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Isola was not quite so well after that drive in the February wind and dust. She developed a slight cough—very slight and inoffensive; but still it was a cough—and the kind and clever physician of San Remo, who came to see her once a week or so, told her to be careful. Mr. Baynham had written him a long letter about his patient, and the San Remo doctor felt a friendly interest in Isola and her sister-in-law, and the baby son in whom the whole family were so intensely interested. The infant had accepted the change in his surroundings with supreme complaisance, and crowed and chirruped among the lemons and the olives, and basked in the Southern sunshine, as his nurse wheeled his perambulator to and fro upon the terraced road behind the villa—the road which lost itself a little way further on amidst a wilderness of olives, and dwindled into a narrow track for man or mule.

The flower-battle was over, and the mistral had gone back to the great wind-cavern to lie in wait for the next golden opportunity; and the sun was shining once again upon the hills where the oil mills nestled, clinging to some rough ledge beside the ever-dropping waters, upon the labyrinthine lanes and alleys, the queer little flights of stone steps up which a figure like Ali Baba might generally be seen leading his heavily-laden, long-suffering donkey; upon arch and cupola, church and market-place, and on the triple rampart of hills that shuts San Remo from the outer world. The Disneys had been in Italy nearly seven weeks, and it seemed as natural to Isola to open her eyes upon the broad blue waters of the Mediterranean, the gorgeous sunrise, and the lateen sails, as on the Fowey river and the hills towards Polruan. She had taken kindly to this Italian exile. The sun and the blue sky had exercised a healing influence upon that hidden wound which had once made[Pg 231] her heart seem one dull, aching pain. She loved this new world of wood and hill, and most of all she loved the perfect liberty of this distant retreat, and the consolations of solitude. As for the cough, or the pain in her side, or any of those other symptoms about which the doctor talked to her so gravely, she made very light of them. She was happy in her husband's love, happy in his society, strolling with him in the olive wood, or the deserted garden, or down to the little toy-shop parade by the sea, where the band played once a week; or to the other garden in the town, where the same band performed on another day, and which was dustier and less airy than the little plantation of palm and cactus upon the edge of the sea. She went for excursions with him to points of especial beauty high up among the hills—to the chocolate mill, to San Romolo, she riding a donkey, he at the animal's side, while the guide trudged cheerily in the dust at the edge of the mountain road. In the evening she played to him, or sat by his side while he smoked the pipe of rest, or worked while he read to her. They had never been more devoted to each other, never more like wedded lovers than they were now. People who only knew them by sight talked of them admiringly, as if their love were an interesting phenomenon.

"He must be twenty years older than his wife," said Society, "and yet they seem so happy together. It is quite refreshing to see such a devoted couple nowadays."

People always seem ready and rather pleased to hold their own age up to contempt and ridicule, as if they themselves did not belong to it; as if they were sitting aloft in a balloon, looking down at the foolish creatures crawling and crowding upon the earth, in a spirit of philosophical contemplation.

Only one anxiety troubled Isola at this time, and that was on Allegra's account rather than her own. They had left England nearly two months, and as yet there had been no sign or token of any kind from Captain Hulbert, not so much as a packet of new books or new music—not so much as a magazine or an illustrated paper.

[Pg 232]

"He asked if he might write to me, and I told him no," Allegra said, rather dolefully, one morning, as they sat a little way from the well, Allegra engaged in painting a brown-skinned peasant girl of ten years old, whom she had met carrying olives the night before, and had forthwith engaged as a model. "I said it would never do for us to begin the folly of engaged lovers, who write to each other about nothing, sometimes twice a day. He has been wonderfully obedient: yet I think he ought to have written once or twice in two months. He ought to have known that though I told him not to write, I should be very anxious to hear from him."

"You mustn't be surprised at his obeying you to the letter, Allegra. There is a kind of simplicity about him, although he is very clever. He is so thoroughly frank and honest. It is for that I honour him."

"Yes, he is very good," sighed Allegra. "I ought not to have told him I would have no letter-writing. I really meant what I said. I wanted to give myself up to art, and you, for the unbroken year—to have no other thought, no distractions—and I knew that his letters would be a distraction—that the mere expectation of them—the looking for post time—the wondering whether I should have his letter by this or that post—I knew all that kind of thing would unnerve me. My hand would have lost its power. You don't know what it is when all depends upon certainty of touch—the fine obedience of the hand to the eye. No, his letters would have been a daily agitation—and yet, and yet I should like so much to know what he is doing—if he is still at the Mount—if he has any idea of coming to San Remo later—with his yacht—as he talked of doing."

