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CHAPTER XV.
"MY LIFE CONTINUES YOURS, AND YOUR LIFE MINE."

They started by the eleven-o'clock train from Fowey next morning, husband and wife, in a strangely silent companionship—Isola very pale and still as she sat in a corner of the railway carriage, with her back to the rivers and the sea. Naturally, in a place of that kind, they could not get away without being seen by some of their neighbours. Captain Pentreath was going to Bodmin, and insisted upon throwing away a half-finished cigar in order to enjoy the privilege of Colonel and Mrs. Disney's society, being one of those un[Pg 187]meditative animals who hate solitude. He talked all the way to Par, lit a fresh cigar during the wait at the junction, and reappeared just as the colonel and his wife were taking their seats in the up-train.

"Have you room for me in there?" he asked, sacrificing more than half of his second cigar. "I've got the Mercury—Jepps is in for Stokumpton—a great triumph for our side."

He spread out the paper, and made believe to begin to read with a great show of application, as if he meant to devour every syllable of Jepps's long exposition of the political situation; but after two minutes he dropped the Mercury on his knees and began to talk. There were people in Fowey who doubted whether Captain Pentreath could read. He had been able once, of course, or he could hardly have squeezed himself into the Army; but there was an idea that he had forgotten the accomplishment, except in its most elementary form upon sign-boards, and in the headings of newspaper articles, printed large. It was supposed that the intensity of effort by which he had taken in the cramming that enabled him to pass the ordeal of the Examiners had left his brain a blank.

"You're not going further than Plymouth, I suppose?" he asked.

"We are going to London."

"Are you really, now? A bad time of year for London—fogs and thaws, and all kinds of beastly weather."

And then he asked a string of questions—futile, trivial, vexing as summer flies buzzing round the head of an afternoon sleeper; and then came the welcome cry of Bodmin Road, and he reluctantly left them.

The rest of the journey was passed almost in silence. They had the compartment to themselves for the greater part of the time, and they sat in opposite corners, pretending to read—Isola apparently absorbed in a book that she had taken up at random just before she started, when the carriage was at the door, and while Allegra was calling to her to make haste.

[Pg 188]

It was Carlyle's "Hero Worship." The big words, the magnificent sentences, passed before her eyes like lines in an unknown language. She had not the faintest idea what she was reading; but she followed the lines and turned the leaf at the bottom of a page mechanically.

Martin Disney applied himself to the newspapers which he had accumulated on the way—some at Par, some at Plymouth, some at Exeter, till the compartment was littered all over with them. He turned and tossed them about one after the other. Never had they seemed so empty—the leaders such mere beating the air; the hard facts so few and insignificant. He glanced at Isola as she sat in her corner, motionless and composed. He watched the slender, white hands turning the leaves of her book at regular intervals.

"Is your book very interesting?" he asked, at last, exasperated by her calmness.

He had been attentive and polite to her, offering her the papers, ordering tea for her at Exeter, doing all that a courteous husband ought to do; but he had made no attempt at conversation—nor had she. This question about the book was wrung from him by the intensity of his irritation.

"It is a book you gave me years ago at Dinan," she answered, looking at him piteously. "'Hero Worship.' Don't you remember? I had never read anything of Carlyle's before then. You taught me to like him."

"Did I? Yes, I remember—a little Tauchnitz volume bound in morocco—contraband in England. A cheat—like many things in this life."

He turned his face resolutely to the window, as if to end the conversation, and he did not speak again till they were moving slowly into the great station, in the azure brightness of the electric light.

"I have telegraphed for rooms at Whitley's," he said, naming a small private hotel near Cavendish Square, where they had stayed for a few days before he started for the East.

[Pg 189]

"Do you think it would be too late for us to call at Hans Place before we go to our hotel?"

She started at the question. He saw her cheeks crimson in the lamplight.

"I don't think the lateness of hour will matter," she said, "unless Gwendolen is dining out. She dines out very often."

"I hope to-night may be an exception."

"Do you want very much to see her?" asked Isola.

"Very much."

"You are going to question her about me, I suppose?"

"Yes, Isola, that is what I am going to do."

"It is treating me rather like a criminal; or, at any rate, like a person whose word cannot be believed."

"I can't help myself, Isola. Tho agony of doubt that I have gone through can only be set at rest in one way. It is so strange a thing, so impossible as it seems to me, that you should have visited your sister while I was away, although no letter I received from you contained the slightest allusion to that visit—an important event in such a monotonous life as yours—and although no word you have ever spoken since my return has touched upon it; till all at once, at a moment's notice, when I tell you of your journey from London and the slander to which it gave occasion—all at once you spring this visit upon me, as if I ought to have known all about it."

