The Other House, by Henry James

xxxii

RUSHING to Tony, she wailed under her breath: “ I must speak to you I must speak to you! But how can you ever look at me? how can you ever forgive me?” In an instant he had met her; in a flash the gulf was bridged: his arms had opened wide to her and she had thrown herself into them. They had only to be face to face to let themselves go; he making no answer but to press her close against him, she pouring out her tears upon him as if the contact quickened the source. He held her and she yielded with a passion no bliss could have given; they stood locked together in their misery with no sound and no motion but her sobs. Breast to breast and cheek to cheek, they felt simply that they had ceased to be apart. This long embrace was the extinction of all limits and questions swept away in a flood which tossed them over the years and in which nothing remained erect but the sense and the need of each other. These things had now the beauty of all the tenderness that they had never spoken and that, for some time, even as they clung there, was too strange and too deep for speech. But what was extraordinary was that as Jean dis engaged herself there was neither wonder nor fear between them; nothing but a recognition in which everything swam and, on the girl’s part, the still higher tide of the remorse that harried her and that, to see him, had made her break away from the others. “ They tell me I’m ill, I’m insane,” she went on “they want to shut me up, to give me things they tell me to lie down, to try to sleep. But it’s all to me, so dreadfully, as if it were I who had done it, that when they admitted to me that you were here I felt that if I didn’t see you it would make me as crazy as they say. It’s to have seen her go to have seen her go: that’s what I can’t bear it’s too horrible! ” She continued to sob; she stood there before him swayed to and fro in her grief. She stirred up his own, and that added to her pain; for a minute, in their separate sorrow, they moved asunder like creatures too stricken to communicate. But they were quickly face to face again, more intimate, with more understood, though with the air, on either side and in the very freedom of their action, of a clear vision of the effect of their precipitated union the instinct of not again touching it with unconsecrated hands. Tony had no idle words, no easy consola tion; she only made him see more vividly what had happened, and they hung over it together while she accused and reviled herself. “ I let her go I let her go; that’s what’s so terrible, so hideous. I might have got her have kept her; I might have screamed, I might have rushed for help. But how could I know or dream? How could the worst of my fears —?” She broke off, she shuddered ancj dropped; she sat and sobbed while he came and went. “ I see her little face as she left me she looked at me as if she knew. She wondered and dreaded: she knew she knew! It was the last little look I was to have from her, and I didn’t even answer it with a kiss. She sat there where I could seize her, but I never raised a hand. I was close, I was there she must have called for me in her terror! I didn’t listen I didn’t come I only gave her up to be murdered! And now I shall be punished for ever: I shall see her in those arms in those arms! ” Jean flung herself down and hid her face; her smothered wild lament filled the room.

Tony stopped before her, seeing everything she brought up, but only the more helpless in his pity. “It was the only little minute in all the years that you had been forced to fail her. She was always more yours than mine.”

Jean could only look out through her storm-beaten window. “ It was just because she was yours that she was mine. It was because she was yours from the first hour that I!” She broke down again;

she tried to hold herself; she got up. “ What could I do, you see? To you I couldn’t be kind.” She was as exposed in her young, pure woe as a bride might have been in her joy.

Tony looked as if he were retracing the saddest story on earth. “ I don’t see how you could have been kinder.”

She wondered with her blinded eyes. “ That wasn’t what thought I was it couldn’t be, ever, ever. Didn’t I try not to think of you? But the child was a beautiful part of you the child I could take and keep. I could take her altogether, without thinking or remembering. It was the only thing I could do for you, and you let me, always, and she did. So I thought it would go on, for wasn’t it happiness enough? But all the horrible things I didn’t know them till today! There they were so near to us; and there they closed over her, and oh!” She turned away in a fresh wild spasm, inarticulate and distracted.

They wandered in silence, as if it made them more companions; but at last Tony said: “ She was a little radiant, perfect thing. Even if she had not been mine you would have loved her.” Then he went on, as if feeling his way through his thickest darkness: “ If she had not been mine she wouldn’t be lying there as I’ve seen her. Yet I’m glad she was mine!” he said.

“She lies there because I loved her and because I so insanely showed it. That’s why it’s I who killed her!” broke passionately from Jean.

He answered nothing till he quietly and gently answered: “ It was I who killed her.”

She roamed to and fro, slowly controlling herself, taking this at first as a mere torment like her own. “We seem beautifully eager for the guilt! ”

“It doesn’t matter what any one else seems. I must tell you all now. I’ve taken the act on myself.”

