East Lynne/Chapter 9

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The concert was to take place on Thursday, and on the following Saturday Lord Mount Severn intended finally to quit East Lynne. The necessary preparations for departure were in progress, but when Thursday morning dawned, it appeared a question whether they would not once more be rendered nugatory. The house was roused betimes, and Mr. Wainwright, the surgeon from West Lynne, summoned to the earl's bedside; he had experienced another and a violent attack. The peer was exceedingly annoyed and vexed, and very irritable.

"I may be kept here a week—a month—a fortnight—a month longer, now!" he uttered fretfully to Isabel.

"I am very sorry, papa. I dare say you do find East Lynne dull."

"Dull! That's not it; I have other reasons for wishing East Lynne to be quit of us. And now you can't go to the concert."

Isabel's face flushed. "Not go, papa?"

"Why, who is to take you. I can't get out of bed."

"Oh, papa, I must be there. Otherwise it would like almost as though—as though we had announced what we did not mean to perform. You know it was arranged that we should join the Ducies; the carriage can still take me to the concert room, and I can go in with them."

"Just as you please. I thought you would have jumped at any plea for staying away."

"Not at all," laughed Isabel. "I should like West Lynne to see that I don't despise Mr. Kane and his concert."

Later in the day the earl grew alarmingly worse; his paroxysms of pain were awful. Isabel, who was kept from the room, knew nothing of the danger, and the earl's groans did not penetrate to her ears. She dressed herself in a gleeful mode, full of laughing willfulness, Marvel, her maid, superintending in stiff displeasure, for the attire chosen did not meet her approbation. When ready, she went into the earl's room.

"Shall I do, papa?"

Lord Mount Severn raised his swollen eyelids and drew the clothes from his flushed face. A shining vision was standing before him, a beauteous queen, a gleaming fairy; he hardly knew what she looked like. She had put on a white lace hat and her diamonds; the dress was rich, and the jewels gleamed from her delicate arms: and her cheeks were flushed and her curls were flowing.

The earl stared at her in amazement. "How could you dress yourself off like that for a concert? You are out of yours senses, Isabel."

"Marvel thinks so, too," was the gay answer; "she has had a cross face since I told her what to put on. But I did it on purpose, papa; I thought I would show those West Lynne people that I think the poor man's moment worth going to, and worth dressing for."

"You will have the whole room gaping at you."

"I don't mind. I'll bring you word all about it. Let them gape."

"You vain child! You have so dressed yourself to please your vanity. But, Isabel, you—oooh!"

Isabel started as she stood; the earl's groan of pain was dreadful.

"An awful twinge, child. There, go along; talking makes me worse."

"Papa, shall I stay at home with you?" she gravely asked. "Every consideration should give way to illness. If you would like me to remain, or if I can do any good, pray let me."

"Quite the contrary; I had rather you were away. You can do no earthly good, for I could not have you in the room. Good-bye, darling. If you see Carlyle, tell him I shall hope to see him to-morrow."

The room was partly full when Mrs. Ducie, her two daughters, and Lady Isabel entered, and were conducted to seats by Mr. Kane—seats he had reserved for them at the upper end, near the orchestra. The same dazzling vision which had burst on the sight of Lord Mount Severn fell on that of the audience, in Isabel, with her rich, white dress, her glittering diamonds, her flowing curls, and her wondrous beauty. The Misses Ducie, plain girls, in brown silks, turned up their noses worse than nature had done it for them, and Mrs. Ducie heaved an audible sigh.

"The poor motherless girl is to be pitied, my dears," she whispered; "she has nobody to point out to her suitable attire. This ridiculous decking out must have been Marvel's doings."

But she looked like a lily among poppies and sunflowers whether the "decking out" was ridiculous or not. Was Lord Mount Severn right, when he accused her of dressing so in self-gratification? Very likely, for has not the great preacher said that childhood and youth are vanity?

Miss Carlyle, the justice, and Barbara also had seats near the orchestra; for Miss Carlyle, in West Lynne, was a person to be considered, and not hidden behind others. Mr. Carlyle, however, preferred to join the gentlemen who congregated and stood round about the door inside and out. There was scarcely standing room in the place; Mr. Kane had, as was anticipated, got a bumper, and the poor man could have worshipped Lady Isabel, for he knew he owed it to her.

It was very long—country concerts generally are—and was about three parts over when a powdered head, larger than any cauliflower ever grown, was discerned ascending the stairs, behind the group of gentlemen; which head, when it brought its body in full view, was discovered to belong to one of the footmen of Lord Mount Severn. The calves alone, cased in their silk stockings, were a sight to be seen; and these calves betook themselves inside the concert room, with a deprecatory bow for permission to the gentlemen they had to steer through—and there they came to a standstill, the cauliflower extending forward and turning itself about from right to left.

