East Lynne/Chapter 28

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There went, sailing up the avenue to East Lynne, a lady, one windy afternoon. If not a lady, she was attired as one; a flounced dress, and a stylish looking shawl, and a white veil. A very pretty woman, tall and slender was she, and she minced as she walked, and coquetted with her head, and, altogether contrived to show that she had quite as much vanity as brains. She went boldly up to the broad entrance of the house, and boldly rang at it, drawing her white veil over her face as she did so.

One of the men-servants answered it, not Peter; and, seeing somebody very smart before him, bowed deferentially.

"Miss Hallijohn is residing here, I believe. Is she within?"

"Who, ma'am?"

"Miss Hallijohn; Miss Joyce Hallijohn," somewhat sharply repeated the lady, as if impatient of any delay. "I wish to see her."

The man was rather taken aback. He had deemed it a visitor to the house, and was prepared to usher her to the drawing-room, at least; but it seemed it was only a visitor to Joyce. He showed her into a small parlor, and went upstairs to the nursery, where Joyce was sitting with Wilson—for there had been no change in the domestic department of East Lynne. Joyce remained as upper maid, partially superintending the servants, attending upon Lucy, and making Miss Carlyle's dresses as usual. Wilson was nurse still.

"Miss Joyce, there's a lady asking for you," said the man. "I have shown her into the gray parlor."

"A lady for me?" repeated Joyce. "Who is it? Some one to see the children, perhaps."

"It's for yourself, I think. She asked for Miss Hallijohn."

Joyce looked at the man; but she put down her work and proceeded to the gray parlor. A pretty woman, vain and dashing, threw up her white veil at her entrance.

"Well, Joyce, how are you?"

Joyce, always pale, turned paler still, as she gazed in blank consternation. Was it really Afy who stood before her—Afy, the erring?

Afy it was. And she stood there, holding out her hand to Joyce, with what Wilson would have called, all the brass in the world. Joyce could not reconcile her mind to link her own with it.

"Excuse me, Afy, but I cannot take your hand, I cannot welcome you here. What could have induced you to come?"

"If you are going to be upon the high ropes, it seems I might as well have stayed away," was Afy's reply, given in the pert, but good-humored manner she had ever used to Joyce. "My hand won't damage yours. I am not poison."

"You are looked upon in the neighborhood as worse than poison, Afy," returned Joyce, in a tone, not of anger but of sorrow. "Where's Richard Hare?"

Afy tossed her head. "Where's who?" asked she.

"Richard Hare. My question was plain enough."

"How should I know where he is? It's like your impudence to mention him to me. Why don't you ask me where Old Nick is, and how he does? I'd rather own acquaintance with him than with Richard Hare, if I'd my choice between the two."

"Then you have left Richard Hare? How long since?"

"I have left—what do you say?" broke off Afy, whose lips were quivering ominously with suppressed passion. "Perhaps you'll condescend to explain. I don't understand."

"When you left here, did you not go after Richard Hare—did you not join him?"

"I'll tell you what it is, Joyce," flashed Afy, her face indignant and her voice passionate, "I have put up with some things from you in my time, but human nature has its limits of endurance, and I won't bear that. I have never set eyes on Richard Hare since that night of horror; I wish I could; I'd help to hang him."

Joyce paused. The belief that Afy was with him had been long and deeply imbued within her; it was the long-continued and firm conviction of all West Lynne, and a settled belief, such as that, is not easily shaken. Was Afy telling the truth? She knew her propensity for making false assertions, when they served to excuse herself.

"Afy," she said at length, "let me understand you. When you left this place, was it not to share Richard Hare's flight? Have you not been living with him?"

"No!" burst forth Afy, with kindling eyes. "Living with him—with our father's murderer! Shame upon you, Joyce Hallijohn! You must be precious wicked yourself to suppose it."

"If I have judged you wrongly, Afy, I sincerely beg your pardon. Not only myself, but the whole of West Lynne, believed you were with him; and the thought has caused me pain night and day."

"What a cannibal minded set you all must be, then!" was Afy's indignant rejoinder.

"What have you been doing ever since, then? Where have you been?"

"Never mind, I say," repeated Afy. "West Lynne has not been so complimentary to me, it appears, that I need put myself out of my way to satisfy its curiosity. I was knocking about a bit at first, but I soon settled down as steady as Old Time—as steady as you."

"Are you married?" inquired Joyce, noting the word "settled."

"Catch me marrying," retorted Afy; "I like my liberty too well. Not but what I might be induced to change my condition, if anything out of the way eligible occurred; it must be very eligible, though, to tempt me. I am what I suppose you call yourself—a lady's maid."

