East Lynne, by Ellen Wood

Chapter 39.

Mrs. Carlyle in Full Dress, Afy Also.

Merrily rose West Lynne on Thursday morning; merrily rang out the bells, clashing and chiming. The street was alive with people; the windows were crowded with heads; something unusual was astir. It was the day of the nomination of the two candidates, and everybody took the opportunity to make a holiday.

Ten o’clock was the hour named; but, before that hour struck, West Lynne was crammed. The country people had come in, thick and threefold; rich and poor; people of note, and people of none; voters and non-voters, all eager to mix themselves up with the day’s proceedings. You see the notorious fact of Sir Francis Levison’s having come forward to oppose Mr. Carlyle, caused greater interest in this election than is usual, even in small country places — and that need not be. Barbara drove in her carriage, the two children with her, and the governess. The governess said she preferred to remain at home. Barbara would not hear of it; almost felt inclined to resent it as a slight; besides, if she took no interest in Mr. Carlyle, she must go to take care of Lucy; she, Barbara, would be too much occupied to look after children. So Madame Vine, perforce, stepped into the barouche and sat opposite to Mrs. Carlyle, her thick veil shading her features, and their pallor contrasting with the blue spectacles.

They alighted at the residence of Miss Carlyle. Quite a gathering was already there. Lady and Miss Dobede, the Herberts, Mrs. Hare, and many others; for the house was in a good spot for seeing the fun; and all the people were eager to testify their respect to Mr. Carlyle, in contradiction to that other one. Miss Carlyle was in full rig; a brocaded dress, and a scarlet-and-purple bow in front of it, the size of a pumpkin. It was about the only occasion, in all Miss Carlyle’s life, that she deemed it necessary to attire herself beyond common. Barbara wore no bow, but she exhibited a splendid bouquet of scarlet-and-purple flowers. Mr. Carlyle had himself given it to her that morning.

Mr. Carlyle saw them all at the windows of the large upper drawing-room, and came in; he was then on his way to the town-hall. Shaking hands, laughter, hearty and hasty good wishes; and he quitted the room again. Barbara stole after him for a sweeter farewell.

“God bless you and prosper you, Archibald, my dearest!”

The business of the day began. Mr. Carlyle was proposed by Sir John Dobede, and seconded by Mr. Herbert. Lord Mount Severn, than whom not a busier man was there, would willingly have been proposer and seconder too, but he had no local influence in the place. Sir Francis Levison was proposed also by two gentlemen of standing. The show of hands was declared to be in favor of Mr. Carlyle. It just was in favor of him; about twenty to one. Upon which the baronet’s friends demanded a poll.

Then all was bustle, and scuffle, and confusion, every one tearing away to the hustings, which had been fixed in a convenient spot, the town-hall, not affording the accommodation necessary for a poll. Candidates, and proposers and seconders, and gentlemen, and officers, and mob, hustling and jostling each other. Mr. Carlyle was linked arm-inarm with Sir John Dobede; Sir John’s arm was within Lord Mount Severn’s — but, as to order, it was impossible to observe any. To gain the place they had to pass the house of Miss Carlyle. Young Vane, who was in the thick of the crowd, of course, cast his eyes up to its lined windows, took off his hat and waved it. “Carlyle and honor forever!” shouted he.

The ladies laughed and nodded, and shook their handkerchiefs, and displayed their scarlet and purple colors. The crowd took up the shout, till the very air echoed with it. “Carlyle and honor forever!” Barbara’s tears were falling; but she smiled through them at one pair of loving eyes, which sought out hers.

“A galaxy of beauty!” whispered Mr. Drake in the ear of Sir Francis. “How the women rally round him! I tell you what, Levison, you and the government were stupid to go on with the contest, and I said so days ago. You have no more chance against Carlyle than that bit of straw has against the wind. You ought to have withdrawn in time.”

“Like a coward?” angrily returned Sir Francis. “No, I’ll go on with it to the last, though I do get beaten.”

“How lovely his wife is,” observed Mr. Drake, his admiring eyes cast up at Barbara. “I say, Levison, was the first one as charming?”

