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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 20. The Tristram Way--A Specimen
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 20. The Tristram Way--A Specimen Post by :nfahey Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2721

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 20. The Tristram Way--A Specimen


Harry Tristram had led Lady Evenswood to believe that he would inform himself of his cousin's state of mind, or even open direct communication with her. He had done nothing to redeem this implied promise, although the remembrance of it had not passed out of his mind. But he was disinclined to fulfil it. In the first place, he was much occupied with the pursuits and interests of his new life; secondly, he saw no way to approach her in which he would not seem a disagreeable reminder; he might even be taken for a beggar or at least regarded as a reproachful suppliant. The splendor, the dramatic effect of his surrender and of the scene which had led up to it, would be endangered and probably spoilt by a resumption of intercourse between them. His disappearance had been magnificent--no other conclusion could explain the satisfaction with which he looked back on the episode. There was no material yet for a reappearance equally striking. When he thought about her--which was not very often just now--it was not to say that he would never meet her again; he liked her too well, and she was too deeply bound up with the associations of his life for that; but it was to decide to postpone the meeting, and to dream perhaps of some progress or turn of events which should present him with his opportunity, and invest their renewed acquaintance with an atmosphere as unusual and as stimulating as that in which their first days together had been spent. Thus thinking of her only as she affected him, he remained at heart insensible to the aspect of the case which Lady Evenswood had commended to his notice. Cecily's possible unhappiness did not come home to him. After all, she had everything and he nothing--and even he was not insupportably unhappy. His idea, perhaps, was that Blent and a high position would console most folk for somebody else's bad luck; men in bad luck themselves will easily take such a view as that; their intimacy makes a second-hand acquaintance with sorrow seem a trifling trouble.

Yet he had known his mother well. And he had made his surrender. Well, only a very observant man can tell what his own moods may be; it is too much to ask anybody to prophesy another's; and the last thing a man appreciates is the family peculiarities--unless he happens not to share them.

Southend was working quietly; aided by Jenkinson Neeld, he had prepared an elaborate statement and fired it in at Mr Disney's door, himself retreating as hastily as the urchin who has thrown a cracker. Lady Evenswood was trying to induce her eminent cousin to come to tea. The Imp, in response to that official missive which had made such an impression on her, was compiling her reminiscences of Heidelberg and Addie Tristram. Everybody was at work, and it was vaguely understood that Mr Disney was considering the matter, at least that he had not consigned all the documents to the waste-paper basket and the writers to perdition--which was a great point gained with Mr Disney. "No hurry, give me time"--"don't push it"--"wait"--"do nothing"--"the _status quo_"--all these various phrases expressed Lord Southend's earnest and re-iterated advice to the conspirators. A barony had, in his judgment, begun to be a thing which might be mentioned without a smile. And the viscounty--Well, said Lady Evenswood, if Robert were once convinced, the want of precedents would not stop him; precedents must, after all, be made, and why should not Robert make them?

This then, the moment when all the wise and experienced people were agreed that nothing could, should, or ought to be done, was the chance for a Tristram. Addie would have seized it without an instant's hesitation; Cecily, her blood unavoidably diluted with a strain of Gainsborough, took two whole days to make the plunge--two days and a struggle, neither of which would have happened had she been Addie. But she did at last reach the conclusion that immediate action was necessary, that she was the person to act, that she could endure no more delay, that she must herself go to Harry and do the one terrible thing which alone suited, met, and could save the situation. It was very horrible to her. Here was its last and irresistible fascination. Mina supplied Harry's address--ostensibly for the purpose of a letter; nothing else was necessary but a hansom cab.

In his quiet room in Duke Street, Harry was working out some details of the proposed buildings at Blinkhampton. Iver was to come to town next day, and Harry thought that the more entirely ready they seemed to go on, the more eager Iver would be to stop them; so he was at it with his elevations, plans, and estimates. It was just six o'clock, and a couple of quiet hours stretched before him. Nothing was in his mind except Blinkhampton; he had forgotten himself and his past fortunes, Blent and the rest of it; he had even forgotten the peculiarities of his own family. He heard with most genuine vexation that a lady must see him on urgent business; but he had not experience enough to embolden him to send word that he was out.

