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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 29. The Curmudgeon
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 29. The Curmudgeon Post by :bjorn Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :889

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 29. The Curmudgeon


In his most business-like tones, with no more gesture than a pointing of his finger now and then, or an occasional wave of his hand, Harry detailed the circumstances. He was methodical and accurate; he might have been opening a case in the law-courts, and would have earned a compliment on his lucidity. There was something ludicrous in this treatment of the matter, but he remained very grave, although quite unemotional.

"What was my position then?" he asked. "I remembered what you'd said. I saw the pull I'd given you. If I'd told you before, you'd have had nothing to do with me. You'd have taken a tragic delight in going back to your little house. I should have given you your revenge."

"So you cheated me? It shows the sort of person you are!"

He went on as though he had not heard her indignant ejaculation.

"I had fallen in love with you--with you and with the idea of your being here. I couldn't have anybody else at Blent, and I had to have you. It was impossible for me to turn you out. I don't think it would have been gentlemanly."

"It was more gentlemanly to marry me on false pretences?"

"Well, perhaps not, but a form of ungentlemanliness less repulsive to me--Oh, just to me personally. I don't know whether you quite understand yet why I gave up Blent to you. Just the same feeling has made me do this--with the addition, of course, that I'm more in love with you now."

"I don't believe it, or you'd have trusted me--trusted my love for you."

"I've trusted it enormously--trusted it to forgive me this deceit."

"If you had come and told me----"

"At the very best you'd have taken months."

"And you couldn't wait for me?"

"Well, waiting's a thing I detest."

"Oh, I've made up my mind," she declared. "I shall go back to town to-night."

"No, no, that's not it." Harry did not want the arrangement misunderstood. "If we can't agree, I go back to town--not you. I kept my fly."

"You needn't make fun of it anyhow."

"I'm not. I'm quite serious. You stay here, I go away. I accept this post abroad--the Arbitration business. I've got to send an answer about it to-morrow."

"No, I shall go. I'm resolved upon it. I won't stay here."

"Then we must shut the place up, or pull it down," said Harry. "It will look absurd, but--Well, we never consider the neighbors." For the first time he seemed vexed. "I did count on your staying here," he explained.

"I can never forgive you for deceiving me."

"You said you wouldn't let your pride stand between us."

"It's not my pride. It's--it's the revelation of what you are, and what you'll stoop to do, to gain----!"

"What have I gained yet?" he asked. "Only what you choose to give me now!"

She looked at him for a moment. The little scene in the corridor upstairs came back to her. So that was the meaning of it!

"I've taken your freedom from you. That's true. In return I've given you Blent. I did the best I could."

"Oh, do you really delude yourself like that? What you did was utter selfishness."

Harry sighed. They were not getting on prosperously.

"Very well," he said. "We'll agree on that. There's been a revelation of what I am. I don't--I distinctly don't justify myself. It was a lie, a fraud."

"Yes," said Cecily, in a low but emphatic assent.

"I gained your consent by a trick, when you ought to have been free to give or refuse it. I admit it all."

"And it has brought us to this!" She rose as she spoke, a picture of indignation. "There's no use talking any more about it," said she.

He looked at her long and deliberately. He seemed to weigh something in his mind, to ask whether he should or should not say something.

"And you conclude that the sort of person I am isn't fit to live with?" he asked at last.

"I've told you what I've made up my mind to do. I can't help whether you stay or go too. But I'm going away from here, and going alone."

"Because I'm that sort of person?"

"Yes. If you like to put it that way, yes."

"Very well. But before you go, a word about you! Sit down, please." She obeyed his rather imperative gesture. "I've been meek," he smiled. "I've admitted all you said about me. And now, please, a word about you!"

"About me? What is there to say about me? Oh, you're going back to that old story about my pride again!"

Once more he looked long at her face. It was flushed and rebellious, it gave no hint of yielding to any weapon that he had yet employed.

"I'm not going to speak of your pride, but of your incredible meanness," said he.

"What?" cried Cecily, rudely startled and sitting bolt upright.

"There's no harm in plain speaking, since we're going to part. Of your extraordinary meanness, Cecily--and really it's not generally a fault of the Tristrams."

"Perhaps you'll explain yourself," she said, relapsing into cold disdain, and leaning back again.

