East Lynne/Chapter 3

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 3

West Lynne was a town of some importance, particularly in its own eyes, though being neither a manufacturing one nor a cathedral one, nor even the chief town of the county, it was somewhat primitive in its manners and customs. Passing out at the town, toward the east, you came upon several detached gentleman's houses, in the vicinity of which stood the church of St. Jude, which was more aristocratic, in the matter of its congregation, than the other churches of West Lynne. For about a mile these houses were scattered, the church being situated at their commencement, close to that busy part of the place, and about a mile further on you came upon the beautiful estate which was called East Lynne.

Between the gentlemen's houses mentioned and East Lynne, the mile of road was very solitary, being much overshadowed with trees. One house alone stood there, and that was about three-quarters of a mile before you came to East Lynne. It was on the left hand side, a square, ugly, red brick house with a weathercock on the top, standing some little distance from the road. A flat lawn extended before it, and close to the palings, which divided it from the road, was a grove of trees, some yards in depth. The lawn was divided by a narrow middle gravel path, to which you gained access from the portico of the house. You entered upon a large flagged hall with a reception room on either hand, and the staircase, a wide one, facing you; by the side of the staircase you passed on to the servants' apartments and offices. That place was called the Grove, and was the property and residence of Richard Hare, Esq., commonly called Mr. Justice Hare.

The room to the left hand, as you went in, was the general sitting-room; the other was very much kept boxed up in lavender and brown Holland, to be opened on state occasions. Justice and Mrs. Hare had three children, a son and two daughters. Annie was the elder of the girls, and had married young; Barbara, the younger was now nineteen, and Richard the eldest—but we shall come to him hereafter.

In this sitting-room, on a chilly evening, early in May, a few days subsequent to that which had witnessed the visit of Mr. Carlyle to the Earl of Mount Severn, sat Mrs. Hare, a pale, delicate woman, buried in shawls and cushions: but the day had been warm. At the window sat a pretty girl, very fair, with blue eyes, light hair, a bright complexion, and small aquiline features. She was listlessly turning over the leaves of a book.

"Barbara, I am sure it must be tea-time now."

"The time seems to move slowly with you, mamma. It is scarcely a quarter of an hour since I told you it was but ten minutes past six."

"I am so thirsty!" announced the poor invalid. "Do go and look at the clock again, Barbara."

Barbara Hare rose with a gesture of impatience, not suppressed, opened the door, and glanced at the large clock in the hall. "It wants nine and twenty minutes to seven, mamma. I wish you would put your watch on of a day; four times you have sent me to look at that clock since dinner."

"I am so thirsty!" repeated Mrs. Hare, with a sort of sob. "If seven o'clock would but strike! I am dying for my tea."

It may occur to the reader, that a lady in her own house, "dying for her tea," might surely order it brought in, although the customary hour had not struck. Not so Mrs. Hare. Since her husband had first brought her home to that house, four and twenty-years ago, she had never dared to express a will in it; scarcely, on her own responsibility, to give an order. Justice Hare was stern, imperative, obstinate, and self-conceited; she, timid, gentle and submissive. She had loved him with all her heart, and her life had been one long yielding of her will to his; in fact, she had no will; his was all in all. Far was she from feeling the servitude a yoke: some natures do not: and to do Mr. Hare justice, his powerful will that must bear down all before it, was in fault: not his kindness: he never meant to be unkind to his wife. Of his three children, Barbara alone had inherited his will.

"Barbara," began Mrs. Hare again, when she thought another quarter of an hour at least must have elapsed.

"Well, mamma?"

"Ring, and tell them to be getting it in readiness so that when seven strikes there may be no delay."

"Goodness, mamma! You know they do always have it ready. And there's no such hurry, for papa may not be at home." But she rose, and rang the bell with a petulant motion, and when the man answered it, told him to have tea in to its time.

"If you knew dear, how dry my throat is, how parched my mouth, you would have more patience with me."

Barbara closed her book with a listless air, and turned listlessly to the window. She seemed tired, not with fatigue but with what the French express by the word ennui. "Here comes papa," she presently said.

"Oh, I am so glad!" cried poor Mrs. Hare. "Perhaps he will not mind having the tea in at once, if I told him how thirsty I am."

The justice came in. A middle sized man, with pompous features, and a pompous walk, and a flaxen wig. In his aquiline nose, compressed lips, and pointed chin, might be traced a resemblance to his daughter; though he never could have been half so good-looking as was pretty Barbara.

