East Lynne/Chapter 25
Nearly a year went by.
Lady Isabel Carlyle had spent it on the continent—that refuge for such fugitives—now moving about from place to place with her companion, now stationary and alone. Quite half the time—taking one absence with the other—he had been away from her, chiefly in Paris, pursuing his own course and his own pleasure.
How fared it with Lady Isabel? Just as it must be expected to fare, and does fare, when a high-principled gentlewoman falls from her pedestal. Never had she experienced a moment's calm, or peace, or happiness, since the fatal night of quitting her home. She had taken a blind leap in a moment of wild passion, when, instead of the garden of roses it had been her persuader's pleasure to promise her she would fall into, but which, in truth, she had barely glanced at, for that had not been her moving motive, she had found herself plunged into a yawning abyss of horror, from which there was never more any escape—never more, never more. The very instant—the very night of her departure, she awoke to what she had done. The guilt, whose aspect had been shunned in the prospective, assumed at once its true frightful color, the blackness of darkness; and a lively remorse, a never-dying anguish, took possession of her soul forever. Oh, reader, believe me! Lady—wife—mother! Should you ever be tempted to abandon your home, so will you awake. Whatever trials may be the lot of your married life, though they may magnify themselves to your crushed spirit as beyond the nature, the endurance of woman to bear, resolve to bear them; fall down upon your knees, and pray to be enabled to bear them—pray for patience—pray for strength to resist the demon that would tempt you to escape; bear unto death, rather than forfeit your fair name and your good conscience; for be assured that the alternative, if you do rush on to it, will be found worse than death.
Poor thing—poor Lady Isabel! She had sacrificed husband, children, reputation, home, all that makes life of value to woman. She had forfeited her duty to God, had deliberately broken his commandments, for the one poor miserable mistake of flying with Francis Levison. But the instant the step was irrevocable, the instant she had left the barrier behind, repentance set in. Even in the first days of her departure, in the fleeting moments of abandonment, when it may be supposed she might momentarily forget conscience, it was sharply wounding her with its adder stings; and she knew that her whole future existence, whether spent with that man or without him, would be a dark course of gnawing retribution.
Nearly a year went by, save some six or eight weeks, when, one morning in July, Lady Isabel made her appearance in the breakfast-room. They were staying now at Grenoble. Taking that town on their way to Switzerland through Savoy, it had been Captain Levison's pleasure to halt in it. He engaged apartments, furnished, in the vicinity of the Place Grenette. A windy, old house it was, full of doors and windows, chimneys and cupboards; and he said he should remain there. Lady Isabel remonstrated; she wished to go farther on, where they might get quicker news from England; but her will now was as nothing. She was looking like the ghost of her former self. Talk of her having looked ill when she took that voyage over the water with Mr. Carlyle; you should have seen her now—misery marks the countenance worse than sickness. Her face was white and worn, her hands were thin, her eyes were sunken and surrounded by a black circle—care was digging caves for them. A stranger might have attributed these signs to the state of her health; she knew better—knew that they were the effects of her wretched mind and heart.
It was very late for breakfast, but why should she rise early only to drag through another endless day? Languidly she took her seat at the table, just as Captain Levison's servant, a Frenchman whom he had engaged in Paris, entered the room with two letters.
"Point de gazette, Pierre?" she said.
And all the time the sly fox had got the Times in his coat pocket. But he was only obeying the orders of his master. It had been Captain Levison's recent pleasure that the newspapers should not be seen by Lady Isabel until he had over-looked them. You will speedily gather his motive.
Pierre departed toward Captain Levison's room, and Lady Isabel took up the letters and examined their superscription with interest. It was known to her that Mr. Carlyle had not lost a moment in seeking a divorce and the announcement that it was granted was now daily expected. She was anxious for it—anxious that Captain Levison should render her the only reparation in his power before the birth of her unhappy child. Little thought she that there was not the least intention on his part to make her reparation, any more than he had made it to others who had gone before her. She had become painfully aware of the fact that the man for whom she had chosen to sacrifice herself was bad, but she had not learned all his badness yet.
