East Lynne/Chapter 24
Bright was the moon on that genial Monday night, bright was the evening star, as they shone upon a solitary wayfarer who walked on the shady side of the road with his head down, as though he did not care to court observation. A laborer, apparently, for he wore a smock-frock and had hobnails in his shoes; but his whiskers were large and black, quite hiding the lower part of his face, and his broad-brimmed "wide-awake" came far over his brows. He drew near the dwelling of Richard Hare, Esq., plunged rapidly over some palings, after looking well to the right and to the left, into a field, and thence over the side wall into Mr. Hare's garden, where he remained amidst the thick trees.
Now, by some mischievous spirit of intuition or contrariety, Justice Hare was spending this evening at home, a thing he did not do once in six months unless he had friends with him. Things in real life do mostly go by the rules of contrary, as children say in their play, holding the corners of the handkerchief, "Here we go round and round by the rules of contrary; if I tell you to hold fast, you must loose; if I tell you to loose, you must hold fast." Just so in the play of life. When we want people to "hold fast," they "loose;" and when we want them to "loose," they "hold fast."
Barbara, anxious, troubled, worn out almost with the suspense of looking and watching for her brother, feeling a feverish expectation that night would bring him—but so had she felt for the two or three nights past—would have given her hand for her father to go out. But no—things were going by the rule of contrary. There sat the stern justice in full view of the garden and the grove, his chair drawn precisely in front of the window, his wig awry, and a long pipe in his mouth.
"Are you not going out, Richard?" Mrs. Hare ventured to say.
"Mamma, shall I ring for the shutters to be closed?" asked Barbara, by and by.
"Shutters closed?" said the justice. "Who'd shut out this bright moon? You have got the lamp at the far end of the room, young lady, and can go to it."
Barbara ejaculated an inward prayer for patience—for safety of Richard, if he did come, and waited on, watching the grove in the distance. It came, the signal, her quick eye caught it; a movement as if some person or thing had stepped out beyond the trees and stepped back again. Barbara's face turned white and her lips dry.
"I am so hot!" she exclaimed, in her confused eagerness for an excuse; "I must take a turn in the garden."
She stole out, throwing a dark shawl over her shoulders, that might render her less conspicuous to the justice, and her dress that evening was a dark silk. She did not dare to stand still when she reached the trees, or to penetrate them, but she caught glimpses of Richard's face, and her heart ached at the change in it. It was white, thin, and full of care; and his hair, he told her, was turning gray.
"Oh, Richard, darling, and I may not stop to talk to you!" she wailed, in a deep whisper. "Papa is at home, you see, of all the nights in the world."
"Can't I see my mother?"
"How can you? You must wait till to-morrow night."
"I don't like waiting a second night, Barbara. There's danger in every inch of ground that this neighborhood contains."
"But you must wait, Richard, for reasons. That man who caused all the mischief—Thorn—"
"Hang him!" gloomily interrupted Richard.
"He is at West Lynne. At least there is a Thorn, we—I and Mr. Carlyle—believe to be the same, and we want you to see him."
"Let me see him," panted Richard, whom the news appeared to agitate; "let me see him, Barbara, I say——"
Barbara had passed on again, returning presently.
"You know, Richard, I must keep moving, with papa's eyes there. He is a tall man, very good-looking, very fond of dress and ornament, especially of diamonds."
"That's he," cried Richard, eagerly.
"Mr. Carlyle will contrive that you shall see him," she continued, stooping as if to tie her shoe. "Should it prove to be the same, perhaps nothing can be done—immediately done—toward clearing you, but it shall be a great point ascertained. Are you sure you should know him again?"
"Sure! That I should know him?" uttered Richard Hare. "Should I know my own father? Should I know you? And are you not engraven on my heart in letters of blood, as is he? How and when am I to see him, Barbara?"
"I can tell you nothing till I have seen Mr. Carlyle. Be here to-morrow, as soon as ever the dusk will permit you. Perhaps Mr. Carlyle will contrive to bring him here. If—"
The window was thrown open, and the stentorian voice of Justice Hare was heard from it.
"Barbara, are you wandering about there to take cold? Come in! Come in, I say!"
"Oh, Richard, I am so sorry!" she lingered to whisper. "But papa is sure to be out to-morrow evening; he would not stay in two evenings running. Good-night, dear."
There must be no delay now, and the next day Barbara, braving comments, appeared once more at the office of Mr. Carlyle. Terribly did the rules of contrary seem in action just then. Mr. Carlyle was not in, and the clerks did not know when to expect him; he was gone out for some hours, they believed.
"Mr. Dill," urged Barbara, as the old gentleman came to the door to greet her, "I must see him."
"He will not be in till late in the afternoon, Miss Barbara. I expect him then. Is it anything I can do?"
"No, no," sighed Barbara.
At that moment Lady Isabel and her little girl passed in the chariot. She saw Barbara at her husband's door; what should she be doing there, unless paying him a visit? A slight, haughty bow to Barbara, a pleasant nod and smile to Mr. Dill, and the carriage bowled on.
It was four o'clock before Barbara could see Mr. Carlyle, and communicate her tidings that Richard had arrived.
