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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 10. Behold The Heir!
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 10. Behold The Heir! Post by :John_Piteo Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1424

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 10. Behold The Heir!


Addie Tristram died with all her old uncommonness. Death was to her an end more fully than it is to most; had she been herself responsible for it, she could hardly have thought less of any possible consequences. And it was to her such a beginning as it can seldom seem. She had been living in anticipation of dying, but in a sense utterly remote from that contemplation of their latter end which is enjoined on the pious. So that, together with an acquiescence so complete as almost to justify her son in calling it joyful, there was an expectation, nearly an excitement--save that the tired body failed to second the mind. She might have shown remorse, both for her own acts and for the position in which she was leaving Harry; she fell in with the view he had always maintained with her, that all these things had come about somehow, had produced a certain state of affairs, and must be made to seem as if they had done nothing of the sort. During the last day or two she was delirious at intervals; as a precaution Harry was with her then, instead of the nurse. The measure was superfluous; there was nothing on Lady Tristram's mind, and when she spoke unconsciously, she spoke of trifles. The few final hours found her conscious and intelligent, although very weak. Just at the end a curious idea got hold of her. She was a little distressed that the Gainsboroughs were not there; she whispered her feeling to Harry apologetically, well remembering his objection to that branch of the family, and his disinclination to have them or any of them at Blent. "Cecily ought to be here," she murmured. Harry started a little; he was not accustomed in his own mind to concede Cecily any rights. His mother's fear of offending him by the suggestion was very obvious. "She'd come after you, you see, if----" she said once or twice. There did not pass between them a word of acknowledgment that Cecily ought to come before him. Yet he was left wondering whether that idea, so scorned before, had not won its way to her with some sudden strength--as though an instinct for the true heir made itself felt in spite of all her resolution and all her prejudices, and forced her to do something toward recognizing the claims which they were both determined to thwart.

The barest hint of this kind would have raised Harry's suspicion and anger a few weeks before; the new mood which Mina Zabriska had marked in him made him take it quietly now, and even affectionately. For this Addie Tristram was grateful; she had always the rare grace of seeming surprised at her own power over men. It was no less in keeping with her character and her life that the feeling she suffered under, and manifested, was very easily appeased. Harry promised to ask the Gainsboroughs to her funeral. Addie Tristram's conscientious scruples were entirely laid to rest; with a sigh of peace she settled herself to die. It was the feudal feeling, Harry decided, which insisted that the family must not be ignored; it did not deny their humble position, or the gulf that separated them from the succession. Yet he was vaguely vexed, even while he agreed to what she wanted.

So she passed away in the full tide of the darkness of night. The doctor had left her some hours before, the nurse had been sent to bed, for there was nothing that could be done. Harry was alone with her; he kissed her when she was dead, and stood many minutes by her, looking from her to the picture of her that hung on the wall. A strange loneliness was on him, a loneliness which there seemed nobody to solace. He had said that Blent would not be much without his mother. That was not quite right; it was much, but different. She had carried away with her the atmosphere of the place, the essence of the life that he had lived there with her. Who would make that the same to him again? Suddenly he recollected that in four days he was to ask Janie Iver for her answer. Say a week now, for the funeral would enforce or excuse so much postponement. Janie Iver would not give him back the life or the atmosphere. A description of how he felt, had it been related to him a year ago, would have appeared an absurdity. Yet these crowding unexpected thoughts made not a hair's breadth of difference in what he purposed. It was only that he became aware of an irreparable change of scene; there was to be no change in his action. He was Tristram of Blent now--that he must and would remain. But it was not the same Blent, and did not seem as though it could be again. So much of the poetry had gone out of it with Addie Tristram.

