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首页 » 经典英文小说 » All along the River » CHAPTER II.
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Next morning was fine, a morning so bright and balmy that the month might have been mistaken for September. Isola ran down to the garden in her neat little morning frock and linen collar, and ran about among the shrubs and autumn flowers in a much gayer mood than that of yesterday. She loved her garden—small and modest as it was in comparison with the grounds and gardens of her county neighbours—and on a morning like this it was rapture to her to run from flower to flower, and from shrub to shrub, with her great garden scissors in her hand, and her garden basket hanging over her arm, clipping a withered leaf or a fading flower every here and there, or plucking up those little groundsel plants which seem the perpetual expression of the earth's fertility.

Alas! those pale tea-roses, those sulphur and flame-[Pg 19]coloured dahlias, meant the last crumbs of summer's plenteous feast. Soon winter and barrenness would spread over the poor little garden; but even in the chill dark heart of mid-winter those graceful conifers and shining laurels, the vermilion on the holly bushes, the crimson of the hawthorn berries would give beauty to the scene; and then would come the return of Persephone with her hands full of gold, the abundant gold of crocus and daffodil, jonquil and pale primrose, the rain of yellow blossoms which heralds the spring.

Half a year did not seem such an appalling interval—nay, even the thought of a year of waiting did not scare her so much this morning in the sunlight and fresh clear air as yesterday in the grey dim rain. What an improvement Martin would find in the garden, should he return before the end of the summer! How tall those Irish yews had grown by the gate yonder, a pair of dark green obelisks keeping stately guard over the modest wooden gate; and the escalonia hedge that screened the kitchen garden was two feet higher since the spring! How the juniper at the corner of the grass plot had shot up and thickened! Arbutus, laurel, ribes, everything had been growing as shrubs only grow in the south and south-west of England. What a darling garden it was, and how full of pleasure her life would be by-and-by, when Martin was able to settle down and buy land, and give her a little herd of Jersey cows! She had always envied the farmers' wives in that fertile valley of the Rance, where her childhood had been passed. And how delightful to have her own cows and her own farmyard, and a pony-carriage to drive up and down the hilly Cornish lanes and into the narrow little street of Fowey, and to ride her own horse by her husband's side for long exploring rambles among those wild hills towards Mevagissey!

She had only to wait patiently for a year or less, and that bright life might be hers. She had no frivolous vanities, no craving for dissipations and fine clothes, no fatal thirst for "smartness." Her ideas were essentially modest. She had[Pg 20] never envied her sister, who had married a rich stockbroker, and whose brand new red-brick house in Hans Place towered above surrounding Chelsea as much as her diamonds eclipsed the jewels of other middle-class matrons at the festal gatherings of South Kensington and Bayswater. Gwendolen had married for wealth. Isola had married for love. She had given her girlish affection to a man who was nearly thirty years her senior, her heart going out to him almost at the beginning of their acquaintance, first because he was a soldier, and in her mind a hero, and secondly because he was kinder to her than anybody else had ever been.

He was her first admirer. That delicate loveliness, as of some woodland flower, which distinguished Isola from the herd of women, had been still in embryo when Major Disney spent a summer holiday between Dinard and Dinan. She had scarcely ranked as a pretty girl two years ago. The slight figure was denounced as scraggy; the pale face was voted sickly; and the delicate features were spoken of as insignificant. Gwendolen's big fair face, with its healthy roses and lilies, her bright hair, and well-developed figure, had completely overshadowed the younger sister. Martin Disney was the first man upon whom Isola's low-toned beauty had any power. He was drawn to her from the very beginning. She listened so prettily, with such a bewitching modesty and almost tremulous pleasure, when he talked to her, as they sat side by side on the club ground at Dinard, watching Gwendolen playing tennis, superb in striped flannel of delicate pink and cream colour. He could hardly believe that those two were sisters. Isola was so slim and fragile, of such an ethereal prettiness, owing so little to colouring, and nothing to redundancy of form.

He was told that Miss Manwaring was engaged to one of the richest men in London. That, of course, was a gossip's fable, but it was an established fact that Mr. Hazelrigg had made his fortune in South American railways, water-works, and other public improvements, and could afford to make a liberal settlement.

