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CHAPTER XIV.
"SAY THE FALSE CHARGE WAS TRUE."

The Baynhams' dinner-party was a function to be anticipated with horror, and undergone with resignation. For the first week after the acceptance of the invitation the ceremony had seemed so far off that it could be talked about[Pg 170] lightly, and even made an occasion for mirth—Allegra giving her own little sketch of what a dinner at Myrtle Lodge would be like—the drawing-room with its wealth of chair-backs and photograph albums, and the water-colour landscapes which Mrs. Baynham had painted while she was at a finishing school at Plymouth, never having touched brush or pencil since—and Mrs. Baynham's rosy-cheeked nieces from Truro, who always appeared on the scene of any festivity. Yes, one could tell beforehand what the entertainment would be like.

One thing they did not know, however, Mrs. Baynham having been discreetly silent on the subject. They did not know that they were to meet the Glenaveril family in full force, the doctor's wife being of opinion that a friendly dinner-party was the panacea for all parish quarrels and small antagonisms, and that by judiciously bringing the Crowthers and the Disneys together at a well-spread board, and in the genial atmosphere of her unspacious drawing-room, she could bring about an end of the feud, or tacit coldness, which had divided the Angler's Nest and Glenaveril since Colonel Disney's home-coming. It was a disappointment to this worthy woman to see Vansittart Crowther, when Colonel and Mrs. Disney were announced, start and glare as if a mad dog had been brought into the room; but she was relieved at seeing the easy nod which the colonel bestowed upon his vanquished foe, and the friendly hand which good Mrs. Crowther held out to Isola, who paled and blushed, and all but wept at meeting with that cordial matron.

"I don't know why you never come to see me," said Mrs. Crowther, confidentially, having made room for Isola upon a very pretentious and uncomfortable sofa of the cabriole period, a sofa with a sloping seat and a stately back in three oval divisions, heavily framed in carved walnut, a back against which it was agony to lean, a seat upon which it was martyrdom to sit. "But I don't see why we shouldn't be friends when we do happen to meet."

[Pg 171]

"Dear Mrs. Crowther, we are always friends. I shall never forget your kindness to me."

"There, there; you're a tender-hearted soul, I know. It grieved me so not to go and see you when you were ill; and not to pay attention to your baby. Such a sweet little fellow, too. I've given him many a kiss on the sly when I've met him and his nurse in the lanes. I suppose Mr. Crowther and the colonel don't hitch their horses very well together. That's at the bottom of it all, no doubt. But as for you and me, Isola, I hope we shall always be good friends."

This confidential talk between the two women, observed by Mrs. Baynham out of the corner of her eye, augured well; but Mr. Crowther had not left off glaring, and a glare in those protruding eyeballs was awful. He usurped the hearthrug, as he laid down the law about the political situation and the impending ruin of the country.

"A feeble policy never maintained the prestige of any country, sir," he told Captain Pentreath, the half-pay bachelor, who was devoted to fishing, and cared very little whether his country had prestige or shuffled on without it—so long as fish would bite. "We lost our prestige when we lost Beaconsfield, and with our prestige we are losing our influence. The Continental powers leave us out of their calculations. The neutral policy of the last ten years has stultified the triumph of British arms from Marlborough to Wellington. The day will come, sir, when the world will cease to believe in the history of those magnificent campaigns. People will say, 'These are idle traditions. England could never have been a warlike nation.'"

Captain Pentreath tried to look interested, but was obviously indifferent to the opinion of future ages, and intent upon watching Allegra, looking her handsomest in a yellow silk gown, and deep in talk with Captain Hulbert, who leant his tall form against Mrs. Baynham's cottage piano, which, with a view to artistic effect, had been disguised in Algerian drapery, and wheeled into a position that made the room more difficult of navigation.

