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首页 » 经典英文小说 » All along the River » CHAPTER III.
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Isola fancied that her adventure was all over and done with after that ceremonious call of inquiry; but in so narrow a world as that of Trelasco it was scarcely possible to have seen the last of a man who lived within three miles; and she and Lord Lostwithiel met now and then in the course of her solitary rambles. The walk into Fowey, following the old disused railway, was almost her favourite, and one which she had occasion to take oftener than any other, since Tabitha was a stay-at-home person, and expected her young mistress to do all the marketing, so that Isola had usually[Pg 34] some errand to take her into the narrow street on the hillside above the sea. It was at Fowey that she oftenest met Lostwithiel. His yacht, the Vendetta, was in the harbour under repairs, and he went down to look at the work daily, and often dawdled upon the deck till dusk, watching the carpenters, or talking to his captain. They had been half over the world together, master and man, and were almost as familiar as brothers. The crew were half English and half foreign; and it was a curious mixture of languages in which Lostwithiel talked to them. They were most of them old hands on board the Vendetta, and would have stood by the owner of the craft if he had wanted to sail her up the Phlegethon.

She was a schooner of two hundred and fifty tons, built for speed, and with a rakish rig. She had cost, with her fittings, her extra silk sails for racing, more money than Lostwithiel cared to remember; but he loved her as a man loves his mistress, and if she were costly and exacting, she was no worse than other mistresses, and she was true as steel, which they are not always; and so he felt that he had money's worth in her. He showed her to Isola one evening from the promontory above the harbour, where she met him in the autumn sundown. Her work at the butcher's and the grocer's being done, she had gone up to that airy height by Point Neptune to refresh herself with a long look seaward before she went back to her home in the valley. Lostwithiel took her away from the Point, and made her look down into the harbour.

"Isn't she a beauty?" he asked, pointing below.

Her inexperienced eyes roamed about among the boats, colliers, fishing-boats, half a dozen yachts of different tonnage.

"Which is yours?" she asked.

"Which? Why, there is only one decent boat in the harbour. The schooner."

She saw which boat he meant by the direction in which he flourished his walking-stick, but was not learned in distinc[Pg 35]tions of rig. The Vendetta, being under repair, did not seem to her especially lovely.

"Have you pretty cabins?" she asked childishly.

"Oh yes, they're pretty enough; but that's not the question. Look at her lines. She skims over the water like a gull. Ladies seem to think only what a boat looks like inside. I believe my boat is rather exceptional, from a lady's point of view. Will you come on board and have a look at her?"

"Thanks, no; I couldn't possibly. It will be dark before I get home as it is."

"But it wouldn't take you a quarter of an hour, and we could row you up the river in no time—ever so much faster than you could walk."

Isola looked frightened at the very idea.

"Not for the world!" she said. "Tabitha would think I had gone mad. She would begin to fancy that I could never go out without over-staying the daylight, and troubling you to send me home."

"Ah, but it is so long since you were last belated," he said, in his low caressing voice, with a tone that was new to her and different from all other voices; "ages and ages ago—half a lifetime. There could be no harm in being just a little late this mild evening, and I would row you home—myself, under the new moon. Look at her swinging up in the grey blue there above Polruan. She looks like a fairy boat, anchored in the sky by that star hanging a fathom below her keel. I look at her, and wish—wish—wish!"

He looked up, pale in the twilight, with dark deep-set eyes, of which it was never easy to read the expression. Perhaps that inscrutable look made those sunken and by no means brilliant eyes more interesting than some much handsomer eyes—interesting with the deep interest that belongs to the unknowable.

"Good night," said Isola. "I'm afraid that I shall be very late."

"Good night. You would be earlier if you would trust to the boat."

[Pg 36]

He held out his hand, and she gave him hers, hesitatingly for the first time in their acquaintance. It was after this parting in the wintry sundown that she first began to look troubled at meeting him.