"You can ask Gwendolen as many questions as you like," answered Isola, with an offended air, "and you will see if she denies that I was with her in the December you were away."

Colonel Disney handed his wife into a station brougham. The two portmanteaux were put upon the roof, and the order was given—99, Hans Place—for albeit Mr. Hazelrigg's splendid mansion was described on his cards and his writing-paper as The Towers, it is always as well to have a number for common people to know us by.

No word was spoken during the long drive from Paddington; no word when the neat little brougham drew up in[Pg 190] front of a lofty flight of steps leading up to a Heidelberg doorway, set in the midst of a florid red-brick house, somewhat narrow in proportion to its height, and with over much ornament in the way of terra cotta panelling, bay and oriel, balcony and pediment.

A footman in dark green livery and rice powder opened the door. Mrs. Hazelrigg was at home. He led the way to one of those dismal rooms which are to be found in most fine houses—a room rarely used by the family—a kind of pound for casual visitors. Sometimes the pound is as cold and cheerless as a vestry in a new Anglican church; sometimes it affects a learned air, lines its walls with books that no one ever reads, and calls itself a library. Whatever form or phase it may take, it never fails to chill the visitor.

There was naturally no fire in this apartment. Isola sank shivering into a slippery leather chair, near the Early English fender; her husband walked up and down the narrow floor space. This lasted for nearly ten minutes, when Gwendolen came bursting in, a vision of splendour, in a grey satin tea-gown, frothed with much foam of creamy lace and pale pink ribbon, making a cascade of fluffiness from chin to slippered toes.

"What a most astonishing thing!" she cried, after kissing Isola, and holding out both her plump, white hands to the colonel. "Have you dear, good people dropped from the clouds? I thought you were nearly three hundred miles away when the man came to say you were waiting to see me. It is a miracle we are dining at home to-night. We are so seldom at home. Of course you will stay and dine with us. Come up to my room and take off your hat, Isa. No, you needn't worry about dress," anticipating Disney's refusal; "we are quite alone. I am going to dine in my tea-gown, and Daniel is only just home from the city."

"You are very kind; no, my dear Mrs. Hazelrigg, we won't dine with you to-night," answered Disney. "We have only just come up to town. We drove across the park to see you before going to our hotel. Our portmanteaux are waiting at[Pg 191] the door. We are in town for so short a time that I wanted to see you at once—particularly as I have—a rather foolish question to ask you."

His voice grew husky, though he tried his uttermost to maintain a lightness of tone.

"Ask away," said Gwendolen, straightening herself in her glistening grey gown, a splendid example of modern elegance in dress and demeanour, and altogether a more brilliant and imposing beauty than the pale, fragile figure sitting in a drooping attitude beside the fireless hearth. "Ask away," repeated Gwendolen, gaily, glancing at her sister's mournful face as she spoke. "If I can answer you I will—but please to consider that I have a wretched memory."

"You are not likely to forget the fact I want to ascertain. My wife and I have had an argument about dates—we are at variance about the date of her last visit to you—while I was away—and I should like to settle our little dispute, though it did not go so far as a wager. When was she with you? On what date did she leave you?"

All hesitation and huskiness were gone from manner and voice. He stood like a pillar, with his face turned towards his sister-in-law, his eyes resolute and inquiring.

"Oh, don't ask me about dates," cried Gwendolen, "I never know dates. I buy Letts in every form, year after year—but I never can keep up my diary. Nothing but a self-acting diary would be of any use to me. It was in December she came to me—and in December she left—after a short visit. Come, Isa. You must remember the dates of your arrival and departure, better than I. You don't live in the London whirl. You don't have your brains addled by hearing about Buenos Ayres, Reading and Philadelphias, Berthas, Brighton A's, and things."

Martin Disney looked at her searchingly. Her manner was perfectly easy and natural, of a childlike transparency. Her large, bright, blue eyes looked at him—fearless and candid as the eyes of a child.

"You ought to remember that it was on the last day of[Pg 192] the year I left this house," said Isola, in her low, depressed voice, as of one weary unto death. "You said enough about it at the time."

"Did I? Oh, I am such a feather-head, tête de linotte, as they used to call me at Dinan. So it was—New Year's Eve—and I was vexed with you for not staying to see the New Year in. That was it. I remember everything about it now."

