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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 13. In The Long Gallery
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 13. In The Long Gallery Post by :John_Piteo Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1343

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 13. In The Long Gallery

CHAPTER XIII. IN THE LONG GALLERY

The man with whom the fighters and the doubters were concerned, in whose defence or attack efforts and hopes were enlisted, round whom hesitation and struggles gathered, was thinking very little about his champions or his enemies. No fresh whispers of danger had come to Harry Tristram's ears. He knew nothing of Neeld and could not think of that quiet old gentleman as a possible menace to his secret. He trusted Mina Zabriska and relied on the influence which he had proved himself to possess over her. He did not believe that Duplay would stick to his game, and was not afraid of him if he did. The engagement was accomplished; the big check, or the prospect of it, lay ready to his hand; his formal proofs, perfect so long as they were unassailed, awaited the hour when formal proofs would be required. To all appearance he was secure in his inheritance and buttressed against any peril. No voice was raised, no murmur was heard, to impugn the right of the new Lord Tristram of Blent. The object of all those long preparations, which had occupied his mother and himself for so many years, was achieved. He sat in Addie Tristram's place, and none said him nay.

His mind was not much on these matters at all. Even his engagement occupied him very little. Janie's letter had arrived and had been read. It came at mid-day, and the evening found it still unacknowledged. It had broken in from outside as it were, intruding like something foreign into the life that he had begun to live on the evening before Addie Tristram was buried, the evening when for an instant he had thought he saw her phantom by the Pool; a life foreshadowed by the new mood which Mina had noticed in him while Lady Tristram still lived, but brought into reality by the presence of another. It seemed a new life coming to one who was almost a new man, so much of the unexpected in him did it reveal to himself. He had struggled against it, saying that the Monday morning would see an end of this unlooked-for episode of feeling and of companionship. Accident stepped in; Gainsborough lay in bed with a chill and could not move. Harry acquiesced in the necessity of his remaining, not exactly with pleasure, rather with a sense that something had begun to happen, not by his will, but affecting him deeply. What would come of it he did not know; that it would end in a day or two, that it would be only an episode and leave no permanent mark seemed now almost impossible; it was fraught with something bigger than that.

But with what? He had no reasoned idea; he was unable to reason. He was passive in the hands of the feelings, the impressions, the fancies that laid hold of him. Addie Tristram's death had moved him strangely; then came that hardly natural, eerily fascinating reminiscence--no, it was more than that--that re-embodiment or resurrection of her in the girl who moved and talked and sat like her, who had her ways though not her face, her eyes set in another frame, her voice renewed in youthful richness, the very turns of her head, even her old trick of sticking out her foot. He scowled sometimes, he was surprised into laughter sometimes; at another moment he would rebel against the malicious Power that seemed to be having a joke with him; for the most part he looked, and looked, and looked, unwilling to miss a single one of the characteristic touches which had been Addie Tristram's belongings and which he had never expected to see again after her spirit had passed away. And the outcome of all his looking was still the same as the effect of his first impression on the evening before the funeral--a sort of despair. A thing was there which he did not know how to deal with.

And she was so happy, so absurdly happy. She had soon found that he expected no conventional solemnity; he laughed himself at the idea of Addie Tristram wanting people to pull long faces, and keep them long when pulled, because she had laid her burden down and was at peace. Cecily found she might be merry, and merry she was. A new life had come to her too, a life of river and trees and meadows; deeper than that, a life of beauty about her. She absorbed it with a native thirst. There was plenty of it, and she had been starved so long. She seized on Blent and enjoyed it to the full. She enjoyed Harry too, laughing now when he stared at her and making him laugh, yet herself noting all his ways, his pride, his little lordlinesses--these grew dear to her--his air of owning the countryside, and making no secret of her own pleasure in being part of the family and in living in the house that owned the countryside. It is to be feared that Mr Gainsborough and his chill were rather neglected, but he got on very well with Addie Tristram's ancient maid; she had the nobility at her fingers' ends and even knew something about their pedigrees. Cecily was free, or assumed the freedom, to spend her time with Harry, or, if he failed her, at least with and among the things that belonged to him and had belonged to beautiful Addie Tristram who had been like her--so Harry said, and Cecily treasured the thought, teasing him now sometimes, as they grew intimate, with a purposed repetition of a pose or trick that she had first displayed unconsciously, and found had power to make him frown or smile. She smiled herself in mischievous triumph when she hit her mark, or she would break into the rich gurgle of delight that he remembered hearing from his young mother when he himself was a child. The life was to her all pure delight; she had no share in the thoughts that often darkened his brow, no knowledge of the thing which again and again filled him with that wondering despair.

