East Lynne/Chapter 18

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 18

Another year came in. Isabel would have been altogether happy but for Miss Carlyle; that lady still inflicted her presence upon East Lynne, and made it the bane of its household. She deferred outwardly to Lady Isabel as the mistress; but the real mistress was herself. Isabel was little more than an automaton. Her impulses were checked, her wishes frustrated, her actions tacitly condemned by the imperiously-willed Miss Carlyle. Poor Isabel, with her refined manners and her timid and sensitive temperament, had no chance against the strong-minded woman, and she was in a state of galling subjection in her own house.

Not a day passed but Miss Carlyle, by dint of hints and innuendoes, contrived to impress upon Lady Isabel the unfortunate blow to his own interests that Mr. Carlyle's marriage had been, the ruinous expense she had entailed upon the family. It struck a complete chill to Isabel's heart, and she became painfully impressed with the incubus she must be to Mr. Carlyle—so far as his pocket was concerned. Lord Mount Severn, with his little son, had paid them a short visit at Christmas and Isabel had asked him, apparently with unconcern, whether Mr. Carlyle had put himself very much out to the way to marry her; whether it had entailed on him an expense and a style of living he would not otherwise have deemed himself justified in affording. Lord Mount Severn's reply was an unfortunate one: his opinion was, that it had, he said; and that Isabel ought to feel grateful to him for his generosity. She sighed as she listened, and from thenceforth determined to put up with Miss Carlyle.

More timid and sensitive by nature than many would believe or can imagine, reared in seclusion more simply and quietly than falls to the general lot of peers' daughters, completely inexperienced, Isabel was unfit to battle with the world—totally unfit to battle with Miss Carlyle. The penniless state in which she was left at her father's death, the want of a home save that accorded her at Castle Marling, even the hundred-pound note left in her hand by Mr. Carlyle, all had imbued her with a deep consciousness of humiliation, and, far from rebelling at or despising the small establishment, comparatively speaking, provided for her by Mr. Carlyle, she felt thankful to him for it. But to be told continuously that this was more than he could afford, that she was in fact a blight upon his prospects, was enough to turn her heart to bitterness. Oh, that she had had the courage to speak out openly to her husband, that he might, by a single word of earnest love and assurance, have taken the weight from her heart, and rejoiced it with the truth—that all these miserable complaints were but the phantoms of his narrow-minded sister! But Isabel never did; when Miss Corny lapsed into her grumbling mood, she would hear in silence, or gently bend her aching forehead in her hands, never retorting.

Never before Mr. Carlyle was the lady's temper vented upon her; plenty fell to his own share, when he and his sister were alone; and he had become so accustomed to the sort of thing all his life—had got used to it, like the eels do to skinning—that it went, as the saying runs, in at one ear and out at the other, making no impression. He never dreamt that Isabel also received her portion.

It was a morning early in April. Joyce sat, in its gray dawn, over a large fire in the dressing-room of Lady Isabel Carlyle, her hands clasped to pain, and the tears coursing down her cheeks. Joyce was frightened; she had had some experience in illness; but illness of this nature she had never witnessed, and she was fervently hoping never to witness it again. In the adjoining room lay Lady Isabel, sick nearly unto death.

The door from the corridor slowly opened, and Miss Carlyle slowly entered. She had probably never walked with so gentle a step in all her life, and she had got a thick-wadded mantle over her head and ears. Down she sat in a chair quite meekly, and Joyce saw that her face looked as gray as the early dawn.

"Joyce," whispered she, "is there any danger?"

"Oh, ma'am, I trust not! But it's hard to witness, and it must be awful to bear."

"It is our common curse, Joyce. You and I may congratulate ourselves that we have not chose to encounter it. Joyce," she added, after a pause, "I trust there's no danger; I should not like her to die."

