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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 12. Fighters And Doubters
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 12. Fighters And Doubters Post by :John_Piteo Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :978

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 12. Fighters And Doubters

CHAPTER XII. FIGHTERS AND DOUBTERS

"Miss S. wasn't so far wrong after all!" exclaimed Mina Zabriska, flinging down a letter on the table by her.

It was three days after Addie Tristram's funeral. Mina had attended that ceremony, or rather watched it from a little way off. She had seen Gainsborough's spare humble figure, she had seen too, with an acute interest, the tall slim girl all in black, heavily veiled, who walked beside him, just behind the new Lord Tristram. She had also, of course, seen all the neighbors who were looking on like herself, but who gave their best attention to Janie Iver and disappointed Miss S. by asking hardly any questions about the Gainsboroughs. Little indeed would have been said concerning them except for the fact that Gainsborough (true to his knack of the unlucky) caught a chill on the occasion and was confined to his bed down at Blent. A most vexatious occurrence for Lord Tristram, said Miss S. But one that he ought to bear patiently, added Mrs Trumbler. And after all, both ladies agreed, it would have been hardly decent to turn the Gainsboroughs out on Monday, as it was well known the new lord had proposed.

But the Gainsboroughs were not in Mina's thoughts just now.

"Nothing is to be made public yet--please remember this. But I want you to know that I have just written to Harry Tristram to say I will marry him. I have had a great deal of trouble, dear Mina, but I think I have done right, looking at it all round. Except my own people I am telling only one friend besides you ('Bob Broadley!' said Mina with a nod, as she read the letter the second time). But I want you to know; and please tell your uncle too. I hope you will both give me your good wishes. I do think I'm acting wisely; and I thought I had no right to keep him waiting and worrying about this when he has so much to think of besides. You must stay at Merrion after I come to Blent.--JANIE."

Barring the matter of the immediate announcement then, Miss S. was justified. Janie had done the obviously right thing--and was obviously not quite sure that it was right. That mattered very little; it was done. It was for Mina Zabriska--and others concerned--to adapt themselves and conform their actions to the accomplished fact. But would Major Duplay take that view? To Mina was intrusted the delicate task of breaking the news to her uncle. It is the virtue of a soldier not to know when he is beaten; of a general not to let others know. To what standard of martial conduct would the Major adhere? This matter of the Major was in every way a nuisance to his niece. In the first place she wanted to think about herself and her own feelings--the one luxury of the unhappy. Secondly she was afraid again. For Harry suddenly seemed to be no protection now, and the horrors threatened by Duplay--the interrogation, the lawyer's office, and the like--recovered their dreadfulness. It had been easy--perhaps pleasant--to suffer for the confidential friend who had opened his heart to her on the hillside. It became less easy and certainly more unpleasant to be sacrificed for Janie Iver's _fiancé_. But Mina, though no longer exultant and no more fearless, would be loyal and constant all the same. Should she, after saving others, be herself a castaway? She experienced a longing for the sympathy and support of Mr Jenkinson Neeld. Surely he would stand firm too? He was still at Fairholme. Was he included in Janie's "own people"? Had he been told the news?

The delicate task! The Imp's temper was far too bad for delicacy; she found a positive pleasure in outraging it. She took her letter, marched into the smoking-room, and threw it to (not to say at) her uncle.

"Read that!" she said and strode off to the window to have a look at Blent. The letter had succeeded, it seemed, in taking away from her life all she wanted, and introducing into it all she did not.

"This is very serious," declared the Major solemnly, "very serious indeed, Mina."

"Don't see how," snapped the Imp, presenting an unwavering back-view to her uncle. "If they like to get married, why is it serious?"

"Pray be reasonable," he urged. "You must perceive that the situation I have always contemplated----"

"Well, you can go on contemplating it, can't you, uncle? It won't do much good, but still----"

"The situation, I say, has arisen." She heard him get up, walk to the hearth-rug, and strike a match. Of course he was going to have a cigarette! He would smoke it all through with exasperating slowness and then arrive at an odious conclusion. Mina had not been married for nothing; she knew men's ways. He justified her forecast; it was minutes before he spoke again.

"The terms of this letter," he resumed at last, "fortify me in my purpose. It is evident that Miss Iver is influenced--largely influenced--by--er--the supposed position of--er--Mr Tristram."

"Of who?"

