East Lynne/Chapter 17
The county carriages began to pour to East Lynne, to pay the wedding visit, as it is called, to Mr. and Lady Isabel Carlyle. Of course they displayed themselves in their most courtly state. Mr. Carlyle, always a popular man, had gained double his former importance by his marriage with the daughter of the late Earl of Mount Severn. Among the earliest visitors went Justice and Mrs. Hare, with Barbara.
Isabel was in her dressing-gown, attended by Joyce, whom she was just asking to take the place of her late maid, if Miss Carlyle would consent to the transfer.
Joyce's face lighted up with pleasure at the proposal. "Oh, my lady, you are very kind! I should so like it! I would serve you faithfully to the best of my ability."
Isabel laughed. "But Miss Carlyle may not be inclined to transfer you."
"I think she would be, my lady. She said a day or two ago, that I appeared to suit you, and you might have me altogether if you wished, provided I could still make her gowns. I make them to please her, you see, my lady."
"Do you make her caps also?" demurely asked Lady Isabel.
Joyce smiled. "Yes, my lady; but I am allowed to make them only according to her own pattern."
"Joyce, if you become my maid, you must wear smarter caps yourself. I do not wish you to be fine like Marvel."
"Oh, my lady! I shall never be fine," shuddered Joyce. And Joyce believed she had cause to shudder at finery.
She was about to speak further, when a knock came to the dressing-room door. Joyce went to open it, and saw one of the housemaids, a girl who had recently been engaged, a native of West Lynne. Isabel heard the colloquy,—
"Is my lady there?"
"Some visitors. Pete ordered me to come and tell you. I say, Joyce, it's the Hares. And she's with them. I watched her get out of the carriage."
"Who?" sharply returned Joyce.
"Why, Miss Barbara. Only fancy her coming to pay the wedding visit here. My lady had better take care that she don't get a bowl of poison mixed for her. Master's out or else I'd have given a shilling to see the interview between the three."
Joyce sent the girl away, shut the door, and turned to her mistress, quite unconscious that the half-whispered conversation had been audible.
"Some visitors are in the drawing-room, my lady, Susan says. Mr. Justice Hare and Mrs. Hare and Miss Barbara."
Isabel descended, her mind full of the mysterious words spoken by Susan. The justice was in a new flaxen wig, obstinate-looking and pompous; Mrs. Hare, pale, delicate, and lady-like; Barbara beautiful; such was the impression they made upon Isabel.
They paid rather a long visit, Isabel quite falling in love with the gentle and suffering Mrs. Hare, and had risen to leave when Miss Carlyle entered. She wished them to remain longer—had something, she said, to show Barbara. The justice declined; he had a brother justice coming to dine with him at five, and it was then half-past four. Barbara might stop if she liked.
Barbara's faced turned crimson; but nevertheless she accepted the invitation, immediately proffered her by Miss Carlyle to remain at East Lynne for the rest of the day.
Dinner time approached, and Isabel went to dress for it. Joyce was waiting, and entered upon the subject of the service.
"My lady, I have spoken to Miss Carlyle, and she is willing that I should be transferred to you, but she says I ought first to acquaint you with certain unpleasant facts in my history, and the same thought had occurred to me. Miss Carlyle is not over pleasant in manner, my lady, but she is very upright and just."
"What facts?" asked Lady Isabel, sitting down to have her hair brushed.
"My lady, I'll tell you as shortly as it can. My father was a clerk in Mr. Carlyle's office—of course I mean the late Mr. Carlyle. My mother died when I was eight years old, and my father afterwards married again, a sister of Mr. Kane's wife—"
"Mr. Kane, the music master?"
"Yes, my lady. She and Mrs. Kane were quite ladies; had been governesses. People said she lowered herself greatly in marrying my father. However, they did marry, and at the end of the year my little sister Afy was born. We lived in a pretty cottage in the wood and were happy. But in twelve months more my step-mother died, and an aunt of hers adopted Afy. I lived with my father, going to school, then to learn dressmaking, and finally going out to work to ladies' houses. After many years. Afy came home. Her aunt had died and her income with her, but not the vanity and love of finery that Afy had acquired. She did nothing but dress herself and read novels. My father was angry; he said no good could come of it. She had several admirers, Mr. Richard Hare, Miss Barbara's own brother," continued Joyce, lowering her voice, "and she flirted with them all. My father used to go out to shoot on fine evenings after office, or to his duties as secretary to the library, and so Afy was generally all alone until I came home at nine o'clock; and was free to flirt with her beaux."
