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首页 » 经典英文小说 » All along the River » CHAPTER XIII.
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If Isola had any disinclination to visit Captain Hulbert's yacht, her headache only served to defer the evil day, for after that first tea-drinking came other invitations and other arrangements, fishing-parties, luncheons off Mevagissey, entertainments in which Isola must needs share when she saw her husband and his sister bent upon the enjoyment of the hour, delighted with the Vendetta and her warm-hearted skipper.

They were not John Hulbert's only friends in the neighbourhood. Everybody seemed glad to welcome the rover to his native village. Almost everybody had known him in his boyhood; and there was a general consensus of opinion that he was a much better fellow than his brother. He was less courted; but he was better liked. There had been a touch of cynicism about Lostwithiel which frightened matter-of-fact country people.

[Pg 160]

"One could never feel sure he wasn't laughing in his sleeve at our rustic ignorance," said Mrs. Baynham. "I am more at my ease with Captain Hulbert, and my husband and he were great friends when he was a boy. They used to go fishing together, when Baynham's practice wasn't as good as it is now."

So the brief Indian summer passed in pleasant idlesse on a tranquil sea. The equinoctial gales had not begun to rage yet. There was a lull before the coming of the great winds which were to blow good ships on shore, and startle sleepers in the dead of night. All now was fair and placid—sunlit waters, golden evenings. They spent one bright, balmy day off Mevagissey, a day which was like a long dream to Isola, as she sat on deck in a low folding-chair, wrapped in a great feathery rug from the South Sea Islands, with her languid head reclining against a plush-covered cushion, one of the many effeminate luxuries which abounded in the cabins below. Everybody else was intent upon the nets. Everybody else was full of interest and movement and expectation; but she sat apart from all, with her ivory knitting-needles lying idle in her lap, amidst a soft mass of white wool, which her industry was to convert into a garment for the baby.

Allegra was enraptured with the yacht. She would fain have taken Isola down to the cabins, to explore their wonders of luxury and contrivance, so much comfort and elegance in so restricted an area; but Isola refused to leave the deck.

"I hate all cabins," she said. "They are always suffocatingly hot."

So Mrs. Baynham went below with Allegra, and they two explored the two principal cabins with wondering admiration, and even peeped into the cook's galley, and the odd little places where steward and sailors contrived to bestow themselves.

The chief cabin, saloon, or whatever one liked to call it, was as daintily decorated as a lady's boudoir. There were nests of richly bound books, Oriental bronzes, and all kinds[Pg 161] of continental pottery, Japanese and Indian embroideries, Venetian mirrors, quaint little carved cupboards for wine or cigars. Every corner and cranny was utilized.

"What a delicious drawing-room!" cried Allegra. "I could live here all my life. Fancy, how delightful! A floating life. No such thing as satiety. One might open one's eyes every morning on a fresh coast, glorified, as one sees it across the bright, blue water. To explore the Mediterranean, for instance, floating from city to city—the cities of the past, the cities of the Gospel, the shores that were trodden by the feet of St. Paul and his companions—the cities of the Christian saints and martyrs, the island birthplaces of Greek gods and heroes. Think, Mrs. Baynham! A yacht like this is a master-key to open all the gateways of the world."

"I would rather have my own cosy little cottage on terra firma," answered the doctor's wife in a matter-of-fact mood; but this speech of Allegra's set the good lady pondering upon the possibility of John Hulbert falling in love with this nice, clever girl, and making her mistress of his brother's yacht.

Her friendly fancy depicted the village wedding, and those two going forth over the great waters to spend their honeymoon amidst the wonder-world of the Mediterranean, which the banker's daughter knew only in her Atlas.

"He can't be rich," she thought, "but he must have a comfortable income. I know his mother had money. And Allegra can earn a good deal by her painting. She wouldn't be an expensive wife. We ought all to do our best to bring it about. A girl has so few chances in such a place as Trelasco. She might almost as well be in a convent."

