The Other House, by Henry James

ix

THE Doctor, eagerly, spoke to her first. “ Our friend has not come back? ”

“Mine has,” said Rose with grace. “Let me introduce Mr. Vidal.” Doctor Ramage beamed a greeting, and our young lady, with her discreet gaiety, went on to Dennis: “ He too thinks all the world of me.”

“Oh, she’s a wonder she knows what to do! But you’ll see that for yourself,” said the Doctor.

“I’m afraid you won’t approve of me,” Dennis replied with solicitude. “ You’ll think me rather in your patient’s way.”

Doctor Ramage laughed. “ No indeed I’m sure Miss Armiger will keep you out of it.” Then look ing at his watch, “ Bream’s not with her still? ” he inquired of Rose.

“He came away, but he returned to her.”

“He shouldn’t have done that.”

“It was by my advice, and I’m sure you’ll find it’s all right,” Rose returned. “ But you’ll send him back to us.”

“On the spot.” The Doctor picked his way out.

“He’s not at all easy,” Dennis pronounced when he had gone.

Rose demurred. “ How do you know that? ”

“By looking at him. I’m not such a fool,” her visitor added with some emphasis, “as you strike me as wishing to make of me.”

Rose candidly stared. “ As I strike you as wish ing? ” For a moment this young couple looked at each other hard, and they both changed colour. “My dear Dennis, what do you mean? ”

He evidently felt that he had been almost violently abrupt; but it would have been equally evident to a spectator that he was a man of cool courage. “I mean, Rose, that I don’t quite know what’s the matter with you. It’s as if, unexpectedly, on my eager arrival, I find something or other between us.”

She appeared immensely relieved. “ Why, my dear child, of course you do! Poor Julia’s between us much between us.” She faltered again; then she broke out with emotion: “ I may as well confess it frankly I’m miserably anxious. Good heavens,” she added with impatience, “ don’t you see it for yourself? ”

“I certainly see that you’re agitated and absent as you warned me so promptly you would be. But remember you’ve quite denied to me the gravity of Mrs. Bream’s condition.”

Rose’s impatience overflowed into a gesture. “I’ve been doing that to deceive my own self! ”

“I understand,” said Dennis kindly. “Still,” he went on, considering, “it’s either one thing or the other. The poor lady’s either dying, you know, or she ain’t! ”

His friend looked at him with a reproach too fine to be uttered. “ My dear Dennis you’re rough! ”

He showed a face as conscientious as it was blank. “ I’m crude possibly coarse? Perhaps I am without intention.”

“Think what these people are to me,” said Rose.

He was silent a little. “ Is it anything so very extraordinary? Oh, I know,” he went on, as if he feared she might again accuse him of a want of feeling; “I appreciate them perfectly I do them full justice. Enjoying their hospitality here, I’m conscious of all their merits.” The letter she had put down was still on the table, and he took it up and fingered it a moment. “ All I mean is that I don’t want you quite to sink the fact that I’m something to you too.”

She met this appeal with instant indulgence. “Be a little patient with me,” she gently said. Before he could make a rejoinder she pursued: “You yourself are impressed with the Doctor’s being anxious. I’ve been trying not to think so, but I daresay you’re right. There I’ve another worry.”

“The greater your worry, then, the more press ing our business.” Dennis spoke with cordial decision, while Rose, moving away from him, reached the door by which the Doctor had gone out. She stood there as if listening, and he continued: “ It’s me, you know, that you’ve now to ‘fall back ‘upon.”

She had already raised a hand with her clear “Hush! ” and she kept her eyes on her com panion while she tried to catch a sound. “The Doctor said he would send him out of the room. But he doesn’t.”

“All the better for your reading this.” Dennis held out the letter to her.

She quitted her place. “If he’s allowed to stay, there must be something wrong.”

“I’m very sorry for them; but don’t you call that a statement? ”

“Ah, your letter?” Her attention came back to it, and, taking it from him, she dropped again npon the sofa with it. “ Voyons, voyons this great affair!” she had the air of trying to talk herself nto calmness.

Dennis stood a moment before her. “ It puts us on a footing that really seems to me sound.”

She had turned over the leaf to take the measure of the document; there were three, large, close, neat pages. “ He’s a trifle long-winded, the ‘ governor ’! ”

“The longer the better,” Dennis laughed, “ when it’s all in that key! Read it, my dear, quietly and carefully; take it in ‘it’s really simple enough. ” He spoke soothingly and tenderly, turning off to give her time and not oppress her. He moved slowly about the hall, whistling very faintly and looking again at the pictures, and when he had left her she followed him a minute with her eyes. Then she transferred them to the door at which she had just listened; instead of reading she watched as if for a movement of it. If there had been any one at that moment to see her face, such an observer would have found it strangely, tragic ally convulsed: she had the appearance of holding in with extraordinary force some passionate sob or cry, some smothered impulse of anguish. This appearance vanished miraculously as Dennis turned at the end of the room, and what he saw, while the great showy clock ticked in the scented still ness, was only his friend’s study of what he had put before her. She studied it long, she studied it in silence a silence so unbroken by inquiry or com ment that, though he clearly wished not to seem to hurry her, he drew nearer again at last and stood as if waiting for some sign.

