East Lynne/Chapter 26
A surprise awaited Lady Isabel Vane. It was on a windy day in the following March that a traveller arrived at Grenoble, and inquired his way of a porter, to the best hotel in the place, his French being such as only an Englishman can produce.
"Hotel? Let's see," returned the man, politely, but with native indifference. "There are two hotels, nearly contiguous to each other, and monsieur would find himself comfortable at either. There is the Tross Dauphins, and there is the Ambassadeurs."
"Monsieur" chose haphazard, the Hotel des Ambassadeurs, and was conducted to it. Shortly after his arrival there, he inquired his road to the Place Grenette, and was offered to be shown: but he preferred that it should be described to him, and to go alone. The Place was found, and he thence turned to the apartments of Lady Isabel Vane.
Lady Isabel was sitting where you saw her the previous December—in the precise spot—courting the warmth of the fire, and it seemed, courting the sparks also, for they appeared as fond of her as formerly. The marvel was, how she had escaped spontaneous combustion; but there she was yet, and her clothes likewise. You might think that but a night had passed, when you looked at the room, for it wore precisely the same aspect now, as then; everything was the same, even to the child's cradle in the remote corner, partially hidden by the bed-curtains, and the sleeping child in it. Lady Isabel's progress toward recovery was remarkably lingering, as is frequently the case when mind and body are both diseased. She was so sitting when Susanne entered the room, and said that a "Monsieur Anglais" had arrived in the town to see her, and was waiting below, in the saloon.
Lady Isabel was startled. An English gentleman—to see her!
English for certain, was Susanne's answer, for she had difficulty to comprehend his French.
Who could be desirous to see her? One out of the world and forgotten! "Susanne," she cried aloud, a thought striking her, "it is never Sir Fran—it is not monsieur!"
"Not in the least like monsieur," complacently answered Susanne. "It is a tall, brave English gentleman, proud and noble looking like a prince."
Every pulse within Lady Isabel's body throbbed rebelliously: her heart bounded till it was like to burst her side, and she turned sick with astonishment.
"Tall, brave, noble?" could that description apply to any but Mr. Carlyle? Strange that so unnatural an idea should have occurred to her; it would not have done so in a calmer moment. She rose, tottered across the chamber, and prepared to descend. Susanne's tongue was let loose at the proceeding.
"Was miladi out of her senses? To attempt going downstairs would be a pretty ending, for she'd surely fall by the way. Miladi knew that the bottom step was of lead, and that no head could pitch down upon that, without ever never being a head any more, except in the hospitals. Let miladi sit still in her place and she'd bring the monsieur up. What did it signify? He was not a young petit maitre, to quiz things: he was fifty, if he was a day: his hair already turned to fine gray."
This set the question touching Mr. Carlyle at rest, and her heart stilled again. The next moment she was inwardly laughing in her bitter mockery at her insensate folly. Mr. Carlyle come to see her! Her! Francis Levison might be sending over some man of business, regarding the money question, was her next thought: if so, she should certainly refuse to see him.
"Go down to the gentleman and ask him his name Susanne. Ask also from whence he came."
Susanne disappeared, and returned, and the gentleman behind her. Whether she had invited him, or whether he had chosen to come uninvited, there he was. Lady Isabel caught a glimpse, and flung her hands over her burning cheeks of shame. It was Lord Mount Severn.
"How did you find out where I was?" she gasped, when some painful words had been uttered on both sides.
"I went to Sir Francis Levison and demanded your address. Certain recent events implied that he and you must have parted, and I therefore deemed it time to inquire what he had done with you."
"Since last July," she interrupted. Lifting up her wan face, now colorless again. "Do not think worse of me than I am. He was here in December for an hour's recriminating interview, and we parted for life."
"What have you heard of him lately?"
"Not anything. I never know what is passing in the world at home; I have no newspaper, no correspondence; and he would scarcely be so bold as to write to me again."
"I shall not shock you, then by some tidings I bring you regarding him," returned Lord Mount Severn.
"The greatest shock to me would be to hear that I should ever again be subjected to the sight of him," she answered.
"He is married."
"Heaven have pity on his poor wife!" was all the comment of Lady Isabel.
"He has married Alice Challoner."
She lifted her head, then, in simple surprise. "Alice? Not Blanche?"
