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CHAPTER VI.
"A LOVE STILL BURNING UPWARD."

It was early summer, summer in her first youth, when she is frivolous and capricious, laughs and weeps she knows not why; smiling through her tears, and never knowing her own mind for a week together; to-day gracious-tempered and tropical; to-morrow east-windy and morose. In a word, it was June, a season of roses and rains, blue skies and thunder-clouds. It was June, and Martin Disney was looking out of the window with a keen eager face, much bronzed, and somewhat haggard, after a fatiguing campaign, looking out across the vales and woods of his native county, as the Penzance train sped along the high-level line betwixt Plymouth and Par. Those keen, grey eyes of his, accustomed to searching out far-off objects, looked as if they could pierce through the green heart of the Cornish valleys to the sheltered little[Pg 74] harbour of Fowey and the blue sea that opened wide to the far-off West.

His labours were over, and he was going to take his rest, going to hang up his sword, that sword which had done such good work, or to transform it into a reaping-hook. He was Colonel Disney now, had given the State his best service, and now, in the very prime and vigour of his manhood, the State had done with him, and he was free to do what he listed with the maturer half of his life. He would have been very sorry to retire from active service had it not been for that tender tie which gave such sweetness to the thought of retirement and tranquil days. He was going home. The word thrilled him like music; home to his fair young wife, his chosen one, his domestic divinity. He had not left off wondering how it had ever come to pass that so young and fair a creature could care for him.

"It isn't as if I were one of your accomplished fellows," he said to himself, "able to sing, or play the flute, or paint in water-colours. Except a very earnest love of a few good books, I have no culture. How can any girl in the present day care for a man without culture? I could never appreciate Keats, for instance; and not to appreciate Keats is to be an outsider in literature."

Yet, in spite of his seven and forty years, in spite of his deficiencies, his homeliness, that young heart had gone out to him. She loved him, and his lot was full. There was nothing more upon God's earth that he could desire, were it not a miracle, and that the mother he had so fondly loved might be given back to him, to share his happiness, to make the third in a trinity of trusting love. Since that could not be, there was nothing left for him to yearn for.

The beating of his heart quickened almost unbearably, as the train drew near Par. Isola would meet him at the Junction, perhaps. He had not announced the actual hour of his arrival, for matters had been a little uncertain when he wrote yesterday, and he had not cared to telegraph this morning before he left Paddington. Yet she would know[Pg 75] that this was the only likely train for him to choose; and she would be at the Junction, he thought, smiling her glad welcome, a fair young face, rosy in the sunset; for it was evening as he drew near the end of his journey.

No; there was nobody he knew at the Junction. He walked up and down the platform, and stared about him in rather a forlorn way during the few minutes before the starting of the train for Fowey. She had not come to anticipate their meeting by an hour or so, as he had hoped, as he had felt almost certain, she would come.

It was more natural that she should wait and receive him at the Angler's Nest, he told himself, sitting in the corner of the railway carriage presently, in a train of three coaches, steaming through the pretty picturesque country between Par and Fowey. In the colder light of reason it seemed preposterous to have expected to see her at the Junction. She would like to welcome him amidst her own surroundings, in the home to which she had doubtless given those little beautifying touches in honour of his coming, which are such delight to women, and which sometimes pass altogether unobserved by that pachydermatous animal, man! How slowly the engine moved along that little bit of line! Martin Disney sat with his face to the wind, and snuffed the sea breeze as if it had been the odour of home. He thought of Ulysses, and his return from distant lands. Would Tim, the fox terrier, know him? and Shah, the Persian cat? Perhaps not. Tim was no Argus; vastly affectionate and demonstrative, but not a dog to expire at one's feet, in the rapture of his master's return. Penelope would know him, and welcome him. That was enough for this modern Ulysses, who had no reason to disguise himself in re-entering his home—who had no fear of rival suitors, or interlopers of any kind. Penelope would welcome him, and trusty Tabitha. He thought of the old servant's honest face with delight. She was something left to him out of boyhood and youth. He felt like a young man when he talked to her. She was the one strong link betwixt the present and the past. She[Pg 76] was his memory embodied. He could refer to her as to a dictionary of days long gone. When did we do such and such a thing—or go to such a place? What was the name of the bay horse I bought at Plympton? Where did my mother pick up the Sheraton secretaire? Tabitha could answer all such trivial questions: and Tabitha could talk to him for hours of his mother's words and ways—of the things that were only history.