Sir Francis looked perfectly savage; the allusion did not please him. But, ere another word could be spoken, some one in the garb of a policeman, who had wound his way through the crowd, laid his hand upon the baronet.

“Sir Francis Levison, you are my prisoner.”

Nothing worse than debt occurred at that moment to the mind of Sir Francis. But that was quite enough, and he turned purple with rage.

“Your hands off, vermin! How dare you?”

A quick movement, a slight click, a hustle from the wondering crowd more immediately around, and the handcuffs were on. Utter amazement alone prevented Mr. Drake from knocking down the policeman. A dozen vituperating tongues assailed him.

“I’m sorry to do it in this public place and manner,” spoke the officer, partly to Sir Francis, partly to the gentlemen around, “but I couldn’t come across you last night, do as I would. And the warrant has been in my hands since five o’clock yesterday afternoon. Sir Francis Levison, I arrest you for the wilful murder of George Hallijohn.”

The crowd fell back; the crowd was paralyzed with consternation; the word was passed from one extreme to the other, and back and across again, and the excitement grew high. The ladies looking from Miss Carlyle’s windows saw what had happened, though they could not divine the cause. Some of them turned pale at sight of the handcuffs, and Mary Pinner, an excitable girl, fell into a screaming fit.

Pale! What was their gentle paleness compared with the frightfully livid one of Francis Levison? His agitation was pitiable to witness, his face a terror to look upon; once or twice he gasped, as if in an agony; and then his eyes happened to fall on Otway Bethel, who stood near. Shorn of his adornments — which might not be thought adornments upon paper — the following was the sentence that burst involuntarily from his lips —

“You hound! It is you who have done this!”

“No! by —” Whether Mr. Otway Bethel was about to swear by Jupiter or Juno never was decided, the sentence being cut ignominiously short at the above two words. Another policeman, in the summary manner exercised towards Sir Francis, had clapped a pair of handcuffs upon him.

“Mr. Otway Bethel, I arrest you as an accomplice in the murder of George Hallijohn.”

You may be sure that the whole assembly was arrested, too — figuratively — and stood with eager gaze and open ears. Colonel Bethel, quitting the scarlet-and-purple, flashed into those of the yellows. He knew his nephew was graceless enough; but — to see him with a pair of handcuffs on!

“What does all this mean?” he authoritatively demanded of the officers.

“It’s no fault of ours, colonel, we have but executed the warrant,” answered one of them. “The magistrate, issued it yesterday against these two gentlemen, on suspicion of their being concerned in the murder of Hallijohn.”

“In conjunction with Richard Hare?” cried the astounded colonel, gazing from one to the other, prisoners and officers, in scared bewilderment.

“It’s alleged now that Richard Hare didn’t have nothing to do with it,” returned the man. “It’s said he is innocent. I’m sure I don’t know.”

“I swear that I am innocent,” passionately uttered Otway Bethel.

“Well, sir, you have only got to prove it,” civilly rejoined the policeman.

Miss Carlyle and Lady Isabel leaned from the window, their curiosity too much excited to remain silent longer. Mrs. Hare was standing by their side.

“What is the matter?” both asked of the upturned faces immediately beneath.

“Them two — the fine member as wanted to be, and young Bethel — be arrested for murder,” spoke a man’s clear voice in answer. “The tale runs as they murdered Hallijohn, and then laid it on the shoulders of young Dick Hare, who didn’t do it after all.”

A faint wailing cry of startled pain, and Barbara flew to Mrs. Hare, from whom it proceeded.

“Oh, mamma, my dear mamma, take comfort! Do not suffer this to agitate you to illness. Richard is innocent, and it will surely be so proved. Archibald,” she added, beckoning to her husband in her alarm, “come, if you can, and say a word of assurance to mamma!”

It was impossible that Mr. Carlyle could hear the words, but he could see that his wife was greatly agitated, and wanted him.

“I will be back with you in a few moments,” he said to his friends, as he began to elbow his way through the crowd, which made way when they saw who the elbower was.

