East Lynne/Chapter 43

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 43

By the side of William Carlyle's dying bed knelt the Lady Isabel. The time was at hand, and the boy was quite reconciled to his fate. Merciful, indeed, is God to dying children! It is astonishing how very readily, when the right means are taken, they may be brought to look with pleasure, rather than fear, upon their unknown journey.

The brilliant hectic, type of the disease, had gone from his cheeks, his features were white and wasted, and his eyes large and bright. His silky brown hair was pushed off his temples, and his little hot hands were thrown outside the bed.

"It won't be very long to wait, you know, will it, Madame Vine?"

"For what, darling?"

"Before they all come. Papa and mamma, and Lucy, and all of them."

A jealous feeling shot across her wearied heart. Was she nothing to him? "Do you not care that I should come to you, William?"

"Yes, I hope you will. But do you think we shall know everybody in Heaven? Or will it be only our own relations?"

"Oh, child! I think there will be no relations, as you call it, up there. We can trust all that to God, however it may be."

William lay looking upward at the sky, apparently in thought, a dark blue, serene sky, from which shone the hot July sun. His bed had been moved toward the window, for he liked to sit in it, and look at the landscape. The window was open now, and the butterflies and bees sported in the summer air.

"I wonder how it will be?" pondered he, aloud. "There will be the beautiful city, its gates of pearl, and its shining precious stones, and its streets of gold; and there will be the clear river, and the trees with their fruits and their healing leaves, and the lovely flowers; and there will be the harps, and music, and singing. And what else will there be?"

"Everything that is desirable and beautiful, William; but, what we may not anticipate here."

Another pause. "Madame Vine, will Jesus come for me, do you think, or will He send an angel?"

"Jesus has promised to come for His own redeemed—for those who love Him and wait for Him."

"Yes, yes, and then I shall be happy forever. It will be so pleasant to be there, never to be tired or ill again."

"Pleasant? Ay! Oh, William! Would that the time were come!"

She was thinking of herself—of her freedom—though the boy knew it not. She buried her face in her hands and continued speaking; William had to bend his ear to catch the faint whisper.

"'And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying: neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.'"

"Madame Vine, do you think mamma will be there?" he presently asked. "I mean mamma that was."

"Ay, ere long."

"But how shall I know her? You see, I have nearly forgotten what she was like."

She leaned over him, laying her forehead upon his wasted arm, and burst into a flood of impassioned tears. "You will know her, never fear, William; she has not forgotten you."

"But how can we be sure that she will be there?" debated William, after a pause of thought. "You know"—sinking his voice, and speaking with hesitation—"she was not quite good; she was not good enough to papa or to us. Sometimes I think, suppose she did not grow good, and did not ask God to forgive her!"

"Oh, William!" sobbed the unhappy lady, "her whole life, after she left you, was one long scene of repentance, of seeking forgiveness. Her repentance, her sorrow, was greater than she could bear, and——"

"And what?" asked William, for there was a pause.

"Her heart broke in it—yearning after you and your father."

"What makes you think it?"

"Child, I know it!"

William considered. Then, had he been strong enough, he would have started up with energy. "Madame Vine, you could only know that by mamma's telling you! Did you ever see her? Did you know her abroad?"

Lady Isabel's thoughts were far away—up in the clouds perhaps. She reflected not on the possible consequences of her answer, or she had never given it.

"Yes, I knew her abroad."

"Oh!" said the boy. "Why did you never tell us? What did she say? What was she like?"

"She said"—sobbing wildly—"that she was parted from her children here; but she should meet them in Heaven, and be with them forever. William, darling! all the awful pain, and sadness, and guilt of this world will be washed out, and God will wipe your tears away."

"What was her face like?" he questioned softly.

"Like yours. Very much like Lucy's."

"Was she pretty?"

A momentary pause. "Yes."

"Oh, dear, I am ill. Hold me!" cried out William, as his head sank to one side, and great drops, as large as peas, broke forth upon his clammy face. It appeared to be one of the temporary faint attacks that overpowered him at times lately, and Lady Isabel rang the bell hastily.

