East Lynne/Chapter 15

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 15

Miss Carlyle, having resolved upon her course, quitted her own house, and removed to East Lynne with Peter and her handmaidens. In spite of Mr. Dill's grieved remonstrances, she discharged the servants whom Mr. Carlyle had engaged, all save one man.

On a Friday night, about a month after the wedding, Mr. Carlyle and his wife came home. They were expected, and Miss Carlyle went through the hall to receive them, and stood on the upper steps, between the pillars of the portico. An elegant chariot with four post-horses was drawing up. Miss Carlyle compressed her lips as she scanned it. She was attired in a handsome dark silk dress and a new cap; her anger had had time to cool down in the last month, and her strong common sense told her that the wiser plan would be to make the best of it. Mr. Carlyle came up the steps with Isabel.

"You here, Cornelia! That was kind. How are you? Isabel, this is my sister."

Lady Isabel put forth her hand, and Miss Carlyle condescended to touch the tips of her fingers. "I hope you are well, ma'am," she jerked out.

Mr. Carlyle left them together, and went back to search for some trifles which had been left in the carriage. Miss Carlyle led the way to a sitting-room, where the supper-tray was laid. "You would like to go upstairs and take your things off before upper, ma'am?" she said, in the same jerking tone to Lady Isabel.

"Thank you. I will go to my rooms, but I do not require supper. We have dined."

"Then what would you like to take?" asked Miss Corny.

"Some tea, if you please, I am very thirsty."

"Tea!" ejaculated Miss Corny. "So late as this! I don't know that they have boiling water. You'd never sleep a wink all night, ma'am, if you took tea at eleven o'clock."

"Oh, then, never mind," replied Lady Isabel. "It is of no consequence. Do not let me give trouble."

Miss Carlyle whisked out of the room; upon what errand was best known to herself; and in the hall she and Marvel came to an encounter. No words passed, but each eyed the other grimly. Marvel was very stylish, with five flounces to her dress, a veil, and a parasol. Meanwhile, Lady Isabel sat down and burst into bitter tears and sobs. A chill had come over her; it did not seem like coming to East Lynne. Mr. Carlyle entered and witnessed the grief.

"Isabel!" he uttered in amazement, as he hastened up to her. "My darling, what ails you?"

"I am tired, I think," she gently answered; "and coming into the house again made me think of papa. I should like to go to my rooms, Archibald, but I don't know which they are."

Neither did Mr. Carlyle know, but Miss Carlyle came whisking in again, and said: "The best rooms; those next the library. Should she go up with my lady?"

Mr. Carlyle preferred to go himself, and he held out his arm to Isabel. She drew her veil over her face as she passed Miss Carlyle.

The branches were not lighted, and the room looked cold and comfortless. "Things seem all sixes and sevens in the house," remarked Mr. Carlyle. "I fancy the servants must have misunderstood my letter, and not have expected us until to-morrow night."

On returning to the sitting-room Mr. Carlyle inquired the cause of the servants' negligence.

"I sent them away because they were superfluous encumbrances," hastily replied Miss Carlyle. "We have four in the house, and my lady has brought a fine maid, I see, making five. I have come up here to live."

Mr. Carlyle felt checkmated. He had always bowed to the will of Miss Corny, but he had an idea that he and his wife should be better without her. "And your house?" he exclaimed.

"I have let it furnished; the people enter to-day. So you cannot turn me out of East Lynne into the road, or to furnished lodgings, Archibald. There'll be enough expense without our keeping on two houses; and most people in your place would jump at the prospect of my living here. Your wife will be mistress. I do not intend to take her honors from her; but I will save her a world of trouble in management—be as useful to her as a housekeeper. She will be glad of that, inexperienced as she is. I dare say she never gave a domestic order in her life."

This was a view of the case, to Mr. Carlyle, so plausibly put, that he began to think it might be all for the best. He had great reverence for his sister's judgment; force of habit is strong upon all of us. Still he did not know.

"Did you buy that fine piano which has arrived?" angrily asked Miss Carlyle.

"It was my present to Isabel."

Miss Corny groaned. "What did it cost?"

"The cost is of no consequence. The old piano here was a bad one, and I bought a better."

"What did it cost?" repeated Miss Carlyle.

"A hundred and twenty guineas," he answered. Obedience to her will was yet powerful within him.

Miss Corny threw up her hands and eyes. But at that moment Peter entered with some hot water which his master had rung for. Mr. Carlyle rose and looked on the side-board.

"Where is the wine, Peter?"

The servant put it out, port and sherry. Mr. Carlyle drank a glass, and then proceeded to mix some wine and water. "Shall I mix some for you, Cornelia?" he asked.

"I'll mix for myself if I want any. Who's that for?"

"Isabel."

He quitted the room, carrying the wine and water, and entered his wife's. She was sitting half buried, it seemed, in the arm-chair, her face muffled up. As she raised it, he saw that it was flushed and agitated; that her eyes were bright, and her frame was trembling.

"What is the matter?" he hastily asked.

"I got nervous after Marvel went," she whispered, laying hold of him, as if for protection from terror. "I came back to the chair and covered my head over, hoping some one would come up."