"I will. I mean to. Just look at the history of the whole affair." He rose and stood opposite her, constraining her to look at him, although her attitude professed a lofty indifference. "Here was I--in possession! I was safe. I knew I was safe. I was as convinced of my safety as I am even now--when it's beyond question. Was I frightened? Ask Mina, ask Duplay. Then you came. You know what I did. For your sake, because you were what you are, because I had begun to love you--yes, that's the truth of it--I gave it all to you. Not this place only, but all I had. Even my name--even my right to bear any name. Nobody and nameless, I went out of this house for you."

He paused a little, took a pace on the grass, and returned to her.

"What ought you to have felt, what ought you to have prayed then?" he asked. "Surely that it should come back to me, that it should be mine again?"

"I did," she protested, stirred to self-defence. "I was miserable. You know I was. I couldn't stay here for the thought of you. I came to London. I came to you, Harry. I offered it to you."

"It's you who are deceiving yourself now. Yes, you came and offered it to me. Did you want, did you pray, that it might be mine again by no gift of yours but by right? Did you pray that the thing should happen which has happened now? That you should be turned out and I should be put in? Back in my own place, my proper place? That I should be Tristram of Blent again? Did you pray for that?"

He paused, but she said nothing. Her face was troubled now and her eyes could not leave his.

"You were ready to play Lady Bountiful to me, to give of your charity, to make yourself feel very noble. That was it. And now----" His voice became more vehement. "And now, look into your heart, look close! Look, look! What's in your heart now? You say I've cheated you. It's true. Is that why you're angry, is that why you won't live with me? No, by heaven, not that, or anything of the kind! Will you have the truth?"

Again she made no answer. She waited for his words.

"Are you rejoiced that mine's my own again, that I'm back in my place, that I'm Tristram of Blent, that it belongs to me? That I take it by my own incontestable right and not of your hand, by your bounty and your charity? Are you so rejoiced at that that you can forgive me anything, forgive the man you love anything? Yes, you do love me--You're welcome to that, if you think it makes it any better. It seems to me to make it worse. No, you can't forgive me anything, you can't forgive the man you love! Why not? I'll tell you why! Shall I? Shall I go on?"

She bowed her head and clasped her hands together.

"You hate my having come to my own again. You hate its being mine by right and not by your bounty. You hate being Lady Tristram only because I've chosen to make you so. And because you hate that, you won't forgive me, and you say you won't live with me. Yes, you're angry because I've come to my own again. You hate it. Look in your heart, I say, and tell me that what I say isn't true, if you can."

She made no answer still. He came a step closer and smote his fist on the palm of his other hand, as he ended:

"You called me a liar. I was a liar. But, by God, you're a curmudgeon, Cecily!"

For a moment longer she looked at him, as he stood there in his scornful anger. Then with a low moan she hid her face in her hands. The next minute he turned on his heel, left her where she sat, and strode off into the house.

Mina and Neeld--now at their sweets--heard his step and exchanged excited glances. He walked up to the head of the table, to Cecily's chair, plumped down into it, and called out to Mason, "Something to eat and some champagne."

"Yes, sir," said Mason in a flurry.

"Oh, by-the-bye, you can say 'my Lord' again. The lawyers blundered, and there's been a mistake."

The astonished Mason began to express felicitations. Harry was petulantly short with him.

"Oh, shut up that, my dear man, and give me some champagne." He drank a glass off and then observed, "I hope you two have had a decent dinner?" He had the manner of a host now.

"I--I hadn't much appetite," stammered Neeld.

"Well, I'm hungry anyhow," and he fell to on his beef, having waved soup and fish aside impatiently. "Tell them all downstairs what I've told you, Mason, but for heaven's sake don't let there be any fuss. Oh, and I suppose you'd better keep something hot for Lady Tristram."

Mason's exit was hastened by the consciousness of his commission. The moment he was gone Mina broke out:

"Where's Cecily?"

"I left her on the lawn," said Harry, frowning hard but eating heartily.

"You've told her?"

"Yes, I've told her."

"And what did she say?" The Imp's utterance was jerky from her perturbation.

"Look here, Mina, mightn't you go and ask her? It's a long story, and I'm deuced hungry, you know."

Mina needed no further permission. She rose and flew. Neeld, though uncertain what was expected of him, sat on, nervously eating gooseberries--a fruit which rarely agreed with him. Harry drank a second glass of champagne and his brow relaxed, although he was still thoughtful.

"I--I hope all has gone well?" Neeld ventured to inquire.

