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THE VERY SAME DAY
"Shall I wait up, my lord? Miss Gainsborough has gone to her room. I've turned out the lights and shut up the house."
Harry looked at the clock in the study. It was one o'clock.
"I thought you'd gone to bed long ago, Mason." He rose and stretched himself. "I'm going to town early in the morning. I shan't want any breakfast and I shan't take anybody with me. Tell Fisher to pack my portmanteau--things for a few days--and send it to Paddington. I'll have it fetched from there. Tell him to be ready to follow me, if I send for him."
"Yes, my lord."
"Give that letter to Miss Gainsborough in the morning." He handed Mason a thick letter. Two others lay on the table. After a moment's apparent hesitation Harry put them in his pocket. "I'll post them myself," he said. "When did Miss Gainsborough go to her room?"
"About an hour back, my lord."
"Did she stay in the Long Gallery till then?"
"Yes, my lord."
"I may be away a little while, Mason. I hope Miss Gainsborough--and Mr Gainsborough too--will be staying on some time. Make them comfortable."
Not a sign of curiosity or surprise escaped Mason. His "Yes, my lord," was just the same as though Harry had ordered an egg for breakfast. Sudden comings and goings had always been the fashion of the house.
"All right. Good-night, Mason."
"Good-night, my lord." Mason looked round for something to carry off--the force of habit--found nothing, and retired noiselessly.
"One o'clock!" sighed Harry. "Ah, I'm tired. I won't go to bed though, I couldn't sleep."
He moved restlessly about the room. His flood of feeling had gone by; for the time the power of thought too seemed to have deserted him. He had told Cecily everything; he had told Janie enough; he had yielded to an impulse to write a line to Mina Zabriska--because she had been so mixed up in it all. The documents that were to have proved his claim made a little heap of ashes in the grate.
All this had been two hours' hard work. But after all two hours is not long to spend in getting rid of an old life and entering on a new. He found himself rather surprised at the simplicity of the process. What was there left to do? He had only to go to London and see his lawyer--an interview easy enough for him, though startling no doubt to the lawyer. Cecily would be put into possession of her own. There was nothing sensational. He would travel a bit perhaps, or just stay in town. He had money enough to live on quietly or to use in making more; for his mother's savings were indubitably his, left to him by a will in which he, the real Harry, was so expressly designated by his own full name--even more than that--as "Henry Austen Fitzhubert Tristram, otherwise Henry Austen Fitzhubert, my son by the late Captain Austen Fitzhubert"--that no question of his right could arise. That money would not go with the title. Only Blent and all the realty passed with that; the money was not affected by the date of his birth; that must be explained to Cecily by his lawyer or perhaps she would expect to get it. For the moment there was nothing to do but to go to London--and then perhaps travel a bit. He smiled for an instant; it certainly struck him as rather an anti-climax. He threw himself on a sofa and, in spite of his conviction that he could not sleep, dozed off almost directly.
It was three when he awoke; he went up to his room, had a bath, shaved, and put on a tweed suit. Coming down to the study again, he opened the shutters and looked out. It would be light soon, and he could go away. He was fretfully impatient of staying. He drank some whiskey and soda-water, and smoked a cigar as he walked up and down. Yes, there were signs of dawn now; the darkness lifted over the hill on which Merrion stood.
Merrion! Yes, Merrion. And the Major? Well, Duplay had not frightened him, Duplay had not turned him out. He was going of his own will--of his own act anyhow, for he could not feel so sure about the will. But for the first time it struck him that his abdication might accrue to the Major's benefit, that he had won for Duplay the prize which he was sure the gallant officer could not have achieved for himself. "I'll be hanged if I do that," he muttered. "Yes, I know what I'll do," he added, smiling.
He got his hat and stick and went out into the garden. The windows of the Long Gallery were all dark. Harry smiled again and shook his fist at them. There was no light in Cecily's window. He was glad to think that the girl slept; if he were tired she must be terribly tired too. He was quite alone--alone with the old place for the last time. He walked to where he had sat with Cecily, where his mother used to sit. He was easy in his mind about his mother. When she had wanted him to keep the house and the name, she had no idea of the true state of the case. And in fact she herself had done it all by requesting him to invite the Gainsboroughs to her funeral. That was proof enough that he had not wronged her; in the mood he was in it seemed quite proof enough. Realities were still a little dim to him, and fancies rather real. His outward calmness of manner had returned, but his mind was not in a normal state. Still he was awake enough to the every-day world and to his ordinary feelings to remain very eager that his sacrifice should not turn to the Major's good.