Mr. Carlyle held deceit and all underhand doings in especial abhorrence; yet he deemed that he was acting right, under the circumstances, in allowing Captain Thorn to be secretly seen by Richard Hare. In haste he arranged his plans. It was the evening of his own dinner engagement at Mrs. Jefferson's but that he must give up. Telling Barbara to dispatch Richard to his office as soon as he should make his appearance at the grove, and to urge him to come boldly and not fear, for none would know him in his disguise, he wrote a hurried note to Thorn, requesting him also to be at his office at eight o'clock that evening, as he had something to communicate to him. The latter plea was no fiction, for he had received an important communication that morning relative to the business on which Captain Thorn had consulted him, and his own absence from the office in the day had alone prevented his sending for him earlier.
Other matters were calling the attention of Mr. Carlyle, and it was five o'clock ere he departed for East Lynne; he would not have gone so early, but that he must inform his wife of his inability to keep his dinner engagement. Mr. Carlyle was one who never hesitated to sacrifice personal gratification to friendship or to business.
The chariot was at the door, and Lady Isabel dressed and waiting for him in her dressing-room. "Did you forget that the Jeffersons dined at six?" was her greeting.
"No, Isabel; but it was impossible for me to get here before. And I should not have come so soon, but to tell you that I cannot accompany you. You must make my excuses to Mrs. Jefferson."
A pause. Strange thoughts were running through Lady Isabel's mind. "Why so?" she inquired.
"Some business has arisen which I am compelled to attend to this evening. As soon as I have snatched a bit of dinner at home I must hasten back to the office."
Was he making this excuse to spend the hours of her absence with Barbara Hare? The idea that it was so took firm possession of her mind, and remained there. Her face expressed a variety of feelings, the most prominent that of resentment. Mr. Carlyle saw it.
"You must not be vexed, Isabel. I assure you it is no fault of mine. It is important private business which cannot be put off, and which I cannot delegate to Dill. I am sorry it should have so happened."
"You never return to the office in the evening," she remarked, with pale lips.
"No; because if anything arises to take us there after hours, Dill officiates. But the business to-night must be done by myself."
Another pause. Lady Isabel suddenly broke it. "Shall you join us later in the evening?"
"I believe I shall not be able to do so."
She drew her light shawl around her shoulders, and swept down the staircase. Mr. Carlyle followed to place her in the carriage. When he said farewell, she never answered but looked out straight before her with a stony look.
"What time, my lady?" inquired the footman, as he alighted at Mrs. Jefferson's.
"Early. Half-past nine."
A little before eight o'clock, Richard Hare, in his smock-frock and his slouching hat and his false whiskers, rang dubiously at the outer door of Mr. Carlyle's office. That gentleman instantly opened it. He was quite alone.
"Come in, Richard," said he, grasping his hand. "Did you meet any whom you knew?"
"I never looked at whom I met, sir," was the reply. "I thought that if I looked at people, they might look at me, so I came straight ahead with my eyes before me. How the place has altered! There's a new brick house on the corner where old Morgan's shop used to stand."
"That's the new police station. West Lynne I assure you, is becoming grand in public buildings. And how have you been, Richard?"
"Ailing and wretched," answered Richard Hare. "How can I be otherwise, Mr. Carlyle, with so false an accusation attached to me; and working like a slave, as I have to do?"
"You may take off the disfiguring hat, Richard. No one is here."
Richard slowly heaved it from his brows, and his fair face, so like his mother's, was disclosed. But the moment he was uncovered he turned shrinkingly toward the entrance door. "If any one should come in, sir?"
"Impossible!" replied Mr. Carlyle. "The front door is fast, and the office is supposed to be empty at this hour."
"For if I should be seen and recognized, it might come to hanging, you know, sir. You are expecting that cursed Thorn here, Barbara told me."
"Directly," replied Mr. Carlyle, observing the mode of addressing him "sir." It spoke plainly of the scale of society in which Richard had been mixing; that he was with those who said it habitually; nay, that he used it habitually himself. "From your description of the Lieutenant Thorn who destroyed Hallijohn, we believe this Captain Thorn to be the same man," pursued Mr. Carlyle. "In person he appears to tally exactly; and I have ascertained that a few years ago he was a deal at Swainson, and got into some sort of scrape. He is in John Herbert's regiment, and is here with him on a visit."
"But what an idiot he must be to venture here!" uttered Richard. "Here of all places in the world!"
"He counts, no doubt, on not being known. So far as I can find out, Richard, nobody here did know him, save you and Afy. I shall put you in Mr. Dill's room—you may remember the little window in it—and from thence you can take a full view of Thorn, whom I shall keep in the front office. You are sure you would recognize him at this distance of time?"
"I should know him if it were fifty years to come; I should know him were he disguised as I am disguised. We cannot," Richard sank his voice, "forget a man who has been the object of our frenzied jealousy."
"What has brought you to East Lynne again, Richard? Any particular object?"
"Chiefly a hankering within me that I could not get rid of," replied Richard. "It was not so much to see my mother and Barbara—though I did want that, especially since my illness—as that a feeling was within me that I could not rest away from it. So I said I'd risk it again, just for a day."
"I thought you might possibly want some assistance, as before."
"I do want that, also," said Richard. "Not much. My illness has run me into debt, and if my mother can let me have a little, I shall be thankful."
"I am sure she will," answered Mr. Carlyle. "You shall have it from me to-night. What has been the matter with you?"