Mrs. Baynham was at heart a matchmaker, like most motherly women whom fate has left childless. She was very fond of Allegra, who was so much more companionable than Isola, so much more responsive to kindness and affection. As she sat on deck in the westering sunlight, somewhat comatose after a copious luncheon, Mrs. Baynham's[Pg 162] idea of helping Allegra took the form of a dinner-party which she had long been meditating, her modest return for numerous dinners which she had eaten at Glenaveril and at the Angler's Nest. She considered that three or four times a year it behoved her to make a serious effort in the way of hospitality—a substantial and elaborate dinner, in which no good things in season should be spared, and which should be served with all due ceremony. The time was at hand when such a dinner would in a manner fall due; and she determined to hasten the date with a view to Allegra's interests.

"Captain Hulbert is sure to be off again before long," she told herself, "so every evening they can spend together is of importance. I'm sure he is inclined to fall in love with her already."

There was not much doubt about his feelings as he stood by Allegra in the stern, directing the movements of her bare active hands while she hauled in the net; not much doubt that he was as deep in love as a man well can be after a fortnight's acquaintance. He did not make any secret of his bondage, but let his eyes tell all the world that this girl was for him "the world's one woman."

The invitation from Mrs. Baynham was delivered by post next morning, as ceremonious a card as if the place were Mayfair, and the inviter and invitees had not met since last season. A copper-plate card, with name and address filled in by the lady's pen, a detail which distinguished her modest invitation from the Glenaveril cards, of which there were a variety, for at homes, tennis, dinner, luncheon, to accept, and to decline. A fortnight's notice marked the dignity of the occasion—the hour the orthodox quarter to eight.

"We can't refuse, Isola," said Disney, when his wife handed him the card, "although my past experience assures me that the evening will be a trifle heavy. Why will people in small houses insist upon giving dinner-parties, instead of having their friends in instalments? When we go to dine with the Baynhams we go for love of them, not the people[Pg 163] they bring together; and yet they insist upon seating twelve in a room that will just comfortably hold eight. It is all vanity and vexation of spirit."

"But Mrs. Baynham is so happy when she is giving a real dinner-party. I don't think we can refuse, can we, Allegra?" asked Isola.

"Mrs. Baynham is a darling, and I wouldn't vex her for worlds," replied her sister-in law. "And in a place like this one can't pretend a prior engagement, unless it were in the moon."

The invitation was accepted forthwith, and when Captain Hulbert dropped in at teatime it was discovered that he, too, had been asked, and that he meant to accept, if his friends at the Angler's Nest were to be there.

A thunderbolt fell upon the little village on the following Sunday. When the old men and women, creeping to church a little in advance of younger legs, came to the church-path, they found the gate locked against them, locked and barricaded with bars which looked as if they were meant to last till the final cataclysm. The poor old creatures looked up wonderingly at a newly-painted board, on which the more intelligent among them spelt out the following legend—

"This wood is the private property of J. Vansittart Crowther, Esq. Trespassers will be prosecuted."

Martin Disney and his wife and sister came up when a little crowd of men, women, and children, numbering about thirty, had assembled round the gate, all in their Sunday best.

"What's the meaning of this?" asked Disney.

"Ah, colonel, that's what we all want to know," replied old Manley, the village carpenter, a bent and venerable figure, long past work. "I'm over eighty, but I never remember that gate being locked as long as I have lived at Trelasco, and that's all my life, colonel. There's always been a right of way through that wood."

"And there always shall be," answered Martin Disney. "We won't take any violent measures to-day, my friends—[Pg 164]first because it is Sunday, and next because one should always try fair means before one tries foul. I shall write to Mr. Crowther to-morrow, asking him civilly to open that gate. If he refuses, I'll have it opened for him, and I'll take the consequences of the act. Now, my good friends, you'd better go to church by the road. You'll get there after the service has begun. Wait till the congregation are standing up, and then go into church all together, so that everybody may understand why and by whose fault it is that you are late."

The appearance of this large contingent after the first lesson created considerable surprise, and much turning of heads and rustling of bonnet-strings in the echoing old stone church. Mr. Crowther stood in his pew of state on one side of the chancel, and felt that the war had begun. Everybody was against him in the matter, he knew; but he wanted to demonstrate the rich man's right to do what he liked with the things which he had bought. The wood was his, and he did not mean to let the whole parish tramp across it.

He received a stiffly polite letter from Colonel Disney, requesting him to re-open the church-path without loss of time, and informing him of the great inconvenience caused to the older and weaker members of the congregation by the illegal closing of the path during church hours.

