East Lynne/Chapter 44

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East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 44

To the burial of William Carlyle came Lord Mount Severn and his son. Wilson had been right in her surmises as to the resting-place. The Carlyle vault was opened for him, and an order went forth to the sculptor for an inscription to be added to their marble tablet in the church: "William Vane Carlyle, eldest son of Archibald Carlyle, of East Lynne." Amongst those who attended the funeral as mourners went one more notable in the eyes of the gazers than the rest—Richard Hare the younger.

Lady Isabel was ill. Ill in mind, and ominously ill in body. She kept her room, and Joyce attended on her. The household set down madame's illness to the fatigue of having attended upon Master William; it was not thought of seriously by any one, especially as she declined to see a doctor. All her thoughts now were directed to the getting away from East Lynne, for it would never do to remain there to die; and she knew that death was on his way to her, and that no human power or skill—not all the faculty combined—could turn him back again. The excessive dread of detection was not upon her as it had been formerly. I mean she did not dread the consequences so much, if detection came. In nearing the grave, all fears and hopes, of whatever nature, relating to this world, lose their force, and fears or hopes regarding the next world take their place. Our petty feelings here are lost in the greater.

In returning to East Lynne, Lady Isabel had entered upon a daring act, and she found, in the working, that neither strength nor spirit was equal to it. Human passions and tempers were brought with us into this world, and they can only quit us when we bid it farewell, to enter upon immortality in the next.

When Lady Isabel was Mr. Carlyle's wife, she had never wholly loved him. The very utmost homage that esteem, admiration, affection could give was his, but that mysterious passion called by the name of love, and which, as I truly and heartily believe, cannot, in its refined etherealism, be known to many of us, had not been given to him. It was now. From the very night she came back to East Lynne, her love for Mr. Carlyle had burst forth with an intensity never before felt. It had been smoldering almost ever since she quitted him. "Reprehensible!" groans a moralist. Very. Everybody knows that, as Afy would say. But her heart, you see, had not done with human passions, and they work ill, and contrariness, let the word stand, critic, if you please, and precisely everything they should not.

I shall get in for it, I fear, if I attempt to defend her. But it was not exactly the same thing, as though she suffered herself to fall in love with somebody else's husband. Nobody would defend that. We have not turned Mormons yet, and the world does not walk upon its head. But this was a peculiar case. She, poor thing, almost regarded Mr. Carlyle as her husband. The bent of her thoughts was only too much inclined to this. The evil human heart again. Many and many a time did she wake up from a reverie, and strive to drive this mistaken view of things away from her, taking shame to herself. Ten minutes afterward, she would catch her brain reveling in the same rebellious vision. Mr. Carlyle's love was not hers now, it was Barbara's. Mr. Carlyle did not belong to her, he belonged to his wife. It was not only that he was not hers—he was another's. You may, therefore, if you have the pleasure of being experienced in this sort of thing, guess a little of what her inward life was. Had there been no Barbara in the case, she might have lived and borne it; as it was, it had killed her before her time, that and the remorse together.

There had been other things, too. The re-appearance of Francis Levison at West Lynne, in fresh contact, as may be said, with herself, had struck terror to her heart, and the dark charge brought against him augmented awfully her remorse. Then, the sharp lances perpetually thrust upon her memory—the Lady Isabel's memory—from all sides, were full of cruel stings, unintentionally though they were hurled. And there was the hourly chance of discovery, and the never ceasing battle with her conscience, for being at East Lynne at all. No wonder that the chords of life were snapping; the wonder would have been had they remained whole.

"She brought it upon herself—she ought not to have come back to East Lynne!" groans our moralist again.

Didn't I say so? Of course she ought not. Neither ought she to have suffered her thoughts to stray, in the manner they did, towards Mr. Carlyle. She ought not, but she did. If we all did just what we "ought," this lower proverb touching fruit defendu would go out as a dead letter.