Into another room, away from the gay visitors, they got Mrs. Hare, and Mr. Carlyle locked the door to keep them out, unconsciously taking out the key. Only himself and his wife were with her, except Madame Vine, in her bonnet, who had been dispatched by somebody with a bottle of smelling salts. Barbara knelt at her mamma’s feet; Mr. Carlyle leaned over her, her hands held sympathizingly in his. Madame Vine would have escaped, but the key was gone.

“Oh, Archibald, tell me the truth. You will not, deceive me?” she gasped, in earnest entreaty, the cold dew gathering on her pale, gentle face. “Is the time come to prove my boy’s innocence?”

“It is.”

“Is it possible that it can be that false, bad man who is guilty?”

“From my soul I believe him to be,” replied Mr. Carlyle, glancing round to make sure that none could hear the assertion save those present. “But what I say to you and Barbara, I would not say to the world. Whatever be the man’s guilt, I am not his Nemesis. Dear Mrs. Hare, take courage, take comfort — happier days are coming round.”

Mrs. Hare was weeping silently. Barbara rose and laid her mamma’s head lovingly upon her bosom.

“Take care of her, my darling,” Mr. Carlyle whispered to his wife. “Don’t leave her for a moment, and don’t let that chattering crew in from the next room. I beg your pardon, madame.”

His hand had touched Madame Vine’s neck in turning round — that is, had touched the jacket that encased it. He unlocked the door and regained the street, while Madame Vine sat down with her beating and rebellious heart.

Amidst the shouts, the jeers, and the escort of the mob, Sir Francis Levison and Otway Bethel were lodged in the station-house, preparatory to their examination before the magistrates. Never, sure, was so mortifying an interruption known. So thought Sir Francis’s party. And they deemed it well, after some consultation amongst themselves, to withdraw his name as a candidate for the membership. That he never had a shadow of chance from the first, most of them knew.

But there’s an incident yet to tell of the election day. You have seen Miss Carlyle in her glory, her brocaded silk standing on end with richness, her displayed colors, her pride in her noble brother. But now could you — or she, which it is more to the purpose — have divined who and what was right above her head at an upper window, I know not what the consequence would have been.

No less an eyesore to Miss Carlyle than that “brazen hussy,” Afy Hallijohn! Smuggled in by Miss Carlyle’s servants, there she was — in full dress, too. A green-and-white checked sarcenet, flounced up to the waist, over a crinoline extending from here to yonder; a fancy bonnet, worn on the plait of hair behind, with a wreath and a veil; delicate white gloves, and a swinging handkerchief of lace, redolent of musk. It was well for Miss Corny’s peace of mind ever after that she remained in ignorance of that daring act. There stood Afy, bold as a sunflower, exhibiting herself and her splendor to the admiring eyes of the mob below, gentle and simple.

“He is a handsome man, after all,” quoth she to Miss Carlyle’s maids, when Sir Francis Levison arrived opposite the house.

“But such a horrid creature!” was the response. “And to think that he should come here to oppose Mr. Archibald!”

“What’s that?” cried Afy. “What are they stopping for? There are two policemen there! Oh!” shrieked Afy, “if they haven’t put handcuffs on him! Whatever has he done? What can he have been up to?”

“Where? Who? What?” cried the servants, bewildered with the crowd. “Put handcuffs on which?”

“Sir Francis Levison. Hush! What is that they say?”

Listening, looking, turning from white to red, from red to white, Afy stood. But she could make nothing of it; she could not divine the cause of the commotion. The man’s answer to Miss Carlyle and Lady Dobede, clear though it was, did not quite reach her ears.

“What did he say?” she cried.

“Good Heavens!” cried one of the maids, whose hearing had been quicker than Afy’s. “He says they are arrested for the wilful murder of Hal —— of your father, Miss Afy! Sir Francis Levison and Otway Bethel.”

What!” shrieked Afy, her eyes starting.

“Levison was the man who did it, he says,” continued the servant, bending her ear to listen. “And young Richard Hare, he says, has been innocent all along.”

Afy slowly gathered in the sense of the words. She gasped twice, as if her breath had gone, and then, with a stagger and a shiver, fell heavily to the ground.

