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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 7. The Moment Draws Near
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 7. The Moment Draws Near Post by :John_Piteo Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1650

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 7. The Moment Draws Near

CHAPTER VII. THE MOMENT DRAWS NEAR

Not knowing your own mind, though generally referred to as an intellectual weakness and sometimes as a moral fault, is none the less now and then a pleasant state to live in for a while. There is a richness of possibility about it, a variety of prospects open, a choice of roads each in its own fashion attractive. Besides, you can always tell yourself that it is prudent to look all round the question and consider all alternatives. The pleasure, like most pleasures, is greater when it comes once in a way to a person unaccustomed to it. Janie Iver had been brought up to know her own mind; it was the eleventh commandment in the Iver household. Iver entertained the intellectual, his wife the moral objection to shilly-shallying; their daughter's training, while conducted with all kindness, had been eminently sensible, and early days had offered few temptations to stray from the path of the obviously desirable. The case was different now; riches brought a change, the world revealed its resources, life was spreading out its diverse wares. Janie was much puzzled as to what she ought to do, more as to what she wanted to do, most of all as to what she would in the end do--unless indeed the fact that she was puzzled continued to rank as the greatest puzzle of all.

Naturally the puzzles were personified--or the persons made into puzzles. Men became lives to her, as well as individuals--the Tristram, the Duplay, the Broadley life; her opinion of the life complicated her feeling toward the person. The Tristram life attracted her strongly, the life of the great lady; Harry had his fascination too; but she did not think that she and Harry would be very happy together, woman and man. She was loth to let him go, with all that he meant; perhaps she would have been secretly relieved if fate had taken him away from her. The Duplay life promised another sort of joy: the Major's experience was world-wide, his knowledge various, his conversation full of hints of the unexplored; she would be broadening her life if she identified it with his. Yet the Major was an approximate forty (on one side or the other), in a few years would seem rather old, and was not even now capable of raising a very strong sentiment; there too she would be taking rather the life than the man. Lastly there was that quiet Broadley life, to be transformed in some degree, doubtless, by her wealth, but likely to remain in essentials the peaceful homely existence which she knew very well. It had little to set against the rival prospects; yet there was a feeling that in either of the other two existences she would miss something; and that something seemed to be Bob Broadley himself.

She found herself thinking, in terms superficially repugnant to convention, that she would like to pay long visits to the other men, but have Bob to come home to when she was inclined for rest and tranquillity. Her perplexity was not strange in itself, but it was strange and new to her; imbued with the parental views about shilly-shallying, she was angry with herself and inclined to be ashamed. The excuse she had made to Mina Zabriska did not acquit her in her own eyes. Yet she was also interested, excited, and pleasantly awake to the importance which her indecision gave her.

Judged from the outside, she was not open to blame in her attitude toward Harry; he was not in love with her, and hardly pretended to be. She met him fairly on a friendly footing of business; he was the sinner in that, while what she offered was undoubtedly hers, what he proposed to give in return was only precariously his.

Nor had Duplay any cause of complaint in being kept waiting; he would be held exceedingly lucky not to be sent to the right-about instantly. But with Bob Broadley the matter was different. On the subtle question of what exactly constitutes "encouragement" (it is the technical term) in these cases it is not perhaps necessary to enter; but false hopes might, no doubt, arise from her visits to Mingham, from her habit of riding up the road by the river about the time when Bob would be likely to be riding down it, or of sauntering by the Pool on the days when he drove his gig into Blentmouth on business--all this being beyond and outside legitimate meetings at Fairholme itself. Unless she meant to marry him she might indeed raise hopes that were false.

Yes, but it did not seem as though she did. Bob was humble. She had tyrannized over him even before the Ivers grew so very rich. (They had begun in a small villa at Blentmouth--Miss Swinkerton lived there now.) It was natural that she should tyrannize still. He saw that she liked to meet him; grateful for friendship, he was incredulous of more. His disposition may plead in excuse for her; whatever she did, she would not disappoint a confident hope.

But she was always so glad to see him, and when she was with him, he was no perplexity, he was only her dear old friend. Well, and one thing besides--a man whom it was rather amusing to try to get a compliment out of, to try to torment into a manifestation of devotion; it was all there; Janie liked to lure it to the surface sometimes. But Bob was not even visibly miserable; he was always equable, even jolly, with so much to say about his horses and his farm that sentiment did not always secure its fair share of the interview. Janie, not being sentimental either, liked all this even while it affronted her vanity.

"Send the gig home and stay and talk," she commanded, as he stopped by her on the road; he was returning from Blentmouth to Mingham and found her strolling by the Pool. "I want to speak to you."

He had his bailiff with him--they had been selling a cow--and left him to take the gig home. He shook hands with frank cordiality.

"That's awfully nice of you," he said. "What about?"

