East Lynne/Chapter 33

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 33

At her bedroom door, the next morning, stood Lady Isabel, listening whether the coast was clear ere she descended to the gray parlor, for she had a shrinking dread of encountering Mr. Carlyle. When he was glancing narrowly at her face the previous evening she had felt the gaze, and it impressed upon her the dread of his recognition. Not only that; he was the husband of another; therefore it was not expedient that she should see too much of him, for he was far dearer to her than he had ever been.

Almost at the same moment there burst out of a remote room—the nursery—an upright, fair, noble boy, of some five years old, who began careering along on the corridor, astride upon a hearth-broom. She did not need to be told it was her boy, Archibald; his likeness to Mr. Carlyle would have proclaimed it, even if her heart had not. In an impulse of unrestrainable tenderness, she seized the child, as he was galloping past her, and carried him into her room, broom and all.

"You must let me make acquaintance with you," she said to him by way of excuse. "I love little boys."

Love! Down she sat upon a low chair, the child held upon her lap, kissing him passionately, and the tears raining from her eyes. She could not have helped the tears had it been to save her life; she could as little have helped the kisses. Lifting her eyes, there stood Wilson, who had entered without ceremony. A sick feeling came over Lady Isabel: she felt as if she had betrayed herself. All that could be done now, was to make the best of it; to offer some lame excuse. What possessed her thus to forget herself?

"He did so put me in remembrance of my own children," she said to Wilson, gulping down her emotion, and hiding her tears in the best manner she could; whilst the astonished Archibald, released now, stood with his finger in his mouth and stared at her spectacles, his great blue eyes opened to their utmost width. "When we have lost children of our own, we are apt to love fondly all we come near."

Wilson, who stared only in a less degree than Archie, for she deemed the new governess had gone suddenly mad, gave some voluble assent, and turned her attention upon Archie.

"You naughty young monkey! How dare you rush out in that way with Sarah's heart-broom? I'll tell you what it is, sir, you are getting a might deal too owdacious and rumbustical for the nursery. I shall speak to your mamma about it."

She seized hold of the child and shook him. Lady Isabel started forward, her hands up, her voice one of painful entreaty.

"Oh, don't, don't beat him! I cannot see him beaten."

"Beaten!" echoed Wilson; "if he got a good beating it would be all the better for him; but it's what he never does get. A little shake, or a tap, is all I must give; and it's not half enough. You wouldn't believe the sturdy impudence of that boy, madame; he runs riot, he does. The other two never gave a quarter of the trouble. Come along, you figure! I'll have a bolt put at the top of the nursery door; and if I did, he'd be for climbing up the door-post to get at it."

The last sentence Wilson delivered to the governess, as she jerked Archie out of the room, along the passage, and into the nursery. Lady Isabel sat down with a wrung heart, a chafed spirit. Her own child! And she might not say to the servant, you shall not beat him.

She descended to the gray parlor. The two older children and breakfast were waiting; Joyce quitted the room when she entered it.

A graceful girl of eight years old, a fragile boy a year younger, both bearing her once lovely features—her once bright and delicate complexion—her large, soft brown eyes. How utterly her heart yearned to them; but there must be no scene like there had just been above. Nevertheless she stooped and kissed them both—one kiss each of impassioned fervor. Lucy was naturally silent, William somewhat talkative.

"You are our new governess," said he.

"Yes. We must be good friends."

"Why not!" said the boy. "We were good friends with Miss Manning. I am to go into Latin soon—as soon as my cough's gone. Do you know Latin?"

"No—not to teach it," she said, studiously avoiding all endearing epithets.

"Papa said you would be almost sure not to know Latin, for that ladies rarely did. He said he should send up Mr. Kane to teach me."

"Mr. Kane?" repeated Lady Isabel, the name striking upon her memory. "Mr. Kane, the music-master?"

"How did you know he was a music-master?" cried shrewd William. And Lady Isabel felt the red blood flush to her face at the unlucky admission she had made. It flushed deeper at her own falsehood, as she muttered some evasive words about hearing of him from Mrs. Latimer.

"Yes, he is a music-master; but he does not get much money at it, and he teaches the classics as well. He has come up to teach us music since Miss Manning left; mamma said that we ought not to lose our lessons."

Mamma! How the word, applied to Barbara, grated on her ear.

"Whom does he teach?" she asked.

"Us two," replied William, pointing to his sister and himself.

"Do you always take bread and milk?" she inquired, perceiving that to be what they were eating.

