The Other House, by Henry James


THE Doctor remained at the door while the maid put down her lamp, and he checked her as she pro ceeded to the blinds and the other duties of the moment.

“Leave the windows, please; it’s warm. That will do thanks.” He closed the door on her extin guished presence and he held it a little, mutely, with observing eyes, in that of Dennis and Rose.

“Do you want me?” the latter promptly asked, in the tone, as he liked, of readiness either to meet him or to withdraw. She seemed to imply that at such an hour there was no knowing what any one might want. Dennis’s eyes were on her as well as the Doctor’s, and if the lamp now lighted her consciousness of looking horrible she could at least support herself with the sight of the crude embarrassment of others.

The Doctor, resorting to his inveterate practice when confronted with a question, consulted his watch. “ I came in for Mr. Vidal, but I shall be glad of a word with you after I’ve seen him. I must ask you, therefore “ and he nodded at the third door of the room “ kindly to pass into the library.”

Rose, without haste or delay, reached the point he indicated. “ You wish me to wait there? ”

“If you’ll be so good.”

“While you talk with him? ”

“While I talk with him.’ ”

Her eyes held Vidal’s a minute. “I’ll wait.” And she passed out.

The Doctor immediately attacked him. “ I must appeal to you for a fraction of your time. I’ve seen Mrs. Beever.”

Dennis hesitated. “ I’ve done the same.”

“It’s because she has told me of your talk that I mention it. She sends you a message.”

“A message?” Dennis looked as if it were open to him to question indirectness. “Where then is she? ”

“With that distracted girl.”

“Miss Martle?” Dennis hesitated. “Miss Martle so greatly feels the shock? ”

“ ‘Feels’ it, my dear sir?” the Doctor cried. “She has been made so pitifully ill by it that there’s no saying just what turn her condition may take, and she now calls for so much of my attention as to force me to plead, with you, that excuse for my brevity. Mrs. Beever,” he rapidly pursued, “requests you to regard this hurried inquiry as the sequel to what you were so good as to say to her.”

Dennis thought a moment; his face had changed as if by the action of Rose’s disappearance and the instinctive revival, in a different relation, of the long, stiff habit of business, the art of treating affairs and meeting men. This was the art of not being surprised, and, with his emotion now con trolled, he was discernibly on his guard. “ I’m afraid,” he replied, “ that what I said to Mrs. Beever was a very small matter.”

“She doesn’t think it at all a small matter to have said you’d help her. You can do so in the cruel demands our catastrophe makes of her by con sidering that I represent her. It’s in her name, therefore, that I ask you if you’re engaged to be married to Miss Armiger.”

Dennis had an irrepressible start; but it might have been quite as much at the freedom of the question as at the difficulty of the answer. “ Please say to her that I am.” He spoke with a clearness that proved the steel surface he had in a few minutes forged for his despair.

The Doctor took the thing as he gave it, only drawing from his pocket a key, which he held straight up. “ Then I feel it to be only right to say to you that this locks ” and he indicated the quarter to which Rose had retired “ the other door.”

Dennis, with a diffident hand cfut, looked at him hard; but the good man showed with effect that he was professionally used to that. “ You mean she’s a prisoner? ”

“On Mr. Vidal’s honour.”

“But whose prisoner? ”

“Mrs. Beever’s.”

Dennis took the key, which passed into his pocket. “ Don’t you forget,” he then asked with inscrutable gravity, “ that we’re here, all round, on a level ”

“With the garden?” the Doctor broke in. “I forget nothing. We’ve a friend on the terrace.”

“A friend?”

“Mr. Beever. A friend of Miss Armiger’s,” he promptly added.

Still showing nothing in his face, Dennis perhaps showed something in the way that, with his eyes bent on the carpet and his hands interclenched behind him, he slowly walked across the room. At the end of it he turned round. “ If I have this key, who has the other? ”

“The other?”

“The key that confines Mr. Bream.”

The Doctor winced, but he stood his ground. “ I have it.” Then he said as if with a due recognition of the weight of the circumstance: “ She has told you? ”

Dennis turned it over. “ Mrs. Beever? ”

“Miss Armiger.” There was a faint sharpness in the Doctor’s tone.

