Isabel had been in her new home about ten days, when Lord and Lady Mount Severn arrived at Castle Marling, which was not a castle, you may as well be told, but only the name of a town, nearly contiguous to which was their residence, a small estate. Lord Mount Severn welcomed Isabel; Lady Mount Severn also, after a fashion; but her manner was so repellant, so insolently patronizing, that it brought the indignant crimson to the cheeks of Lady Isabel. And if this was the case at the first meeting, what do you suppose it must have been as time went on? Galling slights, petty vexations, chilling annoyances were put upon her, trying her powers of endurance to the very length of their tether; she would wring her hands when alone, and passionately wish that she could find another refuge.
The earl and countess had two children, both boys, and in February the younger one, always a delicate child, died. This somewhat altered their plans. Instead of proceeding to London after Easter, as had been decided upon, they would not go till May. The earl had passed part of the winter at Mount Severn, looking after the repairs and renovations that were being made there. In March he went to Paris, full of grief for the loss of his boy — far greater grief than was experienced by Lady Mount Severn.
April approached and with it Easter. To the unconcealed dismay of Lady Mount Severn, her grandmother, Mrs. Levison, wrote her word that she required change, and should pass Easter with her at Castle Marling. Lady Mount Severn would have given her diamonds to have got out of it, but there was no escape — diamonds that were once Isabel’s — at least, that Isabel had worn. On the Monday in Passion Week the old lady arrived, and with her Francis Levison. They had no other guests. Things went on pretty smoothly till Good Friday.
On Good Friday afternoon, Isabel strolled out with little William Vane; Captain Levison joined them, and they never came in till nearly dinner-time, when the three entered together, Lady Mount Severn doing penance all the time, and nursing her rage against Isabel, for Mrs. Levison kept her indoors. There was barely time to dress for dinner, and Isabel went straight to her room. Her dress was off, her dressing-gown on. Marvel was busy with her hair, and William chattering at her knee, when the door was flung open, and my lady entered.
“Where have you been?” demanded she, shaking with passion. Isabel knew the signs.
“Strolling about in the shrubberies and grounds,” answered Isabel.
“How dare you so disgrace yourself!”
“I do not understand you,” said Isabel, her heart beginning to beat unpleasantly. “Marvel, you are pulling my hair.”
When women liable to intemperate fits of passion give the reins to them, they neither know nor care what they say. Lady Mount Severn broke into a torrent of reproach and abuses, most degrading and unjustifiable.
“Is it not sufficient that you are allowed an asylum in my house, but you must also disgrace it! Three hours have you been hiding yourself with Francis Levison! You have done nothing but flirt with him from the moment he came; you did nothing else at Christmas.”
The attack was longer and broader, but that was the substance of it, and Isabel was goaded to resistance, to anger little less great than that of the countess. This! — and before her attendant! She, an earl’s daughter, so much better born than Emma Mount Severn, to be thus insultingly accused in the other’s mad jealousy. Isabel tossed her hair from the hands of Marvel, rose up and confronted the countess, constraining her voice to calmness.
“I do not flirt!” she said; “I have never flirted. I leave that”— and she could not wholly suppress in tone the scorn she felt —“to married women; though it seems to me that it is a fault less venial in them than in single ones. There is but one inmate of this house who flirts, so far as I have seen since I have lived in it; is it you or I, Lady Mount Severn?”
The home truth told on her ladyship. She turned white with rage, forgot her manners, and, raising her right hand, struck Isabel a stinging blow upon the left cheek. Confused and terrified, Isabel stood in pain, and before she could speak or act, my lady’s left hand was raised to the other cheek, and a blow left on that. Lady Isabel shivered as with a sudden chill, and cried out — a sharp, quick cry — covered her outraged face, and sank down upon the dressing chair. Marvel threw up her hands in dismay, and William Vane could not have burst into a louder roar had he been beaten himself. The boy — he was of a sensitive nature — was frightened.
