East Lynne/Chapter 20
"I should recommend a complete change of scene altogether, Mr. Carlyle. Say some place on the French or Belgian coast. Sea bathing might do wonders."
"Should you think it well for her to go so far from home?"
"I should. In these cases of protracted weakness, where you can do nothing but try to coax the strength back again, change of air and scene are of immense benefit."
"I will propose it to her," said Mr. Carlyle.
"I have just done so," replied Dr. Martin, who was the other speaker. "She met it with objection, which I expected, for invalids naturally feel a disinclination to move from home. But it is necessary that she should go."
The object of their conversation was Lady Isabel. Years had gone on, and there were three children now at East Lynne—Isabel, William, and Archibald—the latter twelve months old. Lady Isabel had, a month or two back, been attacked with illness; she recovered from the disorder; but it had left her in an alarming state of weakness; she seemed to get worse instead of better, and Dr. Martin was summoned from Lynneborough. The best thing he could recommend—as you save seen—was change of air.
Lady Isabel was unwilling to take the advice; more especially to go so far as the "French coast." And but for a circumstance that seemed to have happened purposely to induce her to decide, would probably never have gone. Mrs. Ducie—the reader may not have forgotten her name—had, in conjunction with her husband, the honorable Augustus, somewhat run out at the elbows, and found it convenient to enter for a time on the less expensive life of the Continent. For eighteen months she had been staying in Paris, the education of her younger daughters being the plea put forth, and a very convenient plea it is, and serves hundreds. Isabel had two or three letters from her during her absence, and she now received another, saying they were going to spend a month or two at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Mr. Carlyle, Mr. Wainwright, and Dr. Martin—in short, everybody—declared this must remove all Lady Isabel's unwillingness to go from home, for Mrs. Ducie's society would do away with the loneliness she had anticipated, which had been the ostensible score of her objection.
"Boulogne-sur-Mer, of all places, in the world!" remonstrated Lady Isabel. "It is spoken of as being crowded and vulgar."
"The more amusing for you, my lady," cried Dr. Martin, while Mr. Carlyle laughed at her. And finding she had no chance against them all, she consented to go, and plans were hastily decided upon.
"Joyce," said Lady Isabel to her waiting maid, "I shall leave you at home; I must take Wilson instead."
"Oh, my lady! What have I done?"
"You have done all that you ought, Joyce, but you must stay with the children. If I may not take them, the next best thing will be to leave them in your charge, not Miss Carlyle's," she said, shaking her voice; "if it were Wilson who remained, I could not do that."
"My lady, I must do whatever you think best. I wish I could attend you and stay with them, but of course I cannot do both."
"I am sent away to get health and strength, but it may be that I shall die, Joyce. If I never come back, will you promise to remain with my children?"
Joyce felt a creeping sensation in her veins, the sobs rose in her throat, but she swallowed them down and constrained her voice to calmness. "My lady, I hope you will come back to us as well as you used to be. I trust you will hope so too, my lady, and not give way to low spirits."
"I sincerely hope and trust I shall," answered Lady Isabel, fervently. "Still, there's no telling, for I am very ill. Joyce, give me your promise. In case of the worst, you will remain with the children."
"I will, my lady—as long as I am permitted."
"And be kind to them and love them, and shield them from—from—any unkindness that may be put upon them," she added, her head full of Miss Carlyle, "and talk to them sometimes of their poor mother, who is gone?"
"I will, I will—oh my lady, I will!" And Joyce sat down in the rocking-chair as Lady Isabel quitted her, and burst into tears.
Mr. Carlyle and Lady Isabel, with Wilson and Peter in attendance, arrived at Boulogne, and proceeded to the Hotel des Bains. It may be as well to mention that Peter had been transferred from Miss Carlyle's service to theirs, when the establishment was first formed at East Lynne. Upon entering the hotel they inquired for Mrs. Ducie, and then a disappointment awaited them. A letter was handed them which had arrived that morning from Mrs. Ducie, expressing her regret that certain family arrangements prevented her visiting Boulogne; she was proceeding to some of the baths in Germany instead.