[Pg 172]

One only of the rosy-cheeked nieces was allowed to appear at the dinner-table; firstly because the table was a tight fit for twelve, and secondly because a thirteenth would have excited superstitious fears. The younger sister, whom people asked about with tender solicitude, was to be on view afterwards, when she would perform the bass to her sister's treble in the famous overture to Zampa, which, although not exactly a novelty, may be relied upon to open a musical evening with éclat.

Every one bad arrived, and after a chilling delay, Potts, the local fishmonger, who had been a butler, and who went out to wait at dinner-parties, and was as familiar a figure as a saddle of mutton or a cod's head and shoulders, made his solemn announcement, and with an anxious mind, Mrs. Baynham saw her guests parade across the narrow hall somewhat overfurnished with stags' heads, barometers, gig-whips and umbrella-stands, to the dining-room, while a hot blast of roast meat burst fiercely from the adjacent kitchen.

Mrs. Baynham had allotted Isola to Mr. Crowther, determined to carry out her idea of bringing about a friendly feeling. Mr. Baynham took Mrs. Crowther, and Captain Pentreath had the privilege of escorting Belinda, whose sentiments and airs and graces of every kind he knew by heart. There was no more excitement in such companionship than in going in to dinner with his grandmother. What is the use of being brought in continual association with a handsome heiress if you know yourself a detrimental?

"She would no more look at me as a lover than she would at a Pariah dog," said the captain, when some officious boon companion at the club suggested that he should enter himself for the Crowther Stakes.

Captain Hulbert was made happy with Allegra, and Colonel Disney was honoured by his hostess, to whom strict etiquette would have prescribed the peer's son. There was surplus female population in the persons of Alicia Crowther and Mary Baynham, who agreeably adorned each side of[Pg 173] the table with a little extra sweetness and light; Miss Baynham, buxom and rosy in a white cashmere frock which she had grown out of since her last dinner-party; Miss Crowther, square shouldered and bony, in a black confection by Worth, with a bloated diamond heart making a mirage upon a desert waste of chest, it being a point of honour with thin girls to be more décoletées than their plumper sisters.

Mrs. Baynham's conversation at one of her own dinners was apt to be somewhat distracted and inconsecutive in substance, although she maintained a smiling and delighted air all the time, whatever anxieties might be wearing her spirit—anxieties about the cooking and the attendance—angry wonder at the prolonged absence of the parlour-maid—distress at seeing the lobster sauce dragging its slow length along when people had nearly finished the turbot—agonizing fears lest the vol au vent should not last out after that enormous help taken by Captain Pentreath, in sheer absence of mind, perhaps, since he only messed it about on his plate, while he bored Miss Crowther with a prosy account of his latest victory over an obstinate demon of the Jack family—"such a devil of a fellow, three feet long, and with jaws like a crocodile."

Colonel Disney was almost as inconsecutive and fragmentary in his conversation as his hostess, and did not imitate her smiling aspect. He was silent and moody, as he had been at the Glenaveril dinner, more than a year ago. That Silenus face bending towards his wife's ear—that confidential air assumed in every look and tone—made him furious. He could scarcely sit through the dinner. He wounded Mrs. Baynham in her pride of heart as a housekeeper by hardly touching her choicest dishes.

"Oh, come now, Colonel Disney," she pleaded, "you must take one of my lobster cromskys. I don't mind owning that I made them myself. It is an entrée I learnt from the cook at my own home. My father was always particular about his table, and we had a professed cook. Please don't refuse a cromsky."

[Pg 174]

Colonel Disney took the thing on his plate, and sat frowning at it, while a bustle at the door and a marked rise in the temperature indicated the entrance of the pièce de resistance, in the shape of a well-kept saddle of mutton.

"Oh, but you had seen the Vendetta before, hadn't you?" asked the oily voice on the other side of the table. "You knew all about her. Really, now, Mrs. Disney, was that your first visit to Lostwithiel's yacht?"

Isola looked at the speaker as if he had struck her. Great God, how pale she was! Or was it the reflection of the apple-green shade upon the candle in front of her which gave her that ghastly look?

"Yes," she said. "I saw the yacht from the harbour years ago."

