East Lynne/Chapter 41
Miss Lucy was en penitence. She had been guilty of some childish fault that day at Aunt Cornelia's, which, coming to the knowledge of Mrs. Carlyle, after their return home the young lady was ordered to the nursery for the rest of the day, and to be regaled upon bread and water.
Barbara was in her pleasant dressing-room. There was to be a dinner party at East Lynne that evening, and she had just finished dressing. Very lovely looked she in her dinner dress, with purple and scarlet flowers in her bosom. She glanced at her watch somewhat anxiously, for the gentlemen had not made their appearance. Half-past six! And they were to dine at seven.
Madame Vine tapped at the door. Her errand was to beg grace for Lucy. She had been promised half an hour in the drawing-room, when the ladies entered it from the dessert-table, and was now in agony of grief at the disappointment. Would Mrs. Carlyle pardon her, and allow her to be dressed?
"You are too lenient to the child, madame," spoke Barbara. "I don't think you ever would punish her at all. But when she commits faults, they must be corrected."
"She is very sorry for her fault; she promises not to be rude again. She is crying as if she would cry her heart out."
"Not for her ill-behavior, but because she's afraid of missing the drawing-room to-night," cried Barbara.
"Do, pray, restore her to favor," pleaded madame.
"I shall see. Just look, Madame Vine! I broke this, a minute or two ago. Is it not a pity?"
Barbara held in her hand a beautiful toilette ornament, set in pure gold. One of the petals had come off.
Madame Vine examined it. "I have some cement upstairs that would join it," she exclaimed. "I could do it in two minutes. I bought it in France."
"Oh, I wish you would," was Barbara's delighted response. "Do bring it here and join it now. Shall I bribe you?" she added, laughing. "You make this all right, and then you shall bear back grace to Lucy—for I perceive that is what your heart is set upon."
Madame Vine went, and returned with her cement. Barbara watched her, as she took the pieces in her hand, to see how the one must fit on to the other.
"This has been broken once, as Joyce tells me," Barbara said. "But it must have been imperceptibly joined, for I have looked in vain for the damage. Mr. Carlyle bought it for his first wife, when they were in London, after their marriage. She broke it subsequently here, at East Lynne. You will never do it, Madame Vine, if your hand shakes like that. What is the matter?"
A great deal was the matter. First, the ominous words had been upon her tongue. "It was here where the stem joins the flower;" but she recollected herself in time. Next came up the past vision of the place and hour when the accident occurred. Her hanging sleeve had swept it off the table. Mr. Carlyle was in the room, and he had soothed her sorrow—her almost childish sorrow with kisses sweet. Ah me! poor thing! I think our hands would have shaken as hers did. The ornament and the kisses were Barbara's now.
"I ran quickly up the stairs and back again," was the explanation she offered to Mrs. Carlyle for her shaking hands.
At that moment Mr. Carlyle and their guests were heard to return, and ascend to their respective apartments, Lord Vane's gleeful voice echoing through the house. Mr. Carlyle came into his wife's dressing-room, and Madame Vine would have made a precipitate retreat.
"No, no," said Barbara, "finish it, now you have begun. Mr. Carlyle will be going to his room. Look at the misfortune I have had. Archibald, I have broken this."
Mr. Carlyle glanced carelessly at the trinket, and at Madame Vine's white fingers. He crossed to the door of his dressing-room and opened it, then held out his hand in silence for Barbara to approach and drew her in with him. Madame Vine went on with her work.
Presently Barbara returned, and approached the table where stood Madame Vine, while she drew on her gloves. Her eyelashes were wet.
"I could not help shedding a few tears of joy," exclaimed Barbara, with a pretty blush, perceiving that madame observed the signs. "Mr. Carlyle has been telling me that my brother's innocence is now all but patent to the world. It came out upon the examination of those two men, Sir Francis and Otway Bethel. Lord Mount Severn was present at the proceedings, and says they have in some way incriminated each other. Papa sat in his place as chairman; I wonder that he liked to do so."
Lower bent the head of Madame Vine over her employment. "Has anything been proved against them?" she asked, in her usual soft tone, almost a whisper.
"There is not the least doubt of the guilt of Levison, but Otway Bethel's share in the affair is a puzzle yet," replied Mrs. Carlyle. "Both are committed for trial. Oh, that man! that man! how his sins come out!" she continued in excitement.
Madame Vine glanced up through her spectacles.