She was nearer to death than she imagined. She knew, judging by her declining strength and her inner feelings, that it could not be far off; but she did not deem it was coming so very soon. Her mother had died in a similar way. Some said of consumption—Dr. Martin did, you may remember; some said of "waste;" the earl, her husband, said a broken heart—you heard him say so to Mr. Carlyle in the first chapter of this history. The earl was the one who might be supposed to know best. Whatever may have been Lady Mount Severn's malady, she—to give you the phrase that was in people's mouth's at the time—"went out like the snuff of a candle." It was now the turn of Lady Isabel. She had no more decided disorder than the countess had had, yet death had marked her. She felt that it had, and in its approach she dreaded not, as she once had done, the consequences that must ensue, did discovery come. Which brings us back to the point whence ensued this long digression. I dare say you are chafing at it, but it is not often I trouble you with one.

But she would not willingly let discovery come, neither had she the least intention of remaining at East Lynne to die. Where she should take refuge was quite a secondary consideration, only let her get smoothly and plausibly away. Joyce, in her dread, was forever urging it. Of course, the preliminary step was to arrange matters with Mrs. Carlyle, and in the afternoon of the day following the funeral, Lady Isabel proceeded to her dressing-room, and craved an interview.

Mr. Carlyle quitted the room as she entered it. Barbara, fatigued with a recent drive, was lying on the sofa. She would scarcely take the notice.

"We shall be so sorry to lose you, Madame Vine. You are all we could wish for Lucy, and Mr. Carlyle feels truly grateful for your love and attention to his poor boy."

"To leave you will give me pain also," Madame Vine answered, in a subdued tone. Pain? Ay. Mrs. Carlyle little guessed at its extent. All she cared for on earth she should leave behind her at East Lynne.

"Indeed you must not leave," resumed Barbara. "It would be unjust to allow you to do so. You have made yourself ill, waiting upon poor William, and you must stay here and take a holiday until you are cured. You will soon get well, if you will only suffer yourself to be properly waited on and taken care of."

"You are very considerate. Pray do not think me insensible if I decline. I believe my strength is beyond getting up—that I shall never be able to teach again."

"Oh, nonsense," said Barbara, in her quick way. "We are all given to fancy the worst when we are ill. I was feeling terribly weak, only a few minutes ago, and said something of the same sort to Archibald. He talked and soothed me out of it. I wish you had your dear husband living, Madame Vine, to support you and love you, as I have him."

A tinge of scarlet streaked Madame Vine's pale face, and she laid her hand upon her beating heart.

"How could you think of leaving? We should be glad to help re-establish your health, in any case, but it is only fair to do it now. I felt sure, by the news brought to me when I was ill, that your attention upon William was overtasking your strength."

"It is not the attendance upon William that has brought me into this state," was the quick answer. "I must leave; I have well considered it over."

"Would you like to go to the seaside?" exclaimed Barbara with sudden energy. "I am going there on Monday next. Mr. Carlyle insists upon it that I try a little change. I had intended only to take my baby, but we can make different arrangements, and take you and Lucy. It might do you good, Madame Vine."

She shook her head. "No; it would make me worse. All that I want is perfect quiet. I must beg you to understand that I shall leave. And I should be glad if you could allow the customary notice to be dispensed with, so that I may be at liberty to depart within a few days."

"Look here, then," said Barbara, after a pause of consideration, "you remain at East Lynne until my return, which will be in a fortnight. Mr. Carlyle cannot stay with me, so I know I shall be tired in less time than that. I do not want you to remain to teach, you know, Madame Vine; I do not wish you to do a single thing. Lucy shall have a holiday, and Mr. Kane can come up for her music. Only I could not be content to leave her, unless under your surveillance; she is getting of an age now not to be consigned to servants, not to Joyce. Upon my return, if you still wish to leave, you shall then be at liberty to do so. What do you say?"

Madame Vine said "Yes." Said it eagerly. To have another fortnight with her children, Lucy and Archibald, was very like a reprieve, and she embraced it. Although she knew, as I have said, that grim Death was on his way, she did not think he had drawn so near the end of his journey. Her thoughts went back to the time when she had been ordered to the seaside after an illness. It had been a marvel if they had not. She remembered how he, her husband, had urged the change upon her; how he had taken her, traveling carefully; how tenderly anxious he had been in the arrangements for her comfort, when settling her in the lodgings; how, when he came again to see her, he had met her with his passionate fondness, thanking God for the visible improvement in her looks. That one injunction which she had called him back to give him, as he was departing for the boat, was bitterly present to her now: "Do not get making love to Barbara Hare." All this care, and love, and tenderness belonged now of right to Barbara, and were given to her.