"I have no doubt he will come. It will be the most natural thing for him to do. You will see the white sails some afternoon, glorified in the sunset, like that boat yonder with its amethyst-coloured sail."

Isola was right in her prophecy, except as to the hour of Captain Hulbert's arrival. They were taking a picnic[Pg 233] luncheon in a little grove of lemon and orange, wedged into a cleft in the hills, on the edge of a deep and narrow gorge down which a mountain torrent rushed to the sea. Suddenly across the narrow strip of blue at the end of the vista came the vision of white sails, a schooner with all her canvas spread, dazzling in the noonday sun, sailing towards San Remo. Allegra sat gazing at the white sails, but said never a word. Neither Martin Disney nor his wife happened to be looking that way, till the child in his nurse's lap gave a sudden crow of delight.

"Did he see the pretty white ship, then?" said the nurse, holding him up in the sunshine. "The beautiful white ship."

No one took any notice. The colonel was reading his Times, the chief link between the exile and civilization. Isola was intent upon knitting a soft white vestment for her firstborn.

Two hours later the garden gate gave a little click, and Captain Hulbert walked in. Allegra heard the click of the latch as she sat in the verandah, and ran out to meet him. She had been watching and expectant all the time, though she had held her peace about the vision of white sails, lest she should be suspected of hoping for her lover's coming, and, above all, lest she should be compassionated with later in the day, if the ship were not the Vendetta.

Yes, it was he. She turned pale with delight at the realization of her hope. She had hardly known till this instant how much she loved him. She let him take her in his arms and kiss her, just as if he had been the commonest sailor whose "heart was true to Poll."

"Are you really glad to see me, darling?" he whispered, overcome by the delight of this fond welcome.

"Really glad. I feel as if we had been parted for years. No letter to tell me where you were or what you were doing! I began to doubt if you ever cared for me."

"Heartless infidel, you told me not to write; and so I thought the only alternative was to come. And I have been coming for the last five weeks. We had a stiffish time across[Pg 234] the bay—nothing to trust to but canvas; and I had to waste a week at Toulon while my ship was under repairs. However, here I am, and the Vendetta is safe and sound; and I am your most obedient slave. How is Mrs. Disney?"

"Not quite so well as she was two or three weeks ago. She improved wonderfully at first, but she caught cold one bleak, blowy day, and she has started a little nervous kind of cough, which makes us anxious about her."

"Better spirits, I hope. Not quite so mopy?"

"Her spirits have revived wonderfully. This lovely land has given her a new life. But there are times when she droops a little. She is curiously sensitive—too impressionable for happiness. We have a very fine preacher here—Father Rodwell; you must have heard him."

"Yes, I heard of him at Oxford. He was before my time by some years; but he was a celebrity, and I heard men talk of him. Well, what of your preacher? Has he fallen in love with my Allegra—is he in the same boat as poor Colfox?"

"Fallen in love! No, he is not that kind of man. He is as earnest and enthusiastic as a medi?val monk. We have all been carried away by his eloquence. He preaches what people call awakening sermons; and I fear they have been too agitating for Isola. She insists on hearing him; she hangs upon his words; but his preaching has too strong an influence upon her mind—or upon her nerves. I have seen the tears streaming down her poor pale cheeks; I have seen her terribly overcome. She is too weak to bear that kind of strain. She is depressed all the rest of the day."

"She ought not to be allowed to hear such sermons. Take her to another church, where some dozy old bird will send her comfortably to sleep."

"I have tried to take her to the other church—you must not talk of a clergyman as a dozy old bird, sir—but she looked so unhappy at the mere idea of missing Father Rodwell's sermons that I dare not press the matter. He comes to see us occasionally, and he is the cheeriest and pleasantest of men, nothing of the zealot or ascetic about him; so that I am in[Pg 235] hopes his influence will be for good in the long run. How long shall you be able to stop at San Remo?"

"Till the lady for whose sake I came shall take it into her head to leave the place. I have been thinking, Allegra," putting his arm through hers, and pacing up and down the terrace, with the bright expanse of sea in front of them, and at their back the great curtain of hills encircling and defending them from the wintry world—"I have been thinking that Venice would be a charming place for you and me to spend next summer in—if—if—you meant six months instead of twelve for my probation—as I really think you must have done. We could be married on the first of June—such a pretty date for a wedding! So easy to remember! You would want to be married in Trelasco Church, of course; on our native soil. The church in which my great-grandfather was married, and in which I and all my race were christened! We could have the yacht at Marseilles ready to carry us off on our travels, through the delicious summer days and nights, all along this lovely coast, and away by Naples to the Adriatic. Allegra, why should we wait for the winter, the dreary winter, to begin our life journey? Let us begin it in the time of roses."

