East Lynne/Chapter 14

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The announcement of the marriage in the newspapers was the first intimation of it Lord Mount Severn received. He was little less thunderstruck than Miss Corny, and came steaming to England the same day, thereby missing his wife's letter, which gave her version of the affair. He met Mr. Carlyle and Lady Isabel in London, where they were staying at one of the west-end hotels—only for a day or two, however, for they were going further. Isabel was alone when the earl was announced.

"What is the meaning of this, Isabel?" began he, without the circumlocution of greeting. "You are married?"

"Yes," she answered, with her pretty, innocent blush. "Some time ago."

"And to Carlyle, the lawyer! How did it come about?"

Isabel began to think how it did come about, sufficiently to give a clear answer. "He asked me," she said, "and I accepted him. He came to Castle Marling at Easter, and asked me then. I was very much surprised."

The earl looked at her attentively. "Why was I kept in ignorance of this, Isabel?"

"I did not know you were kept in ignorance of it. Mr. Carlyle wrote to you, as did Lady Mount Severn."

Lord Mount Severn was a man in the dark, and looked like it. "I suppose this comes," soliloquized he, aloud, "of your father's having allowed the gentleman to dance daily attendance at East Lynne. And so you fell in love with him."

"Indeed, no!" answered she, in an amused tone. "I never thought of such a thing as falling in love with Mr. Carlyle."

"Then don't you love him?" abruptly asked the earl.

"No!" she whispered, timidly; "but I like him much—oh, very much! And he is so good to me!"

The earl stroked his chin and mused. Isabel had destroyed the only reasonable conclusion he had been able to come to as to the motives for the hasty marriage. "If you do not love Mr. Carlyle, how comes it that you are so wise in the distinction between 'liking' and 'love?' It cannot be that you love anybody else?"

The question turned home, and Isabel turned crimson. "I shall love my husband in time," was all she answered, as she bent her head, and played nervously with her watch chain.

"My poor child!" involuntarily exclaimed the earl. But he was one who liked to fathom the depth of everything. "Who has been staying at Castle Marling since I left?" he asked sharply.

"Mrs. Levison came down."

"I alluded to gentlemen—young men."

"Only Francis Levison," she replied.

"Francis Levison! You have never been so foolish as to fall in love with him?"

The question was so pointed, so abrupt, and Isabel's self-consciousness, moreover, so great, that she betrayed lamentable confusion, and the earl had no further need to ask. Pity stole into his hard eyes as they fixed themselves on her downcast, glowing face.

"Isabel," he gravely began, "Captain Levison is not a good man; if ever you were inclined to think him one, dispossess your mind of the idea, and hold him at arm's distance. Drop his acquaintance—encourage no intimacy with him."

"I have already dropped it," said Isabel, "and I shall not take it up again. But Lady Mount Severn must think well of him, or she would not have him there."

"She thinks none too well of him; none can of Francis Levison," returned the earl significantly.

Before Isabel could reply, Mr. Carlyle entered. He held out his hand to the earl; the earl did not appear to see it.

"Isabel," said he, "I am sorry to turn you out, but I suppose you have but this one sitting-room. I wish to say a few words to Mr. Carlyle."

She quitted them, and the earl wheeled round and faced Mr. Carlyle, speaking in a stern, haughty tone.

"How came this marriage about, sir? Do you possess so little honor, that, taking advantage of my absence, you must intrude yourself into my family, and clandestinely espouse Lady Isabel Vane?"

Mr. Carlyle stood confounded, and confused. He drew himself up to his full height, looking every whit as fearless and far more noble than the peer. "My lord, I do not understand you."

"Yet I speak plainly. What is it but a clandestine procedure to take advantage of a guardian's absence and beguile a young girl into a marriage beneath her?"

"There has been nothing clandestine in my conduct toward Lady Isabel Vane; there shall be nothing but honor in my conduct toward Lady Isabel Carlyle. Your lordship has been misinformed."

"I have not been informed at all," retorted the earl. "I was allowed to learn this from the public papers—I, the only relative of Lady Isabel."

"When I proposed for Lady Isabel—"

"But a month ago," sarcastically interrupted the earl.

"But a month ago," calmly repeated Mr. Carlyle, "my first action, after Isabel accepted me, was to write to you. But that I imagine you may not have received the letter, by stating you first heard of our marriage through the papers, I should say, the want of courtesy lay on your lordship's side for having vouchsafed me no reply to it."

"What were the contents of the letter?"

"I stated what had occurred, mentioning what I was able to do in the way of settlements, and also that both Isabel and myself wished the ceremony to take place as soon as might be."

"And pray where did you address the letter?"