"Would you believe," continued Barbara, dropping her voice, "that while West Lynne, and I fear ourselves also, gave that miserable Afy credit for having gone away with Richard, she was all the time with Levison? Ball, the lawyer got her to confess to-day. I am unacquainted with the details; Mr. Carlyle would not give them to me. He said the bare fact was quite enough, and considering the associations it involved, would not do to talk of."
Mr. Carlyle was right.
"Out it seems to come, little by little, one wickedness after another!" resumed Barbara. "I do not like Mr. Carlyle to hear it. No, I don't. Of course there is no help for it; but he must feel it terribly, as must also Lord Mount Severn. She was his wife, you know, and the children are hers; and to think that she—I mean he—must feel it for her," went on Barbara after her sudden pause, and there was some hauteur in her tone lest she should be misunderstood. "Mr. Carlyle is one of the very few men, so entirely noble, whom the sort of disgrace reflected from Lady Isabel's conduct cannot touch."
The carriage of the first guest. Barbara ran across the room, and rattled at Mr. Carlyle's door. "Archibald do you hear?"
Back came the laughing answer. "I shan't keep them long. But they may surely accord a few minutes' grace to a man who has just been converted into an M. P."
Barbara descended to the drawing-room, leaving her, that unhappy lady, to the cement and the broken pieces, and to battle as best she could with her bitter heart. Nothing but stabs; nothing but stabs! Was her punishment ever to end? No. The step she had taken in coming back to East Lynne had precluded that.
The guests arrived; all save Mr. and Mrs. Hare. Barbara received a note from her instead. The justice did not feel well enough to join them.
I should think he did not.
A pleasant party it was at East Lynne, and twelve o'clock struck before the carriage of the last guest drove away. It may have been from one to two hours after that, and the house was steeped in moonlight and quietness, everybody being abed and asleep when a loud summons at the hall bell echoed through the stillness.
The first to put her head out the window was Wilson. "Is it fire?" shrieked she, in the most excessive state of terror conceivable. Wilson had a natural dread of fire—some people do possess this dread more than others—and had oftentime aroused the house to a commotion by declaring she smelt it. "Is it fire?" shrieked Wilson.
"Yes!" was shouted at the top of a man's voice, who stepped from between the entrance pillars to answer.
Wilson waited for no more. Clutching at the baby with one hand—a fine young gentleman now of near twelve months old, promising fair to be as great a source of trouble to Wilson and the nursery as was his brother Archibald, whom he greatly resembled—and at Archie with the other, out she flew to the corridor screeching "Fire! fire! fire!" never ceasing, down tore Wilson with the four children, and burst unceremoniously into the sleeping apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. By this time the children, terrified out of their senses, not at Wilson's cry of alarm, but at the summary propelling downstairs, set up a shrieking, too. Madame Vine, believing that half the house as least was in flames, was the next to appear, throwing on a shawl she had caught up, and then came Joyce.
"Fire! fire! fire!" shouted Wilson; "we are all being burnt up together!"
Poor Mrs. Carlyle, thus wildly aroused from sleep, sprang out of bed and into the corridor in her night-dress. Everybody else was in a night-dress—when folks are flying for dear life, they don't stop to look for their dress-coats and best blonde caps. Out came Mr. Carlyle, who has hastily assumed his pantaloons.
He cast a rapid glance down to the hall, and saw that the stairs were perfectly free for escape; therefore to hurry was not so violent. Every soul around him was shrieking in concert, making the confusion and din terrific. The bright moonlight streamed in at the corridor windows, but there was no other light; shadowy and indistinct enough looked the white figures.
"Where is the fire?" he exclaimed. "I don't smell any. Who gave the first alarm?"
The bell answered him. The hall-bell, which rang out ten times louder and longer than before. He opened one of the windows and leaned from it. "Who's there?" Madame Vine caught up Archie.
"It's me, sir," responded a voice, which he at once recognized to be that of one of Mr. Hare's men-servants. "Master has been took in a fit, sir, and mistress sent me for you and Miss Barbara. You must please make haste, sir, if you want to see him alive."
Miss Barbara! It was more familiar to Jasper, in a moment of excitement, than the new name.
"You, Jasper! Is the house on fire—this house?"
"Well, I don't know, sir. I can hear a dreadful deal of screeching in it."
Mr. Carlyle closed the window. He began to suspect that the danger lay in fear alone. "Who told you there was fire?" he demanded of Wilson.
"That man ringing at the door," sobbed Wilson. "Thank goodness I have saved the children!"
Mr. Carlyle felt somewhat exasperated at the mistake. His wife was trembling from head to foot, her face of a deadly whiteness, and he knew that she was not in a condition to be alarmed, necessarily or unnecessarily. She clung to him in terror, asking if they could escape.