Wilson came in, in answer. Joyce was the usual attendant upon the sick room; but Mrs. Carlyle, with her infant, was passing the day at the Grove; unconscious of the critical state of William, and she had taken Joyce with her. It was the day following the trial. Mr. Justice Hare had been brought to West Lynne in his second attack, and Barbara had gone to see him, to console her mother, and to welcome Richard to his home again. If one carriage drove, that day, to the Grove, with cards and inquiries, fifty did, not to speak of the foot callers. "It is all meant by way of attention to you, Richard," said gentle Mrs. Hare, smiling through her loving tears at her restored son. Lucy and Archie were dining at Miss Carlyle's, and Sarah attended little Arthur, leaving Wilson free. She came in, in answer to Madame Vine's ring.

"Is he off in another faint?" unceremoniously cried she, hastening to the bed.

"I think so. Help to raise him."

William did not faint. No; the attack was quite different from those he was subject to. Instead of losing consciousness and power, as was customary, he shook as if he had the ague, and laid hold both of Madame Vine and Wilson, grasping them convulsively.

"Don't let me fall! Don't let me fall!" he gasped.

"My dear, you cannot fall," responded Madame Vine. "You forget that you are on the bed."

He clasped them yet, and trembled still, as from fear. "Don't let me fall! Don't let me fall" the incessant burden of his cry.

The paroxysm passed. They wiped his brow, and stood looking at him; Wilson with a pursed up mouth, and a peculiar expression of face. She put a spoonful of restorative jelly between his lips, and he swallowed it, but shook his head when she would have given him another. Turning his face to the pillow, in a few minutes he was in a doze.

"What could it have been?" exclaimed Lady Isabel, in an undertone, to Wilson.

"I know," was the oracular answer. "I saw this same sort of an attack once before, madame."

"And what caused it?"

"Twasn't in a child though," went on Wilson—"'twas in a grown person. But that's nothing, it comes for the same thing in all. I think he was taken for death."

"Who?" uttered Lady Isabel, startled.

Wilson made no reply in words, but she pointed with her finger to the bed.

"Oh, Wilson, he is not so ill as that. Mr. Wainwright said this morning, that he might last a week or two."

Wilson composedly sat herself down in the easiest chair. She was not wont to put herself out of the way for the governess; and that governess was too much afraid of her, in one sense, to let her know her place. "As to Wainwright, he's nobody," quoth she. "And if he saw the child's breath going out before his face, and knew that the next moment would be his last, he'd vow to us all that he was good for twelve hours to come. You don't know Wainwright as I do, madame. He was our doctor at mother's; and he has attended in all the places I have lived in since I went out to service. Five years I was maid at Mrs. Hare's. I came here when Miss Lucy was a baby, and in all my places has he attended, like one's shadow. My Lady Isabel thought great guns of old Wainwright, I remember. It was more than I did."

My Lady Isabel made no response to this. She took a seat and watched William through her glasses. His breathing was more labored than usual.

"That idiot, Sarah, says to me to-day, says she, 'Which of his two grandpapas will they bury him by, old Mr. Carlyle or Lord Mount Severn?' 'Don't be a calf!' I answered her. 'D'ye think they'll stick him out in the corner with my lord?—he'll be put into the Carlyle vault, of course,' It would have been different, you see, Madame Vine, if my lady had died at home, all proper—Mr. Carlyle's wife. They'd have buried her, no doubt, by her father, and the boy would have been laid with her. But she did not."

No reply was made by Madame Vine, and a silence ensued; nothing to be heard but that fleeting breath.

"I wonder how that beauty feels?" suddenly broke forth Wilson again, her tone one of scornful irony.

Lady Isabel, her eyes and her thoughts absorbed by William, positively thought Wilson's words must relate to him. She turned to her in surprise.

"That bright gem in the prison at Lynneborough," exclaimed Wilson. "I hope he may have found himself pretty well since yesterday! I wonder how many trainfuls from West Lynne will go to his hanging?"

Isabel's face turned crimson, her heart sick. She had not dared to inquire how the trial terminated. The subject altogether was too dreadful, and nobody had happened to mention it in her hearing.