Miss Carlyle spoke in a low, dread tone. Was she fearing that, if her poor young sister-in-law did die, a weight would rest on her own conscience for all time—a heavy, ever-present weight, whispering that she might have rendered her short year of marriage more happy, had she chosen; and that she had not so chosen, but had deliberately steeled every crevice of her heart against her? Very probably; she looked anxious and apprehensive in the morning's twilight.

"If there's any danger, Joyce—"

"Why, do you think there's danger, ma'am?" interrupted Joyce. "Are other people not as ill as this?"

"It is to be hoped they are not," rejoined Miss Carlyle. "And why is the express gone to Lynneborough for Dr. Martin?"

Up started Joyce, awe struck. "An express for Dr. Martin! Oh, ma'am! Who sent it? When did it go?"

"All I know is, that's its gone. Mr. Wainwright went to your master, and he came out of his room and sent John galloping to the telegraph office at West Lynne; where could your ears have been, not to hear the horse tearing off? I heard it, I know that, and a nice fright it put me in. I went to Mr. Carlyle's room to ask what was amiss, and he said he did not know himself—nothing, he hoped. And then he shut his door again in my face, instead of stopping to speak to me as any other Christian would."

Joyce did not answer; she was faint with apprehension; and there was a silence, broken only by the sounds from the next room. Miss Carlyle rose, and a fanciful person might have thought she was shivering.

"I can't stand this, Joyce; I shall go. If they want coffee, or anything of that, it can be sent here. Ask."

"I will presently, in a few minutes," answered Joyce, with a real shiver. "You are not going in, are you, ma'am?" she uttered, in apprehension, as Miss Carlyle began to steal on tip-toe to the inner-door, and Joyce had a lively consciousness that her sight would not be an agreeable one to Lady Isabel. "They want the room free; they sent me out."

"Not I," answered Miss Corny. "I could do no good; and those who cannot, are better away."

"Just what Mr. Wainwright said when he dismissed me," murmured Joyce. And Miss Carlyle finally passed into the corridor and withdrew.

Joyce sat on; it seemed to her an interminable time. And then she heard the arrival of Dr. Martin; heard him go into the next room. By and by Mr. Wainwright came out of it, into the room where Joyce was sitting. Her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and before she could bring out the ominous words, "Is there any danger?" he had passed through it.

Mr. Wainwright was on his way to the apartment where he expected to find Mr. Carlyle. The latter was pacing it; he had so paced it all the night. His pale face flushed as the surgeon entered.

"You have little mercy on my suspense, Wainwright. Dr. Martin has been here this twenty minutes. What does he say?"

"Well, he cannot say any more than I did. The symptoms are critical, but he hopes she will do well. There's nothing for it but patience."

Mr. Carlyle resumed his weary walk.

"I come now to suggest that you should send for Little. In these protracted cases—"

The speech was interrupted by a cry from Mr. Carlyle, half horror, half despair. For the Rev. Mr. Little was the incumbent of St. Jude's, and his apprehensions had flown—he hardly knew to what they had flown.

"Not for your wife," hastily rejoined the surgeon—"what good should a clergyman do to her? I spoke on the score of the child. Should it not live, it may be satisfactory to you and Lady Isabel to know that it was baptized."

"I thank you—I thank you," said Mr. Carlyle grasping his hand, in his inexpressible relief. "Little shall be sent for."

"You jumped to the conclusion that your wife's soul was flitting. Please God, she may yet live to bear you other children, if this one does die."

"Please God!" was the inward aspiration of Mr. Carlyle.

"Carlyle," added the surgeon, in a musing sort of tone, as he laid his hand on Mr. Carlyle's shoulder, which his own head scarcely reached, "I am sometimes at death-beds where the clergyman is sent for in this desperate need to the fleeting spirit, and I am tempted to ask myself what good another man, priest though he be, can do at the twelfth hour, where accounts have not been made up previously?"

It was hard upon midday. The Rev. Mr. Little, Mr. Carlyle, and Miss Carlyle were gathered in the dressing-room, round a table, on which stood a rich china bowl, containing water for the baptism. Joyce, her pale face working with emotion, came into the room, carrying what looked like a bundle of flannel. Little cared Mr. Carlyle for the bundle, in comparison with his care for his wife.