On the evening of the day when Major Duplay went to Fairholme, the two sat together in the garden after dinner. It was nine o'clock, a close still night, with dark clouds now and then slowly moving off and on to the face of a moon nearly full. They had been silent for some minutes, sipping coffee. Cecily pointed to the row of windows in the left wing of the house.

"I've never been there," she said. "What's that?"

"The Long Gallery--all one long room, you know," he answered.

"One room! All that! What's in it?"

"Well, everything mostly," he smiled. "All our treasures, and our pictures, and so on."

"Why haven't you taken me there?"

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "You never asked me," he said.

"Well, will you take me there now--when you've finished your cigar?"

There was a pause before he answered, "Yes, if you like." He turned to the servant who had come to take away the coffee. "Light up the Long Gallery at once."

"Yes, my lord." A slight surprise broke through the respectful acceptance of the order.

"It was lighted last for my mother, months ago," Harry said, as though he were explaining his servant's surprise. "She sat there the last evening before she took to her room."

"Is that why you haven't taken me there?"

"I expect it is." His tone was not very confident.

"And you don't much want to now?"

"No, I don't know that I do." But his reluctance seemed vague and weak.

"Oh, I must go," Cecily decided, "but you needn't come unless you like, you know."

"All right, you go alone," he agreed.

Window after window sprang into light. "Ah!" murmured Cecily in satisfaction; and Mina Zabriska saw the illumination from the terrace of Merrion on the hill. Cecily rose, waved her hand to Harry, and ran off into the house with a laugh. The next moment he saw her figure in the first window; she threw it open, waved her hand again, and again laughed; the moon, clear for a moment, shone on her face and turned it pale.

He sat watching the lighted windows. From time to time she darted into sight; once he heard the big window at the end facing the river flung open, the next instant she was in sight at the other extremity of the Gallery. Evidently she was running about, examining all the things. She came to a window presently and cried, "I wish you'd come and tell me all about it." "I don't think I will," he called back. "Oh, well----!" she laughed impatiently, and disappeared. Minutes passed and he did not see her again; she must have settled down somewhere, he supposed; or perhaps her interest was exhausted and she had gone off to her father's room. No, there she was, flitting past a window again. His reluctance gave way before curiosity and attraction. Flinging away his cigar, he got up and walked slowly into the house.

The passage outside the Gallery was dimly lighted, and the door of the Gallery was open. Harry stood in the shadow unseen, watching intently every movement of the girl's. She was looking at a case of miniatures and medals, memorials of beauties and of warriors. She turned from them to the picture of an Elizabethan countess, splendid in ruff and rich in embroidery. She caught up a candle and held it over her head, up toward the picture. Then setting the candle down she ran to the end window and looked out on the night. Addie Tristram's tall arm-chair still stood by the window. Cecily threw herself into it, sighing and stretching her arms in a delighted weariness. Mina Zabriska could make out a figure in the Long Gallery now.

Slowly and irresolutely Harry Tristram came in; Cecily's face was not turned toward the door, and he stood unnoticed just within the threshold. His eyes ranged round the room but came back to Cecily. She was very quiet, but he saw her breast rise and fall in quick breathing. She was stirred and moved. A strange agitation, an intensity of feeling, came over him as he stood there motionless, everything seeming motionless around him, while his ancestors and hers looked down on them from the walls, down on their successors. The Lords of Blent were about him. Their trophies and their treasures decked the room. And she sat there in Addie Tristram's chair, in Addie Tristram's place, in Addie Tristram's attitude. Did the dead know the secret? Did the pictures share it? Who was to them the Lord of Blent?