It had something evidently to do with the tone in which Dennis replied. “ She has told me. But if you’ve left him ”

“I’ve not left him. I’ve brought him over.”

Dennis showed himself at a loss. “ To see me? ”

The Doctor raised a solemn, reassuring hand; then, after an instant, “ To see his child,” he colour lessly said.

“He desires that?” Dennis asked with an accent that emulated this detachment.

“He desires that.” Dennis turned away, and in the pause that followed the air seemed charged with a consciousness of all that between them was repre sented by the unspoken. It lasted indeed long enough to give to an auditor, had there been one, a sense of the dominant unspeakable. It was as if each were waiting to have something from the other first, and it was eventually clear that Dennis, who had not looked at his watch, was prepared to wait longest. The Doctor had moreover to recognise that he himself had sought the interview. He impa tiently summed up his sense of their common attitude. “I do full justice to the difficulty created for you by your engagement. That’s why it was important to have it from your own lips.” His companion said nothing, and he went on: “ Mrs. Beever, all the same, feels that it mustn’t prevent us from putting you another question, or rather from reminding you that there’s one that you led her just now to expect that you’ll answer.” The Doctor paused again, but he perceived he must go all the way. “ From the bank of the river you saw something that bears upon this ” he hesitated; then daintily selected his words “remarkable performance. We appeal to your sense of propriety to tell us what you saw.”

Dennis considered. “ My sense of propriety is strong; but so just now is my sense of some other things. My word to Mrs. Beever was con tingent. There are points I want made clear.”

“I’m here,” said the Doctor, “ to do what I can to satisfy you. Only be go good as to remember that time is everything.” He added, to drive this home, in his neat, brisk way: “ Some action has to be taken.”

“You mean a declaration made? ”

“Under penalty,” the Doctor assented, “ of con sequences sufficiently tremendous. There has been an accident of a gravity ”

Dennis, with averted eyes, took him up. “That can’t be explained away? ”

The Doctor looked at his watch; then, still holding it, he quickly looked up at Dennis. “ You wish her presented as dying of a natural cause? ”

Vidal’s haggard face turned red, but he instantly recovered himself. “ Why do you ask, if you’ve a supreme duty? ”

“I haven’t one worse luck. I’ve fifty.” Dennis fixed his eyes on the watch. “ Does that mean you can keep the thing quiet? ”

The Doctor put his talisman away. “ Before I say I must know what you’ll do for me.”

Dennis stared at the lamp. “ Hasn’t it gone too far? ”

“I know how far: not so far, by a peculiar mercy, as it might have gone. There has been an extraordinary coincidence of chances a miracle of conditions. Everything appears to serve.” He hesitated; then with great gravity: “We’ll call it a providence and have done with it.”

Dennis turned this over. “Do you allude to the absence of witnesses? ”

“At the moment the child was found. Only the blessed three of us. And she had been there Stupefaction left him counting.

Dennis jerked out a sick protest. “ Don’t tell me how long! What do I want?” What he

wanted proved, the next moment, to be more knowledge. “ How do you meet the servants? ”

“Here? By giving a big name to her complaint. None of them have seen her. She was carried in with a success!” The Doctor threw up trium phant little hands.

“But the people at the other house? ”

“They know nothing but that over here she has had an attack which it will be one of the fifty duties of mine I mentioned to you to make sufficiently remarkable. She was out of sorts this morning this afternoon I was summoned. That call of Tony’s at my house is the providence! ”

But still Dennis questioned. “ Hadn’t she some fond nurse some devoted dragon? ”

“The great Gorham? Yes: she didn’t want her to come; she was cruelly overborne. Well,” the Doctor lucidly pursued, “ I must face the great Gorham. I’m already keeping her at bay doctors, you see, are so luckily despots! They’re blessedly bullies. She’ll be tough but it’s all tough! ”

Dennis, pressing his hand to his head, began wearily to pace again: it was far too tough for him. But he suddenly dropped upon the sofa, all but audibly moaning, falling back in the despair that broke through his false pluck. His interlocutor watched his pain as if he had something to hope from it; then abruptly the young man began: “ I

don’t in the least conceive how “ He stopped short: even this he couldn’t bring out.

