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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 19. In The Matter Of Blinkhampton
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 19. In The Matter Of Blinkhampton Post by :nfahey Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1842

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 19. In The Matter Of Blinkhampton

CHAPTER XIX. IN THE MATTER OF BLINKHAMPTON

Pity for the commander who, while engaging the enemy on his front with valor and success, breaking his line and driving him from his position, finds himself assailed in the rear by an unexpected or despised foe and the prize of victory suddenly wrenched from him! His fate is more bitter than if he had failed in his main encounter, his self-reproaches more keen.

Major Duplay was awakening to the fact that this was his situation. Triumph was not his although Harry Tristram had fled from the battle. Iver's carefully guarded friendliness and the touch of motherly compassion in his wife's manner, Mrs Trumbler's tacit request (conveyed by a meek and Christian sympathy) that he should bow to the will of Providence, Miss S.'s malicious questions as to where he meant to spend the winter after leaving Merrion, told him the opinion of the world. Janie Iver had begun to think flirtation wrong; and there was an altogether new and remarkable self-assertion about Bob Broadley. The last thing annoyed Duplay most. It is indeed absurd that a young man, formerly of a commendable humility, should think a change of demeanor justified merely because one young woman, herself insignificant, chooses for reasons good or bad to favor him. Duplay assumed to despise Bob; it is often better policy to despise people than to enter into competition with them, and it is always rash to do both. These and other truths--as, for example, that for some purposes it is better not to be forty-four--the Major was learning. Was there any grain of comfort? It lay in the fact that he was forty-four. A hypothetical, now impossible, yet subtly soothing Major of thirty routed Bob Broadley and carried all before him. In other words Duplay was driven back to the Last Ditch of Consolation. What we could have done is the latest-tried plaster for the wound of what we cannot do; it would be wise to try it sometimes a little earlier.

From the orthodox sentimentalist he could claim no compassion. He had lost not his heart's love but a very comfortable settlement; he was wounded more in his vanity than in his affections; he had wasted not his life, only one of his few remaining effective summers. But the more lax, who base their views on what men generally are, may spare him one of those less bitter tears which they appropriate to the misfortunes of others. If the tear as it falls meets a smile,--why not? Such encounters are hardly unexpected and may well prove agreeable.

There was another disconsolate person in the valley of the Blent--little Mr Gainsborough, left alone in the big house with a note from his daughter commanding him to stay there and to say nothing to anybody. He was lonely, and nervous with the servants; the curios gave him small pleasure since he had not bought them, and, if he had, they would not have been cheap. For reasons before indicated, Blentmouth and the curiosity-shop there had become too dangerous. Besides, he had no money; Cecily had forgotten that detail in her hurried flight. A man cannot spend more than a portion of his waking hours in a library or over pedigrees. Gainsborough found himself regretting London and the little house. If we divide humanity into those who do things and those who have to get out of the way while they are being done (just as reasonable a division as many adopted by statisticians) Gainsborough belonged to the latter class; like most of us perhaps, but in a particularly unmistakable degree. And he knew he did--not perhaps like most of us in that. He never thought even of appealing to posterity.

Meanwhile Janie Iver was behaving as a pattern daughter, cherishing her mother and father and making home sweet, exercising, in fact, that prudent economy of wilfulness which preserves it for one great decisive struggle, and scorns to fritter it away on the details of daily life. Girls have adopted these tactics from the earliest days (so it is recorded or may be presumed), and wary are the parents who are not hoodwinked by them or, even if they perceive, are altogether unsoftened. Janie was very saintly at Fairholme; the only sins which she could have found to confess (not that Mr Trumbler favored confession--quite the contrary) were certain suppressions of truth touching the direction in which she drove her dog-cart--and even these were calculated to avoid the giving of pain. As for the Tristrams--where were they? They seemed to have dropped out of Janie's story.

Iver needed comfort. There is no disguising it, however much the admission may damage him in the eyes of that same orthodox sentimentalist. He had once expounded his views to Mr Jenkinson Neeld (or rather one of his expositions of them has been recorded, there having been more than one)--and the present situation did not satisfy them. Among other rehabilitations and whitewashings, that of the cruel father might well be undertaken by an ingenious writer; if Nero had had a grown-up daughter there would have been the chance! Anyhow the attempt would have met with some sympathy from Iver. Of course a man desires his daughter's happiness (the remark is a platitude), but he may be allowed to feel annoyance at the precise form in which it realizes--or thinks it will realize--itself, a shape that may disappoint the aim of his career. If he is provided with a son, he has the chance of a more unselfish benevolence; but Iver was not. Let all be said that could be said--Bob Broadley was a disappointment. Iver would, if put to it, have preferred Duplay. There was at least a cosmopolitan polish about the Major; drawing-rooms would not appal him nor the thought of going to Court throw him into a perspiration. Iver had been keen to find out the truth about Harry Tristram, as keen as Major Duplay. At this moment both of them were wishing that the truth had never been discovered by them nor flung in the face of the world by Harry himself.

