The church clocks at West Lynne struck eight one lovely morning in July, and then the bells chimed out, giving token that it was Sunday.
East Lynne had changed owners, and now it was the property of Mr. Carlyle. He had bought it as it stood, furniture and all; but the transfer had been conducted with secrecy, and was suspected by none, save those engaged in the negotiations. Whether Lord Mount Severn thought it might prevent any one getting on the scent, or whether he wished to take farewell of a place he had formerly been fond of, certain it is that he craved a week or two’s visit to it. Mr. Carlyle most readily and graciously acquiesced; and the earl, his daughter, and retinue had arrived the previous day.
West Lynne was in ecstacies. It called itself an aristocratic place, and it indulged hopes that the earl might be intending to confer permanently the light of his presence, by taking up his residence again at East Lynne. The toilettes prepared to meet his admiring eyes were prodigious and pretty Barbara Hare was not the only young lady who had thereby to encounter the paternal storm.
Miss Carlyle was ready for church at the usual time, plainly, but well dressed. As she and Archibald were leaving their house, they saw something looming up the street, flashing and gleaming in the sun. A pink parasol came first, a pink bonnet and feather came behind it, a gray brocaded dress and white gloves.
“The vain little idiot!” ejaculated Miss Carlyle. But Barbara smiled up the street toward them, unconscious of the apostrophe.
“Well done, Barbara!” was the salutation of Miss Carlyle. “The justice might well call out — you are finer than a sunbeam!”
“Not half so fine as many another in the church will be today,” responded Barbara, as she lifted her shy blue eyes and blushing face to answer the greetings of Mr. Carlyle. “West Lynne seems bent on out-dressing the Lady Isabel. You should have been at the milliner’s yesterday morning, Miss Carlyle.”
“Is all the finery coming out today?” gravely inquired Mr. Carlyle, as Barbara turned with them toward the church, and he walked by her side and his sister’s, for he had an objection, almost invincible as a Frenchman’s, to give his arm to two ladies.
“Of course,” replied Barbara. “First impression is everything, you know, and the earl and his daughter will be coming to church.”
“Suppose she should not be in peacock’s plumes?” cried Miss Carlyle, with an imperturbable face.
“Oh! But she is sure to be-if you mean richly dressed,” cried Barbara, hastily.
“Or, suppose they should not come to church?” laughed Mr. Carlyle. “What a disappointment to the bonnets and feathers!”
“After all, Barbara, what are they to us, or we to them?” resumed Miss Carlyle. “We may never meet. We insignificant West Lynne gentry shall not obtrude ourselves into East Lynne. It would scarcely be fitting — or be deemed so by the earl and Lady Isabel.”
“That’s just how papa went on,” grumbled Barbara. “He caught sight of this bonnet yesterday; and when, by way of excuse, I said I had it to call on them, he asked whether I thought the obscure West Lynne families would venture to thrust their calls on Lord Mount Severn, as though they were of the county aristocracy. It was the feather that put him out.”
“It is a very long one,” remarked Miss Carlyle, grimly surveying it.
Barbara was to sit in the Carlyle pew that day, for she thought the farther she was from the justice the better; there was no knowing but he might take a sly revengeful cut at the feather in the middle of service, and so dock its beauty. Scarcely were they seated when some strangers came quietly up the aisle — a gentleman who limped as he walked, with a furrowed brow and gray hair; and a young lady. Barbara looked round with eagerness, but looked away again; they could not be the expected strangers, the young lady’s dress was too plain — a clear-looking muslin dress for a hot summer’s day. But the old beadle in his many-caped coat, was walking before them sideways with his marshalling baton, and he marshaled them into the East Lynne pew, unoccupied for so many years.
“Who in the world can they be?” whispered Barbara to Miss Carlyle. “That old stupid is always making a mistake and putting people into the wrong places.”
“The earl and Lady Isabel.”
The color flushed into Barbara’s face, and she stared at Miss Corny. “Why, she has no silks, and no feathers, and no anything!” cried Barbara. “She’s plainer than anybody in the church!”
“Plainer than any of the fine ones — than you, for instance. The earl is much altered, but I should have known them both anywhere. I should have known her from the likeness to her poor mother — just the same eyes and sweet expression.”
Aye, those brown eyes, so full of sweetness and melancholy; few who had once seen could mistake or forget them; and Barbara Hare, forgetting where she was, looked at them much that day.
“She is very lovely,” thought Barbara, “and her dress is certainly that of a lady. I wish I had not had this streaming pink feather. What fine jackdaws she must deem us all!”
The earl’s carriage, an open barouche, was waiting at the gate, at the conclusion of the service. He handed his daughter in, and was putting his gouty foot upon the step to follow her, when he observed Mr. Carlyle. The earl turned and held out his hand. A man who could purchase East Lynne was worthy of being received as an equal, though he was but a country lawyer.
Mr. Carlyle shook hands with the earl, approached the carriage and raised his hat to Lady Isabel. She bent forward with her pleasant smile, and put her hand into his.
“I have many things to say to you,” said the earl. “I wish you would go home with us. If you have nothing better to do, be East Lynne’s guest for the remainder of the day.”
He smiled peculiarly as he spoke, and Mr. Carlyle echoed it. East Lynne’s guest! That is what the earl was at present. Mr. Carlyle turned aside to tell his sister.
“Cornelia, I shall not be home to dinner; I am going with Lord Mount Severn. Good-day, Barbara.”
Mr. Carlyle stepped into the carriage, was followed by the earl, and it drove away. The sun shone still, but the day’s brightness had gone out for Barbara Hare.
“How does he know the earl so well? How does he know Lady Isabel?” she reiterated in her astonishment.
“Archibald knows something of most people,” replied Miss Corny. “He saw the earl frequently, when he was in town in the spring, and Lady Isabel once or twice. What a lovely face hers is!”
Barbara made no reply. She returned home with Miss Carlyle, but her manner was as absent as her heart, and that had run away to East Lynne.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55