"Well, I'll be jiffled!" cried an astonished old fox-hunter, who had been elbowed by the footman; "the cheek these fellows have!"

The fellow in question did not appear, however, to be enjoying any great amount of cheek just at that moment, for he looked perplexed, humble and uneasy. Suddenly his eye fell upon Mr. Carlyle, and it lighted up.

"Beg pardon, sir; could you happen to inform me where-abouts my young lady is sitting?"

"At the other end of the room, near the orchestra."

"I'm sure I don't know however I am to get to her, then," returned the man more in self-soliloquy than to Mr. Carlyle. "The room is choke full, and I don't like crushing by. My lord is taken alarmingly worse, sir," he explained in an awe-stricken tone; "it is feared he is dying."

Mr. Carlyle was painfully startled.

"His screams of pain were awful, sir. Mr. Wainwright and another doctor from West Lynne are with him, and an express has gone to Lynneboro' for physicians. Mrs. Mason said we were to fetch my young lady right home, and not lose a moment; and we brought the carriage, sir, Wells galloping his horses all the way."

"I will bring Lady Isabel," said Mr. Carlyle.

"I am sure, sir, I should be under everlasting obligations if you would," returned the man.

He worked his way through the concert room—he was tall and slender—many looking daggers at him, for a pathetic song was just then being given by a London lady. He disregarded all, and stood before Isabel.

"I thought you were not coming to speak to me to-night. Is it not a famous room? I am so pleased!"

"More than famous, Lady Isabel," choosing his words, that they might not alarm her, "Lord Mount Severn does not find himself so well, and he has sent the carriage for you."

"Papa not so well!" she quickly exclaimed.

"Not quite. At any rate, he wishes you to go home. Will you allow me to pilot you through the room?"

"Oh, my dear, considerate papa!" she laughed. "He fears I shall be weary, and would emancipate me before the time. Thank you, Mr. Carlyle, but I will wait till the conclusion."

"No, no, Lady Isabel, it is not that. Lord Mount Severn is indeed worse."

Her countenance changed to seriousness; but she was not alarmed. "Very well. When the song is over—not to disturb the room."

"I think you had better lose no time," he urged. "Never mind the song and the room."

She rose instantly, and put her arm within Mr. Carlyle's. A hasty word of explanation to Mrs. Ducie, and he led her away, the room, in its surprise, making for them what space it might. Many an eye followed them, but none more curiously and eagerly than Barbara Hare's. "Where is he going to take her to?" involuntarily uttered Barbara.

"How should I know?" returned Miss Corny. "Barbara, you have done nothing but fidget all the night; what's the matter with you? Folks come to a concert to listen, not to talk and fidget."

Isabel's mantle was procured from the ante-room where it had been left, and she descended the stairs with Mr. Carlyle. The carriage was drawn up close to the entrance, and the coachman had his reins gathered, ready to start. The footman—not the one who had gone upstairs—threw open the carriage door as he saw her. He was new in the service, a simple country native, just engaged. She withdrew her arm from Mr. Carlyle's, and stood a moment before stepping in, looking at the man.

"Is papa much worse?"

"Oh, yes, my lady; he was screaming shocking. But they think he'll live till morning."

With a sharp cry, she seized the arm of Mr. Carlyle—seized it for support in her shock of agony. Mr. Carlyle rudely thrust the man away; he would willingly have flung him at full length on the pavement.

"Oh, Mr. Carlyle, why did you not tell me?" she shivered.

"My dear Lady Isabel, I am grieved that you are told now. But take comfort; you know how ill he frequently is, and this may be but an ordinary attack. Step in. I trust we shall find it nothing more."

"Are you going home with me?"

"Certainly; I shall not leave you to go alone."

She moved to the other side of the chariot, making room for him.

"Thank you. I will sit outside."

"But the night is cold."

"Oh, no." He closed the door, and took his seat by the coachman; the footman got up behind, and the carriage sped away. Isabel gathered herself into her corner, and moaned aloud in her suspense and helplessness.

The coachman drove rapidly, and soon whipped his horses through the lodge-gates.

The housekeeper, Mrs. Mason, waited at the hall-door to receive Lady Isabel. Mr. Carlyle helped her out of the carriage, and gave her his arm up the steps. She scarcely dared to inquire.

"Is he better? May I go to his room?" she panted.

Yes, the earl was better—better, in so far as that he was quiet and senseless. She moved hastily toward his chamber. Mr. Carlyle drew the housekeeper aside.

"Is there any hope?"

"Not the slightest, sir. He is dying."

The earl knew no one; pain was gone for the present, and he lay on his bed, calm; but his face, which had death in it all too plainly, startled Isabel. She did not scream or cry; she was perfectly quiet, save that she had a fit of shivering.

"Will he soon be better?" she whispered to Mr. Wainwright, who stood there.

The surgeon coughed. "Well, he—he—we must hope it, my lady."