"Look, John!" cried Allegra, laughing, as she pointed to the hedge of red roses in front of them, and the clusters of creamy bloom hanging over the verandah. "The roses have been blooming ever since we came to Italy. It is always rose-time here. You remember our reading in the dedication of 'To Leeward' how Marion Crawford strewed his wife's pathway with roses on Christmas Day at Sorrento. We can find a flowery land for our honeymoon at any season of the year."

"But why wait a year? Can you not prove me trusty and true in less than a year?"

"You are so impatient," she said, plucking a handful of roses, and scattering the petals at her feet. "A year is so short a time."

"Short, love! why, eight weeks have seemed an eternity[Pg 236] to me without you; and you honoured me just now by saying that the time had appeared long, even to you—even to my liege lady, sitting serene in her palace of art, painting contadinas and their olive-faced offspring—even to you, whose love is as a thread of silk against a cable, compared to mine. Even to you, my mistress and my tyrant."

"That was because you were so far away. But there will be nothing to hinder our seeing each other, as often as you may find convenient. I have set my heart upon painting steadily for a twelvemonth, without any distractions."

"There is no such place as Venice for a painter. Think of the Miss Montalbas, and the splendid work they have done at Venice. Would you not like to be like them?"

"Would I not like to be like Apelles?"

"Well, Venice will be your treasury; Venice will fill that busy brain with ideas. You shall be fed upon pictures old and new—the new living pictures in the narrow streets and canals; the old masters in the churches and palaces. You shall learn of Tintoret and Veronese. You shall paint as much as you like. You shall have no distractions. We shall be strangers there, can live as we choose. Summer is the time for Venice, Allegra. Benighted English people have an idea that Italy is a place to winter in, and they go and shiver in marble palaces, and watch the torrential rain beating against windows that were never meant to shut out bad weather. The Italians know that their land is a land of summer, and they know how to enjoy sunny days and balmy nights. You don't know how delicious life is on the Lido when the night is only a brief interval of starshine betwixt sunset and dawn. You don't know what a dream of delight it is to float along the lagoons and watch the lamp-lit city melt into the mists of evening, breathing faint echoes of music and song. A great many things of beauty have been turned to ugliness, Allegra, since printing and the steam engine were invented; but, thank God! Venice is not one of them. You will think of my plan, won't you, love? At the least, it is a thing to be considered."

[Pg 237]

"Anything you say is worthy to be considered, John. And now come in and see Isola and Martin."

He felt that he had gone far enough—he felt that it were unwise to press the question too much at first. He meant to be gently persistent; and he meant to have his own way.

He followed Allegra into the drawing-room—a room full of light and sunshine, which had been beautified and made home-like by the addition of a few Japaneseries and a little old Italian furniture which Martin Disney had picked up at a bric-à-brac shop in the Via Vittorio Emanuelo. There were flowers everywhere, in the bright Italian pottery, so artless, so cheap, so gay, in its varieties of form and colouring. To Hulbert's fancy it was the prettiest room he had seen for an age.

"You seem to have made yourself uncommonly comfortable here," he said, after cordial greetings, settling down into a bamboo chair near Isola's little olive-wood table, littered with Tauchnitz novels and fancy work. "It is a pleasant sensation for a rolling stone who has hardly ever known what home means to drop into such a nest as this. You will have too much of my company, I'm afraid. You'll be shocked to hear that I have taken rooms at the Anglais, down there," pointing down the valley, "within a stone's throw of you."

"We are not shocked. We are very glad you will be near us," said Isola, smiling at him. "It has been a dull life for Allegra, I'm afraid."

"Dull! dull in this land of beauty!" cried Allegra. "I have never known a dull hour since I came here; though, of course," with a shy glance at her lover, "I have naturally thought sometimes of absent friends, and wished they were with me to revel in the loveliness of these woods and hills."

"Well, one of your friends has come to you, one who would as gladly have come had you been in regions where the sun never shines, or where his chariot wheels scorch the torrid sands."

Captain Hulbert stayed with them all the evening, and[Pg 238] planned a sail to Mentone for the following day, Isola again begging to be left out of their plans, as she had done at Fowey.