My good reader, are you one of the inexperienced ones who borrow notions of “fashionable life” from the novels got in a library, taking their high-flown contents for gospel, and religiously believing that lords and ladies live upon stilts, speak, eat, move, breathe, by the rules of good-breeding only? Are you under the delusion — too many are — that the days of dukes and duchesses are spent discussing “pictures, tastes, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses?”— that they are strung on polite wires of silver, and can’t get off the hinges, never giving vent to angry tempers, to words unorthodox, as commonplace mortals do? That will come to pass when the Great Creator shall see fit to send men into the world free from baneful tempers, evil passions, from the sins bequeathed from the fall of Adam.
Lady Mount Severn finished up the scene by boxing William for his noise, jerked him out of the room, and told him he was a monkey.
Isabel Vane lived through the livelong night, weeping tears of anguish and indignation. She would not remain at Castle Marling — who would, after so great an outrage? Yet where was she to go? Fifty times in the course of the night did she wish that she was laid beside her father, for her feelings obtained the mastery of her reason; in her calm moments she would have shrunk from the idea of death as the young and healthy must do.
She rose on the Saturday morning weak and languid, the effects of the night of grief, and Marvel brought her breakfast up. William Vane stole into her room afterward; he was attached to her in a remarkable degree.
“Mamma’s going out,” he exclaimed, in the course of the morning. “Look, Isabel.”
Isabel went to the window. Lady Mount Severn was in the pony carriage, Francis Levison driving.
“We can go down now, Isabel, nobody will be there.”
She assented, and went down with William; but scarcely were they in the drawing-room when a servant entered with a card on a salver.
“A gentleman, my lady, wishes to see you.”
“To see me!” returned Isabel, in surprise, “or Lady Mount Severn?”
“He asked for you, my lady.”
She took up the card. “Mr. Carlyle.” “Oh!” she uttered, in a tone of joyful surprise, “show him in.”
It is curious, nay, appalling, to trace the thread in a human life; how the most trivial occurrences lead to the great events of existence, bringing forth happiness or misery, weal or woe. A client of Mr. Carlyle’s, travelling from one part of England to the other, was arrested by illness at Castle Marling — grave illness, it appeared to be, inducing fears of death. He had not, as the phrase goes, settled his affairs, and Mr. Carlyle was telegraphed for in haste, to make his will, and for other private matters. A very simple occurrence it appeared to Mr. Carlyle, this journey, and yet it was destined to lead to events that would end only with his own life.
Mr. Carlyle entered, unaffected and gentlemanly as ever, with his noble form, his attractive face, and his drooping eyelids. She advanced to meet him, holding out her hand, her countenance betraying her pleasure.
“This is indeed unexpected,” she exclaimed. “How very pleased I am to see you.”
“Business brought me yesterday to Castle Marling. I could not leave it again without calling on you. I hear that Lord Mount Severn is absent.”
“He is in France,” she rejoined. “I said we should be sure to meet again; do you remember, Mr. Carlyle? You ——”
Isabel suddenly stopped; for with the word “remember,” she also remembered something — the hundred pound note — and what she was saying faltered on her tongue. Confused, indeed, grew she: for, alas! she had changed and partly spent it. How was it possible to ask Lady Mount Severn for money? And the earl was nearly always away. Mr. Carlyle saw her embarrassment, though he may not have detected its cause.
“What a fine boy!” exclaimed he, looking at the child.
“It is Lord Vane,” said Isabel.
“A truthful, earnest spire, I am sure,” he continued, gazing at his open countenance. “How old are you, my little man?”
“I am six, sir; and my brother was four.”
Isabel bent over the child — an excuse to cover her perplexity. “You do not know this gentleman, William. It is Mr. Carlyle, and he has been very kind to me.”
The little lord had turned his thoughtful eyes on Mr. Carlyle, apparently studying his countenance. “I shall like you, sir, if you are kind to Isabel. Are you kind to her?”