"I might almost have known it," remarked Isabel. "She was always the most changeable of women."
Mr. Carlyle went out in search of lodgings, Isabel objecting to remain in the bustling hotel. He succeeded in finding some very desirable ones, situated in the Rue de l'Ecu, near the port, and they moved into them. He thought the journey had done her good, for she looked better, and said she already felt stronger. Mr. Carlyle remained with her three days; he had promised only one, but he was pleased with everything around him, pleased with Isabel's returning glimpses of health, and amused with the scenes of the busy town.
The tide served at eight o'clock the following morning, and Mr. Carlyle left by the Folkestone boat. Wilson made his breakfast, and after swallowing it in haste, he returned to his wife's room to say farewell.
"Good-bye, my love," he said, stooping to kiss her, "take care of yourself."
"Give my dear love to the darlings, Archibald. And—and——"
"And what?" he asked. "I have not a moment to lose."
"Do not get making love to Barbara Hare while I am away."
She spoke in a tone half jest, half serious—could he but have seen how her heart was breaking! Mr. Carlyle took it wholly as a jest, and went away laughing. Had he believed she was serious, he could have been little more surprised had she charged him not to go about the country on a dromedary.
Isabel rose later, and lingered over her breakfast, listless enough. She was wondering how she would make the next few weeks pass; what she should do with her time. She had taken two sea baths since her arrival, but they had appeared not to agree with her, leaving her low and shivering afterwards, so it was not deemed advisable that she should attempt more. It was a lovely morning, and she determined to venture on to the pier, to where they had sat on the previous evening. She had not Mr. Carlyle's arm, but it was not far, and she could take a good rest at the end of it.
She went, attended by Peter, took her seat, and told him to come for her in an hour. She watched the strollers on the pier as they had done the previous evening; not in crowds now, but stragglers, coming on at intervals. There came a gouty man, in a list shoe, there came three young ladies and their governess, there came two fast puppies in shooting jackets and eye-glasses, which they turned with a broad stare on Lady Isabel; but there was something about her which caused them to drop their glasses and their ill manners together. After an interval, there appeared another, a tall, handsome, gentlemanly man. Her eyes fell upon him; and—what was it that caused every nerve in her frame to vibrate, every pulse to quicken? Whose form was it that was thus advancing and changing the monotony of her mind into tumult? It was that of one whom she was soon to find had never been entirely forgotten.
Captain Levison came slowly on, approaching the pier where she sat. He glanced at her; not with the hardihood displayed by the two young men, but with quite sufficiently evident admiration.
"What a lovely girl!" thought he to himself. "Who can she be, sitting there alone?"
All at once a recollection flashed into his mind; he raised his hat and extended his hand, his fascinating smile in full play.
"I certainly cannot be mistaken. Have I the honor of once more meeting Lady Isabel Vane?"
She rose from the seat, and allowed him to take her hand, answering a few words at random, for her wits seemed wool-gathering.
"I beg your pardon—I should have said Lady Isabel Carlyle. Time has elapsed since we parted, and in the pleasure of seeing you again so unexpectedly, I thought of you as you were then."
She sat down again, the brilliant flush of emotion dying away upon her cheeks. It was the loveliest face Francis Levison had seen since he saw hers, and he thought so as he gazed at it.
"What can have brought you to this place?" he inquired, taking a seat beside her.
"I have been ill," she explained, "and am ordered to the sea-side. We should not have come here but for Mrs. Ducie; we expected to meet her. Mr. Carlyle only left me this morning."
"Mrs. Ducie is off to Ems. I see them occasionally. They have been fixtures in Paris for some time. You do indeed look ill," he abruptly added, in a tone of sympathy, "alarmingly ill. Is there anything I can do for you?"