"Had she any she favored particularly, was it thought?" asked Lady Isabel.
"The chief one, my lady, was Richard Hare. She got acquainted with somebody else, a stranger, who used to ride over from a distance to see her; but I fancy there was nothing in it—Richard was the one. And it went on till—till—he killed her father."
"Who?" uttered the startled Isabel.
"Richard Hare, my lady. Father had told Afy that Mr. Richard should not come there any longer, for when gentlemen go in secret after poor girls, it's well known they have not got marriage in their thoughts; father would have interfered more than he did, but that he judged well of Mr. Richard, and did not think he was one to do Afy real harm,—but he did not know how flighty she was. However, one day he heard people talk about it in West Lynne, coupling her name and Mr. Richard's offensively together, and at night he told Afy, before me, that it should not go on any longer, and she must not encourage him. My lady, the next night Richard Hare shot my father."
"How very dreadful!"
"Whether it was done on purpose, or that they had a scuffle, and the gun went off accidentally and killed my father, no one can tell. Afy said she had been in the woods at the back of the house, and when she came in, father lay dead, and Mr. Locksley was standing over him. He said he had heard the shot, and come up just in time to see Richard fly from the house, his shoes covered with blood. He has never been heard of since; but there is a judgment of murder out against him; and the fear and shame is killing his mother by inches."
"The worst is to come my lady. Afy followed him directly after the inquest, and nothing has been known since of either of them. I was taken ill, after all these shocks, with nervous fever, and Miss Carlyle took care of me, and I have remained with her ever since. This was what I had to tell you, my lady, before you decided to take me into service; it is not every lady who would like to engage one whose sister has turned out so badly."
Lady Isabel did not see that it could make any difference, or that it ought to. She said so; and then leaned back in her chair and mused.
"What dress, my lady?"
"Joyce, what was that I heard you and Susan gossiping over at the door?" Lady Isabel suddenly asked. "About Miss Hare giving me a bowl of poison. Something in the dramatic line that would be. You should tell Susan not to make her whispers so loud."
"It was only a bit of nonsense, my lady. These ignorant servants will talk; and every one at West Lynne knew Miss Barbara was in love with Mr. Carlyle. But I don't fancy she would have been the one to make him happy with all her love."
A hot flush passed over the brow of Lady Isabel; a sensation very like jealousy flew to her heart. No woman likes to hear of another's being, or having been attached to her husband: a doubt always arises whether the feeling may not have been reciprocated.
Lady Isabel descended. She wore a costly black lace dress, its low body and sleeves trimmed with as costly white; and ornaments of jet. She looked inexpressibly beautiful, and Barbara turned from her with a feeling of sinking jealousy, from her beauty, from her attire, even from the fine, soft handkerchief, which displayed the badge of her rank—the coronet of an earl's daughter. Barbara looked well, too; she was in a light blue silk robe, and her pretty cheeks were damask with her mind's excitement. On her neck she wore the gold chain given her by Mr. Carlyle—strange that she had not discarded that.
They stood together at the window, looking at Mr. Carlyle as he came up the avenue. He saw them, and nodded. Lady Isabel watched the damask cheeks turn to crimson at sight of him.
"How do you do, Barbara?" he cried, as he shook hands. "Come to pay us a visit at last? You have been rather tardy over it. And how are you, my darling?" he whispered over his wife; but she missed his kiss of greeting. Well, would she have had him give it her in public? No; but she was in the mood to notice the omission.
Dinner over, Miss Carlyle beguiled Barbara out of doors. Barbara would far rather have remained in his presence. Of course they discussed Lady Isabel.
"How do you like her?" abruptly asked Barbara, alluding to Lady Isabel.
"Better than I thought I should," acknowledged Miss Carlyle. "I had expected airs and graces and pretence, and I must say she is free from them. She seems quite wrapped up in Archibald and watches for his coming home like a cat watches for a mouse. She is dull without him."
Barbara compelled her manner to indifference. "I suppose it is natural."
