Here is a rattling good story. Mr. Hope has often furnished us with tales answering that description before, but they were performances of a different order. Whereas his previous successes have been stories of incident, this is a novel of character. The vein of Zenda can easily be worked out, but the success of "Tristram of Blent" can be repeated indefinitely to a satisfied audience. It is the kind of story Anthony Trollope might write if he were abridged, reincarnated, brought up to date, and given a touch of the divine fire to vivify the carefully shaped clay of his puppets. Both in plot and workmanship the story is much better than any of Mr. Hope's former attempts in the same line. It seems to mark his achievement of mastery in this kind, and holds out the promise of an indefinite number of clever novels of social life to accompany the present generation on its way down the shady side of life.
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Tristram of Blent
Anthony Hope – His Life And Work
Tristram of Blent
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
By Frederick Taber Cooper
It is a sufficiently pleasant task to undertake to write a brief appreciation of Mr. Anthony Hope. The prevailing urbanity of his manner, the sustained sparkle of his wit, the agreeable expectation that he arouses of something stimulating about to happen, largely disarm criticism. Besides, he does not seem to demand to be taken too seriously; he is not a preacher or reformer, he is not trying to revolutionize the world; he is too well pleased with men and women as they actually are, to desire to make them something different. In short, he is a suave and charming public entertainer, and like all wise entertainers he alters the character of his program in accordance with the fluctuations of public taste. And being both versatile and farsighted he is usually in the van of each new movement. The God in the Car, his story of gigantic land speculations in South Africa, with the Herculean figure whom he chooses to disguise under the name of " Juggernaut," appeared in 1894, thus antedating by five years The Colossus, by Morley Roberts. Phroso, with its romantic setting among the islands of modern Greece, anticipated by a year Mr. E. F. Benson's analogous attempts, The Vintage and The Capsina. When the revival of the English historical novel was at its height, he succeeded once more in coming in ahead of his competitors, and Simon Dale, which appeared in 1898 and is a study of Restoration manners, with Nell Gwynn for its central interest, led the way for The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, issued in 1899, and F. Frankfort Moore's Nell Gwynn, Comedian, which was not published until 1900.
But although he so cleverly adapts himself to the trend of public taste, Mr. Anthony Hope is not an innovator; he adapts but does not originate. Yet it is no uncommon thing to hear him erroneously praised for having created two new and widely popular types of fiction, the Zenda type and that of The Dolly Dialogues. Now, The Prisoner of Zenda, as we remember at once when we stop to think, is not the first up-to-date sword and buckler story of an imaginary principality; it was preceded, by nearly a decade, by Stevenson's Prince Otto; and the only reason that it so often gets the credit of being the forerunner of its class is simply because it was done with a defter, lighter touch, a more spontaneous inspiration. Similarly, The Dolly Dialogues are not the first attempt to imitate in English the sparkle and the piquancy of the Gallic dialogue in the form that " Gyp " and Henri Lavedan have made familiar. Although it is quite likely that at that time Anthony Hope had never even heard of it, The Story of the Gadsbys had at least three years the start of The Dolly Dialogues, and even though it was done with a heavier hand, it succeeded in getting a greater effectiveness out of the type.
But, after all, statistics of this sort, while interesting to a person of precise and inquiring mind, have little or no bearing upon the sources of enjoyment which a surprisingly large number of people undoubtedly find in Mr. Hope's writings. And there is variety enough among them to suit all tastes. He began in a spirit of blithe and irresponsible romanticism; he has gradually come, in his later years, to look upon life in a rather matter-of-fact way and to picture, by choice, the more serious problems of life in the social world to which he belongs. Yet his novels, even the most ambitious of them, never suggest the ponderousness of a novel-with-a-purpose; he never forgets what is expected from a conscientious entertainer. And one reason why he so uniformly succeeds is that he is an exceedingly good craftsman; he has mastered the sheer mechanics of his art. It is never wise for a novelist, whatever his literary creed may be, to be wantonly scornful of technique. There are just a few erratic geniuses who, because they have in them certain big thoughts that are struggling for utterance and apparently cannot be uttered in the simple usual way, boldly break the established rules and make new ones to suit their needs. To draw an offhand parallel, they are somewhat in the position of a man who, although untrained in public speaking, is listened to indulgently because of the importance of what he has to say. But your public entertainer enjoys no such license; and the lighter and more irresponsible his theme the more perfect must be his execution. And it is because Mr. Hope possesses that magic touch of the born story teller, that such delightful triflings as The Dolly Dialogues and The Indiscretion of the Duchess seem to linger in the memory with perennial youth, while many another weightier volume has faded out with the passage of years.
Accordingly, Mr. Hope belongs to that order of novelists about whom it is not only more enjoyable but more profitable to gossip genially than to weigh strictly in the balance. It is so easy to become garrulous over volumes that have worn well and afford many a pleasant hour of relaxation. It would be purposeless to take up serially each one of his many volumes, analyze and pigeonhole it according to its relative value. The better and the franker thing to do is to admit that there are certain volumes by Mr. Hope which gave the present writer genuine pleasure, and certain others that gave him no pleasure at all, and that those falling under the first division are the only ones which it seems worth while to discuss. In his earlier period the mere mention of Anthony Hope conjured up scenes of spirited adventure, reckless daring, gallant heroes combining the good breeding, the patrician ease, the assured manner of the better class of young Englishmen possessing the double advantage of birth and education, who, nevertheless, despite their studied reserve and immaculateness of dress, are plunged by a whim of fate into adventures of extraordinary daring and sublime audacity, adventures that would have taxed the prowess of Dumas's Immortal Three. It is a clever formula, this trick of taking certain types of familiar everyday people straight out of prosaic actuality and compelling them, whether they will or no, to perform romantic deeds against a romantic background. This peculiar combination was certainly a happy thought. It appealed to that latent thirst for adventure which we almost all possess; it unconsciously flattered the reader with a new sense of daring, a feeling that he too, if thus suddenly and surprisingly transported into Zendaland, might similarly rise to the occasion and achieve great deeds. There is no purpose served by analyzing once again the story of The Prisoner of Zenda. It is one of those stories the artificiality of which stands out glaringly the moment one starts to lay its bones bare.