She was aware that she looked unusually ill at that moment, for the agitation and surprise of meeting him were fading away, leaving her face an ashy whiteness. Exceedingly vexed and angry with herself did she feel that the meeting should have power to call forth emotion. Until that moment she was unconscious that she retained any sort of feeling for Captain Levison.
"Perhaps I have ventured out too early," she said, in a tone that would seem to apologize for her looks: "I think I will return. I shall meet my servant, no doubt. Good-morning, Captain Levison."
"But indeed you do not appear fit to walk alone," he remonstrated. "You must allow me to see you safely home."
Drawing her hand within his own quite as a matter of course, as he had done many a time in days gone by, he proceeded to assist her down the pier. Lady Isabel, conscious of her own feelings, felt that it was not quite the thing to walk thus familiarly with him, but he was a sort of relation of the family—a connection, at any rate—and she could find no ready excuse for declining.
"Have you seen Lady Mount Severn lately?" he inquired.
"I saw her when I was in London this spring with Mr. Carlyle. The first time we have met since my marriage; and we do not correspond. Lord Mount Severn had paid us two or three visits at East Lynne. They are in town yet, I believe."
"For all I know; I have not seen them, or England either, for ten months. I have been staying in Paris, and got here yesterday."
"A long leave of absence," she observed.
"Oh, I have left the army. I sold out. The truth is, Lady Isabel—for I don't mind telling you—things are rather down with me at present. My old uncle has behaved shamefully; he has married again."
"I heard that Sir Peter had married."
"He is seventy-three—the old simpleton! Of course this materially alters my prospects, for it is just possible he may have a son of his own now; and my creditors all came down upon me. They allowed me to run into debt with complacency when I was heir to the title and estates, but as soon as Sir Peter's marriage appeared in the papers, myself and my consequence dropped a hundred per cent; credit was stopped, and I dunned for payment. So I thought I'd cut it altogether, and I sold out and came abroad."
"Leaving your creditors?"
"What else could I do? My uncle would not pay them, or increase my allowance."
"What are your prospects then?" resumed Lady Isabel.
"Prospects! Do you see that little ragged boy throwing stones into the harbor?—it is well the police don't drop upon him,—ask him what his prospects are, and he will stare you in the face, and say, 'None.' Mine are on a like par."
"You may succeed Sir Peter yet."
"I may, but I may not. When those old idiots get a young wife—"
"Have you quarreled with Sir Peter?" interrupted Lady Isabel.
"I should quarrel with him as he deserves, if it would do any good, but I might get my allowance stopped. Self interest, you see, Lady Isabel, is the order of the day with most of us."
"Do you propose staying in Boulogne long?"
"I don't know. As I may find amusement. Paris is a fast capital, with its heated rooms and its late hours, and I came down for the refreshment of a few sea dips. Am I walking too fast for you?"
"You increased your pace alarmingly when you spoke of Sir Peter's marriage. And I am not sorry for it," she added, good-naturedly, "for it has proved to me how strong I am getting. A week ago I could not have walked half so fast."
He interrupted with eager apologies, and soon they reached her home. Captain Levison entered with her—uninvited. He probably deemed between connections great ceremonies might be dispensed with, and he sat a quarter of an hour, chatting to amuse her. When he rose, he inquired what she meant to do with herself in the afternoon.
"To lie down," replied Isabel. "I am not strong enough to sit up all day."
"Should you be going out afterwards, you must allow me to take care of you," he observed. "I am glad that I happened to be here, for I am sure you are not fit to wander out without an arm, and only followed by a servant. When Mr. Carlyle comes, he will thank me for my pains."
What was she to urge in objection? Simply nothing. He spoke, let us not doubt, from a genuine wish to serve her, in a plain, easy tone, as any acquaintance might speak. Lady Isabel schooled herself severely. If those old feelings were not quite dead within her, why, she must smother them down again as effectually as if they were; the very fact of recognizing such to her own heart, brought a glow of shame to her brow. She would meet Captain Levison, and suffer his companionship, as she would that of the most indifferent stranger.