"Indeed!" said Joyce, much relieved. "And are you comfortable, Afy? Are you in good service?"

"Middling, for that. The pay's not amiss, but there's a great deal to do, and Lady Mount Severn's too much of a Tartar for me."

Joyce looked at her in surprise. "What have you to do with Lady Mount Severn?"

"Well, that's good! It's where I am at service."

"At Lady Mount Severn's?"

"Why not? I have been there two years. It is not a great deal longer I shall stop, though; she had too much vinegar in her for me. But it poses me to imagine what on earth could have induced you to fancy I should go off with that Dick Hare," she added, for she could not forget the grievance.

"Look at the circumstances," argued Joyce. "You both disappeared."

"But not together."

"Nearly together. There were only a few days intervening. And you had neither money nor friends."

"You don't know what I had. But I would rather have died of want on father's grave than have shared his means," continued Afy, growing passionate again.

"Where is he? Not hung, or I should have heard of it."

"He has never been seen since that night, Afy."

"Nor heard of?"

"Nor heard of. Most people think he is in Australia, or some other foreign land."

"The best place for him; the more distance he puts between him and home, the better. If he does come back, I hope he'll get his desserts—which is a rope's end. I'd go to his hanging."

"You are as bitter against him as Mr. Justice Hare. He would bring his son back to suffer, if he could."

"A cross-grained old camel!" remarked Afy, in allusion to the qualities, social and amiable, of the revered justice. "I don't defend Dick Hare—I hate him too much for that—but if his father had treated him differently, Dick might have been different. Well, let's talk of something else; the subject invariably gives me the shivers. Who is mistress here?"

"Miss Carlyle."

"Oh, I might have guessed that. Is she as fierce as ever?"

"There is little alteration in her."

"And there won't be on this side the grave. I say, Joyce, I don't want to encounter her; she might set on at me, like she has done many a time in the old days. Little love was there lost between me and Corny Carlyle. Is Mr. Carlyle at home?"

"He will be home to dinner. I dare say you would like some tea; you shall come and take it with me and Wilson, in the nursery."

"I was thinking you might have the grace to offer me something," cried Afy. "I intend to stop till to-morrow in the neighborhood. My lady gave me two days' holiday—for she was going to see her dreadful old grandmother, where she can't take a maid—and I thought I'd use it in coming to have a look at the old place again. Don't stare at me in that blank way, as if you feared I should ask the grand loan of sleeping here. I shall sleep at the Mount Severn Arms."

"I was not glancing at such a thought, Afy. Come and take your bonnet off."

"Is the nursery full of children?"

"There is only one child in it. Miss Lucy and Master William are with the governess."

Wilson received Afy with lofty condescension, having Richard Hare in her thoughts. But Joyce explained that it was all a misapprehension—that her sister had never been near Richard Hare, but was as indignant against him as they were. Upon which Wilson grew cordial and chatty, rejoicing in the delightful recreation her tongue would enjoy that evening.

Afy's account of herself, as to past proceedings, was certainly not the most satisfactory in the world; but, altogether, taken in the present, it was so vast an improvement upon Joyce's conclusions, that she had not felt so elated for many a day. When Mr. Carlyle returned home Joyce sought him, and acquainted him with what had happened; that Afy was come; was maid to Lady Mount Severn; and, above all, that she had never been with Richard Hare.

"Ah! You remember what I said, Joyce," he remarked. "That I did not believe Afy was with Richard Hare."

"I have been telling her so, sir, to be sure, when I informed her what people had believed," continued Joyce. "She nearly went into one of her old passions."

"Does she seem steady, Joyce?"

"I think so, sir—steady for her. I was thinking, sir, that as she appears to have turned out so respectable, and is with Lady Mount Severn, you, perhaps, might see no objection to her sleeping here for to-night. It would be better than for her to go to the inn, as she talks of doing."

"None at all," replied Mr. Carlyle. "Let her remain."

Later in the evening, after Mr. Carlyle's dinner, a message came that Afy was to go to him. Accordingly she proceeded to his presence.

"So, Afy, you have returned to let West Lynne know that you are alive. Sit down."

"West Lynne may go a-walking for me in future, sir, for all the heed I shall take of it," retorted Afy. "A set of wicked-minded scandal-mongers, to take and say I had gone after Richard Hare!"

"You should not have gone off at all, Afy."

"Well, sir, that was my business, and I chose to go. I could not stop in the cottage after that night's work."

"There is a mystery attached to that night's work, Afy," observed Mr. Carlyle; "a mystery that I cannot fathom. Perhaps you can help me out."

"What mystery, sir?" returned Afy.