"My darling, be calm! There's no fire; it's a stupid mistake. You may all go back to bed and sleep in peace," he added to the rest, "and the next time that you alarm the house in the night, Wilson, have the goodness to make yourself sure, first of all, that there's cause for it."
Barbara, frightened still, bewildered and uncertain, escaped to the window and threw it open. But Mr. Carlyle was nearly as quick as she; he caught her to him with one hand, and drew the window down with the other. To have these tidings told to her abruptly would be worse than all. By this time some of the servants had descended the other staircase with a light, being in various stages of costume, and hastened to open the hall-door. Jasper entered. The man had probably waited to help to put out the "fire." Barbara caught sight of him ere Mr. Carlyle could prevent it, and grew sick with fear, believing some ill had happened to her mother.
Drawing her inside their chamber, he broke the news to her soothingly and tenderly, making light of it.
She burst into tears. "You are not deceiving me, Archibald? Papa is not dead?"
"Dead!" cheerfully echoed Mr. Carlyle, in the same tone he might have used had Barbara wondered whether the justice was taking a night airing for pleasure in a balloon. "Wilson has indeed frightened you, love. Dress yourself, and we will go and see him."
At that moment Barbara recollected William. Strange that she should have been the first to do so—before Lady Isabel—before Mr. Carlyle. She ran out again to the corridors, where the boy stood shivering. "He may have caught his death!" she uttered, snatching him up in her arms. "Oh, Wilson! What have you done? His night-gown is damp and cold."
Unfit as she was for the burden, she bore him to her own bed. Wilson was not at leisure to attend to reproaches just then. She was engaged in a wordy war with Jasper, leaning over the balustrades to carry it on.
"I never told you there was a fire!" indignantly denied Jasper.
"You did. I opened the nursery window and called out 'Is it fire?' and you answered 'Yes.'"
"You called out 'Is it Jasper?' What else should I say but 'Yes,' to that? Fire? Where was the fire likely to be—in the park?"
"Wilson take the children back to bed," authoritatively spoke Mr. Carlyle, as he advanced to look down into the hall. "John, are you there? The close carriage, instantly—look sharp. Madame Vine, pray don't continue to hold that heavy boy; Joyce can't you relieve madame?"
In crossing back to his room, Mr. Carlyle had brushed past madame, and noticed that she appeared to be shaking, as with the weight of Archibald. In reality she was still alarmed, not understanding yet the cause of the commotion. Joyce, who comprehended it as little, and had stood with her arms round Lucy, advanced to take Archibald, and Mr. Carlyle disappeared. Barbara had taken off her own warm night-gown then, and put it upon William in place of his cold one—had struck a light and was busily dressing herself.
"Just feel his night-gown Archibald! Wilson—"
A shrill cry of awful terror interrupted the words, and Mr. Carlyle made one bound out again. Barbara followed; the least she thought was that Wilson had dropped the baby in the hall.
That was not the catastrophe. Wilson, with the baby and Lucy, had already disappeared up the staircase, and Madame Vine was disappearing. Archibald lay on the soft carpet of the corridor, where madame had stood; for Joyce, in the act of taking him, had let him slip to the ground—let him fall from sheer terror. She held on to the balustrades, her face ghastly, her mouth open, her eyes fixed in horror—altogether an object to look upon. Archie gathered himself on his sturdy legs, and stood staring.
"Why, Joyce! What is the matter with you?" cried Mr. Carlyle. "You look as if you had seen a spectre."
"Oh, master!" she wailed, "I have seen one."
"Are you all going deranged together?" retorted he, wondering what had come to the house. "Seen a spectre, Joyce?"
Joyce fell on her knees, as if unable to support herself, and crossed her shaking hands upon her chest. Had she seen ten spectres she could not have betrayed more dire distress. She was a sensible and faithful servant, one not given to flights of fancy, and Mr. Carlyle gazed at her in very amazement.
"Joyce, what is this?" he asked, bending down and speaking kindly.
"Oh, my dear master! Heaven have mercy upon us all!" was the inexplicable answer.
"Joyce I ask you what is this?"
She made no reply. She rose up shaking; and, taking Archie's hand, slowly proceeded toward the upper stairs, low moans breaking from her, and the boy's naked feet pattering on the carpet.
"What can ail her?" whispered Barbara, following Joyce with her eyes. "What did she mean about a spectre?"
"She must have been reading a ghost-book," said Carlyle. "Wilson's folly has turned the house topsy-turvy. Make your haste, Barbara."