"Joyce," he whispered, "is it well still?"

"I believe so, sir."

The services commenced. The clergyman took the child. "What name?" he asked.

Mr. Carlyle had never thought about the name. But he replied, pretty promptly.

"William;" for he knew it was a name revered and loved by Lady Isabel.

The minister dipped his fingers in the water. Joyce interrupted in much confusion, looking at her master.

"It is a little girl, sir. I beg your pardon, I'm sure I thought I had said so; but I'm so flurried as I never was before."

There was a pause, and then the minister spoke again. "Name the child."

"Isabel Lucy," said Mr. Carlyle. Upon which a strange sort of resentful sniff was heard from Miss Corny. She had probably thought to hear him mention her own; but he had named it after his wife and his mother.

Mr. Carlyle was not allowed to see his wife until evening. His eyelashes glistened, as he looked down at her. She detected his emotion, and a faint smile parted her lips.

"I fear I bore it badly, Archibald; but let us be thankful that it is over. How thankful, none can know, save those who have gone through it."

"I think they can," he murmured. "I never knew what thankfulness was until this day."

"That the baby is safe?"

"That you are safe, my darling; safe and spared to me, Isabel," he whispered, hiding his face upon hers. "I never, until to-day, knew what prayer was—the prayer of a heart in its sore need."

"Have you written to Lord Mount Severn?" she asked after a while.

"This afternoon," he replied.

"Why did you give baby my name—Isabel?"

"Do you think I could have given it a prettier one? I don't."

"Why do you not bring a chair, and sit down by me?"

He smiled and shook his head. "I wish I might. But they limited my stay with you to four minutes, and Wainwright has posted himself outside the door, with his watch in his hand."

Quite true. There stood the careful surgeon, and the short interview was over almost as soon as it had begun.

The baby lived, and appeared likely to live, and of course the next thing was to look out for a maid for it. Isabel did not get strong very quickly. Fever and weakness had a struggle with each other and with her. One day, when she was dressing and sitting in her easy chair, Miss Carlyle entered.

"Of all the servants in the neighborhood, who should you suppose is come up after the place of nurse?"

"Indeed, I cannot guess."

"Why, Wilson, Mrs. Hare's maid. Three years and five months she has been with them, and now leaves in consequence of a fall out with Barbara. Will you see her?"

"Is she likely to suit? Is she a good servant?"

"She's not a bad servant, as servants go," responded Miss Carlyle. "She's steady and respectable; but she has got a tongue as long as from here to Lynneborough."

"That won't hurt baby," said Lady Isabel. "But if she has lived as lady's maid, she probably does not understand the care of infants."

"Yes she does. She was upper servant at Squire Pinner's before going to Mrs. Hare's. Five years she lived there."

"I will see her," said Lady Isabel.

Miss Carlyle left the room to send the servant in, but came back first alone.

"Mind, Lady Isabel, don't you engage her. If she is likely to suit you, let her come again for the answer, and meanwhile I will go down to Mrs. Hare's and learn the ins and outs of her leaving. It is all very plausible for her to put upon Barbara, but that is only one side of the question. Before engaging her, it may be well to hear the other."

Of course this was but right. Isabel acquiesced, and the servant was introduced; a tall, pleasant-looking woman, with black eyes. Lady Isabel inquired why she was leaving Mrs. Hare's.

"My lady, it is through Miss Barbara's temper. Latterly—oh, for this year past, nothing has pleased her; she had grown nearly as imperious as the justice himself. I have threatened many times to leave, and last evening we came to another outbreak, and I left this morning."

"Left entirely?"

"Yes, my lady. Miss Barbara provoked me so, that I said last night I would leave as soon as breakfast was over. And I did so. I should be very glad to take your situation, my lady, if you would please to try me."

"You have been the upper maid at Mrs. Hare's?"

"Oh, yes, my lady."