“Don’t you call that really meeting a fellow? ”

“I must read it again,” Rose replied without looking up. She turned afresh to the beginning, and he strolled away once more. She went through to the end; after which she said with tranquillity, folding the letter: “ Yes; it show r s what they think of you.” She put it down where she had put it before, getting up as he came back to her. tl It’s good not only for what he says, but for the way he says it.”

“It’s a jolly bit more than I expected.” Dennis picked the letter up and, restoring it to its en velope, slipped it almost lovingly into a breast pocket. “ It does show, I think, that they don’t want to lose me.”

“They’re not such fools!” Rose had in her turn moved off, but now she faced him, so intensely pale that he was visibly startled; all the more that it marked still more her white grimace. “ My dear boy, it’s a splendid future.”

“I’m glad it strikes you so! ” he laughed.

“It’s a great joy you’re all right. As I said a while ago, you’re a made man.”

“Then by the same token, of course, you’re a made woman! ”

“I’m very, very happy about you,” she brightly conceded. “The great thing is that there’s more to come.”

“Rather there’s more to come! ” said Dennis. He stood meeting her singular smile. “I’m only waiting for it.”

“I mean there’s a lot behind a general attitude. Read between the lines! ”

“Don’t you suppose I have, miss? I didn’t venture, myself, to say that to you,”

“Do I have so to be prompted and coached? ” asked Rose. “I don’t believe you even see all I mean. There are hints and tacit promises glimpses of what may happen if you’ll give them time.”

“Oh, I’ll give them time! ” Dennis declared. “But he’s really awfully cautious. You’re sharp to have made out so much.”

“Naturally I’m sharp.” Then, after an instant,- “Let me have the letter again,” the girl said, holding out her hand. Dennis promptly drew it forth, and she took it and went over it in silence once more. He turned away as he had done before, to give her a chance; he hummed slowly, to himself, about the room, and once more, at the end of some minutes, it appeared to strike him that she prolonged her perusal. But when he approached her again she was ready with her clear contentment. She folded the letter and handed it back to him. “Oh, you’ll do!” she proclaimed.

“You’re really quite satisfied? ”

She hesitated a moment. “For the present perfectly.” Her eyes were on the precious document as he fingered it, and something in his way of doing so made her break into incon gruous gaiety. He had opened it delicately and been caught again by a passage. “You handle it as if it were a thousand-pound note ‘”

He looked up at her quickly. “It’s much more than that. Capitalise his figure.”

“‘ Capitalise’ it? ”

“Find the invested sum.”

Rose thought a moment. “Oh, I’ll do every thing for you but cipher! But it’s millions.” Then as he returned the letter to his pocket she added: “You should have that thing mounted in double glass with a little handle like a hand-screen.”

“There’s certainly nothing too good for the charter of our liberties for that’s what it really is,” Dennis said. “ But you can face the music? ” he went on.

“The music? ” Rose was momentarily blank.

He looked at her hard again. “You have, my dear, the most extraordinary vacancies. The figure, we’re talking of the poor, dear little figure. The five-hundred-and-forty,” he a trifle sharply explained. “That’s about what it makes.”

“Why, it seems to me a lovely little figure,” said the girl. “To the ‘ likes ’ of me, how can that be anything but a duck of an income? Then,” she exclaimed, “think also of what’s to come! ”

“Yes but I’m not speaking of anything you may bring.”

Rose wavered, judicious, as if trying to be as attentive as he desired. “I see without that. But I wasn’t speaking of that either,” she added.

“Oh, you may count it I only mean I don’t touch it. And the going out you take that too? ” Dennis asked.

Rose looked brave. “Why it’s only for two years.”

He flushed suddenly, as with a flood of reassur ance, putting his arms round her as round the fulfilment of his dream. “Ah, my own old girl! ”

She let him clasp her again, but when she disen gaged herself they were somehow nearer to the door that led away to Julia Bream. She stood there as she had stood before, while he still held one of her hands; then she brought forth some thing that betrayed an extraordinary disconnection from all that had just preceded. “I can’t make out why he doesn’t send him back! ”

Dennis Vidal dropped her hand; both his own went into his pockets, and he gave a kick to the turned-up corner of a rug. “Mr. Bream the Doctor? Oh, they know what they’re about! ”

“The doctor doesn’t at all want him to be there. Something has happened,” Rose declared as she left the door.

Her companion said nothing for a moment. “Do you mean the poor lady’s gone? ” he at last demanded.

“Gone? ” Rose echoed.

“Do you mean Mrs. Bream is dead? ”

His question rang out so that Rose threw herself back in horror. “Dennis God forbid!”

“God forbid too, I say. But one doesn’t know what you mean you’re too difficult to follow. One thing, at any rate, you clearly have in your head that we must take it as possibly on the cards. That’s enough to make it remarkably to the point to remind you of the great change that would take place in your situation if she should die.”

“What else in the world but that change am I thinking of? ” Rose asked.