After he had left her room, he walked through the house, carrying a shaded candle in his hand along the dark corridors of shining oak. He bent his steps toward the long gallery which filled all the upper floor of the left wing. Here were the Valhalla and the treasure-house of the Tristrams, the pictures of ancestors, the cases of precious things which the ancestors had amassed. At the end of this gallery Addie Tristram had used to sit when she was well, in a large high-backed arm-chair by the big window that commanded the gardens and the river. He flung the window open and stood looking out. The wind swished in the trees and the Blent washed along leisurely. A beautiful stillness was about him. It was as though she were by his side, her fair head resting against the old brocade cover of the arm-chair, her eyes wandering in delighted employment round the room she had loved so well. Who should sit there next? As he looked now at the room, now out into the night, his eyes filled suddenly with tears; the love of the place came back to him, his pride in it lived again, he would keep it not only because it was his but because it had been hers before him. His blood spoke strong in him. Suddenly he smiled. It was at the thought that all this belonged in law to Miss Cecily Gainsborough--the house, the gallery, the pictures, the treasures, the very chair where Addie Tristram had used to sit. Every stick and stone about the place was Cecily Gainsborough's, aye, and the bed of the Blent from shore to shore. He had nothing at all--according to law.

Well, the law must have some honor, some recognition, at all events. The Gainsboroughs should, as he had promised, be asked to the funeral. They should be invited with all honor and most formally, in the name of Tristram of Blent--which, by the by was, according to law, also Miss Cecily Gainsborough's. Harry had no name according to law; no more than he had houses or pictures or treasures, any stick or stone, or the smallest heritage in the bed of the Blent. He had been son to the mistress of it all; she was gone and he was nobody--according to law. It was, after all, a reasonable concession that his mother had urged on him; the Gainsboroughs ought to be asked to the funeral. The last of his vexation on this score died away into a sense of grim amusement at Addie Tristram's wish and his own appreciation of it. He had no sense of danger; Tristram had succeeded to Tristram; all was well.

Little inclined to sleep, he went down into the garden presently, lit his cigar, and strolled on to the bridge. The night had grown clearer and some stars showed in the sky; it was nearly one o'clock. He had stood where he was only a few moments when to his surprise he heard the sound of a horse's hoofs on the road from Blentmouth. Thinking the doctor, who often did his rounds in the saddle, might have returned, he crossed the bridge, opened the gate, and stood on the high road. The rider came up in a few minutes and drew rein at the sight of his figure, but, as Harry did not move, made as though he would ride on again with no more than the customary country salute of "Good-night."

"Who is it?" asked Harry, peering through the darkness.

"Me--Bob Broadley," was the answer.

"You're late."

"I've been at the Club at Blentmouth. The Cricket Club's Annual Dinner, you know."

"Ah, I forgot."

Bob, come to a standstill, was taking the opportunity of lighting his pipe. This done, he looked up at the house and back to Harry rather timidly.

"Lady Tristram----?" he began.

"My mother has been dead something above an hour," said Harry.

After a moment Bob dismounted and threw his reins over the gatepost.

"I'm sorry, Tristram," he said, holding out his hand. "Lady Tristram was always very kind to me. Indeed she was that to everybody." He paused a moment and then went on slowly. "It must seem strange to you. Why, I remember when my father died I felt--besides the sorrow, you know--sort of lost at coming into my bit of land at Mingham. But you----" Harry could see his head turn as he looked over the demesne of Blent and struggled to give some expression to the thoughts which his companion's position suggested. The circumstances of this meeting made for sincerity and openness; they were always Bob's characteristics. Harry too was in such a mood that he liked Bob to stay and talk a little.

They fell into talk with more ease and naturalness than they had recently achieved together, getting back to the friendliness of boyhood, although Bob still spoke as to one greater than himself and infused a little deference into his manner. But they came to nothing intimate till Bob had declared that he must be on his way and was about to mount his horse.

"As soon as I begin to have people here, I hope you'll come often," said Harry, cordially. "Naturally we shall be a little more lively than we've been able to be of late, and I shall hope to see all my friends."

He did not instantly understand the hesitation in Bob's manner as he answered, "You're very kind. I--I shall like to come."

"Blent must do its duty," Harry pursued.

Bob turned back to him, leaving his horse again. "Yes, I'll come. I hope I know how to take a licking, Tristram." He held out his hand.

