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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTristram Of Blent - Chapter 8. Duty And Mr. Neeld
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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 8. Duty And Mr. Neeld Post by :John_Piteo Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1902

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Tristram Of Blent - Chapter 8. Duty And Mr. Neeld


When Mina Zabriska brought back the news from Fairholme, and announced it with an intensity of significance which the sudden aggravation of an illness long known to be mortal hardly accounted for, Major Duplay grew very solemn. The moment for action approached, and the nearer it came, the less was the Major satisfied with his position and resources. The scene by the Pool had taught him that he would have a stiff fight. He had been hard hit by Harry's shrewd suggestion that he must ask Iver himself for the means of proving what he meant to tell Iver. The only alternative, however, was to procure money for the necessary investigations from his niece; and his niece, though comfortably off, was not rich. Nor was she any longer zealous in the cause. The Imp was sulky and sullen with him, sorry she had ever touched the affair at all, ready, he suspected, to grasp at any excuse for letting it drop. This temper of hers foreboded a refusal to open her purse. It was serious in another way. Of himself Duplay knew nothing; Mina was his only witness; her evidence, though really second-hand, was undoubtedly weighty; it would at least make inquiries necessary. But would she give it? Duplay was conscious that she was capable of turning round on him and declaring that she had made a blunder. If she did that, what would happen? Duplay was sure that Harry had formal proofs, good and valid _prima facie_; he would need Mina, money, and time to upset them. There were moments when the Major himself wished that he had relied on his own attractions, and not challenged Harry to battle on any issue save their respective power to win Janie Iver's affections. But it seemed too late to go back. Besides, he was in a rage with Harry; his defeat by the Pool rankled. Harry, as usual, had spared his enemy none of the bitterness of defeat; Duplay would now take pleasure in humbling him for the sake of the triumph itself, apart from its effect on the Ivers, father and daughter. But could he do it? He abode by the conclusion that he was bound to try, but he was not happy in it.

Harry's attitude would be simple. He would at the proper time produce his certificates, testifying to the death of Sir Randolph, the marriage of his parents, his own birth. The copies were in perfect order and duly authenticated; they were evidence in themselves; the originals could be had and would bear out the copies. All this had been well looked after, and Duplay did not doubt it. What had he to set against it? Only that the third certificate was false, and that somewhere--neither he nor even Mina knew where--bearing some dates--neither he nor Mina knew what--there must be two other certificates--one fatal to Harry's case as fixing his birth at an earlier date, the other throwing at least grave suspicion on it by recording a second ceremony of marriage. But where were these certificates? Conceivably they had been destroyed; that was not likely, but it was possible. At any rate, to find them would need much time and some money. On reflection, the Major could not blame Harry for defying him by the Pool.

It will be seen that the information which Mina had gleaned from her mother, and filled in from her own childish recollection, was not so minute in the matter of dates as that which Madame de Kries had given at the time of the events to Mr Cholderton, and which was now locked away in the drawer at Mr Jenkinson Neeld's chambers. The Major would have been materially assisted by a sight of that document; it would have narrowed the necessary area of inquiry and given a definiteness to his assertions which must have carried added weight with Mr Iver. As it was, he began to be convinced that Mina would decline to remember any dates even approximately, and this was all she had professed to do in her first disclosure. Duplay acknowledged that, as matters stood, the betting was in favor of his adversary.

Mina, being sulky, would not talk to her uncle; she could not talk to Janie Iver; she did not see Harry, and would not have dared to talk to him if she had. But it need hardly be said that she was dying to talk to somebody. With such matters on hand, she struggled against silence like soda-water against the cork. Merely to stare down at Blent and wonder what was happening there whetted a curiosity it could not satisfy. She felt out of the game, and the feeling was intolerable. As a last resort, in a last effort to keep in touch with it, although she had been warned that she would find nothing of interest to her in the volume, she telegraphed to a bookseller in London to send her Mr. Cholderton's Journal. It came the day after it was published, four days after she had made Mr Neeld's acquaintance, and while Lady Tristram, contrary to expectation, still held death at arm's length and lay looking at her own picture. The next morning Neeld received a pressing invitation to go to tea at Merrion Lodge. Without a moment's hesitation he went; with him too all resolutions to know and to care nothing further about the matter vanished before the first chance of seeing more of it. And Mina had been Mina de Kries.

