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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 21. The Persistence Of Blent
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 21. The Persistence Of Blent Post by :bjorn Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2112

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 21. The Persistence Of Blent

CHAPTER XXI. THE PERSISTENCE OF BLENT

Harry Tristram awoke the next morning with visions in his head--no unusual thing with young men, yet strange and almost unknown to him. They had not been wont to come at Blent, nor had his affair with Janie Iver created them. Possibly a constant, although unconscious, reference of all attractions to the standard, or the tradition, of Addie Tristram's had hitherto kept him free; or perhaps it was merely that there were no striking attractions in the valley of the Blent. Anyhow the visions were here now, a series of them covering all the hours of the evening before, and embodying for him the manifold changes of feeling which had marked the time. He saw himself as well as Cecily, and the approval of his eyes was still for himself, their irritation for her. But he could not dismiss her from the pictures; he realized this with a new annoyance. He lay later than his custom was, looking at her, recalling what she had said as he found the need of words to write beneath each mental apparition. Under the irritation, and greater than it, was the same sort of satisfaction that his activities had given him--a feeling of more life and broader; this thing, though rising out of the old life, fitted in well with the new. Above all, that sentence of hers rang in his head, its extravagance perhaps gaining pre-eminence for it: "If ever the time comes, I shall remember!" The time did not seem likely to come--so far as he could interpret the vague and rather threadbare phrase--but her resolution stirred his interest, and ended by exacting his applause. He was glad that she had resisted, and had not allowed herself to be trampled on. Though the threat was very empty, its utterance showed a high spirit, such a spirit as he still wished to preside over Blent. It was just what his mother might have said, with an equal intensity of determination and an equal absence of definite purpose. But then the whole proceedings had been just what he could imagine his mother bringing about. Consequently he was rather blind to the extraordinary character of the step Cecily had taken; so far he was of the same clay as his cousin. He was, however, none the less outraged by it, and none the less sure that he had met it in the right way. Yet he did not consider that there was any quarrel between them, and he meant to see more of her; he was accustomed to "scenes" occurring and leaving no permanent estrangement or bitterness; the storms blew over the sand, but they did not in the end make much difference in the sand.

There was work to be done--the first grave critical bit of work he had ever had to do, the first real measuring of himself against an opponent of proved ability. So he would think no more about the girl. This resolve did not work. She, or rather her apparition, seemed to insist that she had something to do with the work, was concerned in it, or at least meant to look on at it. Harry found that he had small objection, or even a sort of welcome for her presence. Side by side with the man's pleasure in doing the thing, there was still some of the boy's delight in showing he could do it. What had passed yesterday, particularly that idea of doing things for him which he had detected and raged at, made it additionally pleasant that he should be seen to be capable of doing things for himself. All this was vague, but it was in his mind as he walked to Sloyd's offices.

Grave and critical! Sloyd's nervous excitement and uneasy deference toward Iver were the only indications of any such thing. Duplay was there in the background, cool and easy. Iver himself was inclined to gossip with Harry and to chaff him on the fresh departure he had made, rather than to settle down to a discussion of Blinkhampton. That was after all a small matter--so his manner seemed to assert; he had been in town anyhow, so he dropped in; Duplay had made a point of it in his scrupulous modesty as to his own experience. Harry found that he could resist the impression he was meant to receive only by saying to himself as he faced his old friend and present antagonist: "But you're here--you're here--you're here!" Iver could neither gossip nor argue that fact away.

"Well now," said Iver with a glance at his watch, "we must really get to business. You don't want to live in Blinkhampton, you gentlemen, I suppose? You want to leave a little better for your visit, eh? Quite so. That's the proper thing with the sea-side. But you can't expect to find fortunes growing on the beach. Surely Major Duplay mistook your figures?"

"Unless he mentioned fifty thousand, he did," said Harry firmly.

"H'm, I did you injustice, Major--with some excuse, though. Surely, Mr Sloyd----?" He turned away from Harry as he spoke.

"I beg pardon," interrupted Harry. "Am I to talk to Major Duplay?"

Iver looked at him curiously. "Well, I'd rather talk to you, Harry," he said. "And I'll tell you plainly what I think. Mr Sloyd's a young business man--so are you."

"I'm a baby," Harry agreed.

"And blackmailing big people isn't a good way to start." He watched Harry, but he did not forget to watch Sloyd too. "Of course I use the word in a figurative sense. The estate's not worth half that money to you; we happen to want it--Oh, I'm always open!--So----" He gave a shrug.

"Sorry to introduce new and immoral methods into business, Mr Iver. It must be painful to you after all these years." Harry laughed good-humoredly. "I shall corrupt the Major too!" he added.

