The Other House, by Henry James

iv

LEFT alone with the lady of Eastmead, Doctor Ramage studied his watch a little absently. “ Our young friend’s exceedingly nervous.”

Mrs. Beever glanced in the direction in which Rose had disappeared. “ Do you allude to that girl? ”

“I allude to dear Mrs. Tony.”

“It’s equally true of Miss Armiger; she’s as worried as a pea on a pan. Julia, as far as that goes,” Mrs. Beever continued, “ can never have been a person to hold herself together.”

“Precisely — she requires to be held. Well, happily she has Tony to hold her.”

“Then he’s not himself in one of his states? ”

Doctor Ramage hesitated. “ I don’t quite make him out. He seems to have fifty things at once in his head.”

Mrs. Beever looked at the Doctor hard. “ When does he ever not have? But I had a note from him only this morning in the highest spirits.”

Doctor Ramage’s little eyes told nothing but what he wanted. “ Well, whatever happens to him, he’ll always have them! ”

Mrs. Beever at this jumped up. “ Robert

Ramage,” she earnestly demanded, “ what is to happen to that boy? ”

Before he had time to reply there rang out a sudden sound which had, oddly, much of the effect of an answer and which caused them both to start. It was the near vibration, from Mrs. Bream’s room, of one of the smart, loud electric bells which were for Mrs. Beever the very accent of the newness of Bounds. They waited an instant; then the Doctor said quietly: “ It’s for Nurse! ”

“It’s not for you? ” The bell sounded again as she spoke.

“It’s for Nurse,” Doctor Ramage repeated, moving nevertheless to the door he had come in by. He paused again to listen, and the door, the next moment thrown open, gave passage to a tall, good-looking young man, dressed as if, with much freshness, for church, and wearing a large orchid in his buttonhole. “ You rang for Nurse? ” the Doctor immediately said.

The young man stood looking from one of his friends to the other. “ She’s there it’s all right. But ah, my dear people! ” And he passed his hand, with the vivid gesture of brushing away an image, over a face of which the essential radiance was visible even through perturbation.

“How’s Julia now? ” Mrs. Beever asked.

“Much relieved, she tells me, at having spoken.”

“Spoken of what, Tony? ”

“Of everything she can think of that’s incon ceivable that’s damnable.”

“If I hadn’t known that she wanted to do exactly that,” said the Doctor, “ I wouldn’t have given her the opportunity.”

Mrs. Beever’s eyes sounded her colleague of the Bank. “ You’re upset, my poor boy you’re in one of your greatest states. Something painful to you has taken place.”

Tony Bream paid no attention to this remark; all his attention was for his other visitor, who stood with one hand on the door of the hall and an open watch, on which he still placidly gazed, in the other. “Ramage,” the young man suddenly broke out, “ are you keeping something back? Isn’t she safe? ”

The good Doctor’s small, neat face seemed to grow more genially globular. “The dear lady is convinced, you mean, that her very last hour is at hand? ”

“So much so,” Tony replied, “ that if she got you and Nurse away, if she made me kneel down by her bed and take her two hands in mine, what do you suppose it was to say to me? ”

Doctor Ramage beamed. “ Why, of course, that she’s going to perish in her flower. I’ve been through it so often! ” he said to Mrs. Beever.

“Before, but not after,” that lady lucidly rejoined. “She has had her chance of perishing, but now it’s too late.”

“Doctor,” said Tony Bream, “ is my wife going to die? ”

His friend hesitated a moment. “ When a lady’s only symptom of that tendency is the charming volubility with which she dilates upon it, that’s very well as far as it goes. But it’s not quite enough.”

“She says she knows it,” Tony returned. “ But you surely know more than she, don’t you? ”

“I know everything that can be known. I know that when, in certain conditions, pretty young mothers have acquitted themselves of that inevi table declaration, they turn over and go comfortably to sleep.”

“That’s exactly,” said Tony, “ what Nurse must make her do.”

“It’s exactly what she’s doing.” Doctor Ramage had no sooner spoken than Mrs. Bream’s bell sounded for the third time. “ Excuse me! ” he imperturbably added. “ Nurse calls me.”

“And doesn’t she call me?” cried Tony.

“Not in the least.” The Doctor raised his hand with instant authority. “ Stay where you are! ” With this he went off to his patient.