"But you were never on board her? How odd, now. I had a notion that you must have seen that pretty cabin, and all Lostwithiel's finical arrangements. He was so proud of the Vendetta when he was here. He was always asking my girls on board. You remember, Alicia, how Lord Lostwithiel used to ask you two girls to tea?"

"Yes," answered his daughter, in her hard voice. "He asked us often enough, but mother would not let us go."

"How very severe!" said Captain Hulbert, attracted by the sound of his brother's name. "Why do you object to a tea-party on the Vendetta, Mrs. Crowther? Have you a prejudice against yachts? Do you think they are likely to go down in harbour, like the poor old Royal George?"

"Oh no, I am not afraid of that. Only I liked Lord Lostwithiel to come to tea with us at Glenaveril; and I did not think it would be quite the thing for my girls to visit a bachelor's yacht, even if I went with them. People at Trelasco are only too ready to make unpleasant remarks. They would have said we were running after Lord Lostwithiel."

"Oh, but it isn't the single girls who run after the men nowadays," said Mr. Crowther, with his Silenus grin; "it's the young married women. They are the sirens."

[Pg 175]

Nobody took any notice of this remark; and the conversation which had become general for a minute or two resumed its duologue form.

Captain Hulbert and Allegra went on with their animated discussion as to the author of "Macbeth" and "Hamlet;" and Captain Pentreath took up the thread of his story about the obstinate pike; Alicia talked to the doctor about her last day with the hounds; and Mary Baynham told Mrs. Crowther about a church bazaar, which had electrified Truro, and at which she had "helped" at somebody else's stall.

"It was hard work standing about and trying to sell things all day, and persuading stingy old gentlemen to put into raffles for talking dolls," said Miss Baynham. "I have pitied shop-girls ever since."

Mrs. Baynham gave the signal for departure, feeling that her dinner, from a material point of view, had been a success. The lobster sauce had been backward, and the three last people to whom the vol au vent was offered had got very little except pie-crust and white sauce, but those were small blemishes. The mutton and the pheasants had been unimpeachable; and on those substantial elements Mrs. Baynham took her stand. She had spared neither pains nor money. Her Italian cream was cream, and not cornflour. Her cabinet-pudding was a work of art. She felt satisfied with herself, and knew that the doctor would approve; and yet she felt somehow that the moral atmosphere had not been altogether free from storm-cloud. Colonel Disney had looked on at the feast with a gloomy countenance; Mr. Crowther had talked in an unpleasant tone.

"I am afraid those two will never forget the church path," she thought, as she set her nieces down to Zampa, and then went to inspect the card-table in a snug corner near the fire, with its freshly lighted wax candles, and new cards placed ready for the good old English game which our ancestors called whist.

Zampa once started meant a noisy evening. Captain[Pg 176] Pentreath would sing "The Maid of Llangollen," and "Drink, puppy, drink." Mary Baynham would murder "It was a dream," and scream the higher notes in "Ruby." Duet would follow solo, and fantasia succeed ballad, Mrs. Baynham's idea of a social gathering being the nearest attainable approach to a penny reading. She would have had recitations, and imitations of popular actors, had there been any one capable of providing that form of amusement.

This evening, however, she failed in getting a quartette for whist. Neither Mr. Crowther nor his wife was disposed for cards; Colonel Disney coldly declined; and it was useless to ask the young people to leave the attractions of that woody piano. While she was lamenting this state of things, the whist-table being usually a feature in her drawing-room, the Disneys and Allegra bade her good night, and were gone before she had time to remonstrate with them for so early a departure.

It seemed earlier than it really was, for the dinner had been late. Disney's quick ear had heard the step of his favourite horse, punctual as the church clock. He had ordered his carriage at half-past ten, and at half-past ten he and his party left the drawing-room, the doctor following to hand the ladies to their carriage, while the colonel lighted a cigar on the door-step, preparatory to walking home.

"It's a fine night; I'd rather walk," he said.