Any story which depends upon the chance resemblance of two human beings, a resemblance so close, so misleading, that even the wife of one of the two is at a loss to distinguish them, takes on, when stated briefly, apart from the glamour of the tale itself, an air of palpable falsity to life. And yet the fact remains that tens of thousands of readers have lost themselves, forgotten time and space, in their utter absorption in the dilemma of the Princess Flavia, who finds in Rudolph Rassendyl all the qualities which might have made it possible for her to love her husband, if only he had been as close a replica of Rassendyl morally as he was physically.
I do not mind admitting that personally I revert more frequently to The Dolly Dialogues than to any other volume by Mr. Hope. This is not merely because of the delicate touch and epigrammatic neatness for which they have been so universally praised. Superficially considered they are a series of encounters between a sparkling and fascinating little lady and a sedate and nimble-witted gentleman, whom it is insinuated that the Lady Dolly has jilted. Now, the real fascination about these brilliant exchanges of repartee lies chiefly in the subtle and yet elusive implications that we are always on the point of reading between the lines, and yet never quite get in their entirety. That Mr. Carter has long been a worshiper at the shrine of Lady Dolly, that he has many a time felt a pang of regret that his fortune in life has made him ineligible, that he considers her husband not half grateful enough to Providence and that his own assumed air of sentimental resignation has in it a little touch of genuine regret, all this we get pretty clearly. And yet, we are well aware, all the time, that Mr. Carter, in spite of an occasional twinge of envy, would not change his condition if he could; that, although he may not be precisely aware of it, he is already confirmed in his bachelor habits; that he likes his freedom from responsibility, his harmless, unprofitable daily routine, his favorite corner in his favorite club, his innocent philandering with various young women, married and unmarried. He may, at times, deceive the Lady Dolly into commiserating him and blaming herself as a thoughtless coquette, but never for very long at a time. The whole thing is a sort of grown-up game of make-believe in which the players get a curious transitory, almost illogical enjoyment in feigning broken hearts and blighted lives. And yet there is just enough truth underlying it all to suggest that Mr. Hope was capable of more serious work than he had yet done. There was, for instance, everywhere a pervading suggestion of the infinite number of contradictory motives and impulses that determine every human action, and the impossibility which every man and woman must admit to themselves of deciding just how much gladness and how much regret is entailed in every least little thing that they do.
Almost without warning Mr. Hope proved that the vague promise of more serious work was well founded, by producing what, I think, the sober judgment of posterity will recognize as his most ambitious and most enduring work, Quisante. Alexander Quisante, from whom the volume takes its name, is not an Englishman either by birth or ancestry. He comes of antecedents almost unknown beyond the fact that they are a mixture of French and Spanish. With scanty means he comes, an absolute outsider, preparing to lay siege to the political and social world of London. In every way he finds himself handicapped. The foreordained course of education through which the English ruling classes pass as a matter of course and by which their prejudices and points of view are determined, has not been his privilege. In addition to this he lacks that inborn refinement which sometimes makes up for good breeding and social experience. His taste is often exceedingly bad; his manner is alternately too subservient and too arrogant. Of the higher standards of morality he has no perception; he is the typical adventurer, unscrupulous, insincere, monumentally selfish. But, to offset all this, his intellect is quite extraordinary; his brain is an instrument marvelously under control, and he uses it at his pleasure, to bring the lesser intellects about him under his dominion. Above all, he has the gift of eloquence; and when he chooses to give full rein to his rhetorical powers, he can sway his audience at will, and thrill and sweep them with him through the whole gamut of human emotions. Of the men and women whom he meets, fully one-half are antagonized and repelled; the others give him an unquestioning, almost slavish devotion. But he has a personality which cannot leave negative results; it must breed love or hate.
The other character in the book who shares the central interest is Lady May Gaston, a woman who, by birth and training, participates in all those special privileges of rank and caste, all the traditions of her order from which Quisante is shut out. There is another man, one in her own class, who would be glad to make her his wife. He is in all respects the sort of man whom she is expected to marry; and she is not wholly indifferent to him. But she meets Quisante, and, from the first, comes under the spell of his dominant personality. There is much in him from which she shrinks. His social ineptitude, his faculty for doing the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, makes her shudder. Although fascinated, she is not blinded. She sees his vulgarities, she questions his sincerity, she even doubts whether he is deserving of her respect. Nevertheless, the spectacular, flamboyant brilliancy of the man dominates her better judgment, and in spite of her relatives' remonstrances, in spite of warnings from a member of Quisante's own family, she marries him, unable to resist the almost hypnotic spell cast over her by this man, who is something of a charlatan and something of a cad. The greater part of the book concerns itself with the story of the married life of this curiously ill-assorted couple; of his success in the public eye; of her gradual disillusionment, which, bitter though it is in its completeness, finds her somewhat apathetic, unable to feel the resentment that she knows she ought, unable to acknowledge that she regrets her choice. This, indeed, is the most interesting aspect of the book, the domination, mentally and morally, of a woman of rare sensitiveness and infinite possibilities by a man with whom companionship inevitably means deterioration.
