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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 18. Conspirators And A Crux
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 18. Conspirators And A Crux Post by :nfahey Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1900

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 18. Conspirators And A Crux

CHAPTER XVIII. CONSPIRATORS AND A CRUX

Lord Southend was devoted to his wife--a state of feeling natural often, creditable always. Yet the reason people gave for it--and gave with something like an explicit sanction from him--was not a very exalted one. Susanna made him so exceedingly comfortable. She was born to manage a hotel and cause it to pay fifteen per cent. Being a person--not of social importance, nothing could make her that--but of social rank, she was forced to restrict her genius to a couple of private houses. The result was like the light of the lamps in the heroine's boudoir, a soft brilliancy: in whose glamour Susanna's plain face and limited intellectual interests were lost to view. She was also a particularly good woman; but her husband knew better than to talk about that.

Behold him after the most perfect of lunches, his arm-chair in exactly the right spot, his papers by him, his cigars to his hand (even these Susanna understood), a sense of peace in his heart, and in his head a mild wonder that anybody was discontented with the world. In this condition he intended to spend at least a couple of hours; after which Susanna would drive him gently once round the Park, take him to the House of Lords, wait twenty minutes, and then land him at the Imperium. He lit a cigar and took up the _Economist_; it was not the moment for anything exciting.

"A lady to see you, my Lord--on important business."

Excessive comfort is enervating. After a brief and futile resistance he found Mina Zabriska in the room, and himself regarding her with mingled consternation and amusement. Relics of excitement hung about the Imp, but they were converted to business purposes. She came as an agent. The name of her principal awoke Southend's immediate interest.

"She's come up to London?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, both of us. We're at their old home."

Southend discovered his _pince-nez and studied her thin mobile little face.

"And what have you come up for?" he asked after a pause.

Mina shrugged her shoulders. "Just to see what's going on," she said. "I dare say you wonder what I've got to do with it?" His manner seemed to assent, and she indicated her position briefly.

"Oh, that's it, is it? You knew the late Lady Tristram. And you knew----" Again he regarded her thoughtfully. "I hope Lady Tristram--the new one--is well?"

There was the sound of a whispered consultation outside the door; it drew Mina's eyes in that direction.

"That's all right," he smiled. "It's only my wife scolding the butler for having let you in. This is my time for rest."

"Rest!" exclaimed Mina rather scornfully. "You wrote to Cecily as if you could do something."

"That was rash of me. What do you want done? I've heard about you from Iver, you know."

"Oh, the Ivers have nothing to do with this. It's just between Cecily and Mr. Tristram."

"And you and me, apparently."

"What was your idea when you wrote? I made Cecily let me come and see you because it sounded as if you had an idea." If he had no idea, it was clear that contempt awaited him.

"I wanted to be friendly. But as for doing anything--well, that hardly depends on me."

"But things can't go on as they are, you know," she said brusquely.

"Unhappily, as I understand the law----"

"Oh, I understand the law too--and very silly it is. I suppose it can't be changed?"

"Good gracious, my dear Madame Zabriska! Changed!" And on this point too! _Nolumus leges Angliæ_---- He just stopped himself from the quotation.

"What are Acts of Parliament for?" Mina demanded.

"Absolutely out of the question," he laughed. "Even if everybody consented, absolutely."

"And Harry Tristram wouldn't consent, you mean?"

"Well, could any man?"

Mina looked round the room with a discontented air; there is such a lamentable gulf between feeling that something must be done and discovering what it is.

"I don't say positively that nothing can be done," he resumed after a moment, dangling his glass and looking at her covertly. "Are you at leisure this afternoon?"

"If you've got anything to suggest." Mina had grown distrustful of his intelligence, and her tone showed it.

"I thought you might like to come and see a friend of mine, who is kind enough to be interested in Harry Tristram." He added, with the consciousness of naming an important person, "I mean Lady Evenswood."

"Who's she?" asked the Imp curtly.

To do them justice, Englishmen seldom forget that allowances must be made for foreigners. Lord Southend explained gravely and patiently.