"Is he condemned?" she breathed, in a low tone.

"He is condemned, and good luck to him! And Mr. Otway Bethel's let loose again, and good luck to him. A nice pair they are! Nobody went from this house to hear the trial—it might not have been pleasant, you know, to Mr. Carlyle; but people came in last night and told us all about it. Young Richard Hare chiefly convicted him. He is back again, and so nice-looking, they say—ten times more so than he was when quite a young man. You should have heard, they say, the cheering and shouts that greeted Mr. Richard when his innocence came out; it pretty near rose off the roof of the court, and the judge didn't stop it."

Wilson paused, but there was no answering comment. On she went again.

"When Mr. Carlyle brought the news home last evening, and broke it to his wife, telling her how Mr. Richard had been received with acclamations, she nearly fainted, for she's not strong yet. Mr. Carlyle called out to me to bring some water—I was in the next room with the baby—and there she was, the tears raining from her eyes, and he holding her to him. I always said there was a whole world of love between those two; though he did go and marry another. Mr. Carlyle ordered me to put the water down, and sent me away again. But I don't fancy he told her of old Hare's attack until this morning."

Lady Isabel lifted her aching forehead. "What attack?"

"Why, madame, don't you know. I declare you box yourself up in the house, keeping from everybody, and you hear nothing. You might as well be living at the bottom of a coal-pit. Old Hare had another stroke in the court at Lynneborough, and that's why my mistress is gone to the Grove to-day."

"Who says Richard Hare's come home, Wilson?"

The question—the weak, scarcely audible question—had come from the dying boy. Wilson threw up her hands, and made a bound to the bed. "The like of that!" she uttered, aside to Mrs. Vine. "One never knows when to take these sick ones. Master William, you hold your tongue and drop to sleep again. Your papa will be home soon from Lynneborough; and if you talk and get tired, he'll say it's my fault. Come shut your eyes. Will you have a bit more jelly?"

William, making no reply to the offer of jelly, buried his face again on the pillow. But he was grievously restless; the nearly worn-out spirit was ebbing and flowing.

Mr. Carlyle was at Lynneborough. He always had much business there at assize time and the Nisi Prius Court; but the previous day he had not gone himself, Mr. Dill had been dispatched to represent him.

Between seven and eight he returned home, and came into William's chamber. The boy brightened up at the well-known presence.

"Papa!"

Mr. Carlyle sat down on the bed and kissed him. The passing beams of the sun, slanting from the horizon, shone into the room, and Mr. Carlyle could view well the dying face. The gray hue of death was certainly on it.

"Is he worse?" he exclaimed hastily, to Madame Vine, who was jacketed, and capped, and spectacled, and tied up round the throat, and otherwise disguised, in her universal fashion.

"He appears worse this evening, sir—more weak."

"Papa," panted William, "is the trial over?"

"What trial, my boy?"

"Sir Francis Levison's."

"It was over yesterday. Never trouble your head about him, my brave boy, he is not worth it."

"But I want to know. Will they hang him?"

"He is sentenced to it."

"Did he kill Hallijohn?"

"Yes. Who has been talking to him upon the subject?" Mr. Carlyle continued to Madame Vine, with marked displeasure in his tone.

"Wilson mentioned it, sir," was the low answer.

"Oh, papa! What will he do? Will Jesus forgive him?"

"We must hope it."

"Do you hope it, papa?"

"Yes. I wish that all the world may be forgiven, William, whatever may have been their sins. My child, how restless you seem!"

"I can't keep in one place; the bed gets wrong. Pull me up on the pillow, will you Madame Vine?"

Mr. Carlyle gently lifted the boy himself.

"Madame Vine is an untiring nurse to you, William," he observed, gratefully casting a glance toward her in the distance, where she had retreated, and was shaded by the window curtain.

William made no reply; he seemed to be trying to recall something. "I forget! I forget!"

"Forget what?" asked Mr. Carlyle.

"It was something I wanted to ask you, or to tell you. Isn't Lucy come home?"

"I suppose not."

"Papa, I want Joyce."