The next of Mr. Anthony Hope's volumes, which personally appealed to the present writer, is entitled A Servant of the Public, and is enjoyable chiefly because of the tantalizing witchery of its heroine. Ora Pinsent is a young actress, who has taken London by storm. She has a husband somewhere, it is said, " whose name does not matter "; indeed, it matters so little that it does not prevent her from letting Ashley Mead make ardent love to her, one Sunday afternoon, though all the while she " preserves wonderfully the air of not being responsible for the thing, of neither accepting nor rejecting, of being quite passive, of having it just happen to her." Thus with a single pen stroke Mr. Hope has set the woman unmistakably before us. Throughout the book she practices the art of having things just happen to her, the art of dodging responsibility. With Ashley she drifts, dangerously one thinks, at first, until one sees how easily she checks his ardor when she chooses, with a nervous laugh, and a low whispered " Don't, don't make love to me any more now." She talks much solemn nonsense about her duty to the husband whose name does not matter, and about her intention to renounce Ashley, although one realizes that there is really nothing to renounce, nor ever will be. And when the time comes for her company to leave London and start on their American tour, here also she plays the passive role, neither accepting nor rejecting. It is only when the weary months of her absence are over and she comes back as the wife of her leading man, that Ashley begins to see her as she really is; only then that he feels her power over him has ceased; only then that he can say, " I no longer love her, but I wish to God I did! " It is not easy to convey an impression of a woman's charm, when it lies not in what she says, but in the way she says it; not in what she does, but in the way she does it. But this is precisely what Anthony Hope has done triumphantly in his portraiture of Ora Pinsent, Ora, with her upturned face, with its habitual expression of expecting to be kissed, is one of the heroines in contemporary fiction that will not easily be forgotten.
Helena's Path deserves something more than a passing word of commendation, for it is an excellent example of Mr. Hope's deftness in doing a very slight thing extremely well. It has an outward framework of actuality, the atmosphere of present day English country life; yet into this he has infused a certain spirit of old-time chivalry and homage that gives to his whole picture something of the grace and charm of a Watteau landscape. The whole theme of the volume, which is scarcely more than a novelette, concerns itself with a right of way. The hero's estates lie somewhere on the east coast of England; but between his land and the strip of beach where he and his fathers before him have for generations been in the habit of bathing lies the property which the heroine has recently purchased; and, unaware of any right of way, she closes up the gate through which it is his habit to pass for his daily swim. He writes courteously but firmly, insisting on his right. She answers in the same spirit, emphatically denying it. He refuses to be robbed of his legal rights, even by a pretty woman; she refuses to yield, at a command, what she would have graciously granted to a prayer. As neither side chooses to adopt legal measures, a state of mimic war ensues, in which he continues to invade the enemy's territory, while she continues to barricade and entrench. And all the while, although they have not once met face to face, each is quietly falling in love with the other, so that when finally honorable terms of peace are concluded, it is already a foregone conclusion that the whole dainty little comedy will end with oaths of fealty and bestowal of favors worthy of a knight and a lady of the olden times.
With the passage of years, however, the author of The Dotty Dialogues has tended to give us fewer and fewer of these dainty trifles and more and more of his serious and careful social studies. In this class belongs The Great Miss Driver, and there is no exaggeration in saying that since the publication of Quisante it is easily the biggest, best-rounded, and altogether worthiest book he has written. And yet, the first thing you are apt to think of is that the germ idea of the story goes straight back to The Dolly Dialogues; that in a superficial way, yes, and perhaps in a deeper way, too, there is a certain rather absurd similarity between them; just as though the author, having once made a pleasant little comedy out of a certain situation, had ever since been turning over in his mind the possibility of using it in a bigger and more serious way, until eventually he evolved the present volume. Not that Jennie Driver, heiress to Breysgate Priory, bears any close resemblance to Lady Mickleham beyond the very feminine desire for conquest, any more than the Mr. Austin of the one story is a close relative of Mr. Carter in the other. The resemblance lies in this, that both stories are told in the first person by the man who in his secret heart loves the woman of whom he writes, but knows that because he is poor, because he has the natural instinct of an old bachelor, because, also, she has given her heart elsewhere, he must remain content to look upon her joys and sorrows in the capacity of a friend, and not that of a lover. To this extent The Great Miss Driver may be defined as The Dolly Dialogues rendered in a different tempo.
Yet, such a definition gives no hint of the strength, the variety, the vital interest of this story. In the character of Jennie Driver Mr. Hope has given us a woman whose ruling passion is to hold sway, to fascinate and bend to her will every one who comes within her sphere. And because of this desire she can never bear to lose the allegiance of any man, no matter how mean and unworthy he has proved himself; and herein lies the source of her life's tragedy. She is not content to be merely the richest woman in the county, to play the part of Lady Bountiful, and build memorials and endow institutions with fabulous sums; she wants also to be a social leader with undisputed right to take precedence over all the other ladies of the community, and this she could do if she married Lord Fillingford, whom she respects, and who badly needs her fortune; but not if she should marry Leonard Octon, big, brusque, rather brutal, who is cut by the whole county, and whom she happens to love. It is a rather unique situation in fiction for a woman to be forced into publicly slighting the one man on earth that she cares for; still more unique for a woman who is pledged to marry one man to be secretly meeting the other man, and thus atoning for deliberately cutting him whenever they meet in public. And, surely, it was a rather audacious thing for Mr. Hope to attempt to make us feel that in spite of her double-dealing Jennie Driver is a rather big and fine and splendid sort of woman; that she would have kept faith with Fillingford had he been big enough to trust her when appearances were heavily against her; and that in defying convention and scandalizing the little world she lives in by fleeing with Octon to Paris, she is doing the one big, brave, inevitable act. Yet, that is precisely what the author does succeed in making us feel; and when because Fate intervenes and wrecks the last chance of Jennie's happiness through the death of Octon, we not only sympathize with her bitterness toward the narrow-minded social circle that had forced her lover into exile, but we also glory with her in the big, carefully planned and altogether adequate revenge by which she forces the county to pay tardy homage to the name of Octon.