Captain Levison, unwashed, unshaven, with a dressing-gown loosely flung on, lounged in to breakfast. The decked-out dandies before the world are frequently the greatest slovens in domestic privacy. He wished her good morning in a careless tone of apathy, and she as apathetically answered to it.
"Pierre says there are some letters," he began. "What a precious hot day it is!"
"Two," was her short reply, her tone sullen as his. For if you think my good reader, that the flattering words, the ardent expressions, which usually attend the first go-off of these promising unions last out a whole ten months, you are in egregious error. Compliments the very opposite to honey and sweetness have generally supervened long before. Try it, if you don't believe me.
"Two letters," she continued, "and they are both in the same handwriting—your solicitors', I believe."
Up went his hand at the last word, and he made a sort of grab at the letters, stalked to the farthest window, opened it, and glanced over its contents.
"Sir—We beg to inform you that the suit Carlyle vs. Carlyle, is at an end. The divorce was pronounced without opposition. According to your request, we hasten to forward you the earliest intimation of the fact.
"We are, sir, faithfully yours,
"MOSS & GRAB. "F. LEVISON, Esq."
It was over, then, and all claim to the name of Carlyle was declared to have been forfeited by the Lady Isabel forever. Captain Levison folded up the letter, and placed it securely in an inner pocket.
"Is there any news?" she asked.
"Of the divorce, I mean?"
"Tush!" was the response of Captain Levison, as if wishing to imply that the divorce was yet a far-off affair, and he proceeded to open the other letter.
"Sir—After sending off our last, dated to-day, we received tidings of the demise of Sir Peter Levison, your grand-uncle. He expired this afternoon in town, where he had come for the benefit of medical advice. We have much pleasure in congratulating you upon your accession to the title and estates, and beg to state that should it not be convenient to you to visit England at present, we will be happy to transact all necessary matters for you, on your favoring us with instructions. And we remain, sir, most faithfully yours,
"MOSS & GRAB. "SIR FRANCIS LEVISON, Bart."
The outside of the letter was superscribed as the other, "F. Levison, Esquire," no doubt with a view to its more certain delivery.
"At last, thank the pigs!" was the gentleman's euphonious expression, as he tossed the letter, open, on the breakfast-table.
"The divorce is granted!" feverishly uttered Lady Isabel.
He made no reply, but seated himself to breakfast.
"May I read the letter? Is it for me to read?"
"For what else should I have thrown it there?" he said.
"A few days ago you put a letter, open on the table, I thought for me; but when I took it up you swore at me. Do you remember it Captain Levison?"
"You may drop that odious title, Isabel, which has stuck to me too long. I own a better, now."
"What one, pray?"
"You can look and see."
Lady Isabel took up the letter and read it. Sir Francis swallowed down his coffee, and rang the table hand-bell—the only bell you generally meet with in France. Pierre answered it.
"Put me up a change of things," said he, in French. "I start for England in an hour."
"It is very well," Pierre responded; and departed to do it. Lady Isabel waited till the man was gone, and then spoke, a faint flush of emotion in her cheeks.
"You do not mean what you say? You will not leave me yet?"
"I cannot do otherwise," he answered. "There's a mountain of business to be attended to, now that I am come into power."
"Moss & Grab say they will act for you. Had there been a necessity for your going, they would not have offered that."
"Ay, they do say so—with a nice eye to the feathering of their pockets! Besides, I should not choose for the old man's funeral to take place without me."
"Then I must accompany you," she urged.
"I wish you would not talk nonsense, Isabel. Are you in a state to travel night and day? Neither would home be agreeable to you yet awhile."
She felt the force of the objections. Resuming after a moment's pause—"Were you to go to England, you might not be back in time."
"In time for what?"
"Oh, how can you ask?" she rejoined, in a sharp tone of reproach; "you know too well. In time to make me your wife when the divorce shall appear."