Such a message would probably have availed nothing. Cecily was already at the door; she was in the room before he had done giving directions that she should be admitted. Again the likeness which had already worked on him so powerfully struck him with unlessened force; for its sake he sprang forward to greet her and met her outstretched hands with his. There was no appearance of embarrassment about her, rather a great gladness and a triumph in her own courage in coming. She seemed quite sure that she had done the right thing.

"You didn't come to me, so I came to you," she explained, as though the explanation were quite sufficient.

She brought everything back to him very strongly--and in a moment banished Blinkhampton.

"Does anybody know you've come?"

"No," she smiled. That was a part of the fun. "Mina didn't know I was going out. You see everybody's been doing something except me and----"

"Everybody doing something? Doing what?"

"Oh, never mind now. Nothing of any real use."

"There's nothing to do," said Harry with a smile and a shrug.

She was a little disappointed to find him looking so well, so cheerful, so busy. But the new impression was not strong enough to upset the preconceptions with which she had come. "I've come to tell you I can't bear it," she said. "Oh, why did you ever do it, Harry?"

"On my honor I don't know," he admitted after a moment's thought. "Won't you sit down?" He watched her seat herself, actually hoping for the famous attitude. But she was too excited for it. She sat upright, her hands clasped on her knees. Her air was one of gravity, of tremulous importance. She realized what she was going to do; if she had failed to understand its very unusual character she would probably never have done it at all.

"I can't bear this state of things," she began. "I can't endure it any longer."

"Oh, I can, I'm all right. I hope you haven't been worrying?"

"Worrying! I've robbed you, robbed you of everything. Oh, I know you did it yourself! That makes it worse. How did I come to make you do it?"

"I don't know," he said again. "Well, you seemed so in your place at Blent. Somehow you made me feel an interloper. And----" He paused a moment. "Yes, I'm glad," he ended.

"No, no, you mustn't be glad," she cried quickly. "Because it's unendurable, unendurable!"

"To you? It's not to me. I thought it might be. It isn't."

"Yes, to me, to me! Oh, end it for me, Harry, end it for me!"

She was imploring, she was the suppliant. The reversal of parts, strange in itself, hardly seemed strange to Harry Tristram. And it made him quite his old self again. He felt that he had something to give. But her next words shattered that delusion.

"You must take it back. Let me give it back to you," she prayed.

He was silent a full minute before he answered slowly and coldly:

"From anybody else I should treat that as an insult; with you I'm willing to think it merely ignorance. In either case the absurdity's the same." He turned away from her with a look of distaste, almost of disgust. "How in the world could you do it?" he added by way of climax.

"I could do it. In one way I could." She rose as he turned back to her. "I want you to have Blent. You're the proper master of Blent. Do you think I want to have it by accident?"

"You have it by law, not by accident," he answered curtly. He was growing angry. "Why do you come here and unsettle me?" he demanded. "I wasn't thinking of it. And then you come here!"

She was apologetic no longer. She faced him boldly.

"You ought to think of it," she insisted. "And, yes, I've come here because it was right for me to come, because I couldn't respect myself unless I came. I want you to take back Blent."

"What infernal nonsense!" he exclaimed. "You know it's impossible."

"No," she said; she was calm but her breath came quick. "There's one way in which it's possible."

In an instant he understood her; there was no need of more words. She knew herself to be understood as she looked at him; and for a while she looked steadily. But his gaze too was long, and it became very searching, so that presently, in spite of her efforts, she felt herself flushing red, and her eyes fell. The room had become uncomfortably quiet too. At last he spoke.

"I suppose you remember what I told you about Janie Iver," he said, "and that's how you came to think I might do this. You must see that that was different. I gave as much as I got there. She was rich, I was----" He smiled sourly. "I was Tristram of Blent. You are Tristram of Blent, I am----" He shrugged his shoulders.

