East Lynne/Chapter 8

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Before Lord Mount Severn had completed the fortnight of his proposed stay, the gout came on seriously. It was impossible for him to move away from East Lynne. Mr. Carlyle assured him he was only too pleased that he should remain as long as might be convenient, and the earl expressed his acknowledgments; he hoped soon to be re-established on his legs.

But he was not. The gout came, and the gout went—not positively laying him up in bed, but rendering him unable to leave his rooms; and this continued until October, when he grew much better. The county families had been neighborly, calling on the invalid earl, and occasionally carrying off Lady Isabel, but his chief and constant visitor had been Mr. Carlyle. The earl had grown to like him in no common degree, and was disappointed if Mr. Carlyle spent an evening away from him, so that he became, as it were, quite domesticated with the earl and Isabel. "I am not quite equal to general society," he observed to his daughter, "and it is considerate and kind of Carlyle to come here and cheer my loneliness."

"Extremely kind," said Isabel. "I like him very much, papa."

"I don't know anybody that I like half as well," was the rejoinder of the earl.

Mr. Carlyle went up as usual the same evening, and, in the course of it, the earl asked Isabel to sing.

"I will if you wish, papa," was the reply, "but the piano is so much out of tune that it is not pleasant to sing to it. Is there any one in West Lynne who could come here and tune my piano, Mr. Carlyle?" she added, turning to him.

"Certainly there is. Kane would do it. Shall I send him to-morrow?"

"I should be glad, if it would not be giving you too much trouble. Not that tuning will benefit it greatly, old thing that it is. Were we to be much at East Lynne, I should get papa to exchange it for a good one."

Little thought Lady Isabel that that very piano was Mr. Carlyle's, and not hers. The earl coughed, and exchanged a smile and a glance with his guest.

Mr. Kane was the organist of St. Jude's church, a man of embarrassment and sorrow, who had long had a sore fight with the world. When he arrived at East Lynne, the following day, dispatched by Mr. Carlyle, Lady Isabel happened to be playing, and she stood by, and watched him begin his work. She was courteous and affable—she was so to every one—and the poor music master took courage to speak of his own affairs, and to prefer a humble request—that she and Lord Mount Severn would patronize and personally attend a concert he was about to give the following week. A scarlet blush came into his thin cheeks as he confessed that he was very poor, could scarcely live, and he was getting up this concert in his desperate need. If it succeeded well, he could then go on again; if not, he should be turned out of his home, and his furniture sold for the two years' rent he owed—and he had seven children.

Isabel, all her sympathies awakened, sought the earl. "Oh, papa! I have to ask you the greatest favor. Will you grant it?"

"Ay, child, you don't ask them often. What is it?"

"I want you to take me to a concert at West Lynne."

The earl fell back in surprise, and stared at Isabel. "A concert at West Lynne!" he laughed. "To hear the rustics scraping the fiddle! My dear Isabel!"

She poured out what she had just heard, with her own comments and additions. "Seven children, papa! And if the concert does not succeed he must give up his home, and turn out into the streets with them—it is, you see, almost a matter of life or death with him. He is very poor."

"I am poor myself," said the earl.

"I was so sorry for him when he was speaking. He kept turning red and white, and catching up his breath in agitation; it was painful to him to tell of his embarrassments. I am sure he is a gentleman."

"Well, you may take a pound's worth of tickets, Isabel, and give them to the upper servants. A village concert!"

"Oh, papa, it is not—can't you see it is not? If we, you and I, will promise to be present, all the families round West Lynne will attend, and he will have the room full. They will go because we do—he said so. Make a sacrifice for once, dearest papa, and go, if it be only for an hour. I shall enjoy it if there's nothing but a fiddle and a tambourine."

"You gipsy! You are as bad as a professional beggar. There—go and tell the fellow we will look in for half an hour."

She flew back to Mr. Kane, her eyes dancing. She spoke quietly, as she always did, but her own satisfaction gladdened her voice.

"I am happy to tell you that papa has consented. He will take four tickets and we will attend the concert."

The tears rushed into Mr. Kane's eyes; Isabel was not sure but they were in her own. He was a tall, thin, delicate-looking man, with long, white fingers, and a long neck. He faltered forth his thanks with an inquiry whether he might be allowed to state openly that they would be present.

"Tell everybody," said she, eagerly. "Everybody you come across, if, as you think, it will be the means of inducing people to attend. I shall tell all friends who call upon me, and ask them to go."

When Mr. Carlyle came up in the evening, the earl was temporarily absent from the room. Isabel began to speak of the concert.

"It is a hazardous venture for Mr. Kane," observed Mr. Carlyle. "I fear he will only lose money, and add to his embarrassments."

