East Lynne/Chapter 38

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 38

On Monday evening the interview between Lawyer Ball and Richard Hare took place. With some difficulty would the lawyer believe his tale—not as to its broad details; he saw that he might give credit to them but as to the accusation against Sir Francis Levison. Richard persisted, mentioned every minute particular he could think of—his meeting him the night of the elopement in Bean lane, his meetings with him again in London, and Sir Francis's evident fear of him, and thence pursuit, and the previous Saturday night's recognition at the door of the Raven, not forgetting to tell of the anonymous letter received by Justice Hare the morning that Richard was in hiding at Mr. Carlyle's. There was no doubt in the world it had been sent by Francis Levison to frighten Mr. Hare into dispatching him out of West Lynne, had Richard taken refuge in his father's home. None had more cause to keep Dick from falling into the hands of justice than Francis Levison.

"I believe what you say—I believe all you say, Mr. Richard, touching Thorn," debated the attorney; "but it's next to impossible to take in so astounding a fact as that he is Sir Francis Levison."

"You can satisfy yourself of the fact from other lips than mine," said Richard. "Otway Bethel could testify to it if he would, though I doubt his willingness. But there's Ebenezer James."

"What does he know about it?" asked the attorney, in surprise. "Ebenezer James is in our office at present."

"He saw Thorn often enough in those days, and has, I hear, recognized him as Levison. You had better inquire of him. Should you object to take cause against Levison?"

"Not a bit of it. Let me be assured that I am upon safe grounds as to the identity of the man, and I'll proceed in it forthwith. Levison is an out-and-out scoundrel, as Levison, and deserves hanging. I will send for James at once, and hear what he says," he concluded, after a pause of consideration.

Richard Hare started wildly up. "Not while I am here; he must not see me. For Heaven's sake, consider the peril to me, Mr. Ball!"

"Pooh, pooh!" laughed the attorney. "Do you suppose I have but this one reception-room? We don't let cats into cages where canary birds are kept."

Ebenezer James returned with the messenger dispatched after him.

"You'll be sure to find him at the singing saloon," Mr. Ball had said; and there the gentleman was found.

"Is it any copying, sir, wanted to be done in a hurry?" cried James, when he came in.

"No," replied the attorney. "I wish a question or two answered, that's all. Did you ever know Sir Francis Levison to go by any name but his own?"

"Yes, sir. He has gone by the name of Thorn."

A pause. "When was this?"

"It was the autumn when Hallijohn was killed. Thorn used to be prowling about there in an evening—in the wood and at the cottage, I mean."

"What did he prowl for?"

Ebenezer James laughed. "For the same reason that several more did—I, for one. He was sweet upon Afy Hallijohn."

"Where was he living at the time? I never remember him in West Lynne."

"He was not at West Lynne, sir. On the contrary, he seemed to take precious good care that West Lynne and he kept separate. A splendid horse he rode, a thoroughbred; and he used to come galloping into the wood at dusk, get over his chat with Miss Afy, mount, and gallop away again."

"Where to? Where did he come from?"

"From somewhere toward Swainson; a ten mile's ride, Afy used to say he had. Now that he has appeared here in his own plumage, of course I can put two and two together, and not be at much fault for the exact spot."

"And where's that?" asked the lawyer.

"Levison Park," said Mr. Ebenezer. "There's little doubt he was stopping at his uncle's, and you know that is close to Swainson."

Lawyer Ball thought things were becoming clearer—or darker, whatever you may please to call it. He paused again, and then put a question impressively.

"James, have you any doubt whatever, or shadow of doubt, that Sir Francis Levison is the same man you know as Thorn?"

"Sir, have I any doubt that you are Mr. Ball, or that I am Eb. James?" retorted Mr. Ebenezer. "I am as certain of that man's identity as I am of yours."

"Are you ready to swear to that fact in a court of justice?"

"Ready and willing, in any court in the world. To-morrow, if I am called upon."

"Very well. You may go back to your singing club now. Keep a silent tongue in your head."

"All close, sir," answered Mr. Ebenezer James.

Far into the middle of the night sat Lawyer Ball and Richard Hare, the former chiefly occupied in taking notes of Richard's statement.