Afy Hallijohn, recovered from her fainting fit, had to be smuggled out of Miss Carlyle’s, as she had been smuggled in. She was of an elastic nature, and the shock, or the surprise, or the heat, whatever it may have been, being over, Afy was herself again.

Not very far removed from the residence of Miss Carlyle was a shop in the cheese and ham and butter and bacon line. A very respectable shop, too, and kept by a very respectable man — a young man of mild countenance, who had purchased the good-will of the business through an advertisement, and come down from London to take possession. His predecessor had amassed enough to retire, and people foretold that Mr. Jiffin would do the same. To say that Miss Carlyle dealt at the shop will be sufficient to proclaim the good quality of the articles kept in it.

When Afy arrived opposite the shop, Mr. Jiffin was sunning himself at the door; his shopman inside being at some urgent employment over the contents of a butter-cask. Afy stopped. Mr. Jiffin admired her uncommonly, and she, always ready for anything in that way, had already enjoyed several passing flirtations with him.

“Good day, Miss Hallijohn,” cried he, warmly, tucking up his white apron and pushing it round to the back of his waist, in the best manner he could, as he held out his hand to her. For Afy had once hinted in terms of disparagement at that very apron.

“Oh — how are you Jiffin?” cried Afy, loftily, pretending not to have seen him standing there. And she condescended to put the tips of her white gloves into the offered hand, as she coquetted with her handkerchief, her veil, and her ringlets. “I thought you would have shut up your shop today, Mr. Jiffin, and taken a holiday.”

“Business must be attended to,” responded Mr. Jiffin, quite lost in the contemplation of Afy’s numerous attractions, unusually conspicuous as they were. “Had I known that you were abroad, Miss Hallijohn, and enjoying a holiday, perhaps I might have done it, too, in the hope of coming across you somewhere or other.”

His words were bona fide as his admiration. Afy saw that, so she could afford to treat him rather de haut en bas. “And he’s as simple as a calf,” thought she.

“The greatest pleasure I have in life, Miss Hallijohn, is to see you go by the shop window,” continued Mr. Jiffin. “I’m sure it’s like as if the sun itself passed.”

“Dear me!” bridled Afy, with a simper, “I don’t know any good that can do you. You might have seen me go by an hour or two ago — if you had possessed eyes. I was on my way to Miss Carlyle’s,” she continued, with the air of one who proclaims the fact of a morning call upon a duchess.

“Where could my eyes have been?” exclaimed Mr. Jiffin, in an agony of regret. “In some of those precious butter-tubs, I shouldn’t wonder! We have had a bad lot in, Miss Hallijohn, and I am going to return them!”

“Oh,” said Afy, conspicuously resenting the remark. “I don’t know anything about that sort of thing. Butter-tubs are beneath me.”

“Of course, of course, Miss Hallijohn,” deprecated poor Jiffin. “They are very profitable, though, to those who understand the trade.”

“What is all that shouting?” cried Afy, alluding to a tremendous noise in the distance, which had continued for some little time.

“It’s the voters cheering Mr. Carlyle. I suppose you know that he’s elected, Miss Hallijohn?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“The other was withdrawn by his friends, so they made short work of it, and Mr. Carlyle is our member. God bless him! there’s not many like him. But, I say, Miss Hallijohn, whatever is it that the other one has done? Murder, they say. I can’t make top nor tail of it. Of course we know he was bad enough before.”

“Don’t ask me,” said Afy. “Murder’s not a pleasant subject for a lady to discuss. Are all these customers? Dear me, you’ll have enough to do to attend to them; your man can’t do it all; so I won’t stay talking any longer.”

With a gracious flourish of her flounces and wave of the handkerchief Afy sailed off. And Mr. Jiffin, when he could withdraw his fascinated eyes from following her, turned into his shop to assist in serving four or five servant girls, who had entered it.

“It wouldn’t be such a bad catch, after all,” soliloquized Afy, as she and her crinoline swayed along. “Of course I’d never put my nose inside the shop — unless it was to order things like another customer. The worst is the name. Jiffin, Joe Jiffin. How could I ever bear to be called Mrs. Joe Jiffin! Not but — Goodness me! what do you want?”