He shook off these idle fancies--a man should not give way to them--and walked up the room with a steady assured tread. Even then she did not seem to hear him till he spoke.

"Well, do you like it?" he asked, leaning against a table in the middle of the upper part of the room, a few feet from the chair where she sat. Now Mina Zabriska made out two figures, cast up by the bright light against the darkness, and watched them with an eagerness that had no reason in it.

"Like it!" she cried, springing to her feet, running to him, holding out her hands. "Like it! Oh, Harry! Why, it's better than all the rest. Better, even better!"

"It's rather a jolly room," said Harry. "The pictures and all the things about make it look well."

"Oh, I'm not going to say anything if you talk like that. You don't feel like that!--'Rather a jolly room!' That's what one says if the inn parlor's comfortable. This isn't a room. It's--it's----"

"Shall we call it a temple?" he suggested, smiling.

"I believe it's heaven--the private particular Tristram heaven. They're all here!" She waved toward the pictures. "Here in a heaven of their own."

"And we're allowed to visit it before we die?"

"Yes. At least I am. You let me visit it. It belongs to you--to the dead and you."

"Do you want to stay here any longer?" he asked with a sudden roughness.

"Yes, lots longer," she laughed defiantly, quite undismayed. "You needn't, though. You'll have it all your life. Perhaps I shall never have it again. Father's better! And I don't know if you'll ever ask us here again. You never did before, you know. So I mean to have all of it I can get." She darted away from him and ran back to the miniatures. A richly ornamented sword hung on the wall just above them. This caught her notice; she took it down and unsheathed it.

"_Henricus Baro Tristram de Blent_," she spelt out from the enamelled steel. "_Per Ensem Justitia. What does that mean? No, I know. Rather a good motto, cousin Harry. 'That he shall take who has the power, and he shall keep who can!' That was his justice, I expect!"

"Do you quarrel with it? If this was all yours, would you give it up?"

"Not without a fight!" she laughed. "_Per Ensem Justitia!_" She waved the blade.

Harry left her busy with the things that were so great a delight and walked to the window at the other end of the long room. Thence he watched, now her, now the clouds that lounged off and on to the moon's disk. More and more, though, his eyes were caught by her and glued to her; she was the centre of the room; it seemed all made and prepared for her even as it had seemed for Addie Tristram. The motto ran in his head--_Per Ensem Justitia_. What was the justice and what the sword? He awoke to the cause of the changed mood in him and of the agitation in which he had been living. It was nothing to defy the law, to make light of a dry abstraction, to find right against it in his blood. His opponent now was no more the law, it was no more even some tiresome, unknown, unrealized girl in London, with surroundings most unpicturesque and associations that had no power to touch his heart. Here was the enemy, this creature whose every movement claimed the blood that was hers, whose coming repaired the loss Blent had suffered in losing Addie Tristram, whose presence crowned its charms with a new glory. Nature that fashioned her in the Tristram image--had it not put in her hand the sword by which she should win justice? The thought passed through his mind now without a shock; he seemed to see her mistress of Blent; for the moment he forgot himself as anyone save an onlooker; he did not seem concerned.

Once more he roused himself. He had fallen into a fear of the fancies that threatened to carry him he did not know where. He wanted to get away from this room with its suggestions, and from the presence that gave them such force.

"Aren't you ready yet?" he called to her. "It's getting late."

"Are you still there?" she cried back in a gay affectation of surprise. "I'd forgotten all about you, I thought I had it to myself. I was trying to think it was all mine."

"Shall we go downstairs?" His voice was hard and constrained.

"No, I won't," she said squarely. "I can't go. It's barely ten o'clock. Come, we'll talk here. You smoke--or is that high treason?--and I'll sit here." She threw herself into Addie Tristram's great chair. There was a triumphant gayety in her air that spoke of her joy in all about her, of her sense of the boundless satisfaction that her surroundings gave. "I love it all so much," she murmured, half perhaps to herself, yet still as a plea to him that he would not seek to hurry her from the place.

