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CHAPTER XVI.
"SORROW THAT'S DEEPER THAN WE DREAM, PERCHANCE."

Life flowed on its monotonous course, like the Fowey river gliding down from Lostwithiel to the sea; and there seemed nothing in this world that could again disturb Martin Disney's domestic peace. Vansittart Crowther made no[Pg 198] further attempt to avenge himself for the night attack upon his gates; nor did he demand any apology for the vulgar abuse which he had suffered in the sanctuary of his own library. This he endured, and even further outrage, in the shape of the following letter from Colonel Disney:—

    "Sir,

    "As you have been pleased to take a certain old-womanish interest in my domestic affairs, I think it may be as well to satisfy your curiosity so far as to inform you that when your solicitor travelled in the same train with my wife, she was returning from a visit to her married sister's house, a visit which had my sanction and approval. I can only regret that her husband's modest means constrained her to travel alone, and subjected her to the impertinent attentions of one cad and to the slanderous aspersions of another.

    "I have the honour to be,

    "Yours, etc.,

    "Martin Disney."

Mr. Crowther treated this letter with the silent contempt which he told himself it merited. What could he say to a man so possessed by uxorious hallucinations, so steeped in the poppy and mandragora of a blind affection, that reason had lost all power over his mind.

"I spoke plain enough—as plain as I dared," said Mr. Crowther. "He may ride the high horse and bluster as much as he likes. I don't think he'll ever feel quite happy again."

Yet in spite of hints and insinuations from the enemy at his gates, Martin Disney was happy—utterly happy in the love of his young wife, and in the growing graces of his infant son. He no longer doubted Isola's affection. Her tender regard for him showed itself in every act of her life; in every look of the watchful face that was always on the alert to divine his pleasure, to forestall his wishes. Mrs. Baynham went about everywhere expatiating on the domestic happiness of the Disney family, to whom she was more than[Pg 199] ever devoted, now that she felt herself in a manner related to them, having been elevated to the position of godmother to the firstborn—a very different thing to being godmother to some sixth or seventh link in the family-chain, when all thought of selection has been abandoned, and the only question mooted by the parents has been, "What good-natured friend can we ask this time?"

Captain Hulbert took his yacht to other waters in November, only to come sailing back again in December, when he finally laid up the Vendetta in winter quarters, and took up his abode at the Mount, where he availed himself of his brother's stud, which had been reduced to two old hunters and a pair of carriage-horses of mediocre quality. And so the shortening days drew on towards Christmas; baby's first Christmas, as that small person's adorers remarked—as if it were a wonderful thing for any young Christian to make a beginning of life—and all was happiness at the Angler's Nest. All was happiness without a cloud, till one morning—Allegra and her brother being alone in the library, where she sometimes painted at her little table-easel, while he read—she put down her palette and went over to him, laying her hand upon his shoulder as he sat in his accustomed place in the old-fashioned bow-window.

"Martin, I want to speak to you about Isola," she said, rather tremulously.

"What about her? Why, she was here this minute," he exclaimed. "Is there anything amiss?"

"I do not think she is so strong as she ought to be. You may not notice, perhaps. A woman is quicker to see these things than a man—and she and I used to walk and row together—I am able to see the difference in her since last year. She seems to me to have been going back in her health for the last month or two, since her wonderful recovery from her illness. Don't be anxious, Martin!" she said, answering his agonized look. "I feel sure there is nothing that a little care cannot cure; but I want to put you on your guard. I asked her to let me send for Mr. Baynham, and she refused."

[Pg 200]

"Why, he sees her two or three times a week—he is in and out like one of ourselves."

"But he doesn't see her professionally. He comes in hurriedly late in the evening—or between the lights—to fetch his wife. He is tired, and we all talk to him, and Isa is bright and lively. He is not likely to notice the change in her in that casual way."

"Is there a change?"

"Yes, I am sure there is. Although I see her every day, I am conscious of the change."

"Baynham shall talk to her this afternoon."

"That's right, Martin—and if I were you I'd have the doctor from Plymouth again."

Life had been so full of bliss lately, and yet he had not been afraid. Yes, it was the old story. "Metuit secundis." That is what the wise man does. Fools do otherwise—hug themselves in their short-lived gladness, and say in their hearts, "There is no death."

Mr. Baynham came in the afternoon, in answer to a little note from Martin Disney, and he and Isola were closeted together in the library for some time, with baby's nurse in attendance to assist her mistress in preparing for the ordeal by stethoscope. Happily that little instrument which thrills us all with the aching pain of fear when we see it in the doctor's hand, told no evil tidings of Isola's lungs or heart. Thero was nothing organically wrong—but the patient was in a very weak state.

"You really are uncommonly low," said Mr. Baynham, looking at her intently as she stood before him in the wintry sunlight. "I don't know what you've been doing to yourself to bring yourself down so much since last summer—after all the trouble I took to build you up, too. I'm afraid you've been worrying yourself about the youngster—a regular young Hercules. I don't know whether he'd be up to strangling a pair of prize pythons; but I'm sure he could strangle you. I shall send you a tonic; and you'll have to[Pg 201] take a good deal more care of yourself than you seem to have been taking lately."

And then he laid down severe rules as to diet, until it seemed to Isola that he wished her to be eating and drinking all day—new-laid eggs, cream, old port, beef-tea—all the things which she had loathed in the dreary days of her long illness.

Mr. Baynham had a serious talk with the colonel after he left Isola, and it was agreed between them that she should be taken to Plymouth next day to see the great authority.

"You are giving yourself a great deal too much trouble about me, Martin," she said. "There is nothing wrong. I am only a little weak and tired sometimes."

Her husband looked at her heart-brokenly. Weak and tired. Yes; there were all the signs of failing life in those languid movements of the long, slender limbs, in the transparent pallor of the ethereal countenance. Decay was lovely in this fair young form; but he felt that it was decay. There must be something done to stop Misfortune's hastening feet.

He questioned his wife, he questioned his own memory, as to when the change had begun, and on looking back thus thoughtfully it seemed to him that her spirits and her strength had flagged from the time of Captain Hulbert's arrival at Fowey. She had seemed tolerably cheerful until then, interested in life, ready to participate in any amusement or occupation of Allegra's; but from the beginning of their yachting excursions there had been a change. She had shrunk from any share in their plans or expeditions. She had gone on board the yacht—on the two or three occasions when she had been persuaded to go—with obvious reluctance, and she had been silent and joyless all the time she was there. Within the last fortnight, when Captain Hulbert had pressed her to go to luncheon or afternoon tea at the Mount, she had persistently refused. She had begged her husband to take Allegra, and to excuse her.

"The walk up the hill would tire me," she said.
 
"My love, why should we walk? I will drive you there, of course."

"I really had rather not go. I can't bear leaving baby so long; and there is no necessity for me to be with you. Allegra is the person who is wanted. You must understand that, Martin. You can see how much Captain Hulbert admires her."

"And I am to go and play propriety while you do baby-worship at home. Rather hard upon me."

This kind of thing had occurred three or four times since the sailor's establishment at the Mount, and Colonel Disney had attached no significance to the matter; but now that he had begun to torture himself by unending speculations upon the cause of her declining health, he could but think that Captain Hulbert's society had been distasteful to her. It might be that Mr. Crowther's insulting allusions to Lord Lostwithiel had made any association with that name painful; and yet this would seem an overstrained sensitiveness, since her own innocence of all evil should have made her indifferent to a vulgarian's covert sneers.



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