"The story runs that he has played Blanche very false. That he has been with her much during the last three or four months, leading on her expectations; and then suddenly proposed for her younger sister. I know nothing of the details myself; it is not likely; and I heard nothing, until one evening at the club I saw the announcement of the marriage for the following day at St. George's. I was at the church the next morning before he was."
"Not to stop it; not to intercept the marriage!" breathlessly uttered the Lady Isabel.
"Certainly not. I had no power to attempt anything of the sort. I went to demand an answer to my question—what he had done with you, and where you were. He gave me this address, but said he knew nothing of your movements since December."
There was a long silence. The earl appeared to be alternately ruminating and taking a survey of the room. Isabel sat with her head down.
"Why did you seek me out?" she presently broke forth. "I am not worth it. I have brought enough disgrace upon your name."
"And upon your husband's and upon your children's," he rejoined, in the most severe manner, for it was not in the nature of the Earl of Mount Severn to gloss over guilt. "Nevertheless it is incumbent upon me, as your nearest blood relative, to see after you, now that you are alone again, and to take care, as far as I can, that you do not lapse lower."
He might have spared her that stab. But she scarcely understood him. She looked at him, wondering whether she did understand.
"You have not a shilling in the world," he resumed. "How do you propose to live?"
"I have some money yet. When—"
"His money?" sharply and haughtily interposed the earl.
"No," she indignantly replied. "I am selling my trinkets. Before they are all gone, I shall look out to get a living in some way; by teaching, probably."
"Trinkets!" repeated Lord Mount Severn. "Mr. Carlyle told me that you carried nothing away with you from East Lynne."
"Nothing that he had given me. These were mine before I married. You have seen Mr. Carlyle, then?" she faltered.
"Seen him?" echoed the indignant earl. "When such a blow was dealt him by a member of my family, could I do less than hasten to East Lynne to tender my sympathies? I went with another subject too—to discover what could have been the moving springs of your conduct; for I protest, when the black tidings reached me, I believed that you must have gone mad. You were one of the last whom I should have feared to trust. But I learned nothing, and Carlyle was as ignorant as I. How could you strike him such a blow?"
Lower and lower drooped her head, brighter shone the shame on her hectic cheek. An awful blow to Mr. Carlyle it must have been; she was feeling it in all its bitter intensity. Lord Mount Severn read her repentant looks.
"Isabel," he said, in a tone which had lost something of its harshness, and it was the first time he had called her by her Christian name, "I see that you are reaping the fruits. Tell me how it happened. What demon prompted you to sell yourself to that bad man?"
"He is a bad man!" she exclaimed. "A base, heartless man!"
"I warned you at the commencement of your married life to avoid him; to shun all association with him; not to admit him to your house."
"His coming to East Lynne was not my doing," she whispered. "Mr. Carlyle invited him."
"I know he did. Invited him in his unsuspicious confidence, believing his wife to be his wife, a trustworthy woman of honor," was the severe remark.
She did not reply; she could not gainsay it; she only sat with her meek face of shame and her eyelids drooping.
"If ever a woman had a good husband, in every sense of the word, you had, in Carlyle; if ever man loved his wife, he loved you. How could you so requite him?"
She rolled, in a confused manner, the corners of her warm shawl over her unconscious fingers.
"I read the note you left for your husband. He showed it to me; the only one, I believe, to whom he did show it. It was to him entirely inexplicable, it was so to me. A notion had been suggested to him, after your departure, that his sister had somewhat marred your peace at East Lynne, and he blamed you much, if it was so, for not giving him your full confidence on the point, that he might set matters on the right footing. But it was impossible, and there was the evidence in the note besides, that the presence of Miss Carlyle at East Lynne could be any excuse for your disgracing us all and ruining yourself."
"Do not let us speak of these things," said Lady Isabel, faintly. "It cannot redeem the past."
"But I must speak of them; I came to speak of them," persisted the earl; "I could not do it as long as that man was here. When these inexplicable things take place in the career of a woman, it is a father's duty to look into motives and causes and actions, although the events in themselves may be, as in this case, irreparable. Your father is gone, but I stand in his place, there is no one else to stand in it."
Her tears began to fall. And she let them fall—in silence. The earl resumed.