At last! The train crept into the little station, nestling on the edge of a wood, and there was Fowey, homely, friendly little Fowey, so strange and yet so familiar; strange to eyes that had so lately looked upon the cities of the East; familiar to the man who had been reared in the neighbourhood, whose first impressions of God's earth had stamped harbour and hills upon his brain, like an indelible picture. There was Masters's fly, an eminently respectable vehicle that never touted for chance passengers, waiting for him. He was expected, evidently.

"Did Mrs. Disney send you?" he asked the driver.

"Yes, sir."

How thoughtful of the young wife, who might be forgiven if she had left such a small duty unfulfilled. Yet he would have liked to see her sweet self at the station—only, as he had argued with himself just now, it would have discounted the home-welcome. It would have been an anti-climax.

Dearly as he loved that home river, and those fertile hills, and beautiful as they were after their kind, they could but seem small and tame to eyes that had looked upon the glories of the East. Disney contemplated the scene with a touch of sad surprise, wondering at this miniature loveliness; recalling the day when those steep hillsides, where the red cattle were grazing in the mists of eventide, had seemed grand in his sight. Now they had a kind of pitiful prettiness. His heart yearned towards them with compassion for their insignificance.

For nearly two years he had been moving about with his company in the land of jungle and mountain, and in[Pg 77] that vast table-land through which the Salween river runs down to the Gulf of Martaban; and after those wider horizons, he found himself in a narrow road, shut in by grassy hills, and hugging the margin of a silver thread that called itself a river.

There is always a tinge of melancholy in that hour after sundown; and Martin Disney's heart saddened a little as he looked at the quiet river, and the shadows on the hillside—that pale mistiness of summer evening which gives a ghostly touch to all things, as if it were a brief revelation of a spirit world. It is an hour at which even a strong man's heart is apt to sink with a vague sense of fear.

The fly drew up at the little wooden gate between high hedges of escalonia, with glossy leaves and bright red blossom. A slender figure in a white gown was visible on the threshold, as Disney sprang out of the fly, and while the flyman was lifting down the luggage, that airy form flitted across the lawn, and Colonel Disney's wife was standing shyly within the open gate, almost as if she had come out to receive a stranger.

He could not clasp her to his breast before a flyman; but he seized both her hands, gripped them convulsively, and then led her towards the house, leaving Masters's man to deal as he pleased with portmanteaux and hat-box, gun-case and umbrella-case, despatch-box, and other chattels; to leave them out in the lane to the dews and the night-birds, if he so listed. Martin Disney had no consciousness of anything in this world except the woman by his side.

"My darling! my darling!" he ejaculated, in a choked voice, "how I have longed for this hour, with a longing that has been almost madness!"

And then he saw for the first time that her face was as white as her gown. Was it the twilight that made her look so pale? Could he wonder if the emotion of this supreme moment blanched that young cheek, when he, soldier and wayfarer upon the world's roughest roads, felt like a child, striving to hold back his tears?

[Pg 78]

Lamps were burning in dining-room and drawing-room. He saw the table laid for dinner through the open door as he and Isola passed by; but the idea of eating and drinking seemed very far off just now. They went into the drawing-room together, where a solitary lamp was shining upon a table crowded with flowers, and where the scents of the garden came in through the open window. Here he satisfied the longing of his hungry heart, and took that fragile form in his arms, and kissed the pale cold lips. She lay upon his breast unresistingly; helpless, unresponsive, like a dead thing.

"Isola, have you forgotten that you once loved me?"

"Forgotten! No, no, no! There is no one in the world so good and true as you are. I love you with all my heart and soul."

Her face was hidden on his breast, but she lifted up her arms and clasped them round his neck. He seated himself in his accustomed chair—it was standing where it had always stood before he went away—and took her upon his knee, as if she had been a child. Then a great storm of sobs suddenly burst from throat and bosom, a flood of tears streamed upon his breast, and he felt her arms trembling as they clasped his neck.