[Pg 21]

He showed no indisposition to be generous to his handsome sweetheart. He settled seven hundred a year upon her, and told her that she could spend as much of that income as she liked upon toilet and pocket-money, and that he would invest her surplus advantageously for her.

The two sisters were married on the same day to husbands who were their seniors by more than twenty years in one instance, by thirty years in the other. Daniel Hazelrigg had passed his jubilee birthday when he led Miss Manwaring to the altar; but he was a fine-looking man, straight and tall, like his bride, with a ruddy complexion and iron-grey moustache, and an air and bearing that savoured rather of the mess-room than the city. He had been on the Stock Exchange ever since he came of age; but he had made it the study of his life not to look city or to talk city. Nothing could tempt him to expatiate upon the money market outside his office. He would talk sport, travel, politics—even literature, of which he knew very little—but not stocks and shares, Nicaraguas, or Reading and Philadelphias, Mexican Street Railways, or Patagonian Building Society.

Isola read her sister's glowing descriptions of dinners and routs, gowns by Worth or Cresser, suppers for two hundred people at a guinea a head, from Gunter, waggon-loads of cut roses from Cheshunt or Cheam, and felt no thrill of longing, no pang of envy. Life in the Angler's Nest might be dull; but it was only dull because Martin was away. She would have felt more solitary in Hans Place, had she accepted Gwendolen's invitation to spend her Christmas there, than she would feel in the cottage by the river, even with no better company than Tabitha, Shah, and Tim. She was essentially shy and retiring. Her girlhood had been spent in a very narrow world, among people whom she seemed to have known all her life; for while Gwendolen, who was six years older, and had been "out" for four years before she married, joined in all the little gaieties of the place, and was always making new acquaintance, Isola, who was not "out," spent her days for the most part in a half-neglected garden[Pg 22] on the slope of the hill that looks across the Rance towards the unseen sea. The view from that garden was one of the finest in Western France; and it was Isola's delight to sit in a little berceau at the end of a terrace walk, with her books and work-basket and drawing-board, all through the long tranquil summer day, in a silence broken by the sound of wheels and horses' feet on the viaduct and bridge two or three hundred feet below, or by the muffled music of the organ in the convent chapel.

Tim, the fox-terrier, and Shah, the Persian cat, were both on the lawn with their mistress this morning. They were not friendly towards each other, but preserved an armed neutrality. Tim chased every stray strange cat with a fury that threatened annihilation; and he always looked as if he would like to give chase to Shah, when that dignified piece of fluff moved slowly across the lawn before him with uplifted tail that seemed to wave defiance; but he knew that any attack upon that valued personage would entail punishment and disgrace. Isola loved both these animals—the cat a wedding-present from an old Breton lady in Dinan, the terrier her husband's parting legacy. "Take care of Tim," he had said, the day they parted on board the steamer at Venice.

The dog loved his mistress vehemently and obtrusively, leaping into her lap at the slightest sign of indulgence in her eye. The cat suffered himself to be adored, receiving all attentions with a sleepy complacency.

It was only half-past eight, and the world was looking its freshest. There was an opening in the shrubbery that let in a view of the river, and just in front of this opening there was a rustic bench on which Major Disney liked to smoke his after-breakfast pipe or after-dinner cigar. The garden contained very little over two acres, but it was an old garden, and there were some fine old trees, which must have shaded hoops and powder, and pig-tails and knee-breeches. Major Disney had done a great deal in the way of planting[Pg 23] wherever there was room for improvement, and he had secured to himself an elderly gardener of exceptional industry, who worked in the garden as if he loved it. Tabitha, again, was one of those wonderful women who know all about everything except books; and she, too, loved the garden, and helped at weeding and watering, in seasons of pressure. Thus it had come to pass that these two acres of velvet lawn and flower-bed, shrubbery, and trim, old-fashioned garden had acquired a reputation in Trelasco, and people frequently complimented Mrs. Disney about her garden.

