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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 17. River Scenes And Bric-A-Brac
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 17. River Scenes And Bric-A-Brac Post by :nfahey Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :3901

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 17. River Scenes And Bric-A-Brac


The Blent was on fire indeed, and Mina Zabriska occupied a position rich in importance, prolific of pleasure. Others, such as Iver and Miss S., might meet Mr Gainsborough as he took timid rambles; they could extort little beyond a dazed civility. Others again, such as Janie Iver and Bob Broadley, might comfort themselves with the possession of a secret and the conviction that they too could produce a fair sensation when the appropriate (and respectable) time arrived; for the present they commanded no public interest. Others again, the Major notably, strove after importance by airs of previous knowledge and hints of undisclosed details. Even Mrs Trumbler made her cast, declaring that she had always known (the source of the information was left in obscurity) that pride such as Harry Tristram's was the sure precursor of a fall. None of them could compete with Mina Zabriska. To her alone the doors of Blent were open; she held exclusive right of access to its hidden mistress. The fact caused unmeasured indignation, the reason excited unresting curiosity. This state of things ought to have made Mina very happy. What more could woman want?

One thing only, but that a necessity--somebody to talk to about it. She had nobody. Janie showed no desire to discuss Blent or anything or anybody connected therewith, and with Janie out of the question there was nobody to whom loyalty allowed her to talk. The Major, for instance, was one of the enemy. She might pity him as an uncle--he was perplexed and surly, because somehow he never happened to meet Miss Iver now--but she could not confide in him. The gossips of Blentmouth were beneath her lordly notice. She was bubbling over with undiscussed impressions. And now even Mr Neeld had gone off on a visit to town!

Yet things needed talking about, hammering out, the light of another mind thrown upon them; for they were very difficult. There was no need to take account of Mr Gainsborough; as long as he could be kept in the library and out of the one curiosity-shop which was to be found in Blentmouth, he could not do himself or the house much harm. He was still bewildered, but by no means unhappy, and he talked constantly of going back to town to see about everything--to-morrow. There was nothing to see about--the lawyers had done it all--and he was no more necessary or important in London than he was at Blent. But Cecily's case was another matter altogether, and it was about her that Mina desired the enlightening contact of mind with mind, in order to canvass and explain the incongruities of a behavior which conformed to no rational or consistent theory.

Cecily had acquiesced in all the lawyers did, had signed papers at request, had allowed herself to be invested with the property, saluted with the title, enthroned in the fullest manner. So far then she had accepted her cousin's sacrifice and the transformation of her own life. Yet through and in spite of all this she maintained, even to the extreme of punctiliousness, the air of being a visitor at Blent. She was not exactly apologetic to the servants, but she thanked them profusely for any special personal service they might perform for her; she made no changes in the order of the household; when Mina--always busy in her friend's interest--suggested re-arrangement of furniture or of curios, Cecily's manner implied that she was prepared to take no such liberties in another man's house. It would have been all very well-bred if Harry had put his house at her disposal for a fortnight. Seeing that the place was her own and that she had accepted it as being her own, Mina declared that her conduct was little less than an absurdity. This assertion was limited to Mina's own mind; it had not been made to the offender herself. The fear she had felt of Harry threatened to spread to his successor; she did not feel equal to a remonstrance. But she grew gradually into a state of extreme irritation and impatience. This provisional, this ostentatiously provisional, attitude could not be maintained permanently. Something must happen one way or the other. Now what was it to be? She could not pretend to guess. These Tristrams were odd folk. There was the same blood in Cecily as had run in Addie Tristram's veins. On the other hand the Gainsboroughs seemed to have been ordinary. Was this period of indecision or of suspended action a time of struggle between the Tristram in Cecily and the Gainsborough? Mina, on the look-out for entertainment, had no doubt which of the two she wished to be victorious; the Gainsborough promised nothing, the Tristram--well--effects! The strain made Mina excited, restless, and at times exceedingly short with Major Duplay.

The neighborhood waited too, but for the end of Lady Tristram's mourning, not of her indecision. As a result of much discussion, based on many rumors and an incredible number of authentic reports, it was settled that at the end of six months Blent was to be thrown open, visitors received, and a big house-warming given. A new era was to begin. Splendor and respectability were to lie down together. Blent was to pay a new homage to the proprieties. Miss Swinkerton was strongly of opinion that bygones should be allowed to be bygones, and was author of a theory which found much acceptance among the villas--namely, that Lady Tristram would consider any reference to her immediate predecessor as inconsiderate, indeed indelicate, and not such as might be expected to proceed from lady-like mouths.

"We must remember that she's a girl, my dear," Miss S. observed to Mrs Trumbler.