"Then possibly this situation might not suit you so well as you imagine. Joyce is the upper servant here, and you would, in a manner, be under her. I have great confidence in Joyce; and in case of my illness or absence, Joyce would superintend the nursery."

"I should not mind that," was the applicant's answer. "We all like Joyce, my lady."

A few more questions, and then the girl was told to come again in the evening for her answer. Miss Carlyle went to the Grove for the "ins and outs" of the affair, where Mrs. Hare frankly stated that she had nothing to urge against Wilson, save her hasty manner of leaving, and believed the chief blame to be due to Barbara. Wilson, therefore, was engaged, and was to enter upon her new service the following morning.

In the afternoon succeeding to it, Isabel was lying on the sofa in her bedroom, asleep, as was supposed. In point of fact, she was in that state, half asleep, half wakeful delirium, which those who suffer from weakness and fever know only too well. Suddenly she was aroused from it by hearing her own name mentioned in the adjoining room, where sat Joyce and Wilson, the latter holding the sleeping infant on her knee, the former sewing, the door between the rooms being ajar.

"How ill she does look," observed Wilson.

"Who?" asked Joyce.

"Her ladyship. She looks just as if she'd never get over it."

"She is getting over it quickly, now," returned Joyce. "If you had seen her but a week ago, you would not say she was looking ill now, speaking in comparison."

"My goodness! Would not somebody's hopes be up again if anything should happen?"

"Nonsense!" crossly rejoined Joyce.

"You may cry out 'nonsense' forever, Joyce, but they would," went on Wilson. "And she would snap him up to a dead certainty; she'd never let him escape her a second time. She is as much in love with him as she ever was!"

"It was all talk and fancy," said Joyce. "West Lynne must be busy. Mr. Carlyle never cared for her."

"That's more than you know. I have seen a little, Joyce; I have seen him kiss her."

"A pack of rubbish!" remarked Joyce. "That tells nothing."

"I don't say it does. There's not a young man living but what's fond of a sly kiss in the dark, if he can get it. He gave her that locket and chain she wears."

"Who wears?" retorted Joyce, determined not graciously to countenance the subject. "I don't want to hear anything about it."

"'Who,' now! Why, Miss Barbara. She has hardly had it off her neck since, my belief is she wears it in her sleep."

"More simpleton she," returned Joyce.

"The night before he left West Lynne to marry Lady Isabel—and didn't the news come upon us like a thunderclap!—Miss Barbara had been at Miss Carlyle's and he brought her home. A lovely night it was, the moon rising, and nearly as light as day. He somehow broke her parasol in coming home, and when they got to our gate there was a love scene."

"Were you a third in it?" sarcastically demanded Joyce.

"Yes—without meaning to be. It was a regular love scene; I could hear enough for that. If ever anybody thought to be Mrs. Carlyle, Barbara did that night."

"Why, you great baby! You have just said it was the night before he went to get married!"

"I don't care, she did. After he was gone, I saw her lift up her hands and her face in ecstacy, and say he would never know how much she loved him until she was his wife. Be you very sure, Joyce, many a love-passage had passed between them two; but I suppose when my lady was thrown in his way he couldn't resist her rank and her beauty, and the old love was cast over. It is in the nature of man to be fickle, specially those that can boast of their own good looks, like Mr. Carlyle."

"Mr. Carlyle's not fickle."

"I can tell you more yet. Two or three days after that, Miss Corny came up to our house with the news of his marriage. I was in mistress's bedroom, and they were in the room underneath, the windows open, and I heard Miss Corny tell the tale, for I was leaning out. Up came Miss Barbara upon an excuse and flew into her room, and I went into the corridor. A few moments and I heard a noise—it was a sort of wail, or groan—and I opened the door softly, fearing she might be fainting. Joyce, if my heart never ached for anybody before, it ached then. She was lying upon the floor, her hands writhed together, and her poor face all white, like one in mortal agony. I'd have given a quarter's wages to be able to say a word of comfort to her; but I didn't dare interfere with such sorrow as that. I came out again and shut the door without her seeing me."