He started at a brisk walk to the little bridge, reached the middle of it, and stopped short. The talk he had had with Mina Zabriska at this very spot came back into his mind. "The blood, not the law!" he had said. Well, it was to the blood he had bowed and not to the law. He was strong about not having been frightened by the law. Nor had he been dispossessed, he insisted on that too. He had given; he had chosen to give. He made a movement as though to walk on, but for a moment he could not. When it came to going, for an instant he could not go. The parting was difficult. He had no discontent with what he had done; on the whole it seemed far easier than he could ever have imagined. But it was hard to go, to leave Blent just as the slowly growing day brought into sight every outline that he knew so well, and began to warm the gardens into life. "I should rather like to stay a day," was his thought, as he lingered still. But the next moment he was across the bridge, slamming the gate behind him and beginning to mount the road up the valley. He had heard a shutter thrown open and a window raised; the sound came from the wing where Cecily slept. He did not want to see her now; he did not wish her to see him. She was to awake to undivided possession, free from any reminder of him. That was his fancy, his idea of making his gift to her of what was hers more splendid and more complete. But she did see him; she watched him from her window as he walked away up the valley. He did not know; true to his fancy, he never turned his head.
Bob Broadley was an early riser, as his business in life demanded. At six o'clock he was breakfasting in a bright little room opening on his garden. He was in the middle of his rasher when a shadow fell across his plate. Looking up, he started to see Harry Tristram at the doorway.
"Lord Tristram!" he exclaimed.
"You've called me Tristram all your life. I should think you might still," observed Harry.
"Oh, all right. But what brings you here? These aren't generally your hours, are they?"
"Perhaps not. May I have some breakfast?"
The maid was summoned and brought him what he asked. She nearly dropped the cup and saucer when she realized that the Great Man was there--at six in the morning!
"I'm on my way to London," said Harry. "Going to take the train at Fillingford instead of Blentmouth, because I wanted to drop in on you. I've something to say."
"I expect I've heard. It's very kind of you to come, but I saw Janie Iver in Blentmouth yesterday."
"I dare say; but she didn't tell you what I'm going to."
Harry, having made but a pretence of breakfasting, pushed away his plate. "I'll smoke if you don't mind. You go on eating," he said. "Do you remember a little talk we had about our friend Duplay? We agreed that we should both like to put a spoke in his wheel."
"And you've done it," said Bob, reaching for his pipe from the mantel-piece.
"I did do it. I can't do it any more. You know there were certain reasons which made a marriage between Janie Iver and me seem desirable? I'm saying nothing against her, and I don't intend to say a word against myself. Well, those reasons no longer exist. I have written to her to say so. She'll get that letter this afternoon."
"You've written to break off the engagement?" Bob spoke slowly and thoughtfully, but with no great surprise.
"Yes. She accepted me under a serious misapprehension. When I asked her I was in a position to which I had no----" He interrupted himself, frowning a little. Not even now was he ready to say that. "In a position which I no longer occupy," he amended, recovering his placidity. "All the world will know that very soon. I am no longer owner of Blent."
"What?" cried Bob, jumping up and looking hard at Harry. The surprise came now.
"And I am no longer what you called me just now--Lord Tristram. You know the law about succeeding to peerages and entailed lands? Very well. My birth has been discovered [he smiled for an instant] not to satisfy that law--the merits of which, Bob, we won't discuss. Consequently not I, but Miss Gainsborough succeeds my mother in the title and the property. I have informed Miss Gainsborough--I ought to say Lady Tristram--of these facts, and I'm on my way to London to see the lawyers and get everything done in proper order."
"Good God, do you mean what you say?"
"Oh, of course I do. Do you take me for an idiot, to come up here at six in the morning to talk balderdash?" Harry was obviously irritated. "Everybody will know soon. I came to tell you because I fancy you've some concern in it, and, as I say, I still want that spoke put in the Major's wheel."
Bob sat down and was silent for many moments, smoking hard.
"But Janie won't do that," he broke out at last. "She's too straight, too loyal. If she's accepted you----"
"A beautiful idea, Bob, if she was in love with me. But she isn't. Can you tell me you think she is?"
Bob grunted inarticulately--an obvious, though not a skilful, evasion of the question.