"The beginning of it was a kick from a horse, sir. That was last winter, and it laid me up for six weeks. Then, in the spring, after I got well and was at work again, I caught some sort of fever, and down again I was for six weeks. I have not been to say well since."
"How is it you have never written or sent me your address?"
"Because I dared not," answered Richard, timorously, "I should always be in fear; not of you, Mr. Carlyle, but of its becoming known some way or other. The time is getting on, sir; is that Thorn sure to come?"
"He sent me word that he would, in reply to my note. And—there he is!" uttered Mr. Carlyle, as a ring was heard at the bell. "Now, Richard, come this way. Bring your hat."
Richard complied by putting his hat on his head, pulling it so low that it touched his nose. He felt himself safer in it. Mr. Carlyle showed him into Mr. Dill's room, and then turned the key upon him, and put it in his pocket. Whether this precautionary measure was intended to prevent any possibility of Captain Thorn's finding his way in, or of Richard's finding his way out, was best known to himself.
Mr. Carlyle came to the front door, opened it, and admitted Captain Thorn. He brought him into the clerk's office, which was bright with gas, keeping him in conversation for a few minutes standing, and then asking him to be seated—all in full view of the little window.
"I must beg your pardon, for being late," Captain Thorn observed. "I am half an hour beyond the time you mentioned, but the Herberts had two or three friends at dinner, and I could not get away. I hope, Mr. Carlyle, you have not come to your office to-night purposely for me."
"Business must be attended to," somewhat evasively answered Mr. Carlyle; "I have been out myself nearly all day. We received a communication from London this morning, relative to your affair, and I am sorry to say anything but satisfactory. They will not wait."
"But I am not liable, Mr. Carlyle, not liable in justice."
"No—if what you tell me be correct. But justice and law are sometimes in opposition, Captain Thorn."
Captain Thorn sat in perplexity. "They will not get me arrested here, will they?"
"They would have done it, beyond doubt; but I have caused a letter to be written and dispatched to them, which must bring forth an answer before any violent proceedings are taken. That answer will be here the morning after to-morrow."
"And what am I do to then?"
"I think it is probable there may be a way of checkmating them. But I am not sure, Captain Thorn, that I can give my attention further to this affair."
"I hope and trust you will," was the reply.
"You have not forgotten that I told you at first I could not promise to do so," rejoined Mr. Carlyle. "You shall hear from me to-morrow. If I carry it on for you, I will then appoint an hour for you to be here on the following day; if not—why, I dare say you will find a solicitor as capable of assisting you as I am."
"But why will you not? What is the reason?"
"I cannot always give reasons for what I do," was the response. "You will hear from me to-morrow."
He rose as he spoke; Captain Thorn also rose. Mr. Carlyle detained him yet a few moments, and then saw him out at the front door and fastened it.
He returned and released Richard. The latter took off his hat as he advanced into the blaze of light.
"Well, Richard, is it the same man?"
"No, sir. Not in the least like him."
Mr. Carlyle, though little given to emotion, felt a strange relief—relief for Captain Thorn's sake. He had rarely seen one whom he could so little associate with the notion of a murderer as Captain Thorn, and he was a man who exceedingly won upon the regard. He would heartily help him out of his dilemma now.
"Excepting that they are both tall, with nearly the same color of hair, there is no resemblance whatever between them," proceeded Richard. "Their faces, their figures, are as opposite as light is from dark. That other, in spite of his handsome features, had the expression at times of a demon, but this one's expression is the best part of his face. Hallijohn's murderer had a curious look here, sir."
"Where?" questioned Mr. Carlyle, for Richard had only pointed to his face generally.
"Well—I cannot say precisely where it lay, whether in the eyebrows or the eyes; I could not tell when I used to have him before me; but it was in one of them. Ah, Mr. Carlyle, I thought, when Barbara told me Thorn was here, it was too good news to be true; depend upon it, he won't venture to West Lynne again. This man is no more like that other villain than you are like him."
"Then—as that is set at rest—we had better be going, Richard. You have to see your mother, and she must be waiting in anxiety. How much money do you want?"
"Twenty-five pounds would do, but——" Richard stopped in hesitation.
"But what?" asked Mr. Carlyle. "Speak out, Richard."
"Thirty would be more welcome. Thirty would put me at ease."
"You shall take thirty," said Mr. Carlyle, counting out the notes to him. "Now—will you walk with me to the grove, or will you walk alone? I mean to see you there in safety."
Richard thought he would prefer to walk alone; everybody they met might be speaking to Mr. Carlyle. The latter inquired why he chose moonlight nights for his visits.
"It is pleasanter for travelling. And had I chosen dark nights, Barbara could not have seen my signal from the trees," was the answer of Richard.
They went out and proceeded unmolested to the house of Justice Hare. It was past nine, then. "I am so much obliged to you Mr. Carlyle," whispered Richard, as they walked up the path.
"I wish I could help you more effectually, Richard, and clear up the mystery. Is Barbara on the watch? Yes; there's the door slowly opening."
Richard stole across the hall and into the parlor to his mother. Barbara approached and softly whispered to Mr. Carlyle, standing, just outside the portico; her voice trembled with the suspense of what the answer might be.
"Is it the same man—the same Thorn?"
"No. Richard says this man bears no resemblance to the real one."
"Oh!" uttered Barbara, in her surprise and disappointment. "Not the same! And for the best part of poor Richard's evening to have been taken up for nothing."
