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首页 » 经典英文小说 » All along the River » CHAPTER XI.
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In the keen, fresh October afternoons, there was no walk Allegra loved better than the walk to Neptune Point, and higher up by winding footpaths to the Rashleigh Mausoleum, fitting sepulchre for a race born and bred in the breath of the sea; a stately tomb perched on a rocky pinnacle at the end of a promontory, like a sea-bird's nest overhanging the wave.

Allegra was in raptures with that strange resting-place.

"I like it ever so much better than your Cockneyfied cemetery," she exclaimed. "Think how grand it must be to lie for ever within the sound of the sea—the terrible, inscrutable sea, whose anger means death—the calm, summer sea, whose waves come dancing up the sands like laughing water. I wonder whether the Rashleighs would let me have a little grave of my own somewhere among these crags and hillocks—a modest little grave, hidden under wild foliage, which nobody would ever notice? Only I should hear the sea just as well as they do in their marble tomb."

"Oh, Allegra, how can you talk so lightly of death?" said Isola, shocked at this levity. "To me it is always dreadful to think of—and yet it must come."

"Poor child!" said Allegra, with infinite pity, putting her arm round her sister-in-law's slighter figure, as they stood by the railing of the Mausoleum, in the loveliness of an October sunset.

The sun had just gone down, veiled in autumnal haze, and behind the long ridge of waters beyond the Dodman there glowed the deep crimson of the western sky. Eastward above the Polruan hills the moon moved slowly upward, amidst dark masses of cloud which melted and rolled away before her on-coming, till all the sky became of one dark azure. The two girls went down the hill in silence, Allegra holding[Pg 143] Isola's arm, linked with her own, steadying those weaker footsteps with the strength of her own firm movements. The difference between the two in physical force was no less marked than the difference in their mental characteristics, and Allegra's love for her sister-in-law was tempered with a tender compassion for something so much weaker than herself.

"Poor child!" she repeated, as they moved slowly down the steep, narrow path, "and do you really shudder at the thought of death? I don't. I have only a vast curiosity. Do you remember that definition of Sir Thomas Browne's which Martin read to us once—'Death is the Lucina of life.' Death only opens the door of the hidden worlds which are waiting for all of us to discover. It is only an appalling name for a new birth. I love to dream about the infinite possibilities of the future—just as a boy might dream of the time when he should become a man. Look, look, Isa, there's a yacht coming in! Isn't it a lovely sight?"

It was a long, narrow vessel, with all her canvas spread, gleaming with a silvery whiteness in the moonlight. Slowly and with majestic motion she swept round towards Neptune Point and the mouth of the harbour. There was only the lightest wind, and the waves were breaking gently on the rocks at the base of the promontory—a night as calm and fair as June.

"Look!" repeated Allegra, "isn't she lovely? like a fairy boat. Whose yacht can she be, I wonder? She looks like a racer, doesn't she?"

Isola did not answer. She had seen such a yacht two years ago; had seen such a long, narrow hull lying in the harbour under repairs; had seen the same craft sailing out to Mevagissey on a trial trip in the wintry sunlight. Doubtless there were many yachts in this world of just the same build and character.

They stood at an angle of the hill-path looking up the river, and saw the yacht take in her canvas as she came into the haven under the hill; that sheltered harbour, with its[Pg 144] two rivers cleaving the hills asunder, one winding away to the right towards Lerrin, the other to the left towards Trelasco and Lostwithiel. It looked so perfect a place of shelter, so utterly safe from tempest or foul weather; and yet there were seasons when a fierce wind from the great Atlantic came sweeping up the deep valleys, and all the angry spirits of the ocean seemed at war in that narrow gorge. To-night the atmosphere was unusually calm, and Isola could hear the sailors singing at their work.

Slowly, slowly the two young women went down the hill, Allegra full of speculation and wonderment about the unknown vessel, Isola curiously silent. As they neared the hotel a man landed from a dinghy, and came briskly up the slippery causeway—a tall, slim figure in the vivid moonlight, loose limbed, loosely clad, moving with easiest motion.

Isola turned sick at the sight of him. She stopped, helplessly, hopelessly, and stood staring straight before her, watching him as he came nearer and nearer, nearer and nearer—like some awful figure in a nightmare dream, when the feet of the dreamer seem frozen to the ground, and flesh and blood seem changed to ice and stone.

He came nearer, looked at them, and passed them by—passed as one who knew them not, and was but faintly curious about them. He passed and walked quickly up towards the Point, with the rapid swinging movements of one who was glad to tread the solid earth.