"Richard," spoke up Mrs. Hare from between her shawls, the instant he opened the door.

"Well?"

"Would you please let me have tea in now? Would you very much mind taking it a little earlier this evening? I am feverish again, and my tongue is so parched I don't know how to speak."

"Oh, it's near seven; you won't have long to wait."

With this exceedingly gracious answer to an invalid's request, Mr. Hare quitted the room again and banged the door. He had not spoken unkindly or roughly, simply with indifference. But ere Mrs. Hare's meek sigh of disappointment was over, the door re-opened, and the flaxen wig was thrust in again.

"I don't mind if I do have it now. It will be a fine moonlight night and I am going with Pinner as far as Beauchamp's to smoke a pipe. Order it in, Barbara."

The tea was made and partaken of, and the justice departed for Mr. Beauchamp's, Squire Pinner calling for him at the gate. Mr. Beauchamp was a gentleman who farmed a great deal of land, and who was also Lord Mount Severn's agent or steward for East Lynne. He lived higher up the road some little distance beyond East Lynne.

"I am so cold, Barbara," shivered Mrs. Hare, as she watched the justice down the gravel path. "I wonder if your papa would say it was foolish of me, if I told them to light a bit of fire?"

"Have it lighted if you like," responded Barbara, ringing the bell. "Papa will know nothing about it, one way or the other, for he won't be home till after bedtime. Jasper, mamma is cold, and would like a fire lighted."

"Plenty of sticks, Jasper, that it may burn up quickly," said Mrs. Hare, in a pleading voice, as if the sticks were Jasper's and not hers.

Mrs. Hare got her fire, and she drew her chair in front, and put her feet on the fender, to catch its warmth. Barbara, listless still, went into the hall, took a woolen shawl from the stand there, threw it over her shoulders, and went out. She strolled down the straight formal path, and stood at the iron gate, looking over it into the public road. Not very public in that spot, and at that hour, but as lonely as one could wish. The night was calm and pleasant, though somewhat chilly for the beginning of May, and the moon was getting high in the sky.

"When will he come home?" she murmured, as she leaned her head upon the gate. "Oh, what would life be like without him? How miserable these few days have been! I wonder what took him there! I wonder what is detaining him! Corny said he was only gone for a day."

The faint echo of footsteps in the distance stole upon her ear, and Barbara drew a little back, and hid herself under the shelter of the trees, not choosing to be seen by any stray passer-by. But, as they drew near, a sudden change came over her; her eyes lighted up, her cheeks were dyed with crimson, and her veins tingled with excess of rapture—for she knew those footsteps, and loved them, only too well.

Cautiously peeping over the gate again, she looked down the road. A tall form, whose very height and strength bore a grace of which its owner was unconscious, was advancing rapidly toward her from the direction of West Lynne. Again she shrank away; true love is ever timid; and whatever may have been Barbara Hare's other qualities, her love at least was true and deep. But instead of the gate opening, with the firm quick motion peculiar to the hand which guided it, the footsteps seemed to pass, and not to have turned at all toward it. Barbara's heart sank, and she stole to the gate again, and looked out with a yearning look.

Yes, sure enough he was striding on, not thinking of her, not coming to her; and she, in the disappointment and impulse of the moment, called to him,—

"Archibald!"

Mr. Carlyle—it was no other—turned on his heel, and approached the gate.

"Is it you, Barbara! Watching for thieves and poachers? How are you?"

"How are you?" she returned, holding the gate open for him to enter, as he shook hands, and striving to calm down her agitation. "When did you return?"

"Only now, by the eight o'clock train, which got in beyond its time, having drawled unpardonably at the stations. They little thought they had me in it, as their looks betrayed when I got out. I have not been home yet."

"No! What will Cornelia say?"

"I went to the office for five minutes. But I have a few words to say to Beauchamp, and am going up at once. Thank you, I cannot come in now; I intend to do so on my return."

"Papa has gone up to Mr. Beauchamp's."

"Mr. Hare! Has he?"

"He and Squire Pinner," continued Barbara. "They have gone to have a smoking bout. And if you wait there with papa, it will be too late to come in, for he is sure not to be home before eleven or twelve."

Mr. Carlyle bent his head in deliberation. "Then I think it is of little use my going on," said he, "for my business with Beauchamp is private. I must defer it until to-morrow."

He took the gate out of her hand, closed it, and placed the hand within his own arm, to walk with her to the house. It was done in a matter-of-fact, real sort of way; nothing of romance or sentiment hallowed it; but Barbara Hare felt that she was in Eden.

