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AN INSULT TO THE BLOOD
It could not be denied that Blinkhampton was among the things which arose out of Blent. To acknowledge even so much Harry felt to be a slur on his independence, on the new sense of being able to do things for himself in which his pride, robbed of its old opportunities, was taking refuge and finding consolation. It was thanks to himself anyhow that it had so arisen, for Iver was not the man to mingle business and sentiment. Harry snatched this comfort, and threw his energies into the work, both as a trial of his powers and as a safeguard against his thoughts. He went down to the place and stayed a week. The result of his visit was a report which Iver showed to Southend with a very significant nod; even the mistakes in it, themselves inevitable from want of experience, were the errors of a large mind. The touch of dogmatism did not displease a man who valued self-confidence above all other qualities.
"The lad will do; he'll make his way," said Iver.
Southend smiled. Lads who are equal to making their own way may go very far if they are given such a start as he had in contemplation for Harry. But would things go right? Southend had received an incoherent but decidedly despairing letter from Mina Zabriska. He put it in the fire, saying nothing to Lady Evenswood, and nothing, of course, to Mr Disney. In the end there was perhaps no absolutely necessary connection between the two parts of the scheme--that which concerned the lady, and that which depended on the Minister. Yet the first would make the second so much more easy!
Mr Disney had given no sign yet. There was a crisis somewhere abroad, and a colleague understood to be self-opinionated; there was a crisis in the Church, and a bishopric vacant. Lady Evenswood was of opinion that the least attempt to hurry Robert would be fatal. There were, after all, limits to the importance of Harry Tristram's case, and Robert was likely, if worried, to state the fact with his own merciless vigor, and with that to say good-by to the whole affair. The only person seriously angry at the Prime Minister's "dawdling," was Mina Zabriska; and she had enjoyed no chance of telling him so. To make such an opportunity for her was too hazardous an experiment; it might have turned out well--one could never tell with Robert--but on the whole it was not to be risked.
What Lady Evenswood would not venture, fortune dared. Mina had been seeing sights--it was August now, a suitable month for the task--and one evening, about half-past six, she landed her weary bones on a seat in St James's Park for a few moments' rest before she faced the Underground. The place was very empty, the few people there lay for the most part asleep--workmen with the day's labor done. Presently she saw two men walking slowly toward her from the direction of Westminster. One was tall and slight, handsome and distinguished in appearance; in the other she recognized the rugged awkward man whom she had met at Lady Evenswood's. He was talking hard, hitting his fist into the palm of his other hand sometimes. The handsome man listened with deference, but frowned and seemed troubled. Suddenly the pair stopped.
"I must get back to the House," she heard the handsome man say.
"Well, think it over. Try to see it in that light," said Disney, holding out his hand. The other took it, and then turned away. The episode would have been worth a good paragraph and a dozen conjectures to a reporter; the handsome man was the self-opinionated colleague, and the words Mina had heard, were they not clear proof of dissensions in the Cabinet?
Disney stood stock-still on the path, not looking after his recalcitrant colleague, but down on the ground; his thoughts made him unconscious of things external. Mina glowed with excitement. He was not an awkward man to her; he was a great and surprising fact, a wonderful institution, the more wonderful because (to look at him) he might have been a superior mechanic who had dropped sixpence and was scanning the ground for it. She was really appalled, but her old instinct and habit of interference, of not letting things go by her without laying at least a finger on them, worked in her too. How long would he stand there motionless? As if the ground could tell him anything! Yet she was not impatient of his stillness. It was good to sit and watch him.
An artisan swung by, his tools over his back. Mina saw the suddenly awakened attention with which his head turned to Disney. He slackened pace a moment, and then, after an apparent hesitation, lifted his cap. There was no sign that Disney saw him, save that he touched his hat in almost unconscious acknowledgment. The artisan went by, but stopped, turned to look again, and exchanged an amused smile with Mina. He glanced round twice again before he was out of sight. Mina sighed in enjoyment.
With a quick jerk of his head Disney began to walk on slowly. For an instant Mina did not know what she would do; the fear and the attraction struggled. Then she jumped up and walked toward him. Her manner tried to assert that she had not noticed him. She was almost by him. She gave a cough. He looked up. Would he know her? Would he remember asking--no, directing--my lord his secretary to write to her, and had he read what she wrote? He was looking at her. She dared a hurried little bow. He came to a stand-still again.