"But darling Janie will be happy," Mrs Iver used to say. She had surrendered very easily.

He was not really an unnatural parent because he growled once or twice, "Darling Janie be hanged!" It was rather his wife's attitude of mind that he meant to condemn.

Bob himself was hopeless from a parent's point of view. He was actually a little touched by Mrs Trumbler's way of looking at the world; he did think--and confessed it to Janie--that there was something very remarkable in the way Harry Tristram had been cleared from his path. He was in no sense an advanced thinker, and people in love are apt to believe in what are called interpositions. Further, he was primitive in his ideas; he had won the lady, and that seemed to him enough. It was enough, if he could keep her; and in these days that really depends on herself. Moreover he had no doubt of keeping her; his primitiveness appears again; with the first kiss he seemed to pass from slave to master. Many girls would have taught him better. Janie was not one. She seemed rather to acquiesce, being, it must be presumed, also of a somewhat primitive cast of mind. It was terribly clear to Iver that the pair would stand to one another and settle down in inglorious contentment together for their lives. Yes, it was worse than Duplay; something might have been made of him. As for Harry--Iver used to end by thinking how sensible a man old Mr Neeld was; for Mr Neeld had determined to hold his tongue.

There was another vexation, of a different kind indeed, but also a check in his success. Blinkhampton was not going quite right. Blinkhampton was a predestined seaside resort on the South Coast, and Iver, with certain associates, meant to develop it. They had bought it up, and laid it out for building, and arranged for a big hotel with Birch & Company, the famous furnishers. But all along in front of it--between where the street now was and the esplanade was soon to be--ran a long narrow strip, forming the estate of an elderly gentleman named Masters. Of course Masters had to be bought out, the whole scheme hanging on that. Iver, keen at a bargain, hard in business hours (had not Mina Zabriska discovered that?), confident that nobody would care to incur his enmity--he was powerful--by forestalling him, had refused Masters his price; the old gentleman would have to come down. But some young men stepped in, with the rashness of their youth, and acquired an option of purchase from Masters. Iver smiled in a vexed fashion, but was not dismayed. He let it be known that anybody who advanced money to the young men--Sloyd, Sloyd, and Gurney was the firm--would be his enemies; then he waited for the young men to approach him. They did not come. At last, pride protesting, prudence insisting, he wrote and suggested that they might probably be glad to make an arrangement with him. Mr Sloyd--our Mr Sloyd--wrote back that they had found a capitalist--no less than that--and proposed to develop their estate themselves, to put up their own hotel, also a row of boarding-houses, a club, a winter garden, and possibly an aquarium. Youth and a sense of elation caused Sloyd to add that they would always be glad to cooperate with other gentlemen interested in Blinkhampton.

Iver had many irons in the fire; he could no more devote himself exclusively and personally to Blinkhampton than Napoleon could spend all his time in the Peninsula. The transaction was important, yet hardly vital; besides Iver himself could keep his ear to the telephone. It was an opportunity for Bob to win his spurs; Iver proposed to him to go to town and act as his representative.

"I'm afraid you'll lose the game if I play it for you, Mr Iver," responded Bob, with a shake of his head and a good-humored smile. "I'm not accustomed to that sort of job, you know."

"It would be a good chance for you to begin to learn something of business."

"Well, you see, farming's my business. And I don't think I'm a fool at that. But building speculations and so on----" Bob shook his head again.

The progressive man gazed in wonder at the stationary. (We divide humanity again.)

"You've no desire for--for a broader sphere?" he asked.

"Well, I like a quiet life, you see--with my horses, and my crops, and so on. Don't believe I could stand the racket." So far as physique was concerned, Bob could have stood penal servitude and a London Season combined.

"But it's an opening," Iver persisted, by now actually more puzzled than angry. "If you found yourself at home in the work, it might lead to anything." He resisted the temptation to add, "Look at me!" Did not Fairholme, its lawns and green-houses, say as much for him?

"But I don't know that I want anything," smiled Bob. "Of course I'll have a shot if it'll oblige you," he added. "But---- Well, I'd rather not risk it, you know."

