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首页 » 经典英文小说 » All along the River » CHAPTER I.
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It had been raining all the morning, and it was raining still, in that feeble and desultory manner which presages a change of some kind, when the postman came with the long-expected Indian letter.

He was later than usual. It was nearly two o'clock, and Isola had been watching for him since one, watching with an unread book in her lap, listening for the click of the gate. She had been sitting by the open window, looking out at the wet landscape, the glistening hedgerow and dull grey river, with the great, green hill beyond, a steep slope of meadow land, dotted with red cattle, and so divided by hedgerows, as to look like a Titanic chessboard.

At last she heard the familiar tread of the postman's heavy boots, and saw his shining oilskin hat moving above the edge of the hollies, and heard the click of the iron latch as he came into the little garden.

She called to him from the window, and he came tramping across the sodden grass and put three letters into her outstretched hand.

One from her married sister in Hans Place. That would keep. One from an old schoolfellow. That would keep. And one—the long-looked-for Indian letter, which she tore open eagerly, and read hurriedly, devouring the close lines,[Pg 2] in the neat, black penmanship, with its decided up and down strokes, and legible characters, so firm, so strong, so straightforward, like the nature of the man who wrote the letter.

The tears sprang to her eyes as she came to the end, and her hands crushed the thin paper in a paroxysm of vexation or despair.

"Six months—perhaps a year, before he can come back, and I am to go on living here—alone, unless I like to send for a girl whose face I hardly know, to keep me company, and cheer me with her good spirits. I want no strange girls. I want no one's good spirits. I hate people with good spirits. I want him, and nobody but him! It is hard that we should be parted like this. I ought to have gone with him, in spite of all the doctors in Christendom."

She relented towards the letter which her feverish hand had used so badly. She smoothed out the flimsy paper carefully with that pretty little hand, and then she re-read the husband's letter, so full of grave tenderness and fond, consoling words.

He was with his regiment in Burmah, and the present aspect of things gave him no hope of being able to return to England for the next half-year, and there was no certainty that the half-year might not be stretched into a whole year. The separation could not be more irksome to his dearest Isola than it was to him, her husband of little more than a year: but not for worlds would he have exposed her to the risks of that climate. He took comfort in thinking of her in the snug little Cornish nest, with his good Tabitha.

Isola kissed the letter before she put it in her pocket, and then she looked round the room rather dolefully, as if the Cornish nest were not altogether paradise. And yet it was a pretty little room enough, half dining-room, half study, with handsomely bound books on carved oak shelves, and photographs and bright draperies, and cosily cushioned bamboo chairs, and a bird-cage, and a Persian cat. Nor was the garden outside flowerless, even on the threshold[Pg 3] of winter. The purple blossoms of the veronica were untouched by frost; there were pale tea roses gleaming yonder against the dark gloss of holly and laurel. There were single dahlias of vividest red, like flaming stars; and close under the open window, last splendour of departed summer, the waxen chalice of a golden lily trembled on its tall stem, and filled the room with perfume.

The rain was over—the monotonous drip, drip, which had irritated Isola's nerves all that morning, had ceased at last. She left the modest little lunch untouched upon the table, and went out into the hall, where her hat and jacket hung handy for any impromptu ramble. No need to look at one's self in the glass before going out of doors, at twenty years of age, and in such a place as Trelasco. Isola took her stick from the stand, a green orange stick, bought in the sunny South, on her way to Venice with her husband last year—a leisurely trip, which had been to them as a second honeymoon after a few happy months of wedlock. Then had come the sadness of parting, and a swift and lonely journey for the young wife—a lonely return to the Angler's Nest, Trelasco, that cosy cottage between Lostwithiel and Fowey, which Major Disney had bought and furnished before his marriage. He was a son of the soil, and he had chosen to pitch his tent in that remote spot for the sake of old associations, and from a fixed belief that there was no locality of equal merit for health, beauty, and all other virtues which a man should seek in his home.