"Nothing in particular," said she. "Mayn't I want it just generally?"

"Oh, well, I thought you meant there was something special. I've sold the cow well, Miss Janie."

"Bother the cow! Why haven't you been to Fairholme?"

"Well, in fact, I'm not sure that Mr Iver is death on seeing me there too often. But I shall turn up all right soon."

"Have you been going about anywhere?"

"No. Been up at Mingham most of the time."

"Isn't that rather lonely?"

"Lonely? Good Heavens, no! I've got too much to do."

Janie glanced at him; what was to be done with a man who treated provocative suggestions as though they were sincere questions? If he had not cared for her now! But she knew he did.

"Well, I've been very dull, anyhow. One never sees anybody fresh at Fairholme now. It's always either Mr. Tristram or Major Duplay."

"Well, I shouldn't be very fresh either, should I?" The names she mentioned drew no sign from him.

"I don't count you as a visitor at all--and they are visitors, I suppose." She seemed a little in doubt; yet both the gentlemen, at any rate, were not presumably received as members of the family.

"I'll tell you what I've been thinking about," said Bob, speaking slowly, and apparently approaching a momentous announcement.

"Yes," she said, turning to him with interest, and watching his handsome open face; it was not a very clever face, but it was a very pleasant one; she enjoyed looking at it.

"I've been thinking that I'll sell the black horse, but I can't make up my mind whether to do it now or keep him through the summer and sell him when hunting begins. I don't know which would pay me best."

"That certainly is a very important question," remarked Janie, with a wealth of sarcasm.

"Well, it gives me a lot of trouble, Miss Janie."

"Does it? And it doesn't interest me in the very--Yes, it does, Bob, very much. I'm sorry. Of course it does. Only----"

"Anything the matter with you?" Bob inquired with friendly solicitude.

"No--not just now. There never is, somehow, when I'm with you. And let's talk about the black horse--it'll be soothing. Is the price of oats a factor?"

Bob laughed a little, but did not proceed with the discussion. They sauntered on in silence for a few minutes, Bob taking out his tobacco.

"Worried, aren't you?" he asked, lighting his pipe.

"Yes," she answered shortly.

"Was that what you wanted to say to me?"

"No, of course not; as if I should talk to you about it!"

"Don't suppose you would, no. Still, we're friends, aren't we?"

"Do you feel friendly to me?"

"Friendly! Well----!" He laughed. "What do you think about it yourself?" he asked. "Look here, I don't bother you, but I'm here when you want me."

"When I want you?"

"I mean, if I can do anything for you, or--or advise you. I don't think I'm a fool, you know."

"I'm really glad to hear you've got as far as that," she remarked rather tartly. "Your fault, Bob, is not thinking nearly enough of yourself."

"You'll soon change that, if you say much more." His pleasure in her implied praise was obvious, but he did not read a single word more into her speech than the words she uttered.

"And you are friendly to me--still?"

"It doesn't make any difference to me whether I see you or not----"

"What?" she cried. The next moment she was laughing. "Thanks, Bob, but--but you've a funny way of putting things sometimes." She laid her hand on his arm for a moment, sighing, "Dear old Bob!"

"Oh, you know what I mean," he said, puffing away. His healthy skin had flushed a trifle, but that was his only reply to her little caress.

"If--if I came to you some day and said I'd been a fool, or been made a fool of, and was very unhappy, and--and wanted comforting, would you still be nice to me?"

His answer came after a puff and a pause.

"Well, if you ever get like that, I should recommend you just to try me for what I'm worth," he said. Her eyes were fixed on his face, but he did not look at her. Some men would have seen in her appeal an opportunity of trying to win from her more than she was giving. The case did not present itself in that light to Bob Broadley. He did not press his own advantage, he hardly believed in it; and he had, besides, a vague idea that he would spoil for her the feeling she had if he greeted it with too much enthusiasm. What she wanted was a friend--a solid, possibly rather stolid, friend; with that commodity he was prepared to provide her. Any sign of agitation in her he answered and hoped to quiet by an increased calm in his own manner. The humblest of men have moments of pride; it must be confessed that Bob thought he was behaving not only with proper feeling but also with considerable tact--a tact that was based on knowledge of women.

Interviews such as these--and they were not infrequent--formed a rather incongruous background, but also an undeniable relief, to the life Janie was leading at Fairholme. That seemed to have little concern with Bob Broadley and to be engrossed in the struggle between Harry and Duplay. Both men pressed on. Harry had not been scared away. Duplay would win without using his secret weapon, if he could. Each had his manner; Harry's constrained yet direct; the Major's more florid, more expressed in glances, compliments, and attentions. Neither had yet risked the decisive word. Janie was playing for delay. The Major seemed inclined to grant it her; he would make every step firm under him before he took another forward. But Harry grew impatient, was imperious in his calls on her time, and might face her with the demand for an answer any day. She could not explain how it was, but somehow his conduct seemed to be influenced by the progress of Lady Tristram's illness. She gathered this idea from words he let fall; perhaps his mother wanted to see the affair settled before she died. Duplay often spoke of the illness too; it could have no importance for him at least, she thought.

