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CHAPTER XII.
"FAR, TOO FAR OFF FOR THOUGHT OR ANY PRAYER."

Mr. Colfox and Allegra met again in the drawing-room of the Angler's Nest at a quarter to eight. He was the first to arrive, and Isola had not yet appeared. Martin Disney was at his post in front of the library fireplace, library and drawing-room making one spacious room, lighted with candles here and there, and with one large shaded lamp on a table near the piano. Isola had been suffering from headache, and had been late in dressing. Captain Hulbert had been in the room nearly ten minutes before his hostess appeared, looking pale and ill in her black lace gown, and with an anxious[Pg 154] expression in her eyes. He had been introduced to Allegra, and was talking to her as if he had known her for years, when his attention was called off by Isola's appearance, and his introduction to her.

Was this Martin Disney's wife, he thought wonderingly—such a girlish fragile creature—so unlike the woman he had pictured to himself? Strange that Lostwithiel should not have told him of her delicate prettiness, seeing that he was a connoisseur in beauty, and hypercritical.

"This is just the kind of beauty he would admire," thought Hulbert, "something out of the common—a pale, spiritual beauty—not dependent upon colouring, or even upon regularity of feature—the kind of thing one calls soul, not having found a better name for it."

They went in to dinner presently, Captain Hulbert and Isola, Mr. Colfox and Allegra. Tho table was a small oval, at which five people made a snug little party. There was a central mass of white chrysanthemums, a cheerful glow of coloured Venetian glass, delicatest pink and jade-green, under the light of a hanging lamp. John Hulbert looked round him with a pleased expression, taking in the flowers, the glass, the cream-white china, the lamplight, everything; and then the two fair young faces, one pale and pensive, the other aglow with the delight of life, eagerly expectant of new ideas.

They talked of the Vendetta and the places at which she had touched lately. Captain Hulbert had spent his summer on the Eastern Liguria, between Genoa and Civita Vecchia.

"Wasn't it the wrong time of year for Italy?" asked Mr. Colfox.

"No, it is the season of seasons in the land of the sun. If you want to enjoy a southern country, go there in the summer. The south is made for summer, her houses are built for hot weather, her streets are planned for shade; her wines, her food, her manners and customs have all been made for summer-time—not for winter. If you want to know Italy at her worst go there in cold weather."

[Pg 155]

"Where did you leave Lord Lostwithiel?" Disney asked presently.

"I left him nowhere. He left me to rove about Southern Europe—left me on his way to Carinthia. He is like the wandering Jew. He used to be mad about yachting; but he got sick of the Vendetta all of a sudden, and handed her over to me. Very generous on his part; but the boat is something of a white elephant for a man of my small means. I wanted him to sell her. Wouldn't hear of it. To let her. Not to be thought of. 'I'll lend her to you,' he said, 'and you shall keep her as long as you like—sink her, if you like—provided you don't go down in her. She is not a lucky boat.'"

"Have you sailed her long?"

"Nearly a year, and I love her as if she were bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. Let us all go for a sail to-morrow, Mrs. Disney—to Mevagissey or thereabouts. We could do a little fishing. It will be capital fun. What do you say, Miss Leland?"

"I should adore it," said Allegra, beaming at him. "The sea is my passion—and I think it is my sister's passion too. We are a kind of amphibious creatures, living more on water than on land. We venture as far as we dare in a row-boat—but oh, that is such a little way."

"I'm afraid that some day you will venture so far that you won't be able to get back again, and will find yourselves drifting away to America," said her brother.

Isola answered never a word, until Captain Hulbert addressed her pointedly for the second time.

"Will you go, Mrs. Disney—may we make up the party?"

"I would rather not," she answered, without looking at him.

"But why not? Are you such a bad sailor—in spite of all Miss Leland says of you?"

"I am a pretty good sailor in a row-boat—but not in a yacht. And I hate fishing—such a slow weary business. I would rather not go."

"I am so sorry; but you must not be worried about it,"[Pg 156] said Hulbert, kindly, seeing the growing distress in her countenance. "We will not go in for fishing—or excursions—but you and Miss Leland will at least come to afternoon tea on the Vendetta—to afternoon tea in the harbour. There used to be a comic song when I was a boy—'Come and drink tea in the arbour.' You must come to the arbour with an aspirate. It is not so rustic or sentimental—but there will be no earwigs or creeping things to drop into your tea-cup. Mr. Colfox, you will come, won't you?"

"I shall be delighted," answered the curate. "I have a sneaking kindness for all yachts."

The conversation drifted back to Lostwithiel and his works and ways, presently.