"You need feel no compunction about leaving me," she paid. "I shall be perfectly happy in the woods with nurse, and baby, and my books."

They obeyed her, and the little excursion was arranged. They were to start soon after the early breakfast, carrying what their Italian cook called a pique-nique with them, in the shape of a well-provided luncheon-basket. Isola sat in the olive wood, watching the white sails moving slowly towards Bordighera. It was an exquisite day—a day for dreaming on the water rather than for rapid progress. The yacht scarcely seemed to move as Isola watched her from the cushioned corner which L?ttchen had arranged in an angle of the low stone wall—all amongst ferns and mosses, brown orchises and blue violets—an angle sheltered by a century-old olive, whose gnarled trunk sprawled along the ground, rugged and riven, but with another century's life in it yet. Far down in the valley, below the old gateway, a company of cypresses rose dark against the blue of the sea, and Isola knew that just on that slope of the shore where the cypresses grew tallest the graves of English exiles were gathered. Many a fair hope, many a broken dream, many a disappointed ambition lay at rest under those dark spires, within the sound of that summer sea.

This was one of many days which the young mother spent in the woods or in the garden with her baby for her companion, while Allegra and the colonel sailed east or west in the Vendetta. Her doctor would have liked her to go with them, but she seemed to have an absolute aversion to the sea, and he did not press the point.

"Nothing that she dislikes will do her any good," he told Colonel Disney. "There is no use in being persistent about anything. Fancies and whims stand for a great deal in such an illness as hers."

A week or two later the same kind doctor discovered that[Pg 239] his patient was fast losing ground. Her strength had flagged considerably in a short time. He recommended change of scene.

"This quiet life suited her wonderfully well for the first month or so, but we are no longer making any headway. You had better try a gayer place—a little more life and movement."

Martin Disney was ready to obey. He and Allegra took counsel together, and then—in the lightest strain, one evening after dinner—they discussed the notion of a change.

"Shall we strike our tents, Isola? Are you tired of San Remo?"

"No, Martin. I am tired of myself, sometimes—never of these olive woods and lemon groves. Sometimes the stillness and the silent beauty of the place make me feel unhappy, without knowing why; but that is a kind of unhappiness no one can escape."

"Is there any place in the world within tolerable easy reach of this that you would like to see?" asked her husband.

"Yes, there is one city in the world that I have been longing to see ever since I began to have thoughts and wishes."

"And that is——"

"Rome! I should like to see Rome before I die, Martin; if it were not too troublesome for you——"

"Troublesome! My dearest, can anything be troublesome to me if it can but give you pleasure? You shall see Rome—not once—but again and again, in the course of a long and happy life, I hope. I am more than twenty years older than you; but I count upon at least thirty years more upon this planet, before I blow out my candle and say 'Bon soir.'"

"God grant that you may live to a good old age, Martin. The world is better for such a man as you."

"The world would be no place for me without my wife," he said. "And so you would like to see Rome, Isa? What has put that fancy into your head?"

"Oh, it is an old dream, as I said just now. And lately I have been talking to Father Rodwell, who knows Rome as[Pg 240] well as if he were a Roman citizen, and he has made me more and more anxious to go there. If it would not be a great plague to you, Martin."

"On the contrary, it would be a great pleasure. We will go to Rome, Isa, if your doctor approve. Allegra will like it, I know."

"Like it?" echoed Allegra, "I shall simply be intoxicated with delight. I know the catalogues of all the picture-galleries by heart. I think I know every one of the seven hills as well as if I had walked upon them from my childhood. I have read so many descriptions of the place and its surroundings—so many raptures penned by people whom I have envied for nothing else than that they have known Rome; they have lived in Rome."

The whole business was easily settled. Captain Hulbert was the only person who regretted the change. He had been a month at San Remo, a month of summer idleness in February and March, a month of summer sails on an azure sea; of mountain walks and rides, high up from stage to stage, until the region of lemon groves and olive woods gave place to the pines on the loftier hills. He had been able to spend all his days in Allegra's society.

There were no pictures, except in that one little gallery at Colla. There was nothing to distract her from her lover. In Rome there would be all the wonders of the most wonderful city in the world. It would be art first and love second.

The doctor approved; Father Rodwell wrote to an agent in Rome, and after some negotiation a suite of apartments was found on the high ground near the Trinità de' Monti, which seemed to meet all the requirements of the case. The priest vouched for the honesty and good faith of the agent, and on his responsibility the rooms were taken for the month of April, with liberty to occupy them later if it were so desired.


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