East Lynne/Chapter 11
A post-chaise was discerned thundering up the avenue that Sunday afternoon. It contained the new peer, Lord Mount Severn. The more direct line of rail from Castle Marling, brought him only to within five miles of West Lynne, and thence he had travelled in a hired chaise. Mr. Carlyle soon joined him, and almost at the same time Mr. Warburton arrived from London. Absence from town at the period of the earl's death had prevented Mr. Warburton's earlier attendance. Business was entered upon immediately.
The present earl knew that his predecessor had been an embarrassed man, but he had no conception of the extent of the evil; they had not been intimate, and rarely came in contact. As the various items of news were now detailed to him—the wasteful expenditure, the disastrous ruin, the total absence of provision for Isabel—he stood petrified and aghast. He was a tall stout man, of three-and-forty years, his nature honorable, his manner cold, and his countenance severe.
"It is the most iniquitous piece of business I ever heard of!" he exclaimed to the two lawyers. "Of all the reckless fools, Mount Severn must have been the worst!"
"Unpardonably improvident as regards his daughter," was the assenting remark.
"Improvident! It must have been rank madness!" retorted the earl. "No man in his senses could leave a child to the mercy of the world, as he has left her. She has not a shilling—literally, not a shilling in her possession. I put the question to her, what money there was in the house when the earl died. Twenty or twenty-five pounds, she answered, which she had given to Mason, who required it for housekeeping purposes. If the girl wants a yard of ribbon for herself, she has not the pence to pay for it! Can you realize such a case to the mind?" continued the excited peer. "I will stake my veracity that such a one never occurred yet."
"No money for her own personal wants!" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle.
"Not a halfpenny in the world. And there are no funds, and will be none, that I can see, for her to draw upon."
"Quite correct, my lord," nodded Mr. Warburton. "The entailed estates go to you, and what trifling matter of personal property may be left the creditors will take care of."
"I understand East Lynne is yours," cried the earl, turning sharply upon Mr. Carlyle; "Isabel has just said so."
"It is," was the reply. "It became mine last June. I believe his lordship kept the fact a close secret."
"He was obliged to keep it a secret," interposed Mr. Warburton, addressing Lord Mount Severn, "for not a stiver of the purchase money could he have fingered had it got wind. Except ourselves and Mr. Carlyle's agents, the fact was made known to none."
"It is strange, sir, that you could not urge the claims of his child upon the earl," rejoined the new peer to Mr. Warburton, his tone one of harsh reproof. "You were in his confidence; you knew the state of his affairs; it was in your line of duty to do it."
"Knowing the state of his affairs, my lord, we knew how useless the urging it would be," returned Mr. Warburton. "Your lordship has but a faint idea of the burdens Lord Mount Severn had upon him. The interest alone upon his debts was frightful—and the deuce's own work it was to get it. Not to speak of the kites he let loose; he would fly them, and nothing could stop him; and they had to be provided for."
"Oh, I know," replied the earl, with a gesture of contempt. "Drawing one bill to cover another; that was his system."
"Draw!" echoed Mr. Warburton. "He would have drawn a bill on Aldgate pump. It was a downright mania with him."
"Urged to it by his necessities, I conclude," put in Mr. Carlyle.
"He had no business to have such necessities, sir," cried the earl, wrathfully. "But let us proceed to business. What money is there lying at his banker's, Mr. Warburton? Do you know?"
"None," was the blank reply. "We overdrew the account ourselves, a fortnight ago, to meet one of his pressing liabilities. We hold a little; and, had he lived a week or two longer, the autumn rents would have been paid in—though they must have been as quickly paid out again."
"I'm glad there's something. What is the amount?"
"My lord," answered Mr. Warburton, shaking his head in a self-condoling manner, "I am sorry to tell you that what we hold will not half satisfy our own claims; money actually paid out of our pockets."
"Then where on earth is the money to come from, sir? For the funeral—for the servants' wages—for everything, in fact?"
"There is none to come from anywhere," was the reply of Mr. Warburton.
Lord Mount Severn strode the carpet more fiercely. "Wicked improvidence! Shameful profligacy; callous-hearted man! To live a rogue and die a beggar—leaving his daughter to the charity of strangers!"
"Her case presents the worst feature of the whole," remarked Mr. Carlyle. "What will she do for a home?"
"She must, of course, find it with me," replied his lordship; "and, I should hope, a better one than this. With all these debts and duns at his elbow, Mount Severn's house could not have been a bower of roses."