"My own dear love," he murmured gently, "one would almost think you were sorry I have came back."

She could not answer him at first for her sobs, but she shook her head, and at last the words, "No, no, no," came from her lips; and he kissed and calmed her with almost fatherly gentleness. And then they went into the dining-room, where the soup-tureen was waiting for them on the sideboard, with a neat little parlour-maid—not Susan, but another—ready to minister to them.

The table had been decorated by Isola's own hands. Dark crimson roses were lying on the fair white damask; one tall glass stood in the centre with three slim golden lilies, pale and heavy-headed, which filled the room with perfume. These came from one of the hothouses at Glenaveril, whence[Pg 79] good-natured Mrs. Crowther had sent a basket of exotics in honour of the colonel's return. The lamplight, the flowers, the pretty old Wedgwood service of creamy white and dull brown, made up a feast for Martin Disney's eye, after a life spent mostly under canvas. He looked from the gaily adorned table to the face beside him, pallid and pinched, despite its sweetness.

"My dear one, you are looking very ill," he said, with an anxious air.

"What an ungallant speech!" she answered, smiling at him with unexpected gaiety. "I have been fretting at your long, long absence, and you reproach me for my deteriorated appearance. Never mind, Martin, you will see how rosy and bright I shall get now our parting has come to an end."

"Yes, love, we must coax the roses back to your cheeks. I must have a good mount ready for you when the cubbing begins, and a few morning gallops will soon make a change in my fragile wife's appearance. And I'll charter a yacht and steep you in ozone."

"Oh, one gets enough of that on shore, there is no need to go further."

"But I thought you adored yachting? It was one of our grand schemes for the future, to hire a modest little yawl and go round the coast to Clovelly. Have you forgotten?"

"No, no; only I don't want you to waste your money—and, if we start a bigger stable——"

"Ah, you don't know what a Cr?sus I have become. You needn't be afraid of ruining me. My poor lonely little wife. Why didn't you send for Allegra?"

"She wouldn't have been of any good to me. She is all that is sweet and lovable, and she is your sister; but she wouldn't have filled your vacant place. I should have only felt lonelier for having to talk every day, and pretend a kind of happiness. Being alone, I could bury myself in a book, and forget my troubles."

"This soup doesn't look up to Tabitha's old form. Do you know that among other delights of this earthly paradise[Pg 80] I have been looking forward to Tabitha's little dinners. I don't believe there is a chef in Paris who can cook so well as that self-taught genius, who ripened into perfection by a process of gradual evolution, from the early days when my mother discovered that nobody could make arrowroot or cook a mutton cutlet as well as Tabitha. By-the-by, why has not that good soul shown herself? I thought she would have disputed with you for my first kiss."

While he ran on in this fashion, Isola sat looking down at the table-cloth, pallid no longer, but crimson.

"Tabitha has gone!" she said abruptly.

"Tabitha gone—for a holiday?"

"No, she has left me, altogether."

"Left you—altogether?" exclaimed Disney, with the tone of a man who could scarcely believe in his own sense of hearing, so astounding was the statement that met his ears. "Tabitha, my mother's faithful old servant, who was like my own flesh and blood! What in God's name made her leave you? Did you quarrel with her?"

He asked the question almost sternly. For the first time in his life he was angry with this dear fragile creature, the idol of his heart. He had loved Tabitha as servants are not often loved. He had left his young wife in her charge, desiring no better custodian, full of faith in Tabitha's ability both to protect and counsel her girlish mistress.

"No, no; we did not quarrel. I liked Tabitha very much. I was almost as fond of her as you yourself could be."

"And yet you dismissed her!" Disney retorted bitterly. "She was not smart enough for you, perhaps. Those Crowther people may have put it into your head that she was old-fashioned—that you could never have a modish household with such a humdrum old person at the head of it. Was that your motive?"

"Oh, Martin, how can you think me so frivolous? I hate smartness and pretension as much as you do. No, I should never have dismissed Tabitha. She left me of her own accord."

[Pg 81]

"Why?"

"She wanted rest. She was too old for service, she told me. I tried to keep her. I humiliated myself so far as to beg her to stay with me"—the tears came into her eyes at the mere memory of that humiliation—"but she had made up her mind. She would not give way."