"I shall chance it," coolly observed Sir Francis.
"Chance it! chance the legitimacy of the child? You must assure that, before all things. More terrible to me than all the rest would it be, if—"
"Now don't put yourself in a fever, Isabel. How many times am I to be compelled to beg that of you! It does no good. Is it my fault, if I am called suddenly to England?"
"Have you no pity for your child?" she urged in agitation. "Nothing can repair the injury, if you once suffer it to come upon him. He will be a by-word amidst men throughout his life."
"You had better have written to the law lords to urge on the divorce," he returned. "I cannot help the delay."
"There has been no delay; quite the contrary. But it may be expected hourly now."
"You are worrying yourself for nothing, Isabel. I shall be back in time."
He quitted the room as he spoke, and Lady Isabel remained in it, the image of despair. Nearly an hour elapsed when she remembered the breakfast things, and rang for them to be removed. A maid-servant entered to do it, and she thought how ill miladi looked.
"Where is Pierre?" miladi asked.
"Pierre was making himself ready to attend monsieur to England."
Scarcely had she closed the door upon herself and the tray when Sir Francis Levison appeared, equipped for traveling. "Good-bye, Isabel," said he, without further circumlocution or ceremony.
Lady Isabel, excited beyond all self-control, slipped the bolt of the door; and, half leaning against it, half leaning at his feet, held up her hand in supplication.
"Francis, have you any consideration left for me—any in the world?"
"How can you be so alarmed, Isabel? Of course I have," he continued, in a peevish, though kind tone, as he took hold of her hands to raise her.
"No, not yet. I will remain here until you say you will wait another day or two. You know that the French Protestant minister is prepared to marry us the instant news of the divorce shall arrive; if you do care still for me, you will wait."
"I cannot wait," he replied, his tone changing to one of determination. "It is useless to urge it."
He broke from her and left the room, and in another minute had left the house, Pierre attending him. A feeling, amounting to a conviction, rushed over the unhappy lady that she had seen him for the last time until it was too late.
She was right. It was too late by weeks and months.
December came in. The Alps were covered with snow; Grenoble borrowed the shade, and looked cold, and white, and sleety, and sloppy; the gutters, running through the middle of certain of the streets, were unusually black, and the people crept along especially dismal. Close to the fire in the barn of a French bedroom, full of windows, and doors, and draughts, with its wide hearth and its wide chimney, into which we could put four or five of our English ones, shivered Lady Isabel Vane. She had an invalid cap on, and a thick woolen invalid shawl, and she shook and shivered perpetually; though she had drawn so close to the wood fire that there was a danger of her petticoats igniting, and the attendant had frequently to spring up and interpose between them and the crackling logs. Little did it seem to matter to Lady Isabel; she sat in one position, her countenance the picture of stony despair.
So had she sat, so looking, since she began to get better. She had had a long illness, terminating in a low fever; but the attendants whispered among themselves that miladi would soon get about if she would only rouse herself. She had got so far about as to sit up in the windy chamber; and it seemed to be to her a matter of perfect indifference whether she ever got out of it.
This day she had partaken of her early dinner—such as it was, for her appetite failed—and had dozed asleep in the arm chair, when a noise arose from below, like a carriage driving into the courtyard through the porte cochere. It instantly aroused her. Had he come?
"Who is it?" she asked of the nurse.
"Miladi, it is monsieur; and Pierre is with him. I have begged milady often and often not to fret, for monsieur would surely come; miladi, see, I am right."
The girl departed, closing the door, and Lady Isabel sat looking at it, schooling her patience. Another moment, and it was flung open.
Sir Francis Levison approached to greet her as he came in. She waved him off, begging him, in a subdued, quiet tone, not to draw too near, as any little excitement made her faint now. He took a seat opposite to her, and began pushing the logs together with his boot, as he explained that he really could not get away from town before.
"Why did you come now?" she quietly rejoined.