Isola rarely touched that stick without remembering the day it was bought—a rainy day in Milan—just such a day as this, a low, grey sky, and an oppressive mildness of atmosphere. She remembered, with the sick pain that goes with long partings, how she and her husband had dawdled away an afternoon in the Victor Emmanuel Gallery, buying handkerchiefs and neckties, a book or two, a collection of photographs, and finally the orange stick.

She went out to walk down her depression before teatime, if possible. She went along a narrow path by the river, then[Pg 4] turned into a road that skirted those green pastures which rose sheer till the ragged edge of the topmost boundary seemed to touch the dim, grey sky. She passed the village inn, deadly quiet at this season and at this hour. She passed the half-dozen decent cottages, and the three or four genteeler houses, each in its neatly kept garden, and she walked with quick, light step along the wet road, her useful tailor-gown well clear of the mud, her stick striking the hedgerow now and then, as she swung it to and fro in dreamy thought.

A long, lonely winter to look forward to—a winter like the last—with her books and drawing-board, and her cottage piano, and the cat and the fox-terrier, and Tabitha for her daily companions. There were a few neighbours within a radius of half a dozen miles, who had been very civil to her; who called upon her, say once in six weeks; who sometimes invited her to a stately dinner-party, and sometimes at a suspiciously short notice, which made her feel she was wanted to fill a gap; who made her free of their tennis lawns; and who talked to her on Sundays after church, and were always very particular in inquiring for news from India. There was not one among them for whom she cared; not one to whom she would have liked to pour out her thoughts about Keats or Shelley, or to whom she would have confided her opinion of Byron. She was more interested in Bulwer's "Audley Egerton" than in any of those flesh and blood neighbours. She was happier sitting by her chimney corner with a novel than in the best society available within a drive of Trelasco.

She struck off the high road into a lane, a lane that led to the base of a wilder hill than that where the red cattle were grazing. The crest of the hill was common land, and dark fir-trees made a ragged line against the autumn sky, and the view from the summit was wide and varied, with a glimpse of the great brown cliffs and the dark, grey sea far off to the west, to that dim distance where the Dodman shut off the watery way to the new world. On the landward slope of[Pg 5] that wild-looking ridge was the Mount, Lord Lostwithiel's place, uninhabited for the greater part of the year except by servants, his lordship being the very last kind of man to bury himself alive in a remote Cornish fastness, a long day's journey from the London theatres, and the R.Y.S. Clubhouse at Cowes.

Who was Lord Lostwithiel? Well, in the estimation of Trelasco he was the only nobleman in England, or say that he was to all other peers as the sun to the planets. He belonged to Trelasco by reason of his large landed estate and the accident of his birth, which had taken place at the Mount; and, although his character and way of life were not altogether satisfactory to the village mind, Trelasco made the best of him.

Isola Disney climbed the hill, an easy matter to light-footed twenty. She stood amidst the tall fir columns, and looked down at the November landscape, very distinctly defined in the soft, grey atmosphere. She could see the plough moving slowly across the red earth in the fields below, the clumsy farm horses, white against the deep, rich red. She could see the winding river, bluish grey, between its willowy banks, and far off beyond Fowey there rose the wooded hills, where the foliage showed orange and tawny and russet between the blue-grey water and the pale grey sky.

She loved this lonely hill, and felt her spirits rise in this lighter atmosphere as she stood resting against the scaly trunk of a Scotch fir, with the wind blowing her hair. It was a relief to escape from the silence of those empty rooms, where she had only the sleepy Persian or the hyper-intelligent fox-terrier for company. There was a longer and more picturesque way home than that by which she had come. She could descend the other side of the hill, skirt the gardens of the Mount, by a path that led through the Park to a lodge gate on the Fowey road. It was one of her favourite walks, and she was so accustomed to seeing the shutters closed at the great house that she never expected[Pg 6] to meet any one more alarming than a farm-servant or a cottager's child.