"Where did she go?"

"To Falmouth—to live with her sister, a shoemaker's widow. They let lodgings, I believe."

"She must have gone mad! A lodging-house must be harder work than anything she had to do here."

"Yes, I think it must."

"When did she go?"

"At the beginning of the year—in January."

"She left you six months ago, and in all that time you never told me she was gone."

"I did not want you to know, for fear you should be worried or vexed."

"I should have been both; but you ought to have told me. I had a right to know. I left you in her charge, Isola. You are much too young and too pretty to be living alone without some kind of dragon—and I knew Tabitha would be a very gentle dragon—a good motherly soul, able to wait upon you and look after your health, and yet grim enough to keep marauders off the premises. Indeed, my pet, you should have let me know of her departure without an hour's delay. She was very wrong to go. It was a breach of faith I could never have expected."

"Pray don't be angry with her, Martin."

"But I am angry. I have a right to be angry. I'll go to Falmouth to-morrow, and have it out with her."

"No, no, pray don't! We parted good friends. She can say nothing to you more than she said to me. Pray don't let there be any bad blood between you. What could be gained by your going? To-morrow, too—our first day together!"

"Well, it shall not be till the day after; but go I must.[Pg 82] To-morrow I will revel in the delights of home, and my dear one's society. To-morrow I will be drunken with joy. The day after will do for Tabitha."

"I think it is making a great deal too much of her to go to Falmouth on purpose to see her," said Isola, with a grain of pettiness; and then, after a pause, during which the colonel had been trying to appease a sharp appetite with the muscular leg of an elderly fowl, she said nervously—

"I'm afraid you are not enjoying your dinner."

"What do I care for dinner on such a night as this; but, as a matter of plain truth, I must say that your new cook is a very bad substitute for Tabitha. Her soup was watery, her fish was greasy, her poultry is hardly eatable. If she has talents in any other line she is keeping them in reserve for another day. It may be that she excels in made-dishes—a misfortune for me, as I never eat them."

"I had a splendid character with her," said Isola, piteously, with the helpless feeling of a housewife who sees before her a dark prospect of bad dinners and marital grumblings, or the agonizing wrench involved in changing her cook.

"Yes, my love, people generally give splendid characters to servants they want to get rid of," answered Disney, dryly.

These wedded lovers went out very early next morning to explore the gardens and meadows; Isola eager to point out various small improvements which she had made with the help of the old gardener, who would have plunged his hand and arm into a fiery furnace to procure plant or flower which his young mistress desired. Sweet words and sweet looks go very far in this world. They are a mighty revenue, and will often do their owner as good service as gold and silver.

Isola had worked in the garden with her own hands ever since the beginning of spring, the first tender opening of Earth's heavy eyelids, her first pale smile of snowdrops, her broad laughter of daffodils, her joyous peal of bluebells, and[Pg 83] riotous mirth of May blossom. She had toiled in the sweat of her brow so that the garden might be beautiful at mid-summer: for early in March there had come a letter full of rejoicing from that distant hill-kingdom, and she knew that the year of absence to which she had looked so hopelessly last November was commuted to half a year.

Martin Disney was full of admiration for his wife's improvements. The old-fashioned borders were brimming over with old-world flowers; the shrubberies had grown out of knowledge; the escalonia hedge by the kitchen garden was a thing to wonder at.

"I remember the hedge at Tregenna Castle before that good old place was an inn," said Martin; and then, having admired everything, he walked up and down the grass beside the laurel hedge with his wife—while the Satan-sent cook was spoiling the food that bounteous Nature had provided for man's enjoyment—and questioned her about the life she had been leading in his absence.

"You used to write me such good letters, dearest, so full of detail, that I knew exactly how your days were spent, and could picture every hour of your life: but of late your descriptive powers have flagged. I dare say you got tired of writing long letters to a dull old fellow in India, who could never write you a clever letter in reply. It must have seemed a one-sided business?"

"Indeed, no, dear. Your letters had only one fault. They were never half long enough; but I knew how busy you were, and I thought it was so good of you never to miss a mail."

