East Lynne/Chapter 45
Mr. Jiffin was in his glory. Mr. Jiffin's house was the same. Both were in apple-pie order to receive Miss Afy Hallijohn, who was, in a very short period, indeed, to be converted into Mrs. Jiffin.
Mr. Jiffin had not seen Afy for some days—had never been able to come across her since the trial at Lynneborough. Every evening had he danced attendance at her lodgings, but could not get admitted. "Not at home—not at home," was the invariable answer, though Afy might be sunning herself at the window in his very sight. Mr. Jiffin, throwing off as best he could the temporary disappointment, was in an ecstasy of admiration, for he set it all down to Afy's retiring modesty on the approach of the nuptial day. "And they could try to calumniate her!" he indignantly replied.
But now, one afternoon, when Mr. Jiffin and his shopman, and his shop, and his wares, were all set out to the best advantage—and very tempting they looked, as a whole, especially the spiced bacon—Mr. Jiffin happening to cast his eyes to the opposite side of the street, beheld his beloved sailing by. She was got up in the fashion. A mauve silk dress with eighteen flounces, and about eighteen hundred steel buttons that glittered your sight away; a "zouave" jacket worked with gold; a black turban perched on the top of her skull, garnished in front with what court milliners are pleased to term a "plume de coq," but which, by its size and height, might have been taken for a "coq" himself, while a white ostrich feather was carried round and did duty behind, and a spangled hair net hung down to her waist. Gloriously grand was Afy that day and if I had but a photographing machine at hand—or whatever may be the scientific name of the thing—you should certainly have been regaled with the sight of her. Joyce would have gone down in a fit had she encountered her by an unhappy chance. Mr. Jiffin, dashing his apron anywhere, tore across.
"Oh, it is you!" said Afy, freezingly, when compelled to acknowledge him, but his offered hand she utterly repudiated. "Really, Mr. Jiffin, I should feel obliged if you would not come out to me in this offensive and public manner."
Mr. Jiffin grew cold. "Offensive! Not come out?" gasped he. "I do trust I have not been so unfortunate as to offend you, Miss Afy!"
"Well—you see," said Afy, calling up all her impudence to say what she had made up her mind to say, "I have been considering it well over, Jiffin, and I find that to carry out the marriage will not be for my—for our happiness. I intended to write to inform you of this; but I shall be spared the trouble—as you have come out to me."
The perspiration, cold as ice, began to pour off Mr. Jiffin in his agony and horror. You might have wrung every thread he had on. "You—don't mean—to—imply—that—you—give—me—up—Miss—Afy?" he jerked out, unevenly.
"Well, yes, I do," replied Afy. "It's as good to be plain, and then there can be no misapprehension. I'll shake hands now with you, Jiffin, for the last time; and I am very sorry that we both made such a mistake."
Poor Jiffin looked at her. His gaze would have melted a heart of stone. "Miss Afy, you can't mean it! You'd never, sure, crush a fellow in this manner, whose whole soul is yours; who trusted you entirely? There's not an earthly thing I would not do to please you. You have been the light of my existence."
"Of course," returned Afy, with a lofty and indifferent air, as if to be "the light of his existence" was only her due. "But it's all done and over. It is not at all a settlement that will suit me, you see, Jiffin. A butter and bacon factor is so very—so very—what I have not been accustomed to! And then, those aprons! I never could get reconciled to them."
"I'll discard the aprons altogether," cried he, in a fever. "I'll get a second shopman, and buy a little gig, and do nothing but drive you out. I'll do anything if you will but have me still, Miss Afy. I have bought the ring, you know."
"Your intentions are very kind," was the distant answer, "but it's a thing impossible; my mind is fully made up. So farewell for good, Jiffin; and I wish you better luck in your next venture."
Afy, lifting her capacious dress, for the streets had just been watered, minced off. And Mr. Joe Jiffin, wiping his wet face as he gazed after her, instantly wished that he could be nailed up in one of his pickled pork barrels, and so be out of his misery.
"That's done with, thank goodness," soliloquized Afy. "Have him, indeed. After what Richard let out on the trial. As if I should look after anybody less than Dick Hare! I shall get him, too. I always knew Dick Hare loved me above everything on earth; and he does still, or he'd never had said what he did in open court. 'It's better to be born lucky than rich.' Won't West Lynne envy me! Mrs. Richard Hare of the Grove. Old Hare is on his last legs, and then Dick comes into his own. Mrs. Hare must have her jointure house elsewhere, for we shall want the Grove for ourselves. I wonder if Madame Barbara will condescend to recognize me. And that blessed Corny? I shall be a sort of cousin of Corny's then. I wonder how much Dick comes into—three or four thousand a year? And to think that I had nearly escaped this by tying myself to that ape of a Jiffin! What sharks do get in our unsuspecting paths in this world!"
