East Lynne/Chapter 4

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 4

Cold and still looked the old house in the moonbeams. Never was the moon brighter; it lighted the far-stretching garden, it illuminated even the weathercock aloft, it shone upon the portico, and upon one who appeared in it. Stealing to the portico from the house had come Barbara Hare, her eyes strained in dread affright on the grove of trees at the foot of the garden. What was it that had stepped out of that groove of trees, and mysteriously beckoned to her as she stood at the window, turning her heart to sickness as she gazed? Was it a human being, one to bring more evil to the house, where so much evil had already fallen? Was it a supernatural visitant, or was it but a delusion of her own eyesight? Not the latter, certainly, for the figure was now emerging again, motioning to her as before; and with a white face and shaking limbs, Barbara clutched her shawl around her and went down that path in the moonlight. The beckoning form retreated within the dark recess as she neared it, and Barbara halted.

"Who and what are you?" she asked, under her breath. "What do you want?"

"Barbara," was the whispered, eager answer, "don't you recognize me?"

Too surely she did—the voice at any rate—and a cry escaped her, telling more of sorrow than of joy, though betraying both. She penetrated the trees, and burst into tears as one in the dress of a farm laborer caught her in his arms. In spite of his smock-frock and his straw-wisped hat, and his false whiskers, black as Erebus, she knew him for her brother.

"Oh, Richard! Where have you come from? What brings you here?"

"Did you know me, Barbara?" was his rejoinder.

"How was it likely—in this disguise? A thought crossed my mind that it might be some one from you, and even that made me sick with terror. How could you run such a risk as to come here?" she added, wringing her hands. "If you are discovered, it is certain death; death—upon—you know!"

"Upon the gibbet," returned Richard Hare. "I do know it, Barbara."

"Then why risk it? Should mamma see you it will kill her outright."

"I can't live on as I am living," he answered, gloomily. "I have been working in London ever since—"

"In London!" interrupted Barbara.

"In London, and have never stirred out of it. But it is hard work for me, and now I have an opportunity of doing better, if I can get a little money. Perhaps my mother can let me have it; it is what I have come to ask for."

"How are you working? What at?"

"In a stable-yard."

"A stable-yard!" she uttered, in a deeply shocked tone. "Richard!"

"Did you expect it would be as a merchant, or a banker, or perhaps as secretary to one of her majesty's ministers—or that I was a gentleman at large, living on my fortune?" retorted Richard Hare, in a tone of chafed anguish, painful to hear. "I get twelve shillings a week, and that has to find me in everything!"

"Poor Richard, poor Richard!" she wailed, caressing his hand and weeping over it. "Oh, what a miserable night's work that was! Our only comfort is, Richard, that you must have committed the deed in madness."

"I did not commit it at all," he replied.

"What!" she exclaimed.

"Barbara, I swear that I am innocent; I swear I was not present when the man was murdered; I swear that from my own positive knowledge, my eyesight, I know no more who did it than you. The guessing at it is enough for me; and my guess is as sure and true a one as that the moon is in the heavens."

Barbara shivered as she drew close to him. It was a shivering subject. "You surely do not mean to throw the guilt on Bethel?"

"Bethel!" lightly returned Richard Hare. "He had nothing to do with it. He was after his gins and his snares, that night, though, poacher as he is!"

"Bethel is no poacher, Richard."

"Is he not?" rejoined Richard Hare, significantly. "The truth as to what he is may come out, some time. Not that I wish it to come out; the man has done no harm to me, and he may go on poaching with impunity till doomsday for all I care. He and Locksley—"

"Richard," interrupted his sister, in a hushed voice, "mamma entertains one fixed idea, which she cannot put from her. She is certain that Bethel had something to do with the murder."

"Then she is wrong. Why should she think so?"

"How the conviction arose at first, I cannot tell you; I do not think she knows herself. But you remember how weak and fanciful she is, and since that dreadful night she is always having what she calls 'dreams'—meaning that she dreams of the murder. In all these dreams Bethel is prominent; and she says she feels an absolute certainty that he was, in some way or other, mixed up in it."

"Barbara, he was no more mixed up in it than you."

"And—you say that you were not?"

"I was not even at the cottage at the time; I swear it to you. The man who did the deed was Thorn."

"Thorn!" echoed Barbara, lifting her head. "Who is Thorn?"

"I don't know who. I wish I did; I wish I could unearth him. He was a friend of Afy's."

Barbara threw back her neck with a haughty gesture. "Richard!"

"What?"

"You forget yourself when you mention that name to me."