Janie was there. Iver turned to her in despair. She was smiling at Bob in an approving understanding way.

"It really isn't what would suit Bob, father," said she. "Besides, if he went into your business, we should have to be so much in town and hardly ever be at home at Mingham."

At home at Mingham! What a destiny! Certainly Blent was in the same valley, but---- Well, a "seat" is one thing, and a farm's another; the world is to blame again, no doubt. And with men who want nothing, for whom the word "opening" has no magic, what is to be done? Abstractly they are seen to be a necessary element in the community; but they do not make good sons or sons-in-law for ambitious men. Janie, when she had seen Bob, an unrepentant cheerful Bob, on his way, came back to find her father sitting sorrowful.

"Dearest father, I'm so sorry," she said, putting her arms round his neck.

He squared his shoulders to meet facts; he could always do that. Moreover he looked ahead--that power was also among his gifts--and saw how presently this thing, like other things, would become a matter of course.

"That's settled, Janie," said he. "I've made my last suggestion."

She went off in distress to her mother, but was told to "let him alone." The wisdom of woman and of years spoke. Presently Iver went out to play golf. But his heart was still bitter within him; he could not resist the sight of a possible sympathizer; he mentioned to the Major, who was his antagonist in the game, that it was not often that a young fellow refused such a chance as he had just offered in vain to Bob Broadley. His prospective relationship to Bob had reached the stage of being assumed between Duplay and him, although it had not yet been explicitly mentioned.

"I wish somebody would try me!" laughed the Major. "I'm kicking my heels all day down here."

Iver made no reply and played the round in silence. He lost, perhaps because he was thinking of something else. He liked Duplay, he thought him clever, and, looking back on the history of the Tristram affair, he felt somehow that he would like to do the Major a good turn. Were they not in a sense companions in misfortune?

Two days later Duplay sat in the offices of Sloyd, Sloyd, and Gurney, as Iver's representative; his mission was to represent to the youthful firm the exceeding folly of their conduct in regard to Blinkhampton. His ready brain had assimilated all the facts, and they lost nothing by his ready tongue. He even made an impression on the enemy.

"It doesn't do to look at one transaction only, Mr Sloyd," he reminded the spruce but rather nervous young man. "It'll pay you to treat us reasonably. Mr Iver's a good friend to have and a bad enemy."

"I'm quite alive to all that; but we have obtained a legitimate advantage and----" Sloyd was evidently a little puzzled, and he glanced at the clock.

"We recognize that; we offer you two thousand pounds. We take over your option and give you two thousand." This was the figure that Iver and he had decided would tempt the young firm; their fear of the great Mr Iver would make them content with that.

Sloyd was half inclined to be content; the firm would make a thousand; the balance would be good interest on the capitalist's ten thousand pounds; and there would still be enough of a victory to soothe the feelings of everybody concerned.

"I'm expecting the gentleman who is associated with us. If you'll excuse me, I'll step out and see if he's arrived."

Duplay saw through the suggestion, but he had no objection to permitting a consultation. He lit his cigar and waited while Sloyd was away. The Major was in greater contentment with himself than he had been since he recognized his defeat. Next to succeeding, it is perhaps the pleasantest thing to make people regret that you have not succeeded. If he proved his capacity Iver would regret what had happened more; possibly even Janie would come to regret it. And he was glad to be using his brains again. If they took the two thousand, if Iver got the Masters estate and entire control of Blinkhampton for twenty-two thousand, Duplay would have had a hand in a good bargain. He thought the Sloyds would yield. "Be strong about it," Iver had said. "These young fellows have plenty of enterprise, plenty of shrewdness, but they haven't got the grit to take big chances. They'll catch at a certainty." Sloyd's manner had gone far to bear out this opinion.

Sloyd returned, but, instead of coming in directly, he held the door and allowed another to pass in front of him. Duplay jumped up with a muttered exclamation. What the deuce was Harry Tristram doing there? Harry advanced, holding out his hand.

"We neither of us thought we should meet in this way, Major Duplay? The world's full of surprises. I've learnt that anyhow, and I dare say you've known it a long while."

"You're in this business?" cried the Major, too astonished for any preamble.

Harry nodded. "Let's get through it," he said. "Because it's very simple. Sloyd and I have made up our minds exactly what we ought to have."

It was the same manner that the Major remembered seeing by the Pool--perhaps a trifle less aggressive, but making up for that by an even increased self-confidence. Duplay had thought of his former successful rival as a broken man. He was not that. He had never thought of him as a speculator in building land. Seemingly that was what he had become.

