The Other House, by Henry James

xxxiii

“YOU’RE looking for me?” Tony quickly asked.

Paul, blinking in the lamplight, showed the dismal desert of his face. “ I saw you through the open window, and I thought I would let you know

“That some one wants me?” Tony was all ready.

“She hasn’t asked for you; but I think that if you could do it

“I can do anything,” said Tony. “ But of whom do you speak? ”

“Of one of your servants poor Mrs. Gorham.”

“Effie’s nurse? she has come over? ”

“She’s in the garden,” Paul explained. “I’ve been floundering about I came upon her.”

Tony wondered. “ But what’s she doing? ”

“Crying very hard without a sound.”

“And without coming in? ”

“Out of discretion.”

Tony thought a moment. “ You mean because Jean and the Doctor? ”

“Have taken complete charge. She bows to that, but she sits there on a bench ”

“Weeping and wailing?” Tony asked. “ Dear thing, I’ll speak to her.”

He was about to leave the room in the summary manner permitted by the long widow when Paul checked him with a quiet reminder. “ Hadn’t you better have your hat? ”

Tony looked about him he had not brought it in. “Why? if it’s a warm night? ”

Paul approached him, laying on him as if to stay him a heavy but friendly hand. “You never go out without it don’t be too unusual.”

“I see what you mean I’ll get it.” And he made for the door to the hall.

But Paul had not done with him. “It’s much better you should see her it’s unnatural you shouldn’t. But do you mind my just thinking for you the least bit asking you for instance what it’s your idea to say to her? ”

Tony had the air of accepting this solicitude; but he met the inquiry with characteristic candour. “I think I’ve no idea but to talk with her of Effie.”

Paul visibly wondered. “ As dangerously ill? That’s all she knows.”

Tony considered an instant. “Yes, then as dangerously ill. Whatever she’s prepared for.”

“But what are you prepared for? You’re not afraid?” Paul hesitated.

“Afraid of what?”

“Of suspicions importunities; her making some noise.”

Tony slowly shook his head. “I don’t think,” he said very gravely, “that I’m afraid of poor Gorham.”

Paul looked as if he felt that his warning half failed. “ Every one else is. She’s tremendously devoted.”

“Yes that’s what I mean.”

Paul sounded him a moment. “ You mean to you?”

The irony was so indulgent and all irony on this young man’s part was so rare that Tony was to be excused for not perceiving it. “ She’ll do anything. We’re the best of friends.”

“Then get your hat,” said Paul.

“It’s much the best thing. Thank you for telling me.” Even in a tragic hour there was so much in Tony of the ingenuous that, with his habit of good nature and his hand on the door, he lingered for the comfort of his friend. “ She’ll be a resource a fund of memory. She’ll know what I mean I shall want some one. So we can always talk.”

“Oh, you’re safe!” Paul went on.

It had now all come to Tony. “ I see my way with her.”

“So do I!” said Paul.

Tony fairly brightened through his gloom. “ I’ll keep her on!” And he took his course by the front. Left alone Paul closed the door on him, holding it a minute and lost evidently in reflections of which he was the subject. He exhaled a long sigh that was burdened with many things; then as he moved away his eyes attached themselves as if in sympathy with a vague impulse to the door of the library. He stood a moment irresolute; after which, deeply restless, he went to take up the hat that, on coming in, he had laid on one of the tables. He was in the act of doing this when the door of the library opened and Rose Armiger stood before him. She had since their last meeting changed her dress and, arrayed for a journey, wore a bonnet and a long f dark mantle. For some time after she appeared no word came from either; but at last she said: “Can you endure for a minute the sight of me?”

“I was hesitating I thought of going to you,” Paul replied. “ I knew you were there.”

At this she came into the room. “ I knew you were here. You passed the window.”

“I’ve passed and repassed this hour.”

“I’ve known that too, but this time I heard you stop. I’ve no light there,” she went on, “but the window, on this side, is open. I could tell that you had come in.”

Paul hesitated. “ You ran a danger of not finding me alone.”