"I suppose it is absurd," was the retort of Miss Carlyle. "I give them little of my company, especially in an evening. They go strolling out together, or she sings to him, he hanging over her as if she were of gold: to judge by appearances, she is more precious to him than any gold that was ever coined into money. I'll tell you what I saw last night. Archibald had what he is not often subject to, a severe headache, and he went into the next room after dinner, and lay on the sofa. She carried a cup of tea to him, and never came back, leaving her own on the table till it was perfectly cold. I pushed open the door to tell her so. There was my lady's cambric handkerchief, soaked in eau-de-Cologne, lying on his forehead; and there was my lady herself, kneeling down and looking at him, he with his arm thrown around her there. Now I just ask you, Barbara, whether there's any sense in fadding with a man like that? If ever he did have a headache before he was married, I used to mix him up a good dose of salts and senna, and tell him to go to bed early and sleep the pain off."
Barbara made no reply, but she turned her face from Miss Carlyle.
On Barbara's return to the house, she found that Mr. Carlyle and Lady Isabel were in the adjoining room, at the piano, and Barbara had an opportunity of hearing that sweet voice. She did, as Miss Carlyle confessed to have done, pushed open the door between the two rooms, and looked in. It was the twilight hour, almost too dusk to see; but she could distinguish Isabel seated at the piano, and Mr. Carlyle standing behind her. She was singing one of the ballads from the opera of the "Bohemian Girl," "When other Lips."
"Why do you like that song so much, Archibald?" she asked when she had finished it.
"I don't know. I never liked it so much until I heard it from you."
"I wonder if they are come in. Shall we go into the next room?"
"Just this one first—this translation from the German—' 'Twere vain to tell thee all I feel.' There's real music in that song."
"Yes, there is. Do you know, Archibald, your taste is just like papa's. He liked all these quiet, imaginative songs, and so do you. And so do I," she laughingly added, "if I must speak the truth."
She ceased and began the song, singing it exquisitely, in a low, sweet, earnest tone, the chords of the accompaniment, at its conclusion, dying off gradually into silence.
"There, Archibald, I am sure I have sung you ten songs at least," she said, leaning her head back against him, and looking at him from her upturned face. "You ought to pay me."
He did pay her: holding the dear face to him, and taking from it some impassioned kisses. Barbara turned to the window, a low moan of pain escaping her, as she pressed her forehead on one of its panes, and looked forth at the dusky night. Isabel came in on her husband's arm.
"Are you here alone, Miss Hare? I really beg your pardon. I supposed you were with Miss Carlyle."
"Where is Cornelia, Barbara?"
"I have just come in," was Barbara's reply. "I dare say she is following me."
So she was, for she entered a moment after, her voice raised in anger at the gardener, who had disobeyed her orders, and obeyed the wishes of Lady Isabel.
The evening wore on to ten, and as the time-piece struck the hour, Barbara rose from her chair in amazement.
"I did not think it was so late. Surely some one must have come for me."
"I will inquire," was Lady Isabel's answer, and Mr. Carlyle touched the bell. No one had come for Miss Hare.
"Then I fear I must trouble Peter," cried Barbara. "Mamma may be gone to rest, tired, and papa must have forgotten me. It would never do for me to get locked out," she gaily added.
"As you were one night before," said Mr. Carlyle, significantly.
He alluded to the night when Barbara was in the grove of trees with her unfortunate brother, and Mr. Hare was on the point, unconsciously, of locking her out. She had given Mr. Carlyle the history, but its recollection now called up a smart pain, and a change passed over her face.
"Oh! Don't, Archibald," she uttered, in the impulse of the moment; "don't recall it."
"Can Peter take me?" continued Barbara.
"I had better take you," said Mr. Carlyle. "It is late."
Barbara's heart beat at the words; beat as she put her things on—as she said good-night to Lady Isabel and Miss Carlyle; it beat to throbbing as she went out with him, and took his arm. All just as it used to be—only now that he was the husband of another. Only!
It was a warm, lovely June night, not moonlight, but bright with its summer twilight. They went down the park into the road, which they crossed, and soon came to a stile. From that stile there led a path through the fields which would pass the back of Justice Hare's. Barbara stopped at it.