"We'll give you five thousand for your bargain--twenty-five in all."

"I suggested to Major Duplay that being ahead of you was so rare an achievement that it ought to be properly recognized."

Duplay whispered to Iver. Sloyd whispered to Harry. Iver listened attentively, Harry with evident impatience. "Let it go for thirty, don't make an enemy of him," had been Sloyd's secret counsel.

"My dear Harry, the simple fact is that the business won't stand more than a certain amount. If we put money into Blinkhampton, it's because we want it to come out again. Now the crop will be limited." He paused. "I'll make you an absolutely final offer--thirty."

"My price is fifty," said Harry immovably.

"Out of the question."

"All right." Harry lit a cigarette with an air of having finished the business.

"It simply cannot be done on the figures," Iver declared with genuine vexation. "We've worked it out, Harry, and it can't be done. If I showed our calculations to Mr Sloyd, who is, I'm sure, willing to be reasonable----"

"Yes, Mr Iver, I am. I am, I hope, always desirous of--er--meeting gentlemen half-way; and nothing could give me greater pleasure than to do business with you, Mr Iver."

"Unfortunately you seem to have--a partner," Iver observed. "No, I've told you the most we can give." He leant back in his chair. This time it was he who had finished business.

"And I've told you the least we can take."

"It's hopeless. Fifty! Oh, we should be out of pocket. It's really unreasonable." He was looking at Sloyd. "It's treating me as an enemy,--and I shall have no alternative but to accept the situation. Blinkhampton is not essential to me; and your hotel and so on won't flourish much if I leave my tumble-down cottages and pigsties just behind them. Will you put these papers together, Duplay?"

The Major obeyed leisurely. Sloyd was licking his lips and looking acutely unhappy.

"You're absolutely resolved, Harry?"

"Absolutely, Mr Iver."

"Well, I give it up. It's bad for me, and it's worse for you. In all my experience I never was so treated. You won't even discuss! If you'd said thirty-five, well, I'd have listened. If you'd even said forty, I'd have----"

"I say, done for forty!" said Harry quietly. "I'd a sort of idea all the time that that might be your limit. I expect the thing really wouldn't stand fifty, you know. Oh, that's just my notion."

Iver's face was a study. He was surprised, he was annoyed, but he was also somewhat amused. Harry's acting had been good. That obstinate, uncompromising immutable fifty!--Iver had really believed in it. And forty had been his limit--his extreme limit. He just saw his way to square his accounts satisfactorily if he were driven to pay that as the penalty of one of his rare mistakes. He glanced at Sloyd; radiant joy and relief illumined that young man's face, as he gave his mustache an upward twirl. Duplay was smiling--yes, smiling. At last Iver smiled too. Harry was grave--not solemn--but merely not smiling because he did not perceive anything to smile at. No doubt he was gratified by the success of his tactics, and pleased that his formidable opponent had been deceived by them. But he thought nothing of what impressed Iver most. The tactics had been, no doubt, well conceived and carried out, but they were ordinary enough in their nature; Iver himself, and dozens of men he had met, could have executed them as well. What struck him was that Harry knew how far he could go, that he stopped on the verge, but not beyond the boundary where a deal was possible. Mere guesswork could not account for that, nor had he commanded the sources of information which would have made the conclusion a matter of ordinary intelligent calculation. No, he had intuitions; he must have an eye. Now eyes were rare; and when they were found they were to be used. Iver was much surprised at finding one in Harry. Yet it must be in Harry; Iver was certain that Sloyd had known nothing of the plan of campaign or of the decisive figure on which his associate had pitched.

"I'll give you forty," he said at last. "For the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel--forty."

"It's a bargain," said Harry, and Iver, with a sigh (for forty was the extreme figure), pushed back his chair and rose to his feet.

"We've got a good many plans, sir," suggested Sloyd, very anxious to establish pleasant relations. "I'm sure we should be very glad if you found them of any service."

"You're very good, Mr Sloyd, but----"

"You may as well have a look at them," interrupted Harry. "There are one or two good ideas. You'll explain them, won't you, Sloyd?"

Sloyd had already placed one in Iver's hand, who glanced at it, took another, compared them, and after a minute's pause held both out to the Major.

"Well, Duplay, suppose you look at them and hear anything that Mr Sloyd is good enough to say, and report to me? You're at leisure?"

"Certainly," said Duplay. He was in good humor, better perhaps than if his chief had proved more signally successful. Harry turned to him, smiling.

"I saw Madame Zabriska last night, at Lady Tristram's house. She's forsaken you, Major?"

