East Lynne/Chapter 31

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 31

It was a lovely morning in June, and all West Lynne was astir. West Lynne generally was astir in the morning, but not in the bustling manner that might be observed now. People were abroad in numbers, passing down to St. Jude's Church, for it was the day of Mr. Carlyle's marriage to Barbara Hare.

Miss Carlyle made herself into a sort of martyr. She would not go near it; fine weddings in fine churches did not suit her, she proclaimed; they could tie themselves up together fast enough without her presence. She had invited the little Carlyles and their governess and Joyce to spend the day with her; and she persisted in regarding the children as martyrs too, in being obliged to submit to the advent of a second mother. She was back in her old house again, next door to the office, settled there for life now with her servants. Peter had mortally offended her in electing to remain at East Lynne.

Mr. Dill committed himself terribly on the wedding morning. About ten o'clock he made his appearance at Miss Carlyle's; he was a man of the old stage, possessing old-fashioned notions, and he had deemed that to step in to congratulate her on the auspicious day would be only good manners.

Miss Carlyle was seated in her dining-room, her hands folded before her. It was rare indeed that she was caught doing nothing. She turned her eyes on Mr. Dill as he entered.

"Why, what on earth has taken you?" began she, before he could speak. "You are decked out like a young duck!"

"I am going to the wedding, Miss Cornelia. Did you know it? Mrs. Hare was so kind as to invite me to the breakfast, and Mr. Archibald insists upon my going to church. I am not too fine, am I?"

Poor old Dill's "finery" consisted of a white waistcoat with gold buttons, and an embroidered shirt-front. Miss Corny was pleased to regard it with sarcastic wrath.

"Fine!" echoed she. "I don't know what you call it. I would not make myself such a spectacle for untold gold. You'll have all the ragamuffins in the street forming a tail after you, thinking you are the bridegroom. A man of your years to deck yourself out in a worked shirt! I would have had some rosettes on my coat-tails, while I was about it."

"My coat's quite plain, Miss Cornelia," he meekly remonstrated.

"Plain! What would you have it?" snapped Miss Cornelia. "Perhaps you covet a wreath of embroidery round it, gold leaves and scarlet flowers, with a swansdown collar? It would only be in keeping with that shirt and waistcoat. I might as well have gone and ordered a white tarletan dress, looped up with peas, and streamed through the town in that guise. It would be just as consistent."

"People like to dress a little out of common at a wedding, Miss Cornelia; it's only respectful, when they are invited guests."

"I don't say people should go to a wedding in a hop sack. But there's a medium. Pray, do you know your age?"

"I am turned sixty, Miss Corny."

"You just are. And do you consider it decent for an old man, going on for seventy, to be decorated off as you are now? I don't; and so I tell you my mind. Why, you'll be the laughing-stock of the parish! Take care the boys don't tie a tin kettle to you!"

Mr. Dill thought he would leave the subject. His own impression was, that he was not too fine, and that the parish would not regard him as being so; still, he had a great reverence for Miss Corny's judgment, and was not altogether easy. He had had his white gloves in his hand when he entered, but he surreptitiously smuggled them into his pocket, lest they might offend. He passed to the subject which had brought him thither.

"What I came in for, was to offer you my congratulations on this auspicious day, Miss Cornelia. I hope Mr. Archibald and his wife, and you, ma'am—"

"There! You need not trouble yourself to go on," interrupted Miss Corny, hotly arresting him. "We want condolence here to-day, rather than the other thing. I'm sure I'd nearly as soon see Archibald go to his hanging."

"Oh, Miss Corny!"

"I would; and you need not stare at me as if you were throttled. What business has he to go and fetter himself with a wife again. One would have thought he had had enough with the other. It is as I have always said, there's a soft place in Archibald's brain."

Old Dill knew there was no "soft place" in the brain of Mr. Carlyle, but he deemed it might be as well not to say so, in Miss Corny's present humor. "Marriage is a happy state, as I have heard, ma'am, and honorable; and I am sure Mr. Archibald—"

"Very happy! Very honorable!" fiercely cried Miss Carlyle, sarcasm in her tone. "His last marriage brought him all that, did it not?"