But now Barbara, although she pressed Madame Vine to remain at East Lynne, and indeed would have been glad that she should do so, did not take her refusal at heart. Barbara could not fail to perceive that she was a thoroughly refined gentlewoman, far superior to the generality of governesses. That she was truly fond of Lucy, and most anxious for her welfare in every way, Barbara also saw. For Lucy's sake, therefore, she would be grieved to part with Madame Vine, and would raise her salary to anything in reason, if she would but stay. But, on her own score, Barbara had as soon Madame Vine went as not; for, in her heart of hearts, she had never liked her. She could not have told why. Was it instinct? Very probably. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fishes of the sea, have their instincts, and so does man have his. Perhaps it was the unaccountable resemblance that Madame Vine bore to Lady Isabel. A strange likeness! Barbara often thought, but whether it lay in the face, the voice, or the manner, she could not decide. A suspicion of the truth did not cross her mind. How should it? And she never spoke of it; had the resemblance been to any one but Lady Isabel she would have talked of it freely. Or, it may have been that there was now and then a tone in Madame Vine's voice that grated on her ear; a wrung, impatient tone, wanting in respect, savoring of hauteur, which Barbara did not understand, and did not like. However it may have been, certain it is that Mrs. Carlyle would not shed tears after the governess. Only for Lucy's sake did she regret parting with her.

These different resemblances and reflections were separately passing through the minds of the two ladies when their conference was over. Madame Vine at length rose from her chair to depart.

"Would you mind holding my baby for one minute?" cried Barbara.

Madame Vine quite started.

"The baby there!" she uttered.

Barbara laughed.

"It is lying by my side, under the shawl, quiet little sleeping thing."

Madame Vine advanced and took the sleeping baby. How could she refuse? She had never had it in her arms before; she had, in fact, scarcely seen it. One visit of ceremony she had paid Mrs. Carlyle, as in politeness bound, a day or two after the young lady's arrival, and had been shown a little face, nearly covered with lace, in a cradle.

"Thank you. I can get up now. I might have half smothered it, had I attempted before," continued Barbara, still laughing. "I have been here long enough, and am quite rested. Talking about smothering children, what accounts have we in the registrar-general's weekly returns of health! So many children 'overlaid in bed,' so many children 'suffocated in bed.' One week there were nearly twenty; and often there are as many as eight or ten. Mr. Carlyle says he knows they are smothered on purpose."

"Oh, Mrs. Carlyle!"

"I exclaimed, just as you do, when he said it, and laid my hand over his lips. He laughed, and told me I did not know half the wickedness of the world. Thank you," again repeated Mrs. Carlyle, taking her child from Lady Isabel. "Is she not a pretty baby? Do you like the name—Anne?"

"It is a simple name," replied Lady Isabel; "and simple names are always the most attractive."

"That is just what Archibald thinks. But he wanted this child's to be Barbara. I would not have had it Barbara for the world. I remember his once saying, a long, long while ago that he did not like elaborate names; they were mouthfuls; and he instanced mine and his sister's, and his own. I recalled his words to him, and he said he may not have liked the name of Barbara then, but he loved it now. So we entered into a compromise; Miss Baby was named Anne Barbara, with an understanding that the first name is to be for use, and the last for the registers."

"It is not christened?" said Lady Isabel.

"Only baptized. We should have had it christened before now, but for William's death. Not that we give christening dinners; but I waited for the trial at Lynneborough to be over, that my dear brother Richard might stand to the child."

"Mr. Carlyle does not like christenings made into festivals," Lady Isabel dreamily observed, her thoughts buried in the past.

"How do you know that?" exclaimed Barbara, opening her eyes.

And poor Madame Vine, her pale face flushing, had to stammer forth some confused words that she had "heard so somewhere."

"It is quite true," said Barbara. "He has never given a christening-dinner for any of his children, and gets out of attending if invited to one. He cannot understand the analogy between a solemn religious rite and the meeting together afterward to eat and drink and make merry, according to the fashion of this world."

As Lady Isabel quitted the room, young Vane was careering through the corridor, throwing his head in all directions, and calling out,—

"Lucy! I want Lucy!"

"What do you want with her?" asked Madame Vine.