"Why did I come?" repeated he. "Are these all the thanks a fellow gets for travelling in this inclement weather? I thought you would at least have been glad to welcome me, Isabel."
"Sir Francis," she rejoined, speaking still with almost unnatural calmness, as she continued to do throughout the interview—though the frequent changes in her countenance, and the movement of her hands, when she laid them from time to time on her chest to keep down its beating, told what effort the struggle cost her—"Sir Francis, I am glad, for one reason, to welcome you; we must come to an understanding one with the other; and, so far, I am pleased that you are here. It was my intention to have communicated with you by letter as soon as I found myself capable of the necessary exertion, but your visit has removed the necessity. I wish to deal with you quite unreservedly, without concealment, or deceit; I must request you so to deal with me."
"What do you mean by 'deal?'" he asked, settling the logs to his apparent satisfaction.
"To speak and act. Let there be plain truth between us at this interview, if there never has been before."
"I don't understand you."
"Naked truth, unglossed over," she pursued, bending her eyes determinately upon him. "It must be."
"With all my heart," returned Sir Francis. "It is you who have thrown out the challenge, mind."
"When you left in July you gave me a sacred promise to come back in time for our marriage; you know what I mean when I say 'in time,' but—"
"Of course I meant to do so when I gave the promise," he interrupted. "But no sooner had I set my foot in London than I found myself overwhelmed with business, and away from it I could not get. Even now I can only remain with you a couple of days, for I must hasten back to town."
"You are breaking faith already," she said, after hearing him calmly to the end. "Your words are not words of truth, but of deceit. You did not intend to be back in time for the marriage, or otherwise you would have caused it to take place ere you went at all."
"What fancies you do take up!" uttered Francis Levison.
"Some time subsequent to your departure," she quietly went on, "one of the maids was setting to rights the clothes in your dressing-closet, and she brought me a letter she found in one of the pockets. I saw by the date that it was one of those two which you received on the morning of your departure. It contained the information that the divorce was pronounced."
She spoke so quietly, so apparently without feeling or passion, that Sir Francis was agreeably astonished. He should have less trouble in throwing off the mask. But he was an ill-tempered man; and to hear that the letter had been found to have the falseness of his fine protestations and promises laid bare, did not improve his temper now. Lady Isabel continued,—
"It would have been better to have undeceived me then; to have told me that the hopes I was cherishing for the sake of the unborn child were worse than vain."
"I did not judge so," he replied. "The excited state you then appeared to be in, would have precluded your listening to any sort of reason."
Her heart beat a little quicker; but she stilled it.
"You deem that it was not in reason that I should aspire to be the wife of Sir Francis Levison?"
He rose and began kicking at the logs; with the heel of his boot this time.
"Well, Isabel, you must be aware that it is an awful sacrifice for a man in my position to marry a divorced woman."
The hectic flushed into her thin cheeks, but her voice sounded calm as before.
"When I expected or wished, for the 'sacrifice,' it was not for my own sake; I told you so then. But it was not made; and the child's inheritance is that of sin and shame. There he lies."
Sir Francis half turned to where she pointed, and saw an infant's cradle by the side of the bed. He did not take the trouble to look at it.
"I am the representative now of an ancient and respected baronetcy," he resumed, in a tone as of apology for his previous heartless words, "and to make you my wife would so offend all my family, that—"
"Stay," interrupted Lady Isabel, "you need not trouble yourself to find needless excuses. Had you taken this journey for the purpose of making me your wife, were you to propose to do so this day, and bring a clergyman into the room to perform the ceremony, it would be futile. The injury to the child can never be repaired; and, for myself, I cannot imagine any fate in life worse than being compelled to pass it with you."
"If you have taken this aversion to me, it cannot be helped," he coldly said, inwardly congratulating himself, let us not doubt, at being spared the work of trouble he had anticipated. "You made commotion enough once about me making you reparation."
She shook her head.
"All the reparation in your power to make—all the reparation that the whole world can invent could not undo my sin. It and the effects must lie upon me forever."