"How thoroughly stupid she must have been!" uttered Joyce, "to go caring for one who did not care for her."

"I tell you, Joyce, you don't know that he did not care. You are as obstinate as the justice, and I wish to goodness you wouldn't interrupt me. They came up here to pay the wedding visit—master, mistress, and she, came in state in the grand chariot, with the coachman and Jasper. If you have got any memory at all, you can't fail to recollect it. Miss Barbara remained behind at East Lynne to spend the rest of the day."

"I remember it."

"I was sent to fetch her home in the evening, Jasper being out. I came the field way; for the dust by the road was enough to smother one, and by the last stile but one, what do you think I came upon?"

Joyce lifted her eyes. "A snake perhaps."

"I came upon Miss Barbara and Mr. Carlyle. What had passed, nobody knows but themselves. She was leaning back against the stile, crying; low, soft sobs breaking from her, like one might expect to hear from a breaking heart. It seemed as if she had been reproaching him, as if some explanation had passed, and I heard him say that from henceforth they could only be brother and sister. I spoke soon, for fear they should see me, and Mr. Carlyle got over the stile. Miss Barbara said to him that he need not come any further, but he held out his arm, and came with her to our back gate. I went on then to open the door, and I saw him with his head bent down to her, and her two hands held in his. We don't know how it is between them, I tell you."

"At any rate, she is a downright fool to suffer herself to love him still!" uttered Joyce, indignantly.

"So she is, but she does do it. She'll often steal out to the gate about the time she knows he'll be passing, and watch him by, not letting him see her. It is nothing but her unhappiness, her jealousy of Lady Isabel, that makes her cross. I assure you, Joyce, in this past year she had so changed that she's not like the same person. If Mr. Carlyle should ever get tired of my lady, and—"

"Wilson," harshly interrupted Joyce, "have the goodness to recollect yourself."

"What have I said not? Nothing but truth. Men are shamefully fickle, husbands worse than sweethearts, and I'm sure I'm not thinking of anything wrong. But to go back to the argument that we began with—I say that if anything happened to my lady, Miss Barbara, as sure as fate, would step into her shoes."

"Nothing is going to happen to her," continued Joyce, with composure.

"I hope it is not, now or later—for the sake of this dear little innocent thing upon my lap," went on the undaunted Wilson. "She would not make a very kind stepmother, for it is certain that where the first wife had been hated, her children won't be loved. She would turn Mr. Carlyle against them—"

"I tell you what it is, Wilson," interrupted Joyce, in a firm, unmistakable tone, "if you think to pursue those sort of topics at East Lynne, I shall inform my lady that you are unsuitable for the situation."

"I dare say!"

"And you know that when I make up my mind to a thing I do it," continued Joyce. "Miss Carlyle may well say you have the longest tongue in West Lynne; but you might have the grace to know that this subject is one more unsuitable to it than another, whether you are eating Mr. Hare's bread, or whether you are eating Mr. Carlyle's. Another word, Wilson; it appears to me that you have been carrying on a prying system in Mrs. Hare's house—do not attempt such a thing in this."

"You were always one of the straight-laced sort, Joyce," cried Wilson, laughing good-humoredly. "But now that I have had my say out, I shall stop; and you need not fear I shall be such a simpleton as to go prattling of this kind of thing to the servants."

Now just fancy this conversation penetrating to Lady Isabel! She heard every word. It is all very well to oppose the argument, "Who attends to the gossip of the servants?" Let me tell you it depends upon what the subject may be, whether the gossip is attended to or not. It might not, and indeed would not, have made so great an impression upon her had she been in strong health, but she was weak, feverish, and in a state of partial delirium; and she hastily took up the idea that Archibald Carlyle had never loved her, that he had admired her and made her his wife in his ambition, but that his heart had been given to Barbara Hare.