She received him in the library; the Journal lay on the table. Something had restored animation to her manner and malice to her eyes; those who knew her well would have conjectured that she saw her way to making somebody uncomfortable. But there was also an underlying nervousness which seemed to hint at something beyond. She began by flattering her visitor outrageously and indulging in a number of false statements regarding her delight with the Journal and the amusement and instruction she had gained from it; she even professed to have mastered the Hygroxeric Method, observing that a note by the Editor put the whole thing in a nutshell. Much pleased, yet vaguely disappointed, Mr Neeld concluded that she had no more to say about the visit to Heidelberg.

The Imp turned over the pages leisurely while Neeld sipped his tea.

"I see you put little asterisk things where you leave out anything," she observed. "That's convenient, isn't it?"

"I think it's usual," said he.

"And another thing you do--Oh, you really are a splendid editor!--you put the date at the top of every page--even where Mr Cholderton's entry runs over ever so many pages. He is rather long sometimes, isn't he?"

"I've always found the date at the top of the page a convenience in reading myself," said Mr Neeld.

"Yes, it tells you just where you are--and where Mr Cholderton was." She laughed a little. "Yes, look here, page 365, May 1875, he's at Berlin! Then there are some asterisks"--Mr Neeld looked up from his tea--"and you turn over the page" (the Imp turned over with the air of a discoverer), "and you find him at Interlaken in--why, in August, Mr Neeld!" An amiable surprise appeared on her face. "Where was he in between?" she asked.

"I--I suppose he stayed at Berlin."

"Oh, perhaps. No--look here. He says, 'I had not previously met Sir Silas Minting, as I left Berlin before he arrived in the beginning of June.'"

The Imp laid down the Journal, leant back in her chair, and regarded Neeld steadily.

"You told me right," she added; "I don't find any mention of my mother--nor of Heidelberg. It's rather funny that he doesn't mention Heidelberg."

She poured out a second cup of tea and--waited. The first part of her work was done. She had made Neeld very uncomfortable. "Because," she added, after she had given her previous remarks time to soak in, "between May and August 1875 is just about the time I remember him at Heidelberg--the time when he met Mrs Fitzhubert, you know."

She nodded her head slightly toward the window, the window that looked down to the valley and gave a view of the house where Lady Tristram lay. Mina was keenly excited now. Had the Journal told Neeld anything? Was that the meaning of his asterisks?

"There was something about his visit to Heidelberg, but it contained nothing of public interest, Madame Zabriska, and in my discretion I omitted it."

"Why didn't you tell me that the other day? You gave me to understand that he only mentioned Heidelberg casually."

"I may have expressed myself----"

"And did he mention us?"

Neeld rose to his feet and took a turn up and down the room.

"In my discretion I left the passage out. I can answer no questions about it. Please don't press me, Madame Zabriska."

"I will know," she said excitedly, almost angrily.

Neeld came to a stand opposite her, deep perplexity expressing itself in his look and manner.

"Did he talk about us? Did he talk about Lady Tristram?"

"I am speaking to you, and to you only, Madame Zabriska?"

"Yes, yes--to me only."

"He did mention you, and he did speak of Lady Tristram."

"That's why you weren't surprised when I told you he called me the Imp!" She smiled a moment, and Neeld smiled too. But in an instant she was eager again. "And about Lady Tristram?"

"It was no use reprinting poor Lady Tristram's story." He sat down again, trying to look as though the subject were done with; but he rubbed his hands together nervously and would not meet Mina's eyes. There was a long pause; Mina rose, took the Journal, put it in the cupboard and turned the key on it. She came back and stood over him.

"You know?" she said. "It was in the Journal? I'm sure you know."

"Know what?" Mr Neeld was fighting in the last ditch.

"But I don't want to tell you unless you know! No, I'm sure you know!"

"And do you know?"

"Yes, I know. My mother told me."

They understood one another now. Neeld made no further pretence.

"You mean about Harry Tristram?" he asked, simply, but in a low voice.

"Yes. At first I didn't know what it meant to him. But I know now."

Neeld made no reply, and there was another moment of silence. Neeld wore a restless, timid, uneasy air, in strong contrast to the resolute intensity of Mina's manner; she seemed to have taken and to keep the upper hand of him.

"And you know what it would mean to him?" she asked.