"I will send her home to you. I am going for your mamma after dinner."

"For mamma?—oh, I remember now. Papa, how shall I know mamma in Heaven? Not this mamma."

Mr. Carlyle did not immediately reply. The question may have puzzled him. William continued hastily; possibly mistaking the motive of the silence.

"She will be in Heaven, you know."

"Yes, yes, child," speaking hurriedly.

"Madame Vine knows she will. She saw her abroad; and mamma told her that—what was it, madame?"

Madame Vine grew sick with alarm. Mr. Carlyle turned his eyes upon her scarlet face—as much as he could get to see of it. She would have escaped from the room if she could.

"Mamma was more sorry than she could bear," went on William, finding he was not helped. "She wanted you, papa, and she wanted us, and her heart broke, and she died."

A flush rose to Mr. Carlyle's brow. He turned inquiringly to Madame Vine.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir," she murmured, with desperate energy. "I ought not to have spoken; I ought not to have interfered in your family affairs. I spoke only as I thought it must be, sir. The boy seemed troubled about his mother."

Mr. Carlyle was at sea. "Did you meet his mother abroad? I scarcely understand."

She lifted her hand and covered her glowing face. "No, sir." Surely the recording angel blotted out the words! If ever a prayer for forgiveness went up from an aching heart, it must have gone up then, for the equivocation over her child's death-bed!

Mr. Carlyle went toward her. "Do you perceive the change in his countenance?" he whispered.

"Yes, sir. He has looked like this since a strange fit of trembling that came on in the afternoon. Wilson thought he might be taken for death. I fear that some four and twenty hours will end it."

Mr. Carlyle rested his elbow on the window frame, and his hand upon his brow, his drooping eyelids falling over his eyes. "It is hard to lose him."

"Oh, sir, he will be better off!" she wailed, choking down the sobs and the emotion that arose threateningly. "We can bear death; it is not the worst parting that the earth knows. He will be quit of this cruel world, sheltered in Heaven. I wish we were all there!"

A servant came to say that Mr. Carlyle's dinner was served, and he proceeded to it with what appetite he had. When he returned to the sick room the daylight had faded, and a solitary candle was placed where its rays could not fall upon the child's face. Mr. Carlyle took the light in his hand to scan that face again. He was lying sideways on the pillow, his hollow breath echoing through the room. The light caused him to open his eyes.

"Don't, papa, please. I like it dark."

"Only for a moment, my precious boy." And not for more than a moment did Mr. Carlyle hold it. The blue, pinched, ghastly look was there yet. Death was certainly coming on quick.

At that moment Lucy and Archibald came in, on their return from their visit to Miss Carlyle. The dying boy looked up eagerly.

"Good-bye, Lucy," he said, putting out his cold, damp hand.

"I am not going out," replied Lucy. "We have but just come home."

"Good-bye, Lucy," repeated he.

She laid hold of the little hand then, leaned over, and kissed him. "Good-bye, William; but indeed I am not going out anywhere."

"I am," said he. "I am going to Heaven. Where's Archie?"

Mr. Carlyle lifted Archie on to the bed. Lucy looked frightened, Archie surprised.

"Archie, good-bye; good-bye, dear, I am going to Heaven; to that bright, blue sky, you know. I shall see mamma there, and I'll tell her that you and Lucy are coming soon."

Lucy, a sensitive child, broke into a loud storm of sobs, enough to disturb the equanimity of any sober sick room. Wilson hastened in at the sound, and Mr. Carlyle sent the two children away, with soothing promises that they should see William in the morning, if he continued well enough.

Down on her knees, her face buried in the counterpane, a corner of it stuffed into her mouth that it might help to stifle her agony, knelt Lady Isabel. The moment's excitement was well nigh beyond her strength of endurance. Her own child—his child—they alone around its death-bed, and she might not ask or receive a word of comfort, of consolation!

Mr. Carlyle glanced at her as he caught her choking sobs just as he would have glanced at any other attentive governess—feeling her sympathy, doubtless, but nothing more; she was not heart and part with him and his departing boy. Lower and lower bent he over that boy; for his eyes were wet. "Don't cry, papa," whispered William, raising his feeble hand caressingly to his father's cheek, "I am not afraid to go. Jesus is coming for me."