Spring waned. Summer came, and would soon be waning, too, for the hot days of July were now in. What had the months brought forth, since the election of Mr. Carlyle in April? Be you very sure they had not been without their events.
Mr. Justice Hare's illness had turned out to be a stroke of paralysis. People cannot act with unnatural harshness toward a child, and then discover they have been in the wrong, with impunity. Thus it proved with Mr. Justice Hare. He was recovering, but would never again be the man he had been. The fright, when Jasper had gone to tell of his illness at East Lynne, and was mistaken for fire, had done nobody any damage, save William and Joyce. William had caught a cold, which brought increased malady to the lungs; and Joyce seemed to have caught fear. She went about, more like one in a dream than awake, would be buried in a reverie for an hour at a time, and if suddenly spoken to, would start and shiver.
Mr. Carlyle and his wife departed for London immediately that Mr. Hare was pronounced out of danger; which was in about a week from the time of his seizure. William accompanied them, partly for the benefit of London advice, partly that Mr. Carlyle would not be parted from him. Joyce went, in attendance with some of the servants.
They found London ringing with the news of Sir Francis Levison's arrest. London could not understand it; and the most wild and improbable tales were in circulation. The season was at its height; the excitement in proportion; it was more than a nine days' wonder. On the very evening of their arrival a lady, young and beautiful, was shown in to the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. She had declined to give her name, but there arose to Mr. Carlyle's memory, when he looked upon her, one whom he had seen in earlier days as the friend of his first wife—Blanche Challoner. It was not Blanche, however.
The stranger looked keenly at Mr. Carlyle. He was standing with his hat in his hand, on the point of going out. "Will you pardon this intrusion?" she asked. "I have come to you as one human being in need comes to crave help of another. I am Lady Levison."
Barbara's face flushed. Mr. Carlyle courteously invited the stranger to a chair, remaining standing himself. She sat for a moment, and then rose, evidently in an excess of agitation.
"Yes, I am Lady Levison, forced to call that man husband. That he has been a wicked man, I have long known; but now I hear he is a criminal. I hear it, I say, but I can get the truth from none. I went to Lord Mount Severn; he declined to give me particulars. I heard that Mr. Carlyle would be in town to-day, and I resolved to come and ask them of him."
She delivered the sentences in a jerking, abrupt tone, betraying her inward emotion. Mr. Carlyle, looking somewhat unapproachable, made no immediate reply.
"You and I have both been deeply wronged by him, Mr. Carlyle, but I brought my wrong upon myself, you did not. My sister, Blanche, whom he had cruelly treated—and if I speak of it, I only speak of what is known to the world—warned me against him. Mrs. Levison, his grandmother, that ancient lady who must now be bordering upon ninety, she warned me. The night before my wedding day, she came on purpose to tell me that if I married Francis Levison I should rue it for life. There was yet time to retract she said. Yes; there would have been time; but there was no will. I would not listen to either. I was led away by vanity, by folly, by something worse—the triumphing over my own sister. Poor Blanche! But which has the best of the bargain now, she or I? And I have a child," she continued, dropping her voice, "a boy who inherits his father's name. Mr. Carlyle, will they condemn him?"
"Nothing, as yet, is positively proved against him," replied Mr. Carlyle, compassionating the unhappy lady.
"If I could but get a divorce!" she passionately uttered, apparently losing all self-control. "I might have got one, over and over again, since we married, but there would have been the expose and the scandal. If I could but change my child's name! Tell me—does any chance of redress remain for me?"
There was none, and Mr. Carlyle did not attempt to speak of any. He offered a few kind words of sympathy, very generally expressed, and then prepared to go out. She moved, and stood in his way.
"You will not leave until you have given me the particulars! I pray you, do not! I came trustingly to you, hoping to know them."
"I am waited for, to keep an important engagement," he answered. "And were my time at liberty, I should decline to tell them to you, on my own account, as well as on yours. Lay not discourtesy to my charge, Lady Levison. Were I to speak of the man, even to you, his name would blister my lips."
"In every word of hate spoken by you I would sympathize; every contemptuous expression of scorn, cast upon him from your heart, I would join in, tenfold."
Barbara was shocked. "He is your husband, after all," she took leave to whisper.
"My husband!" broke forth Lady Levison, in agitation, seemingly. "Yes! there's the wrong. Why did he, knowing what he was, delude me into becoming his wife? You ought to feel for me, Mrs. Carlyle; and you do feel for me, for you are a wife and mother. How dare these base men marry—take to themselves an innocent, inexperienced girl, vowing, before God, to love and honor and cherish her? Were not his other sins impediment enough but he must have crime, also, and woo me! He has done me deep and irredeemable wrong, and has entailed upon his child an inheritance of shame. What had he or I done to deserve it, I ask?"