"That's past and done with, Miss Corny, and none of us need recall it. I hope he will find in his present wife a recompense for what's gone; he could not have chosen a prettier or nicer young lady than Miss Barbara; and I am glad to my very heart that he has got her."

"Couldn't he?" jerked Miss Carlyle.

"No, ma'am, he could not. Were I young, and wanted a wife, there's no one in all West Lynne I would so soon look out for as Miss Barbara. Not that she'd have me; and I was not speaking in that sense, Miss Corny."

"It's to be hoped you were not," retorted Miss Corny. "She is an idle, insolent, vain fagot, caring for nothing but her own doll's face and for Archibald."

"Ah, well, ma'am never mind that; pretty young girls know they are pretty, and you can't take their vanity from them. She'll be a good and loving wife to him; I know she will; it is in her nature; she won't serve him as—as—that other poor unfortunate did."

"If I feared she was one to bring shame to him, as the other did, I'd go into the church this hour and forbid the marriage; and if that didn't do, I'd—smother her!" shrieked Miss Carlyle. "Look at that piece of impudence!"

That last sentence was uttered in a different tone, and concerned somebody in the street. Miss Carlyle hopped off her chair and strode to the window. Mr. Dill's eyes turned in the like direction.

In a gay and summer's dress, fine and sparkling, with a coquettish little bonnet, trimmed with pink, shaded by one of those nondescript articles at present called veils, which article was made of white spotted net with a pink ruche round it, sailed Afy Hallijohn, conceited and foolish and good-looking as ever. Catching sight of Mr. Dill, she made him a flourishing and gracious bow. The courteous old gentleman returned it, and was pounced upon by Miss Corny's tongue for his pains.

"Whatever possessed you to do that?"

"Well, Miss Corny, she spoke to me. You saw her."

"I saw her? Yes, I did see her, the brazen bellwether! And she saw me, and spoke to you in her insolence. And you must answer her, in spite of my presence, instead of shaking your fist and giving her a reproving frown. You want a little sharp talking to, yourself."

"But, Miss Corny, it's always best to let bygones be bygones," he pleaded. "She was flighty and foolish, and all that, was Afy; but now that it's proved she did not go with Richard Hare, as was suspected, and is at present living creditably, why should she not be noticed?"

"If the very deuce himself stood there with his horns and tail, you would find excuses to make for him," fired Miss Corny. "You are as bad as Archibald! Notice Afy Hallijohn, when she dresses and flirts and minces as you saw her but now! What creditable servant would flaunt abroad in such a dress and bonnet as that, with that flimsy gauze thing over her face. It's as disreputable as your shirt-front."

Mr. Dill coughed humbly, not wishing to renew the point of the shirt-front. "She is not exactly a servant, Miss Corny, she's a lady's maid; and ladies' maids do dress outrageously fine. I had great respect for her father, ma'am; never a better clerk came into our office."

"Perhaps you'll tell me you have a respect for her! The world's being turned upside down, I think. Formerly, mistresses kept their servants to work; now it seems they keep them for play! She's going to St. Jude's, you may be sure of it, to stare at this fine wedding, instead of being at home, in a cotton gown and white apron, making beds. Mrs. Latimer must be a droll mistress, to give her liberty in this way. What's that fly for?" sharply added Miss Corny, as one drew up to the office door.

"Fly," said Mr. Dill, stretching forward his bald head. "It must be the one I ordered. Then I'll wish you good-day, Miss Corny."

"Fly for you?" cried Miss corny. "Have you got the gout, that you could not walk to St. Jude's on foot?"

"I am not going to the church yet; I am going on to the Grove, Miss Corny. I thought it would look more proper to have a fly ma'am; more respectful."

"Not a doubt but you need it in that trim," retorted she. "Why didn't you put on pumps and silk stockings with pink clocks?"

He was glad to bow himself out, she kept on so. But he thought he would do it with a pleasant remark, to show her he bore no ill-will. "Just look at the crowds pouring down, Miss Corny; the church will be as full as it can cram."

"I dare say it will," retorted she. "One fool makes many."