"Good of me! Had there been twice as many mails I would not have willingly missed one. But there is no doubt your letters fell off after last autumn. They were sweet, and ever welcome to me—but they told me very little."

"There was very little to tell."

"Ah, but in the old days you used to make it seem so much. You had such a delightful way of describing trifling[Pg 84] events. I thought at one time you had the makings of a Jane Austen; but afterwards I began to fear you must be out of health. Your letters had a low-spirited tone. There were no more of those sharp little touches which used to make me laugh, no more of those tiny word-pictures, which brought the faces and figures of my old neighbours before me."

"You can hardly wonder if my spirits sank a little when you had been so long away. And then life seemed so death-like in its monotony. There were days when I felt I might just as well have been dead. There could be very little difference between lying under the earth and crawling listlessly on the top of it."

"You were too much alone, Isola," he answered, distressed at this revelation. "You ought to have sent for Allegra. I begged you to send for her, if you felt dull."

"Do you think she could have cured my dulness?" exclaimed his wife, impatiently. "Life would have seemed still more tiresome if I had been obliged to talk when there was nothing to talk about, and to smile when I felt inclined to cry."

"Ah, you don't know what a companion Allegra is—brimming over with fun! She knows her Dickens by heart; and I never met with anybody who appreciated him as intensely as she does."

"I don't care about Dickens."

"Don't—care—about Dickens!"

He echoed her words as if almost paralyzed by horror.

"Not as I used to care. One's taste changes as life goes on. Lately I have read nothing but Victor Hugo, and Keats, and Shelley."

"Very well in their way, but not half cheery enough for a lonely little woman beside the Fowey river. You ought to have had Allegra. It would have been better for you and better for her. She is tired of the Art school; and the other pupils are tired of her. They are very fond of her; but she has done all the work twice over, and there is nothing more for her to do, unless we meant her to enter the Royal[Pg 85] Academy and go in seriously for art, Mrs. Meynell tells me. According to that lady's account my sister must be an Admirable Crichton in petticoats."

"I have no doubt she is very clever and very nice; but, as I could not have you, I preferred being alone," answered Isola.

She was walking slowly by his side along the closely shaven grass, and every now and then she stretched out a hand that looked semi-transparent, and gathered a flower at random, and then plucked off its petals nervously as she walked on. Her eyelids were lowered, and her lips were tightly set. Martin could but think there was a vein of obstinacy in this bewitching wife of his—a gentle resistance which would tend to make him her slave rather than her master in the days to come. He saw with pain that her cheeks were hollow and pinched, and that her complexion had a sickly whiteness. She had fretted evidently in those long months of solitude, and it would take time to bring back the colour and gaiety to her face. As for dulness, well, no doubt Fowey was ever so much duller than Dinan, where there were officers and tennis-parties and afternoon tea-drinkings, and a going and coming of tourists all the summer through, and saints' days, and processions, and fêtes and illuminations in the market square, beneath the statue of Duguesclin.

"And how did the world use you, Isola?" he asked presently. "Was everybody kind?"

"Oh yes, people were very kind; especially Mrs. Baynham and Mrs. Crowther. They sent me ever so many invitations, and wanted me to go on their day every week."

"And I hope you accepted their invitations."

"I went to Mrs. Baynham's sometimes on her day; but I didn't care about going to Glenaveril. It is all too grand and too fine—and I don't like Mr. Crowther."

"He was always courteous to you, I hope?"

"Oh yes, he was particularly courteous. I have no reason for disliking him. He is my Dr. Fell—the reason why I cannot tell, but I would walk a mile to avoid meeting him."

[Pg 86]

"Then we will not cultivate social relations with Glenaveril. We will visit at no house where my dearest does not feel happy and at ease. And as for the finery, I agree with you, there is something too much of it. I like powder and plush when the people they serve are to the manner born, and when powder and plush seem more natural than parlour-maids; but I don't care for the solemn stateliness of a big establishment when it has been newly set up—at least, not by such folks as the Crowthers. There are some men to whom such surroundings seem natural, even though fortune has come late in life. Is the beautiful Belinda married yet?"

"No. I do not think she is as much as engaged."