"But for that extraordinary letter, I should have supposed you had been actuated by a mad infatuation for the cur, Levison; its tenor gave the matter a different aspect. To what did you allude when you asserted that your husband had driven you to it?"
"He knew," she answered, scarcely above her breath.
"He did not know," sternly replied the earl. "A more truthful, honorable man than Carlyle does not exist on the face of the earth. When he told me then, in his agony of grief, that he was unable to form even a suspicion of your meaning, I could have staked my earldom on his veracity. I would stake it still."
"I believed," she began, in a low, nervous voice, for she knew that there was no evading the questions of Lord Mount Severn, when he was resolute in their being answered, and, indeed she was too weak, both in body and spirit, to resist—"I believed that his love was no longer mine; that he had deserted me, for another."
The earl stared at her. "What can you mean by 'deserted!' He was with you."
"There is a desertion of the heart," was her murmured answer.
"Desertion of a fiddlestick!" retorted his lordship. "The interpretation we gave to the note, I and Carlyle, was, that you had been actuated by motives of jealousy; had penned it in a jealous mood. I put the question to Carlyle—as between man and man—do you listen, Isabel!—whether he had given you cause; and he answered me, as with God over us, he had never given you cause; he had been faithful to you in thought, word and deed; he had never, so far as he could call to mind, even looked upon another woman with covetous feelings, since the hour that he made you his wife; his whole thoughts had been of you, and of you alone. It is more than many a husband can say," significantly coughed Lord Mount Severn.
Her pulses were beating wildly. A powerful conviction that the words were true; that her own blind jealousy had been utterly mistaken and unfounded, was forcing its way to her brain.
"After that I could only set your letter down as a subterfuge," resumed the earl—"a false, barefaced plea, put forth to conceal your real motives, and I told Carlyle so. I inquired how it was he had never detected any secret understanding between you and that—that beast, located, as the fellow was, in the house. He replied that no such suspicion had ever occurred to him. He placed the most implicit confidence in you, and would have trusted you with the creature around the world, aye, with any one else."
She entwined her hands one within the other, pressing them to pain. It would not deaden the pain at her heart.
"Carlyle told me he had been unusually occupied during the stay of that man. Besides his customary office work, his time was taken up with some private business for a family in the neighborhood, and he had repeatedly to see them, more particularly the daughter, after office hours. Very old acquaintances of his, he said, relatives of the Carlyle family; and he was as anxious about the secret—a painful one—as they were. This, I observed to him, may have rendered him unobservant to what was passing at home. He told me, I remember, that on the very evening of the—the catastrophe, he ought to have gone with you to a dinner party, but most important circumstances arose, in connection with the affair, which obliged him to meet two gentlemen at his office, and to receive them in secret, unknown to his clerks."
"Did he mention the name of the family?" inquired Lady Isabel, with white lips.
"Yes, he did. I forgot it, though. Rabbit! Rabit!—some such name as that."
"Was it Hare?"
"That was it—Hare. He said you appeared vexed that he did not accompany you to the dinner; and seeing that he intended to go in afterward, but was prevented. When the interview was over in his office, he was again detained at Mrs. Hare's house, and by business as impossible to avoid as the other."
"Important business!" she echoed, giving way for a moment to the bitterness of former feelings. "He was promenading in their garden by moonlight with Barbara—Miss Hare. I saw them as my carriage passed."
"And you were jealous that he should be there!" exclaimed Lord Mount Severn, with mocking reproach, as he detected her mood. "Listen!" he whispered, bending his head toward her. "While you may have thought, as your present tone would seem to intimate, that they were pacing there to enjoy each other's society, know that they—Carlyle, at any rate—was pacing the walk to keep guard. One was within that house—for a short half hour's interview with his poor mother—one who lives in danger of the scaffold, to which his own father would be the first to deliver him up. They were keeping the path against that father—Carlyle and the young lady. Of all the nights in the previous seven years, that one only saw the unhappy son at home for a half hour's meeting with his mother and sister. Carlyle, in the grief and excitement caused by your conduct, confided so much to me, when mentioning what kept him from the dinner party."
Her face had become crimson—crimson at her past lamentable folly. And there was no redemption!
"But he was always with Barbara Hare," she murmured, by way of some faint excuse.
