Isola had no objection to offer, and Allegra was delighted at the prospect of seeing more of the man with the nice frank countenance, and that seafaring air which most women like."Dear Mrs. Crowther, we are always friends. I shall never forget your kindness to me.""Only to show his importance—to make himself felt in the neighbourhood. They wouldn't have him for their representative, in spite of his money, and his grand Church and State principles, and all the Primrose Leaguing of his womankind; and so he turns savage and wants to make himself disagreeable."
She had only to wait patiently for a year or less, and that bright life might be hers. She had no frivolous vanities, no craving for dissipations and fine clothes, no fatal thirst for "smartness." Her ideas were essentially modest. She had[Pg 20] never envied her sister, who had married a rich stockbroker, and whose brand new red-brick house in Hans Place towered above surrounding Chelsea as much as her diamonds eclipsed the jewels of other middle-class matrons at the festal gatherings of South Kensington and Bayswater. Gwendolen had married for wealth. Isola had married for love. She had given her girlish affection to a man who was nearly thirty years her senior, her heart going out to him almost at the beginning of their acquaintance, first because he was a soldier, and in her mind a hero, and secondly because he was kinder to her than anybody else had ever been."Oh, Captain Hulbert, I want you to be serious."
Isola allowed herself to be led upstairs to the bright, cheerful bedroom, with its pretty chintz-pattern paper, and photographs, and artistic muslin curtains, and glowing fire, and toilet-table, with its glitter of crystal and silver in the pleasant candlelight. She suffered herself to be fed and dressed by Tabitha's skilful hands, almost as if she had been a child; and she came out of her dismal dream into the glad waking world, a radiant figure, with violet eyes and alabaster complexion, flushed by the loveliest hectic. The simply-made, close-fitting bodice, with folded crape veiling the delicate bust, and the pure pearly tint of the satin, set off her fragile beauty, while the long train and massive folds of the rich fabric gave statuesque grace to her tall, slim figure; but the crowning glory of her toilette was the garland of white chrysanthemums, for which Tabitha had ransacked all the neighbouring green-houses; a garland of fluffy, feathery petals, which reached in a diagonal line from her shoulder to the hem of her gown. It was her only ornament, for by some strange caprice she refused to wear the modest pearl necklace and diamond cross which had been her husband's wedding gift."Oh, the white satin, by all means. Isola looks ethereal in white. She ought hardly ever to wear anything else.""I'll answer for Mr. Martin," she said. "He'll be pleased for you to enjoy yourself. 'Don't let her mope while I'm away, Tabby,' he said to me the day before he started for foreign parts. He'd like you to be at the ball. You'll have Mrs. Baynham to take care of you, and what can you want more than that, I should like to know?"
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she turned from him, pretending to be interested in the convent walls on the edge of the hill below which they were driving.
Allegra had other models, village children, and village girls—her beauty-girl, a baker's daughter with a splendid semi-Greek face, like Mrs. Langtry's, whom she dressed up in certain cast-off finery of her own, and painted in her genre pictures, now in this attitude, and now in that, imparting an air of distinction which elevated the Cornish peasant into a patrician. She it was, this baker's fair-haired daughter, who stood for Allegra's successful picture—"A daughter of the gods, divinely tall," a little bit of finished painting which had brought the painter five and thirty guineas—boundless wealth as it seemed to her—and ever so many commissions.
"There is plenty of time," said Lostwithiel, "between now and the twenty-second of December—nearly three weeks. Time for you and your sister to get new frocks from London or Paris, Miss Crowther. You mean having new frocks, I suppose?"The conversation drifted back to Lostwithiel and his works and ways, presently."Is that a flirtation?" she asked Captain Morshead, glancing in the direction of the ante-room where those two were sitting, as she and Isola's cast-off partner waltzed past the muslin-draped doorway.
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"They will make the room too lovely," she cried; "and they will tell everybody of your far-away travels. I can never thank you half enough for all these treasures."详情
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