The troubled feeling grew upon her somehow. In a life so lonely and uneventful trifles assume undue importance. She tried to avoid him, and on her journeys to Fowey she finished her business in the village street and turned homewards without having climbed the promontory by that rugged walk she loved so well. It needed some self-denial to forego that keen pleasure of standing on the windy height and gazing across the western sea towards Ushant and her native province; but she knew that Lord Lostwithiel spent a good deal of his time lounging on the heights above the harbour, and she did not want to meet him again.

Although she lived her quiet life in the shortening days for nearly a month without meeting him, she was not allowed to forget his existence. Wherever she went people talked about him and speculated about him. Every detail of his existence made matter for discussion; his yacht, his political opinions, his talents, his income, his matrimonial prospects, the likelihood or unlikelihood of his settling down permanently at the Mount, and taking the hounds, which were probably to be without a master within a measurable distance of time. There was so little to talk about in Trelasco and those scattered hamlets between Fowey and Lostwithiel.

Isola found herself joining in the talk at afternoon tea-parties, those casual droppings in of charitable ladies who had been their rounds among the cottagers and came back to the atmosphere of gentility worn out by long stories of woes and ailments, sore legs and rheumatic joints, and were very glad to discuss a local nobleman over a cup of delicately flavoured Indian tea in the glow of a flower-scented drawing-room.

Among other houses Mrs. Disney visited Glenaveril, Mr. Crowther's great red-brick mansion, with its pepper-box[Pg 37] turrets, and Jacobean windows, after the manner of Burleigh House by Stamford town.

Here lived in wealth and state quite the most important family within a mile of Trelasco, the Vansittart Crowthers, erst of Pilbury Mills, near Stroud, now as much county as a family can make itself after its head has passed his fortieth birthday. Nobody quite knew how Mr. Crowther had come to be a Vansittart—unless by the easy process of baptism and the complaisance of an aristocratic sponsor; but the Crowthers had been known in Stroud for nearly two hundred years, and had kept their sacks upright, as Mr. Crowther called it, all that time.

Fortune had favoured this last of the Crowthers, and, at forty years of age, he had found himself rich enough to dispose of his business to two younger brothers and a brother-in-law, and to convert himself into a landed proprietor. He bought up all the land that was to be had about Trelasco. Cornish people cling to their land like limpets to a rock; and it was not easy to acquire the ownership of the soil. In the prosperous past, when land was paying nearly four per cent. in other parts of England, Cornishmen were content to hold estates that yielded only two per cent.; but the days of decay had come when Mr. Crowther entered the market, and he was able to buy out more than one gentleman of ancient lineage.

When he had secured his land, he sent to Plymouth for an architect, and he so harried that architect and so tampered with his drawings that the result of much labour and outlay was that monstrosity in red brick with stone dressings, known in the neighbourhood as Glenaveril. Mr. Crowther's elder daughter was deep in Lord Lytton's newly published poem when the house was being finished, and had imposed that euphonious name upon her father. Glenaveril. The house really was in a glen, or at least in a wooded valley, and Glenaveril seemed to suit it to perfection; and so the romantic name of a romantic poem was cut in massive Gothic letters on the granite pillars of[Pg 38] Vansittart Crowther's gate, beneath a shield which exhibited the coat of arms made and provided by the Herald's College.

Mrs. Vansittart Crowther was at home on Thursday afternoons, when the choicest Indian tea and the thickest cream, coffee as in Paris, and the daintiest cakes and muffins which a professed cook could provide, furnished the zest to conversation; for it could scarcely be said that the conversation gave a zest to those creature comforts. It would be perhaps nearer the mark to say that Mrs. Crowther was supposed to sit in the drawing-room on these occasions while the two Miss Crowthers were at home. The mistress of Glenaveril was not an aspiring woman; and in her heart of hearts she preferred Gloucestershire to Cornwall, and the stuccoed villa on the Cheltenham road, with its acre and a half of tennis-lawn and flower-beds, open to the blazing sun, and powdered with the summer dust, to Glenaveril, with its solemn belt of woodlands, and its too spacious grandeur. She was not vulgar or illiterate. She never misplaced an aspirate. She had learnt to play the piano and to talk French at the politest of young ladies' schools at Cheltenham. She never dressed outrageously, or behaved rudely. She had neither red hands nor splay feet. She was in all things blameless; and yet Belinda and Alicia, her daughters, were ashamed of her, and did their utmost to keep her, and her tastes, and her opinions in the background. She had no style. She was not "smart." She seemed incapable of grasping the ideas, or understanding the ways of smart people; or at least her daughters thought so.