"Of the present possessor of Blent."

"If you want people to know who you mean, you'd better say Lord Tristram."

"For the present, if you wish it. I say, she is----" Duplay's pompous formality suddenly broke down. "She's taking him for his title, that's all."

"Oh, if you choose to say things like that about your friends!"

"You know it's true. What becomes my duty then?"

"I don't know and I don't care. Only I hate people to talk about duty when they're going to----" Well, one must stop somewhere in describing one's relatives' conduct. The Imp stopped there. But the sentence really lost nothing; Duplay could guess pretty accurately what she had been going to say.

Fortunately, although he was very dependent on her help, he cared little about her opinion. She neither would nor could judge his position fairly; she would not perceive how he felt, how righteous was his anger, how his friends were being cheated and he was being jockeyed out of his chances by one and the same unscrupulous bit of imposture. He had brought himself round to a more settled state of mind and had got his conscience into better order. If he were acting unselfishly, he deserved commendation. But even if self-interest guided him he was free of blame. No man is bound to let himself be swindled. He doubted seriously of nothing now except his power to upset Harry Tristram's plans. He was resolved to try; Mina must speak--and if money were needed, it must come from somewhere. The mere assertion of what he meant to allege must at least delay this hateful marriage. It must be added--though the Major was careful not to add--that it would also give Harry Tristram a very unpleasant shock; the wrestling bout by the Pool and the loss of that shilling were not forgotten. It may further be observed--though the Major could not be expected to observe--that he had such an estimate of his own attractions as led him to seize very eagerly on any evidences of liking for Harry's position, rather than of preference for Harry himself, which Janie's letter might be considered to afford. The Major, in fact, had a case; good argument made it seem a good case. It is something to have a case that can be argued at all; morality has a sad habit of leaving us without a leg to stand on. In the afternoon of that day Duplay went down to Fairholme. Miss Swinkerton passed him on the road and smiled sagaciously. Oh, if Miss S. had known the truth about his errand! A gossip in ignorance has pathos as a spectacle.

Mr Neeld was still at Fairholme; he had been pressed to stay and needed little pressing; in fact, in default of the pressure he would probably have taken lodgings in the town. He could not go away; he had seen Addie Tristram buried, and her son walking behind the coffin, clad in his new dignity. His mind was full of the situation. Yet he had shrunk from discussing it further with Mina Zabriska. The family anxiety about Janie's love affair had been all round him. Now he suspected strongly that some issue was being decided upon. He ought to speak, to break his word to Mina and speak--or he ought to go. From day to day he meant to go and cease to accept the hospitality which his silence seemed to abuse. But he did not go. These internal struggles were new in his placid and estimable life; this affair of Harry Tristram's had a way of putting people in strange and difficult positions.

"Mind you say nothing--nothing--nothing." That sentence had reached him on the reverse side of an invitation to take tea at Merrion--a vague some-day-when-you're-passing sort of invitation, in Neeld's eyes plainly and merely a pretext for writing and an opportunity of conveying the urgent little scrawl on the other side. It arrived at mid-day; in the afternoon Duplay had come and was now alone with Iver.

The outward calm of the gray-haired old gentleman who sat on the lawn at Fairholme, holding a weekly review upside down, was no index to the alarming and disturbing questions which were agitating him within. At the end of a blameless life it is hard to discover that you must do one of two things and that, whichever you do, you will feel like a villain. The news that Josiah Cholderton's Journal was going off very fairly well with the trade had been unable to give its editor any consolation; he did not care about the Journal now.

Iver came out and sat down beside him without speaking. Neeld hastily restored his paper to a position more befitting its dignity and became apparently absorbed in an article on _Shyness in Elephants_; the subject was treated with a wealth of illustration and in a vein of introspective philosophy exceedingly instructive. But it was all wasted on Mr Neeld. He was waiting for Iver; no man could be so silent unless he had something important to say or to leave unsaid. And Iver was not even smoking the cigar which he always smoked after tea. Neeld could bear it no longer; he got up and was about to move away.

"Stop, Neeld. Do you mind sitting down again for a moment?"

Neeld could do nothing but comply. The review fell on the ground by him and he ceased to struggle with the elephants.

"I want to ask your opinion----"

"My dear Iver, my opinion! Oh, I'm not a business man, and----"

"It's not business. You know Major Duplay? What do you think of him?"

