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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 23. A Decree Of Banishment
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 23. A Decree Of Banishment Post by :bjorn Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2432

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 23. A Decree Of Banishment

CHAPTER XXIII. A DECREE OF BANISHMENT

The Imp cried--absolutely cried for vexation--when a curt and sour note from Southend told her the issue. The blow struck down her excitement and her exultation. Away went all joy in her encounter with Mr Disney, all pride in the skill with which she had negotiated with the Prime Minister. The ending was pitiful--disgusting and pitiful. She poured out her heart's bitterness to Major Duplay, who had come to visit her.

"I'm tired of the whole thing, and I hate the Tristrams!" she declared.

"It always comes to that in time, Mina, when you mix yourself up in people's affairs."

"Wasn't it through you that I began to do it?"

The Major declined to argue the question--one of some complexity perhaps.

"Well, I've got plenty to do in London. Let's give up Merrion and take rooms here."

"Give up Merrion!" She was startled. But the reasons she assigned were prudential. "I've taken it till October, and I can't afford to. Besides, what's the use of being here in August?"

"You won't drop it yet, you see." The reasons did not deceive Duplay.

"I don't think I ought to desert Cecily. I suppose she'll go back to Blent. Oh, what an exasperating man he is!"

"Doesn't look as if the match would come off now, does it?"

"It's just desperate. The last chance is gone. I don't know what to do."

"Marry him yourself," advised the Major. Though it was an old idea of his, he was not very serious.

"I'd sooner poison him," said Mina decisively. "What must Mr Disney think of me?"

"I shouldn't trouble about that. Do you suppose he thinks much at all, Mina?" (That is the sort of remark which relatives sometimes regard as consolatory.) "I think Harry Tristram as much of a fool as you do," Duplay added. "If he'd taken it, he could have made a good match anyhow, even if he didn't get Lady Tristram."

"Cecily's just as bad. She's retired into her shell. You don't know that way of hers--of theirs, I suppose it is, bother them! She's treating everybody and everything as if they didn't exist."

"She'll go back to Blent, I suppose?"

"Well, she must. Somebody must have it."

"If it's going begging, call on me," said the Major equably. He was in a better humor with the world than he had been for a long while; his connection with Iver promised well. But Mina sniffed scornfully; she was in no mood for idle jests.

Cecily had been told about the scheme and its lamentable end. Her attitude was one of entire unconcern. What was it to her if Harry were made a viscount, a duke, or the Pope? What was anything to her? She was going back to her father at Blent. The only animation she displayed was in resenting the reminder, and indeed denying the fact, that she had ever been other than absolutely happy and contented at Blent. Mina pressed the point, and Cecily then declared that now at any rate her conscience was at rest. She had tried to do what was right--at what sacrifice Mina knew; the reception of her offer Mina knew. Now perhaps Mina could sympathize with her, and could understand the sort of way in which Cousin Harry received attempts to help him. On this point they drew together again.

"You must come back to Merrion, dear," urged Cecily.

Mina, who never meant to do anything else, embraced her friend and affectionately consented. It is always pleasant to do on entreaty what we might be driven to do unasked.

Good-by had to be said to Lady Evenswood. That lady was very cheerful about Harry; she was, hardly with any disguise, an admirer of his conduct, and said that undoubtedly he had made a very favorable impression on Robert. She seemed to make little of the desperate condition of affairs as regarded Cecily. She was thinking of Harry's career, and that seemed to her very promising. "Whatever he tries I think he'll succeed in," she said. That was not enough for Mina; he must try Mina's things--those she had set her heart on--before she could be content. "But you never brought Cecily to see me," Lady Evenswood complained. "And I'm just going away now."

That was it, Mina decided. Lady Evenswood had not seen Cecily. She had approached the Tristram puzzle from one side only, and had perceived but one aspect of it. She did not understand that it was complex and double-headed; it was neither Harry nor Cecily, but Harry and Cecily. Mina had been in that state of mind before Cecily came on the scene; it was natural now in Lady Evenswood. But it rendered her really useless. It was a shock to find that, all along, in Lady Evenswood's mind Cecily had been a step toward the peerage rather than the peerage the first step toward Cecily. Mina wondered loftily (but silently) how woman could take so slighting a view of woman.

"And Flora Disney has quite taken him up," Lady Evenswood pursued. "George tells me he's been to lunch there twice. George is a terrible gossip."

"What does Lady Flora Disney want with him?"

"Well, my dear, are you going to turn round and say you don't understand why he interests women?"

