East Lynne/Chapter 47
Lord Mount Severn, wondering greatly what the urgent summons could be for, lost no time in obeying it, and was at East Lynne the following morning early. Mr. Carlyle had his carriage at the station—his close carriage—and shut up in that he made the communication to the earl as they drove to East Lynne.
The earl could with difficulty believe it. Never had he been so utterly astonished. At first he really could not understand the tale.
"Did she—did she—come back to your house to die?" he blundered. "You never took her in? I don't understand."
Mr. Carlyle explained further; and the earl at length understood. But he did not recover his perplexed astonishment.
"What a mad act to come back here. Madame Vine! How on earth did she escape detection?"
"She did escape it," said Mr. Carlyle. "The strange likeness Madame Vine possessed to my first wife did often strike me as being marvelous, but I never suspected the truth. It was a likeness, and not a likeness, for every part of her face and form was changed except her eyes, and those I never saw but through those disguising glasses."
The earl wiped his hot face. The news had ruffled him no measured degree. He felt angry with Isabel, dead though she was, and thankful that Mrs. Carlyle was away.
"Will you see her?" whispered Mr. Carlyle as they entered the house.
They went up to the death-chamber, Mr. Carlyle procuring the key. It was the only time that he entered it. Very peaceful she looked now, her pale features so composed under her white cap and hands. Miss Carlyle and Joyce had done all that was necessary; nobody else had been suffered to approach her. Lord Mount Severn leaned over her, tracing the former looks of Isabel; and the likeness grew upon him in a wonderful degree.
"What did she die of?" he asked.
"She said a broken heart."
"Ah!" said the earl. "The wonder is that it did not break before. Poor thing! Poor Isabel!" he added, touching her hand, "how she marred her own happiness! Carlyle, I suppose this is your wedding ring?"
Mr. Carlyle cast his eyes upon the ring. "Very probably."
"To think of her never having discarded it!" remarked the earl, releasing the cold hand. "Well, I can hardly believe the tale now."
He turned and quitted the room as he spoke. Mr. Carlyle looked steadfastly at the dead face for a minute or two, his fingers touching the forehead; but what his thoughts or feelings may have been, none can tell. Then he replaced the sheet over her face, and followed the earl.
They descended in silence to the breakfast-room. Miss Carlyle was seated at the table waiting for them. "Where could all your eyes have been?" exclaimed the earl to her, after a few sentences, referring to the event just passed.
"Just where yours would have been," replied Miss Corny, with a touch of her old temper. "You saw Madame Vine as well as we did."
"But not continuously. Only two or three times in all. And I do not remember ever to have seen her without her bonnet and veil. That Carlyle should not have recognized her is almost beyond belief."
"It seems so, to speak of it," said Miss Corny; "but facts are facts. She was young and gay, active, when she left here, upright as a dart, her dark hair drawn from her open brow, and flowing on her neck, her cheeks like crimson paint, her face altogether beautiful. Madame Vine arrived here a pale, stooping woman, lame of one leg, shorter than Lady Isabel—and her figure stuffed out under those sacks of jackets. Not a bit, scarcely, of her forehead to be seen, for gray velvet and gray bands of hair; her head smothered under a close cap, large, blue, double spectacles hiding the eyes and their sides, and the throat tied up; the chin partially. The mouth was entirely altered in its character, and that upward scar, always so conspicuous, made it almost ugly. Then she had lost some of her front teeth, you know, and she lisped when she spoke. Take her for all in all," summed up Miss Carlyle, "she looked no more like Isabel who went away from here than I look like Adam. Just get your dearest friend damaged and disguised as she was, my lord, and see if you'd recognize him."
The observation came home to Lord Mount Severn. A gentleman whom he knew well, had been so altered by a fearful accident, that little resemblance could be traced to his former self. In fact, his own family could not recognize him: and he used an artificial disguise. It was a case in point; and—reader—I assure you it was a true one.