"Oh—sin!" was the derisive exclamation. "You ladies should think of that beforehand."
"Yes," she sadly answered. "May heaven help all to do so who may be tempted as I was."
"If you mean that as a reproach to me, it's rather out of place," chafed Sir Francis, whose fits of ill-temper were under no control, and who never, when in them, cared what he said to outrage the feelings of another. "The temptation to sin, as you call it, lay not in my persuasions half so much as in your jealous anger toward your husband."
"Quite true," was her reply.
"And I believe you were on the wrong scent, Isabel—if it will be any satisfaction to you to hear it. Since we are mutually on this complimentary discourse, it is of no consequence to smooth over facts."
"I do not understand what you would imply," she said, drawing her shawl round her with a fresh shiver. "How on the wrong scent?"
"With regard to your husband and that Hare girl. You were blindly, outrageously jealous of him."
"And I say I think you are on the wrong scent. I do not believe Mr. Carlyle ever thought of the girl—in that way."
"What do you mean?" she gasped.
"They had a secret between them—not of love—a secret of business; and those interviews they had together, her dancing attendance upon him perpetually, related to that, and that alone."
Her face was more flushed than it had been throughout the interview. He spoke quietly now, quite in an equal tone of reasoning; it was his way when the ill-temper was upon him: and the calmer he spoke, the more cutting were his words. He need not have told her this.
"What was the secret?" she inquired, in a low tone.
"Nay, I can't explain all; they did not take me into their confidence. They did not even take you; better, perhaps that they had though, as things have turned out, or seem to be turning. There's some disreputable secret attaching to the Hare family, and Carlyle was acting in it, under the rose, for Mrs. Hare. She could not seek out Carlyle herself, so she sent the young lady. That's all I know."
"How did you know it?"
"I had reason to think so."
"What reason? I must request you to tell me."
"I overheard scraps of their conversation now and then in those meetings, and so gathered my information."
"You told a different tale to me, Sir Francis," was her remark, as she turned her indignant eyes toward him.
Sir Francis laughed.
"All stratagems are fair in love and war."
She dared not immediately trust herself to reply, and a silence ensued. Sir Francis broke it, pointing with his left thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the cradle.
"What have you named that young article there?"
"The name which ought to have been his by inheritance—'Francis Levison,'" was her icy answer.
"Let's see—how old is he now?"
"He was born on the last day of August."
Sir Francis threw up his arms and stretched himself, as if a fit of idleness had overtaken him; then advanced to the cradle and pulled down the clothes.
"Who is he like, Isabel? My handsome self?"
"Were he like you in spirit, I would pray that he might die ere he could speak, or think!" she burst forth. And then remembering the resolution marked out for herself, subsided outwardly into calmness again.
"What else?" retorted Sir Francis. "You know my disposition pretty well by this time, Isabel, and may be sure that if you deal out small change to me, you will get it back again with interest."
She made no reply. Sir Francis put the clothes back over the sleeping child, returned to the fire, and stood a few moments with his back to it.
"Is my room prepared for me, do you know?" he presently asked.
"No, it is not," she quietly rejoined. "These apartments are mine now; they have been transferred into my name, and they can never again afford you accommodation. Will you be so obliging—I am not strong—as to hand me that writing case?"
Sir Francis walked to the table she indicated, which was at the far end of the great barn of a room, and taking the writing-case from it, gave it to her.
She reached her keys from the stand at her elbow, unlocked the case, and took from it some bank-notes.
"I received these from you a month ago," she said. "They came by post."
"And never had the grace to acknowledge them," he returned, in a sort of mock reproachful tone.
"Forty pounds. That was the amount, was it not?"
"I believe so."
"Allow me to return them to you. Count them."
"Return them to me—for what?" inquired Sir Francis, in amazement.
"I have no longer anything whatever to do with you in any way. Do not make my arm ache, holding out these notes to you so long! Take them!"