"We get tired of it sometimes and then we have milk and water, and bread and butter, or honey; and then we take to bread and milk again. It's Aunt Cornelia who thinks we should eat bread and milk for breakfast. She says papa never had anything else when he was a boy."

Lucy looked up.

"Papa would give me an egg when I breakfasted with him," cried she, "and Aunt Cornelia said it was not good for me, but papa gave it to me all the same. I always had breakfast with him then."

"And why do you not now?" asked Lady Isabel.

"I don't know. I have not since mamma came."

The word "stepmother" rose up rebelliously in the heart of Lady Isabel. Was Mrs. Carlyle putting away the children from their father?

Breakfast over, she gathered them to her, asking them various questions about their studies, their hours of recreation, the daily routine of their lives.

"This is not the schoolroom, you know," cried William, when she made some inquiry as to their books.

"No?"

"The schoolroom is upstairs. This is for our meals, and for you in an evening."

The voice of Mr. Carlyle was heard at this juncture in the hall, and Lucy was springing toward the sound. Lady Isabel, fearful lest he might enter if the child showed herself, stopped her with a hurried hand.

"Stay here, Isabel."

"Her name's Lucy," said William, looking quickly up. "Why do you call her Isabel?"

"I thought—thought I had heard her called Isabel," stammered the unfortunate lady, feeling quite confused with the errors she was committing.

"My name is Isabel Lucy," said the child; "but I don't know who could have told you, for I am never called Isabel. I have not been since—since—shall I tell you?—since mamma went away," she concluded, dropping her voice. "Mamma that was, you know."

"Did she go?" cried Lady Isabel, full of emotion, and possessing a very faint idea of what she was saying.

"She was kidnapped," whispered Lucy.

"Kidnapped!" was the surprised answer.

"Yes, or she would not have gone. There was a wicked man on a visit to papa, and he stole her. Wilson said she knew he was a kidnapper before he took mamma. Papa said I was never to be called Isabel again, but Lucy. Isabel was mamma's name."

"How do you know papa said it?" dreamily returned Lady Isabel.

"I heard him. He said it to Joyce, and Joyce told the servants. I put only Lucy to my copies. I did put Isabel Lucy, but papa saw it one day, and he drew his pencil through Isabel, and told me to show it to Miss Manning. After that, Miss Manning let me put nothing but Lucy. I asked her why, and she told me papa preferred the name, and that I was not to ask questions."

She could not well stop the child, but every word was rending her heart.

"Lady Isabel was our very, very own mamma," pursued Lucy. "This mamma is not."

"Do you love this one as you did the other?" breathed Lady Isabel.

"Oh, I loved mamma—I loved mamma!" uttered Lucy, clasping her hands. "But its all over. Wilson said we must not love her any longer, and Aunt Cornelia said it. Wilson said, if she loved us she would not have gone away from us."

"Wilson said so?" resentfully spoke Lady Isabel.

"She said she need not let that man kidnap her. I am afraid he beat her, for she died. I lie in my bed at night, and wonder whether he did beat her, and what made her die. It was after she died that our new mamma came home. Papa said that she was to be our mamma in place of Lady Isabel and we were to love her dearly."

"Do you love her?" almost passionately asked Lady Isabel.

Lucy shook her head.

"Not as I loved mamma."

Joyce entered to show the way to the schoolroom, and they followed her upstairs. As Lady Isabel stood at the window, she saw Mr. Carlyle depart on foot on his way to the office. Barbara was with him, hanging fondly on his arm, about to accompany him to the park gates. So had she fondly hung, so had she accompanied him, in the days gone forever.

Barbara came into the schoolroom in the course of the morning, and entered upon the subject of their studies, the different allotted hours, some to play, some to work. She spoke in a courteous but decided tone, showing that she was the unmistakable mistress of the house and children, and meant to be. Never had Lady Isabel felt her position so keenly—never did it so gall and fret her spirit; but she bowed to meek obedience. A hundred times that day did she yearn to hold the children to her heart, and a hundred times she had to repress the longing.