She had stopped short, bewildered. “ How have you taken it? ”

“To meet whatever may come.”

She turned as white as ashes. “ You mean you’ve accused yourself? ”

“Any one may accuse me. Whom is it more natural to accuse? What had she to gain? My own motive is flagrant. There it is,” said Tony.

Jean withered beneath this new stroke. “ You’ll say you did it? ”

“I’ll say I did it.”

Her face grew old with terror. “ You’ll lie? You’ll perjure yourself? ”

“I’ll say I did it for you.”

She suddenly turned crimson. “Then what do you think Til say? ”

Tony coldly considered. “ Whatever you say will tell against me.”

“Against you? ”

“If the crime was committed for you.”

“ ‘For’ me?” she echoed again.

“To enable us to marry.”

“Marry? we?” Jean looked at it in blighted horror.

“It won’t be of any consequence that we shan’t, that we can’t: it will only stand out clear that we can” His sombre ingenuity halted, but he achieved his demonstration. “ So I shall save whom I wish to save.”

Jean gave a fiercer wail. “ You wish to save her? ”

“I don’t wish to hand her over. You can’t con ceive it?”

“I?” The girl looked about her for a negation not too vile. “ I wish to hunt her to death! I wish to burn her alive!” All her emotion had changed to stupefaction; the flame in her eyes had dried them. “You mean she’s not to suffer? ”

“You want her to suffer all? ”

She was ablaze with the light of justice. “ How can anything be enough? I could tear her limb from limb. That’s what she tried to do to me! ”

Tony lucidly concurred. “ Yes what she tried to do to you.”

But she had already flashed round. “ And yet you condone the atrocity? ”

Tony thought a moment. “ Her doom will be to live.”

“But how will such a fiend be suffered tfo live when she went to it before my eyes?” Jean stared at the mountain of evidence; then eagerly: “And Mr. Vidal her very lover, who’ll swear what he knows what he saw! ”

Tony stubbornly shook his head. “ Oh, Mr. Vidal! ”

“To make me,” Jean cried, “seem the mon ster —! ”

Tony looked at her so strangely that she stopped. “She made it for the moment possible

She caught him up. “ To suspect me? ”

“I was mad and you’re weren’t there.” With a muffled moan she sank down again; she covered her face with her hands. “ I tell you all I tell you all,” he said. “ He knows nothing he saw nothing he’ll swear nothing. He’s taking her away.”

Jean started as if he had struck her. “She’s here?” .

Tony wondered. “ You didn’t know it? ”

“She came back?” the girl panted.

“You thought she had fled? ”

Jean hung there like a poised hawk. “ Where is she? ”

Tony gave her, with a grave gesture, a long, absolute look before which, gradually, her passion fell. “ She has gone. Let her go.”

She was silent a little. “ But others: how will they? ”

“There are no others.” After a moment he added: “ She would have died for me.”

The girl’s pale wrath gave a flare. “So you want to die for her?”

“I shan’t die. But I shall remember.” Then, as she watched him, “ I must tell you all,” he said once more. “ I knew it I always knew it. And I made her come.”

“You were kind to her as you’re always kind.”

“No; I was more than that. And I should have been less.” His face showed a rift in the blackness. “I remember.”

She followed him in pain and at a distance. “You mean you liked it? ”

“I liked it while I was safe. Then I grew afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of everything. You don’t know but we’re abysses. At least I’m one!” he groaned. He seemed to sound this depth. “There are other things. They go back far.”

“Don’t tell me all,” said Jean. She had evidently enough to turn over. “ What will become of her? ” she asked.

“God knows. She goes forth.”

“And Mr. Vidal with her? ”

“Mr. Vidal with her.”

Jean gazed at the tragic picture. “ Because he still loves her? ”

“Yes,” said Tony Bream.

“Then what will he do?”

“Put the globe between them. Think of her torture,” Tony added.

Jean looked as if she tried. “ Do you mean that?”

He meant another matter. “ To have only made us free.”

Jean protested with all her woe. “ It’s her triumph that our freedom is horrible! ”

Tony hesitated; then his eyes distinguished in the outer dusk Paul Beever, who had appeared at the long window which in the mild air stood open to the terrace. “ It’s horrible,” he gravely replied.

Jean had not seen Paul; she only heard Tony’s answer. It touched again the the source of tears; she broke again into stifled sobs. So, blindly, slowly, while the two men watched her, she passed from the room by the door at which she had entered.

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