"She must know about it," Mrs Trumbler suggested. "But I dare say you're right, Miss Swinkerton."

"If such a thing had happened in my family, I should consider myself personally affronted by any reference to the persons concerned."

"The Vicar says he's sadly afraid that the notions of the upper classes on such subjects are very lax."

"Not at all," said Miss S. tartly. Really she needed no instruction from the Vicar. "And as I say, my dear, she's a girl. The ball will mark a new departure. I said so to Madame Zabriska and she quite agreed with me."

Mrs Trumbler frowned pensively. "I suppose Madame Zabriska has been a widow some time?" she remarked.

"I have never inquired," said Miss S. with an air of expecting applause for a rare discretion.

"I wonder what Mr Harry will do! The Vicar says he must be terribly upset."

"Oh, I never professed to understand that young man. All I know is that he's going abroad."


"Yes, my dear. I heard it in the town, and Madame Zabriska said she had no doubt it was correct."

"But surely Madame Zabriska doesn't correspond----?"

"I don't know, my dear. I know what she said." She looked at Mrs Trumbler and went on with emphasis: "It doesn't do to judge foreigners as we should judge ourselves. If I corresponded with Mr Tristram it would be one thing; if Madame Zabriska--and to be sure she has nobody to look after her; that Major is no better than any silly young man--chooses to do so, it's quite another. All I say is that, so far as Blent is concerned, there's an end of Mr Tristram. Why, he hasn't got a penny piece, my dear."

"So I heard," agreed Mrs Trumbler. "I suppose they won't let him starve."

"Oh, arrangements are made in such cases," nodded Miss S. "But of course nothing is said about them. For my part I shall never mention either Mr Tristram or the late Lady Tristram to her present ladyship."

Mrs Trumbler was silent for a while; at last her mouth spoke the thoughts of her heart.

"I suppose she'll be thinking of marrying soon. But I don't know anybody in the neighborhood----"

"My dear, she'll have her house in town in the season. The only reason the late Lady Tristram didn't do so was---- Well, you can see that for yourself, Mrs Trumbler!"

"What must the Ivers think about it! What an escape! How providential!"

"Let us hope it'll be a lesson to Janie. If I had allowed myself to think of position or wealth, I should have been married half a dozen times, Mrs Trumbler."

"I dare say you would," said faithful Mrs Trumbler. But this assent did not prevent her from remarking to the Vicar that Miss S. sometimes talked of things which no unmarried woman could be expected really to understand.

It will be observed that the Imp had been alleviating the pangs of her own perplexity by a dexterous ministering to the delusions of others. Not for the world would she have contradicted Miss S.'s assertions; she would as soon have thought of giving that lady a plain and unvarnished account of the late Monsieur Zabriska's very ordinary and quite reputable life and death. No doubt she was right. Both she and the neighborhood had to wait, and her efforts did something to make the period more bearable for both of them. The only sufferer was poor Mr Gainsborough, who was driven from Blentmouth and the curiosity shop by the sheer terror of encountering ladies from villas who told him all about what his daughter was going to do.

The outbreak came, and in a fashion as Tristram-esque as Mina could desire, for all that the harbinger of it was frightened little Mr Gainsborough, more frightened still. He came up the hill one evening about six, praying Mina's immediate presence at Blent. Something had happened, he explained, as they walked down. Cecily had had a letter--from somebody in London. No, not Harry. She must see Mina at once. That was all he knew, except that his daughter was perturbed and excited. His manner protested against the whole thing with a mild despair.

"Quick, quick!" cried the Imp, almost making him run to keep up with her impatient strides.

Cecily was in her room--the room that had been Addie Tristram's.

"You've moved in here!" was Mina's first exclamation.

"Yes; the housekeeper said I must, so I did. But----" She glanced up for a moment at Addie's picture and broke off. Then she held up a letter which she had in her hand. "Do you know anything of Lord Southend?" she asked.

"I've heard Mr Iver and Mr Neeld speak of him. That's all."

"He writes to say he knew Lady Tristram and--and Harry, and hopes he'll know me soon."

"That's very friendly." Mina thought, but did not add, that it was rather unimportant.

"Yes, but it's more than that. Don't you see? It's an opening." She looked at her friend, impatient at her want of comprehension. "It makes it possible to do something. I can begin now."

"Begin what?" Mina was enjoying her own bewilderment keenly.

"How long did you think I could stand it? I'm not made of--of--of soap! You know Harry! You liked him, didn't you? And you knew Lady Tristram! I've slept in this room two nights and----"

"You haven't seen a ghost?"