In a soft, damask dress, not unlike the color of the walls from which the room took its name, a cap of Honiton lace shading her delicate features, sat Mrs. Hare. The justice was in London with Squire Pinner, and Barbara had gone to the Grove and brought her mamma away in triumph. It was evening now, and Mrs. Hare was paying a visit to the gray parlor. Miss Carlyle had been dining there, and Lady Isabel, under plea of a violent headache, had begged to decline the invitation to take tea in the drawing-room, for she feared the sharp eyes of Miss Carlyle. Barbara, upon leaving the dessert-table, went to the nursery, as usual, to her baby, and Mrs. Hare took the opportunity to go and sit a few minutes with the governess—she feared the governess must be very lonely. Miss Carlyle, scorning usage and ceremony, had remained in the dining-room with Mr. Carlyle, a lecture for him, upon some defalcation or other most probably in store. Lady Isabel was alone. Lucy had gone to keep a birthday in the neighborhood, and William was in the nursery. Mrs. Hare found her in a sad attitude, her hands pressed upon her temples. She had not yet made acquaintance with her beyond a minute's formal introduction.

"I am sorry to hear you are not well, this evening," she gently said.

"Thank you. My head aches much"—which was no false plea.

"I fear you must feel your solitude irksome. It is dull for you to be here all alone."

"I am so used to solitude."

Mrs. Hare sat down, and gazed with sympathy at the young, though somewhat strange-looking woman before her. She detected the signs of mental suffering on her face.

"You have seen sorrow," she uttered, bending forward, and speaking with the utmost sweetness.

"Oh, great sorrow!" burst from Lady Isabel, for her wretched fate was very palpable to her mind that evening, and the tone of sympathy rendered it nearly irrepressible.

"My daughter tells me that you have lost your children, and you have lost your fortune and position. Indeed I feel for you. I wish I could comfort you!"

This did not decrease her anguish. She completely lost all self control, and a gush of tears fell from her eyes.

"Don't pity me! Don't pity me dear Mrs. Hare! Indeed, it only makes endurance harder. Some of us," she added, looking up, with a sickly smile, "are born to sorrow."

"We are all born to it," cried Mrs. Hare. "I, in truth, have cause to say so. Oh, you know not what my position has been—the terrible weight of grief that I have to bear. For many years, I can truly say that I have not known one completely happy moment."

"All do not have to bear this killing sorrow," said Lady Isabel.

"Rely upon it, sorrow of some nature does sooner or later come to all. In the brightest apparent lot on earth, dark days must mix. Not that there is a doubt but that it falls unequally. Some, as you observe, seem born to it, for it clings to them all their days; others are more favored—as we reckon favor. Perhaps this great amount of trouble is no more than is necessary to take us to Heaven. You know the saying, 'Adversity hardens the heart, or it opens it to Paradise.' It may be that our hearts continue so hard, that the long-continued life's trouble is requisite to soften them. My dear," Mrs. Hare added, in a lower tone, while the tears glistened on her pale cheeks, "there will be a blessed rest for the weary, when this toilsome life is ended; let us find comfort in that thought."

"Ay! Ay!" murmured Lady Isabel. "It is all that is left to me."

"You are young to have acquired so much experience of sorrow."

"We cannot estimate sorrow by years. We may live a whole lifetime of it in a single hour. But we generally bring ill fate upon ourselves," she continued, in a desperation of remorse; "as our conduct is, so will our happiness or misery be."

"Not always," sighed Mrs. Hare. "Sorrow, I grant you, does come all too frequently, from ill-doing; but the worst is, the consequences of this ill-doing fall upon the innocent as well as upon the guilty. A husband's errors will involve his innocent wife; parent's sins fall upon their children; children will break the hearts of their parents. I can truly say, speaking in all humble submission, that I am unconscious of having deserved the great sorrow which came upon me; that no act of mine invited it on; but though it has nearly killed me, I entertain no doubt that it is lined with mercy, if I could only bring my weak rebellious heart to look for it. You, I feel sure, have been equally undeserving."

She? Mrs. Hare marked not the flush of shame, the drooping of the eyelids.

"You have lost your little ones," Mrs. Hare resumed. "That is grief—great grief; I would not underrate it; but, believe me, it is as nothing compared to the awful fate, should it ever fall upon you, of finding your children grow up and become that which makes you wish they had died in their infancy. There are times when I am tempted to regret that all my treasures are not in that other world; that they had not gone before me. Yes; sorrow is the lot of all."

"Surely, not of all," dissented Lady Isabel. "There are some bright lots on earth."

"There is not a lot but must bear its appointed share," returned Mrs. Hare. "Bright as it may appear, ay, and as it may continue to be for years, depend upon it, some darkness must overshadow it, earlier or later."

"Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle—what sorrow can there be in store for them?" asked Lady Isabel, her voice ringing with a strange sound, which Mrs. Hare noted, though she understood it not.

