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Tristram of Blent Part 66

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"You're laughing, Harry?"

"Why, yes, at anything just now."

"Yes, at anything," she murmured. "I could laugh--or cry--at anything just now."

They came to the little bridge and pa.s.sed on to it.

"We talked here the first evening," said she. "And how you puzzled me!

It began for me then, dear Harry."

"Yes, and for me a little sooner--by the Pool for me. I was keeping you out of your own then."

"Never mine unless it could be yours too."

Fallen into silence again, they reached the road and, moved by the same instinct, turned to look back at Blent. The grip of her hand tightened on his arm.

"There's nothing that would make you leave me?" she whispered.

"Not you yourself, I think," said he.

"It's very wonderful," she breathed. "Listen! There's no sound. Yes, after tempests, Harry!"

"I am glad of it all," he said suddenly and in a louder tone. "I've been made a man, and I've found you, the woman for me. It was hard at the time, but I am glad of it. It has come and it has gone, and I'm glad of it."

He had spoken unwarily in saying it was gone. But she thought he spoke of his struggle only and his hesitation, not of their cause.

"You gave when you might have kept; it is always yours, Harry. Oh, and what is it all now? No, no, it's something still. It's in us--in us both, I think."

He stopped on the road.

"Come no farther. The fly's only a little way on, and while I see you, I will see n.o.body else to-night. Till the morning, dearest--and you won't fail?"

"No, I won't fail. Should I fail to greet my first morning?"

He pushed the hair a little back from her forehead and kissed her brow.

"G.o.d do so unto me and more also if my love ever fails you," said he.

"Kiss me as I kissed you. And so good-night."

She obeyed and let him go. Once and twice he looked back at her as he took his way and she stood still on the road. She heard his voice speaking to the flyman, the flyman's exhortation to his horse, the sounds of the wheels receding along the road. Then slowly she went back.

"This is what they mean," she murmured to herself. "This is what they mean." It was the joy past expression, the contentment past understanding. And all in one evening they had sprung up for her out of a barren thirsty land. Blent had never been beautiful before nor the river sparkled as it ran; youth was not known before, and beauty had been thrown away. The world was changed; and it was very wonderful.

When Cecily went into her the Imp was packing; with critical care she stowed her smartest frock in the trunk.

"I must be up early and see about the carriage," she remarked. "I dare say Mason----. But you're not listening, Cecily!"

"No, I wasn't listening," said Cecily, scorning apology or excuse.

"You people in love are very silly. That's the plain English of it,"

observed Mina loftily.

Cecily looked at her a minute, then stretched her arms and sighed in luxurious weariness. "I dare say that's the plain English of it," she admitted. "But, oh, how different it sounds before translation, dear!"

XXVIII

THE CAT AND THE BELL

Mr Gainsborough lost his head. He might have endured the note that had been left for him--it said only that his daughter had gone to town for a couple of days with Mina Zabriska; besides he had had notes left for him before. But there was Mason's account of the evening and of the morning--of Harry's arrival, of the conference in the Long Gallery, of the sandwiches and the old brown, of the departure of the ladies at seven o'clock. Mason was convinced that something was up; knowing Mr Harry as he did, and her late Ladys.h.i.+p as he had, he really would not like to hazard an opinion what; Mr Gainsborough, however, could see for himself that candles had been left to burn themselves out and that china had been broken in the Long Gallery. Availing himself dexterously of his subordinate position, Mason was open to state facts but respectfully declined to draw inferences. Gainsborough rushed off to the Long Gallery. There lay his bit of Chelsea on the floor--upset, smashed, not picked up! There must have been a convulsion indeed, he declared, as ruefully and tenderly he gathered the fragments.

Quite off his balance and forgetful of perils, he ordered the pony-chaise and had himself driven into Blentmouth. He felt that he must tell somebody, and borrow some conclusions--he was not equal to making any of his own. He must carry the news.

He deceived himself and did gross injustice to the neighborhood.

Fillingford is but twelve miles inland from Blentmouth, and there are three hours between eight and eleven. He was making for Fairholme. While yet half a mile off he overtook Miss Swinkerton, heading in the same direction, ostentatiously laden with savings-bank books. With much decision she requested a lift, got in, and told him all about how Harry had escorted Cecily and Madame Zabriska from Fillingford that morning.

The milkman had told the butcher, the butcher had told the postman, the postman had told her, and--well, she had mentioned it to Mrs Trumbler.

Mrs Trumbler was at Fairholme now.

"Mr Tristram had been staying with you, of course? How nice to think there's no feeling of soreness!" observed Miss S.

In Gainsborough at least there was no feeling save of bewilderment.

"Staying with us? No, I haven't so much as seen him," he stammered out.

Immediately Miss S. was upon him, and by the time they reached Fairholme had left him with no more than a few rags of untold details. Then with unrivalled effrontery she declared that she had forgotten to call at the grocer's, and marched off. In an hour the new and complete version of the affair was all over the town. Mrs Trumbler had got first to Fairholme, but she did not wrest the laurels from Miss S.'s brow. The mere departure from Fillingford shrank to nothing in comparison with the attendant circ.u.mstances supplied by Mr Gainsborough.

"They don't know what to think at Fairholme," Mrs Trumbler reported.

"I dare say not, my dear," said Miss S. grimly.

"They were dining there that very night, and not a word was said about it; and none of them saw Mr Tristram. He came quite suddenly, and went off again with Lady Tristram."

"And Mina Zabriska, my dear."

Mina complicated the case. Those who were inclined to believe, against all common-sense, that Cecily had eloped with her cousin--Why, in heaven's name, elope, when you have all the power and a negligible parent?--stumbled over Mina. Well then, was it with Mina Harry had eloped? Miss S. threw out hints in this direction. Why then Cecily? Miss S. was not at a loss. She said nothing, no; but if it should turn out that Cecily's presence was secured as a protection against the wrath of Major Duplay (who, everybody knew, hated Harry), she, Miss S., would be less surprised than many of those who conceived themselves to know everything. A Cecily party and a Mina party grew up--and a third party, who would have none of either, and declared that they had their own ideas, and that time would show.

Gossip raged, and old Mr Neeld sat in the middle of the conflagration.

How his record of evasion, nay, of downright falsehood, mounted up!

False facts and fict.i.tious reasons flowed from his lips. There was pathos in the valor with which he maintained his position; he was hard pressed, but he did not fall. There was a joy too in the fight. For he alone of all Blentmouth knew the great secret, and guessed that what was happening had to do with the secret. Harry had asked silence for a week; before two days of it were gone came this news.

"If they do mean to be married," said Janie, "why couldn't they do it decently?" She meant with the respectable deliberation of her own alliance.

"Tristram's a queer fellow," pondered Bob Broadley.

"I only hope he isn't rus.h.i.+ng her into it--on purpose. What do you think, Mr Neeld?"

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