There was a thick chestnut copse upon one side, and the wide expanse of undulating turf, with an occasional clump of choice timber, upon the other. The house stood on higher ground than the park, but was hemmed in and hidden by shrubberies that had overgrown the intention of the landscape gardener who planned them. Only the old grey-stone gables, with their heavy slabs of slate, and the tall, clustered chimneys, showed above the copper beeches, and deodaras, the laurels, and junipers, and Irish yews, and the shining masses of arbutus with crimson berries gleaming amongst the green. Isola had never seen that old Manor House nearer than she saw it to-day, from the path, which was a public right of way through the park. She knew that the greater part of the building dated from the reign of Charles the Second, but that there were older bits; and that about the whole, and about those ancient rooms and passages most especially, there were legends and traditions and historical associations, not without the suspicion of ghosts. The Mount was not a show place, like the home of the Treffrys at Fowey, and of late years it had been very seldom inhabited, except by certain human fossils who had served the house of Hulbert for two generations. She had often looked longingly at those quaint old gables, those clustered stone chimneys, likening the house amidst its overgrown shrubberies to the Palace of the Sleeping Beauty, and had wished that she were on friendly terms with one of those drowsy old retainers.

"I dare say if I were daring enough to open one of the doors and go in I should find them all asleep," she thought, "and I might roam all over the house without awakening anybody." She was too depressed to-day to give more than a careless, unseeing glance at those many gables as she walked along the muddy path beside the dripping copse. The chestnut boughs were nearly bare, but here and there clusters of bright yellow leaves were still hanging, shining[Pg 7] like pale gold in the last watery gleams of the sun; and though the leaves were lying sodden and brown among the rank, wet grass, there were emerald mosses and cool, green ferns, and red and orange fungi to give colour to the foreground, and to the little vistas that opened here and there amidst the underwood.

Those final yellow gleams were fading low down in the western sky as Isola turned her face towards the river and the Angler's Nest, and just above that pale radiance there stretched a dense black cloud, like a monstrous iron bar, which she felt must mean mischief. She looked at that black line apprehensively. She was three miles from home, without cloak or umbrella, and with no available shelter within three-quarters of a mile.

She quickened her pace, watching the fading light and lowering cloud, expecting thunder, lightning, hail, she knew not what. A sudden deluge settled the question. Torrential rain! That was the meaning of the inky bar above the setting sun. She looked round her helplessly. Should she dart into the copse, and try to shelter herself amidst those leafless twigs, those slender withies and saplings? Better to face the storm and plod valiantly on. Her neat little cloth gown would not be much the worse for a ducking; her neat little feet were accustomed to rapid walking. Should she run? No; useless when there were three miles to be got over. A brisk, steady tramp would be better. But, brave as she was, that fierce rain was far from pleasant. It cut into her eyes and blinded her. She had to grope her way along the path with her stick.

"Pray let me take you to the house," said a voice close beside her, a man's voice—low and deep, and with the accents of refinement.

Could one of Lord Lostwithiel's fossilized servants talk like that? Impossible. She looked up, as well as she could, under that blinding downpour, and saw a tall man standing beside the pathway with his back to the copse. He was over six feet two and of slim, active figure. He was pale,[Pg 8] and wore a short, dark beard, and the eyes which looked at Isola out of the pale, thin face were very dark. That was about as much as she could see of the stranger in the November dusk.

"Pray let me persuade you to come to the house," he said urgently. "You are being drenched. It is absolutely dreadful to see anybody out in such rain—and there is no other shelter within reach. Let me take you there. My housekeeper will dry your hat and jacket for you. I ought to introduce myself, perhaps. I am Lord Lostwithiel."

She had guessed as much. Who else would speak with authority in that place? She dimly recalled a photograph, pale and faded, of a tall man in a yeomanry uniform, seen in somebody's album; and the face of the photograph had been the same elongated oval face—with long thin nose, and dark eyes a shade too near together—which was looking down at her now.

She felt it would be churlish to refuse shelter so earnestly offered.

"You are very kind," she faltered. "I am sorry to be so troublesome. I ought not to have come so far in such doubtful weather."

She went with him meekly, walking her fastest under the pelting rain, which was at her back now as they made for the house.