Mr. Crowther sent his reply by the colonel's messenger. He asserted his right to shut up the wood which formed a part of his estate, and positively refused to re-open the gate at either end of the footpath in question.

Captain Hulbert dropped in at his usual hour, eager to know the progress of the fight. Fight there must be, he was assured, having seen something of Mr. Crowther's bulldog temper. Then, in the drawing-room of the Angler's Nest, there was hatched a terrible plot—a Catiline conspiracy in a tea-cup—Allegra listening and applauding while the two men plotted.

That night, when the village was hushed in sleep, a boatful of sailors landed at the little hard near the railway[Pg 165] station at Fowey, and half a dozen stalwart blue-jackets might have been seen tramping along the old railway track to Trelasco, one carrying a crowbar, another a carpenter's basket. And under the autumn stars that night in the woods of Glenaveril, while Vansittart Crowther slept the sleep of the just man who payeth his twenty shillings in the pound, there rose the sound of a sea-song and the cheery chorus of the sailors, with a rhythmic accompaniment of hammering; and lo, when the October morning visited those yellowing woods, and when Mr. Crowther's gamekeeper went on his morning round, the gate at either end of the church path was wrenched off its hinges, and was lying on the ground. Staple and bolt, padlock and iron hinges, were lying among the dewy dock-leaves and the yellowing fern; and there was free passage between the village of Trelasco and the House of God.

Vansittart Crowther went to Plymouth by the first train that could convey him, and there consulted the lawyer most in renown among the citizens; and that gentleman, after due thought and consideration, informed him that the closing of such an old-established right of way as that of the church-path was more than any landowner durst attempt. Whatever omission there might be in the title-deeds, he had bought the estate subject to that old right of way, which had been enjoyed by the parish from time immemorial. He could no more shut it off than he could wall out the sky.

"But I can punish the person who pulled the locks off my gates, I conclude?" said Mr. Crowther, swelling with indignation.

"That, of course, is a distinct outrage, for which you may obtain redress, if you can find out who did it."

"There can be no difficulty about that. The act must have been instigated by the writer of that impertinent letter."

He pointed to Martin Disney's letter, lying open on the solicitor's table.

"Very probably. But you will have to be sure of proving his share in the act if you mean to take proceedings against him."
Vansittart Crowther was furious. How was he to bring the responsibility of this outrage home to anybody, when the deed had been done in the dead of night, and no mortal eye had seen the depredators at their felonious work? His locks and bolts and hinges, the best of their kind that Sheffield could supply, had been mocked at and made as naught; and all his dumb dogs of serving men and women had been lying in their too comfortable beds, and had heard never a sound of hammer clinking or crowbar striking on iron. There had not been so much as a kitchen-maid afflicted with the tooth-ache, and lying wakeful, to hear the far-off noise of that villainous deed.

Mr. Crowther sent for the police authorities of Fowey, and set his wrongs before them.

"I will give fifty pounds reward to the man who will get me credible evidence as to the person who planned that outrage," he said. And next day there were bills pasted against divers doors at Fowey and Trelasco, against the Mechanics' Institute, and against that curious old oaken door of a medi?val building opposite the club, which may once have been a donjon, and in sundry other conspicuous places, beginning with "Whereas," and ending with Vansittart Crowther's signature.

Nothing came of this splendid offer, though there were plenty of people in the district to whom fifty pounds would have seemed a fortune. Whether no one had seen the crew of the Vendetta landing or re-embarking in the night-time, or whether some wakeful eyes had seen, whose owners would not betray the doers of a deed done in a good cause, still remains unknown. Captain Hulbert was enchanted at the success of the conspiracy, and went to church next Sunday by the now notorious footpath, along which an unusual procession of villagers came streaming in the crisp, clear air, proud to assert a right that had been so boldly maintained by their unnamed but not unknown champion. Every one felt very sure that the flinging open of the gates had been somehow brought about by Martin Disney—Martin, whose[Pg 167] grandfather they could some of them remember, when he came home after the long war with the French, and took up his abode in an old house among the hills, and married a fair young wife. That had happened sixty-five years ago; but there were those in the village who could remember handsome Major Disney, with only one arm, and a face bronzed by the sun that shines on the banks of the Douro.