"I fear Miss Cornelia does not like this marriage, any more than she did the last," quoth Mr. Dill to himself as he stepped into his fly. "Such a sensible woman as she is in other things, to be so bitter against Mr. Archibald because he marries! It's not like her. I wonder," he added, his thoughts changing, "whether I do look foolish in this shirt? I'm sure I never thought of decking myself out to appear young—as Miss Corny said—I only wished to testify respect to Mr. Archibald and Miss Barbara; nothing else would have made me give five-and-twenty shillings for it. Perhaps it's not etiquette—or whatever they call it—to wear them in the morning, Miss Corny ought to know; and there certainly must be something wrong about it, by the way it put her up. Well, it can't be helped now; it must go; there's no time to return home now to change it."

St. Jude's Church was in a cram; all the world and his wife had flocked into it. Those who could not get in, took up their station in the churchyard and in the road.

Well, it was a goodly show. Ladies and gentlemen as smart as fine feathers could make them. Mr. Carlyle was one of the first to enter the church, self-possessed and calm, the very sense of a gentleman. Oh, but he was noble to look upon; though when was he otherwise? Mr. and Mrs. Clithero were there, Anne Hare, that was; a surprise for some of the gazers, who had not known they were expected at the wedding. Gentle, delicate Mrs. Hare walked up the church leaning on the arm of Sir John Dobede, a paler shade than usual on her sweet, sad face. "She's thinking of her wretched, ill-doing son," quoth the gossips, one to another. But who comes in now, with an air as if the whole church belonged to him? An imposing, pompous man, stern and grim, in a new flaxen wig, and a white rose in his buttonhole. It is Mr. Justice Hare, and he leads in one, whom folks jump upon seats to get a look at.

Very lovely was Barbara, in her soft white silk robes and her floating veil. Her cheeks, now blushing rosy red, now pale as the veil that shaded them, betrayed how intense was her emotion. The bridesmaids came after her with jaunty steps, vain in their important office—Louisa Dobede, Augusta and Kate Herbert, and Mary Pinner.

Mr. Carlyle was already in his place at the altar, and as Barbara neared him, he advanced, took her hand, and placed her on his left. I don't think that it was quite usual; but he had been married before, and ought to know. The clerk directed the rest where to stand, and, after some little delay, the service proceeded.

In spite of her emotion—and that it was great, scarcely to be suppressed, none could doubt—Barbara made the responses bravely. Be you very sure that a woman who loves him she is being united to, must experience this emotion.

"Wilt though have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony?" spoke the Rev. Mr. Little. "Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"

"I will."

Clearly, firmly, impressively was the answer given. It was as if Barbara had in her thoughts one who had not "kept holy unto him," and would proclaim her own resolution never so to betray him, God helping her.

The ceremony was very soon over, and Barbara, the magic ring upon her finger and her arm within Mr. Carlyle's was led out to his chariot, now hers—had he not just endowed her with his worldly goods?

The crowd shouted and hurrahed as they caught sight of her blushing face, but the carriage was soon clear of the crowd, who concentrated their curiosity upon the other carriages that were to follow it. The company were speeding back to the Grove to breakfast. Mr. Carlyle, breaking the silence, suddenly turned to his bride and spoke, his tone impassioned, almost unto pain.

"Barbara, you will keep your vows to me?"

She raised her shy blue eyes, so full of love to his; earnest feeling had brought the tears to them.

"Always, in the spirit and in the letter, until death shall claim me. So help me Heaven!"

The German watering-places were crowded that early autumn. They generally are crowded at that season, now that the English flock abroad in shoals, like the swallows quitting our cold country, to return again some time. France has been pretty well used up, so now we fall upon Germany. Stalkenberg was that year particularly full, for its size—you might have put it in a nutshell; and it derived its importance, name, and most else belonging to it, from its lord of the soil, the Baron von Stalkenberg. A stalwart old man was the baron, with grizzly hair, a grizzled beard, and manners as loutish as those of the boars he hunted. He had four sons as stalwart as himself, and who promised to be in time as grizzled. They were all styled the Counts von Stalkenberg, being distinguished by their Christian names—all save the eldest son, and he was generally called the young baron. Two of them were away—soldiers; and two, the eldest and the youngest, lived with their father in the tumble-down castle of Stalkenberg, situated about a mile from the village to which it gave its name. The young Baron von Stalkenberg was at liberty to marry; the three Counts von Stalkenberg were not—unless they could pick up a wife with enough money to keep herself and her husband. In this creed they had been brought up. It was a perfectly understood creed, and not rebelled against.

