Tristram of Blent Part 53

Tristram of Blent -

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"Oh, yes, rather. But the Bank's not sure."

"Good! That's something. Banks against drawing-rooms for me, Madame Zabriska." He brought her into the conversation almost with tact; he must have had a strong wish to make her comfortable.

"That's right," announced Theo. "I should say you're all right in the country too. Crops pretty good, you know, and the rain's comin' down just nicely."

"Well, I ordered it," said Mr Disney.

"Takin' all the credit you can get," observed Theo. "Like the man who carved his name on the knife before he stabbed his mother-in-law."

"What did he do that for?" cried Mina. A guffaw from Disney quite amazed her.

Harry looked across with a surprised air; he seemed to wonder that she should be enjoying herself. Mina was annoyed, and set herself to be merry; a glance from Lady Flora converted vexation into rage. She turned back to Theo; somehow Mr Disney had taught her how to like him--often a valuable lesson, if people would keep their eyes open for it.

"Everybody else I've met has been horribly afraid of Mr Disney," she said in a half-whisper.

"Oh, you aren't in a funk of a man who's smacked your head!"

That seemed a better paradox than most. Mina nodded approvingly.

"What does the Bank say about Barililand, Theo?" called Disney. Lord Hove paused in the act of drinking a gla.s.s of wine.

"Well, they're just wonderin' who's goin' to do the kickin'," said Theo.

"And who's going to take it?" Disney seemed much amused. Lord Hove had turned a little pink. Mina had a vague sense that serious things were being joked about. Harry had turned from his hostess and was listening.

"That's what it comes to," concluded Theo.

Disney glanced round, smiling grimly. Everybody had become silent.

Barililand had produced the question on which Lord Hove was supposed to be restive. Disney laughed and looked at his wife. She rose from the table. Mr Disney had either learnt what he wanted or had finished amusing himself. Mina did not know which; no more, oddly enough, did Lord Hove.

Mr Disney was by the door, saying good-by to the ladies; he would not be coming to the drawing-room. He stopped Mina, who went out last, just before his wife.

"We've done all we could, Madame Zabriska," he said. "We must leave him alone, eh?"

"I'm afraid so. You've been very kind, Mr Disney."

"Better as it is, I fancy. Now then, Flora!" At this peremptory summons Lady Flora left Theo, by whom she had halted, and followed Mina through the door.

The dreadful moment had come. It justified Mina's fears, but not in the way she had expected. Two of the women left directly; the other two went off into a corner; her hostess sat down and talked to her. Lady Flora was not distant and did not make Mina feel an outsider. The fault was the other way; she was confidential--and about Harry. She a.s.sumed an intimacy with him equal or more than equal to Mina's own; she even told Mina things about him; she said "we" thought him an enormous acquisition, and hoped to see a great deal of him. It was all very kind, and Mina, as a true friend, should have been delighted. As it was, dolor grew upon her.

"And I suppose the cousin is quite----?" A gentle motion of Lady Flora's fan was left to define Cecily more exactly, and proved fully up to the task.

"She's the most fascinating creature I ever saw," cried Mina.

"Rescued out of Chelsea, wasn't she?" smiled Lady Flora. "Poor thing!

One's sorry for her. When her mourning's over we must get her out. I do hope she's something like Mr Tristram?"

"I think she's ever so much nicer than Mr Tristram." Mina would have shrunk from stating this upon oath.

"He interests me enormously, and it's so seldom I like Robert's young men."

So he was to be Robert's young man too! The thing grew worse and worse.

Almost she hated her idol Mr Disney. Personal jealousy, and jealousy for Cecily, blinded her to his merits, much more to the gracious cordiality which his wife was now showing.

"Yes, I'm sure we shall make something of Harry Tristram."

"He doesn't like things done for him," Mina declared. She meant to show how very well she knew him, and spoke with an air of authority.

"Oh, of course it won't look like that, Madame Zabriska."

Now the Imp's efforts had looked like that--just like it. She chafed under conscious inferiority; Lady Flora had smiled at being thought to need such a reminder.

"Men never see it unless it's absolutely crammed down their throats,"

Lady Flora pursued. "They always think it's all themselves, you know. It would be very clumsy to be found out."

In perfect innocence she sprinkled pepper on Mina's wound. Able to endure no more, the Imp declared that she must go back to Cecily.

"Oh, poor girl, I quite forgot her! You're going back to Blent with her, I suppose? Do come and see us when you're in town again." Was there or was there not the slightest sigh as she turned away, a sigh that spoke of duty n.o.bly done? Even toward Robert's caprices, even to the oddest people, Lady Flora prided herself on a becoming bearing. And in the end this little Madame Zabriska had rather amused her; she was funny with her airs of owners.h.i.+p about Harry Tristram.

Well poor Mina understood! All that the enemy thought was legible to her; all the misery that keen perceptions can sometimes bring was sure to be hers. She had spent the most notable evening of her life, and she got into her cab a miserable woman.

Theo was on the doorstep. "Escapin'," he confided to her while he handed her in. "Worst of these parties generally is that there's n.o.body amusin'," he observed as he did her this service. "Aren't you rather glad you haven't got to take on Flora's job, Madame Zabriska?"

No, at the moment at least Mina did not rejoice on that account.

When she reached home, there was nothing to change her mood. She found Cecily in a melancholy so sympathetic as to invite an immediate outpouring of the heart. Cecily was beautiful that evening, in her black frock, with her fair hair, her pale face, and her eyes full of tragedy.

She had been writing, it appeared; ink and paper were on the table. She was very quiet, but, Mina thought, with the stillness that follows a storm. Unasked, the Imp sketched the dinner party, especially Harry's share in it. Her despair was laced with vitriol and she avoided a kind word about anybody. This was blank ingrat.i.tude to Mr Disney, and to Theo too; but our friends can seldom escape from paying for our misfortunes.

"Those people have got hold of him. We've lost him. That's the end of it," she cried.

Cecily had nothing to say; she leant back in a limp forlornness while Mina expatiated on this doleful text. There came a luxury into the Imp's woe as she realized for herself and her auditor the extreme sorrows of the situation; she forgot entirely that there was not and never had been any reason why Harry should be anything in particular to her at least.

She observed that of course she was glad for his sake; this time-honored unselfishness won no a.s.sent from Cecily. Lacking the reinforcement of discussion, the stream of Mina's lamentation began to run dry.

"Oh, it's no use talking," she ended. "There it is!"

"I'm going back to Blent to-morrow," said Cecily suddenly.

It was no more than Mina had expected. "Yes, we may as well," she a.s.sented dismally.

Cecily rose and began to walk about. Her air caught Mina's attention again; on this, the evening before she returned to Blent, it had something of that suppressed pa.s.sion which had marked her manner on the night when she determined to leave it. She came to a stand opposite Mina.

"I've made up my mind. From this moment, Mina, Blent is mine. Up to now I've held it for Harry. Now it's mine. I shall go back and begin everything there to-morrow."

Mina felt the tragedy; the inevitable was being accepted.

"You see I've been writing?"

"Yes, Cecily." After all it looked as though the Imp were not to be cheated of her sensation.

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