"And how have you all been, Barbara, these few days?"

"Oh, very well. What made you start off so suddenly? You never said you were going, or came to wish us good-bye."

"You have just expressed it, Barbara—'suddenly.' A matter of business suddenly arose, and I suddenly went upon it."

"Cornelia said you were only gone for a day."

"Did she? When in London I find so many things to do! Is Mrs. Hare better?"

"Just the same. I think mamma's ailments are fancies, half of them; if she would rouse herself she would be better. What is in that parcel?"

"You are not to inquire, Miss Barbara. It does not concern you. It only concerns Mrs. Hare."

"Is it something you have brought for mamma, Archibald?"

"Of course. A countryman's visit to London entails buying presents for his friends; at least, it used to be so, in the old-fashioned days."

"When people made their wills before starting, and were a fortnight doing the journey in a wagon," laughed Barbara. "Grandpapa used to tell us tales of that, when we were children. But is it really something for mamma?"

"Don't I tell you so? I have brought something for you."

"Oh! What is it?" she uttered, her color rising, and wondering whether he was in jest or earnest.

"There's an impatient girl! 'What is it?' Wait a moment, and you shall see what it is."

He put the parcel or roll he was carrying upon a garden chair, and proceeded to search his pockets. Every pocket was visited, apparently in vain.

"Barbara, I think it is gone. I must have lost it somehow."

Her heart beat as she stood there, silently looking up at him in the moonlight. Was it lost? What had it been?

But, upon a second search, he came upon something in the pocket of his coat-tail. "Here it is, I believe; what brought it there?" He opened a small box, and taking out a long, gold chain, threw it around her neck. A locket was attached to it.

Her cheeks' crimson went and came; her heart beat more rapidly. She could not speak a word of thanks; and Mr. Carlyle took up the roll, and walked on into the presence of Mrs. Hare.

Barbara followed in a few minutes. Her mother was standing up, watching with pleased expectation the movements of Mr. Carlyle. No candles were in the room, but it was bright with firelight.

"Now, don't laugh at me," quoth he, untying the string of the parcel. "It is not a roll of velvet for a dress, and it is not a roll of parchment, conferring twenty thousand pounds a year. But it is—an air cushion!"

It was what poor Mrs. Hare, so worn with sitting and lying, had often longed for. She had heard such a luxury was to be bought in London, but never remembered to have seen one. She took it almost with a greedy hand, casting a grateful look at Mr. Carlyle.

"How am I to thank you for it?" she murmured through her tears.

"If you thank me at all, I will never bring you anything again," cried he, gaily. "I have been telling Barbara that a visit to London entails bringing gifts for friends," he continued. "Do you see how smart I have made her?"

Barbara hastily took off the chain, and laid it before her mother.

"What a beautiful chain!" muttered Mrs. Hare, in surprise. "Archibald, you are too good, too generous! This must have cost a great deal; this is beyond a trifle."

"Nonsense!" laughed Mr. Carlyle. "I'll tell you both how I happened to buy it. I went into a jeweller's about my watch, which has taken to lose lately in a most unceremonious fashion, and there I saw a whole display of chains hanging up; some ponderous enough for a sheriff, some light and elegant enough for Barbara. I dislike to see a thick chain on a lady's neck. They put me in mind of the chain she lost, the day she and Cornelia went with me to Lynchborough, which loss Barbara persisted in declaring was my fault, for dragging her through the town sight-seeing, while Cornelia did her shopping—for it was then the chain was lost."

"But I was only joking when I said so," was the interruption of Barbara. "Of course it would have happened had you not been with me; the links were always snapping."

"Well, these chains in the shop in London put me in mind of Barbara's misfortune, and I chose one. Then the shopman brought forth some lockets, and enlarged upon their convenience for holding deceased relatives' hair, not to speak of sweethearts', until I told him he might attach one. I thought it might hold that piece of hair you prize, Barbara," he concluded, dropping his voice.

"What piece?" asked Mrs. Hare.

Mr. Carlyle glanced round the room, as if fearful the very walls might hear his whisper. "Richard's. Barbara showed it me one day when she was turning out her desk, and said it was a curl taken off in that illness."

Mrs. Hare sank back in her chair, and hid her face in her hands, shivering visibly. The words evidently awoke some poignant source of deep sorrow. "Oh, my boy! My boy!" she wailed—"my boy! My unhappy boy! Mr. Hare wonders at my ill-health, Archibald; Barbara ridicules it; but there lies the source of all my misery, mental and bodily. Oh, Richard! Richard!"