He walked further than the Angler's Nest. He walked up to the hill where he and Isola had sat in the summer sunshine on the day after his home-coming. He roamed about that wild height for two hours, and the church clock struck one while he was in the lane leading down to Trelasco.

"If that man has any motive for his insolence—if there is any secret between him and my wife, I'll wring the truth out of him before he is a day older," the colonel said to himself, as he tramped homewards.

[Pg 177]

He wrote to Mr. Crowther next morning, requesting the favour of half an hour's private conversation upon a very serious matter. He proposed to call upon Mr. Crowther at twelve o'clock, if that hour would be convenient. The bearer of the note would wait for an answer.

Mr. Crowther replied that he would be happy to see Colonel Disney at the hour named.

Tho colonel arrived at Glenaveril with military punctuality, and was forthwith shown into that grandiose apartment, where all those time-honoured works which the respectable family bookseller considers needful to the culture of the country gentleman were arranged in old oak bookcases, newly carved out of soft chestnut wood in the workshops of Venice. It was an imposing apartment, with panelled dado, gilded Japanese paper, heavy cornice and ceiling, in carton pierre—such a room as makes the joy of architect, builder, and furniture-maker. So far as dignity and social position can be bought for money, those attributes had been bought by Vansittart Crowther; and yet this morning, standing before his medi?val fireplace, with his hands in the pockets of his velvet lounge coat, he looked a craven. He advanced a step or two to meet his visitor, and offered his hand, which the colonel overlooked, fixing him at once with a gaze that went straight to the heart of his mystery. He felt that an accuser was before him—that he, Vansittart Crowther, was called to account.

"Mr. Crowther, I have come to ask what you mean by your insolent manner to my wife?"

"Insolent! My dear Colonel Disney, I admire the lady in question more than any other woman within twenty miles. Surely it is not insolent to admire a pretty woman?"

"It is insolent to adopt the tone you have adopted to Mrs. Disney—first in your own house—on the solitary occasion when my wife and I were your guests—and next at the dinner-table last night. I took no notice of your manner on the first occasion—for though I considered your conduct offensive, I thought it might be your ordinary[Pg 178] manner to a pretty woman, and I considered I did enough in forbidding my wife ever to re-enter your house. But last night the offence was repeated—was grosser—and more distinctly marked. What do you mean by talking to my wife of Lord Lostwithiel with a peculiar emphasis? What do you mean by your affectation of a secret understanding with my wife whenever you pronounce Lord Lostwithiel's name?"

"I am not aware that there has been anything peculiar in my pronunciation of that name—or in my manner to Mrs. Disney," said Mr. Crowther, looking at his boots, but with a malignant smile lurking at the corners of his heavy lips.

"Oh, but you are aware of both facts. You meant to be insolent, and meant other people to notice your insolence. It was your way of being even with me for defying you to shut up the wood yonder, and cut off the people's favourite walk to church. You dared not attack me; but you thought you could wreak your petty spite upon my wife—and you thought I should be too dull to observe, or too much of a poltroon to resent your impertinence. That's what you thought, Mr. Crowther: and I am here to undeceive you, and to tell you that you are a coward and a liar, and that if you don't like those words you may send any friend you please to my friend, Captain Hulbert, to arrange a meeting in the nearest and most convenient place on the other side of the channel."

Mr. Crowther turned very red, and then very pale. It was the first time he had been invited to venture his life in defence of his honour; and for the moment it seemed to him that honour was a small thing, a shadowy possession exaggerated into importance by the out-at-elbows and penniless among mankind, who had nothing else to boast of. As if a man who always kept fifty thousand pounds at his bankers, and who had money invested all over the world, would go and risk his life upon the sands of Blankenburgh against a soldier whose retiring allowance was something less than[Pg 179] three hundred a year, and who was perhaps a dead shot. The idea was preposterous!

No, Mr. Crowther was not going to fight; and though he quailed before those steady eyes of Martin Disney's, calm in their deep indignation, this explanation was not unwelcome to him. He had a dagger ready to plunge into his enemy's heart, and he did not mean to hold his hand.