“Very, very kind,” murmured Lady Isabel, leaving William, and turning to Mr. Carlyle, but not looking at him. “I don’t know what to say; I ought to thank you. I did not intend to use the — to use it; but I— I—”
“Hush!” he interrupted, laughing at her confusion. “I do not know what you are talking of. I have a great misfortune to break to you, Lady Isabel.”
She lifted her eyes and her glowing cheeks, somewhat aroused from her own thoughts.
“Two of your fish are dead. The gold ones.”
“I believe it was the frost killed them; I don’t know what else it could have been. You may remember those bitter days we had in January; they died then.”
“You are very good to take care of them all this while. How is East Lynne looking? Dear East Lynne! Is it occupied?”
“Not yet. I have spent some money upon it, and it repays the outlay.”
The excitement of his arrival had worn off, and she was looking herself again, pale and sad; he could not help observing that she was changed.
“I cannot expect to look so well at Castle Marling as I did at East Lynne,” she answered.
“I trust it is a happy home to you?” said Mr. Carlyle, speaking upon impulse.
She glanced up at him a look that he would never forget; it certainly told of despair. “No,” she said, shaking her head, “it is a miserable home, and I cannot remain in it. I have been awake all night, thinking where I can go, but I cannot tell; I have not a friend in the wide world.”
Never let people talk secrets before children, for be assured that they comprehend a vast deal more than is expedient; the saying “that little pitchers have great ears” is wonderfully true. Lord Vane held up his hand to Mr. Carlyle —
“Isabel told me this morning that she should go away from us. Shall I tell you why? Mamma beat her yesterday when she was angry.”
“Be quiet, William!” interrupted Lady Isabel, her face in a flame.
“Two great slaps upon her cheeks,” continued the young viscount; “and Isabel cried so, and I screamed, and then mamma hit me. But boys are made to be hit; nurse says so. Marvel came into the nursery when we were at tea, and told nurse about it. She says Isabel’s too good-looking, and that’s why mamma —”
Isabel stopped the child’s tongue, rang a peal on the bell, and marched him to the door, dispatching him to the nursery by the servant who answered it.
Mr. Carlyle’s eyes were full of indignant sympathy. “Can this be true?” he asked, in a low tone when she returned to him. “You do, indeed, want a friend.”
“I must bear my lot,” she replied, obeying the impulse which prompted her to confide in Mr. Carlyle; “at least till Lord Mount Severn returns.”
“I really do not know,” she said, the rebellious tears rising faster than she could choke them down. “He has no other home to offer me; but with Lady Mount Severn I cannot and will not remain. She would break my heart, as she has already well-nigh broken my spirit. I have not deserved it of her, Mr. Carlyle.”
“No, I am sure you have not,” he warmly answered. “I wish I could help you! What can I do?”
“You can do nothing,” she said. “What can any one do?”
“I wish, I wish I could help you!” he repeated. “East Lynne was not, take it for all in all, a pleasant home to you, but it seems you changed for the worse when you left.”
“Not a pleasant home?” she echoed, its reminiscences appearing delightful in that moment, for it must be remembered that all things are estimated by comparison. “Indeed it was; I may never have so pleasant a one again. Mr. Carlyle, do not disparage East Lynne to me! Would I could awake and find the last few months but a hideous dream! — that I could find my dear father alive again! — that we were still living peacefully at East Lynne. It would be a very Eden to me now.”
What was Mr. Carlyle about to say? What emotion was it that agitated his countenance, impeded his breath, and dyed his face blood-red? His better genius was surely not watching over him, or those words had never been spoken.
“There is but one way,” he began, taking her hand and nervously playing with it, probably unconscious that he did so; “only one way in which you could return to East Lynne. And that way — I may not presume, perhaps, to point it out.”
She looked at him and waited for an explanation.
“If my words offend you, Lady Isabel, check them, as their presumption deserves, and pardon me. May I— dare I— offer you to return to East Lynne as its mistress?”