Notwithstanding the statement made at the beginning of this chapter, to the effect that Mr. Anthony Hope does not write problem novels, the volume entitled Mrs. Maxon Protests comes critically near the border-line. Mrs. Maxon is simply one more young woman who has discovered marriage to be something vastly different from what she had imagined; and her difficulty is of the variety which she regards as almost humiliatingly commonplace namely, incompatibility. Her husband happens to be one of those narrow, self-satisfied, dictatorial men, with old-fashioned ideas about women in general and a rooted conviction that a man has a high moral responsibility for his wife's conduct and must mould her in all fashions to his own way of thinking. Mrs. Maxon bears the strain for five years; then she consults a lawyer. She learns that while she cannot get a divorce in England, she can leave her husband and he cannot force her to come back. At the time of their separation, or to be more accurate, her desertion of him for Maxon refuses to take the matter seriously there is no other man in her life; but in the weeks that follow during which she stays at the country home of some friends with lax ideas of life and a houseful of curious and often irregular people, she suddenly surprises herself by falling in love with a certain Godfrey Ledstone and promptly scandalizes society by eloping with him openly and unashamed. The rest of the book traces, with a clear-sightedness that Mr. Hope has not always shown in his books, the subsequent career of a woman who thinks that by the force of her own example she can bring the whole world over to her way of thinking. He does not spare us any of her disillusions, her humiliations, her heartache and loneliness. But through it all she is learning, strangely and cruelly learning, much that is exceedingly good for her. She is learning, for instance, that charity and sympathy and understanding are often found where least expected. She is learning, too, that there are many other standards in this world as well as her own and that they are just as reasonable and perhaps nobler. She learns that one of the best men she has ever had the good fortune to meet, loving her, pitying her, utterly disapproving of her, would nevertheless have made her his wife in spite of the scandal that had preceded and followed her divorce but for one reason: he is an army officer, and a woman with a taint upon her name would lower the social tone of his regiment and be in some degree a menace to the moral tone of the younger set. It is a temptation to analyze at some length the separate episodes of this rather unusual book throughout the years while Mrs. Maxon is slowly finding her way out of the quagmire of her own making into a belated peace and happiness. Yet, after all, what the book stands for is so admirably summed up in the concluding paragraph that one cannot do it a greater service than to close with one brief quotation. It is a satisfaction to find a book written upon this theme which, while recognizing that there is much to be said on both sides, shows neither vindictiveness toward the woman nor a misplaced championship that would exalt her into a martyr.
In the small circle of those with whom she had shared the issues of destiny she had unsettled much; of a certainty she had settled nothing. Things were just as much in solution as ever; the welter was not abated. Man being imperfect, laws must be made. Man being imperfect, laws must be broken or ever new laws will be made. Winnie Maxon had broken a law and asked a question. When thousands do the like, the Giant, after giving the first comers a box on the ear, may at last put his hand to his own and ponderously consider.
Such are the volumes chosen as a matter of personal preference, out of the generous series that Mr. Hope has so industriously turned out, during a score of years. Another reader's choice might be different, and who shall say whether it would not be as well justified? Because, the first duty of a public entertainer is to entertain; and, taking this for a criterion, the most that any one can say of his own knowledge is, such-and-such volumes have entertained me. It is obvious that Mr. Hope's own preference is for his more serious work, that with the passage of years he has grown more willing to allow the books of his romantic period to fade from sight. Yet, by doing this, he challenges a harder competition, a stricter measurement against a host of rivals. There has been no one to give us a second Prisoner of Zenda, excepting Mr. Hope himself, notwithstanding that many another writer has tried his best. But it would be easy to name a dozen contemporary novelists who could give us the annals of another Servant of the People, or chronicle some further Intrusions of Peggy, and one or two who, perhaps, could do it better. Mr. Hope is not one of the great novelists of his generation; but he is never mediocre, and even in his uninspired moments never dull. His Prisoner of Zenda and his Dolly Dialogues were both gems of the first water; his Quisante certainly suffers nothing by comparison with George Gissing's Charlatan, separated from it by barely a year. As a chronicler of English manners he is certainly of rather more importance than Mr. E. F. Benson or Mr. Maarten Maartens, although not in the same class with Galsworthy, Bennett, or W. H. Maxwell. He will be remembered, I think, somewhat as William Black and Marion Crawford are remembered, as having preserved a wholesome optimism, an unshaken belief in human nature, and as having done his part to keep the tone of the modern novel clean and wholesome.
A Suppressed Passage
Mr Jenkinson Neeld was an elderly man of comfortable private means; he had chambers in Pall Mall, close to the Imperium Club, and his short stoutish figure, topped by a chubby spectacled face, might be seen entering that dignified establishment every day at lunch time, and also at the hour of dinner on the evenings when he had no invitation elsewhere. He had once practised at the Bar, and liked to explain that he had deserted his profession for the pursuit of literature. He did not, however, write on his own account; he edited. He would edit anything provided there was no great public demand for an edition of it. Regardless of present favor, he appealed to posterity—as gentlemen with private means are quite entitled to do. Perhaps he made rather high demands on posterity; but that was his business—and its. At any rate his taste was curious and his conscience acute. He was very minute and very scrupulous, very painstaking and very discreet, in the exercise of his duties. Posterity may perhaps like these qualities in an editor of memoirs and diaries; for such were Mr Neeld's favorite subjects. Sometimes he fell into a sore struggle between curiosity and discretion, having impulses in himself which he forbore to attribute to posterity.
He was in just such a fix now—so he thought to himself—as he perused the manuscript before him. It was the Journal of his deceased friend Josiah Cholderton, sometime Member of Parliament (in the Liberal interest) for the borough of Baxton in Yorkshire, Commercial Delegate to the Congress of Munich in '64, and Inventor of the Hygroxeric Method of Dressing Wool. No wonder posterity was to be interested in Cholderton! Yet at times—and especially during his visits to the Continent—the diarist indulged himself in digressions about people he encountered; and these assumed now and then a character so personal, or divulged episodes so private, that the editor had recourse to his blue pencil and drew it with a sigh through pages which he had himself found no small relief from the severer record of Cholderton's services to the commerce of his country. Mr Neeld sat now with blue pencil judicially poised, considering the following passage in his friend's recollections. The entry bore date Heidelberg, 1875.
