Isola found herself joining in the talk at afternoon tea-parties, those casual droppings in of charitable ladies who had been their rounds among the cottagers and came back to the atmosphere of gentility worn out by long stories of woes and ailments, sore legs and rheumatic joints, and were very glad to discuss a local nobleman over a cup of delicately flavoured Indian tea in the glow of a flower-scented drawing-room.
"I saw a good deal of Lord Lostwithiel when he was a small boy," answered the colonel, coldly. "His father was one of my early friends. But that is a long time ago."
"See, love, here is a shawl which you can use as a couvre-pied," he said, flinging a fine cashmere over a chair, "since Fashion decrees that women shall wear shawls no more. And here are some ivory chessmen to assist you in puzzling your brains over the game of Eastern antiquity; and here are vases and things for odd corners. And I have brought you a carved Persian screen, and some Peshawur curtains for your door-ways, and a lamp from Cairo, to make your drawing-room a little more fantastically pretty. I know you love these things.""Is that really so? Was my long absence your greatest trouble?""What an obtuse person you are! Don't I tell you that I am enchanted to have her? She is as much my sister as ever Gwendolen was; indeed, she is much more sympathetic than Gwen ever was."Again the racking cough seized her, and she sank speechless at his feet.Tabitha ushered him into the little parlour; so neat, so cool and dainty a bower, albeit the whole of its contents would scarcely have realized ten pounds at an auction. She offered him her most luxurious easy-chair—a large Madeira chair, with pale chintz cushions and artistic draping; and then, when he had seated himself, she stood before him like a prisoner at the bar, and with unmistakable guilt disturbing the broad placidity of her countenance."A common opening," said Martin Disney, with scathing contempt. "One of the seducer's favourite leads."
- "My own dear love," he murmured gently, "one would almost think you were sorry I have came back."
- "My dear, there's no use talking, you looked very bad. Had one of my girls looked as ill, I should have taken her off to Buxton to drink the waters, without an hour's delay."
- "But I shall take a house at San Remo, Allegra. Do you expect me to turn innkeeper—charge you for your bed and board?"
- "I'll try and get a better cook, if you like, Martin," Isola said, with rather a helpless air.
- The dog loved his mistress vehemently and obtrusively, leaping into her lap at the slightest sign of indulgence in her eye. The cat suffered himself to be adored, receiving all attentions with a sleepy complacency.
- "Ghastly. Are all women alike, I wonder, Gwen?"
- 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.
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