"I'm not a fighting man, Colonel Disney," he said; "and if I were I should hardly care to fight for a grass widow who made herself common talk by her flirtation with a man of most notorious antecedents. We will say that it never was any more than a flirtation—in spite of Mrs. Disney's mysterious disappearance after the Hunt Ball, which happened to correspond with Lord Lostwithiel's sudden departure. Tho two events might have no connection—more especially as Mrs. Disney came back ten days after, and Lord Lostwithiel hasn't come back yet."

"I can answer for my wife's conduct, sir, under all circumstances, and amidst all surroundings. You are the first person who has ever dared to cast a slur upon her, and it shall not be my fault if you are not the last. I tell you again, to your face, that you are a coward and a liar—a coward because you are insolent to a young and lovely woman, and a liar because you insinuate evil against her which you are not able to substantiate."

"Ask your wife where she was at the end of December, the year before last—the year you were in India. Ask her what she had been doing in London when she came back to Fowey on the last day of the year, and travelled in the same train with my lawyer, Mr. MacAllister, who was struck by her appearance, first because she was so pretty, and next because she looked the picture of misery—got into conversation with her, and found out who she was. If you think that is a lie you can go to MacAllister, in the Old Jewry, and ask him to convince you that it is a fact."

"There is no occasion. My wife has no secrets from me."

"I am glad to hear it. Then there is really nothing to[Pg 180] fight about except a good deal of vulgar abuse on your part, which I am willing to overlook. A man of your mature age, married to a beautiful girl, has some excuse for being jealous."

"More excuse, perhaps, than a man of your age has for acting like a cad," said the colonel, turning upon his heel, and leaving Mr. Crowther to his reflections.

Those reflections were not altogether bitter. Mr. Crowther felt assured that he had sown the seeds of future misery. He did not believe in the colonel's assertion that there were no secrets between him and his wife. He had cherished the knowledge of that mysterious journey from London on the last day of the year. He had warned his confidential friend and solicitor to mention the fact to no one else. He had pried and questioned, and by various crooked ways had found out that Isola had been absent from the Angler's Nest for some days after the Hunt Ball, and he had told himself that she was a false wife, and that Martin Disney was a fool to trust her.

As for being called by harsh names, he was too much a man of the world to attach any importance to an angry husband's abuse. It made him not a sixpence the poorer; and as there had been no witness to the interview it scarcely diminished his dignity. The thing rested between him and his enemy.

"He took down my gates, but I think I have given him something to think about that will spoil his rest for many a night, before he has thought it out," mused Mr. Crowther.

It was after the usual luncheon hour before Martin Disney went back to the Angler's Nest. He had been for a long walk by the river, trying to walk down the devil that raged within him, before he could trust himself to go home. His wife was alone in the drawing-room, sitting by the fire with her baby in her lap; but this time he did not pause on the threshold to contemplate that domestic picture. There was no tenderness in the eyes which looked at his wife—only a stern determination. Every feature in the familiar face[Pg 181] looked strange and rigid, as in the face of an accuser and judge.

"Send the child away, Isola. I want some serious talk with you."

She stretched out a faltering hand to the bell, looking at him, pale and scared, but saying no word. She gave the baby to his nurse presently in the same pallid dumbness, never taking her eyes from her husband's face.

"Martin," she gasped at last, frozen by his angry gaze, "is there anything wrong?"

"Yes, there is something horribly wrong—something that means destruction. What were you doing in London the winter before last, while I was away? What was the motive of your secret departure—your stealthy return? What were you doing on the last day of the year? Where had you been? With whom?"

She looked at him breathless with horror; whether at the accusation implied in his words, or at his withering manner, it would have been difficult for the looker-on to decide. His manner was terrible enough to have scared any woman, as he stood before her, waiting for her answer.

"Where had you been—with whom?" he repeated, while her lips moved mutely, quivering as in abject fear. "Great God! why can't you answer? Why do you look such a miserable, degraded creature—self-convicted—not able to speak one word in your own defence?"