"And anyhow," Harry pursued, "the thing's at an end. I shan't marry her. Now if that suggests any action on your part I--well, I shall be glad I came to breakfast." He got up and went to the window, looking out on the neat little garden and to the paddock beyond.
In a moment Bob Broadley's hand was laid on his shoulder. He turned and faced him.
"What a thing for you! You--you lose it all?"
"I have given it all up."
"I can't realize it, you know. The change----"
"Perhaps I can't either. I don't know that I want to, Bob."
"Who made the discovery? How did it come out? Nobody ever had any suspicion of it!"
Harry looked at him long and thoughtfully, but in the end he only shook his head, saying, "Well, it's true anyhow."
"It beats me. I see what you mean about myself and--Still I give you my word I hate its happening. Who's this girl? Why is she to come here? Who knows anything about her?"
"You don't, of course," Harry conceded with a smile. "No more did I a week ago."
"Couldn't you have made a fight for it?"
"Yes, a deuced good fight. But I chose to let it go. Now don't go on looking as if you didn't understand the thing. It's simple enough."
"But Lady Tristram--your mother--must have known----"
"The question didn't arise as long as my mother lived," said Harry quickly. "Her title was all right, of course."
There was another question on the tip of Bob's tongue, but after a glance at Harry's face he did not put it; he could not ask Harry if he had known.
"I'm hanged!" he muttered.
"Yes, but you understand why I came here?"
"Yes. That was kind."
"Oh, no. I want to spike the Major's guns, you know." He laughed a little. "And--well, yes, I think I'm promoting the general happiness too, if you must know. Now I'm off, Bob."
He held out his hand and Bob grasped it. "We'll meet again some day, when things have settled down. Beat Duplay for me, Bob. Good-by."
"That's grit, real grit," muttered Bob, as he returned to the house after seeing Harry Tristram on his way.
It was that--or else the intoxication of some influence whose power had not passed away. Whatever it was, it had a marked effect on Bob Broadley. There was an appearance of strength and resolution about it--as of a man knowing what he meant to do and doing it. As he inspected his pigs an hour later, Bob came to the conclusion that he himself was a poor sort of fellow. People who waited for the fruit to fall into their mouths were apt to find that a hand intervened and plucked it. That had happened to him once, and probably he could not have helped it; but he meant to try to prevent its happening again. He was in a ferment all the morning, partly on his own account, as much about the revolution which had suddenly occurred in the little kingdom on the banks of the Blent.
In the afternoon he had his gig brought round and set out for Blentmouth. As he passed Blent Hall, he saw a girl on the bridge--a girl in black looking down at the water. Lady Tristram? It was strange to call her by the title that had been another's. But he supposed it must be Lady Tristram. She did not look up as he passed; he retained a vision of the slack dreariness of her pose. Going on, he met the Iver carriage; Iver and Neeld sat in it, side by side; they waved their hands in careless greeting and went on talking earnestly. On the outskirts of the town he came on Miss Swinkerton and Mrs Trumbler walking together. As he raised his hat, a dim and wholly inadequate idea occurred to him of the excitement into which these good ladies would soon be thrown, a foreshadowing of the wonder, the consternation, the questionings, the bubbling emotions which were soon to stir the quiet backwaters of the villas of Blentmouth. For himself, what was he going to do? He could not tell. He put up his gig at the inn and sauntered out into the street; still he could not tell. But he wandered out to Fairholme, up to the gate, and past it, and back to it, and past it again.
Now would Harry Tristram do that? No; either he would never have come or he would have been inside before this. Bob's new love of boldness did not let him consider whether this was the happiest moment for its display. Those learned in the lore of such matters would probably have advised him to let her alone for a few days, or weeks, or months, according to the subtilty of their knowledge or their views. Bob rang the bell.
Janie was not denied to him, but only because no chance was given to her of denying herself. A footman, unconscious of convulsions external or internal, showed him into the morning-room. But Janie's own attitude was plain enough in her reception of him.
"Oh, Bob, why in the world do you come here to-day? Indeed I can't talk to you to-day." Her dismay was evident. "If there's nothing very particular----"
"Well, you know there is," Bob interrupted.
She turned her head quickly toward him. "I know there is? What do you mean?"
"You've got Harry Tristram's letter, I suppose?"
"What do you know of Harry Tristram's letter?"
"I haven't seen it, but I know what's in it all the same."
"How do you know?"