“I took my chance — of course I knew. I’ve been in dread, but in spite of it I’ve seen nobody. I’ve been up to my room and come down. The coast was clear.”

“You’ve not then seen Mr. Vidal? ”

“Oh yes him. But he’s nobody.” Then as if conscious of the strange sound of this: “ Nobody, I mean, to fear.”

Paul was silent a moment. “ What in the world is it you fear? ”

“In the sense of the awful things you know? Here on the spot nothing. About those things I’m quite quiet. There may be plenty to come; but what I’m afraid of now is my safety. There’s some thing in that!” She broke down; there was more in it than she could say.

“Are yon so sure of your safety? ”

“You see how sure. It’s in your face,” said Rose. “And your face for what it says is terrible.”

Whatever it said remained there as Paul looked at her. “ Is it as terrible as yours?” he asked.

“Oh, mine mine must be hideous; unutterably hideous forever! Yours is beautiful. Everything, every one here is beautiful.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Paul.

“How should you? It isn’t to ask you to do that that I’ve come to you.”

He waited in his woful wonder. “ For what have you come? ”

“You can endure it, then, the sight of me? ”

“Haven’t I told you that I thought of going to you? ”

“Yes but you didn’t go,” said Rose. “You came and went like a sentinel, and if k was to watch me ”

Paul interrupted her. “ It wasn’t to watch you.”

“Then what was it for? ”

“It was to keep myself quiet,” said Paul.

“But you’re anything but quiet.”

“Yes,” he dismally allowed; “ I’m anything but quiet”

“There’s something then that may help you: it’s one of two things for which I’ve come to you. And there’s no one but you to care. You may care a very little; it may give you a grain of comfort. Let your comfort be that I’ve failed.”

Paul, after a. — long look at her, turned away with a vague, dumb gesture, and it was a part of his sore trouble that, in his wasted strength, he had no outlet for emotion, no channel even for pain. She took in for a moment his clumsy, massive misery. “ No you loathe my presence,” she said.

He stood awhile in silence with his back to her, as if within him some violence were struggling up; then with an effort, almost with a gasp, he turned round, his open watch in his hand. “ I saw Mr. Vidal,” was all he produced.

“And he told you too he would come back for me?”

“He said there was something he had to do, but that he would meanwhile get ready. He would return immediately with a carriage.”

“That’s why I’ve waited,” Rose replied. “I’m ready enough. But he won’t come.”

“He’ll come,” said Paul. “ But it’s more than time.”

She drearily shook her head. “Not after getting off ‘not back to the horror and the shame. He thought so; no doubt he has tried. But it’s beyond him.”

“Then what are you waiting for? ”

She hesitated. “ Nothing now. Thank you.” She looked about her. “ How shall I go?”

Paul went to the window; for a moment he listened. “ I thought I heard wheels.”

She gave ear; but once more she shook her head. “There are no wheels, buf I can go that way.”

He turned back again, heavy and uncertain; he stood wavering and wondering in her path. “ What will become of you? ” he asked.

“How do I know and what do I care? ”

“What will become of you? what will become of you?” he went on as if he had not heard her.

“You pity me too much,” she answered after an instant. “ I’ve failed, but I did what I could. It was all that I saw it was all that was left me. It took hold of me, it possessed me: it was the last gleam of a chance.”

Paul flushed like a sick man under a new wave of weakness. “ Of a chance for what? ”

“To make him take her. You’ll say my calcu lation was grotesque my stupidity as ignoble as my crime. All I can answer is that I might none the less have succeeded. People have in worse con ditions. But I don’t defend myself I’m face to face with my mistake. I’m face to face with it forever and that’s how I wish you to see me. Look at me well! ”

“I would have done anything for you!” Paul as if all talk with her were vain, wailed under his breath.