"When he went home two years ago he gave me to understand he was going to settle down at the Mount, and spend the rest of his days in peace and respectability," said Captain Hulbert. "Yet, very soon afterwards, he and his yacht were off again like the Flying Dutchman, and the next I heard of him was at Leghorn, and six months later he was coasting off Algiers; and the following spring he was in South America; and the Vendetta was laid up at Marseilles, where he begged me to go and look after her, and take her to myself until such time as he should want her again. I was with him for a few days at Leghorn, where he seemed ill and out of spirits. I don't think you can have used him over well in this part of the world, Mrs. Disney," he added, half in jest. "I fancy some of you must have snubbed him severely, or his tenants must have worried him by their complaints and exactions. I could not get him to talk about his life at the Mount. He seemed to have taken a disgust for the old home."

"You must put that down to his roving temper," said Disney, "for although I was away at the time, I can answer for it there was no such thing as snubbing in the case. Your brother is the only peer in these parts, and from the way people talk about him he might be the only peer in Great Britain—the Alpha and Omega of Debrett. Our parvenu neighbour, Mr. Crowther, talked of him one night with a[Pg 157] slavish rapture which made me sick. I am a Tory by association and instinct, but I can't stand the vulgarian's worship of a lord."

Isola looked at her sister-in-law, and they both rose at this moment, the Church almost tumbling over the Navy in eagerness to open the door; Navy winning by a neck.

They were not long alone in the drawing-room, not more than the space of a single cigarette, before the men followed. Then came music, and a good deal of talk, in the long, low, spacious room, which looked so bright and homely by candlelight, with all its tokens of domestic and intellectual life.

"What a capital quarter-deck this is," cried John Hulbert, after pacing up and down while he listened, and talked, and laughed at Allegra's little jokes about the narrowness of village life. "It is delightful to stretch one's legs in such a room as this, after six months upon a yacht."

"You will have room enough to stretch your legs at the Mount," said Disney.

Captain Hulbert had announced his intention of spending a week or two under the family roof-tree while the Vendetta underwent some slight repairs and renovations.

"Room enough and to spare," he said. "I shan't feel half so jovial walking up and down those grim old rooms as I feel here. I shall fancy a ghost pacing behind me, clump, clump, clump—a slow, solemn footstep—only the echo of my own tread perhaps; but I shall never know, for I shall be afraid to look round."

"You ought not to make sport of weak people's fancies, for I am sure you don't believe in ghosts," said Allegra, leaning with one elbow on the piano, turning over pieces of music absently, a graceful figure in a dark green velvet gown, cut just low enough to show the fine curves of a full, round throat, white and smooth as ivory.

"Not believe in ghosts? Did you ever know a sailor who wasn't superstitious? We are too often alone with the sea and the stars to be quite free from spectral fancies, Miss Leland. I can see in your eyes as you look at me this[Pg 158] moment that you believe in ghosts—believe and tremble. Tell me now, candidly—When do you most fear them? At what hour of the day or night does the unreal seem nearest to you?"

"I don't know," she faltered, turning over the loose music with a faintly tremulous gesture, while Isola sat by the piano, touching the notes dumbly now and then.

"Is it at midnight—in the gloaming—in the chill, mysterious dawn? You won't answer! Shall I guess? If you are like me, it is in broad daylight—between two and three in the afternoon—when the servants are all idling after their dinner, and the house is silent. You are alone in a big, bright room, perhaps, with another room opening out of it, and a door a long way off. You sit writing at your table, and you feel all at once that the room is haunted—there must be something or some one stealing in at that remotest door. You daren't look round. You go to the window and look out into garden or street—for a town house may be just as ghastly as a country one—and then with a great effort you turn slowly round and face your terror, in the broad, garish sunlight, in the business hours of the day. There is nothing there, of course; but the feeling has not been the less vivid. I know I shall be spectre-haunted at the Mount. You must all come and scare away the shadows. Mr. Colfox, are you fond of billiards?"

"I own to a liking for the game. I play with Mr. Crowther and his youngest daughter whenever I dine at Glenaveril. Alicia is a very fine player, for a girl, and her father plays a good game."

"Then you will come up to the Mount two or three times a week and play with me, I hope. There's a decent table—cushions as hard as bricks, I dare say, but we must make the best of it—and there's plenty of sound claret in the cellars to say nothing of a keg or two of Schiedam that I sent home from the Hague."

"Mr. Colfox will not make much impression either on your claret or your schnapps," said Disney, laughing. "He[Pg 159] is almost as temperate as one of those terrible anchorites in the novel we were reading the other day—'Homo Sum.'"

"I am glad you put in the qualifying 'almost,'" said the curate, "for I hope to taste Captain Hulbert's Schiedam."

The captain expatiated upon what his three new friends—and his one old friend, Martin Disney—were to do to cheer him in his solitude at the Mount.

"There is nothing of the anchorite about me," he said. "I love society, I love life and movement, I love bright faces."

He would not leave until they had all promised to take tea on board the yacht on the following afternoon, an engagement which was kept by Allegra and the colonel; but not by Isola, whose headache was worse after the little dinner-party; nor by the curate, who had parish business to detain him on shore.


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