"Well, let's go," said Mina indifferently. "Not that it seems much use," her manner added.

"Excuse me a moment," said he, and he went out to soothe his wife's alarm and assure her that he was not tired.

As they drove, Mina heard more of Lady Evenswood--among other things, that she had known Addie Tristram as a child; this fact impressed the Imp beyond all the rest. But Lady Evenswood herself made a greater impression still. An unusual timidity assaulted and conquered Mina when she found herself with the white-haired old lady who never seemed to do more than gently suggest and yet exercised command. Southend watched them together with keen amusement, while Lady Evenswood drew out of Mina some account of Cecily's feelings and of the scene at Blent.

"Well, that's Tristram all over," sighed Lady Evenswood at the end.

"Yes, isn't it?" cried Mina, emboldened by a sympathy that spoke her own thought. "She hates to feel she's taken everything away from him. But Lord Southend says he can't have it back."

"Oh, no, no, my dear. Still----" She glanced at Southend, doubtful whether to mention their scheme.

He shook his head slightly.

"I dare say Lady Tristram was momentarily excited," he remarked to Mina, "and I think too that she exaggerates what Harry feels. As far as I've seen him, he's by no means miserable."

"Well, she is anyhow," said Mina. "And you won't convince her that he isn't." She turned to Lady Evenswood. "Is there nothing to be done? You see it's all being wasted."

"All being wasted?"

"Yes, Blent and all of it. He can't have it; and as things are now she can't enjoy it."

"Very perverse, very perverse, certainly," murmured Southend, frowning--although he was rather amused too.

"With an obvious solution," said Lady Evenswood, "if only we lived in the realms of romance."

"I have suggested a magician," put in Southend. "Though he doesn't look much like one," he added with a laugh.

Mina did not understand his remark, but she caught Lady Evenswood's meaning.

"Yes," she said, "but Harry wouldn't do that either."

"He doesn't like his cousin?"

"Yes, I think so." She smiled as she added, "And even if he didn't that mightn't matter."

The other two exchanged glances as they listened. Mina, inspired by a subject that never failed to rouse her, gained courage.

"Any more than it mattered with Miss Iver," she pursued. "And he might just as likely have given Blent to Cecily in that way as in the way he actually did--if she'd wanted it very much and--and it had been a splendid thing for him to do."

Lady Evenswood nodded gently. Southend raised his brows in a sort of protest against this relentless analysis.

"Because that sort of thing would have appealed to him. But he'd never take it from her; he wouldn't even if he was in love with her." She addressed Lady Evenswood especially. "You understand that?" she asked. "He wouldn't be indebted to her. He'd hate her for that."

"Not very amiable," commented Southend.

"Amiable? No!" Amiability seemed at a discount with the Imp.

"You know him very well, my dear?"

"Yes, I--I came to." Mina paused, and suddenly blushed at the remembrance of an idea that had once been suggested to her by Major Duplay. "And I'm very fond of her," she added.

"In the deadlock," said Southend, "I think you'll have to try my prescription, Lady Evenswood."

"You think that would be of use?"

"It would pacify this pride of Master Harry's perhaps."

Mina looked from one to the other.

"Do you mean there's anything possible?" she asked.

"My dear, you're a very good friend."

"I'm not very happy. I don't know what in the world Cecily will do. And yet----" Mina struggled with her rival impulses of kindness and curiosity. "It's all awfully interesting," she concluded, breaking into a smile she could not resist.

"That's the only excuse for all of us, I suppose," sighed Lady Evenswood.

"Not that I like the boy particularly," added Southend.

"Is there anything?" asked Mina. The appeal was to the lady, not to Southend. But he answered chaffingly:

"Possibly--just possibly--the resources of the Constitution----"

The bell of the front door sounded audibly in the morning-room in which they were.

"I dare say that's Robert," remarked Lady Evenswood. "He said he might call."

"Oh, by Jove!" exclaimed Southend with a laugh that sounded a trifle uneasy.