It was just the wrong way for her to go to work, though.
As the days passed on, Lady Isabel improved wonderfully. She was soon able to go to the sands in the morning and sit there to enjoy the sea air, watching the waves come up to recede with the tide. She made no acquaintance whatever in the place, and when she had a companion it was Captain Levison. He would frequently join her there, sometimes take her, almost always give her his arm home. Of all things, she disliked the having to take his arm, would a thousand times over rather have taken good old Peter's. A secret prick of the conscience whispered it might be better if she did not. One day she said, in a joking sort of manner—she would not say it in any other—that now she was strong, she had no need of his arm and his escort. He demanded, in evident astonishment, what had arisen that he might not still afford it, seeing her husband was not with her to give her his. She had no answer in reply to this, no excuse to urge, and, in default of one, took his arm, as usual. In the evening he would be ready to take her to the pier, but they sat apart, mixing not with the bustling crowd—he lending to his manner, as he conversed with her, all that he would call up of fascination—and fascination, such as Francis Levison's, might be dangerous to any ear, in the sweet evening twilight. The walk over, he left her at her own door; she never asked him in in the evening, and he did not intrude without, as he sometimes would of a morning.
Now, where was the help for this? You may say that she should have remained indoors, and not have subjected herself to his companionship. But the remaining indoors would not have brought her health, and it was health that she was staying in Boulogne to acquire, and the sooner it came the better pleased she would be, for she wanted to be at home with her husband and children.
In a fortnight from the period of his departure, Mr. Carlyle was expected in Boulogne. But what a marvellous change had this fortnight wrought in Lady Isabel! She did not dare to analyze her feelings, but she was conscious that all the fresh emotions of her youth had come again. The blue sky seemed as of the sweetest sapphire, the green fields and waving trees were of an emerald brightness, the perfume of the flowers was more fragrant than any perfume had yet seemed. She knew that the sky, that the grassy plains, the leafy trees, the brilliant flowers, were but as they ever had been; she knew that the sunny atmosphere possessed no more of loveliness or power of imparting delight than of old; and she knew that the change, the sensation of ecstacy, was in her own heart. No wonder that she shrank from self-examination.
The change from listless languor to her present feeling brought the hue and contour of health to her face far sooner than anything else could have done. She went down with Captain Levison to meet Mr. Carlyle, the evening he came in, and when Mr. Carlyle saw her behind the cords, as he was going to the custom-house, he scarcely knew her. Her features had lost their sharpness, her cheeks wore a rosy flush, and the light of pleasure at meeting him again shone in her eyes.
"What can you have been doing to yourself, my darling?" he uttered in delight as he emerged from the custom-house and took her hands in his. "You look almost well."
"Yes, I am much better, Archibald, but I am warm now and flushed. We have waited here some time, and the setting sun was full upon us. How long the boat was in coming in!"
"The wind was against us," replied Mr. Carlyle, wondering who the exquisite was at his wife's side. He thought he remembered his face.
"Captain Levison," said Lady Isabel. "I wrote you word in one of my letters that he was here. Have you forgotten it?" Yes, it had slipped from his memory.
"And I am happy that it happened so," said that gentleman, interposing, "for it has enabled me to attend Lady Isabel in some of her walks. She is stronger now, but at first she was unfit to venture alone."
"I feel much indebted to you," said Mr. Carlyle, warmly.
The following day was Sunday, and Francis Levison was asked to dine with them—the first meal he had been invited to in the house. After dinner, when Lady Isabel left them, he grew confidential over his claret to Mr. Carlyle, laying open all his intricate affairs and his cargo of troubles.