"I fancy she knew nothing of the state of affairs; had seen little, if anything, of the embarrassments," returned Mr. Carlyle.
"Nonsense!" said the peer.
"Mr. Carlyle is right, my lord," observed Mr. Warburton, looking over his spectacles. "Lady Isabel was in safety at Mount Severn till the spring, and the purchase money from East Lynne—what the earl could touch of it—was a stop-gap for many things, and made matters easy for the moment. However, his imprudences are at an end now."
"No, they are not at an end," returned Lord Mount Severn; "they leave their effects behind them. I hear there was a fine scene yesterday morning; some of the unfortunate wretches he has taken in made their appearance here, all the way from town."
"Oh, they are Jews half of them," slightingly spoke Mr. Warburton. "If they do lose a little, it will be an agreeable novelty to them."
"Jews have as much right to their own as we have, Mr. Warburton," was the peer's angry reprimand. "And if they were Turks and infidels, it would not excuse Mount Severn's practices. Isabel says it was you, Mr. Carlyle, who contrived to get rid of them."
"By convincing them that East Lynne and its furniture belonged to me. But there are those two men upstairs, in possession of—of him; I could not get rid of them."
The earl looked at him. "I do not understand you."
"Did you not know that they have seized the corpse?" asked Mr. Carlyle, dropping his voice. "Two men have been posted over it, like sentinels, since yesterday morning. And there's a third in the house, I hear, who relieves each other by turn, that they may go down in the hall and take their meals."
The earl had halted in his walk and drawn near to Mr. Carlyle, his mouth open, his face a marvel of consternation. "By George!" was all Mr. Warburton uttered, and snatched off his glasses.
"Mr. Carlyle, do I understand you aright—that the body of the late earl has been seized for a debt?" demanded the peer, solemnly. "Seize a dead body! Am I awake or dreaming?"
"It is what they have done. They got into the room by stratagem."
"Is it possible that transactions so infamous are permitted by our law?" ejaculated the earl. "Arrest a dead man! I never heard of such a thing. I am shocked beyond expression. Isabel said something about two men, I remember; but she was so full of grief and agitation altogether, that I but half comprehended what she did say upon the subject. Why, what will be done? Can't we bury him?"
"I fancy not. The housekeeper told me, this morning, she feared they would not even suffer the coffin to be closed down. And that ought to be done with all convenient speed."
"It is perfectly horrible!" uttered the earl.
"Who has done it—do you know?" inquired Mr. Warburton.
"Somebody of the name of Anstey," replied Mr. Carlyle. "In the absence of any member of the family, I took upon myself to pay the chamber a visit and examine into the men's authority. The claim is about three thousand pounds."
"If it's Anstey who has done it it is a personal debt of the earl's, really owing, every pound of it," observed Mr. Warburton. "A sharp man, though, that Anstey, to hit upon such a scheme."
"And a shameless and a scandalous man," added Lord Mount Severn. "Well, this is a pretty thing. What's to be done?"
While they consult, let us look for a moment at Lady Isabel. She sat alone, in great perplexity, indulging the deepest grief. Lord Mount Severn had intimated to her, kindly and affectionately, that henceforth she must find her home with him and his wife. Isabel returned a faint "Thank you" and as soon as he left her, burst into a paroxysm of rebellious tears. "Have her home with Mrs. Vane!" she uttered to her own heart; "No, never; rather would she die—rather would she eat a crust and drink water!" and so on, and so on. Young demoiselles are somewhat prone to indulge in these flights of fancy; but they are in most cases impracticable and foolish—exceedingly so in that of Lady Isabel Vane. Work for their living? It may appear very feasible in theory; but theory and practice are as opposite as light and dark. The plain fact was, that Isabel had no alternative whatever, save that of accepting a home with Lady Mount Severn; and the conviction that it must be so stole over her spirit, even while her hasty lips were protesting that she would not.
Two mourners only attended the funeral—the earl and Mr. Carlyle. The latter was no relative of the deceased, and but a very recent friend; but the earl had invited him, probably not liking the parading, solus, his trappings of woe. Some of the county aristocracy were pallbearers, and many private carriages followed.
All was bustle on the following morning. The earl was to depart, and Isabel was to depart, but not together. In the course of the day the domestics would disperse. The earl was speeding to London, and the chaise to convey him to the railway station at West Lynne was already at the door when Mr. Carlyle arrived.
"I was getting fidgety fearing you would not be here, for I have barely five minutes to spare," observed the earl, as he shook hands. "You are sure you fully understood about the tombstone?"