He made no reference to the personal side of the case. She was not hurt, she was enormously relieved.

"I'm not inclined to be a pensioner on my wife," he said.

She opened her lips to speak; she was within an ace of telling him that, if this and that went well, he would have so assured and recognized a position that none could throw stones at him. Her words died away in face of the peremptory finality of his words and the bitter anger on his face. She sat silent and forlorn, wondering what had become of her resolve and her inspiration.

"In my place you would feel as I do," he said a moment later. His tone was milder. "You can't deny it," he insisted. "Look me in the face and deny it if you can. I know you too well."

For some minutes longer she sat still. Then she got up with a desolate air. Everything seemed over; the great offer, with its great scene, had come to very little. Anticlimax, foe to emotion! She remembered how the scene in the Long Gallery had gone. So much better, so much better! But Harry dominated her--and he had stopped the scene. Without attempting to bid him any farewell she moved toward the door slowly and drearily.

She was arrested by his voice--a new voice, very good-natured, rather chaffing.

"Are you doing anything particular to-night?" he asked.

She turned round; he was smiling at her in an open but friendly amusement.

"No," she murmured. "I'm going back home, I suppose."

"To Blent?" he asked quickly.

"No, to our house. Mina's there and----" Her face was puzzled; she left her sentence unfinished.

"Well, I've got nothing to do. Let's have dinner and go somewhere together?"

Their eyes met. Gradually Cecily's lightened into a sparkle as her lips bent and her white teeth showed a little. She was almost laughing outright as she answered readily, without so much as a show of hesitation or a hint of surprise, "Yes."

Nothing else can be so ample as a monosyllable is sometimes. If it had been Harry's object to escape from a tragic or sensational situation he had achieved it triumphantly. The question was no longer who should have Blent, but where they should have dinner. Nothing in his manner showed that he had risked and succeeded in a hazardous experiment; he had brought her down to the level of common-sense--that is, to his own view of things; incidentally he had secured what he hoped would prove a very pleasant evening. Finally he meant to have one more word with her on the matter of her visit before they parted. His plan was very clear in his head. By the end of the evening she would have forgotten the exalted mood which had led her into absurdity; she would listen to a few wise and weighty words--such as he would have at command. Then the ludicrous episode would be over and done with forever; to its likeness, superficially at least rather strong, to that other scene in which he had been chief actor his mind did not advert.

A very pleasant evening it proved; so that it prolonged itself, naturally as it were and without express arrangement, beyond dinner and the play, and embraced in its many hours a little supper and a long drive in a cab to those distant regions where Cecily's house was situated. There was no more talk of Blent; there was some of Harry's new life, its features and its plans; there was a good deal about nothing in particular; and there was not much of any sort as they drove along in the cab at one o'clock in the morning.

But Harry's purpose was not forgotten. He bade the cabman wait and followed Cecily into the house. He looked round it with lively interest and curiosity.

"So this is where you came from!" he exclaimed with a compassionate smile. "You do want something to make up for this!"

She laughed as she took off her hat and sank into a chair. "Yes, this is--home," she said.

"Have you had a pleasant evening?" he demanded.

"You know I have."

"Are you feeling friendly to me?"

Now came the attitude; she threw herself into it and smiled.

"That's what I wanted," he went on. "Now I can say what I have to say."

She sat still, waiting to hear him. There was now no sign of uneasiness about her. She smiled luxuriously, and her eyes were resting on his face with evident pleasure. They were together again as they had been in the Long Gallery; the same contentment possessed her. The inner feeling had its outward effect. There came on him the same admiration, the same sense that she commanded his loyalty. When she had come to his rooms that afternoon he had found it easy to rebuke and to rule her. His intent for the evening had been the same; he had sought to bring her to a more friendly mind chiefly that she might accept with greater readiness the chastening of cool common-sense, and a rebuke from the decent pride which her proposal had outraged. Harry was amazed to find himself suddenly at a loss, looking at the girl, hardly knowing how to speak to her.