The door opened, and a man came in unannounced. He was of middle height, with large features, thick coarse hair, and a rather ragged beard; his arms were long and his hands large.

"How are you, Cousin Sylvia?" he said, crossing to Lady Evenswood, who gave him her hand without rising. "How are you, Southend?" He turned back to Lady Evenswood. "I thought you were alone."

He spoke in brusque tones, and he looked at Mina as if he did not know what she might be doing there. His appearance seemed vaguely familiar to her.

"We are holding a little conference, Robert. This young lady is very interested in Harry Tristram and his affair. Come now, you remember about it! Madame Zabriska, this is Mr Disney."

"Mr Disney!" The Imp gasped. "You mean----?"

The other two smiled. Mr Disney scowled a little. Obviously he had hoped to find his relative alone.

"Madame Zabriska met Addie Tristram years ago at Heidelberg, Robert; and she's been staying down at Blent--at Merrion Lodge, didn't you say, my dear?"

Mr Disney had sat down.

"Well, what's the young fellow like?" he asked.

"Oh, I--I--don't know," murmured the Imp in forlorn shyness. This man was--was actually--the--the Prime Minister! Matters would have been rather better if he had consented to look just a little like it. As it was, her head was in a whirl. Lady Evenswood called him "Robert" too! Nothing about Lady Evenswood had impressed her as much as that, not even the early acquaintance with Addie Tristram.

"Well then, what's the girl like?" asked Disney.

"Robert, don't frighten Madame Zabriska."

"Frighten her? What do you mean?"

"Oh, tell him what I mean, George," laughed Lady Evenswood, turning to Southend. Mr Disney seemed genuinely resentful at the idea that he might frighten anybody.

"Are you a member of the conference too, Southend?"

"Well, yes, I--I'm interested in the family." He telegraphed a glance of caution to the old lady; he meant to convey that the present was not a happy moment to broach the matter that was in their minds.

"I'm sorry I interrupted. Can you give me five minutes in another room, Cousin Sylvia?" He rose and waited for her.

"Oh, but can't you do anything?" blurted out the Imp suddenly.

"Eh?" His eyes under their heavy brows were fixed on her now. There was a deep-lying twinkle in them, although he still frowned ferociously. "Do what?"

"Why, something for--for Harry Tristram?"

He looked round at each of them. The twinkle was gone; the frown was not.

"Oh, was that the conference?" he asked slowly. "Well, what has the conference decided?" It was Mina whom he questioned, for which Southend at least was profoundly thankful. "He'd have bitten my head off, if the women hadn't been there," he confided to Iver afterward.

Mr Disney slowly sat down again. Mina did not perceive the significance of this action, but Lady Evenswood did.

"It's such an extraordinary case, Robert. So very exceptional! Poor Addie Tristram! You remember her?"

"Yes, I remember Addie Tristram," he muttered--"growled," Mina described it afterward. "Well, what do you want?" he asked.

Lady Evenswood was a woman of tact.

"Really," she said, "it can't be done in this way, of course. If anything is to come before you, it must come before you regularly. I know that, Robert."

The Imp had no tact.

"Oh, no," she cried. "Do listen now, Mr Disney. Do promise to help us now!"

Tact is not always the best thing in the world.

"If you'll tell me in two words, I'll listen," said Mr Disney.

"I--I can't do that. In two words? Oh, but please----"

He had turned away from her to Southend.

"Now then, Southend?"

Lord Southend felt that he must be courageous. After all the women were there.

"In two words? Literally?"

Disney nodded, smiling grimly at Mina's clasped hands and imploring face.

"Literally--if you can." There was a gratuitous implication that Southend and the rest of the world were apt to be loquacious.

"Well, then," said Southend, "I will. What we want is----" After one glance at Lady Evenswood, he got it out. "What we want is--a viscounty."

For a moment Mr Disney sat still. Then again he rose slowly.

"Have I tumbled into Bedlam?" he asked.

"It was done in the Bearsdale case," suggested Lady Evenswood. "Of course there was a doubt there----"

"Anyhow a barony--but a viscounty would be more convenient," murmured Southend.