"I--I've always found him very agreeable."

"Yes, so have I. And I've always thought him honest, haven't you?"

Neeld admitted that he had no reason to impugn the Major's character.

"And I suppose he's sane," Iver pursued. "But he's just been telling me the most extraordinary thing." He paused a moment. "I dare say you've noticed something between Janie and young Tristram? I may as well tell you that she has just consented to marry him. But I don't want to talk about that except so far as it comes into the other matter--which it does very considerably." He laid his hand on Neeld's knee. "Neeld, Duplay came and told me that Harry Tristram has no title to the peerage or to Blent. I'm not going to trouble you with the details now. It comes to this--Harry was born before, not after, the marriage of his parents. Duplay says Mina knows all about it, and will give us information that will make the proof easy. That's a tolerably startling story, eh? One's prepared for something where Lady Tristram was involved, but this----!"

It was fortunate that he did not glance at Neeld; Neeld had tried to appear startled, but had succeeded only in looking supremely miserable. But Iver's eyes were gazing straight in front of him under brows that frowned heavily.

"Now, what I want you to do," he resumed, "and I'm sure you won't refuse me, is this. I'm inclined to dismiss the whole thing as a blunder. I believe Duplay's honest, but I think certain facts in his own position have led him to be too ready to believe a mere yarn. But I've consented to see Mina and hear what she has to say. And I said I should bring you as a witness. I go to Merrion Lodge to-morrow for this purpose, and I shall rely on you to accompany me." With that the cigar made its appearance; Iver lit it and lay back in his chair, frowning still in perplexity and vexation. He had not asked his friend's opinion but his services. It was characteristic of him not to notice this fact. And the fact did nothing to relieve Neeld's piteous embarrassment.

"I knew it all along;" he might say that. "I know nothing about it;" he might act that. Or he might temporize for a little while. This was what he did.

"It would make a great difference if this were true?" His voice shook, but Iver was absorbed.

"An enormous difference," said Iver (Lady Tristram herself had once said the same). "I marry my daughter to Lord Tristram of Blent or to--to whom? You'll call that snobbishness, or some people would. I say it's not snobbish in us new men to consider that. It's the right thing for us to do, Neeld. Other things equal--if the man's a decent fellow and the girl likes him--I say it's the right thing for us to do. That's the way it always has happened, and the right way too."

Mr Neeld nodded. He had sympathy with these opinions.

"But if it's true, why, who's Harry Tristram? Oh, I know it's all a fluke, a damned fluke, if you like, Neeld, and uncommonly hard on the boy. But the law's the law, and for my own part I'm not in favor of altering it. Now do you suppose I want my daughter to marry him, if it's true?"

"I suppose you wouldn't," murmured Neeld.

"And there's another thing. Duplay says Harry knows it--Duplay swears he knows it. Well then, what's he doing? In my opinion he's practising a fraud. He knows he isn't what he pretends to be. He deceives me, he deceives Janie. If the thing ever comes out, where is she? He's treated us very badly if it's true."

The man, ordinarily so calm and quiet in his reserved strength, broke out into vehemence as he talked of what Harry Tristram had done if the Major's tale were true. Neeld asked himself what his host would say of a friend who knew the story to be true and yet said nothing of it. He perceived too that although Iver would not have forced his daughter's inclination, yet the marriage was very good in his eyes, the proper end and the finest crown to his own career. This had never come home to Neeld with any special force before. Iver was English of the English in his repression, in his habit of meeting both good and bad luck with--well, with something like a grunt. But he was stirred now; the suddenness of the thing had done it. And in face of his feelings how stood Mr Neeld? He saw nothing admirable in how and where he stood.

"Well, we'll see Mina and hear if she's got anything to say. Fancy that little monkey being drawn into a thing like this! Meanwhile we'll say nothing. I don't believe it, and I shall want a lot of convincing. Until I am convinced everything stands as it did. I rely on you for that, Neeld--and I rely on you to come to Merrion to-morrow. Not a word to my wife--above all not a word to Janie!" He got up, took possession of Neeld's review, and walked off into the house with his business-like quick stride.