"Not quite nothing," said Mr. Carlyle. "The question is now set at rest."
"Set at rest!" repeated Barbara. "It is left in more uncertainty than ever."
"Set at rest so far as regards Captain Thorn. And whilst our suspicions were concentrated upon him, we thought not of looking to other quarters."
When they entered the sitting-room Mrs. Hare was crying over Richard, and Richard was crying over her; but she seized the hand of Mr. Carlyle.
"You have been very kind; I don't know whatever we should do without you. And I want to tax your kindness further. Has Barbara mentioned it?"
"I could not talk in the hall, mamma; the servants might have overheard."
"Mr. Hare is not well, and we terribly fear he will be home early, in consequence; otherwise we should have been quite safe until after ten, for he is gone to the Buck's Head, and they never leave, you know, till that hour has struck. Should he come in and see Richard—oh, I need not enlarge upon the consequences to you, Archibald; the very thought sends me into a shiver. Barbara and I have been discussing it all the evening, and we can only think of one plan; it is, that you will kindly stay in the garden, near the gate; and, should he come in, stop him, and keep him in conversation. Barbara will be with you, and will run in with the warning, and Richard can go inside the closet in the hall till Mr. Hare has entered and is safe in this room, and then he can make his escape. Will you do this, Archibald?"
"Certainly I will."
"I cannot part with him before ten o'clock, unless I am forced," she whispered, pressing Mr. Carlyle's hands, in her earnest gratitude. "You don't know what it is, Archibald, to have a lost son home for an hour but once in seven years. At ten o'clock we will part."
Mr. Carlyle and Barbara began to pace in the path in compliance with the wish of Mrs. Hare, keeping near the entrance gate. When they were turning the second time, Mr. Carlyle offered her his arm; it was an act of mere politeness. Barbara took it; and there they waited and waited; but the justice did not come.
Punctually to the minute, half after nine, Lady Isabel's carriage arrived at Mrs. Jefferson's, and she came out immediately—a headache being the plea for her early departure. She had not far to go to reach East Lynne—about two miles—and it was a by-road nearly all the way. They could emerge into the open road, if they pleased, but it was a trifle further. Suddenly a gentleman approached the carriage as it was bowling along, and waved his hand to the coachman to pull up. In spite of the glowing moonlight, Lady Isabel did not at first recognize him, for he wore a disfigured fur cap, the ears of which were tied over his ears and cheeks. It was Francis Levison. She put down the window.
"I thought it must be your carriage. How early you are returning! Were you tired of your entertainers?"
"Why, he knew what time my lady was returning," thought John to himself; "he asked me. A false sort of a chap that, I've a notion."
"I came out for a midnight stroll, and have tired myself," he proceeded. "Will you take compassion on me, and give me a seat home?"
She acquiesced. She could not do otherwise. The footman sprang from behind the door, and Francis Levison took his place beside Lady Isabel. "Take the high road," he put out his head to say to the coachman; and the man touched his hat—which high road would cause them to pass Mr. Hare's.
"I did not know you," she began, gathering herself into her own corner. "What ugly thing is that you have on? It is like a disguise."
He was taking off the "ugly thing" as she spoke and began to twirl it round his hand. "Disguise? Oh, no; I have no creditors in the immediate neighborhood of East Lynne."
False as ever it was worn as a disguise and he knew it.
"Is Mr. Carlyle at home?" she inquired.
"No." Then, after a pause—"I expect he is more agreeably engaged."
The tone, a most significant one, brought the tingling blood to the cheeks of Lady Isabel. She wished to preserve a dignified silence, and did for a few moments; but the jealous question broke out,—
"Engaged in what manner?"
"As I came by Hare's house just now, I saw two people, a gentleman and a young lady, coupled lovingly together, enjoying a tete-a-tete by moonlight. Unless I am mistaken, he was the favored individual whom you call lord and master."
Lady Isabel almost gnashed her teeth; the jealous doubts which had been tormenting her all the evening were confirmed. That the man whom she hated—yes, in her blind anger, she hated him then—should so impose upon her, should excuse himself by lies, lies base and false as he was, from accompanying her out, on purpose to pass the hours with Barbara Hare! Had she been alone in the carriage, a torrent of passion had probably escaped her.
She leaned back, panting in her emotion, but hiding it from Captain Levison. As they came opposite to Justice Hare's she deliberately bent forward and scanned the garden with eager eyes.
There, in the bright moonlight, all too bright and clear, slowly paced arm in arm, and drawn close to each other, her husband and Barbara Hare. With a choking sob that could no longer be controlled or hidden, Lady Isabel sunk back again.
He, that bold, bad man, dared to put his arm around her, to draw her to his side; to whisper that his love was left to her, if another's was withdrawn. She was most assuredly out of her senses that night, or she never would have listened.
A jealous woman is mad; an outraged woman is doubly mad; and the ill-fated Lady Isabel truly believed that every sacred feeling which ought to exist between man and wife was betrayed by Mr. Carlyle.
"Be avenged on that false hound, Isabel. He was never worthy of you. Leave your life of misery, and come to happiness."
In her bitter distress and wrath, she broke into a storm of sobs. Were they caused by passion against her husband, or by those bold and shameless words? Alas! Alas! Francis Levison applied himself to soothe her with all the sweet and dangerous sophistry of his crafty nature.