"Why do you fear that?" she asked.

"Because, Lady Isabel, nothing gets patronized at West Lynne—nothing native; and people have heard so long of poor Kane's necessities, that they think little of them."

"Is he so very poor?"

"Very. He is starved half his time."

"Starved!" repeated Isabel, an expression of perplexity arising to her face as she looked at Mr. Carlyle, for she scarcely understood him. "Do you mean that he does not have enough to eat?"

"Of bread he may, but not much better nourishment. His salary, as organist, is thirty pounds, and he gets a little stray teaching. But he has his wife and children to keep, and no doubt serves them before himself. I dare say he scarcely knows what it is to taste meat."

The words brought a bitter pang to Lady Isabel.

"Not enough to eat! Never to taste meat!" And she, in her carelessness, her ignorance, her indifference—she scarcely knew what term to give it—had not thought to order him a meal in their house of plenty! He had walked from West Lynne, occupied himself an hour with her piano, and set off to walk back again, battling with his hunger. A word from her, and a repast had been set before him out of their superfluities such as he never sat down to, and that word she had not spoken.

"You are looking grave, Lady Isabel."

"I'm taking contrition to myself. Never mind, it cannot now be helped, but it will always be a dark spot on my memory."

"What is it?"

She lifted her repentant face to his and smiled. "Never mind, I say, Mr. Carlyle; what is past cannot be recalled. He looks like a gentleman."

"Who? Kane? A gentleman bred; his father was a clergyman. Kane's ruin was his love of music—it prevented his settling to any better paid profession; his early marriage also was a drawback and kept him down. He is young still."

"Mr. Carlyle I would not be one of your West Lynne people for the world. Here is a young gentleman struggling with adversity, and you won't put out your hand to help him!"

He smiled at her warmth. "Some of us will take tickets—I, for one; but I don't know about attending the concert. I fear few would do that."

"Because that's just the thing that would serve him? If one went, another would. Well, I shall try and show West Lynne that I don't take a lesson from their book; I shall be there before it begins, and never come out till the last song's over. I am not too grand to go, if West Lynne is."

"You surely do not think of going?"

"I surely do think of it; and papa goes with me—I persuaded him; and I have given Mr. Kane the promise."

Mr. Carlyle paused. "I am glad to hear it; it will be a perfect boon to Kane. If it once gets abroad that Lord Mount Severn and Lady Isabel intend to honor the concert, there won't be standing room."

She danced round with a little gleeful step. "What high and mighty personages Lord Mount Severn and Lady Isabel seem to be! If you had any goodness of heart, Mr. Carlyle, you would enlist yourself in the cause also."

"I think I will," he smiled.

"Papa says you hold sway at West Lynne. If you proclaim that you mean to go, you will induce others."

"I will proclaim that you do," he answered; "that will be all sufficient. But, Lady Isabel, you must not expect much gratification from the performance."

"A tambourine will be quite enough for me; I told papa so, I shan't think of music; I shall think of poor Mr. Kane. Mr. Carlyle I know you can be kind if you like; I know you would rather be kind than otherwise—it is to be read in your face. Try and do what you can for him."

"Yes, I will," he warmly answered.

Mr. Carlyle sold no end of tickets the following day, or rather caused them to be sold. He praised up the concert far and wide, and proclaimed that Lord Mount Severn and his daughter would not think of missing it. Mr. Kane's house was besieged for tickets, faster than he could write his signature in their corner; and when Mr. Carlyle went home to luncheon at midday, which he did not often do, he laid down two at Miss Corny's elbow.

"What's this? Concert tickets! Archibald, you have never gone and bought these!"

What would she have said had she known that the two were not the extent of his investment?

"Ten shillings to throw away upon two paltry bits of cardboard!" chafed Miss Carlyle. "You always were a noodle in money matters, Archibald, and always will be. I wish I had the keeping of your purse!"

"What I have given will not hurt me, Cornelia, and Kane is badly off. Think of his troop of children."

"Oh, dear!" said Miss Corny. "I imagine he should think of them. I suppose it was his own fault they came. That's always it. Poor folks get a heap of children about them, and then ask for pity. I should say it would be more just if they asked for blame."

"Well, there the tickets are, bought and paid for, so they may as well be used. You will go with me, Cornelia."

"And stick ourselves there upon empty benches, like two geese, and sit staring and counting the candles! A pleasant evening?"

"You need not fear empty benches. The Mount Severns are going, and West Lynne is in a fever, racing after tickets. I suppose you have got a—a cap," looking at the nondescript article decorating his sister's head, "that will be suitable to go in, Cornelia; if not you had better order one."