"I don't see why he should interest Lady Flora." Mina had already made up her mind that she hated that sort of woman. It was bad enough to have captured Mr Disney; must the insatiate creature draw into her net Harry Tristram also?

"And of course he's flattered. Any young man would be."

"I don't think he's improved since he left Blent."

"Country folks always say that about their young men when they come to town," smiled Lady Evenswood. "He's learning his world, my dear. And he seems very sensible. He hasn't inherited poor Addie's wildness."

"Yes, he has. But it only comes out now and then. When it does----"

"It won't come out with Flora," Lady Evenswood interrupted reassuringly. "And at any rate, as you may suppose, I'm going to leave him to his own devices. Oh, I think he's quite right, but I don't want to be wrong myself again, that's all."

But another thing was to happen before Mina went back to the valley of the Blent; a fearful, delightful thing. An astonishing missive came--a card inviting her to dine with Mr and Lady Flora Disney. She gasped as she read it. Had Lady Flora ever indulged in the same expression of feeling, it would have been when she was asked to send it. Gasping still, Mina telegraphed for her best frock and all the jewelled tokens of affection which survived to testify to Adolf Zabriska's love. It was in itself an infinitely great occasion, destined always to loom large in memory; but it proved to have a bearing on the Tristram problem too.

For Harry was there. He sat on the hostess's left; on her other side was handsome Lord Hove, very resplendent in full dress, starred and ribanded. Several of the men were like that; there was some function later on, Mina learnt from an easy-mannered youth who sat by her and seemed bored with the party. Disney came in late, in his usual indifferently fitting morning clothes, snatching an hour from the House, in the strongest contrast to the fair sumptuousness of his wife. He took a vacant chair two places from Mina and nodded at her in a friendly way. They were at a round table, and there were only a dozen there. The easy-mannered youth told her all about them, including several things which it is to be hoped were not true; he seemed to view them from an altitude of good-humored contempt. Mina discovered afterward that he was a cousin of Lady Flora's, and occupied a position in Messrs Coutts's Bank. He chuckled once, remarking:

"Flora's talkin' to Tristram all the time, instead of bein' pleasant to Tommy Hove. Fact is, she hates Tommy, and she'd be glad if the Chief would give him the boot. But the Chief doesn't want to, because Tommy's well in at Court and the Chief isn't."

"Why does Lady Flora hate Lord Hove? He's very handsome."

"Think so? Well, I see so many fellows like that, that I'm beginnin' to hate 'em. Like the 'sweet girl,' don't you know? I hear the Chief thinks Tristram'll train on."

"Do what?" asked Mina absently, looking across at Harry. Harry was quite lively, and deep in conversation with his hostess.

"Well, they might put him in the House, and so on, you know. See that woman next but three? That's Gertrude Melrose; spends more on clothes than any woman in London, and she's only got nine hundred a year. Queer?" He smiled as he consumed an almond.

"She must get into debt," said Mina, gazing at the clothes of inexplicable origin.

"Gettin' in isn't the mystery," remarked the youth. "It's the gettin' out, Madame--er--Zabriska." He had taken a swift glance at Mina's card.

Mina looked round. "Is it in this room they have the Councils?" she asked.

"Cabinets? Don't know. Downstairs somewhere, I believe, anyhow." He smothered a yawn. "Queer thing, that about Tristram, you know. If everything was known, you know, I shouldn't wonder if a lot of other fellows found themselves----"

He was interrupted, fortunately perhaps, in these speculations by a question from his other neighbor. Mina was left alone for some minutes, and set to work to observe the scene. She was tolerably at ease now; a man was on each side of her, and in the end it was the women of whom she was afraid. There would be a terrible time in the drawing-room, but she determined not to think of that. Harry saw her sitting silent and smiled across at her while he listened to Lady Flora. The smile seemed to come from a great way off. The longer she sat there the more that impression grew; he seemed so much and so naturally a part of the scene and one of the company. She was so emphatically not one of them, save by the merest accident and for an evening's span. The sense of difference and distance troubled her. She thought of Cecily alone at home, and grew more troubled still. She felt absurd too, because she had been trying to help Harry. If that had to be done, she supposed Lady Flora would do it now. The idea was bitter. Where difference of class comes in, women seem more hostile to one another than men are to men; perhaps this should be considered in relation to the franchise question.

Through the talk of the rest she listened to Harry and Lady Flora. That Harry should hold his own did not surprise her; it was rather unexpected that he should do it so lightly and so urbanely. Lord Hove tried to intervene once or twice, with no success; capricious waves of sympathy undulated across to him from Mina. She turned her head by chance, and found Mr Disney silent too, and looking at her. The next moment he spoke to the easy-mannered youth.