"On the last day of the year?" she faltered, with those tremulous lips.

"On the last day of the year before last—the winter I spent in Burmah. What were you doing—where were you—where had you been? Is it so difficult to remember?"

"No, no; of course not," she cried, with a half-hysterical laugh. "You frighten me out of my senses, Martin. I don't know what you are aiming at. I was coming home from London on that day—of course—the 31st of Jan—no, December. Coming home from Hans Place, where I had been spending a few days with Gwendolen."

[Pg 182]

"You never told me of that visit to Gwendolen."

"Oh yes; I'm sure I told you all about it in one of my letters. Perhaps you did not get that letter—I remember you never noticed it in yours. Martin, for God's sake, don't look at me like that!"

"I am looking at you to see if you are the woman I have loved and believed in, or if you are as false as hell," he said, with his strong hand grasping her shoulder, her face turned to his, so that those frightened eyes of hers could not escape his scrutiny.

"Who has put this nonsense in your head?"

"Your neighbour—your good Mrs. Crowther's husband—told me that his lawyer travelled with you from Paddington—on the 31st of December—the year before last. He got into conversation with you—you remember, perhaps?"

"No," she cried, with a sudden piteous change in her face, "I can't remember."

"But you came from London on that day. You remember that?"

"Yes, yes. I came from Gwendolen's house on that day. I told you so in my letter."

"That letter which I never received—telling me of that visit to which you made no allusion in any of your later letters. It was about that time, I think, that you fell off as a correspondent—left off telling me all the little details of your life—which in your earlier letters seemed to shorten the distance between us."

She was silent, listening to his reproaches with a sullen dumbness, as it seemed to him, while he stood there in his agony of doubt—in his despairing love. He turned from her with a heart-broken sigh, and slowly left the room, going away he scarce knew whither, only to put himself beyond the possibility of saying hard things to her, of letting burning, branding words flash out of the devouring fire in his heart.

She stood for a few moments after he had gone, hesitating, breathless, and frightened, like a hunted animal at bay—[Pg 183]then ran to the door, opened it softly, and listened. She could hear him pacing the room above. Again she stood still and hesitated, her lips tightly set, her hands clenched, her brow bent in painful thought. Then she snatched hat and jacket from a corner of the hall where such things were kept, and put them on hurriedly, with trembling hands, as if her fate depended upon the speed with which she got herself ready to go out, looking up at the great, dim, brazen face of the eight-day clock all the while. And then she let herself out at a half-glass door into the garden, and walked quickly to a side gate that opened in to the lane—the gate at which the baker and the butcher stopped to gossip with the maids on fine mornings.

There was a cold bracing wind, and the sun was declining in a sky barred with dense black clouds—an ominous sky, prophetic of storm or rain. Isola walked up the hill towards Tywardreath as if she were going on an errand of deadliest moment, skirted and passed the village, with no slackening of her pace, and so by hill and valley to Par, a long and weary walk under ordinary circumstances for a delicate young woman, although accustomed to long country walks. But Isola went upon her lonely journey with a feverish determination which seemed to make her unconscious of distance. Her steps never faltered upon the hard, dusty road. The autumn wind that swept the dead leaves round her feet seemed to hold her up and carry her along without effort upon her part. Past copse and meadow, common land and stubble, she walked steadily onward, looking neither to right nor left of her path, only straight forward to the signal lights that showed fiery red in the grey dusk at Par Junction. She watched the lights growing larger and more distinct as she neared the end of her journey. She saw the fainter lights of the village scattered thinly beyond the station lamps, low down towards the sandy shore. She heard the distant rush of a train, and the dull sob of the sea creeping up along the level shore, between the great cliffs that screened the bay. A clock struck six as she[Pg 184] waited at the level crossing, in an agony of impatience, while truck after truck of china clay crept slowly by, in a procession that seemed endless; and then for the first time she felt that the wind was cold, and that her thin serge jacket did not protect her from that biting blast. Finally the line was clear, and she was able to cross and make her way to the village post-office.