There was a distressing pause, for the topic admitted of neither hope nor consolation. "Put your chain on again, Barbara," Mr. Carlyle said, after a while, "and I wish you health to wear it out. Health and reformation, young lady!"

Barbara smiled and glanced at him with her pretty blue eyes, so full of love. "What have you brought for Cornelia?" she resumed.

"Something splendid," he answered, with a mock serious face; "only I hope I have not been taken in. I bought her a shawl. The venders vowed it was true Parisian cashmere. I gave eighteen guineas for it."

"That is a great deal," observed Mrs. Hare. "It ought to be a very good one. I never gave more than six guineas for a shawl in all my life."

"And Cornelia, I dare say, never more than half six," laughed Mr. Carlyle. "Well, I shall wish you good evening, and go to her; for if she knows I am back all this while, I shall be lectured."

He shook hands with them both. Barbara, however, accompanied him to the front door, and stepped outside with him.

"You will catch cold, Barbara. You have left your shawl indoors."

"Oh, no, I shall not. How very soon you are leaving. You have scarcely stayed ten minutes."

"But you forget I have not been at home."

"You were on your road to Beauchamp's, and would not have been at home for an hour or two in that case," spoke Barbara, in a tone that savored of resentment.

"That was different; that was upon business. But, Barbara, I think your mother looks unusually ill."

"You know she suffers a little thing to upset her; and last night she had what she calls one of her dreams," answered Barbara. "She says that it is a warning that something bad is going to happen, and she has been in the most unhappy, feverish state possible all day. Papa has been quite angry over her being so weak and nervous, declaring that she ought to rouse herself out of her 'nerves.' Of course we dare not tell him about the dream."

"It related to—the——"

Mr. Carlyle stopped, and Barbara glanced round with a shudder, and drew closer to him as she whispered. He had not given her his arm this time.

"Yes, to the murder. You know mamma has always declared that Bethel had something to do with it; she says her dreams would have convinced her of it, if nothing else did; and she dreamt she saw him with—with—you know."

"Hallijohn?" whispered Mr. Carlyle.

"With Hallijohn," assented Barbara, with a shiver. "He was standing over him as he lay on the floor; just as he did lay on it. And that wretched Afy was standing at the end of the kitchen, looking on."

"But Mrs. Hare ought not to suffer dreams to disturb her peace by day," remonstrated Mr. Carlyle. "It is not to be surprised at that she dreams of the murder, because she is always dwelling upon it; but she should strive and throw the feeling from her with the night."

"You know what mamma is. Of course she ought to do so, but she does not. Papa wonders what makes her get up so ill and trembling of a morning; and mamma has to make all sorts of evasive excuses; for not a hint, as you are aware, must be breathed to him about the murder."

Mr. Carlyle gravely nodded.

"Mamma does so harp about Bethel. And I know that dream arose from nothing in the world but because she saw him pass the gate yesterday. Not that she thinks that it was he who did it; unfortunately, there is no room for that; but she will persist that he had a hand in it in some way, and he haunts her dreams."

Mr. Carlyle walked on in silence; indeed there was no reply that he could make. A cloud had fallen upon the house of Mr. Hare, and it was an unhappy subject. Barbara continued,—

"But for mamma to have taken it into her head that 'some evil is going to happen,' because she had this dream, and to make herself miserable over it, is so absurd, that I have felt quite cross with her all day. Such nonsense, you know, Archibald, to believe that dreams give signs of what is going to happen, so far behind these enlightened days!"

"Your mamma's trouble is great, Barbara; and she is not strong."

"I think all our troubles have been great since—since that dark evening," responded Barbara.

"Have you heard from Anne?" inquired Mr. Carlyle, willing to change the subject.

"Yes, she is very well. What do you think they are going to name the baby? Anne; after her mamma. So very ugly a name! Anne!"

"I do not think so," said Mr. Carlyle. "It is simple and unpretending, I like it much. Look at the long, pretentious names of our family—Archibald! Cornelia! And yours, too—Barbara! What a mouthful they all are!"

Barbara contracted her eyebrows. It was equivalent to saying that he did not like her name.

They reached the gate, and Mr. Carlyle was about to pass out of it when Barbara laid her hand on his arm to detain him, and spoke in a timid voice,—

"Archibald!"

"What is it?"

"I have not said a word of thanks to you for this," she said, touching the chain and locket; "my tongue seemed tied. Do not deem me ungrateful."