She did not comprehend him in the slightest degree: the drift of his meaning never dawned upon her. “Return to East Lynne as its mistress?” she repeated, in bewilderment.
“And as my wife?”
No possibility of misunderstanding him now, and the shock and surprise were great. She had stood there by Mr. Carlyle’s side conversing confidentially with him, esteeming him greatly, feeling as if he were her truest friend on earth, clinging to him in her heart as to a powerful haven of refuge, loving him almost as she would a brother, suffering her hand to remain in his. But to be his wife! the idea had never presented itself to her in any shape until this moment, and her mind’s first emotion was one of entire opposition, her first movement to express it, as she essayed to withdraw herself and her hand away from him.
But not so; Mr. Carlyle did not suffer it. He not only retained that hand, but took the other also, and spoke, now the ice was broken, eloquent words of love. Not unmeaning phrases of rhapsody, about hearts and darts and dying for her, such as somebody else might have given utterance to, but earnest-hearted words of deep tenderness, calculated to win upon the mind’s good sense, as well as upon the ear and heart; and it may be that, had her imagination not been filled up with that “somebody else,” she would have said “Yes,” there and then.
They were suddenly interrupted. Lady Mount Severn entered, and took in the scene at a glance; Mr. Carlyle’s bent attitude of devotion, his imprisonment of the hands, and Isabel’s perplexed and blushing countenance. She threw up her head and her little inquisitive nose, and stopped short on the carpet; her freezing looks demanded an explanation, as plainly as looks can do it. Mr. Carlyle turned to her, and by way of sparing Isabel, proceeded to introduce himself. Isabel had just presence of mind left to name her: “Lady Mount Severn.”
“I am sorry that Lord Mount Severn should be absent, to whom I have the honor of being known,” he said. “I am Mr. Carlyle.”
“I have heard of you,” replied her ladyship, scanning his good looks, and feeling cross that his homage should be given where she saw it was given, “but I had not heard that you and Lady Isabel Vane were on the extraordinary terms of intimacy that — that ——”
“Madam,” he interrupted as he handed a chair to her ladyship and took another himself, “we have never yet been on terms of extraordinary intimacy. I was begging the Lady Isabel to grant that we may be; I was asking her to become my wife.”
The avowal was as a shower of incense to the countess, and her ill humor melted into sunshine. It was a solution to her great difficulty, a loophole by which she might get rid of her bete noire, the hated Isabel. A flush of gratification lighted her face, and she became full of graciousness to Mr. Carlyle.
“How very grateful Isabel must feel to you,” quoth she. “I speak openly, Mr. Carlyle, because I know that you were cognizant of the unprotected state in which she was left by the earl’s improvidence, putting marriage for her, at any rate, a high marriage, nearly out of the question. East Lynne is a beautiful place, I have heard.”
“For its size; it is not large,” replied Mr. Carlyle, as he rose for Isabel had also risen and was coming forward.
“And pray what is Lady Isabel’s answer?” quickly asked the countess, turning to her.
Not to her did Isabel condescend to give an answer, but she approached Mr. Carlyle, and spoke in a low tone.
“Will you give me a few hours for consideration?”
“I am only too happy that you should accord it consideration, for it speaks to me of hope,” was his reply, as he opened the door for her to pass out. “I will be here again this afternoon.”
It was a perplexing debate that Lady Isabel held with herself in the solitude of her chamber, whilst Mr. Carlyle touched upon ways and means to Lady Mount Severn. Isabel was little more than a child, and as a child she reasoned, looking neither far nor deep: the shallow palpable aspect of affairs alone presenting itself to her view. That Mr. Carlyle was not of rank equal to her own, she scarcely remembered; East Lynne seemed a very fair settlement in life, and in point of size, beauty and importance, it was far superior to the house she was now in. She forgot that her position in East Lynne as Mr. Carlyle’s wife would not be what it had been as Lord Mount Severn’s daughter; she forgot that she would be tied to a quiet house, shut out from the great world, the pomps and vanities to which she was born. She liked Mr. Carlyle much; she experienced pleasure in conversing with him; she liked to be with him; in short, but for that other ill-omened fancy which had crept over her, there would have been danger of her falling in love with Mr. Carlyle. And oh! to be removed forever from the bitter dependence on Lady Mount Severn — East Lynne would in truth, after that, seem what she had called it: Eden.