"Perfectly," replied Mr. Carlyle. "How is Lady Isabel?"
"Very down-hearted, I fear, poor child, for she did not breakfast with me," replied the earl. "Mason privately told me that she was in a convulsion of grief. A bad man, a bad man, was Mount Severn," he emphatically added, as he rose and rang the bell.
"Let Lady Isabel be informed that I am ready to depart, and that I wait to see her," he said the servant who answered it. "And while she is coming, Mr. Carlyle," he added, "allow me to express my obligations to you. How I should have got along in this worrying business without you, I cannot divine. You have promised, mind, to pay me a visit, and I shall expect it speedily."
"Promised conditionally—that I find myself in your neighborhood," smiled Mr. Carlyle. "Should—"
Isabel entered, dressed also, and ready, for she was to depart immediately after the earl. Her crape veil was over her face, but she threw it back.
"My time is up, Isabel, and I must go. Is there anything you wish to say to me?"
She opened her lips to speak, but glanced at Mr. Carlyle and hesitated. He was standing at the window, his back towards them.
"I suppose not," said the earl, answering himself, for he was in a fever of hurry to be off, like many others are when starting on a journey. "You will have no trouble whatever, my dear; only mind you get some refreshments in the middle of the day, for you won't be at Castle Marling before dinner-time. Tell Mrs. Va—tell Lady Mount Severn that I had no time to write, but will do so from town."
But Isabel stood before him in an attitude of uncertainty—of expectancy, it may be said, her color varying.
"What is it, you wish to say something?"
She certainly did wish to say something, but she did not know how. It was a moment of embarrassment to her, intensely painful, and the presence of Mr. Carlyle did not tend to lessen it. The latter had no idea his absence was wished for.
"Bless me, Isabel! I declare I forgot all about it," cried the earl, in a tone of vexation. "Not being accustomed to—this aspect of affairs is so new—" He broke off his disjointed sentences, unbuttoned his coat, drew out his purse, and paused over its contents.
"Isabel, I have run myself very short, and have but little beyond what will take me to town. You must make three pounds do for now, my dear. Once at Castle Marling—Pound has the funds for the journey—Lady Mount Severn will supply you; but you must tell her, or she will not know."
He shot some gold out of his purse as he spoke, and left two sovereigns and two half sovereigns on the table. "Farewell, my dear; make yourself happy at Castle Marling. I shall be home soon."
Passing from the room with Mr. Carlyle, he stood talking with that gentleman a minute, his foot on the step of the chaise, and the next was being whisked away. Mr. Carlyle returned to the breakfast-room, where Isabel, an ashy whiteness having replaced the crimson on her cheeks, was picking up the gold.
"Will you do me a favor, Mr. Carlyle?"
"I will do anything I can for you."
She pushed a sovereign and a half toward him. "It is for Mr. Kane. I told Marvel to send in and pay him, but it seems she forgot it, or put it off, and he is not paid. The tickets were a sovereign; the rest is for tuning the piano. Will you kindly give it him? If I trust one of the servants it may be forgotten again in the hurry of their departure."
"Kane's charge for tuning a piano is five shillings," remarked Mr. Carlyle.
"But he was a long time occupied with it, and did something with the leathers. It is not too much; besides I never ordered him anything to eat. He wants money even worse than I do," she added, with a poor attempt at a smile. "But for thinking of him I should not have mustered the courage to beg of Lord Mount Severn, as you have just heard me do. In that case do you know what I should have done?"
"What should you have done?" he smiled.
"I should have asked you to pay him for me, and I would have repaid you as soon as I had any money. I had a great mind to ask you, do you know; it would have been less painful than being obliged to beg of Lord Mount Severn."
"I hope it would," he answered, in a low, earnest tone. "What else can I do for you?"
She was about to answer "Nothing—that he had done enough," but at that moment their attention was attracted by a bustle outside, and they moved to the window.
It was the carriage coming round for Lady Isabel—the late earl's chariot, which was to convey her to the railway station six or seven miles off. It had four post-horses to it, the number having been designated by Lord Mount Severn, who appeared to wish Isabel to leave the neighborhood in as much state as she had entered it. The carriage was packed, and Marvel was perched outside.
"All is ready," she said, "and the time is come for me to go. Mr. Carlyle I am going to leave you a legacy—those pretty gold and silver fish that I bought a few weeks back."
"But why do you not take them?"
"Take them to Lady Mount Severn! No, I would rather leave them with you. Throw a few crumbs into the globe now and then."