She considered this; her dreadful face was lighted by the response it kindled, “ Would you do any thing now?” He answered nothing; he seemed lost in the vision of what was carrying her through. “I saw it as I saw it,” she continued: “ there it was and there it is. There it is there it is,” she repeated in a tone sharp, for a flash, with all the excitement she contrived to keep under. “ It has nothing to do now with any part or any other possibility even of what may be worst in me. It’s a storm that’s past, it’s a debt that’s paid. I may literally be better.” At the expression this brought out in him she inter rupted herself. “You don’t understand a word I utter! ”

He was following her as she showed she could see only in the light of his own emotion; not in that of any feeling that she herself could present. “Why didn’t you speak to me why didn’t you tell me what you were thinking? There was nothing you couldn’t have told me, nothing that wouldn’t have brought me nearer. If I had known your abasement ”

“What would you have done?” Rose demanded.

“I would have saved you.”

“What would you have done?” she pressed.

“Everything.”

She was silent while he went to the window. “Yes, I’ve lost you I’ve lost you,” she said at last. “And you were the thing I might have had. He told me that, and I knew it.”

“‘He’ told you?” Paul had faced round.

“He tried to put me off on you. That was what finished me. Of course they’ll marry,” she abruptly continued.

“Oh yes, they’ll marry.”

“But not soon, do you suppose? ”

“Not soon. But sooner than they think.”

Rose looked surprised. “Do you already know what they think? ”

“Yes that it will never be.”

“Never?”

“Coming about so horribly. But some day it will be.”

“It will be,” said Rose. “And I shall have done it for him. That’s more,” she said, “than even you would have done for me”

Strange tears had found their way between Paul’s closed lids. “You’re too horrible,” he breathed; “you’re too horrible.”

“Oh, I talk only to you: it’s all for you. Remem ber, please, that I shall never speak again. You see,” she went on, “ that he daren’t come.”

Paul looked afresh at his watch. “ I’ll go with you.”

Rose hesitated. “ How far? ”

“I’ll go with you,” he simply repeated.

She looked at him hard; in her eyes too there were tears. “ My safety my safety!” she mur mured as if awestruck.

Paul went round for his hat, which on his entrance he had put down. “ I’ll go with you,” he said once more.

Still, however, she hesitated. “ Won’t he need you? ”

“Tony? for what? ”

“For help.”

It took Paul a moment to understand. “ He wants none.”

“You mean he has nothing to fear? ”

“From any suspicion? Nothing.”

“That’s his advantage,” said Rose. “ People like him too much.”

“People like him too much,” Paul replied. Then he exclaimed: “Mr. Vidal!” to which, as she looked, Rose responded with a low, deep moan.

Dennis had appeared at the window; he gave signal in a short, sharp gesture and remained standing in the dusk of the terrace. Paul put down his hat; he turned away to leave his com panion free. She approached him while Dennis waited; she lingered desperately, she wavered, as if with a last word to speak. As he only stood rigid, however, she faltered, choking her impulse and giving her word the form of a look. The look held her a moment, held her so long that Dennis spoke sternly from the darkness: “ Come!” At this, for a space as great, she fixed her eyes on him; then while the two men stood motionless she decided and reached the window. He put out a hand and seized her, and they passed quickly into the night. Paul, left alone, again sounded a long sigh; this time it was the deep breath of a man who has seen a great danger averted. It had scarcely died away before Tony Bream returned. He came in from the hall as eagerly as he had gone out, and, finding Paul, gave him his news: “Well I took her home.”

Paul required a minute to carry his thoughts back to Gorham. “ Oh, she went quietly? ”

“Like a bleating lamb. She’s too glad to stay on.”

Paul turned this over; but as if his confidence now had solid ground he asked no question. “ Ah, you’re all right! ” he simply said.

Tony reached the door through which Jean had left the room; he paused there in surprise at this incongruous expression. Yet there was something absent in the way he echoed “ All right? ”

“I mean you have such a pull. You’ll meet nothing but sympathy.

Tony looked indifferent and uncertain; but his optimism finally assented. “ I daresay I shall get on. People perhaps won’t challenge me.”

“They like you too much.”

Tony, with his hand on the door, appeared struck with this; but it embittered again the taste of his tragedy. He remembered with all his vividness to what tune he had been “liked,” and he wearily bowed his head. “ Oh, too much, Paul !” he sighed as he went out.

THE END

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