"Well, Theo, what's the world saying and doing?"

"Same as last year, Cousin Robert," answered Theo cheerfully. "Government's a year older, of course."

In an instant Mina was pleased; she detected an unexpected but pleasant friendship between Mr Disney and the youth. She credited Disney with more humanity--the humor necessary she knew he had--and liked him even better.

"The drawing-rooms have kicked us out already, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, rather. But the Bank's not sure."

"Good! That's something. Banks against drawing-rooms for me, Madame Zabriska." He brought her into the conversation almost with tact; he must have had a strong wish to make her comfortable.

"That's right," announced Theo. "I should say you're all right in the country too. Crops pretty good, you know, and the rain's comin' down just nicely."

"Well, I ordered it," said Mr Disney.

"Takin' all the credit you can get," observed Theo. "Like the man who carved his name on the knife before he stabbed his mother-in-law."

"What did he do that for?" cried Mina. A guffaw from Disney quite amazed her.

Harry looked across with a surprised air; he seemed to wonder that she should be enjoying herself. Mina was annoyed, and set herself to be merry; a glance from Lady Flora converted vexation into rage. She turned back to Theo; somehow Mr Disney had taught her how to like him--often a valuable lesson, if people would keep their eyes open for it.

"Everybody else I've met has been horribly afraid of Mr Disney," she said in a half-whisper.

"Oh, you aren't in a funk of a man who's smacked your head!"

That seemed a better paradox than most. Mina nodded approvingly.

"What does the Bank say about Barililand, Theo?" called Disney. Lord Hove paused in the act of drinking a glass of wine.

"Well, they're just wonderin' who's goin' to do the kickin'," said Theo.

"And who's going to take it?" Disney seemed much amused. Lord Hove had turned a little pink. Mina had a vague sense that serious things were being joked about. Harry had turned from his hostess and was listening.

"That's what it comes to," concluded Theo.

Disney glanced round, smiling grimly. Everybody had become silent. Barililand had produced the question on which Lord Hove was supposed to be restive. Disney laughed and looked at his wife. She rose from the table. Mr Disney had either learnt what he wanted or had finished amusing himself. Mina did not know which; no more, oddly enough, did Lord Hove.

Mr Disney was by the door, saying good-by to the ladies; he would not be coming to the drawing-room. He stopped Mina, who went out last, just before his wife.

"We've done all we could, Madame Zabriska," he said. "We must leave him alone, eh?"

"I'm afraid so. You've been very kind, Mr Disney."

"Better as it is, I fancy. Now then, Flora!" At this peremptory summons Lady Flora left Theo, by whom she had halted, and followed Mina through the door.

The dreadful moment had come. It justified Mina's fears, but not in the way she had expected. Two of the women left directly; the other two went off into a corner; her hostess sat down and talked to her. Lady Flora was not distant and did not make Mina feel an outsider. The fault was the other way; she was confidential--and about Harry. She assumed an intimacy with him equal or more than equal to Mina's own; she even told Mina things about him; she said "we" thought him an enormous acquisition, and hoped to see a great deal of him. It was all very kind, and Mina, as a true friend, should have been delighted. As it was, dolor grew upon her.

"And I suppose the cousin is quite----?" A gentle motion of Lady Flora's fan was left to define Cecily more exactly, and proved fully up to the task.

"She's the most fascinating creature I ever saw," cried Mina.

"Rescued out of Chelsea, wasn't she?" smiled Lady Flora. "Poor thing! One's sorry for her. When her mourning's over we must get her out. I do hope she's something like Mr Tristram?"

"I think she's ever so much nicer than Mr Tristram." Mina would have shrunk from stating this upon oath.

"He interests me enormously, and it's so seldom I like Robert's young men."

So he was to be Robert's young man too! The thing grew worse and worse. Almost she hated her idol Mr Disney. Personal jealousy, and jealousy for Cecily, blinded her to his merits, much more to the gracious cordiality which his wife was now showing.

"Yes, I'm sure we shall make something of Harry Tristram."

"He doesn't like things done for him," Mina declared. She meant to show how very well she knew him, and spoke with an air of authority.

"Oh, of course it won't look like that, Madame Zabriska."

Now the Imp's efforts had looked like that--just like it. She chafed under conscious inferiority; Lady Flora had smiled at being thought to need such a reminder.

"Men never see it unless it's absolutely crammed down their throats," Lady Flora pursued. "They always think it's all themselves, you know. It would be very clumsy to be found out."

In perfect innocence she sprinkled pepper on Mina's wound. Able to endure no more, the Imp declared that she must go back to Cecily.