On went Afy, through West Lynne, till she arrived close to Mr. Justice Hare's. Then she paced slowly. It had been a frequent walk of hers since the trial. Luck favored her to-day. As she was passing the gate, young Richard Hare came up from the direction of East Lynne. It was the first time Afy had obtained speech of him.
"Good day, Richard. Why! you were never going to pass an old friend?"
"I have so many friends," said Richard, "I can scarcely spare time for them individually."
"But you might for me. Have you forgotten old days?" continued she, bridling and flirting, and altogether showing herself off to advantage.
"No, I have not," replied Richard. "And I am not likely to do so," he pointedly added.
"Ah, I felt sure of that. My heart told me so. When you went off, that dreadful night, leaving me to anguish and suspense, I thought I should have died. I never have had, so to say, a happy moment until this, when I meet you again."
"Don't be a fool, Afy!" was Richard's gallant rejoinder, borrowing the favorite reproach of Miss Carlyle. "I was young and green once; you don't suppose I have remained so. We will drop the past, if you please. How is Mr. Jiffin?"
"Oh, the wretch!" shrieked Afy. "Is it possible that you can have fallen into the popular scandal that I have anything to say to him? You know I'd never demean myself to it. That's West Lynne all over! Nothing but inventions in it from week's end to week's end. A man who sells cheese! Who cuts up bacon! Well, I am surprised at you, Mr. Richard!"
"I have been thinking what luck you were in to get him," said Richard, with composure. "But it is your business not mine."
"Could you bear to see me stooping to him?" returned Afy, dropping her voice to the most insinuating whisper.
"Look you, Afy. What ridiculous folly you are nursing in your head I don't trouble myself to guess, but, the sooner you get it out again the better. I was an idiot once, I don't deny it; but you cured me of that, and cured me with a vengeance. You must pardon me for intimating that from henceforth we are strangers; in the street as elsewhere. I have resumed my own standing again, which I periled when I ran after you."
Afy turned faint. "How can you speak those cruel words?" gasped she.
"You have called them forth. I was told yesterday that Afy Hallijohn, dressed up to a caricature, was looking after me again. It won't do, Afy."
"Oh-o-o-oh!" sobbed Afy, growing hysterical, "and is this to be all my recompense for the years I have spent pining after you, keeping single for your sake!"
"Recompense! Oh, if you want that, I'll get my mother to give Jiffin her custom." And with a ringing laugh, which, though it had nothing of malice in it, showed Afy that he took her reproach for what it was worth, Richard turned in at his own gate.
It was a deathblow to Afy's vanity. The worst it had ever received; and she took a few minutes to compose herself, and smooth her ruffled feathers. Then she turned and sailed back toward Mr. Jiffin's, her turban up in the skies and the plume de coq tossing to the admiration of all beholders, especially of Miss Carlyle, who had the gratification of surveying her from her window. Arrived at Mr. Jiffin's, she was taken ill exactly opposite his door, and staggered into the shop in a most exhausted state.
Round the counter flew Mr. Jiffin, leaving the shopman staring behind it. What was the matter? What could he do for her?
"Faint—heat of the sun—walked too fast—allowed to sit down for five minutes!" gasped Afy, in disjointed sentences.
Mr. Jiffin tenderly conducted her through the shop to his parlor. Afy cast half an eye round, saw how comfortable were its arrangements, and her symptoms of faintness increased. Gasps and hysterical sobs came forth together. Mr. Jiffin was as one upon spikes.
"She'd recover better there than in the public shop—if she'd only excuse his bringing her in, and consent to stop for a few minutes. No harm could come to her, and West Lynne could never say it. He'd stand at the far end of the room, right away from her; he'd prop open the two doors and the windows; he'd call in the maid—anything she thought right. Should he get her a glass of wine?"
Afy declined the wine by a gesture, and sat fanning herself. Mr. Jiffin looking on from a respectful distance. Gradually she grew composed—grew herself again. As she gained courage, Mr. Jiffin lost it, and he ventured upon some faint words of reproach, of him.
Afy burst into a laugh. "Did I not do it well?" she exclaimed. "I thought I'd play off a joke upon you, so I came out this afternoon and did it."
Mr. Jiffin clasped his hands. "Was it a joke" he returned, trembling with agitation, uncertain whether he was in paradise or not. "Are you still ready to let me call you mine?"
"Of course it was a joke," said Afy. "What a soft you must have been, Mr. Jiffin, not to see through it! When young ladies engage themselves to be married, you can't suppose they run back from it, close upon the wedding-day?"
"Oh, Miss Afy!" And the poor little man actually burst into delicious tears, as he caught hold of Afy's hand and kissed it.
"A great green donkey!" thought Afy to herself, bending on him, however the sweetest smile.
Rather. But Mr. Jiffin is not the only great donkey in the world.
