The rain was over—the monotonous drip, drip, which had irritated Isola's nerves all that morning, had ceased at last. She left the modest little lunch untouched upon the table, and went out into the hall, where her hat and jacket hung handy for any impromptu ramble. No need to look at one's self in the glass before going out of doors, at twenty years of age, and in such a place as Trelasco. Isola took her stick from the stand, a green orange stick, bought in the sunny South, on her way to Venice with her husband last year—a leisurely trip, which had been to them as a second honeymoon after a few happy months of wedlock. Then had come the sadness of parting, and a swift and lonely journey for the young wife—a lonely return to the Angler's Nest, Trelasco, that cosy cottage between Lostwithiel and Fowey, which Major Disney had bought and furnished before his marriage. He was a son of the soil, and he had chosen to pitch his tent in that remote spot for the sake of old associations, and from a fixed belief that there was no locality of equal merit for health, beauty, and all other virtues which a man should seek in his home.
The doctor had decided that, in the delicate health in which she found herself at the end of that summer, it would be dangerous for her to accompany her husband to India, more especially as a campaign in Burmah meant roughing it, and she would in all probability have been separated from him in the East; so they bade each other a sad good-bye at Venice, and Isola travelled quickly homeward, all possible[Pg 26] comfort having been secured for her on the way, by her husband's forethought. It had been a long, sad, sleepy journey, through a rain-blurred landscape, and she was glad when the evening of the fourth day brought her to the snug little dining-room in the Angler's Nest, where Tabitha was waiting for her with a cheerful fire and the amber-shaded reading lamp, and the most delightful little composite meal of chicken and tongue, and tart, and cream, and tea. It was pleasant to be among familiar things, after that long journey in stuffy ladies' carriages, with elderly invalids, whose chief talk was of their ailments. Pleasant to see the Shah's solemn sea-green eyes staring at her, and to have to repulse the demonstrative attentions of Tim, who leapt upon her lap and licked her face vehemently every time he caught her off her guard."How innocent you are, mother," cried Alicia, contemptuously; "can't you see that they are all bursting with envy? That was what made the colonel so gloomy and disagreeable the night of our little dinner. He was vexed to see things done with as good taste as in a nobleman's house. It cuts these poor gentilities to the quick to see that. They don't much mind our being rich, if we will only be vulgar and uneducated. But when we have the impertinence to be as well up in the ways of good society as they are themselves, they can't forgive us. Good taste in a parvenu is the unforgivable sin."
"NO SUDDEN FANCY OF AN ARDENT BOY."
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.
It was a mild, misty night, and the moon, which had been counted on for the return home, was hidden behind a mass of black clouds—or in the expressive phraseology of one of the foxhunters, had gone to ground. Mrs. Disney waited near the door while Lostwithiel searched for her fly. There were several departures of other muffled figures, features undistinguishable behind Shetland wraps, or furry hoods, as the men hustled their womenkind into the carriages. It seemed an age to Isola, waiting there alone in the corridor, and seeing no mortal whom she knew among those passersby, before Lostwithiel came, hurried and breathless, to say that her carriage was just coming up to the door.
They had reached the shrubbery by this time, and were hurrying along a winding walk where the rain reached them with less violence. The narrow walk brought them on to a broad terrace in front of the house. Lostwithiel opened a half-glass door, and led Mrs. Disney into the library, a long, low room, full of curious nooks and corners, formed by two massive chimney-pieces, and by the projecting wings of the heavy oak bookcases. Isola had never seen any room so filled with books, nor had she ever seen a room with two such chimney-pieces, of statuary marble, yellowed with age, elaborately carved with cherubic heads, and Cupids, and torches and festal wreaths, bows and arrows, lyres and urns."Next to a juvenile party, I don't know anything better—from a professional point of view—than a public ball," he[Pg 65] said. "Your canvas corridors, decorated with flowers and bunting, are a fortune to a family practitioner."
"I don't know about being frightened, but he was certainly carrying too much canvas. I told him so this morning."[Pg 171]
"I should have been both; but you ought to have told me. I had a right to know. I left you in her charge, Isola. You are much too young and too pretty to be living alone without some kind of dragon—and I knew Tabitha would be a very gentle dragon—a good motherly soul, able to wait upon you and look after your health, and yet grim enough to keep marauders off the premises. Indeed, my pet, you should have let me know of her departure without an hour's delay. She was very wrong to go. It was a breach of faith I could never have expected."
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"It does make a difference of over a quarter of a mile—and the proof is that everybody uses it, and that it goes by the name of the Church path. I wouldn't try to stop it, if I were you, Mr. Crowther. You are a popular man in the parish, for you—well, you have spent a heap of money in this place, and you subscribe liberally to all our charities and what not; but, I don't mind telling you, if you were to try and shut off that old footpath across your wood, you'd be about the most unpopular man within a radius of ten miles.""That's my darling! I hope she won't bore you when she is here. I have a shrewd idea she'll make your life happier. She'll awaken you from that languor which has grown upon you in your loneliness."Here lived in wealth and state quite the most important family within a mile of Trelasco, the Vansittart Crowthers, erst of Pilbury Mills, near Stroud, now as much county as a family can make itself after its head has passed his fortieth birthday. Nobody quite knew how Mr. Crowther had come to be a Vansittart—unless by the easy process of baptism and the complaisance of an aristocratic sponsor; but the Crowthers had been known in Stroud for nearly two hundred years, and had kept their sacks upright, as Mr. Crowther called it, all that time.
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.详情
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