"Oh, poor girl, I quite forgot her! You're going back to Blent with her, I suppose? Do come and see us when you're in town again." Was there or was there not the slightest sigh as she turned away, a sigh that spoke of duty nobly done? Even toward Robert's caprices, even to the oddest people, Lady Flora prided herself on a becoming bearing. And in the end this little Madame Zabriska had rather amused her; she was funny with her airs of ownership about Harry Tristram.

Well poor Mina understood! All that the enemy thought was legible to her; all the misery that keen perceptions can sometimes bring was sure to be hers. She had spent the most notable evening of her life, and she got into her cab a miserable woman.

Theo was on the doorstep. "Escapin'," he confided to her while he handed her in. "Worst of these parties generally is that there's nobody amusin'," he observed as he did her this service. "Aren't you rather glad you haven't got to take on Flora's job, Madame Zabriska?"

No, at the moment at least Mina did not rejoice on that account.

When she reached home, there was nothing to change her mood. She found Cecily in a melancholy so sympathetic as to invite an immediate outpouring of the heart. Cecily was beautiful that evening, in her black frock, with her fair hair, her pale face, and her eyes full of tragedy. She had been writing, it appeared; ink and paper were on the table. She was very quiet, but, Mina thought, with the stillness that follows a storm. Unasked, the Imp sketched the dinner party, especially Harry's share in it. Her despair was laced with vitriol and she avoided a kind word about anybody. This was blank ingratitude to Mr Disney, and to Theo too; but our friends can seldom escape from paying for our misfortunes.

"Those people have got hold of him. We've lost him. That's the end of it," she cried.

Cecily had nothing to say; she leant back in a limp forlornness while Mina expatiated on this doleful text. There came a luxury into the Imp's woe as she realized for herself and her auditor the extreme sorrows of the situation; she forgot entirely that there was not and never had been any reason why Harry should be anything in particular to her at least. She observed that of course she was glad for his sake; this time-honored unselfishness won no assent from Cecily. Lacking the reinforcement of discussion, the stream of Mina's lamentation began to run dry.

"Oh, it's no use talking," she ended. "There it is!"

"I'm going back to Blent to-morrow," said Cecily suddenly.

It was no more than Mina had expected. "Yes, we may as well," she assented dismally.

Cecily rose and began to walk about. Her air caught Mina's attention again; on this, the evening before she returned to Blent, it had something of that suppressed passion which had marked her manner on the night when she determined to leave it. She came to a stand opposite Mina.

"I've made up my mind. From this moment, Mina, Blent is mine. Up to now I've held it for Harry. Now it's mine. I shall go back and begin everything there to-morrow."

Mina felt the tragedy; the inevitable was being accepted.

"You see I've been writing?"

"Yes, Cecily." After all it looked as though the Imp were not to be cheated of her sensation.

"I've written to Cousin Harry. I've told him what I mean to do. He must think it right; it's the only thing he's left me to do. But I've told him I can do it only on one condition. He'll have my letter to-morrow."

"On one condition? What?"

"I said to him that he gave me Blent because I was there, because he saw me there in the middle of it all. That's true. If I'd stayed here, would he ever have told his secret? Never! He wouldn't so much as have come to see me; he'd never have thought of me, he'd have forgotten all about me. It was seeing me there."

"Well, seeing you, anyhow."

"Seeing me there--there at Blent," she insisted, now almost angrily. "So he'll understand what I mean by the thing I've asked of him. And he must obey." Her voice became imperious. "I've told him that I'm going back, going to stay there, and live there, but that he must never, never come there."

Mina started, her eyes wide-open in surprise at this heroic measure.

"I must never see him--if I can help it. Anyhow I must never see him at Blent. That's the only way I can endure it."

"Never see him! Never have him at Blent!" Mina was trying to sort out the state of things which would result. It was pretty plain what had happened; Cecily had felt the need of doing something; here it was. Mina's sympathies, quick to move, darted out to Harry. "Think what it'll mean to him never to see Blent!" she cried.

"To him? Nothing, nothing! Why, you yourself came home just now saying that we were nothing to him! Blent's nothing to him now. It's for my own sake that I've said he mustn't come."

"You've begged him not to come?"

"I've told him not to come," said Cecily haughtily. "If it's his, let him take it. If it's mine, I can choose who shall come there. Don't you see, don't you see? How can I ever cheat myself into thinking it's mine by right, if I see Harry there?" She paused a moment. "And if you'd thrown yourself at a man's head, and he'd refused you, would you want to have him about?"