"I have been talking to Cornelia. But what made you nervous?"

"Oh! I was very foolish. I kept thinking of frightful things. They would come into my mind. Do not blame me, Archibald. This is the room papa died in."

"Blame you, my darling," he uttered with deep feeling.

"I thought of a dreadful story about the bats, that the servants told—I dare say you never heard it; and I kept thinking. 'Suppose they were at the windows now, behind the blinds.' And then I was afraid to look at the bed; I fancied I might see—you are laughing!"

Yes, he was smiling; for he knew that these moments of nervous fear are best met jestingly. He made her drink the wine and water, and then he showed her where the bell was, ringing it as he did so. Its position had been changed in some late alterations to the house.

"Your rooms shall be changed to-morrow, Isabel."

"No, let us remain in these. I shall like to feel that papa was once their occupant. I won't get nervous again."

But, even as she spoke, her actions belied her words. Mr. Carlyle had gone to the door and opened it, and she flew close up to him, cowering behind him.

"Shall you be gone very long, Archibald?" she whispered.

"Not more than an hour," he answered. But he hastily put back one of his hands, and held her tightly in his protecting grasp. Marvel was coming along the corridor in answer to the ring.

"Have the goodness to let Miss Carlyle know that I am not coming down again to-night," he said.

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Carlyle shut the door, and then looked at his wife and laughed. "He is very kind to me," thought Isabel.

With the morning began the perplexities of Lady Isabel Carlyle. But, first of all, just fancy the group at breakfast. Miss Carlyle descended in the startling costume the reader has seen, took her seat at the breakfast-table, and there sat bolt upright. Mr. Carlyle came down next; and then Lady Isabel entered, in an elegant half-mourning dress, with flowing black ribbons.

"Good morning, ma'am. I hope you slept well," was Miss Carlyle's salutation.

"Quite well, thank you," she answered, as she took her seat opposite Miss Carlyle. Miss Carlyle pointed to the top of the table.

"That is your place, ma'am; but I will pour out the coffee, and save you the trouble, if you wish it."

"I should be glad if you would," answered Lady Isabel.

So Miss Carlyle proceeded to her duties, very stern and grim. The meal was nearly over, when Peter came in, and said the butcher had come up for orders. Miss Carlyle looked at Lady Isabel, waiting, of course, for her to give them. Isabel was silent with perplexity; she had never given such an order in her life. Totally ignorant was she of the requirements of a household; and did not know whether to suggest a few pounds of meat or a whole cow. It was the presence of that grim Miss Corny which put her out. Alone with her husband she would have said, "What ought I to order, Archibald? Tell me." Peter waited.

"A——Something to roast and boil, if you please," stammered Lady Isabel.

She spoke in a low tone. Embarrassment makes cowards of us; and Mr. Carlyle repeated it after her. He knew no more about housekeeping than she did.

"Something to roast and boil, tell the man, Peter."

Up started Miss Corny; she could not stand that. "Are you aware, Lady Isabel, that an order such as that would only puzzle the butcher? Shall I give the necessary orders for to-day? The fishmonger will be here presently!"

"Oh, I wish you would!" cried the relieved Lady Isabel. "I have not been accustomed to it, but I must learn. I don't think I know anything about housekeeping."

Miss Corny's answer was to stalk from the room. Isabel rose from her chair, like a bird released from its cage, and stood by his side. "Have you finished, Archibald?"

"I think I have, dear. Oh! Here's my coffee. There; I have finished now."

"Let us go around the grounds."

He rose, laid his hands playfully on her slender waist, and looked at her. "You may as well ask me to take a journey to the moon. It is past nine, and I have not been to the office for a month."

The tears rose in her eyes. "I wish you would be always with me! East Lynne will not be East Lynne without you."

"I will be with you as much as ever I can, my dearest," he whispered. "Come and walk with me through the park."

She ran for her bonnet, gloves and parasol. Mr. Carlyle waited for her in the hall, and they went out together.

He thought it a good opportunity to speak about his sister. "She wishes to remain with us," he said. "I do not know what to decide. On the one hand I think she might save you the worry of household management; on the other, I fancy we shall be happier by ourselves."

Isabel's heart sank within her at the idea of that stern Miss Corny, mounted over her as resident guard; but, refined and sensitive, almost painfully considerate of the feelings of others, she raised no word of objection. "As you and Miss Carlyle please," she answered.

"Isabel," he said, "I wish it to be as you please; I wish matters to be arranged as may best please you: and I will have them so arranged. My chief object in life now is your happiness."

He spoke in all the sincerity of truth, and Isabel knew it: and the thought came across her that with him by her side, her loving protector, Miss Carlyle could not mar her life's peace. "Let her stay, Archibald; she will not incommode us."

"At any rate it can be tried for a month or two, and we shall see how it works," he musingly observed.

They reached the park gates. "I wish I could go with you and be your clerk," she cried, unwilling to release his hand. "I should not have all that long way to go back by myself."

He laughed and shook his head, telling her that she wanted to bribe him into taking her back, but it could not be. And away he went, after saying farewell.