The interruption to Afy’s chickens was caused by Mr. Ebenezer James. That gentleman, who had been walking with quick steps to overtake her, gave her flounces a twitch behind, to let her know somebody had come up.

“How are you, Afy? I was going after you to Mrs. Latimer’s, not knowing but you had returned home. I saw you this morning at Miss Corny’s windows.”

“Now, I don’t want any of your sauce, Ebenezer James. Afying me! The other day, when you were on with your nonsense, I said you should keep your distance. You took and told Mr. Jiffin that I was an old sweetheart of yours. I heard of it.”

“So you were,” laughed Mr. Ebenezer.

“I never was,” flashed Afy. “I was the company of your betters in those days: and if there had been no betters in the case, I should have scorned you. Why! you have been a strolling player!”

“And what have you been?” returned Mr. Ebenezer, a quiet tone of meaning running through his good-humored laughter.

Afy’s cheeks flushed scarlet, and she raised her hand with a quick, menacing gesture. But that they were in the public street Mr. Ebenezer might have found his ears boxed. Afy dropped her hand again, and made a dead standstill.

“If you think any vile, false insinuations that you may concoct will injure me, you are mistaken, Ebenezer James. I am too much respected in the place. So don’t try it on.”

“Why, Afy, what has put you out? I don’t want to injure you. Couldn’t do it, if I tried, as you say,” he added, with another quiet laugh. “I have been in too many scrapes myself to let my tongue bring other folks into one.”

“There, that’s enough. Just take yourself off. It’s not over reputable to have you at one’s side in public.”

“Well, I will relieve you of my company, if you’ll let me deliver my commission. Though, as to ‘reputable’— however, I won’t put you out further. You are wanted at the justice-room at three o’clock this afternoon. And don’t fail, please.”

“Wanted at the justice-room!” retorted Afy. “I! What for?”

“And must not fail, as I say,” repeated Mr. Ebenezer. “You saw Levison taken up — your old flame ——”

Afy stamped her foot in indignant interruption. “Take care what you say, Ebenezer James! Flame! He? I’ll have you put up for defamation of character.”

“Don’t be a goose, Afy. It’s of no use riding the high horse with me. You know where I saw you — and saw him. People here said you were with Dick Hare; I could have told them better; but I did not. It was no affair of mine, that I should proclaim it, neither is it now. Levison alias Thorn is taken up for your father’s murder, and you are wanted to give evidence. There! that’s your subpoena; Ball thought you would not come without one.”

“I will never give evidence against Levison,” she uttered, tearing the subpoena to pieces, and scattering them in the street. “I swear I won’t. There, for you! Will I help to hang an innocent man, when it was Dick Hare who was the guilty one? No! I’ll walk myself off a hundred miles away first, and stop in hiding till it’s over. I shan’t forget this turn that you have chosen to play me, Ebenezer James.”

“I chosen! Why, do you suppose I have anything to do with it? Don’t take up that notion, Afy. Mr. Ball put that subpoena in my hand, and told me to serve it. He might have given it to the other clerk, just as he gave it to me; it was all chance. If I could do you a good turn I’d do it — not a bad one.”

Afy strode on at railroad speed, waving him off. “Mind you don’t fail, Afy,” he said, as he prepared to return.

“Fail,” answered she, with flashing eyes. “I shall fail giving evidence, if you mean that. They don’t get me up to their justice-room, neither by force or stratagem.”

Ebenezer James stood and looked after her as she tore along.

“What a spirit that Afy has got, when it’s put up!” quoth he. “She’ll be doing as she said — make off — unless she’s stopped. She’s a great simpleton! Nothing particular need come out about her and Thorn, unless she lets it out herself in her tantrums. Here comes Ball, I declare! I must tell him.”

On went Afy, and gained Mrs. Latimer’s. That lady, suffering from indisposition was confined to the house. Afy, divesting herself of certain little odds and ends of her finery, made her way into Mrs. Latimer’s presence.