“How was it done? Small blame to you! It was done in one minute with the aid of a boat and the temptation (we’ll call it!) of solitude. The boat’s an old one of Tony’s own pad locked, but with a long chain. To see the place,’ said the Doctor after an instant, “ is to see the deed.”

Dennis threw back his head; he covered his distorted face with his two hands. “Why in thun der should I see it? ”

The Doctor had moved towards him; at this he seated himself beside him and, going on with quiet clearness, applied a controlling, soothing grasp to his knee. “The child was taken into the boat and it was tilted: that was enough the trick was played.” Dennis remained motionless and dumb, and his companion completed the picture. “She was immersed she was held under water she was made sure of. Oh, I grant you it took a hand and it took a spirit! But they were there. Then she was left. A pull of the chain brought back — the boat; and the author of the crime walked away.”

Dennis slowly shifted his position, dropped his head, dropped his hands, sat staring lividly at the floor. “ But how could she be caught?”

The Doctor hesitated, as if in the presence of an ambiguity. “ The poor little girl? You’d see if you saw the place.”

“I passed it to come back here,” Dennis said. “But I didn’t look, for I didn’t know.”

The Doctor patted his knee. “ If you had known you would have looked still less. She rose; she drifted some yards; then she was washed against the base of the bridge, and one of the openings of her little dress hooked itself to an old loose clamp. There she w r as kept.”

“And no one came by? ”

“No one came till, by the mercy of God, I came! ”

Dennis took it in as if with a long, dry gulp, and the two men sat for a minute looking at each other. At last the younger one got up. “And yet the risk of anything but a straight course is hideous.”

The Doctor kept his place. “ Everything’s hideous. I appreciate greatly,” he added, “ the gallantry of your reminding me of my danger. Don’t think I don’t know exactly what it is. But I have to think of the danger of others. I can measure mine; I can’t measure theirs.”

“I can return your compliment,” Dennis replied. “’ Theirs,’ as you call it, seems to me such a fine thing for you to care for.”

The Doctor, with his plump hands folded on his stomach, gave a small stony smile. “ My dear man, I care for my friends! ”

Dennis stood before him; he was visibly mys tified. “There’s a person whom it’s very good of you to take this occasion of calling by that name! ”

Doctor Ramage stared; with his vision of his interlocutor’s mistake all his tight curves grew tense. Then, as he sprang to his feet, he seemed to crack in a grim little laugh. “ The person you allude to is, I confess, not, my dear sir

“One of the persons,” said Dennis, “whom you wish to protect? It certainly would have surprised me to hear it! But you spoke of your ‘ friends.’ Who then is your second one? ”

The Doctor looked astonished at the question. “Why, sweet Jean Martle.”

Dennis equally wondered. “ I should have sup posed her the first! Who then is the other? ”

The Doctor lifted his shoulders. “Who but poor Tony Bream? ”

Dennis thought a moment. “ What’s his danger? ” The Doctor grew more amazed. “The danger we’ve been talking of! ”

u Have we been talking of that? ”

“You ask me, when you told me you knew? ”

Dennis, hesitating, recalled. “ Knew that he’s accused?”

His companion fairly sprang at him. “Accused by her too? ”

Dennis fell back at his onset. “ Is he by anybody else? ”

The Doctor, turning crimson, had grabbed his arm; he blazed up at him. “ You don’t know it all? ”

Dennis faltered. “ Is there any more? ”

“Tony cries on the housetops that he did it! ”

Dennis, blank and bewildered, sank once more on his sofa. “ He cries? ”

“To cover Jean.”

Dennis took it in. “ But if she is covered? ”

“Then to shield Miss Armiger.”

Poor Dennis gazed aghast. “ Who meanwhile denounces him?” He was on his feet again; again he moved to the open window and stood there while the Doctor in silence waited. Presently he turned round. “ May I see him?”.

The Doctor, as if he had expected this, was already at the door. “ God bless you!” And he flashed out.

Dennis, left alone, remained rigid in the middle of the room, immersed apparently in a stupor of emotion; then, as if shaken out of it by a return of conscious suffering, he passed in a couple of strides to the door of the library. Here, however, with his hand on the knob, he yielded to another impulse, which kept him irresolute, listening, drawing his breath in pain. Suddenly he turned away Tony Bream had come in.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56