"It's half a crochet, this objection of Carlyle's to interfere with Levison," suddenly uttered Richard, in the midst of some desultory conversation. "Don't you think so, Mr. Ball?"

The lawyer pursed up his lips. "Um! A delicate point. Carlyle was always fastidiously honorable. I should go at him, thunder and fury, in his place; but I and Carlyle are different."

The following day, Tuesday, Mr. Ball was much occupied, putting, to use nearly Ebenezer James' words, that and that together. Later in the day he took a journey to Levison Park, ferreted out some information, and came home again. On that same day, at evening, Richard departed for Liverpool—he was done with for the present—Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle being, as before, alone cognizant of his address.

Wednesday morning witnessed the arrival again of the Earl of Mount Severn. Lord Vane, too. The latter ought to have gone back to Eton, but he had teased and prayed to be allowed to "see the fun out," meaning the election. "And that devil's discomfiture when he finds himself beaten," he surreptitiously added, behind his father's back, who was a great stickler for the boy's always being "gentlemanly." So the earl had yielded. They arrived, as before, about breakfast-time, having traveled all night. Subsequently, they and Mr. Carlyle walked into West Lynne together.

West Lynne was alive and astir. The election was to come off that week, and people made it their business to be in a bustle over it, collectively and individually. Mr. Carlyle's committee sat at the Buck's Head, and the traffic in and out was enough to wear the stones away. The bench of justices were remarkably warm over it, neglecting the judicial business, and showing themselves at the Buck's Head windows in purple and scarlet streamers.

"I will be with you in ten minutes," said Mr. Carlyle, withdrawing his arm from Lord Mount Severn's, as they approached his office, "but I must go in and read my letters."

So the earl went on to the Buck's Head, and Lord Vane took a foot canter down to the Raven, to reconnoiter it outside. He was uncommonly fond of planting himself where Sir Francis Levison's eyes were sure to fall upon him—which eyes were immediately dropped, while the young gentleman's would be fixed in an audacious stare. Being Lord Vane—or it may be more correct to say, being the Earl of Mount Severn's son, and under control, he was debarred from dancing and jeering after the yellow candidate, as the unwashed gentry of his own age indulged in, but his tongue and his feet itched to do it.

Mr. Carlyle took his seat in his private room, opened his letters, assorted them, marked on the back of some what was to be the purport of their answer, and then called in Mr. Dill. Mr. Carlyle put the letters in his hand, gave some rapid instructions, and rose.

"You are in a hurry, Mr. Archibald?"

"They want me at the Buck's Head. Why?"

"A curious incident occurred to me last evening, sir. I was an ear-witness to a dispute between Levison and Otway Bethel."

"Indeed!" carelessly replied Mr. Carlyle, who was busy at the time looking for something in the deep drawer of the desk.

"And what I heard would go far to hang Levison, if not Bethel. As sure as we are here, Mr. Archibald, they hold the secret of Hallijohn's murder. It appears that Levison—"

"Stop!" interposed Mr. Carlyle. "I would prefer not to hear this. Levison may have murdered him, but it is no affair of mine, neither shall I make it such."

Old Dill felt checkmated. "Meanwhile Richard Hare suffers, Mr. Archibald," he observed, in a remonstrating tone.

"I am aware he does."

"Is it right that the innocent should suffer for the guilty?"

"No; very wrong. But the case is all too common."

"If some one would take up Richard Hare's cause now, he might be proved innocent," added the old man, with a wistful look at Mr. Carlyle.

"It is being taken up, Dill."

A pause and a glad look. "That's the best news I have had for many a day, sir. But my evidence will be necessary to your case. Levison—"

"I'm not taking up the case. You must carry your news elsewhere. It is no affair of mine, I say."

"Then who is taking it up?" echoed Mr. Dill, in astonishment.

"Ball. He has had a meeting with Richard, and is now acting for him under the rose."

Mr. Dill's eyes sparkled. "Is he going to prosecute, Mr. Archibald?"

"I tell you I know nothing—I will know nothing. When the affair comes out to the public—if it ever does come out—I shall share in the information, Dill, and that is all."

"Ah, well, I can understand. But I shall go on to their office at once, Mr. Archibald, and inform them of what I overheard," spoke old Dill, in vehement decision.