Harry turned away, again with that despair on him. She gave him permission to go, but he could not leave her--neither her nor now the room. Yet he was afraid that he could not answer for himself if he stayed. It was too strange that every association, and every tradition, and every emotion which had through all the years seemed to justify and even to sanctify his own position and the means he was taking to preserve it, should in two or three days begin to desert him, and should now in this hour openly range themselves against him and on her side; so that all he invoked to aid him pleaded for her, all that he had prayed to bless him and his enterprise blessed her and cursed the work to which he had put his hand.

Which of them could best face the world without Blent? Which of them could best look the world in the face having Blent? These were the questions that rose in his mind with tempestuous insistence.

"I could sit here forever," she murmured, a lazy enjoyment succeeding to the agile movements of her body and the delighted agitation of her nerves. "It just suits me to sit here, cousin Harry. Looking like a great lady!" Her eyes challenged him to deny that she looked the part to perfection. She glanced through the window. "I met that funny little Madame Zabriska who lives up at Merrion Lodge to-day. She seems very anxious to know all about us."

"Madame Zabriska has a healthy--or unhealthy--curiosity." The mention of Mina was a fresh prick. Mina knew; suddenly he hated that she should know.

"Is she in love with you?" asked Cecily, mockingly yet languidly, indeed as a great lady might inquire about the less exalted, condescending to be amused.

"Nobody's in love with me, not even the girl who's going to marry me."

"To marry you?" She sat up, looking at him. "Are you engaged?"

"Yes, to Janie Iver. You know who I mean?"

"Yes, I know. You're going to be married to her?"

"I asked her a week ago. To-day she wrote to say she'd have me." He was on his feet even as he spoke. "To marry me and to marry all this, you know."

She was too sympathetic to waste breath on civil pretences.

"To be mistress here? To own this? To be Lady Tristram of Blent?"

"Yes. To have what--what I'm supposed to have," said he.

Cecily regarded him intently for another moment. Then she sank back into Addie Tristram's great arm-chair, asking, "Will she do it well?"

"No," said Harry. "She's a good sort, but she won't do it well."

Cecily sighed and turned her head toward the window.

"Why do you do it? Do you care for her?"

"I like her. And I want money. She's very rich. Money might be useful to me."

"You seem very rich. Why do you want money?"

"I might want it."

There was silence for a moment. "Well, I hope you'll be happy," she said presently.

She herself was the reason--the embodied reason (was reason ever more fairly embodied?), why he was going to marry Janie Iver. The monstrousness of it rose before his mind. When he told of his engagement, there had been for an instant a look in her eyes. Wonder it was at least. Was it disappointment? Was it at all near to consternation? She sat very still now; her gayety was gone. She was like Addie Tristram still, but like Addie when the hard world used her ill, when there were aches to be borne and sins to be reckoned with. As he watched her, yet another new thing came upon him, or a thing that seemed to be as new as the last quarter chimed by the old French clock on the mantel-piece, and yet might date back so long as three days ago. Even now it hardly reached consciousness, certainly did not attain explicitness. It was still rather than Janie was no mistress for Blent and that this girl was the ideal. It was Blent still rather than himself, Blent's mistress rather than his. But it was enough to set a new edge on his questioning. Was he to be the man--he who looked on her now and saw how fair she was--was he to be the man to deny her her own, to rob her of her right, to parade before the world in the trappings which were hers? It was all so strange, so overwhelming. He dropped into a chair by him and pressed his hand across his brow. A low murmur, almost a groan, escaped him in the tumult of his soul. "My God!" he whispered, in a whisper that seemed to echo through the room.

"Harry! Are you unhappy?" In an instant she was by him. "What is it? I don't understand. You tell me you're engaged, and you look so unhappy. Why do you marry her if you don't love her? Are you giving her all this--and yourself--you yourself--without loving her? Dear Harry--yes, you've been very good to me--dear Harry, why?"