"Lady Mount Severn could not give me the address. She said if I would intrust the letter to her, she would forward it with the rest she wrote, for she expected daily to hear from you. I did give her the letter, and I heard no more of the matter, except that her ladyship sent me a message when Isabel was writing to me, that as you had returned no reply, you of course approved."

"Is this the fact?" cried the earl.

"My lord," coldly replied Mr. Carlyle, "whatever may be my defects in your eyes, I am at least a man of truth. Until this moment, the suspicion that you were in ignorance of the contemplated marriage never occurred to me."

"So far, then, I beg your pardon, Mr. Carlyle. But how came the marriage about at all—how came it to be hurried over in this unseemly fashion? You made the offer at Easter, Isabel tells me, and you married her three weeks after it."

"And I would have married her and brought her away with me the day I did make it, had it been practicable," returned Mr. Carlyle. "I have acted throughout for her comfort and happiness."

"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed the earl, returning to his disagreeable tone. "Perhaps you will put me in possession of the facts, and of your motives."

"I warn you that the facts to you will not bear a pleasant sound, Lord Mount Severn."

"Allow me to be the judge of that," said the earl.

"Business took me to Castle Marling on Good Friday. On the following day I called at your house; after your own and Isabel's invitation, it was natural I should; in fact, it would have been a breach of good feeling not to do so, I found Isabel ill-treated and miserable; far from enjoying a happy home in your house—"

"What, sir?" interrupted the earl. "Ill-treated and miserable?"

"Ill-treated even to blows, my lord."

The earl stood as one petrified, staring at Mr. Carlyle.

"I learnt it, I must premise, through the chattering revelations of your little son; Isabel, of course, would not have mentioned it to me; but when the child had spoken, she did not deny it. In short she was too broken-hearted, too completely bowed in spirit to deny it. It aroused all my feelings of indignation—it excited in me an irresistible desire to emancipate her from this cruel life, and take her where she would find affection, and I hope happiness. There was only one way which I could do this, and I risked it. I asked her to become my wife, and to return to her home at East Lynne."

The earl was slowly recovering from his petrifaction. "Then, am I to understand, that when you called that day at my house, you carried no intention with you of proposing to Isabel?"

"Not any. It was an impromptu step, the circumstances under which I found her calling it forth."

The earl paced the room, perplexed still, and evidently disturbed. "May I inquire if you love her?" he abruptly said.

Mr. Carlyle paused ere he spoke, and a red flush dyed his face. "Those sort of feelings man rarely acknowledges to man, Lord Mount Severn, but I will answer you. I do love her, passionately and sincerely; I learnt to love her at East Lynne; but I could have carried my love silently within me to the end of my life and never betrayed it; and probably should have done so, but for the unexpected visit to Castle Marling. If the idea of making her my wife had never previously occurred to me as practicable, it was that I deemed her rank incompatible with my own."

"As it was," said the earl.

"Country solicitors have married peers' daughters before now," remarked Mr. Carlyle. "I only add another to the list."

"But you cannot keep her as a peer's daughter, I presume?"

"East Lynne will be her home. Our establishment will be small and quiet, as compared with her father's. I explained to Isabel how quiet at the first, and she might have retracted had she wished. I explained also in full to Lady Mount Severn. East Lynne will descend to our eldest son, should we have children. My profession is most lucrative, my income good; were I to die to-morrow, Isabel would enjoy East Lynne and about three thousand pounds per annum. I gave these details in the letter, which appears to have miscarried."

The earl made no immediate reply; he was absorbed in thought.

"Your lordship perceives, I hope, that there has been nothing 'clandestine' in my conduct to Lady Isabel."

Lord Mount Severn held out his hand. "I refused my hand when you came in, Mr. Carlyle, as you may have observed, perhaps you will refuse yours now, though I should be proud to shake it. When I find myself in the wrong, I am not above acknowledging the fact; and I must state my opinion that you have behaved most kindly and honorably."

Mr. Carlyle smiled and put his hand into the earl's. The latter retained it, while he spoke in a whisper.

"Of course I cannot be ignorant that, in speaking of Isabel's ill-treatment, you alluded to my wife. Has it transpired beyond yourselves?"

"You may be sure that neither Isabel nor myself would mention it; we shall dismiss it from among our reminiscences. Let it be as though you had never heard it; it is past and done with."

"Isabel," said the earl, as he was departing that evening, for he remained to spend the day with them, "I came here this morning almost prepared to strike your husband, and I go away honoring him. Be a good and faithful wife to him, for he deserves it."

"Of course I shall," she answered, in surprise.

Lord Mount Severn steamed on to Castle Marling, and there he had a stormy interview with his wife—so stormy that the sounds penetrated to the ears of the domestics. He left again the same day, in anger, and proceeded to Mount Severn.

"He will have time to cool down, before we meet in London," was the comment of my lady.