"It was the disguise that we ought to have suspected," quietly observed Mr. Carlyle. "The likeness was not sufficiently striking to cause suspicion."
"But she turned the house from that scent as soon as she came into it," struck in Miss Corny, "telling of the 'neuralgic pains' that affected her head and face, rendering the guarding them from exposure necessary. Remember, Lord Mount Severn, that the Ducies had been with her in Germany, and had never suspected her. Remember also another thing, that, however great a likeness we may have detected, we could not and did not speak of it, one to another. Lady Isabel's name is never so much as whispered among us."
"True: all true," nodded the earl. And they sat themselves down to breakfast.
On the Friday, the following letter was dispatched to Mrs. Carlyle.
"MY DEAREST—I find I shall not be able to get to you on Saturday afternoon, as I promised, but will leave here by the late train that night. Mind you don't sit up for me. Lord Mount Severn is here for a few days; he sends his regards to you.
"And now, Barbara, prepare for news that will prove a shock. Madame Vine is dead. She grew rapidly worse, they tell me, after our departure, and died on Wednesday night. I am glad you were away.
"Love from the children. Lucy and Archie are still at Cornelia's; Arthur wearing out Sarah's legs in the nursery.
"Ever yours, my dearest,
"ARCHIBALD CARLYLE." Of course, as Madame Vine, the governess, died at Mr. Carlyle's house, he could not, in courtesy, do less than follow her to the grave. So decided West Lynne, when they found which way the wind was going to blow. Lord Mount Severn followed also, to keep him company, being on a visit to him, and very polite, indeed, of his lordship to do it—condescending, also! West Lynne remembered another funeral at which those two had been the only mourners—that of the earl. By some curious coincidence the French governess was buried close to the earl's grave. As good there as anywhere else, quoth West Lynne. There happened to be a vacant spot of ground.
The funeral took place on a Sunday morning. A plain, respectable funeral. A hearse and pair, and mourning coach and pair, with a chariot for the Rev. Mr. Little. No pall-bearers or mutes, or anything of that show-off kind; and no plumes on the horses, only on the hearse. West Lynne looked on with approbation, and conjectured that the governess had left sufficient money to bury herself; but, of course, that was Mr. Carlyle's affair, not West Lynne's. Quiet enough lay she in her last resting-place.
They left her in it, the earl and Mr. Carlyle, and entered the mourning-coach, to be conveyed back again to East Lynne.
"Just a little stone of white marble, two feet high by a foot and a half broad," remarked the earl, on their road, pursuing a topic they were speaking upon. "With the initials 'I. V.' and the date of the year. Nothing more. What do you think?"
"I. M. V.," corrected Mr. Carlyle.
At this moment the bells of another church, not St. Jude's, broke out in a joyous peal, and the earl inclined his ear to listen.
"What can they be ringing for?" he cried.
They were ringing for a wedding. Afy Hallijohn, by the help of two clergymen and six bridesmaids, of which you may be sure Joyce was not one, had just been converted into Mrs. Joe Jiffin. When Afy took a thing into her heard, she somehow contrived to carry it through, and to bend even clergymen and bridesmaids to her will. Mr. Jiffin was blest at last.
In the afternoon the earl left East Lynne, and somewhat later Barbara arrived at it. Wilson scarcely gave her mistress time to step into the house before her, and she very nearly left the baby in the fly. Curiously anxious was Wilson to hear all particulars as to whatever could have took off that French governess. Mr. Carlyle was much surprised at their arrival.
"How could I stay away, Archibald, even until Monday, after the news you sent me?" said Barbara. "What did she die of? It must have been awfully sudden."
"I suppose so," was his dreamy answer. He was debating a question with himself, one he had thought over a good deal since Wednesday night. Should he, or should he not, tell his wife? He would have preferred not to tell her; and, were the secret confined to his own breast, he would decidedly not have done so. But it was known to three others—to Miss Carlyle, to lord Mount Severn, and to Joyce. All trustworthy and of good intention; but it was impossible for Mr. Carlyle to make sure that not one of them would ever, through any chance and unpremeditated word, let the secret come to the knowledge of Mrs. Carlyle. That would not do, if she must hear it at all, she must hear it from him, and at once. He took his course.