Harry sat down by the table, Sloyd standing by him and spreading out before him a plan of Blinkhampton and the elevation of a row of buildings.

"You ask us," Harry went on resentfully, almost accusingly, "to throw up this thing just when we're ready to go ahead. Everything's in train; we could begin work to-morrow."

"Come, come, where are you going to get the money?" interrupted Duplay. He felt that he must assert himself.

"Never mind, we can get it; or we can wait till we do. We shut you out just as badly whether we leave the old buildings or put up new. However, we shall get it. I'm satisfied as to that."

"You've heard my offer?"

"Yes," smiled Harry. "The reward for getting ahead of Mr Iver is, it seems, two thousand pounds. It must be done pretty often if it's as cheap as that! I hope he's well?"

"Quite well, Mr Tristram, thank you. But when you talk of getting ahead of him----"

"Well, I put it plainly; that's all. I'm new to this, and I dare say Sloyd here would put it better. But my money's in it, so I like to have my say."

Both the dislike and the reluctant respect of old days were present in the Major's mind. He felt that the quality on whose absence Iver had based his calculations had been supplied. Harry might be ignorant. Sloyd could supply the knowledge. Harry had that grit which hitherto the firm had lacked. Harry seemed to guess something of what was passing through his adversary's mind.

"I don't want to be anything but friendly. Neither Sloyd nor I want that--especially toward Mr Iver--or toward you, Major. We've been neighbors." He smiled and went on, smiling still: "Oddly enough, I've said what I'm going to say to you once before--on a different occasion. You seem to have been trying to frighten us. I am not to be frightened, that's all."

Sloyd whispered in his ear; Duplay guessed that he counselled more urbanity; Harry turned from him with a rather contemptuous little laugh. "Oh, I've got my living to earn now," Duplay heard him whisper--and reflected that he had never wasted much time on politeness, even before that necessity came upon him.

It was strange that Sloyd did not try to take any part in the discussion. He wore an air of deference, partly due no doubt to Harry's ability, yet having unmistakably a social flavor about it. Harry's lordlinesses clung to him still, and had their effect on his business partner. Duplay lodged an angry inward protest to the effect that they had none whatever on him.

"Perhaps I'd better just say what we want," Harry pursued. "We've paid Masters twenty thousand. We may be five hundred more out of pocket. Never mind that." He pushed away the plans and elevations. "You're empowered to treat, I suppose?" he asked. Sloyd had whispered to him again.

"No," said Duplay. "But as a final offer, I think I can pledge Mr Iver to go as far as five thousand (over and above the twenty thousand of course)--to cover absolutely everything, you know."

"Multiply your twenty-five by two, and we're your men," said Harry.

"Multiply it by two? Fifty thousand? Oh, nonsense!"

"Twenty out of pocket--thirty profit. I call it very reasonable."

Major Duplay rose with a decisive air.

"I'm afraid I'm wasting your time," he said, "and my own too. I must say good-afternoon."

"Pray, Major Duplay, don't be so abrupt, sir. We've----" It was Sloyd who spoke, with an eager gesture as though he would detain the visitor. Harry turned on him with his ugliest haughtiest scowl.

"I thought you'd left this to me, Sloyd?" he said.

Sloyd subsided, apologetic but evidently terrified. Alas, that the grit had been supplied! But for that a triumph must have awaited the Major. Harry turned to Duplay.

"I asked you before if you'd authority to treat. I ask you now if you've authority to refuse to treat."

"I've authority to refuse to discuss absurdities."

"Doubtless. And to settle what are absurdities? Look here. I don't ask you to accept that proposal without referring to Mr Iver. I merely say that is the proposal, and that we give Mr Iver three days to consider it. After that our offer is withdrawn."

Sloyd was biting his nails--aye, those nails that he got trimmed in Regent Street twice a week; critical transactions must bring grist to those skilled in manicure. Duplay glanced from his troubled face to Harry's solid, composed, even amused mask.

"And you might add," Harry went on, "that it would be a very good thing if Mr Iver saw his way to run up and have a talk with me. I think I could make him see the thing from our point of view." Something seemed to occur to him. "You must tell him that in ordinary circumstances I should propose to call on him and to come wherever he was, but--well, he'll understand that I don't want to go to Blentmouth just now."

The implied apology relieved what Duplay had begun to feel an intolerable arrogance, but it was a concession of form only, and did not touch the substance. The substance was and remained an ultimatum. The Major felt aggrieved; he had been very anxious to carry his first commission through triumphantly and with _éclat_. For the second time Harry Tristram was in his path.