Neeld nodded; of course he knew that.

"What are you going to do?"

He raised his hands and let them drop again in a confession that he did not know.

"I knew, and I told," she said. He started a little. "Yes, I told, because I was spiteful. I was the Imp! I've never been happy since I told. Mr Tristram knows I've told, though he denies there's anything in it. But he knows I've told. And still he's been kind to me." Her voice shook.

"You told? Whom did you tell?"

"Never mind--or guess, if you can. I shan't tell him any more. I shan't help him any more. I won't speak. I will not speak. I'm for Mr Tristram. Thick and thin, I'm for Mr Tristram now." She came a step nearer to him. "The man I told may try; but I don't think he can do much without us--without me and without you. If we keep quiet, no, he can't do much. Why should we tell? Is it our business? You suppressed it in the Journal. Can't you suppress it now?"

"The Ivers?" he stammered.

"The Ivers! What's it to the Ivers compared to what it is to him? It'll never come out. If it did--Oh, but it won't! It's life and death to him. And isn't it right? Isn't it justice? He's her son. This thing's just a horrible accident. Oh, if you'd heard him speak of Blent!" She paused a moment, rubbing her hand across her eyes. Then she threw herself back into her chair, asking again, "What are you going to do?"

He sat silent, thinking hard. It was not his business. Right and justice seemed, in some sense at least, on Harry's side. But the law is the law. And there were his friends the Ivers. In him there was no motive of self-interest such as had swayed Major Duplay and made his action seem rather ugly even to himself. Neeld owed loyalty and friendship; that was all. Was it loyal, was it friendly, to utter no word while friends were deceived? With what face would he greet Iver if the thing did come out afterward? He debated with entire sincerity the point that Major Duplay had invoked in defence of himself against his conscience. On the other side was the strong sympathy which that story in the Journal had created in him since first he read it, and realized its perverse little tragedy; and there was the thought of Lady Tristram dying down at Blent.

The long silence was broken by neither of them. Neeld was weighing his question; Mina had made her appeal and waited for an answer. The quiet of the book-lined room (There were the yellowy-brown volumes from which Mina had acquired her lore!) was broken by a new voice. They both started to hear it, and turned alert faces to the window whence it came. Harry Tristram, in flannels and a straw hat, stood looking in.

"I've got an hour off," he explained, "so I walked up to thank you for the flowers. My mother liked them, and liked to have them from you." He saw Neeld, and greeted him courteously. "I asked her if I should give you her love, and she said yes--with her eyes, you know. She speaks mostly that way now. Well, she always did a good deal, I expect." His smile came on the last words.

"She sent her love to me?"

"Yes. I told her what you did one evening, and she liked that too."

"I hope Lady Tristram is--er--going on well?" asked Neeld.

"She doesn't suffer, thank you."

Mina invited him in; there was an appositeness in his coming which appealed to her, and she watched Neeld with covert eagerness.

Harry looked round the room, then vaulted over the sill.

"My uncle's playing golf with Mr Iver," remarked Mina. "Tea?"

"No; too sick-roomy. I'm for nothing but strong drink now--and I've had some." He came to the middle of the room and stood between them, flinging his hat on the table where Mr Cholderton's Journal had so lately lain. "My mother's an extraordinary woman," he went on, evidently so full of his thought that he must speak it out; "she's dying joyfully."

After an instant Mina asked, "Why?" Neeld was surprised at the baldness of the question, but Harry took it as natural.

"It's like going off guard--I mean, rather, off duty--to her, I think." He made the correction thoughtfully and with no haste. "Life has always seemed rather like an obligation to do things you don't want to--not that she did them all--and now she's tired, she's glad to leave it to me. Only she wishes I was a bit better-looking, though she won't admit it. She couldn't stand a downright ugly man at Blent, you know. I've a sort of notion"--he seemed to forget Neeld, and looked at Mina for sympathy--"that she thinks she'll be able to come and have a look at Blent and me in it, all the same." His smile took a whimsical turn as he spoke of his mother's dying fancies.

Mina glanced at Mr Neeld; was the picture visible to him that rose before her eyes--of the poor sprite coming eagerly, but turning sadly away when she saw a stranger enthroned at Blent, and knew not where to look for her homeless, landless son? Mina was not certain that she could safely credit Neeld with such a flight of imagination; still he was listening, and his eyes were very gentle behind his spectacles.