"Are you ill, Archibald?" she asked, noting his face. It wore a pale, worn sort of look.
"I have something to tell you, Barbara," he answered, drawing her hand into his, as they stood together. They were in her dressing-room, where she was taking off her things. "On the Wednesday evening when I got home to dinner Joyce told me that she feared Madame Vine was dying, and I thought it right to see her."
"Certainly," returned Barbara. "Quite right."
"I went into her room, and I found that she was dying. But I found something else, Barbara. She was not Madame Vine."
"Not Madame Vine!" echoed Barbara, believing in good truth that her husband could not know what he was saying.
"It was my former wife, Isabel Vane."
Barbara's face flushed crimson, and then grew white as marble; and she drew her hand unconsciously from Mr. Carlyles's. He did not appear to notice the movement, but stood with his elbow on the mantelpiece while he talked, giving her a rapid summary of the interview and its details.
"She could not stay away from her children, she said, and came back as Madame Vine. What with the effects of the railroad accident in France, and those spectacles she wore, and her style of dress, and her gray hair, she felt secure in not being recognized. I am astonished now that she was not discovered. Were such a thing related to me I should give no credence to it."
Barbara's heart felt faint with its utter sickness, and she turned her face from the view of her husband. Her first confused thoughts were as Mr. Carlyle's had been—that she had been living in his house with another wife. "Did you suspect her?" she breathed, in a low tone.
"Barbara! Had I suspected it, should I have allowed it to go on? She implored my forgiveness for the past, and for having returned here, and I gave it to her fully. I then went to West Lynne, to telegraph to Mount Severn, and when I came back she was dead."
There was a pause. Mr. Carlyle began to perceive that his wife's face was hidden from him.
"She said her heart was broken. Barbara, we cannot wonder at it."
There was no reply. Mr. Carlyle took his arm from the mantelpiece, and moved so that he could see her countenance: a wan countenance, telling of pain.
He laid his hand upon her shoulder, and made her look at him. "My dearest, what is this?"
"Oh, Archibald!" she uttered, clasping her hands together, all her pent up feelings bursting forth, and the tears streaming from her eyes, "has this taken your love from me?"
He took both her hands in one of his, he put the other round her waist and held her there, before him, never speaking, only looking gravely into her face. Who could look at its sincere truthfulness, at the sweet expression of his lips, and doubt him? Not Barbara. She allowed the moment's excitement to act upon her feelings, and carry her away.
"I had thought my wife possessed entire trust in me."
"Oh, I do, I do; you know I do. Forgive me, Archibald," she slowly whispered.
"I deemed it better to impart this to you, Barbara. Had there been wrong feeling on my part, I should have left you in ignorance. My darling, I have told you it in love."
She was leaning on his breast, sobbing gently, her repentant face turned towards him. He held her there in his strong protection, his enduring tenderness.
"My wife! My darling! now and always."
"It was a foolish feeling to cross my heart, Archibald. It is done with and gone."
"Never let it come back, Barbara. Neither need her name be mentioned again between us. A barred name it has hitherto been; so let it continue."
"Anything you will. My earnest wish is to please you; to be worthy of your esteem and love, Archibald," she timidly added, her eye-lids drooping, and her fair cheeks blushing, as she made the confession. "There has been a feeling in my heart against your children, a sort of jealous feeling, you can understand, because they were hers; because she had once been your wife. I knew how wrong it was, and I have tried earnestly to subdue it. I have, indeed, and I think it is nearly gone," her voice sunk. "I constantly pray to be helped to do it; to love them and care for them as if they were my own. It will come with time."
"Every good thing will come with time that we may earnestly seek," said Mr. Carlyle. "Oh, Barbara, never forget—never forget that the only way to ensure peace in the end is to strive always to be doing right, unselfishly under God."