The minutes flew on. A quarter to ten; now a quarter past ten; and still Richard Hare lingered on with his mother, and still Mr. Carlyle and Barbara paced patiently the garden path. At half-past ten Richard came forth, after having taken his last farewell. Then came Barbara's tearful farewell, which Mr. Carlyle witnessed; and then a hard grasp of that gentleman's hand, and Richard plunged amidst the trees to depart the way he came.
"Good night, Barbara," said Mr. Carlyle.
"Will you not come in and say good night to mamma?"
"Not now; it is late. Tell her how glad I am things have gone off so well."
He started off at a strapping pace toward his home, and Barbara leaned on the gate to indulge her tears. Not a soul passed to interrupt her, and the justice did not come. What could have become of him? What could the Buck's Head be thinking of, to retain respectable elderly justices from their beds, who ought to go home early and set a good example to the parish? Barbara knew, the next day, that Justice Hare, with a few more gentlemen, had been seduced from the staid old inn to a friend's house, to an entertainment of supper, pipes, and whist, two tables, penny points, and it was between twelve and one ere the party rose from the fascination. So far, well—as it happened.
Barbara knew not how long she lingered at the gate; ten minutes it may have been. Nobody summoned her. Mrs. Hare was indulging her grief indoors, giving no thought to Barbara, and the justice did not make his appearance. Exceedingly surprised was Barbara to hear fast footsteps, and to find that they were Mr. Carlyle's.
"The more haste, the less speed, Barbara," he called out as he came up. "I had got half-way home and have had to come back again. When I went into your sitting-room, I left a small parcel, containing a parchment, on the sideboard. Will you get it for me?"
Barbara ran indoors and brought forth the parcel, and Mr. Carlyle, with a brief word of thanks, sped away with it.
She leaned on the gate as before, the ready tears flowing again; her heart was aching for Richard; it was aching for the disappointment the night had brought forth respecting Captain Thorn. Still nobody passed; still the steps of her father were not heard, and Barbara stayed on. But—what was that figure cowering under the shade of the hedge at a distance, and seemingly, watching her? Barbara strained her eyes, while her heart beat as if it would burst its bounds. Surely, surely, it was her brother? What had he ventured back for?
Richard Hare it was. When fully assured that Barbara was standing there, he knew the justice was still absent, and ventured to advance. He appeared to be in a strange state of emotion—his breath labored, his whole frame trembling.
"Barbara! Barbara!" he called. "I have seen Thorn."
Barbara thought him demented. "I know you saw him," she slowly said, "but it was not the right Thorn."
"Not he," breathed Richard; "and not the gentleman I saw to-night in Carlyle's office. I have seen the fellow himself. Why to you stare at me so, Barbara?"
Barbara was in truth scanning his face keenly. It appeared to her a strange tale that he was telling.
"When I left here, I cut across into Bean lane, which is more private for me than this road," proceeded Richard. "Just as I got to that clump of trees—you know it, Barbara—I saw somebody coming toward me from a distance. I stepped back behind the trunks of the trees, into the shade of the hedge, for I don't care to be met, though I am disguised. He came along the middle of the lane, going toward West Lynne, and I looked out upon him. I knew him long before he was abreast of me; it was Thorn." Barbara made no comment; she was digesting the news.
"Every drop of blood within me began to tingle, and an impulse came upon me to spring upon him and accuse him of the murder of Hallijohn," went on Richard, in the same excited manner. "But I resisted it; or, perhaps, my courage failed. One of the reproaches against me had used to be that I was a physical coward, you know, Barbara," he added, in a tone of bitterness. "In a struggle, Thorn would have had the best of it; he is taller and more powerful than I, and might have battered me to death. A man who can commit one murder won't hesitate at a second."
"Richard, do you think you could have been deceived?" she urged. "You had been talking of Thorn, and your thoughts were, naturally bearing upon him. Imagination—"
"Be still, Barbara," he interrupted in a tone of pain. "Imagination, indeed! Did I not tell you he was stamped here?" touching his breast. "Do you take me for a child, or an imbecile, that I should fancy I see Thorn in every shadow, or meet people where I do not? He had his hat off, as if he had been walking fast and had got hot—fast he was walking; and he carried the hat in one hand, and what looked like a small parcel. With the other hand he was pushing the hair from his brow—in this way—a peculiar way," added Richard, slightly lifting his own hat and pushing back his hair. "By that action alone I should have known him, for he was always doing it in the old days. And there was his white hand, adorned with his diamond ring! Barbara, the diamond glittered in the moonlight!"
Richard's voice and manner were singularly earnest, and a conviction of the truth of his assertion flashed over his sister.
"I saw his face as plainly as I ever saw it—every feature—he is scarcely altered, save for a haggardness in his cheeks now. Barbara, you need not doubt me; I swear it was Thorn!"
She grew excited as he was; now that she believed the news, it was telling upon her; reason left its place and impulse succeeded; Barbara did not wait to weigh her actions.
"Richard! Mr. Carlyle ought to know this. He has but just gone; we may overtake him, if we try."
Forgetting the strange appearances it would have—her flying along the public road at that hour of the night—should she meet any who knew her—forgetting what the consequence might be, did Justice Hare return and find her absent, Barbara set off with a fleet foot, Richard more stealthily following her—his eyes cast in all directions. Fortunately Barbara wore a bonnet and mantle, which she had put on to pace the garden with Mr. Carlyle; fortunately, also, the road was remarkably empty of passengers. She succeeded in reaching Mr. Carlyle before he turned into East Lynne gates.