The young Baron von Stalkenberg, who was only styled young in contradistinction to his father, being in his forty-first year, was famous for a handsome person, and for his passionate love of the chase: of wild boars and wolves he was the deadly enemy. The Count Otto von Stalkenberg, eleven years his brother's junior, was famous for nothing but his fiercely-ringed moustache, a habit of eating, and an undue addiction to draughts of Marcobrunen. Somewhat meager fare, so report ran, was the fashion in the Castle of Stalkenberg—neither the old baron nor his heir cared for luxury; therefore Count von Otto was sure to be seen at the table d' hote as often as anybody would invite him, and that was nearly every day, for the Count von Stalkenberg was a high-sounding title, and his baronial father, proprietor of all Stalkenberg, lorded it in the baronial castle close by, all of which appeared very grand and great, and that the English bow down to with an idol's worship.

Stopping at the Ludwig Bad, the chief hotel in the place, was a family of the name of Crosby. It consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Crosby, an only daughter, her governess, and two or three servants. What Mr. Crosby had done to England, or England to him, I can't say, but he never went near his native country. For years and years he had lived abroad—not in any settled place of residence: they would travel about, and remain a year or two in one place, a year or two in another, as the whim suited them. A respectable, portly man, of quiet and gentlemanly manners, looking as little like one who need be afraid of the laws of his own land as can be. Neither is it said or insinuated that he was afraid of them. A gentleman who knew him had told, many years before, in answer to a doubt, that Crosby was as free to go home and establish himself in a mansion in Piccadilly as the best of them. But he had lost fearfully by some roguish scheme, like the South Sea Bubble, and could not live in the style he once had done, therefore preferred remaining abroad. Mrs. Crosby was a pleasant, chatty woman given to take as much gayety as she could get, and Helena Crosby was a remarkably fine grown girl of seventeen. You might have given her some years on it had you been guessing her age, for she was no child, either in appearance or manners, and never had been. She was an heiress, too. An uncle had left her twenty thousand pounds, and at her mother's death she would have ten thousand more. The Count Otto von Stalkenberg heard of the thirty thousand pounds, and turned his fierce moustache and his eyes on Miss Helena.

"Thirty thousand pounds and von handsome girls!" cogitated he, for he prided himself upon his English. "It is just what I have been seeking after."

He found the rumor touching her fortune to be correct, and from that time was seldom apart from the Crosbys. They were as pleased to have his society as he was to be in theirs, for was he not the Count von Stalkenberg? And the other visitors at Stalkenberg looking on with envy, would have given their ears to be honored with a like intimacy.

One day there thundered down in a vehicle the old Baron von Stalkenberg. The old chief had come to pay a visit of ceremony to the Crosbys. And the host of the Ludwig Bad, as he appeared himself to marshal this chieftain to their saloon, bowed his body low with every step.

"Room there, room there, for the mighty Baron von Stalkenberg."

The mighty baron had come to invite them to a feast at his castle, where no feast had ever been made so grand before as this would be; and Otto had carte blanche to engage other distinguished sojourners at Stalkenberg, English, French, and natives, who had been civil to him. Mrs. Crosby's head was turned.

And now, I ask you, knowing as you do our national notions, was it not enough to turn it? You will not, then, be surprised to hear that when, some days subsequent to the feast, the Count Otto von Stalkenberg laid his proposals at Helena's feet, they were not rejected.

Helena Crosby rushed into her governess's room.

"Madam! Madam! Only think. I am going to be married!"

Madam lifted her pale, sad face—a very sad and pale face was hers.

"Indeed!" she gently uttered.

"And my studies are to be over from to-day, Mamma says so."

"You are over young to marry, Helena."

"Now don't you bring up that, madam. It is just what papa is harping upon," returned Miss Helena.

"It is to Count Otto?" And it may be remarked that the governess's English was perfect, although the young lady addressed her as "Madam."