Barbara felt half frightened at her vehemence; and Barbara might be thankful not to understand it. All her native gentleness, all her reticence of feeling, as a wife and a gentlewoman, had been goaded out of her. The process had been going on for some time, but this last revelation was the crowning point; and Alice, Lady Levison, turned round upon the world in her helpless resentment, as any poor wife, working in a garret, might have done. There are certain wrongs which bring out human nature in the high-born, as well as in the low. "Still he is your husband," was all Barbara could, with deprecation, again plead.
"He made himself my husband by deceit, and I will throw him off in the face of day," returned Lady Levison. "There is no moral obligation why I should not. He has worked ill and ruin—ill and ruin upon me and my child, and the world shall never be allowed to think I have borne my share in it. How was it you kept your hands off him, when he reappeared, to brave you, in West Lynne?" she added, in a changed tone, turning to Mr. Carlyle.
"I cannot tell. I was a marvel oftentimes to myself."
He quitted the room as he spoke, adding a few civil words about her with Mrs. Carlyle. Barbara, not possessing the scruples of her husband, yielded to Lady Levison's request, and gave her the outline of the dark tale. Its outline only; and generously suppressing Afy's name beyond the evening of the fatal event. Lady Levison listened without interruption.
"Do you and Mr. Carlyle believe him to have been guilty?"
"Yes; but Mr. Carlyle will not express his opinion to the world. He does not repay wrong with revenge. I have heard him say that if the lifting of his finger would send the man to his punishment, he would tie down his hand rather than lift it."
"Was his first wife, Isabel Vane, mad?" she presently asked.
"Mad!" echoed Barbara, in surprise.
"When she quitted him for the other. It could have been nothing else than madness. I could understand a woman's flying from him for love of Mr. Carlyle; but now that I have seen your husband, I cannot understand the reverse side of the picture. I thank you for your courtesy, Mrs. Carlyle."
And, without another word, Alice Levison quitted the room as abruptly as she had entered it.
Well, the London visit came to an end. It was of little more than three weeks' duration, for Barbara must be safe at home again. Mr. Carlyle remained for the rest of the season alone, but he varied it with journeys to East Lynne. He had returned home for good now, July, although the session had not quite terminated. There was another baby at East Lynne, a lovely little baby, pretty as Barbara herself had been at a month old. William was fading rapidly. The London physicians had but confirmed the opinion of Dr. Martin, and it was evident to all that the close would not be long protracted.
Somebody else was fading—Lady Isabel. The cross had been too heavy, and she was sinking under its weight. Can you wonder at it?
An intensely hot day it was under the July sun. Afy Hallijohn was sailing up the street in its beams, finer and vainer than ever. She encountered Mr. Carlyle.
"So, Afy, you are really going to be married at last?"
"Jiffin fancies so, sir. I am not sure yet but what I shall change my mind. Jiffin thinks there's nobody like me. If I could eat gold and silver, he'd provide it; and he's as fond as fond can be. But then you know, sir, he's half soft."
"Soft as to you, perhaps," laughed Mr. Carlyle. "I consider him a very civil, respectable man, Afy."
"And then, I never did think to marry a shopkeeper," grumbled Afy; "I looked a little higher than that. Only fancy, sir, having a husband who wears a white apron tied round him!"
"Terrible!" responded Mr. Carlyle, with a grave face.
"Not but what it will be a tolerable settlement," rejoined Afy, veering round a point. "He's having his house done up in style, and I shall keep two good servants, and do nothing myself but dress and subscribe to the library. He makes plenty of money."
"A very tolerable settlement, I should say," returned Mr. Carlyle; and Afy's face fell before the glance of his eye, merry though it was. "Take care you don't spend all his money for him, Afy."
"I'll take care of that," nodded Afy, significantly. "Sir," she somewhat abruptly added, "what is it that's the matter with Joyce?"
"I do not know," said Mr. Carlyle, becoming serious. "There does appear to be something the matter with her, for she is much changed."
"I never saw anybody so changed in my life," exclaimed Afy. "I told her the other day that she was just like one who had got some dreadful secret upon their mind."
"It is really more like that than anything else," observed Mr. Carlyle.
"But she is one of the close ones, is Joyce," continued Afy. "No fear that she'll give out a clue, if it does not suit her to do so. She told me, in answer, to mind my own business, and not to take absurd fancies in my head. How is the baby, sir, and Mrs. Carlyle?"
"All well. Good day, Afy."