"Mina's very busy about something," smiled the Major.

"Yes, she generally is," said Harry, frowning a little. "If she tells you anything about me----"

"I'm not to believe it?"

"You may believe it, but not the way she puts it," laughed Harry.

"Now there's an end of business! Walk down to the Imperium with me, Harry, and have a bit of lunch. You've earned it, eh? How do you like the feeling of making money?"

"Well, I think it might grow on a man. What's your experience?"

"Sometimes better than this morning, or I should hardly have been your neighbor at Fairholme."

The two walked off together, leaving Duplay and Sloyd very amicable. Iver was thoughtful.

"You did that well," he said as they turned the corner into Berkeley Square.

"I suppose I learnt to bluff a bit when I was at Blent."

"That was all right, but--well, how did you put your finger on the figure?"

"I don't know. It looked like being about that, you know."

"It was very exactly that," admitted Iver.

"Rather a surprise to find our friend the Major going into business with you."

"He'll be useful, I think, and--well, I'm short of help." He was eying Harry now, but he said no more about the morning's transaction till they reached the club.

"Perhaps we shall find Neeld here," he remarked, as they went in.

They did find Neeld, and also Lord Southend, the latter gentleman in a state of disturbance about his curry. It was not what any man would seriously call a curry; it was no more than a fortuitous concurrence of mutton and rice.

"It's an extraordinary thing," he observed to Iver, "that whenever Wilmot Edge is away, the curries in this club go to the devil--to the devil. And he's always going off somewhere, confound him!"

"He can't be expected to stay at home just to look after your curry," Iver suggested.

"I suppose he's in South America, or South Africa, or South somewhere or other out of reach. Waiter!" The embarrassed servant came. "When is Colonel Edge expected back?"

"In a few weeks, I believe, my Lord."

"Who's Chairman of the Committee while he's away?"

"Mr Gore-Marston, my Lord."

"There--what can you expect?" He pushed away his plate. "Bring me some cold beef," he commanded, and the waiter brought it with an air that said "Ichabod" for the Imperium. "As soon as ever Edge comes back, I shall draw his attention to the curry."

Everybody else had rather lost their interest in the subject. Neeld and Harry were in conversation. Iver sat down by Southend, and, while lunch was preparing, endeavored to distract his mind by giving him a history of the morning. Southend too was concerned in Blinkhampton. Gradually the curry was forgotten as he listened to the story of Harry's victory.

"Sort of young fellow who might be useful?" he suggested presently.

"That's what I was thinking. He's quite ready to work too, I fancy."

Southend regarded his friend. He was thinking that if this and that happened--and they were things now within the bounds of possibility--Iver might live to be sorry that Harry was not to be his son-in-law. Hastily and in ignorance he included Janie in the scope of this supposed regret. But at this moment the guilty and incompetent Mr Gore-Marston had the misfortune to come in. Southend, all his grievance revived, fell on him tooth and nail. His defence was feeble; he admitted that he knew next to nothing of curries, and--yes, the cook did get careless when Wilmot Edge's vigilant eye was removed.

"He'll be home soon," Gore-Marston pleaded. "I've had a letter from him; he's just got back to civilization after being out in the wilderness, shooting, for six weeks. He'll be here in a month now, I think."

"We shall have to salary him to stay," growled Southend.

Harry was amused at this little episode, and listened smiling. Possessing a knowledge of curries seemed an odd way to acquire importance for a fellow-creature, a strange reason for a man's return being desired. He knew who Wilmot Edge was, and it was funny to hear of him again in connection with curries. And curries seemed the only reason why anybody should be interested in Colonel Edge's return. Not till they met again in the smoking-room were the curries finally forgotten.

In later days Harry came to look back on that afternoon as the beginning of many new things for him. Iver and Southend talked; old Mr Neeld sat by, listening with the interest of a man who feels he has missed something in life and would fain learn, even though he is too old to turn the knowledge to account. Harry found himself listening too, but in a different way.

They were not talking idly; they talked for him. That much he soon discerned. And they were not offering to help him. His vigilant pride, still sore from the blow that Cecily had dealt it, was on the look-out for that. But the triumph of the morning, no less than the manner of the men, reassured him. It is in its way an exciting moment for a young man when he first receives proof that his seniors, the men of actual achievement and admitted ability, think that there is something in him, that he can be of service to them, that it is in his power, if it be in his will, to emerge from the ruck and take a leading place. Harry was glad for himself; he would have been touched had he spared time to observe how delighted old Neeld was on his account. They made him no gift; they asked work from him, and Iver, true to his traditions and ingrained ideas, asked money as a guarantee for the work. "You give me back what I'm going to pay you," he said, "and since you've taken such an interest in Blinkhampton, turn to and see what you can make of it. It looked as if there was a notion or two worth considering in those plans of yours."

