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CHAPTER VIII.
MY FROLIC FALCON, WITH BRIGHT EYES.

Everybody in Trelasco and in the neighbourhood seemed glad to see Colonel Disney again. All the best people within a six-mile drive came bearing down upon the Angler's Nest in the week that followed his return; and there were cosy little afternoon tea-drinkings in the drawing-room, or on the lawn, and Isola had her hands full in receiving visitors. Everybody congratulated her upon having her hero back from the wars.

"You ought to be very proud of your husband, Mrs. Disney," said Vansittart Crowther, with his air of taking all the world under his protection.

"I have always been proud of him," Isola answered gently. "I was proud of him before the Burmese War."

"Your poor wife has been looking very unhappy for the last few months," Mrs. Crowther said to the colonel, with a motherly glance at Isola. "I really had a good mind to write to you and beg you to hurry home if you didn't want to find the poor thing far gone in a decline when you came back."

"My dear Mrs. Crowther, what nonsense," cried Isola, growing crimson at this motherly officiousness. "I have never been out of health, or in the least likely to go into a decline. One cannot always look like a dairy-maid."

"My dear, there's no use talking, you looked very bad. Had one of my girls looked as ill, I should have taken her off to Buxton to drink the waters, without an hour's delay."

That visit of the Crowthers seemed much longer than any other afternoon call. The Crowthers, husband, and wife, and elder daughter, had an inquisitorial air, Isola fancied, an air of scrutinizing her house and herself and her surroundings, which was intolerable to her; although on Mrs. Crowther's part she knew the scrutiny was made in the[Pg 100] utmost benevolence, and the officiousness was the outcome of a nature overflowing with the milk of human kindness.

"I wish you had written to me, Mrs. Crowther," said Disney. "I couldn't have come home any sooner, but I could have telegraphed to my sister Allegra to look after my wife, and cheer her solitude. I was a fool not to have had her here all along."

"Hadn't I better go out of the room while you are holding your consultation about me?" exclaimed Isola, fretfully. "It's rather hard upon the patient to hear her case discussed in cold blood. I am tired of declaring that I have not been ill, and that it is my misfortune and not my fault to have a pale complexion."

"You were not always so pallid, my dear," said Mrs. Crowther, persistently. "You were one of the beauties of the Hunt Ball, and you had colour enough that night."

Dr. and Mrs. Baynham came the following afternoon, and these two told the same story, though with less obtrusive concern.

"I looked after the young lady now and then," said the worthy doctor, "and as I found there was nothing radically wrong, I didn't worry you with any low-spirited reports; but I expect to see her pick up wonderfully now you have come home. She didn't take enough outdoor exercise, that's where the harm was. She used to be so fond of her boat last year, but this year I fancy she didn't feel herself up to handling the sculls. You didn't now, did you, Mrs. Disney?"

"I don't know about that, but I am ready to row to the Land's End, now Martin is back," said Isola, and those few words seemed the sweetest Martin Disney had heard since Colonel Manwaring's daughter promised to be his wife.

Mrs. Baynham sat on the lawn, sipping her tea, and basking in the afternoon sunshine.

"You should have seen your wife in her wedding-gown at the Lostwithiel dance," she said. "You would have been proud of her. She didn't want to go—refused Mrs. Crowther[Pg 101] and me again and again. She thought it wasn't right to be at any merry-making while your life was in danger."

"Yes, I know—I know. My tender-hearted Isola!"

"But at last we got the better of her objections; and though there were a good many pretty women there, and though Miss Crowther, perhaps, pleased most tastes, being a more showy style of beauty, to my thinking there wasn't one came up to Mrs. Disney."

"Her partners seemed of the same opinion," put in the doctor, cheerily. "Why, how often did Lord Lostwithiel dance with you, Mrs. Disney? Oftener than with anybody else, I'll be bound."

Mrs. Baynham nodded approvingly.

"I was very proud of my party that evening, I can tell you, Colonel Disney," she said. "It isn't often that one has to chaperon three attractive young women. Do you know that my youngest niece, Maria, has had two offers since that night, Isola, and when I last heard from her she was on the brink of an engagement? Ah, well, I hope we shall have another ball next December, now that the neighbourhood has begun to wake up a bit. We have been thinking of getting up a water picnic this summer—just a little excursion to Mevagissey, and a little fishing for those who might care for it."