Harry rose. "That's all we can do to-day," he said. "We shall wait to hear from Mr Iver."

"I really don't feel justified in putting such a proposition before him."

"Oh, that's for you to consider," shrugged Harry. "I think I would though, if I were you. At the worst, it will justify you in refusing to do business with us. Do you happen to be walking down toward Pall Mall?" Sloyd's offices were in Mount Street. "Good-day, Sloyd. I'll drop in to-morrow."

With an idea that some concession might still be forthcoming, not from any expectation of enjoying his walk, the Major consented to accompany Harry.

"It was a great surprise to see you appear," he said as they started. "So odd a coincidence!"

"Not at all," smiled Harry. "You guess why I went into it? No? Well, of course, I know nothing about such things really. But Sloyd happened to mention that Iver wanted to buy, so I thought the thing must be worth buying, and I looked into it." He laughed a little. "That's one of the penalties of a reputation like Iver's, isn't it?"

"But I didn't know you'd taken to business at all."

"Oh, one must do something. I can't sit down on four hundred a year, you know. Besides, this is hardly business. By-the-bye, though, I ought to be as much surprised to see you. We've both lost our situation, is that it, Major?"

Insensibly the Major began to find him rather pleasanter, not a man he would ever like really, but all the same more tolerable than he had been at Blent; so Harry's somewhat audacious reference was received with a grim smile.

"I knocked you out, you know," Harry pursued. "Left to himself, I don't believe old Bob Broadley would ever have moved. But I put him up to it."

"What?" Duplay had not expected this.

"Well, you tried to put me out, you see. Besides, Janie Iver liked him, and she didn't care about you--or me either, for that matter. So just before I--well, disappeared--I told Bob that he'd win if he went ahead. And I gather he has won, hasn't he?"

A brief nod from Duplay answered him; he was still revolving the news about Bob Broadley.

"I'm afraid I haven't made you like me any better," said Harry with a laugh. "And I don't go out of my way to get myself disliked. Do you see why I mentioned that little fact about Bob Broadley just now?"

"I confess I don't, unless you wished to annoy me. Or--pardon--perhaps you thought it fair that I should know?"

"Neither the one nor the other. I didn't do it from the personal point of view at all. You see, Bob had a strong position--and didn't know it."

Duplay glanced at him. "Well," he said, "what you did didn't help you, though it hurt me perhaps."

"I told him he had a strong position. Then he took it. Hullo, here we are in Pall Mall. Now you see, don't you, Major?"

"No, I don't." Duplay was short in manner again.

"You don't see any parallel between Bob's position and our friend's up there in Mount Street?" Harry laughed again as he held out his hand. "Well, you tell the story to Iver and see if he does," he suggested.

"Oh, that's what you mean?" growled Duplay.

"Yes," assented Harry, almost gleefully. "That's what I mean; only this time it won't hurt you, and I think it will help me. You've done all you could, you know."

The touch of patronage came again. Duplay had hard work to keep his temper under. Yet now it was rather annoyance that he felt than the black dislike that he used to harbor. Harry's misfortune had lessened that. If only Harry had been more chastened by his misfortune the annoyance might have gone too. Unfortunately, the young man seemed almost exultant.

"Well, good-by. Write to Sloyd--unless Iver decides to come up. And don't forget that little story about Bob Broadley! Because you'll find it useful, if you think of frightening Sloyd. He can't move without me--and I don't move without my price."

"You moved from Blent," Duplay reminded him, stung to a sudden malice.

"Yes," said Harry thoughtfully. "Yes, so I did. Well, I suppose I had my price. Good-by." He turned away and walked quickly down the street.

"What was his price?" asked the Major, puzzled. He was not aware that Harry had got anything out of his surrender; and even Harry himself seemed rather to conclude that, since he had moved, he must have got his price than to say that he had got it or to be able to tell what it was.

But all that was not the question now. Duplay sought the telegraph office and informed Iver of the uncompromising attitude of the enemy. He added that Harry Tristram was in the business and that Harry suggested an interview. It was perhaps the most significant tribute that Harry had yet received when, after a few minutes of surprise and a few more of consideration, Iver telegraphed back that he would come up to town, and wished an appointment to be made for him with Mr Tristram. It was something to force Napoleon to come to the Peninsula.

In fact, the only thing that could upset Iver's plans was blank defiance. Reviewing his memories of Harry Tristram, he knew that defiance was just what he had to fear. It was in the blood of the Tristrams, and prudence made no better a resistance than propriety.

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