"The parson came to see her yesterday. He's not what you'd call an unusual man, Madame Zabriska--and she is an unusual woman, you know. It was--yes, it was amusing, and there's an end of it." He paused, and added, by way of excuse, "Oh, I know her so well, you see. She wouldn't be left alone with him; she wanted another sinner there."

Mina marked the change in him--the new expansiveness, the new appeal for sympathy. He had forgotten his suspicion and his watchfulness; she was inclined to say that he had forgotten himself. On her death-bed Addie Tristram had exerted her charm once more--and over her own son. Once more a man, whatever his own position, thought mainly of her--and that man was her son. Did Neeld see this? To Neeld it came as the strongest reinforcement to the feelings which bade him hold his peace. It seemed an appeal to him, straight from the death-bed in the valley below. Harry found the old gentleman's gaze fixed intently on him.

"I beg your pardon for troubling you with all this, Mr Neeld," he said, relapsing rather into his defensive attitude. "Madame Zabriska knows my ways."

"No, I don't think I know this new way of yours at all," she objected. "But I like it, Mr Tristram. I feel all you do. I have seen her." She turned to Neeld. "Oh, how I wish you had!" she cried.

Her earnestness stirred a little curiosity in Harry. He glanced with his old wariness at Neeld. But what could he see save a kindly precise old gentleman, who was unimportant to him but seemed interested in what he said. He turned back to Mina, asking:

"A new way of mine?"

"Well, not quite. You were rather like it once. But generally you've got a veil before your face. Or perhaps you're really changed?"

He thought for a moment. "Things change a man." And he added, "I'm only twenty-two."

"Yes, I know," she smiled, "though I constantly forget it all the same."

"Well, twenty-three, come the twentieth of July," said he. His eyes were on hers, his characteristic smile on his lips. It was a challenge to her.

"I shan't forget the date," she answered, answering his look too. He sighed lightly; he was assured that she was with him.

The twentieth of July! The Editor of Mr Cholderton's Journal sat by listening; he raised no voice in protest.

"I must get back," said Harry. "Walk with me to the dip of the hill."

With a glance of apology to Neeld, she followed him and stepped out of the window; there were two steps at the side leading up to it. "I'll be back directly," she cried over her shoulder, as she joined Harry Tristram. They walked to the gate which marked the end of the terrace on which Merrion stood.

"I'm so glad you came! You do believe in me now?" she asked.

"Yes, and I'm not afraid. But do you know--it seems incredible to me--I'm not thinking of that now. I shall again directly, when it's over. But now--well, Blent won't seem much without my mother."

"She couldn't rest if you weren't there," cried Mina, throwing back the impression she had received, as her disposition made her.

"I haven't changed about that, but it will wait. Three days they say now--three days, or maybe four, and then--she goes."

Together they stood, looking down. Mina's heart was very full. She was with the Tristrams indeed now, thick and thin; their cause seemed hers, their house must stand.

Harry turned to her suddenly.

"Say nothing of this to the Major. Let him alone; that's best. We'll see about all that afterward. Good-by."

"And--and the Ivers?" She could not restrain the question.

A slight frown came on his brow; he seemed to have no relish for the subject.

"Oh, that'll wait too," he said impatiently. He caught her by the arm as he had done once before. "If all they said was true, if what you think was true (he smiled at her as he spoke), I'd change with no man in England; remember that. If it comes to a fight and I'm beaten, remember that." And he ran down the hill.

Mina returned slowly to the library and found Neeld walking restlessly to and fro. For the moment they did not speak. Mina sat down and followed the old gentleman's figure in its restless pacing.

"You heard him about his mother?" she asked at last.

He nodded, but did not reply.

"You make all the difference," she blurted out after another pause.

Again he nodded, not ceasing his walk. For a minute or two longer Mina endured the suspense, though it seemed more than she could bear. Then she sprang up, ran to him, intercepted him, and caught hold of both his hands, arresting his progress with an eager, imperious grip.

"Well?" she cried. "Well? What are you going to do?"

For a moment still he waited. Then he spoke deliberately.

"I can't consider it my duty to do anything, Madame Zabriska."

"Ah!" cried the Imp in shrill triumph, and she flung her arms round his neck and kissed him. She did not mind his putting it on the score of duty.

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