"Very pleasant, indeed, of you," answered the colonel, cheerily. "We will be there."

"The Crowthers are rather grand in their ideas," said the doctor, "but Alicia is very keen upon all kind of sport, so I know she'll want to come, whatever Belinda may say to it."

Mrs. Baynham made a wry face at the name of the elder sister. It was an involuntary and unconscious contortion; but Belinda had tried to snub Mrs. Baynham, who never could forget that her father was a banker at Truro, and held the fortunes—the mortgages and encumbrances of the landed gentry—in the hollow of his hand.

"You don't like the elder Miss Crowther?" speculated the colonel.

"Well, if I am to be candid, I must confess that I have a[Pg 102] positive aversion to that young lady. The airs she gives herself on the strength of her father's wool are really insupportable, and since Lord Lostwithiel disappointed her she has been more odious than she was before."

"What do you mean by Lostwithiel disappointing her? Did he jilt her?"

"Well, it could scarcely be called jilting, and I really don't know that there was anything between them; but people had coupled their names—and he dined at Glenaveril at least once a week all the time he was at the Mount—and people had quite made up their minds it was to be a match. Mr. Crowther went about talking of Lord Lostwithiel and his affairs as if he was his father-in-law—the neglected condition of the land, and what ought to be done at the Mount, and that the estate wanted judicious nursing, and all that sort of thing. And then one December morning his lordship sailed off in his yacht before it was light, and there was no more heard of him. It was quite in his way to go off suddenly like that, but the Crowthers were evidently taken by surprise, and we heard no more about Lord Lostwithiel and the Mount."

"They dropped him like a hot potato," said the doctor. "Well, we shall depend upon you both for our water-party. It will not be till the middle of July, when an old chum of mine, a sailor, will be coming this way."

This was a sample of many such visits. In the country, and even in London upon occasion, people are given to discussing the same subjects. Martin Disney heard a good deal about the Crowthers and their supposed disappointment. People liked Mrs. Crowther for her simple, unaffected ways, and thorough-going kindliness; but Vansittart and his daughters had made a good many enemies. He was too coarse; they were too fine; only the mother's simple nature had caught the golden mean between blunt vulgarity and artificial smartness.

Colonel Disney heard all this village gossip with an unheeding ear. He was secure in his own position as a son of[Pg 103] the soil, a man whose pedigree could pass muster with that of the Rashleighs and the Treffrys, a man of means that were ample for his own unpretending tastes and requirements. He cared not a jot how many guineas a year the Crowthers might give to their cook, or how much Mr. Crowther had paid for the furnishing and decoration of his house, a theme upon which the gossips of the neighbourhood loved to enlarge. That Mrs. Crowther had gowns from Worth, and that her daughters employed Mrs. Mason, irked not this simple soldier. The only point in all the stream of talk that had affected him was the unanimous opinion that Trelasco in the spring had been too relaxing for Mrs. Disney, or else that her solitude had preyed upon her mind, inasmuch as she had looked so ill as to afford an interesting subject of conversation to a good many friendly people who suffered from the chronic malady of not having enough to talk about, a form of starvation almost as bad as not having enough to eat.

Tho colonel listened, and made his own conclusions. He did not believe that Trelasco was "relaxing." Ho loved the district too well to believe any evil thing about it. Those fresh breezes that blew up from the sea, those balmy airs that breathed across the heather-clad hills, must bring health with them. What could one have better than that mingling of sea and hill, brine and honey, gorse-bloom and seaweed? No, Trelasco was not to blame. His young wife had suffered for lack of youthful company. He made up his mind accordingly.

"I suppose you won't object to our having Allegra here for a summer visit, will you, love?" he asked at breakfast the day after Mrs. Baynham's call. "London must be hot, and dusty, and dreary in July, and she must want rest and country air, I fancy, after having worked so hard in her art school."

Isola gave a scarcely perceptible sigh as she bent to caress Tim, a privileged attendant of the breakfast-table.

"Object! Of course not, Martin. I shall be very pleased for your sister to come here."

[Pg 104]

"I feel very sure you will be pleased with her when you and she get upon intimate terms. You could know so little of her from that one evening in the Cavendish Road."