"At the widow's" (Mr Cholderton is speaking of a certain Madame de Kries) "pleasant villa I became acquainted with a lady who made something of a sensation in her day, and whom I remember both for her own sake and because of a curious occurrence connected with her. A year and a half before (or thereabouts) society had been startled by the elopement of Miss T. with Sir R. E. They were married, went to France, and lived together a month or two. Suddenly Sir R. went off alone; whose the fault was nobody knew, or at least it never came to my ears. The lady was not long left in solitude, and, when I met her, she passed as Mrs F., wife of Captain F. The Captain seemed to me an ordinary good-looking reckless young fellow; but Mrs F. was a more striking person. She was tall, graceful, and very fair, a beautiful woman (I might rather say girl) beyond question. Talk revealed her as an absolute child in a moral sense, with a child's infinite candor, a child's infinite deceit, a child's love of praise, a child's defiance of censure where approval would be too dearly earned. She was hardly a reasonable being, as we men of the world understand the term; she was however an exceedingly attractive creature. The natural feelings of a woman, at least, were strong in her, and she was fretting over the prospects of the baby who was soon to be born to her. Captain F. shared her anxiety. I understood their feelings even more fully (in any case the situation was distressing) when I learnt from Madame de Kries that in certain events (which happened later) the lady and her child after her would become persons of rank and importance.
Now comes the scene which has stamped itself on my memory. I was sitting in Madame de Kries' parlor with her and her daughter—an odd dark little thing, five or six years old. Suddenly Mrs F. came in. She was in a state of agitation and excitement by no means healthy (I should suppose) for one in her condition. She held a letter in her hand and waved it in the air, crying, 'Sir R.'s dead, Sir R.'s dead! We can be married! Oh, we're in time, in time, in time!' Extraordinary as such exclamations may appear when the circumstances and my own presence are considered, I have repeated them verbatim. Then she sank down on the sofa, Madame de Kries kneeling by her, while the Imp (as I called the child, whom I disliked) stared at her open-eyed, wondering no doubt what the fuss was about. Directly after F. came in, almost as upset as Mrs F., and the pair between them managed to explain to us that she had received a letter from Sir R.'s servant (with whom she had apparently maintained some communication), announcing that his master had, after two days' illness, died of heart complaint on the 6th June. 'Think of the difference it makes, the enormous difference!' she gasped, jumping up again and standing in the middle of the room. She was so full of this idea that she did not spare a thought to the dead man or to anything which might strike us as peculiar or distasteful in her own attitude and the way in which she received the news. 'We shall be married directly,' she continued with that strange absence of shame or pretence which always marked her, 'and then it'll be all right, and nobody'll be able to say a word in the future.' She went on in this strain for a long while, until Madame de Kries at last insisted on her calming herself, and proposed to accompany her to her own house. At this point I made my excuses and retired, the Imp following me to the door and asking me, as I went out, why people had to be married again when other people died; she was a child who needed wiser and firmer bringing-up than her mother gave her.
I did not myself see Captain and Mrs F. again, as I left Heidelberg the next day, 22nd June. I learnt however from Madame de Kries that the wedding was hurried on and took place on the day following my departure; after this the pair went to Baden, and there, a fortnight later, the child—a boy—was born. I must confess that I was glad the young couple had avoided the calamity they were in dread of, although I am not sure that I had a right to wish that they should escape the full consequences of their fault.
My feelings were abruptly changed when, on paying a flying visit to Madame de Kries a few months later, I heard the sequel of the story, told to me in the strictest confidence, and in violation, I fear, of the old lady's pledge of secrecy. (She was a sad gossip, a failing with which I have no sympathy.) Sir R. E. did not, in fact, die on the date reported. He fell into a collapse, mistaken for death by those about him, and even by his medical attendant; after lying in this state for twenty-four hours he revived and lived nearly a week longer. A second letter, apprising Mrs F. of this fact, and announcing the correct date of his death as June 12th, reached her at Baden on the 28th. By this time she was married, but the validity of her new union (solemnized on the 23rd) did not appear to be affected. Nothing more was done, and the boy was born, as I have stated, early in July. Only after this event, which naturally engrossed the parents' attention, did the mistake into which they had fallen come to be discovered. As a matter of form, and to avoid doubts in the future, Captain F. wrote for the official certificate of Sir R.'s death. When it came, it came as a thunderbolt. Sir R. had been residing in a small Russian town near the frontier; he was interested, I understood, in some business there. The servant to whom I have referred was an uneducated man and could not write; he had picked up a little French but spoke no Russian. Wishing to inform Mrs F. of what had occurred, he had recourse to a professional letter-writer, who perhaps knew as little French, or almost as little, as himself, and was entirely ignorant of English. The servant gave the dates I have set down—June 6th in the first letter, the 12th in the second. The letter-writer put them down; and Mrs F. read and immediately accepted them. It did not cross her mind or Captain F.'s that the dates used were the ordinary Russian dates—were in fact 'Old Style,' and consequently twelve days behind the reckoning of Germany or of England. They might have been put on inquiry by the long interval between the date of the death as it was given and the receipt of the news; in their excitement they paid no heed to it, and it did not occur either to Madame de Kries or to myself to raise the question. Indeed who thinks of the 'Old Style' at this period of the world's history? Besides, I did not know at that time, and I do not think that Madame de Kries did, where the first letter came from; Mrs F. said nothing about it. But when the certificate arrived—about the middle of July, as I understood—the mistake was clear; for a note in the official's hand translated the dates into New Style for the benefit of the foreigners to whom he was supplying the document. Sir R. E., first reported dead on June 6th Old Style, otherwise June 18th New Style, had actually died on the 12th Old Style, or 24th New Style.
I have always thought this one of the most perverse little incidents which I have met with in the course of my life, and I think it such still, when I consider how easily it might have done no harm, and how serious, and indeed irreparable, its actual consequences were. The mistake as to the date of death was the first source of confusion, since it caused Mrs F.'s wedding to take place while her husband, Sir R., had still a day to live. But this error would not in itself have proved fatal, since there would still have been time to repeat the ceremony and make a valid marriage of it before the birth of the child. Here the misapprehension about the Old Style came in. Led to believe that, although Sir R. lived six days longer than was originally reported, yet none the less he died on June 12th, the F.'s did not have the ceremony repeated. But he died, in fact, on the 24th as his wife reckoned time, and her wedding to Captain F. on the 23rd was an idle and useless form. When the discovery was made, the boy was born—and born out of lawful wedlock.