"Go back," he said. "Go back to your chair. Go and sit there."

With wonder in her eyes and a smile fresh-born on her lips she obeyed him.

"Well?" she said. "You're very odd. But--why?"

"I'm marrying her for Blent's sake--and I think she's marrying me for Blent's sake."

"I call that horrible."

"No." He sprang to his feet. "If Blent was yours, what would you do to keep it?"

"Everything," she answered. "Everything--except sell myself, Harry."

She was superb. By a natural instinct, all affectation forgotten, she had thrown herself into Addie Tristram's attitude. There was the head on the bend of the arm, there was the dainty foot stuck out. There was all the defiance of a world insensate to love, greedy to find sin, dull to see grace and beauty, blind to a woman's self while it cavilled at a woman's deeds.

"Everything except sell yourself?" he repeated, his eyes set on her face.

"Yes--_Per Ensem Justitia!_" she laughed. "But not lies, and not buying and selling, Harry."

"My word is given. I must marry her now."

"Better fling Blent away!" she flashed out in a brilliant indignation.

"And if I did that?"

"A woman would love you for yourself," she cried, leaning forward to him with hands clasped.

Again he rose and paced the length of the Long Gallery. The moment was come. There was a great alliance against him. He fought still. At every step he took he came to something that still was his, that he prized, that he loved, that meant much to him, that typified his position as Tristram of Blent. A separate pang waited on every step, a great agony rose in him with the thought that he might be walking this room as its master for the last time. Yes, it had come to that. For against all, threatening to conquer all, was the girl who sat in his mother's chair, her very body asserting the claim that her thoughts did not know and her mouth could not utter. And yet his mood had affected her. The upturned eyes were full of excitement, the parted lips waited for a word from him. Mina Zabriska had left her terrace and gone to bed, declaring that she was still on Harry's side; but she was not with him in this fight.

He returned to Cecily and stood by her. The sympathy between them kept her still; she watched, she waited. For minutes he was silent; all thought of time was gone. Now she knew that he had something great to say. Was it that he would and could have no more to do with Janie Iver, that another had come, that his word must go, and that he loved her? She could hardly believe that. It was so short a time since he had seen her. Yet why could it not be true of him, if it were true of her? And was it not? Else why did she hang on his words and keep her eyes on his? Else why was it so still in the room, as though the world too waited for speech from his lips?

"I can't do it!" burst from him suddenly. "By God, I can't do it!"

"What, Harry?" The words were no more than breathed. He came right up to her and caught her by the arm.

"You see all that--everything here? You love it?"

"Yes."

"As much as I do? As much as I do?" His self-control was gone. She made no answer; she could not understand.

With an effort he mastered himself.

"Yes, you love it," he said, and a smile came on his face. "I'm glad you love it. As God lives, unless you'd loved it, I'd have spoken not a word of this. But you're one of us, you're a Tristram. I don't know the real rights of it, but I'll run no risk of cheating a Tristram. You love it all?"

"Yes, yes, Harry. But why, dear Harry, why?"

"Why? Because it's yours."

He let go her hand and reeled back a step.

"Mine? What do you mean?" she cried. Still the idea, the wild idea, that he offered it with himself was in her mind.

"It's yours, not mine--it's never been mine. You're the owner of it. You're Tristram of Blent."

"I--I Tristram of Blent?" She was utterly bewildered. For he was not a lover--no lover ever spoke like that.

"Yes, I say, yes." His voice rose imperiously as it pronounced the words that threw away his rule. "You're Lady Tristram of Blent."

She did not understand; yet she believed. He spoke so that he must be believed.

"This is all yours--yours--yours. You're Tristram of Blent."

She rose to her height, and stood facing him.

"And you? And you?"

"I? I'm--Harry."

"Harry? Harry? Harry what?"

He smiled as he looked at her; as his eyes met hers he smiled.

"Harry what? Harry Nothing," he said. "Harry Nothing-at-all."

He turned and left her alone in the room. She sank back into the great arm-chair where Addie Tristram had been wont to sit.

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