"Mrs. Carlyle's lot is bright," she said, a sweet smile illumining her features. "She loves her husband with an impassioned love; and he is worthy of it. A happy fate, indeed, is hers; but she must not expect to be exempted from sorrow. Mr. Carlyle has had his share of it," continued Mrs. Hare.

"Ah!"

"You have doubtless been made acquainted with his history. His first wife left him—left home and her children. He bore it bravely before the world, but I know that it wrung his very heart-strings. She was his heart's sole idol."

"She? Not Barbara?"

The moment the word "Barbara" had escaped her lips, Lady Isabel, recollected herself. She was only Madame Vine, the governess; what would Mrs. Hare think of her familiarity?

Mrs. Hare did not appear to have noticed it; she was absorbed in the subject.

"Barbara?" she uttered; "certainly not. Had his first love been given to Barbara, he would have chosen her then. It was given to Lady Isabel."

"It is given his wife now?"

Mrs. Hare nearly laughed.

"Of course it is; would you wish it to be buried in the grave with the dead, and with one who was false to him? But, my dear, she was the sweetest woman, that unfortunate Lady Isabel. I loved her then, and I cannot help loving her still. Others blamed her, but I pitied. They were well matched; he so good and noble; she, so lovely and endearing."

"And she left him—threw him to the winds with all his nobility and love!" exclaimed the poor governess, with a gesture of the hands that looked very much like despair.

"Yes. It will not do to talk of—it is a miserable subject. How she could abandon such a husband, such children, was a marvel to many; but to none more than it was to me and my daughter. The false step—though I feel almost ashamed to speak out the thought, lest it may appear to savor of triumph—while it must have secured her own wretchedness, led to the happiness of my child; for it is certain Barbara would never love one as she loves Mr. Carlyle."

"It did secure wretchedness to her, you think?" cried Lady Isabel, her tone one of bitter mockery more than anything else.

Mrs. Hare was surprised at the question.

"No woman ever took that fatal step yet, without its entailing on her the most dire wretchedness," she replied. "It cannot be otherwise. And Lady Isabel was of a nature to feel remorse beyond common—to meet it half-way. Refined, modest, with every feeling of an English gentlewoman, she was the very last, one would have thought, to act so. It was as if she had gone away in a dream, not knowing what she was doing; I have thought so many a time. That terrible mental wretchedness and remorse did overtake her, I know."

"How did you know it? Did you hear it?" exclaimed Lady Isabel, her tone all too eager, had Mrs. Hare been suspicious. "Did he proclaim that—Francis Levison? Did you hear it from him?"

Mrs. Hare, gentle Mrs. Hare, drew herself up, for the words grated on her feelings and on her pride. Another moment, and she was mild and kind again, for she reflected that the poor, sorrowful governess must have spoken without thought.

"I know not what Sir Francis Levison may have chose to proclaim," she said, "but you may be sure he would not be allowed opportunity to proclaim anything to me, or to any other friend of Mr. Carlyle's; nay, I should say, nor to any of the good and honorable. I heard it from Lord Mount Severn."

"From Lord Mount Severn?" repeated Lady Isabel. And she opened her lips to say something more, but closed them again.

"He was here on a visit in the summer; he stayed a fortnight. Lady Isabel was the daughter of the late earl—perhaps you may not have known that. He—Lord Mount Severn—told me, in confidence, that he had sought out Lady Isabel when the man, Levison, left her; he found her sick, poor, broken-hearted, in some remote French town, utterly borne down with remorse and repentance."

"Could it be otherwise?" sharply asked Lady Isabel.

"My dear, I have said it could not. The very thought of her deserted children would entail it, if nothing she did. There was a baby born abroad," added Mrs. Hare, dropping her voice, "an infant in its cradle, Lord Mount Severn said; but that child, we knew, could only bring pain and shame."

"True," issued from her trembling lips.

"Next came her death; and I cannot but think it was sent to her in mercy. I trust she was prepared for it, and had made her peace with God. When all else is taken from us, we turn to him; I hope she had learned to find the Refuge."

"How did Mr. Carlyle receive the news of her death?" murmured Lady Isabel, a question which had been often in her thoughts.

"I cannot tell; he made no outward sign either of satisfaction or grief. It was too delicate a subject for any one to enter upon with him, and most assuredly he did not enter upon it himself. After he was engaged to my child, he told me he should never have married during Lady Isabel's life."

"From—from—the remains of affection?"