"Well?" she said. Where now was the tremulous excitement? She was magnificently at her ease and commanded him to speak, if he had anything to say. If not, let him hold his peace.

But he was proud and obstinate too. They came to a conflict there in the little room--the forgotten cab waiting outside, the forgotten Mina beginning to stir in her bed as voices dimly reached her ears and she awoke to the question--where was Cecily?

"If we're to be friends," Harry began, "I must hear no more of what you said this afternoon. You asked me to be a pensioner, you proposed yourself to be----"

He did not finish. The word was not handy, or he wished to spare her.

She showed no signs of receiving mercy.

"Very well," she said, smiling. "If you knew everything, you wouldn't talk like that. I suppose you've no idea what it cost me?"

"What it cost you?"

She broke into a scornful laugh. "You know what it really meant. Still you've only a scolding for me! How funny that you see one half and not the other! But you've given me a very pleasant evening, Cousin Harry."

"You must leave my life alone," he insisted brusquely.

"Oh, yes, for the future. I've nothing left to offer, have I? I have been--refused!" She seemed to exult in the abandonment of her candor.

He looked at her angrily, almost dangerously. For a passing moment she had a sensation of that physical fear from which no moral courage can wholly redeem the weak in body. But she showed none of it; her pose was unchanged; only the hand on which her head rested shook a little. And she began to laugh. "You look as if you were going to hit me," she said.

"Oh, you do talk nonsense!" he groaned. But she was too much for him; he laughed too. She had spoken with such a grand security. "If you tell me to walk out of the door I shall go."

"Well, in five minutes. It's very late."

"Oh, we weren't bred in Bayswater," he reminded her.

"I was--in Chelsea."

"So you say. I think in heaven--no, Olympus--really."

"Have you said what you wanted to say, Cousin Harry?"

"I suppose you hadn't the least idea what you were doing?"

"I was as cool as you were when you gave me Blent."

"You're cool enough now, anyhow," he admitted, in admiration of her parry.

"Quite, thanks." The hand behind her head trembled sorely. His eyes were on her, and a confusion threatened to overwhelm the composure of which she boasted.

"I gave you Blent because it was yours."

"What I offered you is mine."

"By God, no. Never yours to give till you've lost it!"

With an effort she kept her pose. His words hummed through her head.

"Did you say that to Janie Iver?" she mustered coolness to ask him mockingly.

He thrust away the taunt with a motion of his hand; one of Gainsborough's gimcracks fell smashed on the floor. Cecily laughed, glad of the excuse to seem at her ease.

"Hang the thing! If you'd loved me, you'd have been ashamed to do it."

"I was ashamed without loving you, Cousin Harry."

"Oh, do drop 'Cousin' Harry!"

"Well, I proposed to. But you wouldn't." Her only refuge now was in quips and verbal victories. They served her well, for Harry, less master of himself than usual, was hindered and tripped up by them. "Still, if we ever meet again, I'll say 'Harry' if you like."

"Of course we shall meet again." She surprised that out of him.

"It'll be so awkward for me now," she laughed lightly. But her mirth broke off suddenly as he came closer and stood over her.

"I could hate you for coming to me with that offer," he said.

Almost hating herself now, yet sorely wounded that he should think of hating her, she answered him in a fury.

"Well then, shouldn't I hate you for giving me Blent? That was worse. You could refuse, I couldn't. I have it, I have to keep it." In her excitement she rose and faced him. "And because of you I can't be happy!" she cried resentfully.

"I see! I ought to have drowned myself, instead of merely going away? Oh, I know I owe the world at large apologies for my existence, and you in particular, of course! Unfortunately, though, I intend to go on existing; I even intend to live a life of my own--not the life of a hanger-on--if you'll kindly allow me."

"Would any other man in the world talk like this after----?"

"Any man who had the sense to see what you'd done. I'm bound to be a nuisance to you anyhow. I should be least of a nuisance as your husband! That was it. Oh, I'm past astonishment at you."

His words sounded savage, but it was not their fierceness that banished her mirth. It was the new light they threw on that impulse of hers. She could only fall back on her old recrimination.