What did they do then? I was pardonably interested in the matter, and inquired of Madame de Kries. She was reticent, but I extracted from her the information that they were hurriedly married again. One could laugh if the matter had not been so terribly serious to them and to their boy. For by now those events had actually happened, and Mrs F. was not indeed in possession of but next in succession to a considerable estate and an ancient title. Marrying again could not mend the matter. What else they did to mend or try to mend it, Madame de Kries professed not to know. I myself do not know either. There is only one thing to say. They could not alter the date of the death; they could not alter the date of the wedding; perhaps it would seem rather more possible to alter the date of the birth. At any rate, that is no business of mine. I have set the story down because it seemed a curious and interesting episode, but it is nothing to me who succeeds or ought to succeed to this or that title or estate. For my own part, I am inclined to hope that the baby's prospects in life will not be wrecked by the absurd Russian habit of using the Old Style.
To return to serious questions, the customs-barrier between——"
Mr Jenkinson Neeld laid down his friend's Journal and leant back in his chair.
"Really!" he murmured to himself. "Really, really!"
Frowning in a perplexed fashion, he pushed the manuscript aside and twiddled the blue pencil between his fingers. The customs-barrier of which Josiah Cholderton was about to speak had no power to interest him. The story which he had read interested him a good deal; it was an odd little bit of human history, a disastrous turn of human fortunes. Besides, Mr Neeld knew his London. He shook his head at the Journal reprovingly, rose from his chair, went to his book-case, and took down a Peerage. A reminiscence was running in his head. He turned to the letter T (Ah, those hollowly discreet, painfully indiscreet initials of Josiah Cholderton's! Mysteries perhaps in Baxton, Yorks, but none in Pall Mall!) and searched the pages. This was the entry at which his finger stopped—or rather part of the entry, for the volume had more to say on the family than it is needful either to believe or to repeat:—
"Tristram of Blent—Adelaide Louisa Aimée, in her own right Baroness—23rd in descent, the barony descending to heirs general. Born 17th December 1853. Married first Sir Randolph Edge, Bart.—no issue. Secondly, Captain Henry Vincent Fitzhubert (late Scots Guards), died 1877. Issue—one son (and heir) Hon. Henry Austen Fitzhubert Tristram, born 20th July 1875. The name of Tristram was assumed in lieu of Fitzhubert by Royal Licence 1884. Seat—Blent Hall, Devon——"
Here Mr Neeld laid down the book. He had seen what he wanted, and had no further concern with the ancestry, the ramifications, the abodes or possessions of the Tristrams of Blent. To him who knew, the entry itself was expressive in what it said and in what it omitted; read in conjunction with Josiah Cholderton's Journal it was yet more eloquent. By itself it hinted a scandal—else why no dates for the marriages? With the Journal it said something more. For the 20th is not "early in July." Yet Mr Neeld had never heard—! He shut the book hastily and put it back on the shelf. Returning to his desk, he took up the blue pencil. But on second thoughts this instrument did not content him. Scissors were to his hand; with them he carefully cut out from the manuscript the whole account of Mr Cholderton's visit to Heidelberg (he would run no risks, and there was nothing important in it), dated it, marked it with the page to which it belonged in the Journal, and locked it away in a drawer.
He felt resentful toward his dead friend Josiah Cholderton. If there be a safe pastime, one warranted to lead a man into no trouble and to entangle him in no scandals, it would seem to lie in editing the Journal of a Member of Parliament, a Commercial Delegate, an Inventor of the Hygroxeric Method of Dressing Wool. Josiah Cholderton had—not quite for the first time—played him false. But never so badly as this before!
"Good gracious me!" he muttered. "The thing is nothing more nor less than an imputation on the legitimacy of the son and heir!"
That same afternoon he went over to the Imperium to vote at the election of members. It struck him as one of the small coincidences of life that among the candidates who faced the ballot was a Colonel Wilmot Edge, R.E.
"Any relation, I wonder?" mused Mr Neeld as he dropped in an affirmative ball. But it may be added, since not even the secrets of club ballots are to be held sacred, that he bestowed one of a different sort on a certain Mr William Iver, who was described as a "Contractor," and whose name was familiar and conspicuous on the hoardings that screened new buildings in London, and was consequently objectionable to Mr Neeld's fastidious mind.
"I don't often blackball," he remarked to Lord Southend as they were sitting down to whist, "but, really, don't you think the Imperium should maintain—er—a certain level?"
"Iver's a devilish rich fellow and not a bad fellow either," grunted my lord.
Mr Cholderton's Imp
"Yes, madame, an elegant and spacious residence, Filton Park. The photo? Here it is, madame. And Notts is a very eligible county—socially speaking, remarkably eligible; I've sent several families to Notts. That photo, madame? Hatchley Manor, in Sussex. Yes, good position—a trifle low perhaps—I have heard complaints of—er—effluvium from the river—I'm anxious to give you perfect satisfaction, madame. It wouldn't pay me not to. I want you to come back, madame, another summer. I play for the break, if I may so put it—I beg your pardon! Yes, Birdcup is really a palatial residence—Hants, yes—a beautiful county. But between ourselves, madame, his lordship is a little hard to deal with. Dilapidations I refer to, yes—his lordship is exacting as to dilapidations. On the whole, I should prefer to recommend Winterhurst—near Maidstone—a pleasant town, Maidstone, and the clergy, I'm informed, extremely active and sympathetic."
"It's a very ugly house," remarked Madame Zabriska, throwing away the photograph of Winterhurst with a gesture of decided refusal.
Mr Sloyd stroked his sleek hair and smiled deprecatingly.