Neeld sat there, slowly rubbing his hands against one another between his knees. He was realizing what he had done, or rather what had happened to him. When his life, his years, and what he conceived to be his character were considered, it was a very surprising thing, this silence of his--the conspiracy he had entered into with Mina Zabriska, the view of duty which the Imp, or Harry, or the thought of beautiful Addie Tristram, or all of them together, had made him take. So strange a view for him! To run counter to law, to outrage good sense, to slight the claims of friendship, to suppress the truth, to aid what Iver so relentlessly called a fraud--all these were strange doings for him to be engaged in. And why had he done it? The explanation was as strange as the things that he invoked it to explain. Still rubbing his hands, palm against palm, to and fro, he said very slowly, with wonder and reluctance:

"I was carried away. I was carried away by--by romance."

The word made him feel a fool. Yet what other word was there for the overwhelming unreasoning feeling that at the cost of everything the Tristrams, mother and son, must keep Blent, the son living and the mother dead, that the son must dwell there and the spirit of the mother be about him she loved in the spot that she had graced? It was very rank romance indeed--no other word for it! And--wildest paradox--it all came out of editing Josiah Cholderton's Journal.

Before he had made any progress in unravelling his skein of perplexities he saw Janie coming across the lawn. She took the chair her father had left and seemed to take her father's mood with it; the same oppressive silence settled on her. Neeld broke it this time.

"You don't look very merry, Miss Janie," he said, smiling at her and achieving a plausible jocularity.

"Why should I, Mr Neeld?" She glanced at him. "Oh, has father told you anything?"

"Yes, that you're engaged. You know how truly I desire your happiness, my dear." With a pretty courtesy the old man took her hand and kissed it, baring his gray hair the while.

"You're very, very kind. Yes, I've promised to marry Harry Tristram. Not yet, you know. And it isn't to be announced. But I've promised."

He stole a glance at her, and then another. She did not look merry indeed. Neeld knew his ignorance of feminine things, and made guesses with proper diffidence; but he certainly fancied she had been crying--or very near it--not so long ago. Yet the daughter of William Iver was sensible and not given to silly tears.

"I think I've done right," she said--as she had said when she wrote to Mina. "Everybody will be pleased. Father's very pleased." Suddenly she put out her hand and took hold of his, giving it a tight grip. "Oh, but, Mr Neeld, I've made somebody so unhappy."

"I dare say, my dear, I dare say. I was a young fellow once. I dare say."

"And he says nothing about it. He wished me joy--and he does wish me joy too. I've no right to talk to you, to tell you, or anything. I don't believe people think girls ever mind making men unhappy; but they do."

"If they like the men?" This suggestion at least was not too difficult for him.

"Yes, when they like them, when they're old friends, you know. I only spoke to him for a moment, I only just met him on the road. I don't suppose I shall ever talk to him about it, or about anything in particular, again." She squeezed Neeld's hand a second time, and then withdrew her own.

This was unknown country again for Mr Neeld; his sense of being lost grew more acute. These were not the sort of problems which had occupied his life; but they seemed now to him no less real, hardly less important. It was only a girl wondering if she had done right. Yet he felt the importance of it.

"You can't help the unhappiness," he said. "You must go to the man you love, my dear."

With a little start she turned and looked at him for an instant. Then she murmured in a perfunctory fashion:

"Yes, I must make the best choice I can, of course." She added after a pause, "But I wish----"

Words or the inclination to speak failed her again, and she relapsed into silence.

As he sat there beside her, silent too, his mind travelled back to what her father had said; and slowly he began to understand. No doubt she liked Harry, even as her father did. No doubt she thought he would be a good husband, as Iver had thought him a good fellow. But it became plain to the searcher after truth that not to her any more than to her father was it nothing that Harry was Tristram of Blent. Her phrases about doing right and making the right choice included a reference to that, even if that were not their whole meaning. She had mentioned her father's pleasure--everybody's pleasure. That pleasure would be found largely in seeing her Lady Tristram. What then would she have to say on the question that so perplexed Mr Neeld? Would she not echo Iver's accusation of fraud against Harry Tristram and (as a consequence) against those who aided and abetted him? Would she understand or accept as an excuse the plea that Neeld had been led away by romance or entrapped into a conspiracy by Mina Zabriska? No. She too would call out "Fraud, fraud!" and he did not blame her. He called himself a fool for having been led away by romance, by unreasoning feeling. Should he blame her because she was not led away? His disposition was to praise her for a choice so wise, and to think that she had done very right in accepting Lord Tristram of Blent. Aye, Lord Tristram of Blent! Precisely! Deep despair settled on Mr Neeld's baffled mind.