"Would you choose the field way to-night, Barbara? The grass will be damp, and this is the longest way."
"But we shall escape the dust of the road."
"Oh, very well, if you prefer it. It will not make three minutes' difference."
"He is very anxious to get home to her!" mentally exclaimed Barbara. "I shall fly out upon him, presently, or my heart will burst."
Mr. Carlyle crossed the stile, helped over Barbara, and then gave her his arm again. He had taken her parasol, as he had taken it the last night they had walked together—an elegant little parasol, this, of blue silk and white lace, and he did not switch the hedges with it. That night was present to Barbara now, with all its words and its delusive hopes; terribly present to her was their bitter ending.
There are women of warm, impulsive temperaments who can scarcely help, in certain moments of highly wrought excitement, over-stepping the bounds of nature and decorum, and giving the reins to temper, tongue, and imagination—making a scene, in short. Barbara had been working herself into this state during the whole evening. The affection of Isabel for her husband, her voice, his caresses—seen through the half open doors—had maddened her. She felt it impossible to restrain her excitement.
Mr. Carlyle walked on, utterly unconscious that a storm was brewing. More than that, he was unconscious of having given cause for one, and dashed into an indifferent, common place topic in the most provoking manner.
"When does the justice begin haymaking, Barbara?"
There was no reply. Barbara was swelling and panting, and trying to keep her emotion down. Mr. Carlyle tried again,—
"Barbara, I asked you which day your papa cut his hay."
Still no reply. Barbara was literally incapable of making one. The steam of excitement was on, nearly to its highest pitch. Her throat was working, the muscles of her mouth began to twitch, and a convulsive sob, or what sounded like it, broke from her. Mr. Carlyle turned his head hastily.
"Barbara! are you ill? What is it?"
On it came, passion, temper, wrongs, and nervousness, all boiling over together. She shrieked, she sobbed, she was in strong hysterics. Mr. Carlyle half-carried, half-dragged her to the second stile, and placed her against it, his arm supporting her; and an old cow and two calves, wondering what the disturbance could mean at that sober time of night, walked up and stared at them.
Barbara struggled with her emotion—struggled manfully—and the sobs and shrieks subsided; not the excitement or the passion. She put away his arm, and stood with her back to the stile, leaning against it. Mr. Carlyle felt inclined to fly to the pond for water, but he had nothing but his hat to get it in.
"Are you better, Barbara? What can have caused it?"
"What can have caused it?" she burst forth, giving full swing to the reins, and forgetting everything. "You can ask me that?"
Mr. Carlyle was struck dumb; but by some inexplicable laws of sympathy, a dim and very unpleasant consciousness of the truth began to steal over him.
"I don't understand you, Barbara. If I have offended you in any way, I am truly sorry."
"Truly sorry, no doubt!" was the retort, the sobs and the shrieks alarmingly near. "What do you care for me? If I go under the sod to-morrow," stamping it with her foot, "you have your wife to care for; what am I?"
"Hush!" he interposed, glancing round, more mindful for her than she was for herself.
"Hush, yes! You would like me to hush; what is my misery to you? I would rather be in my grave, Archibald Carlyle, than endure the life I have led since you married her. My pain is greater than I well know how to bear."
"I cannot affect to misunderstand you," he said, feeling more at a nonplus than he had felt for many a day, and heartily wishing the whole female creation, save Isabel, somewhere. "But my dear Barbara. I never gave you cause to think I—that I—cared for you more than I did."
"Never gave me cause!" she gasped. "When you have been coming to our house constantly, almost like my shadow; when you gave me this" dashing open her mantle, and holding up the locket to his view; "when you have been more intimate with me than a brother."
"Stay, Barbara. There it is—a brother. I have been nothing else; it never occurred to me to be anything else," he added, in his straightforward truth.
"Ay, as a brother, nothing else!" and her voice rose once more with her excitement; it seemed that she would not long control it. "What cared you for my feelings? What recked you that you gained my love?"
"Barbara, hush!" he implored: "do be calm and reasonable. If I ever gave you cause to think I regarded you with deeper feelings, I can only express to you my deep regret, my repentance, and assure you it was done unconsciously."
She was growing calmer. The passion was fading, leaving her face still and white. She lifted it toward Mr. Carlyle.