Mr. Carlyle leaned forward, his arms on the table. Afy had taken a chair at the other end of it. "Who was it that committed the murder?" he demanded, in a grave and somewhat imperative tone.

Afy stared some moments before she replied, astonished at the question. "Who committed the murder, sir?" she uttered at length. "Richard Hare committed it. Everybody knows that."

"Did you see it done?"

"No," replied Afy. "If I had seen it, the fright and horror would have killed me. Richard Hare quarreled with my father, and drew the gun upon him in passion."

"You assume this to have been the case, Afy, as others have assumed it. I do not think that it was Richard Hare who killed your father."

"Not Richard Hare!" exclaimed Afy, after a pause. "Then who do you think did it, sir—I?"

"Nonsense, Afy."

"I know he did it," proceeded Afy. "It is true that I did not see it done, but I know it for all that. I know it, sir."

"You cannot know it, Afy."

"I do know it, sir; I would not assert it to you if I did not. If Richard Hare was here, present before us, and swore until he was black in the face that it was not him, I could convict him."

"By what means?"

"I had rather not say, sir. But you may believe me, for I am speaking truth."

"There was another friend of yours present that evening, Afy. Lieutenant Thorn."

Afy's face turned crimson; she was evidently surprised. But Mr. Carlyle's speech and manner were authoritative, and she saw it would be useless to attempt to trifle with him.

"I know he was, sir. A young chap who used to ride over some evenings to see me. He had nothing to do with what occurred."

"Where did he ride from?"

"He was stopping with some friends at Swainson. He was nobody, sir."

"What was his name?" questioned Mr. Carlyle.

"Thorn," said Afy.

"I mean his real name. Thorn was an assumed name."

"Oh, dear no," returned Afy. "Thorn was his name."

Mr. Carlyle paused and looked at her.

"Afy, I have reason to believe that Thorn was only an assumed name. Now, I have a motive for wishing to know his real one, and you would very much oblige me by confiding it to me. What was it?"

"I don't know that he had any other name, sir; I am sure he had no other," persisted Afy. "He was Lieutenant Thorn, then and he was Captain Thorn, afterward."

"You have seen him since?"

"Once in a way we have met."

"Where is he now?"

"Now! Oh, my goodness, I don't know anything about him now," muttered Afy. "I have not heard of him or seen him for a long while. I think I heard something about his going to India with his regiment."

"What regiment is he in?"

"I'm sure I don't know about that," said Afy. "Is not one regiment the same as another; they are all in the army, aren't they, sir?"

"Afy, I must find this Captain Thorn. Do you know anything of his family?"

Afy shook her head. "I don't think he had any. I never heard him mention as much as a brother or a sister."

"And you persist in saying his name was Thorn?"

"I persist in saying it because it was his name. I am positive it was his name."

"Afy, shall I tell you why I want to find him; I believe it was he who murdered your father, not Richard Hare."

Afy's mouth and eyes gradually opened, and her face turned hot and cold alternately. Then passion mastered her, and she burst forth.

"It's a lie! I beg your pardon, sir, but whoever told you that, told you a lie. Thorn had no more to do with it than I had; I'll swear it."

"I tell you, Afy, I believe Thorn to have been the man. You were not present; you cannot know who actually did it."

"Yes, I can, and do know," said Afy, bursting into sobs of hysterical passion. "Thorn was with me when it happened, so it could not have been Thorn. It was that wicked Richard Hare. Sir, have I not said that I'll swear it?"

"Thorn was with you—at the moment of the murder?" repeated Mr. Carlyle.

"Yes, he was," shrieked Afy, nearly beside herself with emotion. "Whoever has been trying to put it off Richard Hare, and on to him, is a wicked, false-hearted wretch. It was Richard Hare, and nobody else, and I hope he'll be hung for it yet."

"You are telling me the truth, Afy?" gravely spoke Mr. Carlyle.

"Truth!" echoed Afy, flinging up her hands. "Would I tell a lie over my father's death? If Thorn had done it, would I screen him, or shuffle it off to Richard Hare? Not so."

Mr. Carlyle felt uncertain and bewildered. That Afy was sincere in what she said, was but too apparent. He spoke again but Afy had risen from her chair to leave.

"Locksley was in the wood that evening. Otway Bethel was in it. Could either of them have been the culprit?"

"No, sir," firmly retorted Afy; "the culprit was Richard Hare; and I'd say it with my latest breath—I'd say it because I know it—though I don't choose to say how I know it; time enough when he gets taken."

She quitted the room, leaving Mr. Carlyle in a state of puzzled bewilderment. Was he to believe Afy, or was he to believe the bygone assertion of Richard Hare?