"With residences as with—er—ladies, beauty is only skin deep," said he. "A thoroughly modern residence, madame—hot and cold—south aspect." He stopped suddenly, perceiving that the queer dark little woman in the big chair was laughing at him. "I don't intend to convey," he resumed with dignity, "that the mansion is hot and cold, but the bath-rooms——"
"Oh, I know," she interrupted, her great black eyes still deriding him, while her thin face was screwed up into seriousness, as she regarded Mr Sloyd's blameless garments of springtime gray, his black-and-white tie, his hair so very sleek, his drooping mustache, and his pink cheeks. She had taken his measure as perfectly as the tailor himself, and was enjoying the counterfeit presentment of a real London dandy who came to her in the shape of a house-agent. "I don't want a big place," she explained in English, with a foreign touch about it. "There's only myself and my uncle, Major Duplay—he'll be in directly, I expect—and we've no more money than we want, Mr Sloyd."
Sloyd's eyes wandered round the large and handsome sitting-room in Berridge's Hotel, where he found his client established.
"Oh, it doesn't matter for a few days," she added, detecting his idea and smiling again.
This explanation of her position had the effect of making Sloyd's manner rather less florid and his language less flowery.
"Among second-class but eminently genteel residences," he began, "I could confidently recommend——"
"Where's this?" she interrupted, picking up another photograph, and regarding it with apparent liking. Looking at the foot, she read aloud, "Merrion Lodge, property of the Right Honorable Baroness Tristram of Blent." She looked up sharply at Sloyd.
"Ye-es, ye-es," said Sloyd, without much enthusiasm. "A very pretty neighborhood—a few miles from Blentmouth—rising place, Blentmouth. And it's a cheap house—small, you see, and old-fashioned."
"Not hot and cold?" she asked with apparent innocence.
Sloyd smiled uncomfortably. "I could ascertain all that for you, madame."
He waited for her to speak again, but she had turned thoughtful as she sat fingering the photograph. Presently she smiled again and said, "Yes, find out about Merrion Lodge for me, Mr Sloyd."
He began to gather up his pictures and papers.
"Is Baron Tristram alive?" she asked suddenly.
Sloyd recovered his air of superiority.
"Her ladyship is a peeress in her own right," he explained.
"She's not married then?"
"A widow, madame."
"And wasn't her husband Baron Tristram?"
"Her husband would not have been Lord—excuse me, madame, we say Lord—Tristram of Blent. Her son will succeed to the title, of course. The family reside at Blent Hall, only a few hundred yards from Merrion Lodge, a picturesque mansion in the valley. The Lodge, you perceive, stands high."
"I don't understand the family arrangements," remarked Madame Zabriska, "but I daresay I shall learn it all if I go."
"If you had a 'Peerage,' madame——" he suggested, being himself rather vague about the mysteries of a barony by writ.
"I'll get one from the waiter presently. Good-morning, Mr Sloyd."
Sloyd was making his bow when the door opened and a man came in. He was tall, erect, and good-looking. Both air and manner were youthful, although perhaps with a trace of artifice; he would pass for thirty-five on a casual glance, but not after a longer one.
"My uncle, Major Duplay," said the little woman. "This is Mr Sloyd, who's come about the house, uncle."
Duplay greeted the house-agent with grave courtesy, and entered into conversation with him, while Madame Zabriska, relapsed again into an alert silence, watched the pair.
The last thing that Madame Zabriska—the style sat oddly on her child-like face and figure, but Mina Zabriska at the age of twenty-eight had been a widow three years—desired to do was harm; the thing she best loved to make was mischief. The essence of mischief lay for her—perhaps for everybody—in curiosity; it was to put people in the situations in which they least expected to find themselves, and to observe how they comported themselves therein. As for hurting their interests or even their feelings—no; she was certain that she did not want that; was she not always terribly sorry when that happened, as it sometimes, and quite unaccountably, did? She would weep then—but for their misfortune, be it understood, not for any fault of hers. People did not always understand her; her mother had understood her perfectly, and consequently had never interfered with her ways. Mina loved a mystification too, and especially to mystify uncle Duplay, who thought himself so clever—was clever indeed as men went, she acknowledged generously; but men did not go far. It would be fun to choose Merrion Lodge for her summer home, first because her uncle would wonder why in the world she took it, and secondly because she had guessed that somebody might be surprised to see her there. So she laid her plan, even as she had played her tricks in the days when she was an odd little girl, and Mr Cholderton, not liking her, had with some justice christened her the Imp.
Major Duplay bowed Mr Sloyd to the door with the understanding that full details of Merrion Lodge were to be furnished in a day or two. Coming back to the hearth-rug he spoke to his niece in French, as was the custom with the pair when they were alone.
"And now, dear Mina," said he, "what has made you set your mind on what seems distinctly the least desirable of these houses?"
"It's the cheapest, I expect, and I want to economize."
"People always do as soon as they've got any money," reflected Duplay in a puzzled tone. "If you were on half-pay as I am, you'd never want to do it."
"Well, I've another reason." This was already saying more than she had meant to say.
"Which you don't mean to tell me?"
With a shrug he took out his cigarette-case and handed it to her.
"You and your secrets!" he exclaimed good-humoredly. "Really, Mina, I more than earn my keep by the pleasure I give you in not telling me things. And then you go and do it!"
"Shan't this time," said Mr Cholderton's Imp, seeming not a day more than ten, in spite of her smoking cigarette and her smart costume.
"Luckily I'm not curious—and I can trust you to do nothing wrong."
"Well, I suppose so," she agreed with scornful composure. "Did you ever hear mother speak of a Mrs Fitzhubert?"
The major smiled under his heavy mustache as he answered, "Never."
"Well, I have," said Mina with a world of significance. "I heard her first through the door," she added with a candid smile. "I was listening."
"You often were in those days."
"Oh, I am still—but on the inside of the door now. And she told me about it afterward of her own accord. But it wouldn't interest you, uncle."