"I scarcely know. The interview took rather an unexpected turn." He spoke as though the development had surprised him and he could hardly trace how it had come about. "The whole thing will be settled very soon," he added. "Have a glass of port, Mr Neeld? It'll do you more good than those gooseberries."

Neeld laid a ready hand on the decanter, as he asked,

"Is--er--Lady Tristram not coming in to dinner?"

"Really I don't know. She didn't mention it." His thoughts seemed elsewhere. "Was I wrong to tell Mason to give me the title?" he asked. "Ought I to wait till I've formally established my claim?"

"Since it's quite clear, and there's no opposition from--from the dispossessed claimant----" Neeld smiled feebly and sipped his port.

"That's what I thought; and it's as well to put things on a permanent basis as soon as possible. When once that's done, we shall think less about all this troublesome affair." He sat silent for a few minutes, while Neeld finished his wine. "I'm going to have some cheese. Don't you wait, Mr Neeld."

Old Neeld was glad to escape; he could not understand his host's mood and was uneasy in talk with him. Moreover it seemed that the great question was being decided in the garden and not in the dining-room. To the garden then he betook himself.

Harry smoked a cigarette when his meal was done, twisting his chair round so that he could see Addie Tristram's picture. He reviewed his talk with Cecily, trying to trace how that unexpected turn in it had come about and at what point the weapon had sprung into his hand. He had used it with effect--whether with the effect he desired he did not yet know. But his use of it had not been altogether a ruse or an artifice. His sincerity, his vehemence, his very cruelty proved that. He had spoken out a genuine resentment and a righteous reproach. Thence came the power to meet Cecily's taunts in equal battle and to silence her charges of deceit with his retort of meanness.

"And we were married to-day! And we're damnably in love with one another!" he reflected. "I suppose we should seem queer to some people." This was a great advance toward an outside view of the family. Certainly such an idea had never occurred to Addie; she had always done the only possible thing! "Now what will she do?"

At least it did not seem as though she meant to have any dinner. The fact would have meant much had a man been concerned. With a woman it possessed no more than a moderate significance. With a Tristram woman perhaps it had none at all. A cigar succeeded the cigarette in Harry's mouth, as he sat there looking at his mother's picture and thinking of his wife. He did not in the least regret that she was his wife or that he had lied. Any scruples that he ever had on that score he had removed for himself by realizing that she was a curmudgeon. Neither did he regret what he had called the troublesome affair. It had brought new things into his life; new thoughts and new powers had become his. And it had given him Cecily--unless one of them had still to go to town! He glanced at the clock; it was half-past nine. A sudden excitement came on him; but he conquered it or at least held it down, and sat there, smoking still.

Mason returned and began to clear away. "Madame Zabriska has ordered some soup and claret to be placed in the hall for her Ladyship, my Lord," said he, in explanation of his action.

Soup and claret might mean anything--peace or war--going or staying--anything except sitting down to table with him. On the whole their omen was not encouraging. A sudden thought shot across his brain: "By Jove, if she's taken my cab!" He jumped up; but in a moment sat down again. The _coup would be a good one, but it would not beat him. He would walk to Mingham and get a bed there. He was quite clear that he would not sleep alone at Blent. He glanced at the clock again; to catch the train at Fillingford she must start at ten--and so with him. Stay though, she might go to Merrion. Mina would give her shelter.

She had looked very beautiful. Oh, yes, yes! Harry smiled as he conceded the natural man that point. It was seen plainly in retrospect; he had not noticed it much at the time. He had been too much occupied in proving her a curmudgeon. One thing at a time was the Tristram way--provided the time were reasonably short. But he felt it now, and began to wonder if he had said too much. He decided that he had not said a word too much.

At last he got up very deliberately and went into the hall. It was a quarter to ten; the soup and the claret were there. Harry stood looking at them a moment, but they could not answer his question. With an impatient shrug of his shoulders he walked out into the garden. And there his first thought was not of Cecily.

It was of Blent, Blent his own again, come back to him enriched by the experience of its loss, now no more all his life, but the background of that new life he had begun to make for himself. He was no longer puffed up by the possession of it--the new experiences had taught him a lesson there--but he was infinitely satisfied. Blent for his own, in his own way, on his own terms--that was what he wanted. See how fair it was in the still night! He was glad and exultant that it was his again. Was he too a curmudgeon then? Harry did not perceive how any reasonable person could say such a thing. A man may value what is his own without being a miser or a churl.