"Ghost! Oh, don't be silly. I've lain here awake, looking at that picture. And it's looked at me--at least it seemed to. 'What are you doing here?' That's what it's been saying. 'What are you doing here?' No, I'm not mad. That's what I was saying myself. But the picture seemed to say it."

There was a most satisfactory absence of Gainsborough about all this.

"Then I go into the Long Gallery! It's no better there!" Her hands were flung out despairingly.

"You seemed to have settled down so well," murmured Mina.

"Settled down! What was there to do? Oh, you know I hadn't! I can't bear it, Mina, and I won't. Isn't it hard? I should have loved it all so, if it had been really mine, if it had come to me properly. And now--it's worse than nothing!" She sat back in her chair with her face set in a desperate unhappiness.

"It is yours; it did come to you properly," Mina protested. Her sympathy tended always toward the person she was with, her sensitive mind responding to the immediate appeal. She thought more of Cecily now than of Harry, who was somewhere--vaguely somewhere--in London.

"You say that?" cried Cecily angrily. "You, Harry's friend! You, who fought and lied--yes, lied for him. Why did you do all that if you think it's properly mine? How can I face that picture and say it's mine? It's a detestable injustice. Ah, and I did--I did love it so."

"Well, I don't see what you're to do. You can't give it back to Mr. Tristram. At least I shouldn't like to propose that to him, and I'm sure he wouldn't take it. Why, he couldn't, Cecily!"

Cecily rose and walked restlessly to the window.

"No, no, no," she said fretfully. She turned abruptly round to Mina. "Lord Southend says he'd be glad to make my acquaintance and have a talk."

"Ask him down here then."

"Ask him here? I'm not going to ask people to stay here."

"I think that's rather absurd." Mina had needed to summon up courage for this remark.

"And he says---- There, look at this letter. He says he's seen Harry and hopes to be able to do something for him. What does he mean by that?" She came back toward Mina. "There must be something possible if he says that."

"He can't mean anything about--about Blent. He means----"

"I must find out what he means. I must see him. The letter came when I was just desperate. Father and I sitting down here together day after day! As if----! As if----!" She paused and struggled for self-control. "There, I'm going to be quite calm and reasonable about it," she ended.

Mina had her doubts about that--and would have been sorry not to have them. The interest that had threatened to vanish from her life with Addie Tristram's death and Harry's departure was revived. She sat looking at the agitated girl in a pleasant suspense. Cecily took up Southend's letter again and smoothed it thoughtfully. "What should you think Harry must feel about me?" she asked, with a nearer approach to the calm which she had promised; but it seemed the quiet of despair.

Here Mina had her theory ready and advanced it with confidence.

"I expect he hates you. You see he did what he did in a moment of excitement: he must have been wrought up by something--something quite unusual with him. You brought it about somehow."

"Yes, I know I did. Do you suppose I haven't thought about that?"

"There's sure to have been a reaction," pursued the sage Imp. "He'll have got back to his ordinary state of mind, and in that he loved Blent above everything. And the more he loves Blent, and the sorrier he is for having given it up, the less he'll like you, of course."

"You think he's sorry?"

"When I've done anything on an impulse like that, I'm always sorry." Mina spoke from a tolerably large experience of impulses and their results; a very recent example had been the impulse of temper which made her drop hints to the Major about Harry's right to be Tristram of Blent.

"Yes, then he would hate me," Cecily concluded. "And how she'd hate me!" she cried the next instant, pointing at Addie Tristram's picture.

About that at least there was no doubt in Mina's mind. She nodded emphatically.

"I've done what she spent her life trying to prevent! I've made everybody talk about her again! Mina, I feel as if I'd thrown mud at her, as if I'd reviled her. And she can't know how I would have loved her!"

"I remember her when she thought her husband was dead, and that she could be married all right to Captain Fitzhubert, and--and that it would be all right, you know."

"What did she say?" Cecily's eyes were on the picture.

"She cried out--'Think of the difference it makes--the enormous difference!' I didn't know what she meant then, but I remember how she looked and how she spoke."

"And in the end there is--no difference! Yes, she'd hate me. And so must Harry." She turned to Mina. "It's terribly unfair, isn't it, terribly? She'd have liked me, I think, and I'd got to be such good friends with him. I'd come to think he'd ask us down now and then--about once a year perhaps. It would have been something to look forward to all the year. It would have made life quite different, quite good enough, you know. I should have been so content and so happy with that. Oh, it's terribly unfair! Why do people do things that--that bring about things like this?"

"Poor Lady Tristram," sighed Mina, glancing at the beautiful cause of the terrible unfairness. "She was like that, you see," she added.