"Have you really come far?" he asked.

"From Trelasco. I live at the Angler's Nest, a cottage by the river. You know it, perhaps?"

"Yes. I know every house at Trelasco. Then you are staying with Mrs. Disney, I presume?"

"I am Mrs. Disney."

"You?"—with intense surprise. "I beg your pardon. You are so young. I imagined Mrs. Disney an older person."

He glanced at the girlish figure, the pale delicate face, and told himself that his new acquaintance could scarcely be more than nineteen or twenty. He had met Major Disney, a man who looked about forty—a lucky fellow to have caught such a pretty bird as this.

[Pg 9]

They had reached the shrubbery by this time, and were hurrying along a winding walk where the rain reached them with less violence. The narrow walk brought them on to a broad terrace in front of the house. Lostwithiel opened a half-glass door, and led Mrs. Disney into the library, a long, low room, full of curious nooks and corners, formed by two massive chimney-pieces, and by the projecting wings of the heavy oak bookcases. Isola had never seen any room so filled with books, nor had she ever seen a room with two such chimney-pieces, of statuary marble, yellowed with age, elaborately carved with cherubic heads, and Cupids, and torches and festal wreaths, bows and arrows, lyres and urns.

A wood fire was burning upon one hearth, and it was hither Lostwithiel brought his guest, wheeling a large armchair in front of the blaze.

"If you will take off your hat and jacket, and sit down there, I'll get my housekeeper to attend to you," he said, with his hand upon the bell.

"You are more than kind. I must hurry home directly the rain abates a little. I have a careful old servant who is sure to be anxious about me," said Isola, devouring the room with her eyes, wanting to take in every detail of this enchanted castle.

She might never enter it again, perhaps. Lord Lostwithiel was so seldom there. His absenteeism was the lament of the neighbourhood. The things he ought to have done and did not do would have filled a book. He had been wild in his youth. He had once owned a theatre. He had done, or was supposed to have done, things which were spoken of with bated breath; but of late years he had developed new ambitions, and had done with theatrical speculations. He had become literary, scientific, political. He was one of the lights of the intellectual world, or of that small section of the intellectual world which is affiliated to the smart world. He knew all the clever people in London, and a good many of the intellectualities of Paris,[Pg 10] Berlin, and Vienna. He had never married; but it was supposed that he would eventually marry, before he was forty, for instance, and that he would make a great match. He was not rich, but he was Lord Lostwithiel. He was by no means handsome, but he was said to be one of the most fascinating men in London.

Isola pulled off her jacket slowly, looking about her all the time; and Lostwithiel forbore from offering her any assistance, lest he should intensify her evident shyness.

A man in plain clothes, who looked more like a valet than a butler, answered the bell.

"Send Mrs. Mayne, and bring tea," ordered his lordship.

What a slender, girlish form it was which the removal of the tweed jacket revealed! The slim waist and somewhat narrow shoulders betokened a delicacy of constitution. The throat was beautiful, milk white, the throat of Diana, and the head, now the hat was off, would also have done for Diana; a small classic head, with soft, brown hair drawn smoothly away from the low, white brow and rolled into a knot at the back. The features were as delicate as the complexion, in which there was no brilliancy of colouring, only a paleness as of ivory. The eyes were dark grey, with long, brown lashes, and their present expression was between anxiety and wondering interest. Lostwithiel was not such a coxcomb as to appropriate that look of interest. He saw that it was his house and not himself which inspired the feeling.

"You like old houses, I can see, Mrs. Disney," he said, smiling at her.

"Intensely. They are histories in brick and stone, are they not? I dare say there are stories about this room."

"Innumerable stories. I should have to ransack the Record Office for some of them, and to draw upon a very bad memory to a perilous extent for others."

"Is it haunted?"

"I am not one of those privileged persons who see ghosts; neither seventh son of a seventh son, nor of the mediumistic[Pg 11] temperament; but I have heard of an apparition pervading the house on occasions, and being seen in this room, which once formed part of a certain small monastery, put down by Henry VIII., and recorded in the Black Book. As one of the oldest rooms it is naturally uncanny; but as I have never suffered any inconvenience in that line, I make it my den."