She was proud of their praises, remembering the straggling rose-bushes and lavender, and unkempt flower-beds, and overgrown cabbages, and loose shingly paths in that old garden at Dinan, which she had loved despite its neglected condition. Her house at Trelasco was just as superior to the house at Dinan, as garden was to garden. She often thought of her old home, the shabby square house, with walls and shutters of dazzling white, shining brown floors, and worn-out furniture of the Empire period, furniture which had been shabby and out of repair when Colonel Manwaring took the house furnished, intending to spend a month or two in retirement at Dinan with his wife and her firstborn, a chubby little girl of five. They had lost a promising boy of a year old, and the colonel, having no reason for living anywhere in particular, and very little to live upon, thought that residence in a foreign country would improve his wife's health and spirits. He had been told that Dinan was picturesque and cheap: and he had put himself and his family on board the St. Malo steamer and had gone out like an emigrant to push his fortunes in a strange land. He had even an idea that he might get "something to do" in Dinan—a secretaryship of a club, an agency, or managerial post of some kind, never having cultivated the art of self-examination so far as to discover that he must have proved utterly incapable, had any such occasion presented itself.

Tho occasion never did present itself. The one English club existent at Dinan in those days was amply provided[Pg 24] with the secretarial element. There was nothing in Dinan for an Englishman to manage; no English agency required. Colonel Manwaring settled down into a kind of somnolent submission to obscure fortunes. He liked the old town, and he liked the climate. He liked the cooking, and he liked being out of the way of all the people he knew, and whose vicinity would have obliged him to live up to a certain conventional level. He liked to get his English newspapers upon French soil, and it irked him not that they were thirty-six hours old. He liked to bask in the sunshine on the terrace above the Rance, or in the open places of the town. He liked talking of the possibilities of an impending war, in very dubious French, with the French officers, whose acquaintance he made at club or café. He had sold his commission and sunk the proceeds of the sale upon an annuity. He had a little income of his own, and his wife had a little money from a maiden aunt, and these resources just enabled him to live with a certain unpretending comfort. He had a good Breton cook, and an old Scotch valet and butler, who would have gone through fire and water for his master. Mrs. Manwaring was a thoroughly negative character, placid as summer seas, sympathetic and helpless. She let Macgregor and Antoinette manage the house for her, do all the catering, pay all the bills, and work the whole machinery of her domestic life. She rejoiced in having a good-tempered husband and obedient daughters. She had no boys to put her in a fever of anxiety lest they should be making surreptitious ascents in balloons or staking their little all upon Zero at the "Etablissement" at Dinard. In summer she sat all day in one particular south window, knitting stockings for the colonel and reading the English papers. In winter she occupied herself in the same manner by the chimney corner. She devoted one day in the week to writing long letters to distant relatives. Once a day, weather permitting, she took a gentle constitutional walk upon the terrace above the Rance, with one of her daughters. Needless to say that in this life of harmless apathy she had grown[Pg 25] very stout, and that she had forgotten almost every accomplishment of her girlhood.

From the placid monotony of life in Brittany to the placid monotony of life in Cornwall, was not a startling transition; yet when she married Martin Disney, and bade her commonplace father and her apathetic mother good-bye, Isola felt as if she had escaped from stagnation into a fresh and vigorous atmosphere. Disney's character made all the difference. He was every inch a soldier, a keen politician, a man who had seen many countries and read many books, clear-brained, strong-willed, energetic, self-reliant. She felt what it was to belong to somebody who was capable of taking care of her. She trusted him implicitly; and she loved him with as deep a love as a girl of nineteen is capable of feeling for any lover. It may be that the capacity for deep feeling is but half developed at that age, and in that one fact may be found the key to many domestic mysteries; mysteries of unions which begin in the gladness and warmth of responsive affection, and which, a few years later, pass into a frozen region of indifference or are wrecked on sunken rocks of guilty passion. Certain it was that Isola Manwaring gave her hand to this grave, middle-aged soldier, in all the innocence of a first love; and the love with which he rewarded her confidence, the earnest watchful love of a man of mature years, was enough for her happiness. That honeymoon time, that summer of installation in the Cornish cottage, and then the leisurely journey to Venice in the waning brilliance of a southern October, seemed like one long happy dream, as she looked back upon it now, after a year of solitude.