"Your mother is one of the best women I know," said the curate to Alicia, being on the most confidential terms with both sisters, "and yet you and Miss Crowther are always trying to edit her."

"Father wants a great deal more editing than mother," said Belinda, "but there's no use in talking to him. He is encased in the armour of self-esteem. It made my blood[Pg 39] run cold to see him taking Lord Lostwithiel over the grounds and stables the other day—praising everything, and pointing out this and that,—and even saying how much things had cost!"

"I dare say it was vulgar," agreed the curate, "but it's human nature. I've seen a duke behave in pretty much the same way. Children are always proud of their new toys, and men are but children of a larger growth, don't you know. You'll find there's a family resemblance in humanity, and that nature is stronger than training."

"Lord Lostwithiel would never behave in that kind of way—boring people about his stables."

"Lord Lostwithiel doesn't care about stables—he would bore you about his yacht, I dare say."

"No, he never talks of himself or his own affairs. That is just the charm of his manner. He makes us all believe that he is thinking about us; and yet I dare say he forgets us directly he is outside the gate."

"I'm sure he does," replied Mr. Colfox, the curate. "There isn't a more selfish man living than Lostwithiel."

The fair Belinda looked at him angrily. There are assertions which young ladies make on purpose to have them controverted.

Mrs. Disney hated the great red-brick porch, with its vaulted roof and monstrous iron lantern, and the bell which made such a clamour, as if it meant fire, or at least dinner, when she touched the hanging brass handle. She hated to find herself face to face with a tall footman, who hardly condescended to say whether his mistress were at home or not, but just preceded her languidly along the broad corridor, where the carpet was so thick that it felt like turf, and flung open the drawing-room door with an air, and pronounced her name into empty space, so remote were the half-dozen ladies at the other end of the room, clustered round Belinda's tea-table, and fed with cake by Alicia, while Mrs. Crowther sat in the window a little way off, with her basket of woolwork at her side, and her fat[Pg 40] somnolent pug lying at her feet. To Isola it was an ordeal to have to walk the length of the drawing-room, navigating her course amidst an archipelago of expensive things—Florentine tables, portfolios of engravings, Louis Seize Jardinières, easels supporting the last expensive etching from Goupil's—to the window where Mrs. Crowther waited to receive her, rising with her lap full of wools, to shake hands with simple friendliness and without a vestige of style. Belinda shook hands on a level with the tip of her sharp retroussé nose, and twirled the silken train of her tea-gown with the serpentine grace of Sarah Bernhardt. She prided herself on those serpentine movements and languid graces which belong to the Gr?co-Belgravian period; while Alicia held herself like a ramrod, and took her stand upon being nothing if not sporting. Her olive-cloth gown and starched collar, her neat double-soled boots and cloth gaiters, were a standing reproach to Belinda's silken slovenliness and embroidered slippers, always dropping off her restless feet, and being chased surreptitiously among her lace and pongee frillings. Poor Mrs. Crowther disliked the Guard's collar, which she felt was writing premature wrinkles upon her younger girl's throat, but she positively loathed the loose elegance of the Indian silk tea-gown, with its wide Oriental sleeves, exhibiting naked arms to the broad daylight. That sloppy raiment made a discord in the subdued harmony of the visitors' tailor-made gowns—well worn some of them—brown, and grey, and indigo, and russet; and Mrs. Crowther was tortured by the conviction that her elder daughter looked disreputable. This honest matron was fond of Isola Disney. In her own simple phraseology, she had "taken to her;" and pressed the girl-wife to come every Thursday afternoon.