"It is the most picturesque room I ever saw. And what a multitude of books!" exclaimed Isola.

"Yes; I have a good many books. I am always buying; but I find I never have exactly the book I want. And as I have no librarian I am too apt to forget the books I have. If I could afford to spend more of my life at the Mount, I would engage some learned gentleman, whose life had been a failure, to take care of my books. Are you Cornish, like your husband, Mrs. Disney?"

"No. I was born at Dinan."

"What! in that medi?val Breton city? You are not French, though, I think?"

"My mother and father were both English, but my sister and I were born and brought up in Brittany."

Lostwithiel questioned no further. He had a shrewd idea that when English people live for a good many years in a Breton town they have reasons of their own, generally financial, for their choice of a settlement. He was a man who could not have spent six months of his life away from London or Paris.

The housekeeper made her appearance and offered her services. She wrung the rain out of Isola's cloth skirt, and wiped the muddy hem. She took charge of the jacket and hat, and at Lostwithiel's suggestion she remained to pour out the tea. She was a dignified person, in a black silk gown and a lace cap, and she treated her master as if he had been a demi-god. Isola could not be afraid of taking tea in this matronly presence, yet she kept looking nervously towards the window in front of her, where the rain beat with undiminished force, and where the night was closing in.

[Pg 12]

"I see you are anxious to be on your way home, Mrs. Disney," said Lostwithiel, who had nothing to do but watch her face, such an expressive face at all times, so picturesquely beautiful when touched by the flickering light of the wood fire. "If you were to wait for fine weather you might be here all night, and your good people at home would be frantic. I'll order a carriage, and you can be at home in three-quarters of an hour."

"Oh no, Lord Lostwithiel, I couldn't give you so much trouble. If your housekeeper will be so kind as to lend me a cloak and umbrella, I can get home very well. And I had better start at once."

"In the rain, alone, and in the darkness? It will be dark before you are home, in any case. No, Mrs. Disney, if I were to permit such a thing I should expect Major Disney to call me out directly he came home. He is in India, I think?"

"He is with his regiment in Burmah."

"Do you expect him home soon?"

"Not very soon; not for six months, or perhaps longer. It was that which made me walk so far."

Lostwithiel looked puzzled.

"I mean that I was so disappointed by his letter—a letter I received to-day—that I went out for a long ramble to walk down my bad spirits, and hardly knew how far I was going. It has made me inflict trouble on you, and Mrs.——"

"Mayne. Both Mrs. Mayne and I are delighted to be of use to you. Order the station brougham, Dalton, immediately," to the man who answered his bell. "The carriage can hardly be ready in less than twenty minutes, so pray try to do justice to Mrs. Mayne's tea."

"It is delicious tea," said Isola, enjoying the fire-glow, and the dancing lights upon the richly bound books in all their varieties of colouring, from black and crimson and orange-tawny to vellum diapered with gold.

She was evidently relieved in her mind by the knowledge that she was to be driven home presently.

[Pg 13]

"If you are really interested in this old house you must come some sunny morning and let Mrs. Mayne show you over it," said Lostwithiel, establishing himself with his cup and saucer upon the other side of the hearth. "She knows all the old stories, and she has a better memory than I."

"I should like so much to do so next summer, when my husband can come with me."

"I'm afraid Major Disney won't care much about the old place. He is a native of these parts, and must have been here often in my father's time. I shall hope to receive you both, if I am here next October for the shooting—but there is no need to postpone your inspection of the house to the remote future. Come on the first fine morning that you have nothing better to do. Mrs. Mayne is always at home; and I am almost always out of doors in the morning. You can have the house to yourselves, and talk about ghosts to your hearts' content."

"Oh, my lord, I hope I know better than to say anything disrespectful of the house," protested Mrs. Mayne.

"My dear Mayne, a family ghost is as respectable an institution as a family tree."