"A licking?" Both the word and the gesture seemed to surprise Harry Tristram.

"Oh, you know what I mean. You're engaged to her, aren't you? Or as good as anyhow? I don't want to ask questions----"

"Not even as good as, yet," answered Harry slowly.

"Of course you know what I feel. Everybody knows that, though I've never talked about it--even to her."

"Why not to her? Isn't that rather usual in such cases?" Harry was smiling now.

"It would only worry her. What chance should I have?"

"Well, I don't agree with being too humble."

"Oh, I don't know that I'm humble. Perhaps I think myself as good a man as you. But"--he laughed a little--"I'm Broadley of Mingham, not Tristram of Blent."

"I see. That's it? And our friend the Major?"

"I shouldn't so much mind having a turn-up with the Major."

"But Tristram of Blent is--is too much?"

"It's not your fault, you can't help it," smiled Bob. "You're born to it and----" He ended with a shrug.

"You're very fond of her?" Harry asked, frowning a little.

"I've been in love with her all my life--ever since they came to Seaview. Fairholme wasn't dreamed of then."

He spoke of Fairholme with a touch of bitterness which he hastened to correct by adding--"Of course I'm glad of their good luck."

"You mean, if it were Seaview still and not Fairholme----?"

"No, I don't. I've no business to think anything of the sort, and I don't think it," Bob interposed quickly. "You asked me a question and I answered it. I'm not in a position to know anything about you, and I'm not going to say anything."

"A good many reasons enter into a marriage sometimes," remarked Harry.

"Yes, with people like you. I know that."

His renewed reference to Harry's position brought another frown to Harry's face, but it was the frown of thoughtfulness, not of anger.

"I can't quarrel with the way of the world, and I'm sure if it does come off you'll be good to her."

"You think I don't care about her--about her herself?"

"I don't know, I tell you. I don't want to know. I suppose you like her."

"Yes, I like her." He took the word from Bob and made no attempt to alter or to amplify it.

Bob was mounting now; the hour was late for him to be abroad and work waited him in the morning.

"Good-night, Tristram," he said, as he settled in his saddle.

"Good-night. And, Bob, if by any chance it doesn't come off with me, you have that turn-up with the Major!"

"Well, I don't like the idea of a foreign chap coming down and---- But, mind you, Duplay's a very superior fellow. He knows the deuce of a lot."

"Thinks he does, anyhow," said Harry, smiling again. "Good-night, old fellow," he called after Bob in a very friendly voice as horse and rider disappeared up the road.

"I must go to bed, I suppose," he muttered as he returned to the bridge and stood leaning on the parapet. He yawned, not in weariness but in a reaction from the excitement of the last few days. His emotional mood had passed for the time at all events; it was succeeded by an apathy that was dull without being restful. And in its general effect his interview with Bob was vaguely vexatious in spite of its cordial character. It left with him a notion which he rejected but could not quite get rid of--the notion that he was taking, or (if all were known) would be thought to be taking, an unfair advantage. Bob had said he was born to it and that he could not help it. If that had indeed been so in the fullest possible sense, would he have had the notion that irritated him now? Yes, he told himself; but the answer did not quite convince. Still the annoyance was no more than a restless suggestion of something not quite satisfactory in his position, and worth mentioning only as the first such feeling he had ever had. It did not trouble him seriously. He smoked another cigar on the bridge and then went into the house and to bed. As he undressed it occurred to him (and the idea gave him both pleasure and amusement) that he had made a sort of alliance with Bob against Duplay, although it could come into operation only under circumstances which were very unlikely to happen.

The blinds drawn at Blent next morning told Mina what had happened, and the hour of eleven found her at a Committee Meeting at Miss Swinkerton's, which she certainly would not have attended otherwise. As it was, she wanted to talk and to hear, and the gathering afforded a chance. Mrs Iver was there, and Mrs Trumbler the vicar's wife, a meek woman, rather ousted from her proper position by the energy of Miss Swinkerton; she was to manage the Bible-reading department, which was not nearly so responsible a task as conducting the savings-bank, and did not involve anything like the same amount of supervision of other people's affairs. Mrs Trumbler felt, however, that on matters of morals she had a claim to speak _jure mariti_.