"Afraid to go! Indeed I hope not, my gentle boy. You are going to God—to happiness. A few years—we know not how few—and we shall all come to you."

"Yes, you will be sure to come; I know that. I shall tell mamma so. I dare say she is looking out for me now. Perhaps she's standing on the banks of the river, watching the boats."

He had evidently got that picture of Martin's in his mind, "The Plains of Heaven." Mr. Carlyle turned to the table. He saw some strawberry juice, pressed from the fresh fruit, and moistened with it the boy's fevered lips.

"Papa, I can't think how Jesus can be in all the boats! Perhaps they don't go quite at the same time. He must be, you know, because He comes to fetch us."

"He will be yours, darling," was the whispered, fervent answer.

"Oh, yes. He will take me all the way up to God, and say, 'Here's a poor little boy come, you must please to forgive him and let him go into Heaven, because I died for him!' Papa did you know that mamma's heart broke?"

"William, I think it likely that your poor mamma's heart did break, ere death came. But let us talk of you, not of her. Are you in pain?"

"I can't breathe; I can't swallow. I wish Joyce was here."

"She will not be long now."

The boy nestled himself in his father's arms, and in a few minutes appeared to be asleep. Mr. Carlyle, after a while, gently laid him on his pillow, and watched him, and then turned to depart.

"Oh, papa! Papa!" he cried out, in a tone of painful entreaty, opening wide his yearning eyes, "say good-bye to me!"

Mr. Carlyle's tears fell upon the little upturned face, as he once more caught it to his breast.

"My darling, your papa will soon be back. He is going to bring mamma to see you."

"And pretty little baby Anna?"

"And baby Anna, if you would like her to come in. I will not leave my darling boy for long; he need not fear. I shall not leave you again to-night, William, when once I am back."

"Then put me down, and go, papa."

A lingering embrace—a fond, lingering, tearful embrace—Mr. Carlyle holding him to his beating heart, then he laid him comfortably on his pillow, gave him a teaspoonful of strawberry juice, and hastened away.

"Good-bye, papa!" came forth the little feeble cry.

It was not heard. Mr. Carlyle was gone, gone from his living child—forever. Up rose Lady Isabel, and flung her arms aloft in a storm of sobs!

"Oh, William, darling! in this dying moment let me be to you as your mother!"

Again he unclosed his wearied eyelids. It is probable that he only partially understood.

"Papa's gone for her."

"Not her! I—I——" Lady Isabel checked herself, and fell sobbing on the bed. No; not even at the last hour when the world was closing on him, dared she say, I am your mother.

Wilson re-entered. "He looks as if he were dropping off to sleep," quoth she.

"Yes," said Lady Isabel. "You need not wait, Wilson. I will ring if he requires anything."

Wilson though withal not a bad-hearted woman, was not one to remain for pleasure in a sick-room, if told she might leave it. She, Lady Isabel, remained alone. She fell on her knees again, this time in prayer for the departing spirit, on its wing, and that God would mercifully vouchsafe herself a resting-place with it in heaven.

A review of the past then rose up before her, from the time of her first entering that house, the bride of Mr. Carlyle, to her present sojourn in it. The old scenes passed through her mind like the changing picture in a phantasmagoria.

Why should they have come, there and then? She knew not.

William slept on silently; she thought of the past. The dreadful reflection, "If I had not done as I did, how different would it have been now!" had been sounding its knell in her heart so often that she had almost ceased to shudder at it. The very nails of her hands had, before now, entered the palms, with the sharp pain it brought. Stealing over her more especially this night, there, as she knelt, her head lying on the counterpane, came the recollection of that first illness of hers. How she had lain, and, in that unfounded jealousy, imagined Barbara the house's mistress. She dead! Barbara exalted to her place. Mr. Carlyle's wife, her child's stepmother! She recalled the day when, her mind excited by a certain gossip of Wilson's—it was previously in a state of fever bordering on delirium—she had prayed her husband, in terror and anguish, not to marry Barbara. "How could he marry her?" he had replied, in his soothing pity. "She, Isabel, was his wife. Who was Barbara? Nothing to them?" But it had all come to pass. She had brought it forth. Not Mr. Carlyle; not Barbara; she alone. Oh, the dreadful misery of the retrospect!