"I should think not. I inferred it to be from conscientious scruples. All his affection is given to his present wife. There is no doubt that he loves her with a true, a fervent, a lasting love: though there may have been more romantic sentiment in the early passion felt for Lady Isabel. Poor thing! She gave up a sincere heart, a happy home."

Ay, poor thing! She had very nearly wailed forth her vain despair.

"I wonder whether the drawing-room is tenanted yet," smiled Mrs. Hare, breaking a pause which had ensued. "If so I suppose they will be expecting me there."

"I will ascertain for you," said Lady Isabel, speaking in the impulse of the moment; for she was craving an instant to herself, even though it were but in the next hall.

She quitted the gray parlor and approached the drawing-room. Not a sound came from it; and, believing it was empty, she opened the door and looked cautiously in.

Quite empty. The fire blazed, the chandelier was lighted, but nobody was enjoying the warmth or the light. From the inner room, however, came the sound of the piano, and the tones of Mr. Carlyle's voice. She recognized the chords of the music—they were those of the accompaniment to the song he had so loved when she sang it him. Who was about to sing it to him now?

Lady Isabel stole across the drawing-room to the other door, which was ajar. Barbara was seated at the piano, and Mr. Carlyle stood by her, his arm on her chair, and bending his face on a level with hers, possibly to look at the music. So once had stolen, so once had peeped the unhappy Barbara, to hear this selfsame song. She had been his wife then; she had craved, and received his kisses when it was over. Their positions were reversed.

Barbara began. Her voice had not the brilliant power of Lady Isabel's, but it was a sweet and pleasant voice to listen to.

     "When other lips and other hearts
          Their tales of love shall tell,
     In language whose excess imparts
          The power they feel so well,
     There may, perhaps, in such a scene,
          Some recollection be,
     Of days that have as happy been—
          And you'll remember me."

Days that had as happy been! Ay! did he remember her? Did a thought of her, his first and best love, flit across him, as the words fell on his ear? Did a past vision of the time when she had sat there and sung it to him arouse his heart to even momentary recollection?

Terribly, indeed, were their positions reversed; most terribly was she feeling it. And by whose act and will had the change been wrought? Barbara was now the cherished wife, East Lynne's mistress. And what was she? Not even the courted, welcomed guest of an hour, as Barbara had been; but an interloper; a criminal woman who had thrust herself into the house; her act, in doing so, not justifiable, her position a most false one. Was it right, even if she did succeed in remaining undiscovered, that she and Barbara should dwell in the same habitation, Mr. Carlyle being in it? Did she deem it to be right? No, she did not; but one act of ill-doing entails more. These thoughts were passing through her mind as she stood there, listening to the song; stood there as one turned to stone, her throbbing temples pressed against the door's pillar.

The song was over, and Barbara turned to her husband, a whole world of love in her bright blue eyes. He laid his hand upon her head; Lady Isabel saw that, but she would not wait to see the caress that most probably followed it. She turned and crossed the room again, her hands clasped tightly on her bosom, her breath catching itself in hysterical sobs. Miss Carlyle was entering the hall. They had not yet met, and Lady Isabel swept meekly past her with a hurried courtesy. Miss Carlyle spoke, but she dared not answer, to wait would have been to betray herself.

Sunday came, and that was the worst of all. In the old East Lynne pew at St. Jude's, so conspicuous to the congregation, sat she, as in former times; no excuse, dared she, the governess make, to remain away. It was the first time she had entered an English Protestant church since she had last sat in it, there, with Mr. Carlyle. Can you wonder that the fact alone, with all the terrible remembrances it brought in its train, was sufficient to overwhelm her with emotion? She sat at the upper end now, with Lucy; Barbara occupied the place that had been hers, by the side of Mr. Carlyle. Barbara there, in her own right his wife; she severed from him forever and forever!

She scarcely raised her head; she tightened her thick veil over her face; she kept her spectacles bent toward the ground. Lucy thought she must be crying; she never had seen anyone so still at church before. Lucy was mistaken; tears came not to solace the bitter anguish of hopeless, self-condemning remorse. How she sat out the service she could not tell; she could not tell how she could sit out other services, as the Sundays came round! The congregation did not forget to stare at her. What an extraordinary looking governess Mrs. Carlyle had picked up!

They went out when it was over. Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle in advance; she, humbly following them with Lucy. She glanced aside at the tomb in the churchyard's corner, where moldered the remains of her father; and a yearning cry went forth from the very depth of her soul. "Oh, that I were laid there with him! Why did I come back again to East Lynne?"

Why, truly? But she had never thought that her cross would be so sharp as this.