The Other House, by Henry James

viii

WITH his letter in his hand Dennis Vidal stood and smiled at her. “ What in the world has your dear Tony ‘got,’ and what is he to say? ”

“To say? Something to his wife, who appears to have lashed herself into an extraordinary state.”

The young man’s face fell. “What sort of a state?”

“A strange discouragement about herself. She’s depressed and frightened she thinks she’s sinking.”

Dennis looked grave. “ Poor little lady what a bore for us! I remember her perfectly.”

“She of course remembers you,” Rose said. “ She takes the friendliest interest in your being here.”

“That’s most kind of her in her condition.”

“Oh, her condition,” Rose returned, “ isn’t quite so bad as she thinks.”

“I see.” Dennis hesitated. “And that’s what Mr. Bream’s to tell her.”

“That’s a part of it.” Rose glanced at the docu ment he had brought to her; it was in its enve lope, and he tapped it a little impatiently on his left finger-tips. What she said, however, had no reference to it. “ She’s haunted with a morbid alarm on the subject, of all things, of his marry ing again.”

“If she should die? She wants him not to? ” Dennis asked.

“She wants him not to.” Rose paused a moment. “ She wants to have been the only one.”

He reflected, slightly embarrassed with this peep into a situation that but remotely concerned him. “Well, I suppose that’s the way women often feel.”

“I daresay it is.” The girl’s gravity gave the gleam of a smile. “ I daresay it’s the way I should.”

Dennis Vidal, at this, simply seized her and kissed her. “ You needn’t be afraid you’ll be the only one! ”

His embrace had been the work of a few seconds, and she had made no movement to escape from it; but she looked at him as if to convey that the extreme high spirits it betrayed were perhaps just a trifle mistimed. “ That’s what I recommended him,” she dropped, “ to say to Julia.”

“Why, I should hope so! ” Presently, as if a little struck, Dennis continued: “ Doesn’t he want to?”

“Absolutely. They’re all in all to each other. But he’s naturally much upset and bewildered.”

“And he came to you for advice? ”

“Oh, he comes to me,” Rose said, “ as he might come to talk of her with the mother that, poor dar ling, it’s her misfortune never to have known,”

The young man’s vivacity again played up. “He treats you, you mean, as his mother-in-law? ”

“Very much. But I’m thoroughly nice to him. People can do anything to me who are nice to Julia.”

Dennis was silent a moment; he had slipped his letter out of its cover. “Well, I hope they’re grateful to you for such devotion.”

“Grateful to me, Dennis? They quite adore me.” Then as if to remind him of something it was important he should feel: “ Don’t you see what it is for a poor girl to have such an anchorage as this such honourable countenance, such a place to fall back upon? ”

Thus challenged, her visitor, with a moment’s thought, did frank justice to her question. “ I’m certainly glad you’ve such jolly friends one sees they’re charming people. It has been a great comfort to me lately to know you were with them.” He looked round him, conscientiously, at the bright and beautiful hall. “ It is a good berth, my dear, and it must be a pleasure to live with such fine things. They’ve given me a room up there that’s full of them an awfully nice room.” He glanced at a picture or two he took in the scene. “ Do they roll in wealth? ”

“They’re like all bankers, I imagine,” said Rose. “Don’t bankers always roll? ”

“Yes, they seem literally to wallow. What, a pity we ain’t bankers, eh? ”

“Ah, with my friends here their money’s the least part of them,” the girl answered. “ The great thing’s their personal goodness.”

Dennis had stopped before a large photograph, a great picture in a massive frame, supported, on a table, by a small gilded easel. “ To say nothing of their personal beauty! He’s tremendously good-looking.”

Rose glanced with an indulgent sigh at a representation of Tony Bream in all his splen dour, in a fine white waistcoat and a high white hat, with a stick and gloves and a cigar, his orchid, his stature and his smile. “ Ah, poor Julia’s taste! ”

“Yes,” Dennis exclaimed, “ one can see how he must have fetched her! ”

“I mean the style of the thing,” said Rose.

“It isn’t good, eh? Well, you know.” Then turning away from the picture, the young man added: “ They’ll be after that fellow! ”

Rose faltered. “ The people she fears? ”

“The women-folk, bless ’em if he should lose her.”

“I daresay,” said Rose. “ But he’ll be proof.”

“Has he told you so? ” Dennis smiled.

She met his smile with a kind of conscious bravado in her own. “ In so many words. But he assures me he’ll calm her down.”

Dennis was silent a little: he had now unfolded his letter and run his eyes over it. “ What a funny subject for him to be talking about! ”

“With me, do you mean? ”

“Yes, and with his wife.”

“My dear man,” Rose exclaimed, “you can imagine he didn’t begin it! ”

“Did you?” her companion asked.

She hesitated again, and then, “ Yes idiot! ” she replied with a quiet humour that produced, on his part, another demonstration of tenderness. This attempt she arrested, raising her hand, as she appeared to have heard a sound, with a quick injunction to listen.

“What’s the matter? ”

She bent her ear. “ Wasn’t there a cry from Julia’s room? ”

“I heard nothing.”

Rose was relieved. “ Then it’s only my nervous ness.”

Dennis Vidal held up his letter. “ Is your nervousness too great to prevent your giving a moment’s attention to this? ”

“Ah, your letter! ” Rose’s eyes rested on it as if she had become conscious of it for the first time.

“It very intimately concerns our future,” said her visitor. “ I went up for it so that you should do me the favour to read it.”

She held out her hand promptly and frankly. “Then give it to me let me keep it a little.”

“Certainly; but kindly remember that I’ve still to answer it I mean referring to points. I’ve waited to see you because it’s from the ‘ governor ’ himself practically saying what he’ll do for me.”

Rose held the letter; her large light eyes widened with her wonder and her sympathy. “ Is it some thing very good? ”

Dennis prescribed, with an emphatic but amused nod at the paper, a direction to her curiosity. “Read and you’ll see !”

She dropped her eyes, but after a moment, while her left hand patted her heart, she raised them with an odd, strained expression. “ I mean is it really good enough? ”

“That’s exactly what I want you to tell me! ” Dennis laughed out. A certain surprise at her manner was in his face.

While she noted it she heard a sound again, a sound this time explained by the opening of the door of the vestibule. Doctor Ramage had come back; Rose put down her letter. “I’ll tell you as soon as I have spoken to the Doctor.”

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