Richard Hare, meanwhile, had entered his mother's presence. She was sitting at the open window, the justice opposite to her, in an invalid chair, basking in the air and the sun. This last attack of the justice's had affected the mind more than the body. He was brought down to the sitting-room that day for the first time; but, of his mind, there was little hope. It was in a state of half imbecility; the most wonderful characteristic being, that all its self-will, its surliness had gone. Almost as a little child in tractability, was Justice Hare.
Richard came up to his mother, and kissed her. He had been to East Lynne. Mrs. Hare took his hand and fondly held it. The change in her was wonderful; she was a young and happy woman again.
"Barbara has decided to go to the seaside, mother. Mr. Carlyle takes her on Monday."
"I am glad, my dear, it will be sure to go her good. Richard"—bending over to her husband, but still retaining her son's hand—"Barbara has agreed to go to the seaside, I will set her up."
"Ay, ay," nodded the justice, "set her up. Seaside? Can't we go?"
"Certainly, dear, if you wish it; when you shall be a little stronger."
"Ay, ay," nodded the justice again. It was his usual answer now. "Stronger. Where's Barbara?"
"She goes on Monday, sir," said Richard, likewise bending his head. "Only for a fortnight. But they talk of going again later in the autumn."
"Can't I go, too?" repeated the justice, looking pleadingly in Richard's face.
"You shall, dear father. Who knows but a month or two's bracing would bring you quite round again? We might go all together, ourselves and the Carlyles. Anne comes to stay with us next week, you know, and we might go when her visit is over."
"Aye, all go together. Anne's coming?"
"Have you forgotten, dear Richard? She comes to stay a month with us, and Mr. Clitheroe and the children. I am so pleased she will find you better," added Mrs. Hare, her gentle eyes filling. "Mr. Wainwright says you may go out for a drive to-morrow."
"And I'll be coachman," laughed Richard. "It will be the old times come round again. Do you remember, father, my breaking the pole, one moonlight night, and your not letting me drive for six months afterwards?"
The poor justice laughed in answer to Richard, laughed till the tears ran down his face, probably not knowing in the least what he was laughing at.
"Richard," said Mrs. Hare to her son, almost in an apprehensive tone, her hand pressing his nervously, "was not that Afy Hallijohn I saw you speaking with at the gate?"
"Did you? What a spectacle she had made of herself! I wonder she is not ashamed to go through the streets in such a guise! Indeed, I wonder she shows herself at all."
"Richard, you—you—will not be drawn in again?" were the next whispered words.
"Mother!" There was a sternness in his mild blue eyes as he cast them upon his mother. Those beautiful eyes—the very counterpart of Barbara's, both his and hers the counterpart of Mrs. Hare's. The look had been sufficient refutation without words.
"Mother mine, I am going to belong to you in the future, and to nobody else. West Lynne is already busy for me, I understand, pleasantly carving out my destiny. One marvels whether I shall lose myself with Miss Afy; another, that I shall set on offhand, and court Louisa Dobede. They are all wrong; my place will be with my darling mother,—at least, for several years to come."
She clasped his hand to her bosom in her glad delight.
"We want happiness together, mother, to enable us to forget the past; for upon none did the blow fall, as upon you and upon me. And the happiness we shall find, in our own home, living for each other, and striving to amuse my poor father."
"Aye, aye," complacently put in Justice Hare.
So it would be. Richard had returned to his home, had become, to all intent and purposes, its master; for the justice would never be in a state to hold sway again. He had resumed his position; and regained the favor of West Lynne, which, always in extremes, was now wanting to kill him with kindness. A happy, happy home from henceforth; and Mrs. Hare lifted up her full heart in thankfulness to God. Perhaps Richard's went up also.
One word touching that wretched prisoner in the condemned cell at Lynneborough. As you must have anticipated, the extreme sentence was not carried out. And, little favorite as Sir Francis is with you and with me, we can but admit that justice did not demand that it should be. That he had willfully killed Hallijohn, was certain; but the act was committed in a moment of wild rage; it had not been premeditated. The sentence was commuted to transportation. A far more disgraceful one in the estimation of Sir Francis; a far more unwelcome one in the eyes of his wife. It is no use to mince the truth, one little grain of comfort had penetrated to Lady Levison; the anticipation of the time when she and her ill-fated child should be alone, and could hide themselves in some hidden nook of the wide world; he, and his crime, and his end gone; forgotten. But it seems he was not to go and be forgotten; she and the boy must be tied to him still; and she was lost in horror and rebellion.
He envied the dead Hallijohn, did that man, as he looked forth on the future. A cheering prospect truly! The gay Sir Francis Levison working in chains with his gang! Where would his diamonds and his perfumed handkerchiefs and his white hands be then? After a time he might get a ticket-of-leave. He groaned in agony as the turnkey suggested it to him. A ticket-of-leave for him! Oh, why did they not hang him? he wailed forth as he closed his eyes to the dim light. The light of the cell, you understand; he could not close them to the light of the future. No; never again; it shone out all too plainly, dazzling his brain as with a flame of living fire.