"When you gave me Blent----"

"Hold your tongue about Blent," he commanded imperiously. "If it were mine again, and I came to you and said, 'You're on my conscience, you fret me, you worry me. Marry me, and I shall be more comfortable!' What then?"

"Why, it would be just like you to do it!" she cried in malicious triumph.

"The sort of thing runs in the family, then." She started at the plainness of his sneer. "Oh, yes, that was it. Well, what would your answer be? Shall I tell you? You'd ask the first man who came by to kick me out of the room. And you'd be right."

The truth of his words pierced her. She flushed red, but she was resolved to admit nothing. Before him, at any rate, she would cling to her case, to the view of her own action to which she stood committed. He at least should never know that now at last he had made her bitterly and horribly ashamed, with a shame not for what she had proposed to do herself, but for what she had dared to ask him to do. She saw the thing now as he saw it. Had his manner softened, had he made any appeal, had he not lashed her with the bitterest words he could find, she would have been in tears at his feet. But now she faced him so boldly that he took her flush to mean anger. He turned away from her and picked up his hat from the chair on which he had thrown it.

"Well, that's all, isn't it?" he asked.

Before she had time to answer, there was a cry from the doorway, full of astonishment, consternation, and (it must be added) outraged propriety. For it was past two o'clock and Mina Zabriska, for all her freakishness, had been bred on strict lines of decorum. "Cecily!" she cried. "And you!" she added a moment later. They turned and saw her standing there in her dressing-gown, holding a candle. The sudden turn of events, the introduction of this new figure, the intrusion that seemed so absurd, overcame Cecily. She sank back in her chair, and laid her head on her hands on the table, laughing hysterically. Harry's frown grew heavier.

"Oh, you're there?" he said to Mina. "You're in it too, I suppose? I've always had the misfortune to interest you, haven't I? You wanted to turn me out first. Now you're trying to put me in again, are you? Oh, you women, can't you leave a man alone?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. And what are you doing here? Do you know it's half-past two?"

"It would be all the same to me if it was half-past twenty-two," said Harry contemptuously.

"You've been with her all the time?"

"Oh, lord, yes. Are you the chaperon?" He laughed, as he unceremoniously clapped his hat on his head. "We've had an evening out, my cousin and I, and I saw her home. And now I'm going home. Nothing wrong, I hope, Madame Zabriska?"

Cecily raised her head; she was laughing still, with tears in her eyes.

Mina looked at her. Considerations of propriety fell into the background.

"But what's it all about?" she cried.

"I'll leave Cecily to tell you." He was quiet now, but with a vicious quietness. "I've been explaining that I have a preference for being left alone. Perhaps it may not be superfluous to mention the fact to you too, Madame Zabriska. My cab's waiting. Good-night." He looked a moment at Cecily, and his eyes seemed to dwell a little longer than he had meant. In a tone rather softer and more gentle he repeated, "Good-night."

Cecily sprang to her feet. "I shall remember!" she cried. "I shall remember! If ever--if ever the time comes, I shall remember!" Her voice was full of bitterness, her manner proudly defiant.

Harry hesitated a moment, then smiled grimly. "I shouldn't be able to complain of that," he said, as he turned and went out to his cab.

Cecily threw herself into her chair again. The bewildered Imp stood staring at her.

"I didn't know where you were," Mina complained.

"Oh, it doesn't matter."

"Fancy being here with him at this time of night!"

Cecily gave no signs of hearing this superficial criticism on her conduct.

"You must tell me what it's all about," Mina insisted.

Cecily raised her eyes with a weary air, as though she spoke of a distasteful subject unwillingly and to no good purpose.

"I went to tell him he could get Blent back by marrying me."

"Cecily!" Many emotions were packed into the cry. "What did he say?"

Cecily seemed to consider for a moment, then she answered slowly:

"Well, he very nearly beat me--and I rather wish he had," she said.

The net result of the day had distinctly not been to further certain schemes. All that had been achieved--and both of them had contributed to it--was an admirable example of the Tristram way.

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