"Barbara!" he exclaimed in the extreme of astonishment. "Barbara!"
"Archibald! Archibald!" She panted, gasping for breath. "I am not out of my mind—but do come and speak to Richard! He has just seen the real Thorn."
Mr. Carlyle, amazed and wondering, turned back. They got over the field stile, nearly opposite the gates, drew behind the hedge, and there Richard told his tale. Mr. Carlyle did not appear to doubt it, as Barbara had done; perhaps he could not, in the face of Richard's agitated and intense earnestness.
"I am sure there is no one named Thorn in the neighborhood, save the gentleman you saw in my office to-night, Richard," observed Mr. Carlyle, after some deliberation. "It is very strange."
"He may be staying here under a feigned name," replied Richard. "There can be no mistake that it was Thorn whom I have just met."
"How was he dressed? As a gentleman?"
"Catch him dressing as anything else," returned Richard. "He was in an evening suit of black, with a sort of thin overcoat thrown on, but it was flung back at the shoulders, and I distinctly saw his clothes. A gray alpaca, it looked like. As I have told Barbara, I should have known him by this action of the hand," imitating it, "as he pushed his hair off his forehead; it was the delicate white hand of the days gone by, Mr. Carlyle; it was the flashing of the diamond ring!"
Mr. Carlyle was silent; Barbara also; but the thoughts of both were busy. "Richard," observed the former, "I should advise you to remain a day or two in the neighborhood, and look out for this man. You may see him again, and may track him home; it is very desirable to find out who he really is if practicable."
"But the danger?" urged Richard.
"Your fears magnify that. I am quite certain that nobody would know you in broad daylight, disguised as you are now. So many years have flown since, that people have forgotten to think about you, Richard."
But Richard could not be persuaded; he was full of fears. He described the man as accurately as he could to Mr. Carlyle and Barbara, and told them they must look out. With some trouble, Mr. Carlyle got from him an address in London, to which he might write, in case anything turned up, and Richard's presence should be necessary. He then once more said farewell, and quitted them, his way lying past East Lynne.
"And now to see you back, Barbara," said Mr. Carlyle.
"Indeed you shall not do it—late as it is, and tired as you must be. I came here alone; Richard did not keep near me."
"I cannot help your having come here alone, but you may rely upon it, I do not suffer you to go back so. Nonsense, Barbara! Allow you to go along the high road by yourself at eleven o'clock at night? What are you thinking of?"
He gave Barbara his arm, and they pursued their way. "How late Lady Isabel will think you!" observed Barbara.
"I don't know that Lady Isabel has returned home yet. My being late once in a while is of no consequence."
Not another word was spoken, save by Barbara. "Whatever excuse can I make, should papa come home?" Both were buried in their own reflections. "Thank you very greatly," she said as they reached her gate, and Mr. Carlyle finally turned away. Barbara stole in, and found the coast clear; her papa had not arrived.
Lady Isabel was in her dressing-room when Mr. Carlyle entered; she was seated at a table, writing. A few questions as to her evening's visit, which she answered in the briefest way possible, and then he asked her if she was not going to bed.
"By and by. I am not sleepy."
"I must go at once, Isabel, for I am dead tired." And no wonder.
"You can go," was her answer.
He bent down to kiss her, but she dexterously turned her face away. He supposed that she felt hurt that he had not gone with her to the party, and placed his hand on her shoulder with a pleasant smile.
"You foolish child, to be aggrieved at that! It was no fault of mine, Isabel; I could not help myself. I will talk to you in the morning; I am too tired to-night. I suppose you will not be long."
Her head was bent over her writing again, and she made no reply. Mr. Carlyle went into his bedroom and shut the door. Some time after, Lady Isabel went softly upstairs to Joyce's room. Joyce, fast in her first sleep, was suddenly aroused from it. There stood her mistress, a wax light in her hand. Joyce rubbed her eyes, and collected her senses, and finally sat up in bed.
"My lady! Are you ill?"
"Ill! Yes; ill and wretched," answered Lady Isabel; and ill she did look, for she was perfectly white. "Joyce, I want a promise from you. If anything should happen to me, stay at East Lynne with my children."
Joyce stared in amazement, too much astonished to make any reply.
"Joyce, you promised it once before; promise it again. Whatever betide you, you will stay with my children when I am gone."
"I will stay with them. But, oh, my lady, what can be the matter with you? Are you taken suddenly ill?"
"Good-bye, Joyce," murmured Lady Isabel, gliding from the chamber as quietly as she had entered it. And Joyce, after an hour of perplexity, dropped asleep again.
Joyce was not the only one whose rest was disturbed that eventful night. Mr. Carlyle himself awoke, and to his surprise found that his wife had not come to bed. He wondered what the time was, and struck his repeater. A quarter past three!
Rising, he made his way to the door of his wife's dressing-room. It was in darkness; and, so far as he could judge by the absence of sound, unoccupied.
No reply. Nothing but the echo of his own voice in the silence of the night.
He struck a match and lighted a taper, partially dressed himself, and went about to look for her. He feared she might have been taken ill; or else that she had fallen asleep in some one of the rooms. But nowhere could he find her, and feeling perplexed, he proceeded to his sister's chamber door and knocked.
