The Other House, by Henry James

vi

DENNIS VIDAL, when the door had closed on his host, drew again to his breast the girl to whom he was plighted and pressed her there with silent joy. She softly submitted, then still more softly dis engaged herself, though in his flushed firmness he but partly released her. The light of admiration was in his hard young face a visible tribute to what she showed again his disaccustomed eyes. Holding her yet, he covered her with a smile that produced two strong but relenting lines on either side of his dry, thin lips. “ My own dearest,” he murmured, “ you’re still more so than one remem bered!”

She opened her clear eyes wider. “Still more what? ”

“Still more of a fright! ” And he kissed her again.

“It’s you that are wonderful, Dennis,” she said; “you look so absurdly young.”

He felt with his lean, fine brown hand his spare, clean brown chin. “If I looked as old as I feel, dear girl, they’d have my portrait in the illustrated papers.”

He had now drawn her down upon the nearest sofa, and while he sat sideways, grasping the wrist of which he remained in possession after she had liberated her fingers, she leaned back and took him in with a deep air of her own. “ And yet it’s not that you’re exactly childish or so extraordinarily fresh,” she went on as if to puzzle out, for her satisfaction, her impression of him.

“‘Fresh,’ my dear girl! ” He gave a little happy jeer; then he raised her wrist to his mouth and held it there as long as she would let him, looking at her hard. “ That’s the freshest thing I’ve ever been conscious of! ” he exclaimed as she drew away her hand and folded her arms.

“You’re worn, but you’re not wasted,” she brought out in her kind but considering way. “You’re awfully well, you know.”

“Yes, I’m awfully well, I know ” he spoke with just the faintest ring of impatience. Then he added: “ Your voice, all the while, has been in my irs. But there’s something you put into it that icy out there, stupid things! couldn’t. Don’t size me up’ so,” he continued smiling; “you lake me nervous about what I may seem to come to!”

They had both shown shyness, but Rose’s was already gone. She kept her inclined position and her folded arms; supported by the back of the sofa, icr head preserved, toward the side on which he >at, its charming contemplative turn. “ I’m only thinking,” she said, “ that you look young just as a steel instrument of the best quality, no matter how much it’s handled, often looks new.”

“Ah, if you mean I’m kept bright by use! ” the young man laughed.

“You’re polished by life.”

“‘Polished’ is delightful of you! ”

“I’m not sure you’ve come back handsomer than you went,” said Rose, “ and I don’t know if you’ve come back richer.”

“Then let me immediately tell you I have! ” Dennis broke in.

She received the announcement, for a minute, in silence: a good deal more passed between this pair than they uttered. “ What I was going to say,” she then quietly resumed, “ is that I’m awfully pleased with myself when I see that at any rate you’re what shall I call you? a made man.”

Dennis frowned a little through his happiness. “With yourself? Aren’t you a little pleased with me? ”

She hesitated. “With myself first, because I was sure of you first.”

“Do you mean before I was of you? I’m somehow not sure of you yet! ” the young man declared.

Rose coloured slightly; but she gaily laughed. “Then I’m ahead of you in everything! ”

Leaning toward her with all his intensified need of her and holding by his extended arm the top of the sofa-back, he worried with his other hand a piece of her dress, which he had begun to finger for want of something more responsive. “You’re as far beyond me still as all the distance I’ve come.”

He had dropped his eyes upon the crumple he made in her frock, and her own during that moment, from her superior height, descended upon him with a kind of unseen appeal. When he looked up again it was gone. “ What do you mean by a ‘ made ‘ man? ” he asked.

“Oh, not the usual thing, but the real thing. A man one needn’t worry about.”

“Thank you! The man not worried about is the man who muffs it.”

“That’s a horrid, selfish speech,” said Rose Armiger. “You don’t deserve I should tell you what a success I now feel that you’ll be.”

“Well, darling,” Dennis answered, “ that matters the less as I know exactly the occasion on which I shall fully feel it for myself.”