The occasion in question was an evening in which Isola and her husband had been bidden to a friendly dinner, on their way through London, by the clergyman's widow with whom Allegra lived while she pursued her study of art at a famous school in St. John's Wood. The clergyman's widow, Mrs. Meynell, was a distant cousin of the Disneys, and Allegra's home had been with her from the time she left school. The extent of her wanderings after she was old enough to be sent to a boarding-school had been from Falmouth to Kensington, and from Kensington to St. John's Wood, with occasional holidays in the Isle of Thanet.

"I thought she was very fresh and bright and loving," answered Isola, "and I could see even in that one evening that she was very fond of you."

"Yes, God bless her, there is no doubt about that. I have been brother and father too for her. She has had no one but me since our mother's death."

"Shall I write and ask her to come to us, Martin, or will you?"

"I fancy she would take it more as a compliment if the invitation went straight from you. She would know that I would be glad to have her, but she might feel a little doubtful about you."

"Then I'll write to her to-day, Martin, and beg her to come at once—as soon as ever she can pack her boxes."

"That's my darling! I hope she won't bore you when she is here. I have a shrewd idea she'll make your life happier. She'll awaken you from that languor which has grown upon you in your loneliness."

"At least I'll try to make her happy, Martin, if it is only for your sake."

"Ah, and you will soon love her for her own sake."

"I'll get the boat looked to at once, and I'll see about making the spare room pretty for her," said Isola.

[Pg 105]

A week later Allegra was with them, breakfasting on the lawn in the balmy atmosphere of July. There were two girls, in white gowns, under the tulip tree, instead of one; and Martin Disney felt as if his domestic happiness were doubled, as he looked at those two graceful figures in the flickering light below that canopy of broad bright leaves. Another element of comfort, too, had entered the Angler's Nest; for the incompetent cook had taken her incompetency and a month's wages to her native city of Truro; and a buxom damsel from Falmouth, recommended by Tabitha, had already proved herself a treasure in the culinary art.

Never was there a fairer picture than that domestic group under the tulip tree. Tho two girlish figures in white muslin, with palest salmon and palest azure ribbons fluttering and glancing in the light and deepening in the shadow; the white fox-terrier, alert, muscular, mercurial; the tortoise-shell cat, long-haired, aristocratic, and demure; the pretty Moorish plateau on bamboo legs, the purple and crimson breakfast service and rare old silver urn, the fruit and flowers, and amber-hued butter, and rustic luxury of preserved fruit and clotted cream.

"How lovely it all is after Cavendish Road!" cried Allegra, rapturously. "When I see the lights and shadows upon those hills, I despair of ever being able to paint a landscape as long as I live. Nature is maddeningly beautiful."

"What is your particular line, Allegra?" asked her brother. "Is it landscape?"

"No; I only care for landscape as a background for humanity. I want to paint genre pictures in water-colour—women and children—beautiful women amidst beautiful surroundings—picturesque poverty—interesting bits of daily life. Mrs. Allingham is the ideal after which I strive, but I am only at the bottom of the ladder. It is a long climb to the top; but one does not mind that in a profession where labour is delight."

"You are fond of art, then?" said Isola, watching the earnest face of the speaker.

[Pg 106]

"Fond of it! Why, I live for it! The dream of my life from the time I was seven years old has been one long dream of the bliss that was to be mine when I could feel myself able to paint. I have toiled with all my might. Martin disliked the idea of my being an Academy student—poor, foolish, ignorant Martin—so I have been obliged to plod on at St. John's Wood, without hope of prizes or medals; but on the whole I have been very lucky, for I have made friends among the Academicians. They are very kind to any student who seems in rightdown earnest; and they have been ever so good to me. I hope, Martin, you will find some day that I am something better than an amateur," she concluded, resting her two hands caressingly upon her brother's shoulder.

"My dearest, I have not the least doubt you will astonish me. I am very ignorant of everything connected with art. I set my face against the Academy because I thought the training and the life would be too public for my sister."

"As if Burlington House were any more public than that big school at St. John's Wood, my dear illogical brother: and yet we women are the only people who are said to be wanting in the logical faculty."