Sir Francis took the notes from her hand and placed them on a stand near to her.
"If it be your wish that all relations should end between us, why, let it be so," he said. "I must confess I think it may be the wisest course, as things have come to this pass; for a cat and dog life, which would seemingly be ours, is not agreeable. Remember, though, that it is your doing, not mine. But you cannot think I am going to see you starve, Isabel. A sum—we will fix upon the amount amicably—shall be placed to your credit half-yearly, and—"
"I beg of you to cease," she passionately interrupted. "What do you take me for?"
"Take you for! Why, how can you live? You have no fortune—you must receive assistance from some one."
"I will not receive it from you. If the whole world denied me, and I could find no help from strangers, or means of earning my own bread, and it was necessary that I should still exist, I would apply to my husband for means, rather than to you. In saying this, it ought to convince you that the topic may cease."
"Your husband!" sarcastically rejoined Sir Francis. "Generous man!"
A flush, deep and painful, dyed her cheeks. "I should have said my late husband. You need not have reminded me of the mistake."
"If you will accept nothing for yourself, you must for the child. He, at any rate, falls to my share. I shall give you a few hundred a year with him."
She beat her hands before her, as if beating off the man and his words. "Not a farthing, now or ever. Were you to attempt to send money to him, I would throw it into the nearest river. Whom do you take me for? What do you take me for?" she repeated, rising in her bitter mortification. "If you have put me beyond the pale of the world, I am still Lord Mount Severn's daughter!"
"You did as much toward putting yourself beyond its pale as—"
"Don't I know it? Have I not said so?" she sharply interrupted. And then she sat, striving to calm herself, clasping together her shaking hands.
"Well, if you will persist in this perverse resolution, I cannot mend it," resumed Sir Francis. "In a little time you may probably wish to recall it; in which case a line, addressed to me at my banker's, will—"
Lady Isabel drew herself up. "Put away those notes, if you please," she interrupted, not allowing him to finish his sentence.
He took out his pocket-book and placed the bank notes within it.
"Your clothes—those you left here when you went to England—you will have the goodness to order Pierre to take away this afternoon. And now, Sir Francis, I believe that is all: we will part."
"To remain mortal enemies from henceforth? Is that to be it?"
"To be strangers," she replied, correcting him. "I wish you a good day."
"So you will not even shake hands with me, Isabel?"
"I would prefer not."
And thus they parted. Sir Francis left the room, but not immediately the house. He went into a distant apartment, and, calling the servants before him—there were but two—gave them each a year's wages in advance—"That they might not have to trouble miladi for money," he said to them. Then he paid a visit to the landlord, and handed him, likewise a year's rent in advance, making the same remark. After that, he ordered dinner at a hotel, and the same night he and Pierre departed on their journey home again, Sir Francis thanking his lucky star that he had so easily got rid of a vexatious annoyance.
And Lady Isabel? She passed her evening alone, sitting in the same place, close to the fire and the sparks. The attendant remonstrated that miladi was remaining up too late for her strength, but miladi ordered her and her remonstrances into an adjoining room.
When Lady Isabel lay down to rest, she sank into a somewhat calmer sleep than she had known of late; also into a dream. She thought she was back at East Lynne—not back, in one sense, but that she seemed never to have gone away from it—walking in the flower garden with Mr. Carlyle, while the three children played on the lawn. Her arm was within her husband's, and he was relating something to her. What the news was, she could not remember afterward, excepting that it was connected with the office and old Mr. Dill, and that Mr. Carlyle laughed when he told it. They appeared to be interrupted by the crying of Archibald; and, in turning to the lawn to ask what was the matter, she awoke. Alas! It was the actual crying of her own child which awoke her—this last child—the ill-fated little being in the cradle beside her. But, for a single instant, she forgot recent events and doings, she believed she was indeed in her happy home at East Lynne, a proud woman, an honored wife. As recollection flashed across her, with its piercing stings, she gave vent to a sharp cry of agony, of unavailing despair.