“Oh, ma’am, such heartrending news as I have had!” began she. “A relation of mine is dying, and wants to see me. I ought to be away by the next train.”

“Dear me!” cried Mrs. Latimer, after a pause of dismay. “But how can I do without you, Afy?”

“It’s a dying request, ma’am,” pleaded Afy, covering her eyes with her handkerchief — not the lace one — as if in the depth of woe. “Of course I wouldn’t ask you under any other circumstances, suffering as you are!”

“Where is it to!” asked Mrs. Latimer. “How long shall you be away?”

Afy mentioned the first town that came uppermost, and “hoped” she might be back tomorrow.

“What relation is it?” continued Mrs. Latimer. “I thought you had no relatives, except Joyce and your aunt, Mrs. Kane.”

“This is another aunt,” cried Afy, softly. “I have never mentioned her, not being friends. Differences divided us. Of course that makes me all the more anxious to obey her request.”

An uncommon good hand at an impromptu tale was Afy. And Mrs. Latimer consented to her demand. Afy flew upstairs, attired herself once more, put one or two things in a small leather bag, placed some money in her purse, and left the house.

Sauntering idly on the pavement on the sunny side of the street was a policeman. He crossed over to Afy, with whom he had a slight acquaintance.

“Good-day, Miss Hallijohn. A fine day, is it not?”

“Fine enough,” returned Afy, provoked at being hindered. “I can’t talk to you now, for I am in a hurry.”

The faster she walked, the faster he walked, keeping at her side. Afy’s pace increased to a run. His increased to a run too.

“Whatever are you in such haste over?” asked he.

“Well, it’s nothing to you. And I am sure I don’t want you to dance attendance upon me just now. There’s a time for all things. I’ll have some chatter with you another day.”

“One would think you were hurrying to catch a train.”

“So I am-if you must have your curiosity satisfied. I am going on a little pleasure excursion, Mr. Inquisitive.”

“For long?”

“U— m! Home tomorrow, perhaps. Is it true that Mr. Carlyle’s elected?”

“Oh, yes; don’t go up that way, please.”

“Not up this way?” repeated Afy. “It’s the nearest road to the station. It cuts off all that corner.”

The officer laid his hand upon her, gently. Afy thought he was venturing upon it in sport — as if he deemed her too charming to be parted with.

“What do you mean by your nonsense? I tell you I have not time for it now. Take your hand off me,” she added grimly — for the hand was clasping her closer.

“I am sorry to hurt a lady’s feelings, especially yours, miss, but I daren’t take it off, and I daren’t part with you. My instructions are to take you on at once to the witness-room. Your evidence is wanted this afternoon.”

If you ever saw a ghost more livid than ghosts in ordinary, you may picture to your mind the appearance of Afy Hallijohn just then. She did not faint as she had done once before that day, but she looked as if she should die. One sharp cry, instantly suppressed, for Afy did retain some presence of mind, and remembered that she was in the public road — one sharp tussle for liberty, over as soon, and she resigned herself, perforce, to her fate.

“I have no evidence to give,” she said, in a calmer tone. “I know nothing of the facts.”

“I’m sure I don’t know anything of them,” returned the man. “I don’t know why you are wanted. When instructions are given us, miss, we can’t ask what they mean. I was bid to watch that you didn’t go off out of the town, and to bring you on to the witness-room if you attempted it, and I have tried to do it as politely as possible.”

“You don’t imagine I am going to walk through West Lynne with your hand upon me!”

“I’ll take it off, Miss Hallijohn, if you’ll give a promise not to bolt. You see, ‘twould come to nothing if you did, for I should be up with you in a couple of yards; besides, it would be drawing folks’ attention on you. You couldn’t hope to outrun me, or be a match for me in strength.”

“I will go quietly,” said Afy. “Take it off.”

She kept her word. Afy was no simpleton, and knew that she was no match for him. She had fallen into the hands of the Philistines, was powerless, and must make the best of it. So they walked through the street as if they were taking a quiet stroll, he gallantly bearing the leather bag. Miss Carlyle’s shocked eyes happened to fall upon them as they passed her window. She wondered where could be the eyes of the man’s inspector.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30