She leant back in her basket-chair, revelling in the rural atmosphere, and in that new sense of being in the bosom of her family. Tim leapt upon her lap and licked her face, in token of his acceptance of her into the home-circle. Nobody had ever called Miss Leland a beauty, nor had she ever received those disquieting attentions which follow the footsteps of exceptional loveliness. She was sometimes described as a girl who grew upon one; and people who knew her well generally ended by thinking her distractingly pretty. She had a brilliant complexion, of the true English type, fair and blooming—a complexion which indicated perfect health and an active, orderly life; no late hours or novel-reading over the fire—an out-of-door complexion, which would have looked its best under a neat little felt hat in the hunting-field, or under a coquettish straw sailor hat on board a yacht. Her eyes were blue-grey, with long, brown lashes and boldly[Pg 107] marked eyebrows; her nose was firmly modelled, inclining a little to the aquiline order. Her mouth was the prettiest feature in her face, and yet it was a shade larger than accepted perfection in mouths. It was a mouth chiefly remarkable for character and expression; and, indeed, it was the individuality and variety of expression in the fair young face which constituted Miss Leland's chief claim to distinction.

She started up from the nest of basket-work and flowered chintz, and stood tall and erect, a Juno-like young woman, with heavy plaits of reddish-brown hair rolled in a great knot at the back of her head. She might have answered one of those harsh advertisements for parlour-maids, in which the words, "No fringe," figure with curt cruelty; for her hair was brushed smoothly back from the fair forehead, and the severity of the style became that wide sagacious brow. It was just the kind of forehead which can endure exposure without conveying an idea of bald ugliness.

She was tall and strongly made, fashioned after the semblance of Diana or Atalanta rather than Venus or Psyche. Her every movement had the bold, free grace of vigorous, unspoiled youth. She had always been active—fond of walking, riding, rowing, swimming, as well as of art, and with an ardent passion for the country, which had made existence in a London suburb one long sacrifice.

"I used to take the train for Hampstead Heath or Willesden," she told her brother, "and go off for long, lonely tramps to Finchley or Hendon. I have watched the builder's progress along roads and lanes I loved. I have seen horrid brick boxes creeping along like some new kind of noxious insect, eating up fields and hedgerows, old hawthorns and old hollies. I could have sat down in the muddy road and cried sometimes, at the thought that soon there would be no country walk left within reach of a Londoner. Once I went off to the north-east, to look for the rural lanes Charles Lamb and his sister loved—the lanes and meadows where they carried their little picnic basket, till they took shelter at a homely inn. Oh, Martin, all those fields and lanes, Charles[Pg 108] Lamb's country—are going, going, or gone! It is heartbreaking! And they are building at Fowey, too, I see. Positively there will be no country anywhere soon. There will be crescents and terraces and little ugly streets at the very Land's End, and the Logan Rock will be the sign of a public-house."

"Don't be down-hearted, Chatterbox! I think Cornwall may last our time," said Disney, laughing at her vehemence.

Allegra was a great talker. It seemed as if she had a well-spring of joy and life within her which must find an outlet. When people ventured to hint at her loquacity she declared that her name was in fault.

"I have grown up to match my name," she said; "if I had been christened Penserosa I might have been quite a different person."

Her vivacity gave a new element of brightness to the Angler's Rest, where Disney had been somewhat oppressed by the sensation of intense repose which had pervaded his tête-à-tête life with Isola. He loved his wife so entirely, so unselfishly, and devotedly, that it was happiness to him to be with her; yet in the three or four weeks that had gone by since his return he had struggled in vain against the feeling that there was something wanting in his home. Isola waited upon him and deferred to him with more than wifely submissiveness. He would have liked a spurt of rebellion once in a way, a little burst of girlish temper, just to show that she was human; but none ever came. His every desire was anticipated. Whatever plan he suggested—to walk, to drive, to visit, or not to visit—the river or the sea—was always the plan that pleased her best, or at least she said so.

"I think I shall call you Griselda instead of Isola," he said one day, taking the fair pale face between his hands and gazing into the mournful depths of the dark violet eyes—inscrutable eyes they seemed to him, when the pupils dilated under his gaze, as if the eyes made a darkness to hide their meaning.

[Pg 109]

"Why?" she asked.