Southend agreed to every suggestion with an emphatic nod. But there was something more in his mind. With every evidence of capability that Harry showed, even with every increase in the chances of his attaining position and wealth for himself, the prospect of success in the other scheme--the scheme still secret--grew brighter. The thought of that queer little woman Madame Zabriska, Harry's champion, came into his mind. He would have something to tell her, if ever they met again at Lady Evenswood's. He would have something to tell Lady Evenswood herself too. He quite forgot his curry--and Colonel Wilmot Edge, who derived his importance from it.

Nothing was settled; there were only suggestions for Harry to think over. But he was left quite clear that everything depended on himself alone, that he had only to will and to work, and a career of prosperous activity was before him. The day had more than fulfilled its promise; what had seemed its great triumph appeared now to be valuable only as an introduction and a prelude to something larger and more real. Already he was looking back with some surprise on the extreme gravity which he had attached to his little Blinkhampton speculation. He grew very readily where he was given room to grow; and all the while there was the impulse to show himself--and others too--that he did not depend on Blent or on having Blent. Blent or no Blent, he was a man who could make himself felt. He was on his trial still of course; but he did not doubt of the verdict. When a thing depended for success or failure on Harry alone, Harry had never been in the habit of doubting the result. The Major had noticed that trait in days which seemed now quite long ago; the Major had not liked it, but in the affairs of life it probably had some value.

Except for one thing he seemed to be well settled into his new existence. People had stopped staring at him. They had almost ceased to talk of him. He was rapidly becoming a bygone story. Even to himself it seemed months since he had been Tristram of Blent; he had no idea that any plans were afoot concerning him which found their basis and justification in his having filled that position. Except for one thing he was quit of it all. But that remained, and in such strength as to color all the new existence. The business of the day had not driven out the visions of the morning. Real things should drive out fancies; it is serious, perhaps deplorable, when the real things seem to derive at least half their importance from the relation that they bear to the fancies. Perhaps the proper conclusion would be that in such a case the fancies too have their share of reality.

"Neeld and I go down to Fairholme to-morrow, Harry," said Iver as they parted. "No chance of seeing you down there, I suppose?"

Neeld thought the question rather brutal; Iver's feelings were not perhaps of the finest. But Harry was apparently unconscious of anything that grated.

"Really, I don't suppose I shall ever go there again," he answered with a laugh. "Off with the old love, you know, Mr Neeld!"

"Oh, don't say that," protested Southend.

There was a hint of some meaning in his speech which made Harry turn to him with quick attention.

"Blent's a mere memory to me," he declared.

The three elder men were silent, but they seemed to receive what he said with scepticism.

"Well, that's the only way, isn't it?" he asked.

"Just at present, I suppose," Southend said to him in a low voice, as he shook hands.

These few words, with the subdued hint they carried, reinforced the strength of the visions. Harry was rather full of his own will and proud of his own powers just now--perhaps with some little excuse. But he began, thanks to the bearing of these men and to the obstinate thoughts of his own mind, to feel, still dimly, that it was a difficult thing to forget and to get rid of the whole of a life, to make an entirely fresh start, to be quite a different man. Unsuspected chains revealed themselves with each new motion toward liberty. Absolute detachment had been his ideal. He awoke with a start to the fact that he was still, in the main, living with and moving among people who smacked strong of Blent, who had known him as Tristram of Blent, whose lives had crossed his because he was Addie Tristram's son. That was true of even his new acquaintance Lady Evenswood--truer still of Neeld, of Southend, aye, of Sloyd and the Major--most true of his cousin Cecily. This interdependence of its periods is what welds life into a whole; even able and wilful young men have, for good and evil, to reckon with it. Otherwise morality would be in a bad case, and even logic rather at sea. The disadvantage is that the difficulties in the way of heroic or dramatic conduct are materially increased.

Yes, he was not to escape, not to forget. That day one scene more awaited him which rose out of Blent and belonged to Blent. The Imp made an appointment by telegram, and the Imp came. Harry could no longer regard his bachelor-chambers as any barrier against the incursions of excited young women. Anything that concerned the Tristrams seemed naturally antipathetic to conventions. He surrendered and let Mina in; that he wanted to see her--her for want of a better--was not recognized by him. She was in a great temper, and he was soon inclined to regret his accessibility. Still he endured; for it was an absolutely final interview, she said. She had just come to tell him what she thought of him--and there was an end of it. Then she was going back to Merrion and she hoped Cecily was coming with her. He--Harry--would not be there anyhow!

