The Other House, by Henry James

xxxi

“IF in this miserable hour I’ve asked you for a moment of your time,” Dennis immediately said, “ I beg you to believe it’s only to let you know that anything in this world I can do for you “ Tony

raised a hand that mutely discouraged as well as thanked him, but he completely delivered himself: “I’m ready, whatever it is, to do on the spot.”

With his handsome face smitten, his red eyes contracted, his thick hair disordered and his black garments awry, Tony had the handled, hustled look of a man just dragged through some riot or some rescue and only released to take breath. Like Rose, for Dennis, he was deeply disfigured, but with a change more passive and tragic. His bloodshot eyes fixed his interlocutor’s. “ I’m afraid there’s nothing any one can do for me. My disaster’s over whelming; but I must meet it myself.”

There was courtesy in his voice; but there was something hard and dry in the way he stood there, something so opposed to his usual fine overflow that for a minute Dennis could only show by pitying silence the full sense of his wretchedness. He was in the presence of a passionate perversity an atti tude in which the whole man had already petrified.

“Will it perhaps help you to think of something,” he presently said, “ if I tell you that your disaster is almost as much mine as yours, and that what’s of aid to one of us may perhaps therefore be of aid to the other?”

“It’s very good of you,” Tony replied, “to be willing to take upon you the smallest corner of so big a burden. Don’t do that don’t do that, Mr. Vidal,” he repeated, with a heavy head-shake. “Don’t come near such a thing; don’t touch it; don’t know it!” He straightened himself as if with a long, suppressed shudder; and then with a sharper and more sombre vehemence, “ Stand from under it!” he exclaimed. Dennis, in deeper compassion, looked at him with an intensity that might have suggested submission, and Tony followed up what he apparently took for an advantage. “ You came here for an hour, for your own reasons, for your relief: you came in all kindness and trust. You’ve encountered an unutterable horror, and you’ve only one thing to do.”

“Be so good as to name it,” said Dennis. “Turn your back on it for ever go your way this minute. I’ve come to you simply to say that.”

“Leave you, in other words? ”

“By the very first train that will take you.” Dennis appeared to turn this over; then he spoke with a face that showed what he thought of it. “ It has been my unfortunate fate in coming to this place so wrapped, as one might suppose, in comfort and peace to intrude a second time on obscure, unhappy things, on suffering and danger and death. I should have been glad, God knows, not to renew the adven ture, but one’s destiny kicks one before it, and I seem myself not the least part of the misery I speak of. You must accept that as my excuse for not taking your advice. I must stay at least till you understand me.” On this he waited a moment; after which, abruptly, impatiently, “ For God’s sake, Mr. Bream, believe in me and meet me!” he broke out.

“Meet you? ”

“Make use of the hand I hold out to you! ” Tony had remained just within the closed door, as if to guard against its moving from the other side. At this, with a faint flush in his dead vacancy, he came a few steps further. But there was something still locked in his conscious, altered eyes, and coldly absent from the tone in which he said: “ You’ve come, I think, from China? ”

“I’ve come, Mr. Bream, from China.”

“And it’s open to you to go back? ” Dennis frowned. “ I can do as I wish.”

“And yet you’re not off like a shot? ”

“My movements and my inclinations are my own affair. You won’t accept my aid? ”

Tony gave his sombre stare. “ You ask me, as you call it, to meet you. I beg you to excuse me if on my side I first inquire on what definite ground? ”

Dennis took him straight up. “ On the definite ground on which Doctor Ramage is good enough to do so. I’m afraid there’s no better ground than my honour.”

Tony’s stare was long and deep; then he put out his hand, and while Dennis held it, “ I understand you,” he said. “ Good-bye.”

Dennis kept hold of him. “ Good-bye? ”

Tony had a supreme hesitation, “ She’s safe.”

Dennis had a shorter one. (< .Do you speak of Miss Martle? ”

“Not of Miss Martle.”

“Then I can. She’s safe.”

“Thank you,” said Tony. He drew away his hand,

(( As for the person you do speak of, if you say it “ and Dennis paused.

(( She’s safe,” Tony repeated.

“That’s all I ask of you. The Doctor will do the rest.”

“I know what the Doctor will do.” Tony was silent a moment. “ What will you do? ”

Dennis waited, but at last he spoke. “ Every thing but marry her.”

A flare of admiration rose and fell in Tony’s eyes. “You’re beyond me I ”

“I don’t in the least know where I am, save that I’m in a black, bloody nightmare and that it’s not I, it’s not she, it’s not you, it’s not any one. I shall wake up at last, I suppose, but meanwhile

“There’s plenty more to come? Oh, as much as you like!” Tony excitedly declared.

“For me, but not for you. For you the worst’s over,” his companion boldly observed.

“Over? with all my life made hideous? ”

There was a certain sturdiness in Vidal’s momentary silence. “ You think so now!” Then he added

more gently: “ I grant you it’s hideous enough.”

Tony stood there in the agony of the actual; the tears welled into his hot eyes. “ She murdered she tortured my child. And she did it to incriminate Jean.”

He brought it all back to Dennis, who exclaimed with simple solemnity: “ The dear little girl the sweet, kind little girl!” With a sudden impulse that, in the midst of this tenderness, seemed almost savage, he laid on Tony’s shoulder a hard, consci entious hand. “ She forced her in. She held her down. She left her.”

The men turned paler as they looked at each other. “ I’m infamous I’m infamous,” said Tony.

There was a long pause that was like a strange assent from Dennis, who at last, however, brought out in a different tone: “ It was her passion.”

“It was her passion.”

“She loves you!” Dennis went on with a drop, before the red real, of all vain terms.

“She loves me!” Tony’s face reflected the mere monstrous fact. “ It has made what it has made her awful act and my silence. My silence is a part of the crime and the cruelty I shall live to be a horror to myself. But I see it, none the less, as I see it, and I shall keep the word I gave her in the first madness of my fear. It came to me there

“I know what came to you,” Dennis said.

Tony wondered. “ Then you’ve seen her? ”

Dennis hesitated. “ I know it from the Doctor.”

“I see ” Tony thought a moment. “ She, I imagine ”

“Will keep it to herself? Leave that to me!” Dennis put out his hand again. “ Good-bye.”

“You take her away? ”

“To-night.”

Tony kept his hand. “Will her flight help Ram age? ”

“Everything falls in. Three hours ago I came for her.”

“So it will seem prearranged? ”

“For the event she announced to you. Our happy union!” said Dennis Vidal.

He reached the door to the hall, where Tony checked him. “ There’s nothing, then, I shall do for you? ”

“It’s done. We’ve helped each other.”

What was deepest in Tony stirred again. “ I mean when your trouble has passed.”

“It will never pass. Think of that when you’re happy yourself.”

Tony’s grey face stared. “ How shall I ever be? ”

The door, as he spoke, opened from the room to which Mrs. Beever had returned, and Jean Martle appeared to them. Dennis retreated. “ Ask her! ” he said from the threshold.

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