Rose manifested no further sense of this occasion than to go straight on with her idea. She placed her arm with frank friendship on his shoulder. It drew him closer, and he recovered his grasp of her free hand. With his want of stature and presence, his upward look at her, his small, smooth head, his seasoned sallowness and simple eyes, he might at this instant have struck a spectator as a figure actually younger and slighter than the ample, accomplished girl whose gesture protected and even a little patronised him. But in her vision of him she none the less clearly found full warrant for saying, instead of something he expected, something she wished and had her reasons for wishing, even if they represented but the gain of a minute’s time

“You’re not splendid, my dear old Dennis you’re not dazzling, nor dangerous, nor even exactly dis tinguished. But you’ve a quiet little something that the tiresome time has made perfect, and that just here where you’ve come to me at last makes me immensely proud of you! ”

She had with this so far again surrendered her self that he could show her in the ways he pre ferred how such a declaration touched him. The place in which he had come to her at last was of a nature to cause him to look about at it, just as to begin to inquire was to learn from her that he had dropped upon a crisis. He had seen Mrs. Bream, under Rose’s wing, in her maiden days; but in his eagerness to jump at a meeting with the only woman really important to him he had perhaps intruded more than he supposed. Though he ex pressed again the liveliest sense of the kindness of these good people, he was unable to conceal his disappointment at finding their inmate agitated also by something quite distinct from the joy of his arrival. “Do you really think the poor lady will spoil our fun? ” he rather resentfully put it to her.

“It will depend on what our fun may demand of her,” said Rose. “ If you ask me if she’s in danger, I think not quite that: in such a case I must cer tainly have put you off. I dare say today will show the contrary. But she’s so much to me you know how much that I’m uneasy, quickly upset; and if I seem to you flustered and not myself and not with you, I beg you to attribute it simply to the situation in the house.”

About this situation they had each more to say, and about many matters besides, for they faced each other over the deep waters of the accumulated and the undiscussed. They could keep no order and for five minutes more they rather helplessly played with the flood. Dennis was rueful at first, for what he seemed to have lighted upon was but half his opportunity; then he had an inspiration which made him say to his companion that they should both, after all, be able to make terms with any awkwardness by simply meeting it with a con sciousness that their happiness had already taken form.

“Our happiness? ” Rose was all interest.

“Why, the end of our delays.”

She smiled with every allowance. “Do you mean we’re to go out and be married this minute? ”

“Well almost; as soon as I’ve read you a letter.” He produced, with the words, his pocket-book.

She watched him an instant turn over its con tents. “What letter?”

“The best one I ever got. What have I done with it? ” On his feet before her, he continued his search.

“From your people? ”

“From my people. It met me in town, and it makes everything possible.”

She waited while he fumbled in his pockets;

with her hands clasped in her lap she sat looking up at him. “Then it’s certainly a thing for me to hear.”

“But what the dickens have I done with it? ” Staring at her, embarrassed, he clapped his hands, on coat and waistcoat, to other receptacles; at the end of a moment of which he had become aware of the proximity of the noiseless butler, upright in the high detachment of the superior servant who has embraced the conception of unpacking.

“Might I ask you for your keys, sir? ”

Dennis Vidal had a light he smote his forehead. “Stupid it’s in my portmanteau! ”

“Then go and get it! ” said Rose, who perceived as she spoke, by the door that faced her, that Tony Bream was rejoining them. She got up, and Tony, agitated, as she could see, but with complete com mand of his manners, immediately and sociably said to Dennis that he was ready to guide him upstairs. Rose, at this, interposed. “ Do let Walker take him I want to speak to you.”

Tony smiled at the young man. “Will you excuse me then? ” Dennis protested against the trouble he was giving, and Walker led him away. Rose meanwhile waited not only till they were out of sight and of earshot, but till the return of Tony, who, his hand on Vidal’s shoulder, had gone with them as far as the door.

“Has he brought you good news? ” said the master of Bounds.

“Very good. He’s very well; he’s all right.”

Tony’s flushed face gave to the laugh with which he greeted this almost the effect of that of a man who had been drinking. “ Do you mean he’s quite faithful? ”

Rose always met a bold joke. “ As faithful as I! But your news is the thing.”

“Mine? ” He closed his eyes a moment, but stood there scratching his head as if to carry off with a touch of comedy his betrayal of emotion.

“Has Julia repeated her declaration? ”

Tony looked at her in silence. “ She has done something more extraordinary than that,” he replied at last.

“What has she done? ”

Tony glanced round him, then dropped into a chair. He covered his face with his hands. “ I must get over it a little before I tell you! ”

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