The doctor had decided that, in the delicate health in which she found herself at the end of that summer, it would be dangerous for her to accompany her husband to India, more especially as a campaign in Burmah meant roughing it, and she would in all probability have been separated from him in the East; so they bade each other a sad good-bye at Venice, and Isola travelled quickly homeward, all possible[Pg 26] comfort having been secured for her on the way, by her husband's forethought. It had been a long, sad, sleepy journey, through a rain-blurred landscape, and she was glad when the evening of the fourth day brought her to the snug little dining-room in the Angler's Nest, where Tabitha was waiting for her with a cheerful fire and the amber-shaded reading lamp, and the most delightful little composite meal of chicken and tongue, and tart, and cream, and tea. It was pleasant to be among familiar things, after that long journey in stuffy ladies' carriages, with elderly invalids, whose chief talk was of their ailments. Pleasant to see the Shah's solemn sea-green eyes staring at her, and to have to repulse the demonstrative attentions of Tim, who leapt upon her lap and licked her face vehemently every time he caught her off her guard.

She was ill and broken down after her journey, and that sad parting, and she hid her tears upon Tabitha's comfortable arm.

"It will be at least a year before he comes back," she sobbed. "How can I live without him all that dreary time?"

Tabitha thought it was very hard upon the girl-wife, but affected to make light of it. "Lor, bless you, ma'am," she said, "a year looks a long time, but it isn't much when you come to grapple with it. There'll be such a lot for you to do. There'll be the garden. We ought to make ever so many improvements next spring and summer, against the master comes home. And there's your piano. You want to improve yourself—I've heard you say so—and you can get up all sorts of new tunes, and won't the major be pleased with you; and then—there'll be something else to occupy your mind before next summer comes."

That "something else" which was to have filled Isola's empty life with a new interest, ended in disappointment. She was very ill at the beginning of the new year, and Tabitha nursed her with motherly tenderness long after the doctor and the professional nurse had renounced their care[Pg 27] of her. She regained strength very slowly after that serious illness, and it was only in June that she was able to take the lonely rambles she loved, or row in her little boat upon the river.

Tabitha was a servant in a thousand, faithful and devoted, clever, active, and industrious. She had been maid to Martin Disney's mother for nearly fifteen years, had nursed her mistress through a long and weary illness, and had closed her eyes in death. Martin parted with that faithful servant with reluctance after the breaking up of his mother's household, and he told her if he should marry and have a house of his own—a very remote contingency—she must be his housekeeper. Love and marriage came upon him before the end of the year, as a delightful surprise. He bought the Angler's Nest, and he engaged Tabitha for the rest of her life, at wages which, beginning at a liberal figure, were to rise a pound every Christmas.

"As if I cared about wages, Mr. Martin," exclaimed Tabitha. "I'd just as soon come to you for nothing. I've got more clothes than will last my time, I'll be bound. You'd only have to find me in shoe-leather."

She had never got out of the way of calling her master by the name by which she had first known him, when his father and elder brother were both at home, in the old family house at Fowey. In all moments of forgetfulness he was still "Mr. Martin."

And now, in this bright November morning, Tabitha came out to say that breakfast was waiting for her young mistress, and mistress and maid went in together to the cosy dining-room, where the small round table near the window was arranged as only Tabitha could arrange a table—with autumn flowers, and spotless damask, and a new-laid egg, and a dish of honey, and some dainty little rolls of Tabitha's own making, nestling in a napkin, a breakfast for a Princess in a fairy tale.

There was only one other servant in the little household—[Pg 28]a bouncing, rosy-cheeked Cornish girl, who was very industrious under Tabitha's eye, and very idle when she was out of that faithful housekeeper's ken. Tabitha cooked and took care of everything, and for the most part waited upon her mistress in this time of widowhood, although Susan was supposed to be parlour-maid.

Tabitha poured out the tea, and buttered a roll, while Isola leant back in the bamboo chair and played with the Shah.

"I never knew him do such a thing before," said Tabitha, in continuation of a theme which had been fully discussed last night.

"Oh, it was very kind and polite; but it was not such a tremendous thing, after all," answered Isola, still occupied with the Persian. "He could hardly stand by and see one drowned. You have no idea what the rain was like."

"But to send you home in his own carriage."

"There was nothing else for him to do—except send me home in the gardener's cart. He could not have turned out a dog in such weather."