"This compulsory exile abroad is becoming intolerable," he concluded; "and a Paris life plays the very deuce with one. Do you see any chance of my getting back to England?"
"Not the least," was the candid answer, "unless you can manage to satisfy or partially satisfy those claims you have been telling me of. Will not Sir Peter assist you?"
"I believe he would, were the case fairly represented to him; but how am I to get over to do it? I have written several letters to him lately, and for some time I got no reply. Then came an epistle from Lady Levison; not short and sweet, but short and sour. It was to the effect that Sir Peter was ill, and could not at present be troubled with business matters."
"He cannot be very ill," remarked Mr. Carlyle; "he passed through West Lynne, in his open carriage, a week ago."
"He ought to help me," grumbled Captain Levison. "I am his heir, so long as Lady Levison does not give him one. I do not hear that she has expectations."
"You should contrive to see him."
"I know I should; but it is not possible under present circumstances. With these thunder-clouds hanging over me, I dare not set foot in England, and run the risk to be dropped upon. I can stand a few things, but I shudder at the bare idea of a prison. Something peculiar in my idiosyncrasy, I take it, for those who have tried it, say that it's nothing when you're used to it."
"Some one might see him for you."
"Some one—who? I have quarreled with my lawyers, Sharp & Steel, of Lincoln's Inn."
"Keen practitioners," put in Mr. Carlyle.
"Too keen for me. I'd send them over the herring-pond if I could. They have used me shamefully since my uncle's marriage. If ever I do come into the Levison estates they'll be ready to eat their ears off; they would like a finger in a pie with such property as that."
"Shall I see Sir Peter Levison for you?"
"Will you?" returned Captain Levison, his dark eyes lighting up.
"If you like as your friend, you understand; not as your solicitor; that I decline. I have a slight knowledge of Sir Peter; my father was well acquainted with him; and if I can render you any little service, I shall be happy, in return for your kind attention to my wife. I cannot promise to see him for those two or three weeks, though," resumed Mr. Carlyle, "for we are terribly busy. I never was so driven; but for being so I should stay here with my wife."
Francis Levison expressed his gratitude, and the prospect, however remote, of being enabled to return to England increased his spirits to exultation. Whilst they continued to converse, Lady Isabel sat at the window in the adjoining room, listlessly looking out on the crowds of French who were crowding to and from the port in their Sunday holiday attire. Looking at them with her eyes, not with her senses—her senses were holding commune with herself, and it was not altogether satisfactory—she was aware that a sensation all too warm, a feeling of attraction toward Francis Levison, was working within her. Not a voluntary one; she could no more repress it than she could repress her own sense of being; and, mixed with it, was the stern voice of conscience, overwhelming her with the most lively terror. She would have given all she possessed to be able to overcome it. She would have given half the years of her future life to separate herself at once and forever from the man.
But do not mistake the word terror, or suppose that Lady Isabel Carlyle applied it here in the vulgar acceptation of the term. She did not fear for herself; none could be more conscious of self-rectitude of principle and conduct; and she would have believed it as impossible for her ever to forsake her duty as a wife, a gentlewoman, and a Christian, as for the sun to turn round from west to east. That was not the fear which possessed her; it had never presented itself to her mind; what she did fear was, that further companionship with Francis Levison might augment the sentiments she entertained for him to a height that her life, for perhaps years to come, would be one of unhappiness, a sort of concealment; and, more than all, she shrank form the consciousness of the bitter wrong that these sentiments cast upon her husband.
"Archibald, I have a favor to ask you," she said, after Captain Levison's departure. "Take me back with you."
"Impossible, my love. The change is doing you so much good; and I took the apartments for six weeks. You must at least remain that time."
The color flowed painfully into her cheek. "I cannot stay without you, Archibald."
"Tell me why."
"I am so dull without you," was all she could say. He felt that this was not reason enough for altering an arrangement that was so beneficial to her; so he left her the following morning, commending her to the continued care of Captain Levison.