"Yes, yes?" he said questioningly.
"Madame Zabriska, Mr Disney."
"Oh, yes." His voice sounded a little disappointed. "I met you at----?"
"At Lady Evenswood's, Mr Disney." Taking courage she added, "I sent what you wanted?"
"What I wanted?"
"Yes. What you wanted me to write, about--about the Tristrams."
"Yes." The voice sounded now as if he had placed her. He smiled a little. "I remember it all now. I read it the other morning." He nodded at her, as if that finished the matter. But Mina did not move. "I'm busy just now," he added, "but--Well, how's your side of the affair going on, Madame Zabriska? I've heard nothing from my cousin about that."
"It's just wonderful to see you like this!" the Imp blurted out.
That amused him; she saw the twinkle in his eye.
"Never mind me. Tell me about the Tristram cousins."
"Oh, you are thinking of it then?"
"I never tell what I'm thinking about. That's the only reason people think me clever. The cousins?"
"Oh, that's all dreadful. At least I believe they are--they would be--in love; but--but--Mr Tristram's so difficult, so obstinate, so proud. I don't suppose you understand----"
"You're the second person who's told me I can't understand, in the last half-hour." He was smiling now, as he coupled Mina and the handsome recalcitrant colleague in his protest. "I'm not sure of it."
"And she's been silly, and he's been horrid, and just now--well, it's all as bad as can be, Mr Disney."
"Is it? You must get it better than that, you know, before I can do anything. Good-night."
"Oh, stop, do stop! Do say what you mean!"
"I shan't do anything of the kind. You may tell Lady Evenswood what I've said and she'll tell you what I mean."
"Oh, but please----"
"If you stop me any longer, I shall send you to the Tower. Tell Lady Evenswood and Southend. If I didn't do my business better than you do yours----!" He shrugged his shoulders with a good-natured rudeness. "Good-night," he said again, and this time Mina dared not stop him. Twenty yards further on he halted once more of his own accord and fell into thought. Mina watched him till he moved on again, slowly making his way across the Mall and toward St James's Street. A great thing had happened to her--she felt that; and she had news too that she was to tell to Southend and Lady Evenswood. There was considerable unsettlement in the Imp's mind that night.
The next day found her at Lady Evenswood's. The old lady and Southend (who had been summoned on Mina's command--certainly Mina was getting up in the world) understood perfectly. They nodded wise heads.
"I was always inclined to think that Robert would take that view."
"He fears that the Bearsdale case won't carry him all the way. Depend upon it, that's what he feels."
"Well, there was the doubt there, you see."
Mina was rather tired of the doubt in the Bearsdale case. It was always cropping up and being mentioned as though it were something exceedingly meritorious.
"And in poor Addie's case of course there--well, there wasn't," proceeded Lady Evenswood with a sigh. "So Robert feels that it might be thought----"
"The people with consciences would be at him, I suppose," said Southend scornfully.
"But if the marriage came off----"
"Oh, I see!" cried the Imp.
"Then he would feel able to act. It would look merely like putting things back as they were, you see, Mina."
"Do you think he means the viscounty?" asked Southend.
"It would be so much more convenient. And they could have had an earldom once before if they'd liked."
"Oh, twice," corrected Southend confidently.
"I know it's said, but I don't believe it. You mean in 1816?"
"Yes. Everybody knows that they could have had it from Mr Pitt."
"Well, George, I don't believe about 1816. At least my father heard Lord Liverpool say----"
"Oh, dear me!" murmured the Imp. This historical inquiry was neither comprehensible nor interesting. But they discussed it eagerly for some minutes before agreeing that, wherever the truth lay, a viscounty could not be considered out of the way for the Tristrams--legitimate and proper Tristrams, be it understood.
"And that's where the match would be of decisive value," Lady Evenswood concluded.
"Disney said as much evidently. So you understood, Madame Zabriska?"
"I suppose so. I've told you what he said."
"He could take Blentmouth, you know. It's all very simple."
"Well, I'm not sure that our friend Iver isn't keeping that for himself," smiled Southend.
"Oh, he can be Lord Bricks and Putty," she suggested, laughing. But there seemed in her words a deplorable hint of scorn for that process by which the vitality (not to say the solvency) of the British aristocracy is notoriously maintained. "Blentmouth would do very well for Harry Tristram."
"Well then, what's to be done?" asked Southend.
"We must give him a hint, George."