Miss Carlyle was a slight sleeper, and rose up in bed at once. "Who's that?" cried out she.
"It is only I, Cornelia," said Mr. Carlyle.
"You!" cried Miss Corny. "What in the name of fortune do you want? You can come in."
Mr. Carlyle opened the door, and met the keen eyes of his sister bent on him from the bed. Her head was surmounted by a remarkable nightcap, at least a foot high.
"Is anybody ill?" she demanded.
"I think Isabel must be, I cannot find her."
"Not find her?" echoed Miss Corny. "Why, what's the time? Is she not in bed?"
"It is three o'clock. She had not been to bed. I cannot find her in the sitting-rooms; neither is she in the children's room."
"Then I'll tell you what it is, Archibald; she's gone worrying after Joyce. Perhaps the girl may be in pain to-night."
Mr. Carlyle was in full retreat toward Joyce's room, at this suggestion, when his sister called to him.
"If anything is amiss with Joyce, you come and tell me, Archibald, for I shall get up and see after her. The girl was my servant before she was your wife's."
He reached Joyce's room, and softly unlatched the door, fully expecting to find a light there, and his wife sitting by the bedside. There was no light there, however, save that which came from the taper he held, and he saw no signs of his wife. Where was she? Was it probable that Joyce should tell him? He stepped inside the room and called to her.
Joyce started up in a fright, which changed to astonishment when she recognized her master. He inquired whether Lady Isabel had been there, and for a few moments Joyce did not answer. She had been dreaming of Lady Isabel, and could not at first detach the dream from the visit which had probably given rise to it.
"What did you say, sir? Is my lady worse?"
"I asked if she had been here. I cannot find her."
"Why, yes," said Joyce, now fully aroused. "She came here and woke me. That was just before twelve, for I heard the clock strike. She did not stay here a minute, sir."
"Woke you!" repeated Mr. Carlyle. "What did she want? What did she come here for?"
Thoughts are quick; imagination is still quicker; and Joyce was giving the reins to both. Her mistress's gloomy and ambiguous words were crowding on her brain. Three o'clock and she had not been in bed, and was not to be found in the house? A nameless horror struggled to Joyce's face, her eyes were dilating with it; she seized and threw on a large flannel gown which lay on a chair by the bed, and forgetful of her master who stood there, out she sprang to the floor. All minor considerations faded to insignificance beside the terrible dread which had taken possession of her. Clasping the flannel gown tight around her with one hand, she laid the other on the arm of Mr. Carlyle.
"Oh, master! Oh, master! She has destroyed herself! I see it all now."
"Joyce!" sternly interrupted Mr. Carlyle.
"She has destroyed herself, as true as that we two are living here," persisted Joyce, her own face livid with emotion. "I can understand her words now; I could not before. She came here—and her face was like a corpse as the light fell upon it—saying she had come to get a promise from me to stay with her children when she was gone, I asked whether she was ill, and she answered, 'Yes, ill and wretched.' Oh, sir, may heaven support you under this dreadful trial!"
Mr. Carlyle felt bewildered—perplexed. Not a syllable did he believe. He was not angry with Joyce, for he thought she had lost her reason.
"It is so, sir, incredible as you may deem my words," pursued Joyce, wringing her hands. "My lady has been miserably unhappy; and that has driven her to it."
"Joyce, are you in your senses or out of them?" demanded Mr. Carlyle, a certain sternness in his tone. "Your lady miserably unhappy! What do you mean?"
Before Joyce could answer, an addition was received to the company in the person of Miss Carlyle, who appeared in black stockings and a shawl, and the lofty nightcap. Hearing voices in Joyce's room, which was above her own, and full of curiosity, she ascended, not choosing to be shut out from the conference.
"Whatever's up?" cried she. "Is Lady Isabel found?"
"She is not found, and she never will be found but in her winding-sheet," returned Joyce, whose lamentable and unusual state of excitement completely overpowered her customary quiet respect and plain good sense. "And, ma'am, I am glad that you have come up; for what I was about to say to my master I would prefer to say in your presence. When my lady is brought into this house, and laid before us dead, what will your feelings be? My master has done his duty by her in love; but you—you have made her life a misery. Yes, ma'am, you have."
"Hoity-toity!" muttered Miss Carlyle, staring at Joyce in consternation. "What is all this? Where's my lady?"
"She has gone and taken the life that was not hers to take," sobbed Joyce, "and I say she has been driven to it. She has not been allowed to indulge a will of her own, poor thing, since she came to East Lynne; in her own house she has been less free than either of her servants. You have curbed her, ma'am, and snapped at her, and you made her feel that she was but a slave to your caprices and temper. All these years she has been crossed and put upon; everything, in short, but beaten—ma'am, you know she has—and has borne it all in silence, like a patient angel, never, as I believe, complaining to master; he can say whether she has or not. We all loved her, we all felt for her; and my master's heart would have bled had he suspected what she had to put up with day after day, and year after year."
Miss Carlyle's tongue was glued to her mouth. Her brother, confounded at the rapid words, could scarcely gather in their sense.
"What is it that you are saying, Joyce?" he asked, in a low tone. "I do not understand."