"Thank you, Mrs. Hazelrigg," said Martin Disney, and then going over to his wife, he said gravely, "Forgive me, Isola, I was wrong."

He held out his hands to her with a pleading look, and she rose slowly from her chair, and let her head fall upon his breast as he put his arms round her, soothing and caressing her.

"My poor girl, I was wrong—wrong—wrong—a sinner against your truth and purity," he murmured low in her ear; and then he added laughingly, to Gwendolen, "Were we not fools to dispute about such a trifle?"

"All married people are fools on occasion," answered Mrs. Hazelrigg. "I have often quarrelled desperately with Daniel about a mere nothing—not because he was wrong, but because I wanted to quarrel. That kind of thing clears the air—like a thunderstorm. One feels so dutiful and affectionate afterwards. Dan gave me this sapphire ring after one of our biggest rows," she added, holding up a sparkling finger.

Daniel Hazelrigg came into the room while she was talking of him, a large man, with a bald head and sandy beard, a genial-looking man, pleased with a world in which he had been permitted always to foresee the rise and fall of stocks. The Hazelriggs were the very type of a comfortable couple, so steeped in prosperity and the good things of this world as to be hardly aware of any keener air outside the gardenia-scented atmosphere of their own house; hardly aware of men who dined badly or women who made their own gowns; much less of men who never dined at all, or[Pg 193] women who flung themselves despairing from the parapets of the London bridges.

Mr. Hazelrigg came into the room beaming, looked at his wife and smiled, as he held out his hand to Colonel Disney, looked at his sister-in-law and smiled again, and held out his hand to her, the smile broadening a little, as if with really affectionate interest.

"I'm very glad to see you, my dear Mrs. Disney; but I can't compliment you upon looking as well as you did when we last met."

"She is tired after her long journey," said Gwendolen, quickly. "That's all there is amiss."

"The sooner we get to our hotel the better for both of us," said Disney. "We are dusty and weather-beaten, and altogether bad company. Good night, Mrs. Hazelrigg."

"But surely you'll stop and dine; it's close upon eight," remonstrated Hazelrigg, who was the essence of hospitality. "You can send on your luggage, and go to your hotel later."

"You are very good, but we are not fit for dining out. Isola looks half dead with fatigue," answered Disney. "Once more, good night."

He shook hands with husband and wife and hurried Isola to the door.

"Be sure you come to me the first thing to-morrow," said Gwendolen to her sister. "I shall stay in till you come, and I can drive you anywhere you want to go for your shopping—Stores, Lewis and Allanby's—anywhere. I want to show you my drawing-room. I have changed everything in it. You'll hardly know it again."

She and her husband followed the departing guests to the hall, saw them get into the little brougham and drive off into the night; and then Gwendolen put her arm through her husband's with a soft clinging affectionateness, as of a Persian cat, that knew when it was well housed and taken good care of.

"Poor Isa! how awfully ill she looks," sighed Gwendolen.

[Pg 194]

"Ghastly. Are all women alike, I wonder, Gwen?"

"I think you ought to know what kind of woman I am by this time," retorted his wife, tossing up her head.

Martin Disney and his wife were alone in their sitting-room at the hotel, somewhat bare and unhomelike, as hotel rooms must always be, despite the march of civilization which has introduced certain improvements. He had made a pretence of dining in the coffee-room below, and she had taken some tea and toast beside the fire; and now at ten o'clock they were sitting on each side of the hearth, face to face, pale and thoughtful, and strangely silent.

"Isola, have you forgiven me?" he asked at last.

"With all my heart. Oh, Martin, I could never be angry with you—never. You have been so good to me. How could I be angry?"

"But you have the right to be angry. I ought not to have doubted. I ought to have believed your word against all the world; but that man raised a doubting devil in me. I was mad with fears and suspicions, wild and unreasonable—as I suppose jealousy generally is. I had never been jealous before. Great God! what a fearful passion it is when a man gives himself up to it. I frightened you by my vehemence, and then your scared looks frightened me. I mistook fear for guilt. Isola, my beloved, let me hear the truth from your own lips—the assurance—the certainty," he cried with impassioned fervour, getting up and going over to her, looking down into the pale, upturned face with those dark, earnest eyes which always seemed to search the mysteries of her heart. "Let there be no shadow of uncertainty or distrust between us. I have heard from your sister that you were with her when you said you were. That is much. It settles for that vile cad's insinuated slander; but it is not enough. Let the assurance come to me from your lips—from yours alone. Tell me—by the God who will judge us both some day—Are you my own true wife?"