"Have we enough to go upon? Suppose Disney turned round and----"
"Robert won't do that. Besides, we needn't pledge anything. We can just put the case." She smiled thoughtfully. "I'm still not quite sure how Mr Tristram will take it, you know."
"How he'll take it? He'll jump at it, of course."
"The girl or the title, George?"
"Well, both together. Won't he, Madame Zabriska?"
Mina thought great things of the girl, and even greater, if vaguer, of the title.
"I should just think so," she replied complacently. There was a limit to the perversity even of the Tristrams.
"We mustn't put it too baldly," observed Southend, dangling his eyeglass.
"Oh, he'll think more of the thing itself than of how we put it," Lady Evenswood declared.
From her knowledge of Harry, the Imp was exactly of that opinion. But Southend was for diplomacy; indeed what pleasure is there in manoeuvring schemes if they are not to be conducted with delicacy? A policy that can be defined on a postage stamp has no attraction for ingenious minds, although it is usually the most effective with a nation.
Harry Tristram returned from Blinkhampton in a state of intellectual satisfaction marred by a sense of emotional emptiness. He had been very active, very energetic, very successful. He had new and cogent evidence of his power, not merely to start but to go ahead on his own account. This was the good side. But he discovered and tried to rebuke in himself a feeling that he had so far wasted the time in that he had seen nobody and nothing beautiful. Men of affairs had no concern with a feeling like that. Would Iver have it, or would Mr Disney? Surely not! It would be a positive inconvenience to them, or at best a worthless asset. He traced it back to Blent, to that influence which he had almost brought himself to call malign because it seemed in some subtle way enervating, a thing that sought to clog his steps and hung about those feet which had need to be so alert and nimble. Yet the old life at Blent would not have served by itself now. Was he to turn out so exacting that he must have both lives before he, or what was in him, could cry "Content"? A man will sometimes be alarmed when he realizes what he wants--a woman often.
So he came, in obedience to Lady Evenswood's summons, very confident but rather sombre. When he arrived, a woman was there whom he did not know. She exhaled fashion and the air of being exactly the right thing. She was young--several years short of forty--and very handsome. Her manner was quiet and well-dowered with repressed humor. He was introduced to Lady Flora Disney, and found himself regarded with unmistakable interest and lurking amusement. It was no effort to remember that Mr Disney had married a daughter of Lord Bewdley's. That was enough; just as he knew all about her, she would know all about him; they were both of the pale in a sense that their hostess was, but Lord Southend--well, hardly was--and (absurdly enough) Mr Disney himself not at all. This again was in patent incongruity with Blinkhampton and smelt wofully strong of Blent. Lady Evenswood encouraged Harry to converse with the visitor.
"We're a little quieter," she was saying. "The crisis is dormant, and the bishop's made, and Lord Hove has gone to consult the Duke of Dexminster--which means a fortnight's delay anyhow, and probably being told to do nothing in the end. So I sometimes see Robert at dinner."
"And he tells you things, and you're indiscreet about them!" said Lady Evenswood rebukingly.
"I believe Robert considers me a sort of ante-room to publicity. And it's so much easier to disown a wife than a journalist, isn't it, Mr Tristram?"
"Naturally. The Press have to pretend to believe one another," he said, smiling.
"That's the corner-stone," Southend agreed.
"Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" pursued Lady Flora. "But Diana was never a wife, if I remember."
"Though how they do it, my dear," marvelled Lady Evenswood, "is what I don't understand."
"I know nothing about them," Lady Flora declared. "And they know nothing about me. They stop at my gowns, you know, and even then they always confuse me with Gertrude Melrose."
"I hope that stops at the gown too?" observed Southend.
"The hair does it, I think. She buys hers at the same shop as I--Now what do I do, Mr Tristram?"
"You, Lady Flora? You know the shop. Is that enough?"
"Yes, or--well, no. I supplement there. I declare I won't wait any longer for Robert."
"He won't come now," said Lady Evenswood. "Is the bishop nice, my dear?"
"Oh, yes, quite plump and gaitery! Good-by, dear Cousin Sylvia. I wish you'd come and see me, Mr Tristram."
Harry, making his little bow, declared that he would be delighted.
"I like to see young men sometimes," observed the lady, retreating.
"The new style," Lady Evenswood summed up, as the door closed. "And--well, I suppose Robert likes it."