"That is not my affair either," laughed Mr. Carlyle, "it is yours. But remember, if you do go, it is Ball, not Treadman."

Waiting only to give certain orders to the head clerk, Mr. Dill proceeded to the office of Ball & Treadman. A full hour was he closeted there with the senior partner.

Not until three o'clock that afternoon did the justices take their seats on the bench. Scarcely were they seated when Lawyer Ball bustled in and craved a secret hearing. His application was of the last importance, he promised, but, that the ends of justice might not be defeated it was necessary their worships should entertain it in private; he therefore craved the bench to accord it to him.

The bench consulted, looked wise, and, possibly possessing some latent curiosity themselves upon the point, graciously acceded. They adjourned to a private room, and it was full half-past four before they came out of it. Very long faces, scared and grim, were their worships', as if Lawyer Ball's communication had both perplexed and confounded them.

"This is the afternoon we are to meet Dr. Martin at papa's office," William Carlyle had suddenly exclaimed that day at dinner. "Do we walk in, Madame Vine?"

"I do not know, William. Mrs. Carlyle is going to take you."

"No, she is not; you are going to take me."

A flush passed over Lady Isabel's face at the bare thought, though she did not believe it. She go to Mr. Carlyle's office! "Mrs. Carlyle told me herself that she should take you," was the reply.

"All I know is, mamma told me this morning you would take me to West Lynne to-day," persisted William.

The discussion was interrupted by the appearance of Mrs. Carlyle—interrupted and decided also.

"Madame Vine," she said, "you will be ready at three o'clock to go in with William?"

Lady Isabel's heart beat. "I understood you to say that you should go with him yourself, madame."

"I know I did. I intended to do so, but I heard this morning that some friends from a distance are coming this afternoon to call upon me, therefore I shall not go out."

How she, Lady Isabel, wished that she dare say, also, "I shall not go out either." But that might not be. Well, she must go through with it as she had to go through with the rest.

William rode his pony into West Lynne, the groom attending to take it back again. He was to walk home with Madame Vine, who walked both ways.

Mr. Carlyle was not in when they arrived at the office. The boy went boldly on to the private room, leaving Madame Vine to follow him.

Presently Mr. Carlyle appeared. He was talking to Mr. Dill, who followed him.

"Oh, you are here, Madame Vine! I left word that you were to go into Miss Carlyle's. Did I not leave word, Dill?"

"Not with me, sir."

"I forgot it, then; I meant to do so. What is the time?" He looked at his watch: ten minutes to four. "Did the doctor say at what hour he should call?" Mr. Carlyle added to Madame Vine.

"Not precisely. I gathered that it would be very early in the afternoon."

"Here he is!" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle with alacrity, as he went into the hall. She supposed he alluded to the physician—supposed he had seen him pass the window. Their entrance together woke up William.

"Well," said the doctor, who was a little man with a bald head, "and how fares it with my young patient? Bon jour madame."

"Bon jour, monsieur," responded she. She wished everybody would address her in French, and take her for French; there seemed less chance of recognition. She would have to speak in good plain English, however, if she must carry on conversation with the doctor. Beyond a familiar phrase or two, he was something like Justice Hare—Nong parley Fronsay me!

"And how does the cod-liver oil get on?" asked the doctor of William, as he drew him to the light. "It is nicer now than it used to be, eh?"

"No," said William; "it is nastier than ever."

Dr. Martin looked at the boy; felt his pulse, his skin, listened to his breathing. "There," said he, presently, "you may sit down and have your nap out."

"I wish I might have something to drink; I am very thirsty. May I ring for some water, papa?"

"Go and find your aunt's maid, and ask her for some," said Mr. Carlyle.

"Ask her for milk," called out Dr. Martin. "Not water."

Away went William. Mr. Carlyle was leaning against the side of the window; Dr. Martin folded his arms before it: Lady Isabel stood near the latter. The broad, full light was cast upon all, but the thick veil hid Lady Isabel's face. It was not often she could be caught without that veil, for she seemed to wear her bonnet at all sorts of seasonable and unseasonable times.

"What is your opinion, doctor?" asked Mr. Carlyle.

"Well," began the doctor, in a very professional tone, "the boy is certainly delicate. But—"

"Stay, Dr. Martin," was the interruption, spoken in a low, impressive voice, "you will deal candidly with me. I must know the truth, without disguise. Tell it me freely."