"I am, Martin—I am your own true wife," she answered,[Pg 195] with an earnestness that thrilled him. "I have not a thought that is not of you. I love you with all my heart and mind. Is not that enough?"

"And you have never wronged me? You have been true and pure always? I call upon God to hear your words, Isola. Is that true?"

"Yes, yes; it is true."

"God bless you, darling! I will never speak of doubt again. You are my own sweet wife, and shall be honoured and trusted to the end of my days. Thank God, the cloud is past, and we can be happy again!"

She rose from her low seat by the fire, and put her arms round his neck, and hid her face upon his breast, sobbing hysterically.

"My own dear girl, I have been cruel to you—brutal and unkind; but you would forgive me if you knew what I have suffered since noon yesterday; and, indeed, my suffering began before then. That man's harping on Lostwithiel's name in all his talk with you—his air of meaning more than he said—and your embarrassment, awakened suspicions that had to be set at rest somehow. Remember the disadvantages under which I labour—the difference in our ages; my unattractiveness as compared with younger men. These things predisposed me to doubt your love. I have not had a moment's peace since the night of that odious dinner-party. Yes; I have felt a new sensation. I know what jealousy means. But it is past. Praise be to God, it is past. I have come out of the cloud again. Oh, my love, had it been otherwise! Had we been doomed to part!"

"What would you have done, Martin?" she asked, in a low voice, with her face still hidden against his breast, his arms still round her.

"What would I have done, love? Nothing to bring shame on you. Nothing to add to your dishonour or sharpen the agony of remorse. I should have taken my son—my son could not be left under the shadow of a mother's shame. He and I would have vanished out of your life. You would[Pg 196] have heard no more of us. The world would have known nothing. You would have been cared for and protected from further evil—protected from your own frailty. So far, I would have done my duty as your husband to the last day of my life; but you and I would never have looked upon each other again."

Colonel Disney and his wife stayed in London two days; perhaps to give a colour to their sudden and in somewise unexplained journey; but Isola refused all her sister's invitations, to lunch, to drive, to dine, to go to an afternoon concert at the Albert Hall, or to see the last Shakespearean revival at the Lyceum. She pleaded various excuses; and Gwendolen had to be satisfied with one visit, at afternoon teatime, when husband and wife appeared together, on the eve of their return to Cornwall.

"It was too bad of you not to come to me yesterday morning, as you promised," Gwendolen said to her sister. "I stayed indoors till after luncheon on your account; and the days are so short at this time of year. I couldn't do any shopping."

Mrs. Hazelrigg was one of those young women for whom life is flavourless when they have nothing to buy. She was so well supplied with everything that women desire or care for that she had to invent wants for herself. She had to watch the advertisements in order to tempt herself with some new wish; were it only for a patent toast-rack, or a new design in ivory paper-knives. The stationers helped to keep life in her by their new departures in writing-paper. Papyrus, Mandarin, Telegraphic, Good Form, Casual, mauve, orange, scarlet, verdigris green. So long as the thing was new it made an excuse for sitting in front of a counter and turning over the contents of a show-case.

"You never came to look at my drawing-room by daylight," she went on complainingly. "You can't possibly judge the tints by lamplight. Every chair is of a different shade. I think you have treated me shamefully. I have[Pg 197] sent you more telegrams than I could count. And I had such lots to talk about. Have you heard from Dinan lately?"

"Not since August, when mother wrote in answer to our invitation for her and father to spend a month with us. I felt it was hopeless when I wrote to her."

"Utterly hopeless! Nothing will tempt her to cross the sea. She writes about it as if it were the Atlantic. And Lucy Folkestone tells me she is getting stouter."

"You mean mother?"

"Yes, naturally. There's no fear of Lucy ever being anything but bones. Mother is stouter and more sedentary than ever, Lucy says. It's really dreadful. One doesn't know where it will end," added Gwendolen, looking down at her own somewhat portly figure, as if fearing hereditary evil.

"I shall have to take Isa and the boy to Dinan next summer," said Disney. "It is no use asking the father and mother to cross the channel; though I think they would both like to see their grandson."

"Mother raved about him in her last letter to me," replied Gwendolen. "She was quite overcome by the photograph you sent her, only she has got into such a groove—her knitting, her novel, her little walk on the terrace, her long consultations with Toinette about the smallest domestic details—whether the mattresses shall be unpicked to-day or to-morrow, or whether the lessive shall be a week earlier or a week later. It is dreadful to think of such a life," added Gwendolen, as if her own existence were one of loftiest aims.


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