"Il m'est impossible de vous le dire madame," responded he. Being, for an Eton boy, wonderfully up in French, he was rather given to show it off when he got the chance. He did not owe thanks for it to Eton. Lady Mount Severn had taken better care than that. Better care? What could she want? There was one whole, real, live French tutor—and he an Englishman!—for the eight hundred boys. Very unreasonable of her ladyship to disparage that ample provision.

"Lucy cannot come to you just now. She is practicing."

"Mais, il le faut. J'ai le droit de demander apres elle. Elle m'appartient, vous comprenez, madame, cette demoiselle la."

Madame could not forbear a smile. "I wish you would speak English sense, instead of French nonsense."

"Then the English sense is that I want Lucy and I must have her. I am going to take her for a drive in the pony carriage, if you must know. She said she'd come, and John's getting it ready."

"I could not possibly allow it," said Madame Vine. "You'd be sure to upset her."

"The idea!" he returned, indignantly. "As if I should upset Lucy! Why, I'm one of the great whips at Eton. I care for Lucy too much not to drive steadily. She is to be my wife, you know, ma bonne dame."

At this juncture two heads were pushed out from the library, close by; those of the earl and Mr. Carlyle. Barbara, also, attracted by the talking, appeared at the door of her dressing-room.

"What's that about a wife?" asked my lord of his son.

The blood mantled in the young gentleman's cheek as he turned round and saw who had spoken, but he possessed all the fearlessness of an Eton boy.

"I intend Lucy Carlyle to be my wife, papa. I mean in earnest—when we shall both be grown up—if you will approve, and Mr. Carlyle will give her to me."

The earl looked somewhat impassable, Mr. Carlyle amused. "Suppose," said the latter, "we adjourn the discussion to this day ten years?"

"But that Lucy is so very young a child, I should reprove you seriously, sir," said the earl. "You have no right to bring Lucy's name into any such absurdity."

"I mean it, papa; you'll all see. And I intend to keep out of scrapes—that is, of nasty, dishonorable scrapes—on purpose that Mr. Carlyle shall find no excuse against me. I have made up my mind to be what he is—a man of honor. I am right glad you know about it, sir, and I shall let mamma know it before long."

The last sentence tickled the earl's fancy, and a grim smile passed over his lips. "It will be war to the knife, if you do."

"I know that," laughed the viscount. "But I am getting a better match for mamma in our battles than I used to be."

Nobody saw fit to prolong the discussion. Barbara put her veto upon the drive in the pony carriage unless John sat behind to look after the driver, which Lord Vane still resented as an insult. Madame Vine, when the corridor became empty again, laid her hand upon the boy's arm as he was moving away, and drew him to the window.

"In speaking as you do of Lucy Carlyle, do you forget the disgrace reflected on her by the conduct of her mother?"

"Her mother is not Lucy."

"It may prove an impediment, that, with Lord and Lady Mount Severn."

"Not with his lordship. And I must do—as you heard me say—battle with my mother. Conciliatory battle, you understand, madame; bringing the enemy to reason."

Madame Vine was agitated. She held her handkerchief to her mouth, and the boy noticed how her hands trembled.

"I have learnt to love Lucy. It has appeared to me in these few months' sojourn with her, that I have stood to her in light of a mother. William Vane," she solemnly added, keeping her hold upon him, "I shall soon be where earthly distinctions are no more; where sin and sorrow are no more. Should Lucy Carlyle indeed become your wife, in after years, never, never cast upon her, by so much as the slightest word of reproach, the sin of Lady Isabel."

Lord Vane threw back his head, his honest eyes flashing in their indignant earnestness.

"What do you take me for?"

"It would be a cruel wrong upon Lucy. She does not deserve it. That unhappy lady's sin was all her own; let it die with her. Never speak to Lucy of her mother."

The lad dashed his hand across his eyes for they were filling.

"I shall. I shall speak to her often of her mother—that is, you know, after she's my wife. I shall tell her how I loved Lady Isabel—that there's nobody I ever loved so much in the world, but Lucy herself. I cast a reproach to Lucy on the score of her mother!" he hotly added. "It is through her mother that I love her. You don't understand, madame."

"Cherish and love her forever, should she become yours," said Lady Isabel, wringing his hand. "I ask it you as one who is dying."

"I will—I promise it. But I say, madame," he continued, dropping his fervent tone, "what do you allude to? Are you worse?"