A pretty state of excitement she worked herself into as she lay there, jealousy and fever, ay, and love too, playing pranks with her brain. It was near the dinner hour, and when Mr. Carlyle entered, he was startled to see her; her pallid cheeks were burning with a red hectic glow, and her eyes glistened with fever.

"Isabel, you are worse!" he uttered, as he approached her with a quick step.

She partially rose from the sofa, and clasped hold of him in her emotion. "Oh, Archibald! Archibald!" she uttered, "don't marry her! I could not rest in my grave."

Mr. Carlyle, in his puzzled astonishment, believed her to be laboring under some temporary hallucination, the result of weakness. He set himself to soothe her, but it seemed that she could not be soothed. She burst into a storm of tears and began again—wild words.

"She would ill-treat my child; she would draw your love from it, and from my memory. Archibald, you must not marry her!"

"You must be speaking from the influence of a dream, Isabel," he soothingly said; "you have been asleep and are not yet awake. Be still, and recollection will return to you. There, love; rest upon me."

"To think of her as your wife brings pain enough to kill me," she continued to reiterate. "Promise me that you will not marry her; Archibald, promise it!"

"I will promise you anything in reason," he replied, bewildered with her words, "but I do not know what you mean. There is no possibility of my marrying any one, Isabel; you are my wife."

"But if I die? I may—you know I may; and many think I shall—do not let her usurp my place."

"Indeed she shall not—whoever you may be talking of. What have you been dreaming? Who is it that has been troubling your mind?"

"Archibald, do you need to ask? Did you love no one before you married me? Perhaps you have loved her since—perhaps you love her still?"

Mr. Carlyle began to discern "method in her madness." He changed his cheering tone to one of grave earnestness. "Of whom to you speak, Isabel?"

"Of Barbara Hare."

He knitted his brow; he was both annoyed and vexed. Whatever had put this bygone nonsense into his wife's head? He quitted the sofa where he had been supporting her, and stood upright before her, calm, dignified, almost solemn in his seriousness.

"Isabel, what notion can you possibly have picked up about myself and Barbara Hare; I never entertained the faintest shadow of love for her, either before my marriage or since. You must tell me what has given rise to this idea in your mind."

"But she loved you."

A moment's hesitation; for, of course, Mr. Carlyle was conscious that she had; but, taking all the circumstances into consideration, more especially how he learnt the fact, he could not, in honor, acknowledge it to his wife. "If it was so, Isabel, she was more reprehensibly foolish than I should have given Barbara's good sense could be; for a woman may almost as well lose herself as to suffer herself to love unsought. If she did give her love to me, I can only say, I was entirely unconscious of it. Believe me, you have as much cause to be jealous of Cornelia as you have of Barbara Hare."

An impulse rose within her that she would tell him all; the few words dropped by Susan and Joyce, twelve months before, the conversation she had just overheard; but in that moment of renewed confidence, it did appear to her that she must have been very foolish to attach importance to it—that a sort of humiliation, in listening to the converse of servants, was reflected on her, and she remained silent.

There never was a passion in this world—there never will be one—so fantastic, so delusive, so powerful as jealousy. Mr. Carlyle dismissed the episode from his thoughts; he believed his wife's emotion to have been simply from a feverish dream, and never supposed but that, with the dream, its recollection would pass away from her. Not so. Implicitly relying upon her husband's words at the moment, feeling quite ashamed at her own suspicion, Lady Isabel afterward suffered the unhappy fear to regain its influence; the ill-starred revelations of Wilson reasserted their power, overmastering the denial of Mr. Carlyle. Shakspeare calls jealousy yellow and green; I think it may be called black and white for it most assuredly views white as black, and black as white. The most fanciful surmises wear the aspect of truth, the greatest improbabilities appear as consistent realities. Not another word said Isabel to her husband; and the feeling—you will understand this if you have ever been foolish enough to sun yourself in its delights—only caused her to grow more attached to him, to be more eager for his love. But certain it is that Barbara Hare dwelt on her heart like an incubus.