"Not in its present stage of revelation," he agreed, with a little yawn.
"The funny old Englishman—you never saw him, did you?—Mr Cholderton—he knew her. He rather admired her too. He was there when she rushed in and—— Never mind! I was there too—such a guy! I had corkscrew curls, you know, and a very short frock, and very long—other things. Oh, those frills!—And I suppose I really was the ugliest child ever born. Old Cholderton hated me—he'd have liked to box my ears, I know. But I think he was a little in love with Mrs Fitzhubert. Oh, I've never asked for that 'Peerage!'"
Major Duplay had resigned himself to a patient endurance of inadequate hints. His wits were not equal to putting together the pieces or conducting a sort of "missing word," or missing link, exercise to a triumphant issue. In time he would know all—supposing, that is, that there were really anything to know. Meanwhile he was not curious about other people's affairs; he minded his own business. Keeping young occupied much of his time; and then there was always the question of how it might prove possible to supplement the half-pay to which his years of service in the Swiss Army entitled him; it was scanty, and but for his niece's hospitality really insufficient. He thought that he was a clever man, he had remained an honest man, and he saw no reason why Fortune should not some day make him a comfortable man; she had never done so yet, having sent him into the world as the fifth child of a Protestant pastor in a French-speaking canton, and never having given him so much as a well-to-do relative (even Madame de Kries' villa was on a modest scale) until Mina married Adolf Zabriska and kept that gentleman's money although she had the misfortune to lose his company. His death seemed to Duplay at least no great calamity; that he had died childless did not appear to have disappointed Mina and was certainly no ground of complaint on her uncle's part.
Presumably Mr Sloyd's inquiries elicited satisfactory information; perhaps Mina was not hard to please. At all events, a week later she and the Major got out at Blentmouth station and found Sloyd himself waiting to drive with them to Merrion Lodge; he had insisted on seeing them installed; doubtless he was, as he put it, playing for the break again. He sat in the landau with his back to the horses and pointed out the features of interest on the road; his couple of days' stay in the neighborhood seemed to have made him an old inhabitant.
"Five hundred population five years ago," he observed, waving his hand over Blentmouth in patronizing encouragement. "Two thousand winter, three five summer months now—largely due to William Iver, Esquire, of Fairholme—we shall pass Fairholme directly—a wealthy gentleman who takes great interest in the development of the town."
It was all Greek to the Major, but he nodded politely. Mina was looking about her with keen eyes.
"That's Fairholme," Sloyd went on, as they came to a large and rather new house situated on the skirts of Blentmouth. "Observe the glass—those houses cost thousands of pounds—grows peaches all the year, they tell me. At this point, Madame Zabriska, we turn and pursue the road by the river." And so he ceased not to play guide-book till he landed them at the door of Merrion Lodge itself, after a slow crawl of a quarter of a mile uphill. Below them in the valley lay the little Blent, sparkling in the sunshine of a summer afternoon, and beyond the river, facing them on the opposite bank, no more perhaps than five hundred yards away, was Blent Hall. Mina ran to the parapet of the levelled terrace on which the Lodge stood, and looked down. Blent Hall made three sides of a square of old red-brick masonry, with a tower in the centre; it faced the river, and broad gravel-walks and broader lawns of level close-shaven turf ran down to the water's edge.
"Among the minor seats of the nobility Blent is considered a very perfect example," she heard Sloyd say to the Major, who was unobtrusively but steadily urging him in the direction of the landau. She turned to bid him good-by, and he came up to her, hat in hand.
"Thank you. I like the place," she said. "Do you—do you think we shall make acquaintance with the people at Blent Hall?"
"Her ladyship's in poor health, I hear, but I should imagine she would make an effort to call or at least send cards. Good-by, madame."
Duplay succeeded in starting the zealous man on his homeward journey and then went into the house, Mina remaining still outside, engaged in the contemplation of her new surroundings, above all of Blent Hall, which was invested with a special interest for her eyes. It was the abode of Mrs Fitzhubert.
With a little start she turned to find a young man standing just on the other side of the parapet; she had not noticed his approach till he had given a low cough to attract her attention. As he raised his hat her quick vision took him in as it were in a complete picture—the thin yet well-made body, the slight stoop in the shoulders, the high forehead bordered with thick dark hair growing in such a shape that the brow seemed to rise almost to a peak, a long nose, a sensitive mouth, a pointed chin, dark eyes with downward lids. The young man—she would have guessed him at twenty-two or three—had a complete composure of manner; somehow she felt herself in the presence of the lord of the soil—an absurd thing to feel, she told herself.
"Madame Zabriska? My mother, Lady Tristram, has sent me to bid you welcome in her name, but not to disturb you by coming in so soon after your journey. It is our tradition to welcome guests at the moment of their arrival."
He spoke rather slowly, in a pleasant voice, but with something in his air that puzzled Mina. It seemed like a sort of watchfulness—not a slyness (that would have fitted so badly with the rest of him), but perhaps one might say a wariness—whether directed against her or himself it was too soon for her even to conjecture.
Still rather startled, she forgot to express her thanks, and said simply:
"You're Mr Fitzhubert Tristram?"
"Mr Tristram," he corrected her; and she noticed now for the first time the slow-moving smile which soon became his leading characteristic in her thoughts. It took such a time to spread, it seemed to feel its way; but it was a success when it came. "I use my father's name only as a Christian name now. Tristram is my surname; that also, if I may repeat myself, is one of our traditions."
"What, to change your names? The men, I mean?" she asked, laughing a little.
"For anybody in the direct line to take the name of Tristram—so that, in spite of the failure of male heirs from time to time, the Tristrams of Blent should always be Tristrams, you know, and not Fitzhuberts, or Leighs, or Merrions——"
"My great-great—I forget how many greats—grandfather was a Merrion and——"
"Built this house?"
"Oh, no—a house where this stands. The old house was burnt down in '95."
"As recently as that?" she exclaimed in surprise.
"1795," he explained, "and this house was run up then."
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