A flood of crimson passed over her face like a fire, and left her paler than before.

"Because you are only too dutiful. Would you resist if I were to turn tyrant, I wonder?"

"I have no fear of your turning tyrant," she answered, with a sad little smile; "you are only too good to me."

"Good! There can be no question of goodness. If a man picked up a diamond as precious as the Koh-i-noor, could he be good to it? How can I be good to my gem? I have but one thing left in the world to desire, or to pray for."

"What is that, Martin?"

"To see you happy."

Again the sudden flame crimsoned her face, that sensitive spiritual face which reflected every change of feeling.

"I am happy, Martin, quite happy, happier than I ever thought to be, now that you are home again. What have I more to desire?"

"Is that really so? Was my long absence your greatest trouble?"

"Yes," she answered slowly, looking at him with a curiously steady look, "that was the beginning and end of my trouble."

"Thank God!" he said, drawing a deep breath. "There have been moments—just of late—when I have puzzled my brains about you—until I thought—" very slowly, "there might have been something else."

He clasped her in his arms, and hid her face upon his breast, as if—fearing that he might have wounded her by those last words—he wanted to make amends before she had time to feel his unkindness. His tenderness for her had so much of that pitying love which a strong man feels for a child.

This conversation occurred the day before Allegra's arrival; but with that young lady's appearance on the scene, new life and gladness came into the little household. Allegra sang, Allegra played, Allegra ran out into the garden[Pg 110] twenty times a day, and called through the open window to Isola, sitting quietly in the drawing-room, to come out and look at this or that—a rose finer than all other roses—a suggested alteration—an atmospheric effect—anything and everything. She was a keen observer of Nature, full of vivid interest in every creature that lived, and in every flower that grew. Tim followed her everywhere as she danced along the gravel walks, or across the short springy turf. Tim adored her, and grinned at her, and threw himself into all manner of wriggling attitudes upon the grass to express his delight in her company, and fawned at her feet, and talked to her after his guttural fashion, snorting his friendly feelings. Tim had long languished for such a companion, having found his young mistress's society very heavy of late. No more runs in the meadow, no more rambles in the neighbouring spinney, and very little boating. But now that Allegra had come the skiff was seldom idle. Isola had to go on the river whether she liked or not. There were strong young arms ready to pull her—round young arms, of a lovely roseate fairness, which looked their best, stretched to the motion of the sculls, with the white cambric shirt rolled up above the elbow.

"You can read Shelley while I scull the boat," said Allegra. "I don't want any help. If you knew what rapture it is to me to feel the breath of Seagods and Tritons after St. John's Wood, and the smoke from the Metropolitan Railway, you wouldn't pity me."

Isola submitted, and sat at her ease upon bright-coloured cushions with an Indian rug spread round her, as idle as if she had been the belle of a Zenana, and read Alastor while the boat sped seaward in the sunshine.

Sometimes they moored their boat at the landing stage at Polruan, and walked up the hill to the Point, and sat there for an hour or two in the summer wind with their books and picnic basket, seeing great ships go out towards the Lizard and the big distant world, or sail merrily homeward towards Plymouth and the Start. Isola looked at those[Pg 111] outward-bound ships with a strange longing in her eyes—a longing to flee away upon those broad wings that flashed whitely in the sunlit distance. Were people happy on board those ships, she wondered, happy at escaping from the fetters of an old life and a beaten path, happy going away to strange lands and freedom? She had been reading many books of travel of late, and a kind of passion for remote uncivilized countries had come upon her; as if that untrammelled life meant release from memory and saddening cares—a new birth almost. It seemed from some of those books as if there could be no greater happiness upon this earth than to tramp across sandy deserts and stalk occasional lions; while in others the supreme good seemed to be found in the attempt to scale impossible mountains. What was it that made the rapture of these things? Isola wondered. Was it that perils and wild solitudes offered the only possible escape out of a past existence, on this side the grave? Allegra had never so much as crossed the Channel. She had been brought up in the most humdrum fashion. First a school at Falmouth, and then a smarter school at Kensington, and then St. John's Wood and the Art School. Her mother had died when she was fourteen years of age, and since that time her brother had been her only guardian and almost her only friend. Her life had seen but little variety, and very little of the dancing and gaiety which for most girls is the only form of pleasure. She and Isola talked about the ships as they sat upon the grassy hill at Polruan, and speculated about the lands of which they knew only what they had read in books of travel.