Meanwhile, Duplay walked home, the happier for having crossed his Rubicon. He had opened his campaign with all the success he could have expected. Like a wise man, Iver held nothing true till it was proved; but like a wise man also he dubbed nothing a lie merely because it was new or improbable. And on the whole he had done the Major justice. He had smiled for a moment when he hinted that Duplay and Harry were not very cordial; the Major met him by a straightforward recognition that this was true, and by an indirect admission of the reason. As to this latter Iver had dropped no word; but he would give Duplay a hearing. Now it remained only to bring Mina to reason. If she spoke, the case would be so strong as to demand inquiry. The relief in Duplay's mind was so great that he could not explain it, until he realized that his niece's way of treating him had so stuck in his memory that he had been prepared to be turned from Iver's doors with contumely. Such an idea seemed absurd now, and the Major laughed.

Mina was strange, Duplay never ceased to think that. They had parted on impossible terms; but now, as soon as he appeared, she ran at him with apparent pleasure and with the utmost eagerness. She asked nothing about his expedition either, though she could easily have guessed where he had been and for what purpose. She almost danced as she cried:

"I've seen her! I've been talking to her! I met her in the meadow near Matson's cottage, and she asked me the way back to Blent. Uncle, she's wonderful!"

"Who are you talking about?"

"Why, Cecily Gainsborough, of course. I just remember how Lady Tristram spoke. She speaks the same way exactly! I can't describe it, but it's the sort of voice that makes you want to do anything in the world it asks. Don't you know? She told me a lot about herself; then she talked about Blent. She's full of it; she admires it most tremendously----"

"That's all right," interrupted Duplay with a malicious smile. "Because, so far as I can understand, she happens to own it."

"What?" The Imp stood frozen into stillness.

"You've been talking to Lady Tristram of Blent," he added with a nod. "Though I suppose you didn't tell her so?"

To Lady Tristram of Blent! She had never once thought of that while they talked. The shock of the idea was great, so great that Mina forgot to repudiate it, or to show any indignation at Harry's claims being passed by in contemptuous silence. All the while they talked, she had thought of the girl as far removed from Blent, as even more of a visitor to the countryside than she herself was, a wonderful visitor indeed, but no part of their life. And she was--well, at the least she was heir to Blent! How had she forgotten that? The persistent triumph of Duplay's smile marked his sense of the success of his sally.

"Yes, and she'll be installed there before many months are out," he went on. "So I hope you made yourself pleasant, Mina?"

Mina gave him one scornful glance, as she passed by him and ran out on to her favorite terrace. There was a new thing to look and to wonder at in Blent. The interest, the sense of concern in Blent and its affairs, which the news of the engagement had blunted and almost destroyed, revived in her now. She forgot the prose of that marriage arrangement and turned eagerly to the poetry of Cecily Gainsborough, of the poor girl there in the house that was hers, unwitting guest of the man who was---- The Imp stopped herself with rude abruptness. What had she been about to say, what had she been about to think? The guest of the man who was robbing her? That had been it. But no, no, no! She did not think that. Confused in her mind by this new idea, none the less she found her sympathy going out to Harry again. He was not a robber; it was his own. The blood, she cried still, and not the law. But what was to be done about Cecily Gainsborough? Was she to go back to the little house in London, was she to go back to ugliness, to work, to short commons? There seemed no way out. Between the old and the new attraction, the old allegiance and the new claim to homage that Cecily made, Mina Zabriska stood bewildered. She had a taste now of the same perplexity that she had done so much to bring on poor Mr Neeld at Fairholme. Yet not quite the same. He did not know what he ought to do; she did not feel sure of what she wanted. Both stood undecided. Mr Cholderton's Journal was still at its work of disturbing people's minds.

But Major Duplay was well content with the day's work. If his niece had a divided mind she would be easier to bend to his will. He did not care who had Blent, if only it passed from Harry. But it was a point gained if Mina could think of its passing from Harry to somebody who would be welcome to her there. Then she would tell the story which she had received from her mother, and the first battle against Harry Tristram would be won. The excitement of fighting was on the Major now. He could neither pity the enemy nor distrust his own cause till the strife was done.

Amongst all the indecision there was about, Duplay had the merit of a clear vision of his own purpose and his own desires.

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