If Mrs. Beever often produced, with promptitude, her theory that the young banker was subject to “states,” this habit, of which he was admirably tolerant, was erected on the sense of something in him of which even a passing observer might have caught a glimpse. A woman of still more wit than Mrs. Beever, whom he had met on the threshold of life, once explained some accident to him by the words: “ The reason is, you know, that you’re so exaggerated.” This had not been a manner of saying that he was inclined to overshoot the truth; it had been an attempt to express a certain quality of passive excess which was the note of the whole man and which, for an attentive eye, began with his neckties and ended with his intonations. To look at him was immediately to see that he was a collection of gifts, which presented themselves as such precisely by having in each case slightly over flowed the measure. He could do things this was all he knew about them; and he was ready-made, as it were he had not had to put himself together. His dress was just too fine, his colour just too high, his moustache just too long, his voice just too loud, his smile just too gay. His movement, his manner, his tone were respectively just too free, too easy and too familiar; his being a very handsome, happy, clever, active, ambitiously local young man was in short just too obvious. But the result of it all was a presence that was in itself a close contact, the air of immediate, unconscious, unstinted life, and of his doing what he liked and liking to please. One of his “ states,” for Mrs. Beever, was the state of his being a boy again, and the sign of it was his talking nonsense. It was not an example of that tendency, but she noted almost as if it were that almost as soon as the Doctor had left them he asked if she had not brought over to him that awfully pretty girl.

“She has been here, but I sent her home again.” Then his visitor added: “ Does she strike you as awfully pretty? ”

“As pretty as a pretty song! I took a tre mendous notion to her.”

“She’s only a child for mercy’s sake don’t show your notion too much! ” Mrs. Beever ejaculated.

Tony Bream gave his bright stare; after which, with his still brighter alacrity, “ I see what you mean: of course I won’t! ” he declared. Then, as if candidly and conscientiously wondering: “ Is it showing it too much to hope she’ll come back to luncheon? ”

“Decidedly if Julia’s so down.”

“That’s only too much for Julia not for her” Tony said with his flurried smile. “ But Julia knows about her, hopes she’s coming and wants everything to be natural and pleasant.” He passed his hand over his eyes again, and as if at the same time recognising that his tone required explanation, “ It’s just because Julia’s so down, don’t you see?” he subjoined. “A fellow can’t stand it.”

Mrs. Beever spoke after a pause during which her companion roamed rather jerkily about. “ It’s a mere accidental fluctuation. You may trust Ramage to know.”

“Yes, thank God, I may trust Ramage to know! ” He had the accent of a man constitu tionally accessible to suggestion, and could turn the next instant to a quarter more cheering. “ Do you happen to have an idea of what has become of Rose? ”

Again Mrs, Beever, making a fresh observation, waited a little before answering. “Do you now call her ‘Rose’? ”

“Dear, yes talking with Julia. And with her” he went on as if he couldn’t quite remember “do I too? Yes,” he recollected, “I think I must.”

“What one must one must,” said Mrs. Beever dryly. “‘Rose,’ then, has gone over to the chemist’s for the Doctor.”

“How jolly of her!” Tony exclaimed. “She’s a tremendous comfort.”

Mrs. Beever committed herself to no opinion on this point, but it was doubtless on account of the continuity of the question that she presently asked: “Who’s this person who’s coming today to marry her?”

“A very good fellow, I believe and ‘ rising ‘: a clerk in some Eastern house.”

“And why hasn’t he come sooner? ”

“Because he has been at Hong Kong, or some such place, trying hard to pick up an income.”

“He’s ‘poor but pushing,’ she says. They’ve no means but her own two hundred.”

“Two hundred a year? That’s quite enough for them! ” Mrs. Beever opined.

“Then you had better tell him so! ” laughed Tony.

“I hope you’ll back me up! ” she returned; after which, before he had time to speak, she broke out with irrelevance: “ How is it she knows what Julia wanted to say to you? ”

Tony, surprised, looked vague. “ Just now? Does she know? I haven’t the least idea.” Rose appeared at this moment behind the glass doors of the vestibule, and he added: “ Here she is.”

“Then you can ask her.”

“Easily,” said Tony. But when the girl came in he greeted her only with a lively word of thanks for the service she had just rendered; so that the lady of Eastmead, after waiting a minute, took the line of assuming with a certain visible rigour that he might have a reason for making his inquiry without an — auditor. Taking temporary leave of him, she mentioned the visitors at home whom she must not forget. “ Then you won’t come back? ” he asked.

“Yes, in an hour or two.”

“And bring Miss What’s-her-name?”

As Mrs. Beever failed to respond to this, Rose Armiger added her voice. “Yes do bring Miss What’s-her-name.” Mrs. Beever, without assent ing, reached the door, which Tony had opened for her. Here she paused long enough to be over taken by the rest of their companion’s appeal. “ I delight so in her clothes.”

“I delight so in her hair! ” Tony laughed.

Mrs. Beever looked from one of them to the other.

“Don’t you think you’ve delight enough with what your situation here already offers? ” She departed with the private determination to return unaccompanied.

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