"It's a thing that never happened before, and it just shows what a respect he must have for the Disneys. You don't know how stand-offish he is with all the people about here—how he keeps himself to himself. Not a bit like his father and mother. They used to entertain all the neighbourhood, and they went everywhere, as affable as you like. He has taken care to show people that he doesn't want their company. They say he has led a very queer kind of life at home and abroad; never settling down anywhere, here to-day and gone to-morrow; roving about with his yacht. I don't believe any good ever comes of a young gentleman like that having a yacht. It would be ever so much better for him to live at the Mount and keep a pack of harriers."

"Why should a yacht be bad?" asked Isola, lazily beginning her breakfast, Tabitha standing by the table all the time, ready for conversation.

"Oh, I don't know. It gives a young man too much[Pg 29] liberty," answered Tabitha, shaking her head with a meaning air, as if with a knowledge of dark things in connection with yachts. "He can keep just what company he likes on board—gentlemen or ladies. He can gamble—or drink—as much as he likes. There's nobody to check him. Sundays and weekdays, night and day, are all alike to him."

"Lord Lostwithiel is not particularly young," said Isola, musingly, not paying much attention to this homily on yachts. "He must be thirty, I think."

"Thirty-two last birthday. He ought to marry and settle down. They say he's very clever, and that he's bound to make a figure in politics some of these odd days."

Isola looked at the clock on the chimney-piece—a gilt horse-shoe with onyx nails; one of her wedding presents. It was early yet—only half-past nine. Lord Lostwithiel had talked about calling to inquire after her health. She felt overpowered with shyness at the thought of seeing him again, alone—with no stately Mrs. Mayne to take the edge off a tête-à-tête. Anything to escape such an ordeal! There was her boat—that boat of which she was perfect mistress, and in which she went for long, dawdling expeditions towards Fowey or Lostwithiel with only Tim for her companion—Tim, who was the best of company, in almost perpetual circulation between stem and stern, balancing himself in perilous places every now and then, to bark furiously at imaginary foes in slowly passing fishermen's boats.

"Have you any fancy about lunch, ma'am?" asked Tabitha, lingering with feather-brush in hand over a side-table, on which work-basket, books, writing-case, and flower-vases were arranged with tasteful neatness by those skilful hands.

"No, you dear old Tabbie; you know that anything will do for me. Bread and jam, if you like, and some of your clotted cream. Won't it be nice when we have our very own dairy, and our very own cows, who will know us and be fond of us, like Tim and the Shah?"

She put on her hat and jacket, and went out into the[Pg 30] garden again, singing "La Lettre de Perichole" as she went. It was a capital idea to take refuge in her boat. If his lordship should call—which was doubtful—since he might be one of that numerous race of people whose days are made up of unfulfilled intentions and promises never realized—if he should call, she would be far away when he came. He would make his inquiry, leave his card, which would look nice in the old Indian bowl on the hall-table. Such cards have a power of flotation unknown to other pasteboard; they are always at the top.

Isola went to the little boat-house on the edge of the lawn, Tim following her. She pushed the light skiff down the slope into the water, and in a few minutes more her sculls were in the rowlocks and she was moving slowly up the river, between autumnal woods, in a silence broken only by the dip of the sculls and the little rippling sound as the water dropped away from them. A good deal of her life was spent like this, moving slowly up the river through that deep silence of the woodland shores. The river was as beautiful as the Dart almost, but lonelier and more silent. It was Martin Disney's river—the river whose ripples had soothed his mother's dying ears—the last of all earthly sounds that had been heard in the stillness of the death-chamber.

In that tranquil atmosphere Isola used to dream of her absent husband and of that mystical world of the East which seemed made up of dreams—the world of Brahma and Buddha, of jewel-bedecked Rajahs and Palace-tombs—world of beauty and of terror; of tropical forests, tigers, orchids, serpents, elephants, Thugs.

She dreamt her dream of that strange world in fear and trembling, conjuring up scenes of horror—tiger hunts; snakes hidden in the corner of a tent; battle; fever; fire; mutiny. Her morbid imagination pictured all possible and impossible danger for the man she loved. And then she thought of his home-coming—for good, for good—for all the span of their joint lives; and she longed for that return with the sickness of hope deferred.