"It must be so lonely for you," she said gently, "with your husband so far away, and you such a child, too. I wonder your mamma doesn't come and stay with you for a bit. You must always come on our Thursdays. Now mind you do, my dear."

[Pg 41]

"I don't think our Thursdays are remarkably enlivening, mother," said Alicia, objecting to the faintest suggestion of fussiness, the crying sin of both her parents. And then she turned to Isola, and measured her from head to foot. "It's rather a pity you don't hunt," she said. "We had a splendid morning with the hounds."

"Perhaps I may get a little hunting by-and-by, when my husband comes home."

"Ah, but one can't begin all at once; and this is a difficult country; breakneck hills, and nasty banks. Have you hunted much?"

"Hardly at all. I was out in a boar-hunt once, near Angers, but only as a looker-on. It was a grand sight. The Duke of Beaufort came over to Brittany on purpose to join in it."

"How glorious a boar-hunt must be! I must get my father to take me to Angers next year. Do you know a great many people there?"

"No, only two or three professors at the college, and the Marquis de Querangal, the gentleman who has the boar-hounds. His daughter used to visit at Dinan, and she and I were great friends."

"Lord Lostwithiel talked about boar-hunting the other night," said Alicia. "It must be capital fun." His name recurred in this way, whatever the conversation might be, with more certainty than Zero on the wheel at roulette.

He had been there in the evening, Isola thought. There had been a dinner-party, perhaps, at which he had been present. She had not long to wonder. The name once pronounced, the stream of talk flowed on. Yes, there had been a dinner, and Lord Lostwithiel had been delightful; so brilliant in conversation as compared with everybody else; so witty, so cynical, so fin de siècle.

"I didn't hear him say anything very much out of the common," said Mrs. Crowther, in her matter-of-fact way.

She liked having a nobleman or any other local magnate at her table; but she had too much common sense to be[Pg 42] hypnotized by his magnificence, and made to taste milk and water as Maronean wine.

"Do you know Lord Lostwithiel?" Belinda asked languidly, as Isola sipped her tea, sitting shyly in the broad glare of a colossal fireplace. "Oh yes, by-the-by, you met him here the week before last."

Mrs. Disney blushed to the roots of those soft tendril-like curls which clustered about her forehead; but she said never a word. She had no occasion to tell them the history of that meeting in the rain, or of those many subsequent meetings which had drifted her into almost the familiarity of an old friendship. They might take credit to themselves for having made her acquainted with their star if they liked. She had seen plenty of smart people at Dinan in those sunny summer months when visitors came from Dinard to look at the old quiet inland city. Lostwithiel's rank had no disturbing influence upon her mind. It was himself—something in his look and in his voice, in the mere touch of his hand—an indescribable something which of late had moved her in his presence, and made her faintly tremulous at the sound of his name.

He was announced while they were talking of him, and he seemed surprised to come suddenly upon that slim unobtrusive figure almost hidden by Belinda's flowing garment and fuller form. Belinda was decidedly handsome—handsomer than an heiress need be; but she was also just a shade larger than an heiress need be at three and twenty. She was a Rubens' beauty, expansive, florid, and fair, with reddish auburn hair piled on the top of her head. Sitting between this massive beauty and the still more massive chimney-piece, Mrs. Disney was completely hidden from the new arrival.

He discovered her suddenly while he was shaking hands with Belinda, and his quick glance of pleased surprise did not escape that young lady's steely blue eyes. Not a look or a breath ever does escape observation in a village drawing-room. Even the intellectual people, the people who[Pg 43] devour all Mudie's most solid books—travels, memoirs, metaphysics, agnostic novels—even these are as keenly interested in their neighbours' thoughts and feelings as the unlettered rustic in the village street.

Lostwithiel took the proffered cup of tea, and planted himself near Mrs. Disney, with his back against the marble caryatid which bore up one-half of the chimney-piece. Alicia began to talk to him about his yacht. How were the repairs going on? and so on, and so on, delighted to air her technical knowledge. He answered her somewhat languidly, as if the Vendetta were not first in his thoughts at this particular moment.