About Harry Tristram anyhow she was right. He was using to its full value his rival's chivalrous desire to make no movement during Lady Tristram's lifetime; he reckoned on it and meant to profit by it. The Major had indeed conveyed to him that the chivalry had its limits; even if that were so, Harry would be no worse off; and there was the chance that Duplay would not speak. A look of brutality would be given to any action of his while Lady Tristram lay dying; Harry hoped this aspect of his conduct would frighten him. At least it was worth risking. The doctors talked of two months more; Harry Tristram meant to be engaged before one of them was out. Could he be married before the second ran its course? Mrs Iver would have scoffed at the idea, and Janie shrunk from it. But a dying mother's appeal would count with almost irresistible strength in such a case; and Harry was sure of being furnished with this aid.

He came to Fairholme a day or two after Janie had talked with Bob Broadley. She was on the lawn; with her Mina Zabriska and a small, neat, elderly man, who was introduced to him as Mr Jenkinson Neeld. Harry paid little attention to this insignificant person, and gave Mina no more than a careless shake of the hand and a good-humored amused nod; he was not afraid of her any longer. She had done what harm she could. If she did anything more now it would be on his side. Else why had he shown her Lady Tristram? He claimed Janie and contrived to lead her to some chairs on the other side of the lawn.

"And that's Mr Harry Tristram?" said Neeld, looking at him intently through his spectacles.

"Yes," said the Imp briefly--she was at the moment rather bored by Mr. Neeld.

"An interesting-looking young man."

"Yes, he's interesting." And she added a moment later, "You're having a good look at him, Mr Neeld."

"Dear me, was I staring? I hope not. But--well, we've all heard of his mother, you know."

"I'm afraid the next thing we hear about her will be the last." What she had seen at Blent Hall was in her mind and she spoke sadly. "Mr Tristram will succeed to his throne soon now."

Neeld looked at her as if he were about to speak, but he said nothing, and his eyes wandered back to Harry again.

"They're friends--Miss Iver and he?" he asked at last.

"Oh, it's no secret that he wants to marry her."

"And does she----?"

Mina laughed, not very naturally. "It's something to be Lady Tristram of Blent." She smiled to think how much more her words meant to herself than they could mean to her companion. She would have been amazed to find that Neeld was thinking that she would not speak so lightly if she knew what he did.

Harry wanted to marry Janie Iver! With a sudden revulsion of feeling Neeld wished himself far from Blentmouth. However it was his duty to talk to this sharp little foreign woman, and he meant to try. A few polite questions brought him to the point of inquiring her nationality.

"Oh, we're Swiss, French Swiss. But I was born at Heidelberg. My mother lived there after my father died. My uncle--who lives with me--Major Duplay, is her brother; he was in the Swiss Service."

"A pleasant society at Heidelberg, I dare say?"

"Rather dull," said Mina. It seemed much the same at Blentmouth at the moment.

Iver strolled out from his study on to the lawn. He cast a glance toward his daughter and Harry, frowned slightly, and sat down on Mina's other side. He had a newspaper in his hand, and he held it up as he spoke to Neeld across Mina.

"Your book's promised for the 15th, I see, Neeld."

"Yes, it's to be out then."

Mina was delighted at being presented with a topic. Sometimes it is the most precious of gifts.

"Oh, Mr Neeld, have you written a book? How interesting! What is it? A novel?"

"My dear Madame Zabriska!" murmured Neeld, feeling as if he were being made fun of. "And it's not really my book. I've only edited it."

"But that's just as good," Mina insisted amiably. "Do tell me what it is."

"Here you are, Mina. There's the full title and description for you. There's nothing else in the paper." Iver handed it to her with a stifled yawn. She read and turned to Neeld with a quick jerk of her head.

"Journal and Correspondence of Josiah Cholderton!" she repeated. "Oh, but--oh, but--well, that is curious! Why, we used to know Mr Cholderton!"

"You knew Mr Cholderton?" said Mr Neeld in mild surprise. Then, with a recollection, he added, "Oh, at Heidelberg, I dare say? But you must have been a child?"

"Yes, I was. Does he talk about Heidelberg?"

"He mentions it once or twice." In spite of himself Neeld began to feel that he was within measurable distance of getting on to difficult ground.

"What fun if he mentioned me! Oh, but of course he wouldn't say anything about a child of five!"

The slightest start ran through Neeld's figure; it passed unnoticed. He looked sharply at Mina Zabriska. She went on, in all innocence this time; she had no reason to think that Cholderton had been in possession of any secrets, and if he had, it would not have occurred to her that he would record them.