“You’re not thinking of it perhaps so much in the connection I refer to. If Mrs. Bream goes, your ‘anchorage,’ as you call it, goes.”

“I see what you mean.” She spoke with the softest assent; the tears had sprung into her eyes and she looked away to hide them.

“One may have the highest possible opinion of her husband and yet not quite see you staying on here in the same manner with him”

Rose was silent, with a certain dignity. “Not quite,” she presently said with the same gentleness.

“The way therefore to provide against every thing is as I remarked to you a while ago to settle with me this minute the day, the nearest one possible, for our union to become a reality.”

She slowly brought back her troubled eyes. “The day to marry you? ”

“The day to marry me of course! ” He gave a short, uneasy laugh. “What else? ”

She waited again, and there was a fear deep in her face. “I must settle it this minute? ”

Dennis stared. “Why, my dear child, when in the world if not now? ”

“You can’t give me a little more time?” she asked.

“More time? ” His gathered stupefaction broke out. “More time after giving you years? ”

“Ah, but just at the last, here this news, this rush is sudden.”

“Sudden! ” Dennis repeated. “Haven’t you known I was coming, and haven’t you known for what?”

She looked at him now with an effort of resolu tion in which he could see her white face harden; as if by a play of some inner mechanism some thing dreadful had taken place in it. Then she said with a painful quaver that no attempt to be natural could keep down: “Let me remind you Dennis, that your coming was not at my request. You’ve come yes; but you’ve come because you would. You’ve come in spite of me.”

He gasped, and with the mere touch of her tone his own eyes filled. “You haven’t wanted me? ”

“I’m delighted to see you.”

“Then in God’s name what do you mean? Where are we, and what are you springing on me?”

“I’m only asking you again, as I’ve asked you already, to be patient with me to let me, at such a critical hour, turn round. I’m only asking you to bear with me I’m only asking you to wait.”

“To wait for what? ” He snatched the words out of her mouth. “It’s because I have waited that I’m here. What I want of you is three simple words that you can utter in three simple seconds.” He looked about him, in his helpless dismay, as if to call the absent to witness. “ And you look at me like a stone. You open up an abyss. You give me nothing, nothing.” He paused, as it were, for a contradiction, but she made none; she had lowered her eyes and, supported against a table, stood there rigid and passive. Dennis sank into a chair with his vain hands upon his knees. “ What do you mean by my coming in spite of you? You never asked me not to you’ve treated me well till now. It was my idea yes; but you perfectly accepted it.” He gave her time to assent to this or to deny it, but she took none, and he continued: “ Don’t you understand the one feeling that has possessed me and sustained me? Don’t you understand that

I’ve thought of nothing else every hour of my way? I arrived here with a longing for you that words can’t utter; and now I see though I couldn’t immediately be sure that I found you from the first constrained and unnatural.”

Rose, as he went on, had raised her eyes again; they seemed to follow his words in sombre sub mission. “ Yes, you must have found me strange enough.”

“And don’t again say it’s your being anxious! ” Dennis sprang up warningly. “ It’s your being anxious that just makes my right.”

His companion shook her head slowly and am biguously. “ I am glad you’ve come.”

“To have the pleasure of not receiving me? ”

“I have received you,” Rose replied. “ Every word I’ve spoken to you and every satisfaction I’ve expressed is true, is deep. I do admire you, I do respect you, I’m proud to have been your friend. Haven’t I assured you of my pure joy in your pro motion and your prospects? ”

“What do you call assuring me? You utterly misled me for some strange moments; you mysti fied me; I think I may say you trifled with me. The only assurance I’m open to is that of your putting your hand in mine as my wife. In God’s name,” the young man panted, “ what has happened to you and what has changed you? ”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” said Rose.

“Tell me what I insist on? ”

She cast about her. “ Tell you things I can’t now,”

He sounded her with visible despair. “ You’re not sincere you’re not straight. You’ve nothing to tell me, and you’re afraid. You’re only gaining time, and you’ve only been doing so from the first. I don’t know what it’s for you’re beyond me; but if it’s to back out I’ll be hanged if I give you a moment.”

Her wan face, at this, showed a faint flush; it seemed to him five years older than when he came in. “ You take, with your cruel accusations, a strange way to keep me! ” the girl exclaimed. “ But I won’t talk to you in bitterness,” she pursued in a different tone. “ That will drop if we do allow it a day or two.” Then on a sharp motion of his impatience she added: “ Whether you allow it or not, you know, I must take the time I need.”

He was angry now, as if she were not only proved evasion, but almost proved insolence; and his anger deepened at her return to this appeal that offered him no meaning. “ No, no, you must choose,” he said with passion, “ and if you’re really honest you will. I’m here for you with all my soul, but I’m here for you now or never.”

“Dennis! ” she weakly murmured.

“You do back out? ”

She put out her hand. “ Good-bye.”

He looked at her as over a flood; then he thrust his hand behind him and glanced about for his hat. He moved blindly, like a man picking himself up from a violent fall flung indeed suddenly from a smooth, swift vehicle. “Good-bye,”

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