Isola murmured some vague acknowledgment of his civility. She was far too shy to have any idea of taking advantage of his offer. To re-enter that house alone of her own accord would be impossible. By-and-by, with her husband at her side, she would be bold enough to do anything, to accept any hospitality that Lostwithiel might be moved to offer. He would invite Martin, perhaps, for the shooting, or to a luncheon, or a dinner. She wondered vaguely if she would ever possess a gown good enough to wear at a dinner-party in such a house.

After this there came a brief silence. Mrs. Mayne stood straight and prim behind the tea-table. Nothing would have induced her to sit in his lordship's presence, albeit she had dandled him in her arms when there was much less of him than of the cambric and fine flannel which composed his raiment, and albeit his easy familiarity might have invited[Pg 14] some forgetfulness of class distinctions. Mrs. Mayne fully understood that she was wanted there to set the stranger at her ease, and she performed her mission; but even her presence could not lessen Isola's shyness. She felt like a bird caught in a net, or fluttering in the grasp of some strong but kindly hand. She sat listening for carriage wheels, and only hearing the dull thumping of her own scared heart.

And yet he was so kind, and yet he so fully realized her idea of high-bred gentleness, that she need hardly have been so troubled by the situation. She stole a glance at him as he stood by the chimney-piece, in a thoughtful attitude, looking down at the burning logs on the massive old andirons. The firelight shining on a face above it will often give a sinister look to the openest countenance; and to-night Lostwithiel's long, narrow face, dark, deep-set eyes, and pointed beard had some touch of the diabolical in that red and uncertain glow; an effect that was but instantaneous, for as the light changed the look passed, and she saw him as he really was, with his pale and somewhat sunken cheeks, and eyes darkly grave, of exceeding gentleness.

"Have you lived long at the Angler's Nest, Mrs. Disney?" he asked.

"Nearly a year and a half; ever since my marriage, with just one interval on the Continent before Martin went to India."

"Then I need not ask if you are heartily sick of the place?"

"Indeed, I should not be tired of the cottage or the neighbourhood if my husband were at home. I am only tired of solitude. He wants me to send for his sister—a girl who has not long left school—to keep me company; but I detest school-girls, and I would much rather be alone than put up with a silly companion."

"You are wise beyond your years, Mrs. Disney. Avoid the sister, by all means. She would bore you to death—a scampering, exuberant girl, who would develop hysteria[Pg 15] after one month of Cornish dulness. Besides, I am sure you have resources of your own, and that you would rather endure solitude than uncongenial company."

Isola sighed, and shook her head rather dolefully, tracing the pattern of the Persian rug with the point of her stick.

"I am very fond of books, and of music," she said; "but one gets tired of being alone after a time. It seems such ages since Martin and I said good-bye in Venice. I was dreadfully unhappy at first. I stand almost alone in the world, when I am parted from him."

"Your father and mother are dead?" in gentlest inquiry.

"Oh no; they are not dead; they are at Dinan," she said, almost as if it were the same thing.

"And that is very far from Trelasco."

"They never leave Dinan. The kind of life suits them. Mamma knits; papa has his club and his English newspapers. People enjoy the English papers so much more when they live abroad than when they are at home. Mamma is a very bad sailor. It would be a risk for her to cross. If my sister or I were dangerously ill, mamma would come. But it would be at the hazard of her life. Papa has often told me so."

"And your father, is he a bad sailor?"

"He is rather worse than mamma."

"Then I conclude you were married at Dinan?"

"Oh yes; I never left Brittany until my wedding-day."

"What a pretty idea! It is as if Major Disney had found a new kind of wild flower in some cranny of the old grey wall that guards the town."

"You know Dinan?"

"There are very few places within easy reach of a yachtsman that I don't know. I have anchored in almost every bay between Cherbourg and Brest, and have rambled inland whenever there was anything worth seeing within a day's journey from the coast. Yes, I know Dinan well. Strange to think that I may have passed you in the street there. Do you sketch, by the way?"

[Pg 16]

"A little."