"He came up to Mingham to-day and told me." Bob sat down by her, uninvited; certainly the belief in boldness was carrying him far. But he did not quite anticipate the next development. She sprang up, sprang away from his neighborhood, crying,
"Then how dare you come here to-day? Yes, I've got the letter--just an hour ago. Have you come to--to triumph over me?"
"What an extraordinary idea!" remarked Bob in the slow tones of a genuine astonishment.
"You'd call it to condole, I suppose! That's rather worse."
Bob confined himself to a long look at her. It brought him no enlightenment.
"You must see that you're the very----" She broke off abruptly, and, turning away, began to walk up and down.
"The very what?" asked Bob.
She turned and looked at him; she broke into a peevishly nervous laugh. Anybody but Bob--really anybody but Bob--would have known! The laugh encouraged him a little, which again it had no right to do.
"I thought you'd be in trouble, and like a bit of cheering up," he said with a diplomatic air that was ludicrously obvious.
She considered a moment, taking another turn about the room to do it.
"What did Harry Tristram say to you?"
"Oh, he told me the whole thing. That--that he's chucked it up, you know."
"I mean about me."
"He didn't say much about you. Just that it was all ended, you know."
"Did he think I should accept his withdrawal?"
"Yes, he seemed quite sure of it," answered Bob. "I had my doubts, but he seemed quite sure of it." Apparently Bob considered his statement reassuring and comforting.
"You had your doubts?"
"Yes. I thought perhaps----"
"You were wrong then, and Harry Tristram was right." She flung the words at him in a fierce hostility. "Now he's not Lord Tristram any longer, I don't want to marry him." She paused. "You believe he isn't, don't you? There's no doubt?"
"I believe him all right. He's a fellow you can rely on."
"But it's all so strange. Why has he done it? Well, that doesn't matter. At any rate he's right about me."
Bob sat stolidly in his chair. He did not know at all what to say, but he did not mean to go. He had put no spoke in the Major's wheel yet, and to do that was his contract with Harry Tristram, as well as his own strong desire.
"Have you sympathized--or condoled--or triumphed--enough?" she asked; she was fierce still.
"I don't know that I've had a chance of saying anything much," he observed with some justice.
"I really don't see what you can have to say. What is there to say?"
"Well, there's just this to say--that I'm jolly glad of it."
She was startled by his blunt sincerity, so startled that she passed the obvious chance of accusing him of cruelty toward Harry Tristram, and thought only of how his words touched herself.
"Glad of it! Oh, if you knew how it makes me feel about myself! But you don't, or you'd never be here now."
"Why shouldn't I be here now?" He spoke slowly, as though he were himself searching for any sound reason.
"Oh, it's----" The power of explanation failed her. People who will not see obvious things sometimes hold a very strong position. Janie began to feel rather helpless. "Do go. I don't want anybody to come and find you here." She had turned from command to entreaty.
"I'm jolly glad," he resumed, settling himself back in his chair, "that the business between you and Harry Tristram's all over. It ought never to have gone so far, you know."
"Are you out of your mind to-day, Bob?"
"And now, what about the Major, Miss Janie?"
She flushed red in indignation, perhaps in guilt too. "How dare you? You've no business to----"
"I don't know the right way to say things, I dare say," he admitted, but with an abominable tranquillity. "Still I expect you know what I mean all the same."
"Do you accuse me of having encouraged Major Duplay?"
"I should say you'd been pretty pleasant to him. But it's not my business to worry myself about Duplay."
"I wish you always understood as well what isn't your business."
"And it isn't what you have done but what you're going to do that I'm interested in." He paused several moments and then went on very slowly, "I tell you what it is. I'm not very proud of myself. So if you happen to be feeling the same, why that's all right, Miss Janie. The fact is, I let Harry Tristram put me in a funk, you know. He was a swell, and he's got a sort of way about him too. But I'm hanged if I'm going to be in a funk of Duplay." He seemed to ask her approval of the proposed firmness of his attitude. "I've been a bit of an ass about it all, I think," he concluded with an air of thoughtful inquiry.
The opening was irresistible. Janie seized it with impetuous carelessness. "Yes, you have, you have indeed. Only I don't see why you think it's over, I'm sure."
"Well, I'm glad you agree with me," said he. But he seemed now rather uncertain how he ought to go on. "That's what I wanted to say," he added, and looked at her as if he thought she might give him a lead.
The whole thing was preposterous; Janie was bewildered. He had outraged all decency in coming at such a moment and in talking like this. Then having got (by such utter disregard of all decency) to a point at which he could not possibly stop, he stopped! He even appeared to ask her to go on for him! She stood still in the middle of the room, looking at him as he sat squarely in his chair.