"Yes, I know that. But it oughtn't to count against other people so. Yes, it's terribly unfair."

These criticisms on the order of the world, whether well-founded or not (to Mina they seemed to possess much plausibility), did not advance matters. A silence fell between the two, and Cecily walked again to the window. The sun was setting on Blent, and it glowed in a soft beauty.

"To think that I should be here, and have this, and yet be very very unhappy!" murmured the girl softly. She faced round suddenly. "Mina, I'm going to London. Now--to-night. There's a train at eight."

The Imp sat up straight and stared.

"I shall wire to our house; the maid's there, and she'll have things ready."

"What are you going to town for?"

"To see this Lord Southend. You must come with me."

"I? Oh, I can't possibly. And your father----?"

"He must stay here. You must come. Run back and pack a bag; you won't want much. I shall go just as I am." With a gesture she indicated the plain black frock she wore. "Oh, I can't be bothered with packing! What does that matter? I'll call for you in the carriage at seven. We mustn't miss the train."

Mina gasped. This was Tristram indeed; the wild resolve was announced in tones calmer than any that Cecily had achieved during the interview. Mina began to think that all the family must have this way of being peculiar in ordinary things, but quite at home when there was an opportunity of doing anything unusual.

"I just feel I must go. If anything's done at all, it'll be done in London, not here."

"How long do you mean to stay?"

"I can't possibly tell. Till something's done. Go now, Mina, or you'll be late."

"Oh, I'm not coming. The whole thing's absurd. What can you do? And, anyhow, it's not my business."

"Very well. I shall go alone. Only I thought you were interested in Harry and--and I thought you were my friend." She threw herself into a chair; she was in Addie Tristram's attitude. "But I suppose I haven't got any friends," she concluded, not in a distressed fashion, but with a pensive submissive little smile.

"You're perfectly adorable," cried Mina, running across to her. "And I'll go with you to Jericho, if you like." She caught Cecily's hands in hers and kissed her cheek.

The scene was transformed in an instant; that also was the Tristram way. Cecily sprang up laughing gayly, even dancing a step or two, as she wrung Mina's hands.

"Hurrah! _Marchons! En Avant!_" she cried. "Oh, we'll do something, Mina! Don't you hate sitting still?"

"Cecily, are you--are you in love with Harry?"

"Oh, I hope not, I hope not," she laughed softly. "Because he must hate me so. And are you, Mina? Oh, I hope not that too! Come, to London! To seek our fortunes in London! Oh, you tiresome old Blent, how glad I am to leave you!"

"But your father----"

"We'll do things quite nicely, Mina dear. We won't distress father. We'll leave a note for him. Mina, I'm sure Addie Tristram used just to leave a note whenever she ran away! We'll sleep in London to-night!"

Suddenly Mina understood better why Harry had surrendered Blent, and understood too, as her mind flew back, why Addie Tristram had made men do what they had done. She was carried away by this sudden flood of enraptured resolution, of a resolve that seemed like an inspiration, of delight in the unreasonable, of gay defiance to the limits of the possible.

"Oh, yes, you tiresome old Blent!" cried Cecily, shaking her fair hair toward the open window. "How could a girl think she was going to live on river scenes and bric-à-brac?" She laughed in airy scorn. "You must grow more amusing if I'm to come back to you!" she threatened.

River scenes and bric-à-brac! Mina was surprised that Blent did not on the instant punish the blasphemy by a revengeful earthquake or an overwhelming flood. Cecily caught her by the arm, a burlesque apprehension screwing her face up into a fantastically ugly mask.

"It was the Gainsborough in me!" she whispered, "Gainsboroughs can live on curios! But I can't, Mina, I can't. I'm a Tristram, not a Gainsborough. No more could Harry in the end, no more could Harry!"

Mina was panting; she had danced and she had wondered; she was on the tip of the excitement with which Cecily had infected her.

"But what are we going to do?" she cried in a last protest of common-sense.

"Oh, I don't know, but something--something--something," was the not very common-sense answer she received.

It was not the moment for common-sense. Mina scorned the thing and flung it from her. She would have none of it--she who stood between beautiful Addie there on the wall and laughing Cecily here in the window, feeling by a strange and welcome illusion that though there were two visible shapes, there was but one heart, one spirit in the two. Almost it seemed as though Addie had risen to life again, once more to charm and to defy the world. An inexplicable impulse made her exclaim:

"Were you like this before you came to Blent?"

A sudden quiet fell on Cecily. She paused before she answered:

"No, not till I came to Blent." With a laugh she fell on her knees. "Please forgive me what I said about the river and the bric-à-brac, dear darling Blent!"

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