Dr. Martin paused. "The truth is not always palatable, Mr. Carlyle."

"True. But for that very reason, all the more necessary. Let me hear the worst. And the child has no mother, you know, to be shocked with it."

"I fear that it will be the worst."

"Death?"

"Ay. The seeds of consumption must have been inherent in him. They are showing out too palpably."

"Is there no hope for the child?"

Dr. Martin looked at him. "You bade me give you the truth."

"Nothing else; nothing but the truth," returned Mr. Carlyle, his tone one of mingled pain and command.

"Then, there is none; no hope whatever. The lungs are extensively diseased."

"And how long—"

"That I cannot say," interrupted the doctor, divining what the next question was to be. "He may linger on for months; for a year, it may even be; or a very short period may see the termination. Don't worry him with any more lessons and stuff of learning; he'll never want it."

The doctor cast his eyes on the governess as he spoke; the injunction concerned her as much as it did Mr. Carlyle. And the doctor started, for he thought she was fainting; her face had become so ghastly white; he could see it through her veil.

"You are ill, madame! You are ill? Trouve malade, don't you?"

She opened her lips to speak; her trembling lips, that would not obey her. Dr. Martin, in his concern, pulled off the blue spectacles. She caught them from him with one hand, sat down on the nearest chair, and hid her face with the other.

Mr. Carlyle, scarcely understanding the scuffle, came forward. "Are you ill, Madame Vine?"

She was putting her spectacles under her veil, her face whiter than ever. "Pray do not interrupt your conversation to pay attention to me! I thank you; I thank you both. I am subject to—slight spasms, and they do make me look ill for the moment. It has passed now."

The doctor turned from her; Mr. Carlyle resumed his place by the window. "What should be the treatment?" asked the latter.

"Almost anything you please—that the boy himself likes. Let him play or rest, ride or walk, eat and drink, or let it alone; it cannot make much difference."

"Doctor! You yield it, as a last hope, very lightly."

Dr. Martin shook his head. "I speak as I know. You insisted on having my true opinion."

"A warmer climate?" suggested Mr. Carlyle eagerly, the idea crossing his mind.

"It might prolong the end for a little while—a few weeks, perhaps—avert it it could not. And who could take him? You could not go; and he has no mother. No! I should not advise it."

"I wish you would see Wainwright—with reference to William."

"I have seen him. I met him this afternoon, by chance, and told him my opinion. How is Mrs. Carlyle?"

"Pretty well. She is not in robust health, you are aware, just now."

Dr. Martin smiled. "These things will happen. Mrs. Carlyle has a thoroughly good constitution; a far stronger one than—than——"

"Than what?" said Mr. Carlyle, wondering why he hesitated.

"You must grant me pardon. I may as well finish, now I have begun; but I was not thinking when I spoke. She is stronger than was Lady Isabel. I must be off to catch the six train."

"You will come over from time to time to East Lynne to see William?"

"If you wish it. It may be a satisfaction, perhaps. Bon jour, madame."

Lady Isabel bowed to him as he left the room with Mr. Carlyle. "How fond that French governess of yours is of the boy!" the doctor whispered, as they crossed the hall. "I detected it when she brought him to Lynneborough. And you saw her just now! That emotion was all because he could not live. Good-bye."

Mr. Carlyle grasped his hand. "Doctor, I wish you could save him!" he passionately uttered.

"Ah, Carlyle! If we humble mites of human doctors could but keep those whom it is the Great Physician's pleasure to take, how we should be run after! There's hidden mercy, remember, in the darkest cloud. Farewell my friend."

Mr. Carlyle returned to the room. He approached Lady Isabel, looking down upon her as she sat; not that he could see much of her face. "These are grievous tidings. But you were more prepared for them, I fancy, than I was."

She started suddenly up, approached the window, and looked out, as if she saw somebody passing whom she would gaze at. All of emotion was stirred up within her—her temples throbbed, her throat beat, her breath became hysterical. Could she bear thus to hold confidential converse with him over the state of their child? She pulled off her gloves for coolness to her burning hands, she wiped the moisture from her pale forehead, she struggled manfully for calmness. What excuse could she offer to Mr. Carlyle?