"Well," returned Richard. "It was not to discuss these things that I put myself in jeopardy; and to assert my innocence can do no good; it cannot set aside the coroner's verdict of 'Wilful murder against Richard Hare, the younger.' Is my father as bitter against me as ever?"

"Quite. He never mentions your name, or suffers it to be mentioned; he gave his orders to the servants that it never was to be spoken in the house again. Eliza could not, or would not remember, and she persisted in calling your room 'Mr. Richard's.' I think the woman did it heedlessly, not maliciously, to provoke papa; she was a good servant, and had been with us three years you know. The first time she transgressed, papa warned her; the second, he thundered at her as I believe nobody else in the world can thunder; and the third he turned her from the doors, never allowing her to get her bonnet; one of the others carrying her bonnet and shawl to the gate, and her boxes were sent away the same day. Papa took an oath—did you hear of it?"

"What oath? He takes many."

"This was a solemn one, Richard. After the delivery of the verdict, he took an oath in the justice-room, in the presence of his brother magistrates, that if he could find you he would deliver you up to justice, and that he would do it, though you might not turn up for ten years to come. You know his disposition, Richard, and therefore may be sure he will keep it. Indeed, it is most dangerous for you to be here."

"I know that he never treated me as he ought," cried Richard, bitterly. "If my health was delicate, causing my poor mother to indulge me, ought that to have been a reason for his ridiculing me on every possible occasion, public and private? Had my home been made happier I should not have sought the society I did elsewhere. Barbara, I must be allowed an interview with my mother."

Barbara Hare reflected before she spoke. "I do not see how it can be managed."

"Why can't she come out to me as you have done? Is she up, or in bed?"

"It is impossible to think of it to-night," returned Barbara in an alarmed tone. "Papa may be in at any moment; he is spending the evening at Beauchamp's."

"It is hard to have been separated from her for eighteen months, and to go back without seeing her," returned Richard. "And about the money? It is a hundred pounds that I want."

"You must be here again to-morrow night, Richard; the money, no doubt, can be yours, but I am not so sure about your seeing mamma. I am terrified for your safety. But, if it is as you say, that you are innocent," she added, after a pause, "could it not be proved?"

"Who is to prove it? The evidence is strong against me; and Thorn, did I mention him, would be as a myth to other people; nobody knew anything of him."

"Is he a myth?" said Barbara, in a low voice.

"Are you and I myths?" retorted Richard. "So, even you doubt me?"

"Richard," she suddenly exclaimed, "why not tell the whole circumstances to Archibald Carlyle? If any one can help you, or take measures to establish your innocence, he can. And you know that he is true as steel."

"There's no other man living should be trusted with the secret that I am here, except Carlyle. Where is it they suppose that I am, Barbara?"

"Some think that you are dead; some that you are in Australia; the very uncertainty has nearly killed mamma. A report arose that you had been seen at Liverpool, in an Australian-bound ship, but we could not trace it to any foundation."

"It had none. I dodged my way to London, and there I have been."

"Working in a stable-yard?"

"I could not do better. I was not brought up to anything, and I did understand horses. Besides, a man that the police-runners were after could be more safe in obscurity, considering that he was a gentleman, than—"

Barbara turned suddenly, and placed her hand upon her brother's mouth. "Be silent for your life," she whispered, "here's papa."

Voices were heard approaching the gate—those of Justice Hare and Squire Pinner. The latter walked on; the former came in. The brother and sister cowered together, scarcely daring to breathe; you might have heard Barbara's heart beating. Mr. Hare closed the gate and walked on up the path.

"I must go, Richard," said Barbara, hastily; "I dare not stay another minute. Be here again to-morrow night, and meanwhile I will see what can be done."

She was speeding away, but Richard held her back. "You did not seem to believe my assertion of innocence. Barbara, we are here alone in the still night, with God above us; as truly as that you and I must sometime meet Him face to face, I told you the truth. It was Thorn murdered Hallijohn, and I had nothing whatever to do with it."

Barbara broke out of the trees and flew along, but Mr. Hare was already in, locking and barring the door. "Let me in, papa," she called out.

The justice opened the door again, and thrusting forth his flaxen wig, his aquiline nose, and his amazed eyes, gazed at Barbara.

"Halloo! What brings you out at this time of night, young lady?"

"I went down to the gate to look for you," she panted, "and had—had—strolled over to the side path. Did you not see me?"

Barbara was truthful by nature and habit; but in such a cause, how could she avoid dissimulation?

"Thank you, papa," she said, as she went in.

"You ought to have been in bed an hour ago," angrily responded Mr. Justice Hare.