"It is so sad!" she murmured. "And Mr Trumbler found he could do so little! He came home quite distressed."

"I'm told she wasn't the least sensible of her position," observed Miss S., with what looked rather like satisfaction.

"Didn't she know she was dying?" asked Mina, who had established her footing by a hypocritical show of interest in the cottage-gardens.

"Oh, yes, she knew she was dying, my dear," said Miss S. What poor Lady Tristram might have known, but apparently had not, was left to an obvious inference.

"She was very kind," remarked Mrs Iver. "Not exactly actively, you know, but if you happened to come across her." She rose as she spoke and bade Miss S. farewell. That lady did not try to detain her, and the moment the door had closed behind her remarked:

"Of course Mrs Iver feels in a delicate position and can't say anything about Lady Tristram; but from what I hear she never realized the peculiarity of her position. No (this to Mrs Trumbler), I mean in the neighborhood, Mrs Trumbler. And the young man is just the same. But I should have liked to hear that Mr Trumbler thought it came home to her at the last."

Mr Trumbler's wife shook her head gently.

"Well, now we shall see, I suppose," Miss S. pursued. "The engagement is to be made public directly after the funeral."

Mina almost started at this authoritative announcement.

"And I suppose they'll be married as soon as they decently can. I'm glad for Janie Iver's sake--not that I like him, the little I've seen of him."

"We never see him," said Mrs Trumbler.

"Not at church, anyhow," added Miss S. incisively. "Perhaps he'll remember what's due to his position now."

"Are you sure they're engaged?" asked Mina.

Miss S. looked at her with a smile. "Certain, my dear."

"How?" asked Mina. Mrs Trumbler stared at her in surprised rebuke.

"When I make a mistake, it will be time to ask questions," observed Miss S. with dignity. "For the present you may take what I say. I can wait to be proved right, Madame Zabriska."

"I've no doubt you're right; only I thought Janie would have told me," said Mina; she had no wish to quarrel with Miss S.

"Janie Iver's very secretive, my dear. She always was. I used to talk to Mrs Iver about it when she was a little girl. And in your case----" Miss S.'s smile could only refer to the circumstance that Mina was Major Duplay's niece; the Major's manœuvres had not escaped Miss S.'s eye. "Of course the funeral will be very quiet," Miss S. continued. "That avoids so many difficulties. The people who would come and the people who wouldn't--and all that, you know."

"There are always so many questions about funerals," sighed Mrs Trumbler.

"I hate funerals," said Mina. "I'm going to be cremated."

"That may be very well abroad, my dear," said Miss S. tolerantly, "but you couldn't here. The question is, will Janie Iver go--and if she does, where will she walk?"

"Oh, I should hardly think she'd go, if it's not announced, you know," said Mrs Trumbler.

"It's sometimes done, and I'm told she would walk just behind the family."

Mina left the two ladies debating this point of etiquette, Miss S. showing some deference to Mrs Trumbler's experience in this particular department, but professing to be fortified in her own view by the opinion of an undertaker with a wide connection. She reflected, as she got into her pony carriage, that it is impossible even to die without affording a good deal of pleasure to other people--surely a fortunate feature of the world!

On her way home she stopped to leave cards at Blent, and was not surprised when Harry Tristram came out of his study, having seen her through the window, and greeted her.

"Send your trap home and walk up the hill with me," he suggested, and she fell in with his wish very readily. They crossed the foot-bridge together.

"I've just been writing to ask my relations to the funeral," he said. "At my mother's wish, not mine. Only two of them--and I never saw them in my life."

"I shouldn't think you'd cultivate your relations much."

"No. But Cecily Gainsborough ought to come, I suppose. She's my heir."

Mina turned to him with a gesture of interest or surprise.

"Your heir?" she said. "You mean----?"