Madame Vine did not answer. She glided away without speaking.

Later, when she was sitting by twilight in the gray parlor, cold and shivering, and wrapped up in a shawl, though it was hot summer weather, somebody knocked at the door.

"Come in," cried she, apathetically.

It was Mr. Carlyle who entered. She rose up, her pulses quickening, her heart thumping against her side. In her wild confusion she was drawing forward a chair for him. He laid his hand upon it, and motioned her to her own.

"Mrs. Carlyle tells me that you have been speaking to her of leaving—that you find yourself too much out of health to continue with us."

"Yes, sir," she faintly replied, having a most imperfect notion of what she did say.

"What is it that you find to be the matter with you?"

"I—think—it is chiefly—weakness," she stammered.

Her face had grown as gray as the walls. A dusky, livid sort of hue, not unlike William's had worn the night of his death, and her voice sounded strangely hollow. It, the voice, struck Mr. Carlyle and awoke his fears.

"You cannot—you never can have caught William's complaint, in your close attendance upon him?" he exclaimed, speaking in the impulse of the moment, as the idea flashed across him. "I have heard of such things."

"Caught it from him?" she rejoined, carried away also by impulse. "It is more likely that he——"

She stopped herself just in time. "Inherited it from me," had been the destined conclusion. In her alarm, she went off volubly, something to the effect that "it was no wonder she was ill: illness was natural to her family."

"At any rate, you have become ill at East Lynne, in attendance on my children," rejoined Mr. Carlyle, decisively, when her voice died away. "You must therefore allow me to insist that you allow East Lynne to do what it can toward renovating you. What is your objection to see a doctor?"

"A doctor could do me no good," she faintly answered.

"Certainly not, so long as you will not consult one."

"Indeed, sir, doctors could not cure me, nor, as I believe prolong my life."

Mr. Carlyle paused.

"Are you believing yourself to be in danger?"

"Not in immediate danger, sir; only in so far as that I know I shall not live."

"And yet you will not see a doctor. Madame Vine, you must be aware that I could not permit such a thing to go on in my house. Dangerous illness and no advice!"

She could not say to him, "My malady is on the mind; it is a breaking heart, and therefore no doctor of physic could serve me." That would never do. She had sat with her hand across her face, between her spectacles and her wrapped-up chin. Had Mr. Carlyle possessed the eyes of Argus, backed by Sam Weller's patent magnifying microscopes of double hextra power, he could not have made anything of her features in the broad light of day. But she did not feel so sure of it. There was always an undefined terror of discovery when in his presence, and she wished the interview at an end.

"I will see Mr. Wainwright, if it will be any satisfaction to you, sir."

"Madame Vine, I have intruded upon you here to say that you must see him, and, should he deem it necessary, Dr. Martin also."

"Oh, sir," she rejoined with a curious smile, "Mr. Wainwright will be quite sufficient. There will be no need of another. I will write a note to him to-morrow."

"Spare yourself the trouble. I am going into West Lynne, and will send him up. You will permit me to urge that you spare no pains or care, that you suffer my servants to spare no pains or care, to re-establish your health. Mrs. Carlyle tells me that the question of your leaving remains in abeyance until her return."

"Pardon me, sir. The understanding with Mrs. Carlyle was that I should remain here until her return, and should then be at liberty at once to leave."

"Exactly. That is what Mrs. Carlyle said. But I must express a hope that by that time you may be feeling so much better as to reconsider your decision and continue with us. For my daughter's sake, Madame Vine, I trust it will be so."

He rose as he spoke, and held out his hand. What could she do but rise also, drop hers from her face, and give it him in answer? He retained it, clasping it warmly.

"How should I repay you—how thank you for your love to my poor, lost boy?"

His earnest, tender eyes were on her blue double spectacles; a sad smile mingled with the sweet expression of his lips as he bent toward her—lips that had once been hers! A faint exclamation of despair, a vivid glow of hot crimson, and she caught up her new black silk apron so deeply bordered with crape, in her disengaged hand, and flung it up to her face. He mistook the sound—mistook the action.

"Do not grieve for him. He is at rest. Thank you—thank you greatly for your sympathy."

Another wring of her hand, and Mr. Carlyle had quitted the room. She laid her head upon the table, and thought how merciful would be death when he should come.