"I thought Lostwithiel would have married her. She would have been a grand catch for him, and no doubt she would have snapped at a coronet, even without strawberry leaves. But I hear he is in South America orchid-hunting. He was always a capricious individual. There goes the gong for breakfast. I hope your cook can fry a rasher and boil an egg better than she can dress a dinner."

They went in together to the pretty dining-room, so bright with books and flowers, and a life-sized girlish head in water-colours, by Dobson, R.A., over the chimney-piece, and Venetian glass here and there, that all characteristics of the ordinary eating-room were effaced, and only a sense of homeliness and artistic surroundings was left. Isola had been down at six, and her own hands had given the finishing touches to the room, and the flowers were of that morning's gathering, and had the dew and the perfume of morning upon them. The room was so pretty, and Isola was so much prettier than the room, that a husband would have been of very dull clay had he troubled himself about the handiwork of the cook. Martin Disney was not made of dull clay, and he ate an overdone rasher and a hard-boiled egg without a murmur, and then set out for a long ramble with Isola.

They went up to the hill upon whose landward slope stood Lostwithiel's old grey manor-house, with its gardens and park. Isola had not been there since that never-to-be-for[Pg 87]gotten November evening when she met Lostwithiel in the rain. She had avoided the spot from that time forward, though she had no especial reason for avoidance, since there was no one there but Mrs. Mayne and her underlings. Lostwithiel and the Vendetta had sailed away into space directly after the Hunt Ball, and little had been heard of him save that dim rumour of orchid-hunting on the shores of the Amazon, which had filtered from the society papers down to Fowey, via the Western Daily Mercury.

Isola and her husband lingered for a long time upon the hilltop, he revelling in the familiar beauty of that magnificent stretch of cliff and sea, out to the dim slate colour of the Dodman Point, bay beyond bay, curving away towards Falmouth and the Lizard—while between that hill and the sea lay a world of fertile meadows and bright green cornfields, of hill and hollow, wood and common, copse and garden, a rich and smiling country, a land of summer flowers and plenteous growth.

"I never stand upon this hill without feeling proud of being a Cornishman," said Disney, "and yet, after all, it is a foolish thing to be proud of an accident. My little Breton girl might as well be proud of being a countrywoman of Duguesclin's."

"Perhaps if I had been born anywhere else I should not have been so ready to fall in love with a soldier," answered Isola. "I was brought up to think a knight and a warrior the one ideal: and so I was fascinated by the first soldier who took any notice of me."

"But were you really fascinated, and were you really in love," exclaimed Disney, infinitely delighted at this little speech of his wife's, "in love with a battered campaigner—or did you just think you liked me a little bit, only because you wanted to get away from Dinan?"

"I really—really—really loved you," she answered softly, looking up at him with eyes dimmed by tears, as he drew her nearer to him in his gladness. "I was not tired of Dinan—or my life there—and my heart went out to you at[Pg 88] once, because you were good and noble, and seemed to care for me."

"There was no seeming in it, Isola. I was knocked over at once, like a pigeon out of a trap. I had been in love with you three weeks—three centuries it seemed—before I could screw up my courage so far as to think of proposing for you. And then if Hazelrigg hadn't helped me with your father, I don't suppose I should ever have broken the ice. But when he—the colonel—showed himself so frank and willing—and the way was all made smooth for me from a domestic point of view—and when I saw that kind little look in your eyes, and the shy little smile—yes, you are smiling so now—I took heart of grace, and stormed the citadel. Do you remember the evening I asked you to be my wife, Isola; that starlit night when I had been dining with your people, and you and Gwendolen, and Hazelrigg and I went out upon the terrace to look at the stars, and the river, and the twinkling lights of the boats down by the quay, and the diligence driving over the bridge, deep, deep down in the valley below us? Do you remember how I lured you away from the other two, and how we stood under the vine-leaves in the berceau, and I found the words somehow—feeblest, stupidest words, I'm afraid—to make you know that all the happiness of my life to come depended upon winning you for my wife?"

"I remember as if it were last night," she answered gravely. "But oh, how long ago it seems!"

"Why do you sigh as you say that?"

"Oh, one always sighs for the past! How can one help feeling sorry that it should be gone—so much of our lives and of ourselves gone for ever?"