No, it was not Lostwithiel. She had thought at first that no one else could look so like him at so short a distance; no one else could have that tall, slender figure, and easy, buoyant walk. But the face she saw in the moonlight was not his. It was like, but not the same: darker, with larger features, a face of less delicacy and distinction; but oh, God! how like the eyes that had looked at her, with that brief glance of casual inspection, were to those other eyes that had poured their passionate story into her own that unforgotten night when she sat out the after-supper waltzes in the ante-room at the Talbot. She could not have believed that any man[Pg 145] living could so recall the man whose name she never spoke of her own free will.

There were some sailors standing about at the top of the steep little bit of road leading down to the granite causeway, and their voices sounded fresh and clear in the still evening, mixed with the rippling rush of the water as it came running up the stones. The moonlight shone full upon one of the men as he stood with his face towards the sea, and Isola read the name upon the front of his jersey.


"Vendetta," cried Allegra, quick to observe the name. "Why, is not that Lord Lostwithiel's yacht?"

"Yes—I think so," faltered Isola.

"Then that must have been Lord Lostwithiel who passed as just now; and yet you would have known him, wouldn't you?"

"That was not Lord Lostwithiel."

"A friend of his, I suppose; such a nice-looking man, too. There was something so frank and cheery in his look as he just glanced at us both and marched briskly on. He did not pay us the compliment of seeming curious. I wonder who he is?"

Isola was wondering about something else. She was looking with a frightened gaze across the harbour, towards that one break in the long golden trail of the moonbeams where the Vendetta cast her shadow on the water. There were lamps gleaming brightly here and there upon the vessel—a look of occupation.

"Is Lord Lostwithiel on board his yacht?" Allegra asked of one of the sailors, not ashamed to appear inquisitive.

"No, ma'am; Mr. Hulbert is skipper."

"Who is Mr. Hulbert?"

"His lordship's brother."

"Was that he who went up towards the Point just now?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Is he going to stop here long, do you know?"

"I don't think he knows himself, ma'am. It'll depend[Pg 146] upon the weather most likely. If we get a fair wind we may be off to the Lizard at an hour's notice, and away up north to the Hebrides."

"Doesn't that seem inconsistent?" exclaimed Allegra, as they walked homewards. "What is the good of coming to Cornwall if he wants to go to the Hebrides? It must be very much out of his way."

"He may want to see his old home, perhaps. He was born at the Mount, you know."

"Indeed! I don't know anything about him, but I want to know ever so much. I call it an interesting face."

Allegra was full of animation during the homeward walk. A stranger of any kind must needs be a God-send, as affording a subject for conversation; but such a stranger as Lostwithiel's brother afforded a theme of strongest interest. She had heard so much about Lord Lostwithiel and all his works and ways—the pity of it that he did not marry; the still greater pity that he did not live at the Mount, and give shooting parties and spend money in the neighbourhood. She had heard in a less exalted key of his lordship's younger brother, who had fought under Beresford in Egypt, and who had only lately left the navy. What more natural than that such a man should sail his brother's yacht?

Captain Hulbert was still unmarried; but no one talked about the pity of that. People took a severely sensible view of his case, and were unanimous in the opinion that he could not afford to marry, and that any inspiration in that line would be criminal on his part. There was an idea at Trelasco that the younger sons of peers of moderate fortune have been specially designed by Providence to keep up the race of confirmed bachelors. There must be bachelors; the world cannot get on without them; society requires them as a distinct element in social existence; and it would ill become the offshoots of the peerage to shrink from fulfilling their destiny.

Allegra was not the less curious about Captain Hulbert, although his celibate mission had been frequently expounded[Pg 147] to her. She was interested in him because she liked his face, because he was Lostwithiel's brother, because he was sailing a very beautiful yacht, because he had appeared in her life with a romantic suddenness, sailing out of the sea unheralded and unexpected, like a man who had dropped from the moon.

She fell asleep that night wondering if she would ever see him again—if the Vendetta would have vanished from the harbour to-morrow at noontide, like a boat that had only lived in her dreams; or whether the yacht would still be anchored there in the haven under the hill. And, if so, whether Captain Hulbert would call at the Angler's Nest, and tell them about Lostwithiel's South American adventures, and how he came to be skipper of his brother's yacht.

At breakfast next morning, Colonel Disney's talk was chiefly about Captain Hulbert. The colonel had been for an early walk, and had seen the Vendetta from the little Quay at Fowey, by the Mechanics' Institute, and had heard who was the skipper.

"I remember him when he and his brother were at Eton together—nice boys—capital boys, both of them—but I liked Jack Hulbert better than Lostwithiel. He was franker, more spontaneous and impulsive. Yes, Jack was my favourite, and everybody else's favourite, I think, when the two were boys. I saw very little of them after they grew up. I was away with my regiment, and Jack was away with his ship, and Lostwithiel was wandering up and down the earth, like Satan. I left a card for Captain Hulbert at the club, asking him to dinner this evening. You don't mind, do you, Isola?"