Her business at the post-office occupied about a quarter of an hour, and when she came out into the village street the sky had darkened, and there were heavy rain-drops making black spots upon the grey dust of the road; but she hurried back by the way she had come, recrossed the line, and set out on the long journey home. The shower did not last long, but it was not the only one she encountered on her way back, and the poor little jacket was wet through when she re-entered by the servant's gate, and by the half-glass door, creeping stealthily into her own house and running upstairs to her own room to get rid of her wet garments before any one could surprise her with questions and sympathy. It was past eight o'clock, though she had walked so fast all the way as to feel neither cold nor damp. She took off her wet clothes and dressed herself for dinner in fear and trembling, imagining that her absence would have been wondered at, and her errand would be questioned. It was an infinite relief when she went down to the drawing-room to find only Allegra sitting at her easel, working at a sepia sketch by lamplight.

"Martin is very late," she said, looking up as Isola entered, "and he is generally a model of punctuality. I hope there is nothing wrong. Where have you been hiding yourself since lunch, Isa? Have you been lying down?"

"Yes, part of the time"—hesitatingly. "It is very late."

"Twenty minutes to nine. Dale has been in twice in the last quarter of an hour to say that the dinner is being spoilt. Hark! There's the door, and Martin's step. Thank God, there is nothing wrong!" cried Allegra, getting up and going out to meet her brother.

[Pg 185]

Colonel Disney's countenance as he stood in the lamplight was not so reassuring as the substantial fact of his return. It was something to know that he was not dead, or hurt in any desperate way—victim of any of those various accidents which the morbid mind of woman can imagine if husband or kinsman be unusually late for dinner; but that things were all right with him was open to question. He was ghastly pale, and had a troubled, half-distracted expression which seared Allegra almost as much as his prolonged absence had done.

"I am sure there is something wrong!" she said, when they were seated at dinner, and the parlour-maid had withdrawn for a minute or two in pursuance of her duties, having started them fairly with the fish.

"Oh no, there is nothing particularly amiss; I have been worried a little, that's all. I am very sorry to be so unconscionably late for dinner, and to sit down in this unkempt condition. But I loitered at the club looking at the London papers. I shall have to go to London to-morrow, Isola—on business—and I want you to go with me. Have you any objection?"

She started at the word London, and looked at him curiously—surprised, yet resolute—as if she were not altogether unprepared for some startling proposition on his part.

"Of course not. I would rather go with you if you really have occasion to go."

"I really have. It is very important. You won't mind our deserting you for two or three days, will you, Allegra?" asked Disney, turning to his sister. "Mrs. Baynham will be at your service as chaperon if you want to go out anywhere while we are away. It is an office in which she delights."

"I won't trouble her. I shall stay at home, and paint all the time. I have a good deal of work to do to my pictures before they will be ready for the winter exhibition, and the time for sending in is drawing dreadfully near.[Pg 186] You need have no anxiety as to my gadding about, Martin. You will find me shut up in my painting-room, come home when you will."

Later, when she and her brother were alone in the drawing-room, she went up to him softly and put her arms around his neck.

"Martin, dearest, I know you have some great trouble. Why don't you tell me? Is it anything very bad? Does it mean loss of fortune; poverty to be faced; this pretty home to be given up, perhaps?"

"No, no, no, my dear. The home is safe enough; the house will stand firm as long as you and I live. I am not a shilling poorer than I was yesterday. There is nothing the matter—nothing worth speaking about; blue devils, vapours if you like. That's all."

"You are ill, Martin. You have found out that there is something wrong with you—heart, lungs, something—and you are going to London to consult a physician. Oh, my dear, dear brother," she cried, with a look of agony, her arms still clasped about his neck, "don't keep me in the dark; let me know the worst."

"There is no worst, Allegra. I am out of sorts, that's all. I am going to town to see my lawyer."



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