Nobody was to be seen in the garden--not Neeld, not Mina, nor Cecily. In surprise he walked the length and breadth of it without finding any of them. He went on to the bridge and peered about, and then on to the road; he looked even in the river in a curiosity that forgot the impossible. He was alone. With a quick step he came back and strode round the house to the stables. His fly was gone. He searched for a man to question; there was none; they had all gone to supper or to bed. And the fly was gone. He returned to the bridge with an uncomfortable feeling of loneliness.

Something came upon him, an impulse or an instinct. There was still a chance. She was not in the house, she was not in the garden. There was one other place where she still might be--if indeed she had not fled and left him desolate. Where? The answer seemed so easy to him, her choice of a spot so obvious. If he found her anywhere that night he would find her by the Pool, walking on the margin of its waters--where he had seen her first and started at the thought that she was his mother's phantom. He walked quickly up the valley, not thinking, his whole being strung to wait for and to meet the answer to his one great question.

On what things a man's life may seem to hang! A flutter of white through the darkness! That was all. Harry saw it with a great leap of the heart. His quick pace dropped to a leisurely saunter; he strolled on. She was walking toward him. Presently she stopped, and, turning toward the water, stood looking down into it. The Pool was very black that night, the clouds thick overhead. But for her white frock he might never had seen her at all. He came up to her and spoke in a careless voice.

"Where's Neeld?" he asked. "I can't find him anywhere."

"He's gone back to Fairholme, Harry. It was late. I was to say good-night to you for him."

"And what have you done with Mina?" His voice was level, even, and restrained.

"Mina's gone to Merrion." She paused before she added: "She was tired, so I put her in your fly to go up the hill."

There was silence for a moment. Then he asked: "Did you tell the fly to come back again?"

Silence again, and then a voice of deceptive meekness, of hidden mirth, answered him: "No, Harry."

"I knew you'd be here, if anywhere."

"Well, I was sure you'd come here to look for me, before you gave me up." She put out her hands and he took them in his. "It was all true that you said about me, all abominably true."

He did not contradict her.

"That's why I'm here," she went on. "When you've feelings like that, it's your duty not to run away from the place that excites them, but to stay there and fight them down manfully."

"I agree," said Harry gravely. "When you've basely deceived and tricked somebody it's cowardly to run away. The straightest thing is to stay with that person and try to redeem your character."

"How did you know it?" she asked. "I hardly knew it was in my heart myself."

"It sharpens a man's wits to be called a liar--and not to be able to deny the name."

"And you called me a--curmudgeon! Oh, how did you happen on that funny old word?" Her laugh rang fresh and gay through the quiet of the night. "After you'd gone, Mina came to me."

"What happened then?"

"Well, I ought to have cried--and Mina did."

"Did Mina stop you going?"

"Mina? No!" The acme of scorn was in her voice.

"What then?" he asked, drawing her a little nearer to him.

"I wanted to obey your wishes. You said I was to stay--and you'd go."

"Yes, but you've sent away the fly," objected Harry. "Well, all that you said of me was true too."

"We should start on a clear understanding then?"

"I'm a liar--and you're a curmudgeon? Yes."

"What awful quarrels we shall have!"

"I don't care a hang for them," said Harry.

"And what about the Arbitration?"

"Absurd, if I'm going to live in a state of war!"

Suddenly came a sound of wheels rolling briskly along the road from behind them. Cecily sprang away with a start.

"Oh, the fly's not come back?" she cried.

"Perhaps there's still a chance for one of us."

She caught him by the arm. "Listen! Is it stopping? No! It must be past the house!"

"Do you want it to stop?" he asked.

She turned her eyes on him; he saw them gleam through the darkness. He saw her lips just move; he heard no more than the lingering fear, the passionate reproach, of her murmured exclamation, "Oh, Harry!"

The next instant a voice rang out in the night, loud, mellow, and buoyant. They listened as it sang, its notes dominating the sound of the wheels and seeming to fill the air around them, growing louder as the wheels came near, sinking again as they passed on the road to Mingham:

"Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine:
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine:--"

Gradually, melodiously, and happily the voice died away in the distance, and silence came. Harry drew his love to him.

"Dear old Bob Broadley!" said he softly. "He's driving back from Fairholme, and he seems most particularly jolly."

"Yes," she murmured. Then she broke into a low, merry, triumphant laugh. "I don't see why he should be so particularly jolly." She pressed his hand hard, laughing again. "He's only engaged," she whispered. "But we're married, aren't we, Harry?"

"My dear, my dear, my dear!" said he.

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