vidal he puts things through. He’s already engaged to her.”

Mystified, at sea, Mrs. Beever dropped upon a bench. “ Engaged to Jean? ”

“Engaged to Miss Armiger.”

She tossed her head with impatience. “What news is that? He was engaged to her five years ago!”

“Well, then he is still. They’ve patched it up.”

Mrs. Beever was on her feet. “ She has seen him? ”

Tony Bream at this moment came rapidly down the lawn and had the effect of staying Paul’s answer. The young man gave a jerk to the stump of his cigarette and turned away with marked nervousness.

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