"Certainly not," he agreed. "But what's the matter, Madame Zabriska? You don't complain that I didn't accept--that I couldn't fall in with my cousin's peculiar ideas?"

"Oh, you can't get out of it like that! You know that isn't the point."

"What in the world is then?" cried Harry. "There's nothing else the matter, is there?"

Mina could hardly sit still for rage; she was on pins.

"Nothing else?" She gathered herself together for the attack. "What did you take her to dinner and to the theatre for? What did you bring her home for?"

"I wanted to be friendly. I wanted to soften what I had to say."

"To soften it! Not you! Shall I tell you what you wanted, Mr Tristram? Sometimes men seem to know so little about themselves!"

"If you'll philosophize on the subject of men--about which you know a lot, of course--I'll listen with pleasure."

"It's the horrible selfishness of the thing. Why didn't you send her away directly? Oh, no, you kept her, you made yourself pleasant, you made her think you liked her----"

"What?"

"You never thought of anything but yourself all the way through. You were lecturing her? Oh, no! You were posing and posturing. Being very fine and very heroic! And then at the end you turned round and--and as good as struck her in the face. Oh, I hope she'll never speak to you again!"

"Did she send you to say this?"

"Of course not."

"Yes, of course not! You're right there. If it had happened to be in any way your business----"

"Ah!" cried the Imp triumphantly. "You've no answer, so you turn round and abuse me! But I don't care. I meant to tell you what I thought of you, and I've done it."

"A post-card would have done it as well," Harry suggested.

"But you've gone too far, oh yes, you have. If you ever change your mind----"

"What about? Oh, don't talk nonsense, Madame Zabriska."

"It's not nonsense. You behaved even worse than I think if you're not at least half in love with her."

Harry threw a quick glance at her.

"That would be very unlucky for me," he remarked.

"Very--now," said the Imp with every appearance of delight.

"London will be dull without you, Madame Zabriska."

"I'm not going to take any more trouble about you, anyhow."

He rose and walked over to her.

"In the end," he said more seriously, "what's your complaint against me?"

"You've made Cecily terribly unhappy."

"I couldn't help it. She--she did an impossible thing."

"After which you made her spend the evening with you! Even a Tristram must have had a reason for that."

"I've told you. I felt friendly and I wanted her to be friendly. And I like her. The whole thing's a ludicrous trifle." He paused a moment and added: "I'm sorry if she's distressed."

"You've made everything impossible--that's all."

"I don't understand. It so happens that to-day all sorts of things have begun to seem possible to me. Perhaps you've seen your uncle?"

"Yes, I have,--and--and it would have been splendid if you hadn't treated her as you did."

"You hint at something I know nothing about." He was growing angry again. "I really believe I could manage my own affairs." He returned to his pet grievance.

"You don't understand? Well, you will soon." She grew cooler as her mischievous pleasure in puzzling him overcame her wrath. "You'll know what you've done soon."

"Shall I? How shall I find it out?"

"You'll be sorry when--when a certain thing happens."

He threw himself into a chair with a peevish laugh.

"I confess your riddles rather bore me. Is there any answer to this one?"

"Yes, very soon. I've been to see Lady Evenswood."

"She knows the answer, does she?"

"Perhaps." Her animation suddenly left her. "But I suppose it's all no use now," she said dolefully.

They sat silent for a minute or two, Harry seeming to fall into a fit of abstraction.

"What did you mean by saying I oughtn't to have taken her to dinner and so on?" he asked, as Mina rose to go.

She shook her head. "I've nothing more to say," she declared.

"And you say I'm half in love with her?"

"Yes, I do," she snapped viciously as she turned toward the door. But she looked back at him before she went out.

"As far as that goes," he said slowly, "I'm not sure you're wrong, Madame Zabriska. But I could never marry her."

The Imp launched a prophecy, confidently, triumphantly, maliciously.

"Before very long she'll be the one to say that, and you've got yourself to thank for it too! Good-by!"

She was gone. Harry sat down and slowly filled and lit his pipe. It was probably all nonsense; but again he recollected Cecily's words: "If ever the time comes, I shall remember!"

Whatever might be the state of his feelings toward her, or of hers toward him, a satisfactory outcome seemed impossible. And somehow this notion had the effect of spoiling the success of the day for Harry Tristram; so that among the Imp's whirling words there was perhaps a grain or two of wisdom. At least his talk with her did not make Harry's visions less constant or less intense.

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