"You treated me ill in showing signs of love, if you felt it not. Why did you kiss me?"
"I kissed you as I might kiss a sister. Or perhaps as a pretty girl; man likes to do so. The close terms on which our families have lived, excused, if it did not justify, a degree of familiarity that might have been unseemly in—"
"You need not tell me that," hotly interrupted Barbara. "Had it been a stranger who had won my love and then thrown me from him, do you suppose I would have reproached him as I am now reproaching you? No; I would have died, rather than that he should have suspected it. If she had not come between us, should you have loved me?"
"Do not pursue this unthankful topic," he besought, almost wishing the staring cow would run away with her.
"I ask you, should you have loved me?" persisted Barbara, passing her handkerchief over her ashy lips.
"I don't know. How can I know? Do I not say to you, Barbara, that I only thought of you as a friend, a sister? I cannot tell what might have been."
"I could bear it better, but that it was known," she murmured. "All West Lynne had coupled us together in their prying gossip, and they have only pity to cast on me now. I would far rather you have killed me, Archibald."
"I can but express to you my deep regret," he repeated. "I can only hope you will soon forget it all. Let the remembrance of this conversation pass away with to-night; let us still be to each other as friends—as brother and sister. Believe me," he concluded, in a deeper tone, "the confession has not lessened you in my estimation."
He made a movement as though he would get over the stile, but Barbara did not stir; the tears were silently coursing down her pallid face. At that moment there was an interruption.
"Is that you, Miss Barbara?"
Barbara started as if she had been shot. On the other side of the stile stood Wilson, their upper maid. How long might she have been there? She began to explain that Mr. Hare had sent Jasper out, and Mrs. Hare had thought it better to wait no longer for the man's return, so had dispatched her, Wilson, for Miss Barbara. Mr. Carlyle got over the stile, and handed over Miss Barbara.
"You need not come any further now," she said to him in a low tone.
"I should see you home," was his reply, and he held out his arm. Barbara took it.
They walked in silence. Arrived at the back gate of the grove, which gave entrance to the kitchen garden, Wilson went forward. Mr. Carlyle took both Barbara's hands in his.
"Good-night, Barbara. God bless you."
She had had time for reflection, and the excitement gone, she saw her outbreak in all its shame and folly. Mr. Carlyle noticed how subdued and white she looked.
"I think I have been mad," she groaned. "I must have been mad to say what I did. Forget that it was uttered."
"I told you I would."
"You will not betray me to—to—your wife?" she panted.
"Thank you. Good-night."
But he still retained her hands. "In a short time, Barbara, I trust you will find one more worthy to receive your love than I have been."
"Never!" she impulsively answered. "I do not love and forget so lightly. In the years to come, in my old age, I shall still be nothing but Barbara Hare."
Mr. Carlyle walked away in a fit of musing. The revelation had given him pain, and possibly a little bit of flattery into the bargain, for he was fond of pretty Barbara. Fond in his way—not hers—not with the sort of fondness he felt for his wife. He asked his conscience whether his manner to her in the past days had been a tinge warmer than we bestow upon a sister, and he decided that it might have been, but he most certainly never cast a suspicion to the mischief it was doing.
"I heartily hope she'll soon find somebody to her liking and forget me," was his concluding thought. "As to living and dying Barbara Hare, that's all moonshine, and sentimental rubbish that girls like to—"
He was passing the very last tree in the park, the nearest to his house, and the interruption came from a dark form standing under it.
"Is it you, my dearest?"
"I came out to meet you. Have you not been very long?"
"I think I have," he answered, as he drew his wife to his side, and walked on with her.
"We met one of the servants at the second stile, but I went on all the way."
"You have been intimate with the Hares?"
"Quite so. Cornelia is related to them."
"Do you think Barbara pretty?"
"Then—intimate as you were—I wonder you never fell in love with her."
Mr. Carlyle laughed; a very conscious laugh, considering the recent interview.
"Did you, Archibald?"
The words were spoken in a low tone, almost, or he fancied it, a tone of emotion, and he looked at her in amazement. "Did I what, Isabel?"
"You never loved Barbara Hare?"
"Loved her! What is your head running on, Isabel? I never loved but one; and that one I made my own, my cherished wife."