"What about this ball?" he asked presently. "You are all going to be there, of course?"

"Do you mean the hunt ball at Lostwithiel?"

"Of course! What other ball could I mean? It is the great festivity of these parts. The one tremendous event of the winter season. It was a grand idea of you new people to revive the old festivity, which had become a tradition. I wore my first dress coat at the Lostwithiel Hunt Ball nearly twenty years ago. I think it was there I first fell in love, with a young lady in pink tulle, who was miserable because she had been mistaken enough to wear pink at a hunt ball. I condoled with her, assured her that in my eyes she was lovely, although her gown clashed—that was her word, I remember—with the pink coats. My coat was not pink, and I believe she favoured me a little on that account. She gave me a good many waltzes in the course of the evening, and I can answer for her never wearing that pink frock again, for I trampled it to shreds. There were traces of her to be found all over the rooms, as if I had been Greenacre and she my victim's body."

"It will be rather a humdrum ball, I'm afraid," said Belinda. "All the best people seem to be away."

"Never mind that if the worst people can dance. I am on the committee, so I will answer for the supper and the champagne. You like a dry brand, of course, Miss Crowther?"

[Pg 44]

"I never touch wine of any kind."

"No; then my chief virtue will be thrown away upon you. Are all young ladies blue-ribbonites nowadays, I wonder? Mrs. Disney, pray tell me you are interested in the champagne question."

"I am not going to the ball."

"Not going! Oh, but it is a duty which you owe to the county! Do you think because you are an alien and a foreigner you can flout our local gaieties—fleer at our solemnities? No, it is incumbent upon you to give us your support."

"Yes, my dear, you must go to the ball," put in Mrs. Crowther, in her motherly tone. "You are much too young and pretty to stay at home, like Cinderella, while we are all enjoying ourselves. Of course you must go. Mr. Crowther has put down his name for five and twenty tickets, and I'm sure there'll be one to spare for you, although we shall have a large house-party."

"Indeed, you are too kind, but I couldn't think——" faltered Isola, with a distressed look.

She knew that Lostwithiel was watching her from his vantage ground ever so far above her head. A man of six feet two has considerable advantages at a billiard-table, and in a quiet flirtation carried on in public.

"If it is a chaperon you are thinking about, I'll take care of you," urged good Mrs. Crowther.

"No, it isn't on that account. Mrs. Baynham offered to take me in her party. But I really would much rather not be there. It would seem horrid to me to be dancing in a great, dazzling room, among happy people, while Martin is in Burmah, perhaps in peril of his life on that very night. One can never tell. I often shudder at the thought of what may be happening to him while I am sitting quietly by the fire. And what should I feel at a ball?"

"I should hardly have expected you to have such romantic notions about Major Disney," said Belinda, coolly, "considering the difference in your ages."

[Pg 45]

"Do you suppose I care the less for him because he is twenty years older than I am?"

"Twenty! Is it really as much as that?" ejaculated Mrs. Crowther, unaffectedly shocked.

"He is just as dear to me," pursued Isola, warmly. "I look up to him, and love him with all my heart. There never was a better, truer man. From the time I began to read history I always admired great soldiers. I don't mean to say that Martin is a hero—only I know he is a thorough soldier—and he seemed to realize all my childish dreams."

She had spoken impetuously, fancying that there was some slight towards her absent husband in Miss Crowther's speech. Her flash of anger made a break in the conversation, and nothing more was said about her going or not going to the Hunt Ball. They talked of that entertainment in the abstract—discussed the floor—the lighting—the band—and the great people who might be induced to appear, if the proper pressure were put upon them.

"There is plenty of time," said Lostwithiel, "between now and the twenty-second of December—nearly three weeks. Time for you and your sister to get new frocks from London or Paris, Miss Crowther. You mean having new frocks, I suppose?"

"One generally does have a new frock for a dance," replied Belinda, "though the fashions this winter are so completely odious that I would much rather appear in a gown of my great-grandmother's."