"I have mentioned so. She had to see him upon this affair, her mother could not, for it was obliged to be kept from the father. And so, you construed business interviews into assignations!" continued Lord Mount Severn with cutting derision. "I had given you credit for better sense. But was this enough to hurl you on the step you took? Surely not. You must have yielded in the persuasions of that wicked man."
"It is all over now," she wailed.
"Carlyle was true and faithful to you, and to you alone. Few women have the chance of happiness, in their married life, in the degree that you had. He is an upright and good man; one of nature's gentlemen; one that England may be proud of as having grown upon her soil. The more I see of him, the greater becomes my admiration of him, and of his thorough honor. Do you know what he did in the matter of the damages?"
She shook her head.
"He did not wish to proceed for damages, or only for the trifling sum demanded by law; but the jury, feeling for his wrongs, gave unprecedently heavy ones. Since the fellow came into his baronetcy they have been paid. Carlyle immediately handed them over to the county hospital. He holds the apparently obsolete opinion that money cannot wipe out a wife's dishonor."
"Let us close those topics" implored the poor invalid. "I acted wickedly and madly, and have the consequences to bear forever. More I cannot say."
"Where do you intend to fix your future residence?" inquired the earl.
"I am unable to tell. I shall leave this town as soon as I am well enough."
"Aye. It cannot be pleasant for you to remain under the eyes of its inhabitants. You were here with him, were you not?"
"They think I am his wife," she murmured. "The servants think it."
"That's well, so far. How many servants have you?"
"Two. I am not strong enough yet to do much myself, so am obliged to keep two," she continued, as if in apology for the extravagance, under her reduced circumstances. "As soon as ever the baby can walk, I shall manage to do with one."
The earl looked confounded. "The baby!" he uttered, in a tone of astonishment and grief painful to her to hear. "Isabel, is there a child?"
Not less painful was her own emotion as she hid her face. Lord Mount Severn rose and paced the room with striding steps.
"I did not know it! I did not know it! Wicked, heartless villain! He ought to have married you before its birth. Was the divorce out previously?" he asked stopping short in his strides to put the question.
"Coward! Sneak! May good men shun him from henceforth! May his queen refuse to receive him! You, an earl's daughter! Oh, Isabel, how utterly you have lost yourself!"
Lady Isabel started from her chair in a burst of hysterical sobs, her hands extended beseechingly toward the earl. "Spare me! Spare me! You have been rending my heart ever since you came; indeed I am too weak to bear it."
The earl, in truth, had been betrayed into showing more of his sentiments than he intended. He recalled his recollection.
"Well, well, sit down again, Isabel," he said, putting her into her chair. "We shall go to the point I chiefly came here to settle. What sum will it take you to live upon? Quietly; as of course you would now wish to live, but comfortably."
"I will not accept anything," she replied. "I will get my own living." And the earl's irascibility again arose at the speech. He spoke in a sharp tone.
"Absurd, Isabel! Do not add romantic folly to your own mistakes. Get your own living, indeed! As much as is necessary for you to live upon, I shall supply. No remonstrance; I tell you I am acting as for your father. Do you suppose he would have abandoned you to starve or to work?"
The allusion touched every chord within her bosom, and the tears fell fast. "I thought I could get my living by teaching," she sobbed.
"And how much did you anticipate the teaching would bring you in?"
"Not very much," she listlessly said. "A hundred a year, perhaps; I am very clever at music and singing. That sum might keep us, I fancy, even if I only went out by the day."
"And a fine 'keep' it would be! You shall have that sum every quarter!"
"No, no! no, no! I do not deserve it; I could not accept it; I have forfeited all claim to assistance."
"Not to mine. Now, it is of no use to excite yourself, my mind is made up. I never willingly forego a duty, and I look upon this not only as a duty, but as an imperative one. Upon my return, I shall immediately settle four hundred upon you, and you can draw it quarterly."
"Then half that sum," she reflected, knowing how useless it was to contend with Lord Mount Severn when he got upon the stilts of "duty." "Indeed, two hundred a year will be ample; it will seem like riches to me."
"I have named the sum, Isabel, and I shall not make it less. A hundred pounds every three months shall be paid to you, dating from this day. This does not count," said he, laying down some notes on the table.
He took her hand within his in token of farewell; turned and was gone.
And Lady Isabel remained in her chamber alone.
Alone; alone! Alone for evermore!