"Dissimilia dissimilibus," shrugged Southend, fixing his glasses.
"It's the only concession to appearances he ever made," sighed Lady Evenswood.
"She's a lady, though."
"Oh, yes. That's what makes it so funny. If she weren't----"
"Yes, it would all be natural enough."
"But we've been wasting your time, Mr Tristram."
"Never less wasted since I was born," protested Harry, who had both enjoyed and learnt.
"No, really I think not," she agreed, smiling. "Flora has her power."
The remark grated on him; he wanted nothing of Flora and her power; it was indeed rather an unfortunate introduction to the business of the afternoon; it pointed Harry's quills a little. Lady Evenswood, with a quick perception, tried to retrieve the observation.
"But she likes people who are independent best," she went on. "So does Robert, if it comes to that. Indeed he never does a job for anyone."
"Carries that too far in my opinion," commented Southend. The moment for diplomacy approached.
But when it came to the point, Lady Evenswood suavely took the task out of his hands. Her instinct told her that she could do it best; he soon came to agree. She had that delicacy which he desired but lacked; she could claim silence when he must have suffered interruption; she could excuse her interference on the ground of old friendship; she could plead an interest which might seem impertinent in him. Above all, she could be elusively lucid and make herself understood without any bluntness of statement.
"If it could be so managed that the whole miserable accident should be blotted out and forgotten!" she exclaimed, as though she implored a personal favor.
"How can that be?" asked Harry. "I was in, and I am out, Lady Evenswood."
"You're out, and your cousin's in, yes." Harry's eyes noted the words and dwelt on her face. "She can't be happy in that state of affairs either."
"Perhaps not," he admitted. "Facts are facts, though."
"There are ways--ways of preventing that," Southend interposed, murmuring vaguely.
"I don't know how you'll feel about it, but we all think you ought to consider other things besides your personal preferences. Might I tell Mr Disney--no, one moment, please! Our idea, I mean, was that there might be a family arrangement. A moment, please, Mr Tristram! I don't mean, by which she would lose what she has----"
"But that I should get it?"
"Well, yes. Oh, I know your feelings. But they would cease to exist if you came to her on an equality, with what is really and truly your proper position recognized and--and----"
"Regularized," Southend supplied with a sharp glance at Harry.
"I don't understand," Harry declared. "You must tell me what you mean. Is it something that concerns Cecily as well as me?"
"Oh, about that we haven't the right even to ask your feelings. That would be simply for you to consider. But if anything were to happen----"
"Nothing could." Harry restrained himself no longer. "There can be no question of it."
"I knew you'd feel like that. Just because you feel like that, I want to make the other suggestion to you. I'm not speaking idly. I have my warrant, Mr Tristram. If----" She was at a loss for a moment. "If you ever went back to Blent," she continued, not satisfied, but driven to some form of words, "it isn't inevitable that you should go as Mr Tristram. There are means of righting such injustices as yours. Wait, please! It would be felt--and felt in a quarter you can guess--that the master of Blent, which you'd be in fact anyhow, should have that position recognized. Perhaps there would not be the same feeling unless you were still associated with Blent."
"I don't understand at all."
She exchanged a despairing glance with Southend; she could not tell whether or not he was sincere in saying that he did not understand. Southend grew weary of the diplomacy which he had advocated; after all it had turned out to be Lady Evenswood's, not his, which may have had something to do with his change of mood toward it. He took up the task with a brisk directness.
"It's like this, Harry. You remember that the unsuccessful claimant in the Bearsdale case got a barony? That's our precedent. But it's felt not to go quite all the way--because there was a doubt there. (Luckily for Mina she was not by to hear.) But it is felt that in the event of the two branches of your family being united it would be proper to--to obliterate past--er--incidents. And that could be done by raising you to the peerage, under a new and, as we hope, a superior title. We believe Mr Disney would, under the circumstances I have suggested, be prepared to recommend a viscounty, and that there would prove to be no difficulties in the way." The last words had, presumably, reference to the same quarter that Lady Evenswood had once described by the words, "Somebody Else."
They watched him as he digested the proposal, at last made to him in a tolerably plain form. "You must give me a moment to follow that out," he said, with a smile. But he had it all clear enough before he would allow them to perceive that he understood. For although his brain made easy work of it, his feelings demanded a pause. He was greatly surprised. He had thought of no such a thing. What differences would it make?