Mina was puzzled. These mysteries were beyond her. She had never heard of the Bearsdale case, and she did not understand why--in certain circumstances--a viscounty would be more convenient. But she knew that something was being urged which might meet the difficulty, and she kept eager eyes on Mr Disney. Perhaps she would have done that anyhow; men who rule heads and hearts can surely draw eyes also. Yet at the moment he was not inspiring. He listened with a smile (was it not rather a grin?) of sardonic ridicule.

"You made me speak, you know," said Southend. "I'd rather have waited till we got the thing into shape."

"And I should like you to see the boy, Robert."

"Bedlam!" said Mr Disney with savage conviction. "I'll talk to you about what I came to say another day, Cousin Sylvia. Really to-day----!" With a vague awkward wave of his arm he started for the door.

"You will try?" cried the Imp, darting at him.

She heard him say, half under his breath, "Damned persistent little woman!" before he vanished through the door. She turned to her companions, her face aghast, her lips quivering, her eyes dim. The magician had come and gone and worked no spell; her disappointment was very bitter.

To her amazement Southend was radiant and Lady Evenswood wore an air of gratified contentment. She stared at them.

"It went off better than I expected," said he.

"It must be one of Robert's good days," said she.

"But--but----" gasped the Imp.

"He was very civil for him. He must mean to think about it, about something of the sort anyhow," Southend explained. "I shouldn't wonder if it had been in his mind," he added to Lady Evenswood.

"Neither should I. At any rate he took it splendidly. I almost wish we'd spoken of the marriage."

"Couldn't you write to him?"

"He wouldn't read it, George."

"Telegraph then!"

"It would really be worth trying--considering how he took it." Lady Evenswood did not seem able to get over the Prime Minister's extraordinary affability.

"Well, if he treats you like that--great people like you--and you're pleased, thank goodness I never met him alone!" Mina was not shy with them any more; she had suffered worse.

They glanced at one another.

"It was you, my dear. He'd have been more difficult with us," said Lady Evenswood.

"You interested him," Southend assured her.

"Yes, if anything's been done, you've done it."

They seemed quite sincere. That feeling of being on her head instead of her heels came over Mina again.

"I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he sent for Harry."

"No, nor if he arranged to meet Cecily Gainsborough--Cecily Tristram, I mean."

"I thought he looked--well, as if he was hit--when you mentioned Addie."

"Oh, there's really no telling with Robert. It went off very well indeed. What a lucky thing he came!"

Still bewildered, Mina began, all the same, to assimilate this atmosphere of contentment and congratulation.

"Do you really think I--I had anything to do with it?" she asked, a new pride swelling in her heart.

"Yes, yes, you attracted his attention."

"He was amused at you, my dear."

"Then I'm glad." She meant that her sufferings would perhaps not go unrecompensed.

"You must bring Lady Tristram to see me," said Lady Evenswood.

"Cecily? Oh--well, I'll try."

Lady Evenswood smiled and Southend laughed outright. It was not quite the way in which Lady Evenswood's invitations were generally received. But neither of them liked Mina less.

It was something to go back to the tiny house between the King's and Fulham Road with the record of such adventures as these. Cecily was there, languid and weary; she had spent the whole day in that hammock in the strip of garden in which Sloyd had found her once. Despondency had succeeded to her excitement--this was all quite in the Tristram way--and she had expected no fruit from Mina's expedition. But Mina came home, not indeed with anything very definite, yet laden with a whole pack of possibilities. She put that point about the viscounty, which puzzled her, first of all. It alone was enough to fire Cecily to animation. Then she led up, through Lady Evenswood, to Mr Disney himself, confessing however that she took the encouragement which that great man had given on faith from those who knew him better than she did. Her own impression would have been that he meant to dismiss the whole thing as impossible nonsense.

"Still I can't help thinking we've done something," she ended in triumph.

"Mina, are you working for him or for me?"