“So far it looks favorable,” mentally exclaimed poor Isabel, “but there is the other side of the question. It is not only that I do not love Mr. Carlyle, but I fear I do love, or very nearly love, Francis Levison. I wish he would ask me to be his wife! — or that I had never seen him.”
Isabel’s soliloquy was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Levison and the countess. What the latter had said to the old lady to win her to the cause, was best known to herself, but she was eloquent in it. They both used every possible argument to induce her to accept Mr. Carlyle: the old lady declaring that she had never been introduced to any one she was so much taken with, and Mrs. Levison was incapable of asserting what was not true; that he was worth a dozen empty-headed men of the great world.
Isabel listened, now swayed one way, now the other, and when afternoon came, her head was aching with perplexity. The stumbling block that she could not get over was Francis Levison. She saw Mr. Carlyle approach from her window, and went down to the drawing-room, not in the least knowing what her answer was to be; a shadowy idea was presenting itself, that she would ask him for longer time, and write her answer.
In the drawing-room was Francis Levison, and her heart beat wildly; which said beating might have convinced her that she ought not to marry another.
“Where have you been hiding yourself?” cried he. “Did you hear of our mishap with the pony carriage?”
“No,” was her answer.
“I was driving Emma into town. The pony took fright, kicked, plunged and went down upon his knees; she took fright in turn, got out, and walked back. So I gave the brute some chastisement and a race, and brought him to the stables, getting home in time to be introduced to Mr. Carlyle. He seems an out-and-out good fellow, Isabel, and I congratulate you.”
“What!” she uttered.
“Don’t start. We are all in the family, and my lady told; I won’t betray it abroad. She says East Lynne is a place to be coveted; I wish you happiness, Isabel.”
“Thank you,” she returned in a sarcastic tone, though her throat beat and her lips quivered. “You are premature in your congratulations, Captain Levison.”
“Am I? Keep my good wishes, then, till the right man comes. I am beyond the pale myself, and dare not think of entering the happy state,” he added, in a pointed tone. “I have indulged dreams of it, like others, but I cannot afford to indulge them seriously; a poor man, with uncertain prospects can only play the butterfly, perhaps to his life’s end.”
He quitted the room as he spoke. It was impossible for Isabel to misunderstand him, but a feeling shot across her mind, for the first time, that he was false and heartless. One of the servants appeared, showing in Mr. Carlyle; nothing false or heartless about him. He closed the door, and approached her, but she did not speak, and her lips were white and trembling. Mr. Carlyle waited.
“Well,” he said at length, in a gentle tone, “have you decided to grant my prayer?”
“Yes. But —” She could not go on. What with one agitation and another, she had difficulty in conquering her emotion. “But — I was going to tell you ——”
“Presently,” he whispered, leading her to a sofa, “we can both afford to wait now. Oh, Isabel, you have made me very happy!”
“I ought to tell you, I must tell you,” she began again, in the midst of hysterical tears. “Though I have said ‘yes’ to your proposal, I do not — yet —— It has come upon me by surprise,” she stammered. “I like you very much; I esteem and respect you; but I do not love you.”
“I should wonder if you did. But you will let me earn your love, Isabel?”
“Oh, yes,” she earnestly answered. “I hope so.”
He drew her closer to him, bent his face, and took from her lips his first kiss. Isabel was passive; she supposed he had gained the right to do so. “My dearest! It is all I ask.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14