Captain Hulbert went by the church-path that morning, although it took him ever so far out of his way. He wanted to walk to church with the Disney family, in order to talk over their victory; and the Disneys seemed to-day to resolve themselves into one; and that one was Allegra Leland; for she and the captain walked ahead and discoursed gaily, perhaps in too exultant and worldly a vein for pious church people; but at worst their exultation was in a good cause; for the horn of the lowly was exalted, and the pride of the rich man was brought low.

"Do you think he will be at church?" asked Allegra, the pronoun standing for Mr. Crowther.

"Of course he will. He must brazen out the position. He will be there, no doubt, gnashing his teeth behind his prayer-book. If angry looks could kill, you and I would be as dead as Ananias and Sapphira before the end of the service."

"Poor, silly man, why did he want to shut up the footpath?" speculated Allegra.

"Only to show his importance—to make himself felt in the neighbourhood. They wouldn't have him for their representative, in spite of his money, and his grand Church and State principles, and all the Primrose Leaguing of his womankind; and so he turns savage and wants to make himself disagreeable."

Yes, it was true that Mr. Crowther had stood for Lostwithiel on three separate occasions, and with equal unsuccess on each. This may have embittered him. If the anger of slighted beauty is a furious thing, no less bitter is the sting of wounded vanity in the rejected candidate.

And then the parson and the doctor had told Mr. Crowther[Pg 168] that he could not close his wood against the public; an all-sufficient reason why he should make the attempt.

The Crowther family were in the chancel pew in full force. Allegra thought she detected signs of distress in Mrs. Crowther's countenance; but the daughters went through the service with their noses in the air, and were more than usually vivacious and conversational among their friends between the church-porch and the landau which bore them away to Glenaveril, and the sumptuous boredom of Sunday luncheon.

Merrily went the short autumn days on board the Vendetta, and merrily went the tea-drinkings and talk in the drawing-room at the Angler's Nest. Mrs. Disney did not often join the yachting expeditions east or west. The sea made her head ache, she told them; but Mrs. Baynham, who loved pleasure of any kind, was always ready to chaperon Allegra, and Isola welcomed the wanderers to the cheery fireside and the friendly five-o'clock tea. She spent her own days mostly in the society of her baby, with whom she seemed to hold a kind of mysterious commune. She had no idea of amusing him as the nurse had, none of those conventional tricks and movements which are offered to generation after generation of infants; but the child would lie in her lap for hours while she sang to him in her low sweet voice the songs she had learnt in her early girlhood—songs that the peasants of Brittany sing, some of them—and others of a somewhat loftier strain. She would sing him little bits of Mozart, those immortal melodies, of inexhaustible sweetness and ineffable pathos, music mixed with smiles and tears, melody interwoven with such melting tenderness as thrills the coldest heart. There was a gentle happiness in these solitary hours which the young mother spent with her child; and Martin Disney, coming into the room unawares, sometimes stood for a minute or so in loving contemplation of that domestic picture—the young fair face with its long oval form and delicate features; the pensive gravity of the large violet eyes, and mournful droop of the thin, flower-like lips. He had[Pg 169] seen such a face on canvas, the ideal Madonna of Raffaelle, with just that subdued blonde colouring and pale auburn hair, and just that thoughtful expression.

His heart swelled with gladness and gratitude as he contemplated mother and son. Yes, the child had made all things well in his home.

Those aching doubts which he felt as he watched beside his wife's sick-bed had vanished like clouds before the sun. Who could doubt the happiness of the mother, absorbed in her firstborn? Who could doubt the love of the wife, looking up at her husband with such tender welcome as he bent over her shoulder to take the little curled-up fist in his, unfold the crumpled fingers, and press them to his lips?

"You are very fond of him, Martin?" she asked, with an often repeated inquiry, knowing what the answer would be.

"Fond of him! After you he is all that I have in this world—except Allegra, who will float away into a world of her own by-and-by, and belong to us no more."

"After me! He ought to be first, Martin—your son, your heir, your second self in the days to come. He ought to have the first place in your heart, Martin, for he is your future."

"No one is first but you."

He dropped the baby hand, and took his wife's head between his hands, and lifted the fair young forehead, looking down at it fondly before he stooped to kiss the soft clustering hair and pencilled brows and ivory temples, with more than a lover's passion.


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