Lostwithiel smiled his slow secret smile high up in the fainter firelight. He was reflecting upon his notion of Miss Crowther's great-grandmother, in linsey-wolsey, with a lavender print apron, a costume that would be hardly impressive at a Hunt Ball. He did not give the young lady credit for a great-grandmother from the Society point of view. There was the mother yonder—inoffensive respectability—the grandmother would be humbler—and the great-grandmother he imagined at the wash-tub, or cooking the noontide meal for an artisan husband. He had never yet[Pg 46] realized the idea of numerous generations of middle-class life upon the same plane, the same dead level of prosperous commerce.

Isola rose to take leave, after having let her tea get cold, and dropped half her cake on the Persian rug. She felt shyer in that house than in any other. She had a feeling that there she was weighed in the balance and found wanting; that unfriendly eyes were scrutinizing her gloves and hat, and appraising her features and complexion. She felt herself insignificant, colourless, insipid beside that brilliant Miss Crowther, with her vivid beauty, and her self-assured airs and graces.

Tabitha urged her to be of good heart when she hinted at these feelings.

"Why, Lord have mercy upon us, ma'am, however grand they may all look, it's nothing but wool—only wool; and I heard there used to be a good deal of devil's dust mixed with it, after this Mr. Crowther came into the business."

The dusk was thickening as she went along the short avenue which led to the gates. Mr. Crowther, having built his house in a wood, had been able to cut himself out a carriage drive, which gave him an avenue of more than two centuries' growth, and thus imparted an air of spurious antiquity to his demesne. He felt, as he looked at the massive boles of those old Spanish chestnuts, as if he had belonged to the soil since the Commonwealth.

Even the lodge was an important building, Tudor on one side, and monastic on the other; with that agreeable hodge-podge of styles which the modern architect loveth. It was a better house than the curate lived in, as he often told Miss Crowther.

Isola quickened her pace outside that solemn gateway, and seemed to breathe more freely. She hurried even faster at the sound of a footstep behind her, though there was no need for nervous apprehensions at that early hour in the November evening on the high road between Fowey and Trelasco. Did she know that firm, quick footfall; or was it an instinctive[Pg 47] avoidance of an unknown danger which made her hurry on till her heart began to beat stormily, and her breath came in short gasps?

"My dear Mrs. Disney, do you usually walk as if for a wager?" asked a voice behind her. "I can generally get over the ground pretty fast, but it was as much as I could do to overtake you without running."

He was not breathless, however. His tones were firm and tranquil. It was she who could scarcely speak.

"I'm afraid I am very late," she answered nervously.

"For what? For afternoon tea by your own fireside? Have you anybody waiting for you at the Angler's Nest, that you should be in such a hurry to get home?"

"No, there is no one waiting, except Tabitha. I expect no one."

"Then why walk yourself into a fever?"

"Tabitha gets fidgety if I am out after dusk."

"Then let Tabitha fidget! It will be good for her liver. Those adipose people require small worries to keep them in health. You mustn't over-pace yourself to oblige Tabitha."

She had slackened her steps, and he was walking by her side, looking down at her from that superb altitude which gave him an unfair advantage. How could she, upon her lower level, escape those searching glances?

She knew that her way home was his way home, so far as the bend of the road which led away from the river; and to avoid him for the intervening distance would have been difficult. She must submit to his company on the road, or make a greater effort than it was in her nature to make.

"You mean to go to this ball, don't you?" he asked earnestly.

"I think not."

"Oh, but pray do! Why should you shut yourself from all the pleasures of this world, and live like a nun, always? You might surely make just one exception for such a grand event as the Hunt Ball. You have no idea how much we all think of it hereabouts. Remember, it will be the first public[Pg 48] dance we have had at Lostwithiel for ever so many years. You will see family diamonds enough to make you fancy you are at St. James's. Do you think Major Disney would dislike your having just one evening's dissipation?"

