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Tristram of Blent Part 67

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"My dear Janie----"

"He may not want to give her time to think. It's not a good match for her now, is it?"

"I--I can't think that Harry Tristram would----"

"Well, Neeld," said Iver judicially, "I'm not so sure. Master Harry can play a deep game when he likes. I know that very well--and to my cost too."

What Janie hinted and Iver did not discard was a view which found some supporters; and where it was entertained, poor Mina Zabriska's character was gone. Miss S. herself was all but caught by the idea, and went so far as to say that she had never thought highly of Madame Zabriska, while the Major was known to be impecunious. There was a nefariousness about the new suggestion that proved very attractive in Blentmouth.

Late in the day came fresh tidings, new fuel for the flames. Mr Gainsborough had driven again into Blentmouth and taken the train for London. Two portmanteaus and a wicker-crate, plausibly conjectured to contain between them all his worldly possessions, had accompanied him on the journey. He was leaving Blent then, if not for ever, at least for a long while. He had evaded notice in his usual fas.h.i.+on, and nearly driven over Miss S. when she tried to get in the way. Miss S. was partly consoled by a bit of luck that followed. She met Mina's cook, come down from Merrion to buy household stores; her mistress was to return to her own house on the morrow! There seemed no need to search for inferences.

They leapt to light. Either Blent was to be shut up, or it was to receive a wedded pair. On this alternative the factions split, and the battle was furious. Mrs Trumbler definitely fought Miss S. for the first time in her life. On one point only the whole town agreed; it was being cheated--either out of the wedding which was its right, or else out of the ball in the winter to which Miss S. had irrevocably committed Lady Tristram. The popularity of Blent fell to nothing in the neighborhood.

The next morning Mr Neeld gained the reward of virtue, and became a hero in spite of his discretion. At breakfast he received a telegram. Times were critical, and all eyes were on him as he read, and re-read, and frowned perplexedly. Then he turned to Iver.

"Can you let me have a trap this afternoon, Iver?"

"Of course, of course. But you're not going to leave us, I hope?"

"Only just for the evening; I--in fact I have to go to Blent."

There was a moment's silence. Glances were exchanged, while Neeld made half-hearted efforts to grapple with an egg. Then Bob Broadley broke out with a laugh,

"Oh, hang it all, out with it, Mr Neeld!"

"Well, I'm not told to be silent; and it must become known immediately.

Madame Zabriska telegraphs to me that they are to be married early this morning, and will come to Blent by the 1.30 train. She herself leaves by the 11 o'clock, will be there at five, and wishes me to join her."

"By Jove, he's done it then!" exclaimed Iver.

Everybody looked very solemn except Neeld, who was sadly confused.

"Dear, dear!" murmured Mrs Iver.

"She must be very much in love with him," remarked Janie.

"It's his conduct more than hers which needs explanation," Iver observed dryly. "And what do they want you for, Neeld?" If his tone and his question were not very flattering, they were excused by the obvious fact that there was no sort of reason for wanting Mr Neeld--or at any rate seemed to all that party to be none.

"Oh--er--why--why no doubt it's--it's only a fancy of Mina Zabriska's."

"A very queer fancy," said Janie Iver coldly. It was really a little annoying that old Mr Neeld should be the person wanted at Blent.

"I'll drive you over," Bob kindly volunteered.

"Er--thank you, Broadley, but she asks me to come alone."

"Well, I'm hanged!" muttered Bob, who had seen a chance of being in at the death.

They were coming straight down to Blent. That fact a.s.sumed an important place in Neeld's review of the situation. And his presence was requested. He put these two things together. They must mean that the secret was to be told that evening at Blent, and that he was to be vouched as evidence, if by chance Cecily asked for it. On the very day of the wedding the truth was to be revealed. In ignorance, perhaps in her own despite, she had been made in reality what she had conceived herself to be; to-day she was Lady Tristram in law. Now she was to be told. Neeld saw the choice that would be laid before her, and, at the same time, the use that had been made of his silence. He fell into a sore puzzle. Yes, Harry could play a deep game when he chose.

"It's quite impossible to justify either the use he's made of me or the way he's treated her," he concluded sadly. "I shall speak very seriously to him about it." But he knew that the serious speaking, however comforting it might be to himself as a protest, would fall very lightly on Harry Tristram's ears; their listening would be for the verdict of another voice.

"Do you think Disney will repeat his offer--will give him a chance of reconsidering now?" asked Iver, who had heard of that affair from Lord Southend.

"I'm sure he wouldn't accept anything," Neeld answered with remarkable prompt.i.tude and conviction. It was a luxury to find an opportunity of speaking the truth.

"The least he could do would be to leave that to her."

"She'd say just the same," Neeld a.s.sured him. "I'm convinced there'll be no question of anything of the kind."

"Then it's very awkward," Iver grumbled crossly.

In all his varied experience of the Imp--which included, it may be remembered, a good deal of plain-speaking and one embrace--Neeld had never found her in such a state as governed her this evening. Mason gave him tea while she walked restlessly about; he gathered that Mason was dying to talk but had been sore wounded in an encounter with Mina already, and was now perforce holding his tongue.

"They'll be here by seven, and you and I are to dine with them," she told him. "Quite informally."

"Dear me, I--I don't think I want----" he began.

"Hus.h.!.+" she interrupted. "Are you going to be all day with those things, Mason?"

"I hope I haven't been slower than usual, ma'am," said Mason very stiffly.

At last he went. In an instant Mina darted across to Neeld, and caught him by the arm. "What have you to tell me?" she cried.

"To tell you? I? Oh, dear, no, Madame Zabriska! I a.s.sure you----"

"Oh, there's no need for that! Harry said you were to tell me before they arrived; that's why I sent for you now."

"He said I was to tell you----?"

"Yes, yes. Something you knew and I didn't; something that would explain it all."

She stood before him with clasped hands. "It's quite true; he did say so," she pleaded. "It's all been so delightful, and yet so strange; and he told me to be ready either to stay here or to go home to-night! Tell me, tell me, Mr Neeld!"

"Why didn't he tell you himself?"

"I only saw him alone for an instant after the wedding; and before it he didn't say a word about there being anything to tell. There's a secret.

What is it?"

He was glad to tell it. He had carried his burden long enough.

"We've all made a great blunder. Harry is Lord Tristram after all."

Mina stood silent for a moment. "Oh!" she gasped. "And he's married Cecily without telling her?"

"That's what he has done, I regret to say. And I take it that he means to tell her to-night."

Mina sank into a chair. "What will she do?" she murmured. "What will she do?"

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