Her face was wet with tears, and he knew that she was talking hurriedly to cover her emotion.
"Sit down a few minutes," he said.
"No—no. I had better go at once."
He took her hand to conduct her to the carriage. The servants were gathered in the hall, waiting for her. Some had grown gray in her father's service. She put out her hand, she strove to say a word of thanks and of farewell, and she thought she would choke at the effort of keeping down the sobs. At length it was over; a kind look around, a yearning wave of the hand, and she passed on with Mr. Carlyle.
Pound had ascended to his place by Marvel, and the postboys were awaiting the signal to start, but Mr. Carlyle had the carriage door open again, and was bending in holding her hand.
"I have not said a word of thanks to you for all your kindness, Mr. Carlyle," she cried, her breath very labored. "I am sure you have seen that I could not."
"I wish I could have done more; I wish I could have shielded you from the annoyances you have been obliged to endure!" he answered. "Should we never meet again—"
"Oh, but we shall meet again," she interrupted. "You promised Lord Mount Severn."
"True; we may so meet casually—once in a way; but our ordinary paths in life lie far and wide apart. God forever bless you, dear Lady Isabel!"
The postboys touched their horses, and the carriage sped on. She drew down the blinds and leaned back in an agony of tears—tears for the house she was leaving, for the father she had lost. Her last thoughts had been of gratitude to Mr. Carlyle: but she had more cause to be grateful to him than she yet knew of. Emotion soon spent itself, and, as her eyes cleared, she saw a bit of crumpled paper lying on her lap, which appeared to have fallen from her hand. Mechanically she took it up and opened it; it was a bank-note for one hundred pounds.
Ah, reader! You will say that this is a romance of fiction, and a far-fetched one, but it is verily and indeed true. Mr. Carlyle had taken it with him to East Lynne, that morning, with its destined purpose.
Lady Isabel strained her eyes, and gazed at the note—gazed and gazed again. Where could it have come from? What had brought it there? Suddenly the undoubted truth flashed upon her; Mr. Carlyle had left it in her hand.
Her cheeks burned, her fingers trembled, her angry spirit rose up in arms. In that first moment of discovery, she was ready to resent it as an insult; but when she came to remember the sober facts of the last few days, her anger subsided into admiration of his wondrous kindness. Did he not know that she was without a home to call her own, without money—absolutely without money, save what would be given her in charity?
When Lord Mount Severn reached London, and the hotel which the Vanes were in the habit of using, the first object his eyes lighted on was his own wife, whom he had believed to be safe at Castle Marling. He inquired the cause.
Lady Mount Severn gave herself little trouble to explain. She had been up a day or two—could order her mourning so much better in person—and William did not seem well, so she bought him up for a change.
"I am sorry you came to town, Emma," remarked the earl, after listening. "Isabel is gone to-day to Castle Marling."
Lady Mount Severn quickly lifted her head, "What's she gone there for?"
"It is the most disgraceful piece of business altogether," returned the earl, without replying to the immediate question. "Mount Severn has died, worse than a beggar, and there's not a shilling for Isabel."
"It never was expected there would be much."
"But there's nothing—not a penny; nothing for her own personal expenses. I gave her a pound or two to-day, for she was completely destitute!"
The countess opened her eyes. "Where will she live? What will become of her?"
"She must live with us. She—"
"With us!" interrupted Lady Mount Severn, her voice almost reaching a scream. "That she never shall."
"She must, Emma. There is nowhere else for her to live. I have been obliged to decide it so; and she is gone, as I tell you, to Castle Marling to-day."
Lady Mount Severn grew pale with anger. She rose from her seat and confronted her husband, the table being between them. "Listen, Raymond; I will not have Isabel Vane under my roof. I hate her. How could you be cajoled into sanctioning such a thing?"
"I was not cajoled, and my sanction was not asked," he mildly replied. "I proposed it. Where else is she to be?"
"I don't care where," was the obstinate retort. "Never with us."
"She is at Castle Marling now—gone to it as her home," resumed the earl; "and even you, when you return, will scarcely venture to turn her out again into the road, or to the workhouse. She will not trouble you long," carelessly continued the earl. "One so lovely as Isabel will be sure to marry early; and she appears as gentle and sweet-tempered a girl as I ever saw; so whence can arise your dislike to her, I don't pretend to guess. Many a man will be ready to forget her want of fortune for the sake of her face."
"She shall marry the first who asks her," snapped the angry lady; "I'll take care of that."