Isola had no objection to offer, and Allegra was delighted at the prospect of seeing more of the man with the nice frank countenance, and that seafaring air which most women like.

"I am a dreadful person for being influenced by first impressions," she said, "and that one glance at Captain[Pg 148] Hulbert in the moonlight assures me that I shall like him."

"Don't like him too well," said Martin, laughingly, "for I'm afraid he's a detrimental, and would make even a worse match than Colfox, who may be a bishop one day, while Hulbert has left the navy, and is never likely to be anything."

"Match! detrimental!" cried Allegra, indignantly. "Can it be my brother who talks in such a vulgar strain? As if a woman could not look at a man without thinking of marrying him!"

"Some women can't," answered Martin. "With them every free man is a possible husband—indeed, I believe there are some who cannot look at a married man without estimating the chances of the divorce court—if the man is what they call a catch."

"That is your Indian experience!" exclaimed Allegra, scornfully. "I have heard that India is a sink of iniquity."

She went about her day's varied work as usual—curious to see the new acquaintance—yet in no wise excited. Vivid and animated, enthusiastic and energetic as she was in all her thoughts and ways, gushing sentimentality made no part of Miss Leland's character. Life at Trelasco flowed with such an even monotony, there was such a dearth of new interests, that it was only natural that a girl of vivacious temper should be curious about new-comers. At St. John's Wood every day had brought some new element into the lives of the students, and almost every day had brought a new pupil, drawn thither by the growing renown of the school, pupils from the uttermost ends of the earth sometimes, pupils of swart complexion speaking unknown tongues, pupils patrician and pupils plebeian, each and all conforming to the same stringent rules of art, spending patient months in the shading of a brace of plums or a bunch of grapes, from a plaster cast, and toiling slowly up the gradual ascent which leads to the Royal Academy and the gold medal. Many there were who sickened at the slow rate of progress and who fell away. Only the faithful remained. And this going[Pg 149] and coming, this strife between faith and unfaith, patience and impatience, had made a perpetual movement in the life of the great school—to say nothing of such bodily activities as lawn tennis, for which the master had provided a court—a court for his girl-pupils, be it noted, where they played among themselves, as if they had been so many collegians in the college of Tennyson's "Princess."

Allegra had liked her life at the great art school, but she had never regretted its abandonment. She loved her brother, and her brother's wife, better even than she loved art. It was only now and then that she felt that existence at Trelasco was as monotonous as the flow of the river going up and coming down day by day between Lostwithiel and the sea.

She spent the hours between breakfast and luncheon hard at work in her painting-room—a little room with a large window facing northward. She had the coachman's girl and boy for her models, and was engaged upon a little water-colour picture after the school of Mrs. Allingham, a little picture which told its story with touching simplicity.

It was not the first picture of the kind she had painted. Several of her works had been exhibited at the minor galleries which are hospitable to the new-comer in the world of art; and two small pictures had been bought at prices which seemed to promise her an easy road to fortune.

Tho coachman's children profited greatly by this new profession which had been devised for them. Allegra made their frocks in her leisure hours, when the active fingers must have something to do, while the active tongue ran on gaily in happy talk with Martin and Isola. Allegra made up to her little models for their hours of enforced idleness by extra tuition which kept them ahead of most of the other pupils in the village school; and Allegra supplied them with pocket-money.

"I don't know however the children got on before Miss Leland came," said the coachman's wife. "They seem to look to her for everything."

[Pg 150]

Allegra had other models, village children, and village girls—her beauty-girl, a baker's daughter with a splendid semi-Greek face, like Mrs. Langtry's, whom she dressed up in certain cast-off finery of her own, and painted in her genre pictures, now in this attitude, and now in that, imparting an air of distinction which elevated the Cornish peasant into a patrician. She it was, this baker's fair-haired daughter, who stood for Allegra's successful picture—"A daughter of the gods, divinely tall," a little bit of finished painting which had brought the painter five and thirty guineas—boundless wealth as it seemed to her—and ever so many commissions.

Art, even in despondency and failure, is a consolation; art successful is an intoxicating delight. Allegra was as happy a young woman as could be found in Cornwall that day, when she shut her colour-box, dismissed her little maiden, and ran down to lunch, where she found Isola more silent than usual, and made amends by her own light-hearted chatter for the morning's absorption over the easel. After lunch she ran off to the village to pay her parish visits to the sick and old, and on her way to an outlying cottage she met Mr. Colfox, who immediately turned to accompany her, a way he had, but a way to which she had never attached any significance. He was a clever, well-read man, of somewhat original temper, who had to pass most of his life among unlettered or dull people; therefore it surprised Allegra in no wise that he should like to talk to her. A bright, attractive girl of three and twenty is very unsuspicious about the feelings of a homely looking man at least a dozen years her senior.