Southend was well satisfied with the way in which his overture was received. Lady Evenswood was watching intently.
"The idea is----" said Harry slowly--"I mean--I don't quite gather what it is. You talk of my cousin, and then of a viscounty. The two go together, do they?"
It was rather an awkward question put as bluntly as that.
"Well, that did seem to be Mr Disney's view," said Southend.
"He was thinking of the family--of the family as a whole. I'm sure you think of that too," urged Lady Evenswood. There would never be a Tristram who did not, she was thinking. Well, except Addie perhaps, who really thought of nothing. "Of course as a thing purely personal to you it might be just a little difficult." She meant, and intended Harry to understand, that without the marriage the thing could not be done at all. Mina had reported Mr Disney faithfully, and Lady Evenswood's knowledge of her cousin Robert was not at fault. "Apart from anything else, there would be the sordid question," she ended, with a smile that became propitiatory against her will; she had meant it to be merely confidential.
There was ground for hope; Harry hesitated--truth will out, even where it impairs the grandeur of men. The suggestion had its attractions; it touched the spring of the picturesque in him which Blinkhampton had left rusting in idleness. It suggested something in regard to Cecily too--what it was, he did not reason out very clearly at the moment. Anyhow what was proposed would create a new situation and put him in a different position toward her. In brief, he would have something more on his side.
"Once he was sure the proposal was agreeable to you----" murmured Lady Evenswood gently. She was still very tentative about the matter, and still watchful of Harry.
But Southend was not cautious or did not read his man so well. To him the battle seemed to be won. He was assured in his manner and decidedly triumphant as he said:
"It's a great thing to have screwed Disney up to the viscounty. It does away with all difficulty about the name, you see."
Harry looked up sharply. Had Mr Disney been "screwed up?" Who had screwed him up?--by what warrant?--on whose commission? That was enough to make him glower and to bring back something of the old-time look of suspicion to his face. But the greater part of his attention was engrossed by the second half of Southend's ill-advised bit of jubilation.
"The name? The difficulty about the name?" he asked.
"If it had been a barony--well, hers would take precedence, of course. With the higher degree yours will come first, and her barony be merged--Viscount Blentmouth, eh, Harry?" He chuckled with glee.
"Viscount Blentmouth be hanged!" cried Harry. He mastered himself with an effort. "I beg your pardon, Lady Evenswood; and I'm much obliged to you, and to you too, Lord Southend, for--for screwing Mr Disney up. It's not a thing I could or should have done or tried to do for myself." In spite of his attempted calmness his voice grew a little louder. "I want nothing but what's my own. If nothing's my own, well and good--I can wait till I make it something."
"But, my dear Harry----!" began the discomfited Southend. Harry cut him short, breaking again into impetuous speech.
"There's nothing between my cousin and me. There's no question of marriage and never can be. And if there were----" He seemed to gather himself up for a flight of scorn--"If there were, do you think I'm going to save my own pride by saddling the family with a beastly new viscounty?"
His tones rose in indignation on the last sentence, as he looked from one to the other. "Viscount Blentmouth indeed!" he growled.
Southend's hands were out before him in signal of bewildered distress. Lady Evenswood looked at Harry, then, with a quick forward inclination of her body, past him; and she began to laugh.
"Thank you very much, but I've been Tristram of Blent," ended Harry, now in a very fine fume, and feeling he had been much insulted.
Still looking past him, Lady Evenswood sat laughing quietly. Even on Southend's face came an uneasy smile, as he too looked toward the door. After a moment's furious staring at the two Harry faced round. The door had been softly and noiselessly opened to the extent of a couple of feet. A man stood in the doorway, tugging at a ragged beard and with eyes twinkling under rugged brows. Who was he, and how did he come there? Harry heard Lady Evenswood's laughter; he heard her murmur to herself with an accent of pleasure, "A beastly new viscounty!" Then the man in the doorway came a little farther in, saying:
"That's exactly what I think about it, Mr Tristram. I've heard what you said and I agree with you. There's an end, then, of the beastly new viscounty!" He looked mockingly at Southend. "I've been screwed up all for nothing, it seems," said he.
"Let me introduce myself, Mr Tristram. I came to look for my wife, and my name is Disney. I intend to keep mine, and I know better than to try to alter yours."
"I thought it would end like this!" cried Lady Evenswood.
"Shan't we say that it begins like this?" asked Mr Disney. His look at Harry was a compliment.
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