"But why does his face look like that? It is pale—gray; I never saw anybody else look so."

"He has been in great pain, my lady, and pain leaves its traces on the countenance."

Mr. Carlyle, who had come, and was standing by the surgeon, touched his arm to draw him from the room. He noticed the look on the earl's face, and did not like it; he wished to question the surgeon. Lady Isabel saw that Mr. Carlyle was about to quit the room, and beckoned to him.

"Do not leave the house, Mr. Carlyle. When he wakes up, it may cheer him to see you here; he liked you very much."

"I will not leave it, Lady Isabel. I did not think of doing so."

In time—it seemed an age—the medical men arrived from Lynneborough—three of them—the groom had thought he could not summon too many. It was a strange scene they entered upon: the ghastly peer, growing restless again now, battling with his departing spirit, and the gala robes, the sparkling gems adorning the young girl watching at his side. They comprehended the case without difficulty; that she had been suddenly called from some scene of gayety.

They stooped to look at the earl, and felt his pulse, and touched his heart, and exchanged a few murmured words with Mr. Wainwright. Isabel had stood back to give them place, but her anxious eyes followed their every movement. They did not seem to notice her, and she stepped forward.

"Can you do anything for him? Will he recover?"

They all turned at the address, and looked at her. One spoke; it was an evasive answer.

"Tell me the truth!" she implored, with feverish impatience: "you must not trifle with me. Do you not know me? I am his only child, and I am here alone."

The first thing was to get her away from the room, for the great change was approaching, and the parting struggle between the body and the spirit might be one of warfare—no sight for her. But in answer to their suggestion that she should go, she only leaned her head upon the pillow by her father and moaned in despair.

"She must be got out of the room," cried one of the physicians, almost angrily. "Ma'am," turning suddenly upon Mrs. Mason, "are there no reserves in the house—no one who can exert influence over the young lady?"

"She has scarcely any relatives in the world," replied the housekeeper; "no near ones; and we happen to be, just now, quite alone."

But Mr. Carlyle, seeing the urgency of the case, for the earl, with every minute, grew more excited, approached and whispered her: "You are as anxious as we can be for your father's recovery?"

"As anxious!" she uttered reproachfully.

"You know what I would imply. Of course our anxiety can be as nothing to yours."

"As nothing—as nothing. I think my heart will break."

"Then—forgive me—you should not oppose the wishes of his medical attendants. They wish to be alone with him, and time is being lost."

She rose up; she placed her hands on her brow, as if to collect the sense of the words, and then she addressed the doctors,—

"Is it really necessary that I should leave the room—necessary for him?"

"It is necessary, my lady—absolutely essential."

She broke into a passion of tears and sobs as Mr. Carlyle lead her to another apartment.

"He is my dear father; I have but him in the wide world!" she exclaimed.

"I know—I know; I feel for you all that you are feeling. Twenty times this night I have wished—forgive me the thought—that you were my sister, so that I might express my sympathy more freely and comfort you."

"Tell me the truth, then, why I am kept away. If you can show me sufficient cause, I will be reasonable and obey; but do not say again I should be disturbing him, for it is not true."

"He is too ill for you to see him—his symptoms are too painful. In fact, it would not be proper; and were you to go in in defiance of advice, you would regret it all your after life."

"Is he dying?"

Mr. Carlyle hesitated. Ought he to dissemble with her as the doctors had done? A strong feeling was upon him that he ought not.

"I trust to you not to deceive me," she simply said.

"I fear he is—I believe he is."

She rose up—she grasped his arm in the sudden fear that flashed over her.

"You are deceiving me, and he is dead!"

"I am not deceiving you, Lady Isabel. He is not dead, but—it may be very near."

She laid her face down upon the soft pillow.

"Going forever from me—going forever? Oh, Mr. Carlyle, let me see him for a minute—just one farewell! Will you not try for me!"

He knew how hopeless it was, but he turned to leave the room.

"I will go and see. But you will remain here quietly—you will not come."

She bowed her head in acquiescence, and he closed the door. Had she indeed been his sister, he would probably have turned the key upon her. He entered the earl's chamber, but not many seconds did he remain in it.

"It is over," he whispered to Mrs. Mason, whom he met in the corridor, "and Mr. Wainwright is asking for you."

"You are soon back," cried Isabel, lifting her head. "May I go?"

He sat down and took her hand, shrinking from his task.

"I wish I could comfort you!" he exclaimed, in a tone of deep emotion.

Her face turned of a ghastly whiteness—as white as another's not far away.

"Tell me the worst," she breathed.

"I have nothing to tell you but the worst. May God support you, dear Lady Isabel!"

She turned to hide her face and its misery away from him, and a low wail of anguish broke from her, telling its own tale of despair.

The gray dawn of morning was breaking over the world, advent of another bustling day in life's history; but the spirit of William Vane, Earl of Mount Severn, had soared away from it forever.