"N--no," said Mina, but rather hesitatingly; uncomfortable situations are to some natures better than no situations at all. "No, of course not," she added more confidently, after she had spent a moment in bracing up her sense of what was seemly.

"So I've ended it, I've ended everything. I posted my letter just before you came in, and he'll get it to-morrow. And now, Mina, I'm going back to Blent." She threw herself into an arm-chair, leaning back in a sudden weariness after the excited emotion with which she had declared her resolve. Mina sat on the other side of the table looking at her, and after a moment's looking suddenly began to sob.

"It's too miserable," she declared in wrathful woe. "Why couldn't he have said nothing about it and just married you? Oh, I hate it all, because I love you both. I know people think I'm in love with him, but I'm not. It's both of you, it's the whole thing; and now it never, never can go straight. If he got Blent back now by a miracle, it would be just as bad."

"Worse," said Cecily, "if you mean that then he might----"

"Yes, worse," moaned Mina. "It's hopeless every way. And I believe he's fond of you."

A scornful smile was Cecily's only but sufficient answer.

"And you love him!" Mina's sorrow made her forget all fear. She said in this moment what she had never before dared to say. "Oh, of course you do, or you'd never have told him he mustn't come to Blent. But he won't understand that--and it would make no difference if he did, I suppose! Oh, you Tristrams!" Again her old despairing cry of revolt and bewilderment was wrung from her by the ways of the family with whose fate she had become so concerned. Southend had felt much the same thing over the matter of Harry and the viscounty. "So it all ends, it all ends--and we've got to go back to Blent!"

"Yes, I love him," said Cecily. "That evening in the Long Gallery--the evening when he gave me Blent--do you know what I thought?" She spoke low and quickly, lying back quite still in the attitude that Addie Tristram had once made her own. "I watched him, and I saw that he had something to say, and yet wouldn't say it. I saw he was struggling. And I watched, how I watched! He was engaged to Janie Iver--he had told me that. But he didn't love her--yes, he told me that too. But there was something else. I saw it. I had come to love him then already--oh, I think as soon as I saw him at Blent. And I waited for it. Did you ever do that, Mina--do you remember?"

Mina was silent; her memories gave her no such thing as that. Her sobs had ceased; she sat listening in tense excitement to the history of the scene that she had descried, dim and far off, from the terrace of Merrion on the hill.

"I waited, waited. I couldn't believe--Ah, yes, but I did believe. I thought he felt bound in honor and I hoped--yes, I hoped--he would break his word and throw away his honor. I saw it coming, and my heart seemed to burst as I waited for it. You'd know, if it had ever happened to you like that. And at last I saw he would speak--I saw he must speak. He came and stood by me. Suddenly he cried, 'I can't do it.' Then my heart leapt, because I thought he meant he couldn't marry Janie Iver. I looked up at him and I suppose I said something. He caught me by the arm. I thought he was going to kiss me, Mina. And then--then he told me that Blent was mine--not himself but Blent--that I was Lady Tristram, and he--Harry Nothing--he said, Harry Nothing-at-all."

"Oh, if you'd tell him that!" cried Mina.

"Tell him!" She smiled in superb scorn. "I'd die before I'd tell him. I could go and offer myself to him just because he didn't know. And he'll never know now. Only now you can understand that Blent is--Ah, that it's all bitterness to me! And you know now why he must never come. Yes, as you say, it all ends now."

Mina came and knelt down by her, caressing her hand. Cecily shivered a little and moved with a vague air of discomfort.

"But I believe he cares for you," Mina whispered.

"He might have cared for me perhaps. But Blent's between."

Blent was between. The difficulty seemed insuperable--at least where you were dealing with Tristrams. Mina could not but acknowledge that. For Harry, having nothing to give, would take nothing. And Cecily, having much, was thereby debarred from giving anything. And if that miracle of which Mina had spoken came about, the parts would be exchanged but the position would be no more hopeful. The Tristrams not only brought about difficult situations--as Addie had done here--but by being what they were they insured that the difficulties should not be overcome. Yet at this moment Mina could not cry, "Oh, you Tristrams!" any more. Her sorrow was too great and Cecily too beautiful. She seemed again to see Addie, and neither she nor anybody else could have been hard to Addie. She covered Cecily's hands with kisses as she knelt by her side.

"Yes, this is the end," said Cecily. "Now, Mina, for Blent and her ladyship!" She gave a bitter little laugh. "And good-by to Cousin Harry!"

"Oh, Cecily----!"

"No, he shall never come to Blent."

How would Harry take this decree of banishment? Mina looked up into her friend's eyes, wondering. But did not the dinner-party at Mr Disney's answer that?

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