"You foolish girl! It is not worth them. There! Now I am paid. Good-night, Barbara."

He had bent down and kissed her cheek, swung through the gate, laughing, and strode away. "Don't say I never gave you anything," he turned his head round to say, "Good-night."

All her veins were tingling, all her pulses beating; her heart was throbbing with its sense of bliss. He had never kissed her, that she could remember, since she was a child. And when she returned indoors, her spirits were so extravagantly high that Mrs. Hare wondered.

"Ring for the lamp, Barbara, and you can get to your work. But don't have the shutters closed; I like to look out on these light nights."

Barbara, however, did not get to her work; she also, perhaps, liked "looking out on a light night," for she sat down at the window. She was living the last half hour over again. "'Don't say I never gave you anything,'" she murmured; "did he allude to the chain or to the—kiss? Oh, Archibald, why don't you say that you love me?"

Mr. Carlyle had been all his life upon intimate terms with the Hare family. His father's first wife—for the late lawyer Carlyle had been twice married—had been a cousin of Justice Hare's, and this had caused them to be much together. Archibald, the child of the second Mrs. Carlyle, had alternately teased and petted Anne and Barbara Hare, boy fashion. Sometimes he quarreled with the pretty little girls, sometimes he caressed them, as he would have done had they been his sisters; and he made no scruple of declaring publicly to the pair that Anne was his favorite. A gentle, yielding girl she was, like her mother; whereas Barbara displayed her own will, and it sometimes clashed with young Carlyle's.

The clock struck ten. Mrs. Hare took her customary sup of brandy and water, a small tumbler three parts full. Without it she believed she could never get to sleep; it deadened unhappy thought, she said. Barbara, after making it, had turned again to the window, but she did not resume her seat. She stood right in front of it, her forehead bent forward against its middle pane. The lamp, casting a bright light, was behind her, so that her figure might be distinctly observable from the lawn, had any one been there to look upon it.

She stood there in the midst of dreamland, giving way to all its enchanting and most delusive fascinations. She saw herself, in anticipation, the wife of Mr. Carlyle, the envied, thrice envied, of all West Lynne; for, like as he was the dearest on earth to her heart, so was he the greatest match in the neighborhood around. Not a mother but what coveted him for her child, and not a daughter but would have said, "Yes, and thank you," to an offer from the attractive Archibald Carlyle. "I never was sure, quite sure of it till to-night," murmured Barbara, caressing the locket, and holding it to her cheek. "I always thought he meant something, or he might mean nothing: but to give me this—to kiss me—oh Archibald!"

A pause. Barbara's eyes were fixed upon the moonlight.

"If he would but say he loved me! If he would but save the suspense of my aching heart! But it must come; I know it will; and if that cantankerous toad of a Corny—"

Barbara Hare stopped. What was that, at the far end of the lawn, just in advance of the shade of the thick trees? Their leaves were not causing the movement, for it was a still night. It had been there some minutes; it was evidently a human form. What was it? Surely it was making signs to her!

Or else it looked as though it was. That was certainly its arm moving, and now it advanced a pace nearer, and raised something which it wore on its head—a battered hat with a broad brim, a "wide-awake," encircled with a wisp of straw.

Barbara Hare's heart leaped, as the saying runs, into her mouth, and her face became deadly white in the moonlight. Her first thought was to alarm the servants; her second, to be still; for she remembered the fear and mystery that attached to the house. She went into the hall, shutting her mamma in the parlor, and stood in the shade of the portico, gazing still. But the figure evidently followed her movement with its sight, and the hat was again taken off, and waved violently.

Barbara Hare turned sick with utter terror. She must fathom it; she must see who, and what it was; for the servants she dared not call, and those movements were imperative, and might not be disregarded. But she possessed more innate courage than falls to the lot of some young ladies.

"Mamma," she said, returning to the parlor and catching up her shawl, while striving to speak without emotion. "I shall just walk down the path and see if papa is coming."

Mrs. Hare did not reply. She was musing upon other things, in that quiescent happy mood, which a small portion of spirits will impart to one weak in body; and Barbara softly closed the door, and stole out again to the portico. She stood a moment to rally her courage, and again the hat was waved impatiently.

Barbara Hare commenced her walk towards it in dread unutterable, an undefined sense of evil filling her sinking heart; mingling with which, came, with a rush of terror, a fear of that other undefinable evil—the evil Mrs. Hare had declared was foreboded by her dream.