This question faced Mina with a latent problem which she had hitherto avoided. And now she could not solve it. For some time back she had been familiarized with the fact that her life was dull when Harry Tristram passed out of it. The accepted explanation of that state of feeling was simple enough. But then it would involve Cecily in her turn passing out of view, or at least becoming entirely insignificant. And Mina was not prepared for that. She tried hard to read the answer, regarding Cecily earnestly the while.

"Mayn't I work for both of you?" she asked at last.

"Well, I can't see why you should do that," said Cecily, rolling out of the hammock and fretfully smoothing her hair.

"I'm a busy-body. That's it," said Mina.

"You know what'll happen if he finds it out? Harry, I mean. He'll be furious with both of us."

Mina reflected. "Yes, I suppose he will," she admitted. But the spirit of self-sacrifice was on her, perhaps also that of adventure. "I don't care," she said, "as long as I can help."

There was a loud knock at the door. Mina rushed into the front room and saw a man in uniform delivering a letter. The next moment the maid brought it to her--a long envelope with "First Lord of the Treasury" stamped on the lower left-hand corner. She noticed that it was addressed to Lady Evenswood's house, and must have been sent on post haste. She tore it open. It was headed "Private and Confidential."

"MADAME--I am directed by Mr Disney to request you to state in writing, for his consideration, any facts which may be within your knowledge as to the circumstances attendant on the marriage of the late Lady Tristram of Blent, and the birth of her son Mr Henry Austen Fitzhubert Tristram. I am to add that your communication will be considered confidential.--I am, Madame, Yours faithfully,

BROADSTAIRS.

"MADAME ZABRISKA."

"Cecily, Cecily, Cecily!" Mina darted back and thrust this wonderful document into Cecily's hands. "He does mean something, you see, he will do something!" she cried. "Oh, who's Broadstairs, I wonder."

Cecily took the letter and read. The Imp reappeared with a red volume in her hand.

"Viscount Broadstairs--eldest son of the Earl of Ramsgate!" she read with wide-open eyes. "And he says he's directed to write, doesn't he? Well, you are funny in England! But I don't wonder I was afraid of Mr Disney."

"Oh, Mr Disney's secretary, I suppose. But, Mina----" Cecily was alive again now, but her awakening did not seem to be a pleasant one. She turned suddenly from her friend and, walking as far off as the little room would let her, flung herself into a chair.

"What's the matter?" asked Mina, checked in her excited gayety.

"What will Harry care about anything they can give him without Blent?"

Mina flushed. The conspiracy was put before her--not by one of the conspirators but by her who was the object of it. She remembered Lady Evenswood's question and Southend's. She had answered that it might not much matter whether Harry liked his cousin or not. He had not loved Janie Iver. Where was the difference?

"He won't want anything if he can't have Blent. Mina, did they say anything about me to Mr Disney?"

"No," cried Mina eagerly.

"But they will, they mean to?" Cecily was leaning forward eagerly now.

Mina had no denial ready. She seemed rather to hang on Cecily's words than to feel any need of speaking herself. She was trying to follow Cecily's thoughts and to trace the cause of the apprehension, the terror almost, that had come on the girl's face.

"He'll see it--just as I see it!" Cecily went on. "And, Mina----"

She paused again. Still Mina had no words, and no comfort for her. This sight of the other side of the question was too sudden. It was Harry then, and Harry only, who had really been in her thoughts; and Cecily, her friend, was to be used as a tool. There might be little ground for blaming Southend who had never seen her, or Lady Evenswood who had been brought in purely in Harry's interest. But how stood Mina, who was Cecily's friend? Yet at last a thought flashed into her mind and gave her a weapon.

"Well, what did you come to London for?" she cried defiantly. "Why did you come, unless you meant that too?"

Cecily started a little and lay back in her chair.

"Oh, I don't know," she murmured despondently. "He hates me, but if he's offered Blent and me he'll--he'll take us both, Mina, you know he will." An indignant rush of color came on her cheeks. "Oh, it's very easy for you!"

In a difficulty of that sort it did not seem that even Mr Disney could be of much avail.

"Oh, you Tristrams!" cried Mina in despair.

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