"Oh no, he would not mind! He is only too kind and indulgent. He would have liked me to spend the winter with my sister in Hans Place, where there would have been gaieties of all kinds; but I don't want to go into society while Martin is away. It would not make me happy."

"But if it made some one else happy—if it made other people happy to see you there?"

"Oh, but it would not matter to anybody! I am a stranger in the land. People are only kind to me for my husband's sake."

"Your modesty becomes you as the dew becomes a rose. I won't gainsay you—only be sure you will be missed if you don't go to the ball. And if you do go—well, it will be an opportunity of making nice friends. It will be your début in county society."

"Without my husband? Please don't say any more about it, Lord Lostwithiel. I had much rather stay at home."

He changed the conversation instantly, asking her what she thought of Glenaveril.

"I think the situation most lovely."

"Yes, there we are all agreed. Mr. Crowther had the good taste to find a charming site, and the bad taste to erect an architectural monstrosity, a chimera in red brick. There was a grange once in the heart of that wood, and the Crowthers have the advantage of acorns and chestnuts that sowed themselves while the sleepy old monks were telling their beads. How do you like Miss Crowther?"

"I hardly know her well enough to like or dislike her. She is very handsome."

"So was Rubens' wife, Helena Forman; but what would one do in a world peopled with Helena Formans? There are galleries in Antwerp which no man should enter without smoke-coloured spectacles, if he would avoid being blinded[Pg 49] by a blaze of red-haired beauty. I am told that the Miss Crowthers will have, at least, a million of money between them in days to come, and that they are destined to make great matches. Perhaps we shall see some of their soupirants at the ball. Since the decay of the landed interest, the chasse aux dots has become fiercer than of old."

This seemed to come strangely from him who had already been talked of as a possible candidate for one of the Miss Crowthers. It would be such a particularly suitable match, Mrs. Baynham, the doctor's wife, had told Isola. What could his lordship look for beyond a fine fortune and a handsome wife?

"They would make such a splendid pair," said Mrs. Baynham, talking of them as if they were carriage-horses.

Mrs. Disney and her companion crossed a narrow meadow, from the high road to the river-path which was the nearest way to the Angler's Nest. The river went rippling by under the gathering grey of the November evening. On their right hand there was the gloom of dark woods: and from the meadow on their left rose a thick white mist, like a sea that threatened to swallow them up in its phantasmal tide. The sound of distant oars, dipping with rhythmical measure, was the only sound except their own voices.

Did that three-quarters of a mile seem longer or shorter than usual? Isola hardly knew; but when she saw the lights shining in Tabitha's kitchen, and the fire-glow in the drawing-room, she was glad with the gladness of one who escapes from some fancied danger of ghosts or goblins.

Lostwithiel detained her at the gate.

"Good night," he said; "good night. You will change your mind, won't you, Mrs. Disney? It is not in one so gentle as you to be inflexible about such a trifle. Say that you will honour our ball."

She drew herself up a little, as if in protest against his pertinacity.

"I really cannot understand why you should care whether I go or stay away," she said coldly.

[Pg 50]

"Oh, but I do care! It is childish, perhaps, on my part, but I do care; I care tremendously; more than I have cared about anything for a long time. It is so small a thing on your part—it means so much for me! Say you will be there."

"Is that you, ma'am?" asked Tabitha's pleasant voice, while Tabitha's substantial soles made themselves audible upon the gravel path. "I was beginning to get fidgety about you."

"Good night," said Isola, shortly, as she passed through the gate.

It shut with a sharp little click of the latch, and she vanished among the laurels and arbutus. He heard her voice and Tabitha's as they walked towards the house in friendly conversation, mistress and maid.

There was a great over-blown Dijon rose nodding its heavy head over the fence. Roses linger so late in that soft western air. Lostwithiel plucked the flower, and pulled off its petals one by one as he walked towards the village street.

"Will she go—will she stay—go—stay—go—stay?" he muttered, as the petals fluttered to the ground.

"Go! Yes, of course she will go," he said to himself as the last leaf fell. "Does it need ghost from the grave or rose from the garden to tell me that?"


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