This suggestion put up Miss Carlyle. "Hadn't you better have your hair curled, and your coat tails lined with white satin, and a gold opera-glass, and a cocked hat?" retorted she. "My gracious me! A fine new cap to go to their mess of a concert in, after paying ten shillings for the tickets! The world's coming to something."

Mr. Carlyle left her and her grumbling to return to the office. Lord Mount Severn's carriage was passing at the moment, and Isabel Vane was within it. She caused it to stop when she saw Mr. Carlyle, and he advanced to her.

"I have been to Mr. Kane's myself for the tickets," said she, with a beaming look. "I came into West Lynne on purpose. I told the coachman to find out where he lived, and he did. I thought if the people saw me and the carriage there, they would guess what I wanted. I do hope he will have a full concert."

"I am sure he will," replied Mr. Carlyle, as he released her hand. And Lady Isabel signed to the carriage to drive on.

As Mr. Carlyle turned away, he met Otway Bethel, a nephew of Colonel Bethel's, who was tolerated in the colonel's house because he had no other home, and appeared incapable to making himself one. Some persons persisted in calling him a gentleman—as he was by birth—others a mauvais sujet. The two are united sometimes. He was dressed in a velveteen suit, and had a gun in his hand. Indeed, he was rarely seen without a gun, being inordinately fond of sport; but, if all tales whispered were true, he supplied himself with game in other ways than by shooting, which had the credit of going up to London dealers. For the last six months or near upon it, he had been away from West Lynne.

"Why, where have you been hiding yourself?" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle. "The colonel has been inconsolable."

"Come, no gammon, Carlyle. I have been on the tramp through France and Germany. Man likes a change sometimes. As to the revered colonel, he would not be inconsolable if he saw me nailed up in a six-foot box, and carried out feet foremost."

"Bethel, I have a question to ask you," continued Mr. Carlyle, dropping his light manner and his voice together. "Take your thoughts back to the night of Hallijohn's murder."

"I wish you may get it," cried Mr. Bethel. "The reminiscence is not attractive."

"You'll do it," quietly said Mr. Carlyle. "It has been told me, though it did not appear at the inquest, that Richard Hare held a conversation with you in the wood a few minutes after the deed was done. Now—"

"Who told you that?" interrupted Bethel.

"That is not the question. My authority is indisputable."

"It is true that he did. I said nothing about it, for I did not want to make the case worse against Dick Hare than it already was. He certainly did accost me, like a man flurried out of his life."

"Asking if you had seen a certain lover of Afy's fly from the cottage. One Thorn."

"That was the purport. Thorn, Thorn—I think Thorn was the name he mentioned. My opinion was, that Dick was either wild or acting a part."

"Now, Bethel, I want you to answer me truly. The question cannot affect you either way, but I must know whether you did see this Thorn leave the cottage."

Bethel shook his head. "I know nothing whatever about any Thorn, and I saw nobody but Dick Hare. Not but what a dozen Thorns might have run from the cottage without my seeing them."

"You heard the shot fired?"

"Yes; but I never gave a thought to mischief. I knew Locksley was in the wood, and supposed it came from him. I ran across the path, bearing toward the cottage, and struck into the wood on the other side. By and by, Dick Hare pitched upon me, like one startled out of his seven senses, and asked if I had seen Thorn leave the cottage. Thorn—that was the name."

"And you had not?"

"I had seen nobody but Dick, excepting Locksley. My impression was, that nobody else was about; I think so still."

"But Richard—"

"Now look you here, Carlyle, I won't do Dick Hare an injury, even by a single word, if I can help it; and it is of no use setting me on to it."

"I should be the last to set you on to injure any one, especially Richard Hare," rejoined Mr. Carlyle; "and my motive is to do Richard Hare good, not harm. I hold a suspicion, no matter whence gathered, that it was not Richard Hare who committed the murder, but another. Can you throw any light upon the subject?"

"No, I can't. I have always thought poor wavering Dick was nobody's enemy but his own; but, as to throwing any light on that night's work, I can't do it. Cords should not have dragged me to the inquest to give evidence against Dick, and for that reason I was glad Locksley never let out that I was on the spot. How the deuce it got about afterward that I was, I can't tell; but that was no matter; my evidence did not help on the verdict. And talking of that, Carlyle, how has it come to your knowledge that Richard Hare accosted me? I have not opened my lips upon it to mortal man."

"It is of no consequence now," repeated Mr. Carlyle; "I do know it, and that is sufficient. I was in hopes you had really seen this man Thorn leave the cottage."

Otway Bethel shook his head. "I should not lay too much stress upon any Thorns having been there, were I you, Carlyle. Dick Hare was as one crazy that night, and might see shapes and forms where there were none."