"Since you've said what you wanted to say, I should think you might go."
"Yes, I suppose I might, but----" He was puzzled. He had said what he wanted to say, or thought he had, but it had failed to produce the situation he had anticipated from it. If he went now, leaving matters just as they stood, could he be confident that the spoke was in the wheel? Up to now nothing was really agreed upon except that he himself had been an ass. No doubt this was a pregnant conclusion, but Bob was not quite clear exactly how much it involved; while it encouraged him, it left him still doubtful. "But don't you think you might tell me what you think about it?" he asked in the end.
"I think I'm not fit to live," cried Janie. "That's what I think about it, Bob." Her voice trembled; she was afraid she might cry soon if something did not happen to relieve the strain of this interview. "And you saw what Harry thought by his sending me that letter. The very moment it happened, he sent me that letter!"
"I saw what he thought pretty well, anyhow," said Bob, smiling reflectively again.
"Oh, yes, if that makes it any better for me!"
"Well, if he's not miserable, I don't see why you need be."
"The things you don't see would fill an encyclopędia!"
Bob looked at his watch; the action seemed in the nature of an ultimatum; his glance from the watch to Janie heightened the impression.
"You've nothing more to say?" he asked her.
"No. I agreed with what you said--that you'd been--an ass. I don't know that you've said anything else."
"All right." He got up and came to her, holding out his hand. "Good-by for the present, then."
She took his hand--and she held it. She could not let it go. Bob allowed it to lie in hers.
"Oh, dear old Bob, I'm so miserable; I hate myself for having done it, and I hate myself worse for being so glad it's undone. It did seem best till I did it. No, I suppose I really wanted the title and--and all that. I do hate myself! And now--the very same day--I let you----"
"You haven't let me do much," he suggested consolingly.
"Yes, I have. At least----" She came a little nearer to him. He took hold of her other hand. He drew her to him and held her in his arms.
"That's all right," he remarked, still in tones of consolation.
"If anybody knew this! You won't say a word, will you, Bob? Not for ever so long? You will pretend it was ever so long before I--I mean, between----?"
"I'll tell any lie," said Bob very cheerfully.
She laughed hysterically. "Because I should never be able to look people in the face if anybody knew that on the very same day----"
"I should think a--a week would be about right?"
"A week! No, no. Six months."
"Oh, six months be----"
"Well then, three? Do agree to three."
"We'll think about three. Still miserable, Janie?"
"Yes, still--rather. Now you must go. Fancy if anybody came!"
"All right, I'll go. But, I say, you might just drop a hint to the Major."
"I can't send him another message that I'm--that I've done it again!"
She drew a little away from him. Bob's hearty laugh rang out; his latent sense of humor was touched at the idea of this second communication to the Major. For a moment Janie looked angry, for a moment deeply hurt. Bob laughed still. There was nothing for it but to join in. Her own laugh rang out gayly as he caught her in his arms again and kissed her.
"Oh, if anybody knew!" sighed Janie.
But Bob was full of triumph. The task was done, the spoke was in the wheel. There was an end of the Major as well as of Harry--and an end to his own long and not very hopeful waiting. He kissed his love again.
There was a sudden end to the scene too--startling and sudden. The door of the room opened abruptly, and in the doorway stood Mrs Iver. Little need to dilate on the situation as it appeared to Mrs Iver! Had she known the truth, the thing was bad enough. But she knew nothing of Harry Tristram's letter. After a moment of consternation Janie ran to her, crying,
"I'm not engaged any more to Harry Tristram, mother!"
Mrs Iver said nothing. She stood by the open door. There was no mistaking her meaning. With a shame-faced bow, struggling with an unruly smile, Bob Broadley got through it somehow. Janie was left alone with Mrs Iver.
Such occurrences as these are very deplorable. Almost of necessity they impair a daughter's proper position of superiority and put her in a relation toward her mother which no self-respecting young woman would desire to occupy. It might be weeks before Janie Iver could really assert her dignity again. It was strong proof of her affection for Bob Broadley that, considering the matter in her own room (she had not been exactly sent there, but a retreat had seemed advisable) she came to the conclusion that, taking good and bad together, she was on the whole glad that he had called.
But to Bob, with the selfishness of man, Mrs Iver's sudden appearance wore rather an amusing aspect. It certainly could not spoil his triumph or impair his happiness.
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