[Pg 31]

She would go back to the Angler's Nest sometimes after one of these dreamy days upon the river, and would pace about the house or the garden, planning things for her husband's return, as if he were due next day. She would wheel his own particular chair to the drawing-room fireplace, and look at it, and arrange the fall of the curtains before the old-fashioned bow-window, and change the position of the lamp, and alter the books on the shelves, and do this and that with an eye to effect, anxious to discover how the room might be made prettiest, cosiest, most lovable and home-like—for him, for him, for him!

And now she had to resign herself to a year's delay, perhaps. Yes, he had said it might be a year. All that bright picture of union and content, which had seemed so vivid and so near, had now grown dim and pale. It had melted into a shadowy distance. To a girl who has but just passed her twentieth birthday a year of waiting and delay seems an eternity.

"I won't think of him," she said to herself, plunging her sculls fiercely into the rippling water. The tide was running down, and it was strong enough to have carried her little boat out to sea like an autumn leaf swept along the current. "I must try to lull my mind to sleep, as if I were an enchanted Princess, and so bridge over twelve slow months of loneliness. I won't think of you, Martin, my good, brave, truest of the true! I'll occupy my poor, foolish little mind. I'll write a novel, perhaps, like old Miss Carver at Dinan. Anything in the world—just to keep my thoughts from always brooding on one subject."

She rowed on steadily, hugging the shore under the wooded hillside, where the rich autumn colouring and the clear, cool lights were so full of beauty—a beauty which she could feel, with a vague, dim sense which just touched the realm of poetry. Perhaps she felt the same sense of loss which Keats or Alfred de Musset would have felt in the stillness of such a scene—the want of something to people the wood and the river—some race of beings loftier than fishermen and peasants; some of those mystic forms which[Pg 32] the poet sees amidst the shadows of old woods or in the creeks and sheltered inlets of a secluded river.

She thought, with a half-smile, of yesterday's adventure. What importance that foolish Tabitha gave to so simple an incident; the merest commonplace courtesy, necessitated by circumstances; and only because the person who had been commonly courteous was Richard Hulbert, thirteenth Baron Lostwithiel. Thirteenth Baron! There lay the distinction. These Cornish folks worshipped antique lineage. Tabitha would have thought very little of a mushroom peer's civility, although he had sent her mistress home in a chariot and four. She was no worshipper of wealth, and she turned up her blunt old nose at Mr. Crowther, of Glenaveril—the great new red-brick mansion which had sprung up like a fungus amidst the woods only yesterday—because he had made his money in trade, albeit his trade had been upon a large scale, and altogether genteel and worthy to be esteemed—a great cloth factory at Stroud, which was said to have clad half the army at one period of modern history.

Poor, foolish Tabitha! What would she have thought of the tea-drinking in that lovely old room, mysteriously beautiful in the light of a wood fire—the playful, uncertain light which glorifies everything? What would she have thought of those walls of books—richly bound books, books in sombre brown, big books and little books, from floor to ceiling? A room which made those poor little oak bookcases in the cottage parlour something to blush for. What would Tabitha have thought of his deferential kindness—that tone of deepest consideration with which such men treat all women, even the old and uncomely? She could hardly have helped admiring his good manners, whatever dark things she might have been told about his earlier years.

Why should he not have a yacht? It seemed the fittest life for a man without home ties; a man still young, and with no need to labour at a profession. What better life could there be than that free wandering from port to port over a romantic sea?—and to Isola all seas were alike mysterious and romantic.

[Pg 33]

She dawdled away the morning; she sculled against the stream for nearly three hours, and then let her boat drift down the river to the garden above the towpath. It was long past her usual time for luncheon when she moored her boat to the little wooden steps, leaving it for Thomas, the gardener, to pull up into the boat-house. She had made up her mind that if Lostwithiel troubled himself to make any inquiry about her health he would call in the morning.

She had guessed rightly. Tabitha was full of his visit, and his wondrous condescension. He had called at eleven o'clock, on his way to the railway station at Fowey. He called in the most perfect of T carts, with a pair of bright bays. Tabitha had opened the door to him. He had asked quite anxiously about Mrs. Disney's health. He had walked round the garden with Tabitha and admired everything, and had told her that Major Disney had a better gardener than any he had at the Mount, after which he had left her charmed by his amiability. And so this little episode in Isola's life came to a pleasant end, leaving no record but his lordship's card, lying like a jewel on the top of less distinguished names in the old Indian bowl.


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