"Ah, then, perhaps you are one of the young ladies I have seen sitting at street corners, or under archways, doing fearful and wonderful things with a box of moist colours and a drawing-board."

"The young ladies who sit about the streets are tourists," said Isola, with a look of disgust.

"I understand. The resident ladies would no more do such things than they would sit upon the pavement and make pictures of salmon or men-of-war in coloured chalks, like our Metropolitan artists."

"I think I hear a carriage," said Isola, putting down her cup and saucer, and looking at her jacket, which Mrs. Mayne was holding before the fire.

"Yes, that is the carriage," answered Lostwithiel, opening the glass door. "What a night! The rain is just as bad as it was when I brought you indoors."

"If you will accept the use of a shawl, ma'am, it would be safer than putting on this damp jacket."

"Yes, Mayne, get your shawl. Mrs. Disney will wear it, I know."

The housekeeper bustled out, and Lostwithiel and his guest were alone, looking at each other somewhat helplessly, as they stood far apart, she in the glow of the hearth, he in the darkness near the door, and feeling that every available subject of conversation had been exhausted. Their embarrassment was increased when Dalton and a footman came in with two great lamps and flooded the room with light.

"I hardly know how to thank you for having taken so much trouble about me," Isola faltered presently, under that necessity to say something which is one of the marks of shyness.

"There has been no trouble. I only hope I got you out of that pelting rain in time to save you from any evil consequences. Strange that our acquaintance should begin in such an accidental manner. I shall be glad to know more of Major Disney when he comes home, and in the meantime[Pg 17] I hope I shall have the pleasure of meeting you sometimes. No doubt you know everybody in the neighbourhood, so we can hardly help running against each other somewhere."

Isola smiled faintly, thinking that the chances of any such meeting were of the slightest; but she did not gainsay him. He wanted to say something courteous no doubt, and had gone into no nice question of probabilities before he spoke. She had heard him described by a good many people, who had hinted darkly at his shortcomings, but had all agreed as to his politeness and persuasive powers.

"A man who would talk over Satan himself," said the village lawyer.

Mrs. Mayne reappeared with a comfortable Scotch plaid, which she wrapped carefully about Mrs. Disney, in a pleasant, motherly fashion. The rain had all been shaken off the little felt hat, which had no feathers or frippery to spoil. People who live in the west of England make their account with wet weather.

Lord Lostwithiel handed his guest into the carriage, and stood bareheaded in the rain to wish her good-bye before he shut the door.

"I shall be very anxious to know that you have escaped cold," he said, at the last moment. "I hope you won't think me a nuisance if I call to-morrow to inquire."

He shut the door quickly, and the brougham drove off before she could answer. She was alone in the darkness in the snug, warm little carriage. There was a clock ticking beside her, a sound that startled her in the stillness. There was a basket hanging in front of her, and an odour of cigars and Russia leather. There was a black bear rug, lined with white fleeciness, which almost filled the carriage. She had never sat in such a carriage. How different from the mouldy old brougham in which she occasionally went to dinner-parties—a capacious vehicle with a bow window, like a seaside parlour!

She leant back in a corner of the little carriage, wrapped in the soft, warm rug, wondering at her strange adventure.[Pg 18] She had penetrated that mysterious house on Black-fir Hill, and she had made the acquaintance of Lord Lostwithiel. How much she would have to tell Martin in her next letter! She wrote to him every week—a long, loving letter, closely written on thin paper, pouring out all her fancies and feelings to the husband she loved with all her heart.

She sighed as her thoughts recurred to the letter received to-day. Six months, or perhaps even a year, before he was to come back to her! Yet the letter had not been without hopefulness. He had the prospect of getting his next step before that year was over, and then his coming home would be a final return. He would be able to retire, and he would buy some land—a hundred acres or so—and breed horses—one of his youthful dreams—and do a little building, perhaps, to enlarge and beautify the Angler's Nest, and his Isola should have a pair of ponies and a good saddle-horse. He looked forward to a life of unalloyed happiness.


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