"Your brother has been good enough to ask me to dinner," he said, after a little talk about the Goodies and their ailments. "I met him at the club this morning."

"He wants you to meet Captain Hulbert. Perhaps you know him already?"

"No, he has not been here within my time. He only left the navy a year ago, and he was generally stationed at the[Pg 151] utmost ends of the earth, keeping guard over our remote possessions. Have you seen him?"

"Only for an instant. He passed my sister and me yesterday evening in the moonlight. I thought he looked a nice person—but I think women have a natural leaning towards sailors. I could never imagine a seaman telling a falsehood or doing a mean action."

"There is a kind of open-air manner which suggests truthfulness," admitted Mr. Colfox. "Yet there have been dark deeds done by sailors; there have been black sheep even in the Queen's Navee. However, I believe Captain Hulbert is worthy of your good opinion. I have never heard anybody speak against him, and the old people who knew him as a lad seem to have liked him better than Lord Lostwithiel."

"Do tell me your opinion of Lord Lostwithiel. I am very curious about him. Mr. Crowther talked of him so much the night we were at Glenaveril."

"Mr. Crowther loves a lord."

"Please satisfy my curiosity. Is he really such a fascinating personage?"

"He has very pleasant manners. I don't know what constitutes fascination in a man, though I know pretty well what it means in a woman. Lord Lostwithiel's manners are chiefly distinguished by repose without languor or affectation—and by an interest in other people so cleverly simulated that it deceives everybody. One finds him out by the way in which people boast of his friendship. He cannot be so attached to all the world. He has a manner which is generally described as sympathetic."

"Mr. Crowther enlarged a good deal upon his lordship's admiration for my sister at the Hunt Ball. Was that so very marked?"

Mr. Colfox coloured violently at this direct question—assuredly not easy to answer truthfully without hazard of offence.

"I was not at the ball—I—I heard people talk a little—in the way people talk of everything—about Lostwithiel's[Pg 152] attention to Mrs. Disney, and about her prettiness—they all agreed that if not the loveliest woman in the room, she was at least the most interesting."

"It was very natural that he should admire her; but I don't think Martin liked Mr. Crowther's talking about it in that way, at the dinner-table. The man is horridly underbred. Has Lord Lostwithiel what you call—" she hesitated a little—"a good character?"

"I don't know about the present. I have heard that in the past his reputation was not altogether good."

"I understand," said Allegra, quickly. "The admiration of such a man is an insult; and that is why Mr. Crowther harped upon the fact. I am sure he is a malevolent man."

"Don't be hard upon him, Miss Leland. I believe he has only the misfortune to be a cad—a cad by birth, education, and associations. Don't fling your stone at such a man—consider what an unhappy fate it is."

"Oh, but he does not think himself unhappy. He is bursting with self-importance and the pride of riches. He is the typical rich man of the Psalmist. He must be the happiest man in Trelasco, a thick-skinned man whom nothing can hurt."

"I am sorry you think so badly of poor Mr. Crowther, because I am really attached to his wife. She is one of the best women I know."

"So my sister tells me, and I was very much taken with her myself, but one cannot afford to be friendly with Mrs. Crowther at the cost of knowing her husband."

She spoke with some touch of the insolence of youth, which sets so high a value upon its own opinions and its own independence, and looks upon all the rest of humanity as upon a lower plane. And this arrogant youth, which thinks so meanly of the multitude, will make its own exceptions, and reverence its chosen ideals with a blind hero-worship—for its love is always an upward-looking love, "the desire of the moth for the star."

Mr. Colfox sighed, and smiled at the same moment, a sad[Pg 153] little half-cynical smile. He was thinking how impossible it was to refrain from admiring this bright out-spoken girl, with her quick intellect, and her artistic instincts, so spiritual, so unworldly, and fresh as an April morning—how impossible not to admire, how difficult not to love her, and how hopeless to love.

He thought of himself with scathing self-contempt—middle-aged, homely of feature and of figure, with nothing to recommend him except good birth, a small independence—just so much as enabled him to live where he pleased and serve whom he would, without reference to the stipend attached to the cure; and a little rusty, dry-as-dust learning. Nothing more than this; and he wanted to win and wed a girl whose image never recurred to his mind without the suggestion of a rose garden, or a summer morning. Yes, she reminded him of morning and dewy red roses, those old-fashioned heavy red roses, round as a cup, and breathing sweetest, purest perfume.

He jogged on by her side in silence, and only awoke from his reverie to bid her good-bye at the gate of a cottage garden, in the lane that led up the hill to Tywardreath.


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