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Isola kissed the letter before she put it in her pocket, and then she looked round the room rather dolefully, as if the Cornish nest were not altogether paradise. And yet it was a pretty little room enough, half dining-room, half study, with handsomely bound books on carved oak shelves, and photographs and bright draperies, and cosily cushioned bamboo chairs, and a bird-cage, and a Persian cat. Nor was the garden outside flowerless, even on the threshold[Pg 3] of winter. The purple blossoms of the veronica were untouched by frost; there were pale tea roses gleaming yonder against the dark gloss of holly and laurel. There were single dahlias of vividest red, like flaming stars; and close under the open window, last splendour of departed summer, the waxen chalice of a golden lily trembled on its tall stem, and filled the room with perfume.
Isola rarely touched that stick without remembering the day it was bought—a rainy day in Milan—just such a day as this, a low, grey sky, and an oppressive mildness of atmosphere. She remembered, with the sick pain that goes with long partings, how she and her husband had dawdled away an afternoon in the Victor Emmanuel Gallery, buying handkerchiefs and neckties, a book or two, a collection of photographs, and finally the orange stick.
"Yes; I have a good many books. I am always buying; but I find I never have exactly the book I want. And as I have no librarian I am too apt to forget the books I have. If I could afford to spend more of my life at the Mount, I would engage some learned gentleman, whose life had been a failure, to take care of my books. Are you Cornish, like your husband, Mrs. Disney?"
"Oh no; they are not dead; they are at Dinan," she said, almost as if it were the same thing.
She was proud of their praises, remembering the straggling rose-bushes and lavender, and unkempt flower-beds, and overgrown cabbages, and loose shingly paths in that old garden at Dinan, which she had loved despite its neglected condition. Her house at Trelasco was just as superior to the house at Dinan, as garden was to garden. She often thought of her old home, the shabby square house, with walls and shutters of dazzling white, shining brown floors, and worn-out furniture of the Empire period, furniture which had been shabby and out of repair when Colonel Manwaring took the house furnished, intending to spend a month or two in retirement at Dinan with his wife and her firstborn, a chubby little girl of five. They had lost a promising boy of a year old, and the colonel, having no reason for living anywhere in particular, and very little to live upon, thought that residence in a foreign country would improve his wife's health and spirits. He had been told that Dinan was picturesque and cheap: and he had put himself and his family on board the St. Malo steamer and had gone out like an emigrant to push his fortunes in a strange land. He had even an idea that he might get "something to do" in Dinan—a secretaryship of a club, an agency, or managerial post of some kind, never having cultivated the art of self-examination so far as to discover that he must have proved utterly incapable, had any such occasion presented itself.
When he had secured his land, he sent to Plymouth for an architect, and he so harried that architect and so tampered with his drawings that the result of much labour and outlay was that monstrosity in red brick with stone dressings, known in the neighbourhood as Glenaveril. Mr. Crowther's elder daughter was deep in Lord Lytton's newly published poem when the house was being finished, and had imposed that euphonious name upon her father. Glenaveril. The house really was in a glen, or at least in a wooded valley, and Glenaveril seemed to suit it to perfection; and so the romantic name of a romantic poem was cut in massive Gothic letters on the granite pillars of[Pg 38] Vansittart Crowther's gate, beneath a shield which exhibited the coat of arms made and provided by the Herald's College.
He wore a pink coat, as became a member of the Lostwithiel Hunt, and the vivid colour accentuated the pallor of his long thin face. He talked to all the ladies on the divan; to the sky-blue nieces even, hoping that their cards were full.
"No, I have quite made up my mind. I hated to be left behind last year; and now that his return is deferred my only chance of happiness is to go to him. Some one called me a grass widow the other day. What a detestable name!"
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