"I have longed to say it to you many a hundred times, sir; but it is right that you should hear it, now things have come to this dreadful ending. Since the very night Lady Isabel came home here, your wife, she had been taunted with the cost she has brought to East Lynne and to you. If she wanted but the simplest thing, she was forbidden to have it, and told that she was bringing her husband to poverty. For this very dinner party that she went to to-night she wished for a new dress, and your cruel words, ma'am, forbade her having it. She ordered a new frock for Miss Isabel, and you countermanded it. You have told her that master worked like a dog to support her extravagances, when you know that she never was extravagant; that none were less inclined to go beyond proper limits than she. I have seen her, ma'am, come away from your reproaches with the tears in her eyes, and her hands meekly clasped upon her bosom, as though life was heavy to bear. A gentle-spirited, high-born lady, as I know she was, could not fail to be driven to desperation; and I know that she has been."
Mr. Carlyle turned to his sister. "Can this be true?" he inquired, in a tone of deep agitation.
She did not answer. Whether it was the shade cast by the nightcap, or the reflection of the wax taper, her face looked of a green cast, and, for the first time probably in Miss Carlyle's life, her words failed her.
"May God forgive you, Cornelia!" he muttered, as he went out of the chamber.
He descended to his own. That his wife had laid violent hands upon herself, his reason utterly repudiated, she was one of the least likely to commit so great a sin. He believed that, in her unhappiness, she might have wandered out in the grounds, and was lingering there. By this time the house was aroused, and the servants were astir. Joyce—surely a supernatural strength was given her, for though she had been able to put her foot to the ground, she had not yet walked upon it—crept downstairs, and went into Lady Isabel's dressing-room. Mr. Carlyle was hastily assuming the articles of attire he had not yet put on, to go out and search the grounds, when Joyce limped in, holding out a note. Joyce did not stand on ceremony that night.
"I found this in the dressing-glass drawer, sir. It is my lady's writing."
He took it in his hand and looked at the address—"Archibald Carlyle." Though a calm man, one who had his emotions under his own control, he was no stoic, and his fingers shook as he broke the seal.
"When years go on, and my children ask where their mother is, and why she left them, tell them that you, their father, goaded her to it. If they inquire what she is, tell them, also, if you so will; but tell them, at the same time, that you outraged and betrayed her, driving her to the very depth of desperation ere she quitted them in her despair."
The handwriting, his wife's, swam before the eyes of Mr. Carlyle. All, save the disgraceful fact that she had flown—and a horrible suspicion began to dawn upon him, with whom—was totally incomprehensible. How had he outraged her? In what manner had he goaded her to it. The discomforts alluded to by Joyce, and the work of his sister, had evidently no part in this; yet what had he done? He read the letter again, more slowly. No he could not comprehend it; he had not the clue.
At that moment the voices of the servants in the corridor outside penetrated his ears. Of course they were peering about, and making their own comments. Wilson, with her long tongue, the busiest. They were saying that Captain Levison was not in his room; that his bed had not been slept in.
Joyce sat on the edge of a chair—she could not stand—watching her master with a blanched face. Never had she seen him betray agitation so powerful. Not the faintest suspicion of the dreadful truth yet dawned upon her. He walked to the door, the open note in his hand; then turned, wavered, and stood still, as if he did not know what he was doing. Probably he did not. Then he took out his pocket-book, put the note inside it, and returned it to his pocket, his hands trembling equally with his livid lips.
"You need not mention this," he said to Joyce, indicating the note. "It concerns myself alone."
"Sir, does it say she's dead?"
"She is not dead," he answered. "Worse than that," he added in his heart.
"Why—who's this?" uttered Joyce.
It was little Isabel, stealing in with a frightened face, in her white nightgown. The commotion had aroused her.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "Where's mamma?"
"Child, you'll catch your death of cold," said Joyce. "Go back to bed."
"But I want mamma."
"In the morning, dear," evasively returned Joyce. "Sir, please, must not Isabel go back to bed?"
Mr. Carlyle made no reply to the question; most likely he never heard its import. But he touched Isabel's shoulder to draw Joyce's attention to the child.
"Joyce—Miss Lucy in future."
He left the room, and Joyce remained silent from amazement. She heard him go out at the hall door and bang it after him. Isabel—nay, we must say "Lucy" also—went and stood outside the chamber door; the servants gathered in a group near, did not observe her. Presently she came running back, and disturbed Joyce from her reverie.
"Joyce, is it true?"
"Is what true, my dear?"
"They are saying that Captain Levison has taken away my mamma."
Joyce fell back in her chair with a scream. It changed to a long, low moan of anguish.
"What has he taken her for—to kill her? I thought it was only kidnappers who took people."
"Child, child, go to bed."
"Oh, Joyce, I want mamma. When will she come back?"
Joyce hid her face in her hands to conceal its emotion from the motherless child. And just then Miss Carlyle entered on tiptoe, and humbly sat down on a low chair, her green face—green that night—in its grief, its remorse, and its horror, looking nearly as dark as her stockings.
She broke into a subdued wail.
"God be merciful to this dishonored house!"
Mr. Justice Hare turned into the gate between twelve and one—turned in with a jaunty air; for the justice was in spirits, he having won nine sixpences, and his friend's tap of ale having been unusually good. When he reached his bedroom, he told Mrs. Hare of a chaise and four which had gone tearing past at a furious pace as he was closing the gate, coming from the direction of East Lynne. He wondered where it could be going at that midnight hour, and whom it contained.