"Oh, but when the future is so fair, when the present is so happy, there should be no more sighing. It is an offence against the Great Father of all, who has been so good to us."

She did not answer, and they remained silent for some minutes, she seated on a bank covered with heather and wild flowers; he stretched on the short, sweet turf at her feet. The heather had not begun to show its purple bloom,[Pg 89] but there was the gold of the gorse, and the brightness of innumerable wild flowers around and about them as they basked in the sunshine.

"Dearest, do you believe in dreams?" Disney asked suddenly.

"Sometimes—not much—dreams are often dreadful," she answered, with a startled air.

"I don't believe in them a bit," he said, lifting himself into a sitting position, and addressing himself to her with increasing earnestness, "not now that I have you here safe within reach of my hand—so," taking her hand in his, and keeping it clasped in both his own; "but I had a dream about you in Burmah, which kept me in a fever of anxiety for nearly a month. I should have telegraphed to ask if all was right with you, only I told myself that if anything was wrong Tabitha would instantly telegraph to me. I made her promise that before I left England. It was almost my last injunction. And to think that she left you half a year ago, and that anything might have happened to you after that, and that there was no one—no one——"

"But, you see, I am quite safe. There was no bad news to send you. Besides, if I had been ill, or anything had gone wrong, there was Mrs. Baynham. She has been like a mother to me. I am so sorry you feel vexed about Tabitha's leaving me."

"Doubly vexed, dear, because you left me in ignorance of the fact."

"Pray don't be angry with me, Martin, so soon," she pleaded meekly.

"Angry, no. I am not angry. I don't know how to be angry with you, Isola; but I can't help being distressed. However, let the past be past. I shall never leave you to the care of strangers again till I die."

Her only answer was to bend her head down to kiss the hands that clasped her own.

"Tell me about your dream," she said, after a pause, with her forehead still resting on his hands, and her face hidden. "Was it something very awful?"

[Pg 90]

"It was all confusion—a wild chaos—a nightmare of strange sounds and sensations—tempest, fire, earthquake—I know not what—but it meant deadly danger for you—death perhaps. I saw you hanging in space—a white figure, with piteous, pain-wrought face. Never have I seen you look like that—your eyes staring wildly as if they were looking at death; your features drawn and rigid, and through all the confusion, and noise, and ceaseless movement, I was trying to follow you—trying, but impotently—to save you. The white figure was always before me—far off—yet visible every now and then across the darkness of a world where everything was shapeless and confused. But the worst of all was that every now and then a black wall rose up between your distant figure and the stony difficult path that I was treading—a wall against which I flung myself, mad with rage and despair, trying to tear the stones asunder with my hands, till the blood ran in streams from my fingers. It was a dream that seemed to last through a long night, holding in it the memory of a painful past; yet I suppose it was like other dreams—momentary, for I had heard three o'clock strike before I fell asleep, and when I sounded my repeater it was only a quarter past."

"Rather a meaningless dream," she said, in a sleepy voice, without looking up. "I don't think it ought to have alarmed you."

"Ah, it sounds meaningless to you; but to me it was full of meaning! The idea of danger to you was so intense—so real. The cold sweat of deadly fear was on my face when I awoke, and it was some minutes before I could get my senses clear of that ghastly horror, before I could realize where I was, and that the thing I had seen was a dream. That stone wall seemed still in front of me, and I had still the feeling that you were on the other side of it, in ever-increasing peril."

"It was a horrid dream, certainly; but, you see, it had no meaning."

"There were such strange things mixed up in it—thunder and lightning, a roaring wind, a sound of rushing waters;[Pg 91] and then, amidst wind and thunder, there rose the dark barrier that shut out everything."

"Was it long ago that you dreamt this horrid dream?"

"Yes, a long while. It was just before Christmas. I made a note of the dream in my journal—wrote it down in fear and trembling, lest there should be some kind of fulfilment. But then came your letter—written at the beginning of January, with your description of the ball—and I laughed at my folly in brooding so long upon that phantasmal picture. I remember, by the way, it was two or three nights after your ball that I dreamt my dream, while you no doubt were sleeping just a little sounder than usual after your gaieties."

"Dreams are very strange," said Isola, absently. "I wonder whether there is any good in them to counterbalance so much pain?"


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