"You, at least, know what France is like," said Allegra, "and that is something."

"Only one little corner of France."

"And to think that you were born in an old French city! It seems strange. Do you feel at all French?"

"I don't think so; only sometimes a longing comes upon me to see the old grey walls, and to hear the old voices, and see the curious old women in their white caps and bright-[Pg 112]coloured handkerchiefs, clattering along to the Cathedral. There must be more old women in Brittany than in Cornwall, I think. Fowey does not swarm with old women as Dinan did. And sometimes I long to see mother, and the good old Brittany servants, and the garden where the hours went by so slowly—almost as slowly as they go here"—with a sigh.

"Does time go so very slowly here?" asked Allegra, quickly. "That sounds as if you were unhappy."

"What nonsense you talk!" cried Isola, with a flash of sudden anger. "Cannot one be dull and bored sometimes—from very idleness—without being unhappy?"

"I don't know; but, for my own part, when I am happy I am never dull."

"You have more of what people call animal spirits than I have."

"I'm glad you apologize in a manner for that odious phrase—animal spirits. I would not apply such a phrase to Tim. It suggests nothing but Audrey at a statute fair. Heaven gave me a capacity for happiness, and I thank God every night in my prayers for another happy day. Even at school I contrived to be happy, somehow; and think what it must be after seven years of dull routine to feel that I have done with sitting at a stranger's table and that I am here in a home, my own home, with my brother and sister."

Tho two women clasped hands, and kissed each other upon this. Only the night before Isola, of her own free will, had asked her sister-in-law to make her home at the Angler's Nest always, always, till she should be led out of it as a bride; and Martin had shown himself supremely happy in the knowledge that his sister had won his wife's love and confidence.

When Isola and he were alone together after the sealing of that family bond, he kissed and thanked her for this boon which she had bestowed upon him.

"I never could have felt quite at ease while Allegra was[Pg 113] living with strangers," he told her. "And now my cup is full. But are you sure, dearest, that you will never find her in the way, never fancy yourself any the less mistress of your house, and of my life, because she is here?"

"Never, never, never! I am gladder than I can say to have her. She is a delightful companion. She helps me in a hundred ways. But even if she were less charming it would be my duty to have her here since you like her to be with us."

"But it must not be done as a duty. I will not have you sacrifice your inclination in the slightest degree."

"What an obtuse person you are! Don't I tell you that I am enchanted to have her? She is as much my sister as ever Gwendolen was; indeed, she is much more sympathetic than Gwen ever was."

"Then I am perfectly content."

Allegra wrote to Mrs. Meynell next day, announcing the decision that had been arrived at, not without grateful acknowledgments of that lady's kindness. The rest of her belongings were to be sent to her forthwith, easels, and colour-boxes, books and knickknacks; her brother's gifts, most of them from the romantic East; things which made her few little Kensingtonian keepsakes look very trivial and Philistine. Allegra's possessions gave a new individuality to the large, airy bedroom, and the tiny boudoir at the corner of the house, looking seaward, which Isola had arranged for her.

While these things were doing Martin Disney was buying horses and buying land—a farm of over two hundred acres which would make his property better worth holding—and he had further employed a Plymouth architect to plan an enlargement of the old-fashioned cottage—a new and much more spacious drawing-room, two bedrooms over, a verandah below, and a loggia above. In that mild climate the loggia would afford a pleasant lounge even in winter, and myrtle and roses would speedily cover the wooden columns which sustained the tiled roof. It was to be a homely Italian[Pg 114] loggia—unpretentious, and not particularly architectural; but Isola and her sister-in-law were delighted at the idea.

The stables were to be enlarged as well as the house.

"You have no idea how I have hoarded and scraped to lay by money ever since I bought the Nest," said Disney. "I believe I was the greatest screw in the service all through my last campaign."

He laughed aloud in amused remembrance of many small sacrifices, while the three heads clustered over the architect's plan, which had that factitious prettiness of delicate drawing and colour which makes every house so much nearer perfection upon paper than it ever can be in brick and stone.


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