Lost in thought, in anguish past and present, in self-condemning repentance, the time passed on. Nearly an hour must have elapsed since Mr. Carlyle's departure, and William had not disturbed her. But who was this, coming into the room? Joyce.

She hastily rose up, as Joyce, advancing with a quiet step drew aside the clothes to look at William. "Master says he has been wanting me," she observed. "Why—oh!"

It was a sharp, momentary cry, subdued as soon as uttered. Madame Vine sprang forward to Joyce's side, looking also. The pale young face lay calm in its utter stillness; the busy little heart had ceased to beat. Jesus Christ had indeed come and taken the fleeting spirit.

Then she lost all self-control. She believed that she had reconciled herself to the child's death, that she could part with him without too great emotion. But she had not anticipated it would be quite so soon; she had deemed that some hours more would at least be given him, and now the storm overwhelmed her. Crying, sobbing, calling, she flung herself upon him; she clasped him to her; she dashed off her disguising glasses; she laid her face upon his, beseeching him to come back to her, that she might say farewell—to her, his mother; her darling child, her lost William!

Joyce was terrified—terrified for consequences. With her full strength she pulled her from the boy, praying her to consider—to be still. "Do not, do not, for the love of Heaven! My lady! My lady!"

It was the old familiar title that struck upon her fears and induced calmness. She stared at Joyce, and retreated backward, after the manner of one receding from some hideous vision. Then, as recollection came to her, she snatched her glasses up and hurried them on.

"My lady, let me take you into your room. Mr. Carlyle is come; he is just bringing up his wife. Only think if you should give way before him! Pray come away!"

"How did you know me?" she asked in a hollow voice.

"My lady, it was that night when there was an alarm of fire. I went close up to you to take Master Archibald from your arms; and, as sure as I am now standing here, I believe that for the moment my senses left me. I thought I saw a spectre—the spectre of my dead lady. I forgot the present; I forgot that all were standing round me; that you, Madame Vine, were alive before me. Your face was not disguised then; the moonlight shone full upon it, and I knew it, after the first few moments of terror, to be, in dreadful truth, the living one of Lady Isabel. My lady, come away! We shall have Mr. Carlyle here."

Poor thing! She sank upon her knees, in her humility, her dread. "Oh, Joyce, have pity upon me! don't betray me! I will leave the house; indeed I will. Don't betray me while I am in it!"

"My lady, you have nothing to fear from me. I have kept the secret buried within my breast since then. Last April! It has nearly been too much for me. By night and by day I have had no peace, dreading what might come out. Think of the awful confusion, the consequences, should it come to the knowledge of Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. Indeed, my lady, you never ought to have come."

"Joyce," she said, hollowly, lifting her haggard face, "I could not keep away from my unhappy children. Is it no punishment to me, think you, the being here?" she added, vehemently. "To see him—my husband—the husband of another! It is killing me."

"Oh, my lady, come away! I hear him; I hear him!"

Partly coaxing, partly dragging her, Joyce took her into her own room, and left her there. Mr. Carlyle was at that moment at the door of the sick one. Joyce sprang forward. Her face, in her emotion and fear, was of one livid whiteness, and she shook as William had shaken, poor child, in the afternoon. It was only too apparent in the well-lighted corridor.

"Joyce," he exclaimed, in amazement, "what ails you?"

"Sir! master!" she panted; "be prepared. Master William—Master William——"

"Joyce! Not dead!"

"Alas, yes, sir!"

Mr. Carlyle strode into the chamber. But ere he was well across it, he turned back to slip the bolt of the door. On the pillow lay the white, thin face, at rest now.

"My boy! my boy! Oh, my God!" he murmured, in bowed reverence, "mayest Thou have received this child to rest in Jesus, even as, I trust, Thou hadst already received his unhappy mother!"