"He knew my mother quite well; he used to come and see us. Does he mention her--Madame de Kries?"

There was a perceptible pause; then Neeld answered primly:

"I'm afraid you won't find your mother's name mentioned in Mr. Cholderton's Journal, Madame Zabriska."

"How horrid!" remarked Mina, greatly disappointed; she regarded Mr Neeld with a new interest all the same.

They were both struck with this strange coincidence--as it seemed to them; though in fact that they should meet at Blentmouth was not properly a coincidence at all. There was nothing surprising about it; the same cause and similar impulses had brought them both there. The woman who lay dying at Blent and the young man who sat making love under the tree yonder--these and no more far-fetched causes--had brought them both where they were. Mina knew the truth about herself, Neeld about himself; neither knew or guessed it about the other. Hence their wonder and their unreasonable feeling that there was something of a fate bringing them together in that place.

"You're sure he says nothing about us?" she urged.

"You'll not find a word," he replied, sticking to the form of assertion that salved his conscience. He looked across the lawn again, but Janie and Harry had disappeared amongst the bushes.

"You're sort of old acquaintances at second-hand, then," said Iver, smiling. "Cholderton's the connecting link."

"He didn't like me," remarked Mina. "He used to call me the Imp."

"Yes, yes," said Neeld in absent-minded acquiescence. "Yes, the Imp."

"You don't seem much surprised!" cried Mina in mock indignation.

"Surprised?" He started more violently. "Oh, yes--I--I-- Of course! I'm----" A laugh from his host spared him the effort of further apologies. But he was a good deal shaken; he had nearly betrayed his knowledge of the Imp. Indeed he could not rid himself of the idea that there was a very inquisitive look in Madame Zabriska's large eyes.

Mina risked one more question, put very carelessly.

"I think he must have met Lady Tristram there once or twice. Does he say anything about her?"

"Not a word," said Neeld, grasping the nettle firmly this time.

Mina took another look at him, but he blinked resolutely behind his glasses.

"Well, it's just like Mr Cholderton to leave out all the interesting things," she observed resignedly. "Only I wonder why you edit his book if it's like that, you know."

"Hello, what's that?" exclaimed Iver, suddenly sitting up in his chair.

They heard the sound of a horse's galloping on the road outside. The noise of the hoofs stopped suddenly. They sat listening. In a minute or two the butler led a groom in the Tristram livery on to the lawn. He came quickly across to Iver, touching his hat.

"Beg pardon, sir, but could I see Mr Tristram? I've an important message for him."

At the same moment Janie and Harry Tristram came out on to the grass. Harry saw the groom and was with them in a moment, Janie following.

"Well, Sam, what is it? You were riding hard."

"Her ladyship has had a relapse, sir, and Dr Fryer ordered me to ride over and tell you at once. No time to lose, he said, sir."

"Did you bring a horse for me?"

"No, sir. But I'm riding Quilldriver."

"I'll go back on him. You can walk." He turned to the rest. "I must go at once," he said. "I don't know what this may mean."

"Not so bad as it sounds, I hope," said Iver. "But you'd best be off at once."

Harry included Mina and Mr Neeld in one light nod, and walked briskly toward the gate, Iver and Janie accompanying him. Mina and Neeld were left together, and sat in silence some moments.

"It sounds as if she was dying," said Mina at last in a low voice.

"Yes, poor woman!"

"I saw her once lately. She was very beautiful, Mr Neeld."

"Yes, yes, to her own great trouble, poor thing!"

"You knew about----?"

"Oh, everybody knew, Madame Zabriska."

"Yes, and now she's dying!" She turned to him, looking him fairly in the face. "And Harry'll be Tristram of Blent," she said.

"Yes," said Neeld. "He'll be Tristram of Blent."

Both fell into silence again, looking absently at the sunshine playing among the trees. They were not to share their secret just yet. A link was missing between them still.

Harry came to where the horse was, and stood there for a moment, while the groom altered the stirrups to suit him.

"It's the beginning of the end, if not the end itself," he said.

"Our earnest good wishes to her."

"My love," said Janie. Her father glanced quickly at her.

Harry jumped into the saddle, waved his hand to them, and started at a gallop for Blent. The groom, with another touch of his hat, trudged off in his master's track. Janie Iver stood looking as long as Harry was in sight.

"He won't spare the horse," said Iver.

"Well, he can't this time; and anyhow he wouldn't, if he wanted to get there." She took her father's arm and pressed it. "Father, Harry Tristram has just asked me to marry him. He said Lady Tristram wanted it settled before--before she died, or he wouldn't have spoken so soon."

"Well, Janie dear?"

"When the groom came, I had just told him that I would give him an answer in a week. But now!" She made a gesture with her free hand; it seemed to mean bewilderment. She could not tell what would happen now.

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