"Count Otto, of course. As if I would marry anybody else!"

Look at the governess, reader, and see whether you know her. You will say "No." But you do, for it is Lady Isabel Vane. But how strangely she is altered! Yes, the railway accident did that for her, and what the accident left undone, grief and remorse accomplished. She limps as she walks, and slightly stoops, taken from her former height. A scar extends from her chin above her mouth, completely changing the character of the lower part of her face; some of her teeth are missing, so that she speaks with a lisp, and the sober bands of her gray hair—it is nearly silver—are confined under a large and close cap. She herself tries to make the change greater, so that all chance of being recognized may be at an end, and for that reason she wears disfiguring spectacles, and a broad band of gray velvet, coming down low upon her forehead. Her dress, too, is equally disfiguring. Never is she seen in one that fits her person, but in those frightful "loose jackets," which must surely have been invented by somebody envious of a pretty shape. As to her bonnet, it would put to shame those masquerade things tilted on to the back of the head, for it actually shaded her face; and she was never seen out without a thick veil. She was pretty easy upon the score of being recognized now; for Mrs. Ducie and her daughters had been sojourning at Stalkenberg, and they did not know her in the least. Who could know her? What resemblance was there between that gray, broken-down woman, with her disfiguring marks, and the once loved Lady Isabel, with her bright color, her beauty, her dark flowing curls, and her agile figure? Mr. Carlyle himself could not have told her. But she was good-looking still, in spite of it all, gentle and interesting; and people wondered to see that gray hair in one yet young.

She had been with the Crosbys going on for two years. After her recovery from the railway accident, she removed to a quiet town in the vicinity; they were living there, and she became daily governess to Helena. The Crosbys were given to understand that she was English, but the widow of a Frenchman—she was obliged to offer some plausible account. There were no references; but she so won upon their esteem as the daily governess, that they soon took her into the house. Had Lady Isabel surmised that they would be travelling to so conspicuous a spot as an English-frequented German watering-place, she might have hesitated to accept the engagement. However, it had been of service to her, the meeting with Mrs. Ducie proving that she was altered beyond chance of recognition. She could go anywhere now.

But now, about her state of mind? I don't know how to describe it; the vain yearning, the inward fever, the restless longing for what might not be. Longing for what? For her children. Let the mother, be she a duchess, or be she an apple-woman at a stand, be separated for awhile from her little children; let her answer how she yearns for them. She may be away on a tour of pleasure for a few weeks; the longing to see their little faces again, to hear their prattling tongues, to feel their soft kisses, is kept under; and there may be frequent messages, "The children's dear love to mamma;" but as the weeks lengthen out, the desire to see them again becomes almost irrepressible. What must it have been then, for Lady Isabel, who had endured this longing for years? Talk of the mal du pays, which is said to attack the Swiss when exiled from their country—that is as nothing compared to the heartsickness which clung to Lady Isabel. She had passionately loved her children; she had been anxious for their welfare in all ways; and not the least she had to endure now was the thought that she had abandoned them to be trained by strangers. Would they be trained to goodness, to morality, to religion? Careless as she herself had once been upon these points, she had learnt better now. Would Isabel grow up to indifference, to—perhaps do as she had done? Lady Isabel flung her hands before her eyes and groaned in anguish.

It happened that Mrs. Latimer, a lady living at West Lynne, betook herself about that time to Stalkenberg, and with her, three parts maid and one part companion, went Afy Hallijohn. Not that Afy was admitted to the society of Mrs. Latimer, to sit with her or dine with her, nothing of that; but she did enjoy more privileges than most ladies' maids do, and Afy, who was never backward at setting off her own consequence, gave out that she was "companion." Mrs. Latimer was an easy woman, fond of Afy, and Afy had made her own tale good to her respecting the ill-natured reports at the time of the murder, so that Mrs. Latimer looked upon her as one to be compassionated.

Mrs. Latimer and Mrs. Crosby, whose apartments in the hotel joined, struck up a violent friendship, the one for the other. Ere the former had been a week at the Ludwig, they had sworn something like eternal sisterhood—as both had probably done for others fifty times before.