"I mean that if I died without having any children, she'd succeed me. She'd be Lady Tristram in her own right, as my mother was." He faced round and looked at Blent. "She's never been to the place or seen it yet," he added.

"How intensely interested she'll be!"

"I don't see why she should," said Harry rather crossly. "It's a great bore having her here at all, and if I'm barely civil to her that's all I shall manage. They won't stay more than a few days, I suppose." After a second he went on: "Her mother wouldn't know my mother, though after her death the father wanted to be reconciled."

"Is that why you dislike them so?"

"How do you know I dislike them?" he asked, seeming surprised.

"It's pretty evident, isn't it? And it would be a good reason for disliking the mother anyhow."

"But not the daughter?"

"No, and you seem to dislike the daughter too--which isn't fair."

"Oh, I take the family in the lump. And I don't know that what we've been talking of has anything to do with it."

He did not seem inclined to talk more about the Gainsboroughs, though his frown told her that something distasteful was still in his thoughts. What he had said was enough to rouse in her a great interest and curiosity about this girl who was his heir. Questions and rights attracted her mind very little till they came to mean people; then she was keen on the track of the human side of the matter. The girl whom he chose to call his heir was really the owner of Blent!

"Are you going to ask us to the funeral?" she said.

"I'm not going to ask anybody. The churchyard is free; they can come if they like."

"I shall come. Shall you dislike my coming?"

"Oh, no." He was undisguisedly indifferent and almost bored.

"And then I shall see Cecily Gainsborough."

"Have a good look at her. You'll not have another chance--at Blent anyhow. She'll never come here again."

She looked at him in wonder, in a sort of fear.

"How hard you are sometimes," she said. "The poor girl's done nothing to you."

He shook his head impatiently and came to a stand on the road.

"You're going back? Good-by, Lord Tristram."

"I'm not called that till after the funeral," he told her, looking as suspicious as he had in the earliest days of their acquaintance.

"And will you let me go on living at Merrion--or coming every summer anyhow?"

"Do you think of coming again?"

"I want to," she answered with some nervousness in her manner.

"And Major Duplay?" He smiled slightly.

"I don't know whether he would want. Should you object?"

"Oh, no," said Harry, again with the weary indifference that seemed to have fastened on him now.

"I've been gossiping," she said, "with Mrs Trumbler and Miss Swinkerton."

"Good Lord!"

"Miss Swinkerton says your engagement to Janie will be announced directly after the funeral."

"And Major Duplay says that directly it's announced----!"

"You don't mean to tell me anything about it?"

"Really, I don't see why I should. Well, if you like--I want to marry her."

Mina had really known this well for a long while, yet she did not like to hear it. She had been spinning fancies about the man; what he had in his mind for himself was very prosaic. At least it seemed so to her--though she would have appreciated the dramatic side of it, had he told her of his idea of living with the big check by him.

"I can't help thinking that somehow you'll do something more exciting than that."

"She won't marry me?" He was not looking at her, and he spoke rather absently.

"I don't suppose she'll refuse you, but--no, I've just a feeling. I can't explain."

"A feeling? What feeling?" He was irritable, but his attention was caught again.

"That something more's waiting for you."

"That it's my business to go on affording you amusement perhaps?"

Mina glanced at him; he was smiling; he had become good-tempered.

"Oh, I don't expect you to do it for that reason, but if you do it----"

"Do what?" he asked, laughing outright.

"I don't know. But if you do, I shall be there to see--looking so hard at you, Mr Tristram." She paused, and then added, "I should like Cecily Gainsborough to come into it too."

"Confound Cecily Gainsborough! Good-by," said Harry.

He left with her two main impressions; the first was that he had not the least love for the girl whom he meant to marry; the second that he hardly cared to deny to her that he hated Cecily Gainsborough because she was the owner of Blent.

"All the same," she thought, "I suppose he'll marry Janie, and I'm certain he'll keep Blent." Yet he seemed to take no pleasure in his prospects and just at this moment not much in his possessions. Mina was puzzled, but did not go so far wrong as to conceive him conscience-stricken. She concluded that she must wait for light.

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