"I had begun to like the boy so very much, sir," she said, half turning round. "And the doctor's fiat, too plainly pronounced has given me pain; pain to agitation."

Again Mr. Carlyle approached her, following close up to where she stood. "You are very kind, thus to feel an interest in my child."

She did not answer.

"Here, papa, papa! I want you," cried William, breaking into the room. "Let me walk home with you? Are you going to walk?"

How could he find it in his heart to deny anything to the child then?

"Very well," he said. "Stay here till I come for you."

"We are going home with papa," proclaimed William to Madame Vine.

Madame Vine did not relish the news. But there was no help for it. In a very short time Mr. Carlyle appeared, and they set off; he holding William's hand; madame walking on the other side of the child.

"Where's William Vane, papa?" asked the boy.

"He has gone on with Lord Mount Severn."

Scarcely had the words been spoken, when some one came bolting out of the post-office, and met them face to face; almost ran against them in fact, creating some hindrance. The man looked confused, and slunk off into the gutter. And you will not wonder that he did, when you hear that it was Francis Levison. William, child like, turned his head to gaze at the intruder.

"I would not be an ugly bad man like him for the world," quoth he, as he turned his back again. "Would you, papa?"

Mr. Carlyle did not answer, and Isabel cast an involuntary glance upon him from her white face. His was impassive, save that a cast of ineffable scorn marred the delicate beauty of his lips. If humiliation for the past had never wrung Lady Isabel's heart before, it would have wrung it then.

At Mr. Justice Hare's gate they encountered that gentleman, who appeared to be standing there to give himself an airing. William caught sight of Mrs. Hare seated on the garden bench, outside the window, and ran to kiss her. All the children loved Mrs. Hare. The justice was looking—not pale; that would not be a term half strong enough: but yellow. The curls of his best wig were limp, and all his pomposity appeared to have gone out of him.

"I say, Carlyle, what on earth's this?" cried he, in a tone that, for him, was wonderfully subdued and meek. "I was not on the bench this afternoon, but Pinner has been telling me—of an application that was made to them in private. It's not true, you know; it can't be; it's too far-fetched a tale. What do you know about it?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Carlyle. "I do not know what you are talking of. I have been privy to no application."

"It seems they want to make out now that Dick never murdered Hallijohn," proceeded the justice, in a half whisper, glancing round as if to be sure that there were no eaves-droppers amidst the trees.

"Oh," said Mr. Carlyle.

"But that Levison did. Levison!"

Mr. Carlyle made no reply, save by a gesture; his face more impassive than before. Not so another face beside him, a fair face; that turned white again with emotion as she listened.

"But it can't be, you know. It can't, I say."

"So far as Richard's innocence goes, of that I have long been convinced," spoke Mr. Carlyle.

"And that Levison's guilty?" returned the justice, opening his eyes in puzzled wonderment.

"I have no opinion upon that point," was the cold rejoinder.

"It's impossible, I say. Dick can't be innocent. You may as well tell me that the world's turned upside down."

"It is, sometimes, I think. That Richard was not the guilty man will be proved yet, justice, in the broad face of day."

"If—if—that other did do it, I should think you'd take the warrant out of the hands of the police and capture him yourself."

"I would not touch him with a pair of tongs," spoke Mr. Carlyle, his lips curling again. "If the man goes to his punishment, he goes; but I do not help him on his road thither."

"Can Dick be innocent?" mused the justice, returning to the thought which so troubled his mind. "Then why has he kept away? Why did he not come back and say so?"

"That you might deliver him up, justice. You know you took an oath to do it."

The justice looked green, and remarkably humble.

"Oh, but Carlyle," impulsively spoke he, the thought occurring to him, "what an awful revenge this would have been for you on—somebody—had she lived. How her false step would have come home to her now!"

"False steps come home to most people," responded Mr. Carlyle, as he took William by the hand, who then ran up. And, lifting his hat to Mrs. Hare in the distance, he walked on.

She, Lady Isabel, walked on, too, by the side of the child, as before, walked on with a shivering frame, and a heart sick unto death. The justice looked after her, his mind unoccupied. He was in a maze of bewilderment. Richard innocent! Richard, whom he had striven to pursue to a shameful end! And that other the guilty one! The world was turning upside down.