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Chapter 27, 'Barbara's Misdoings' (1/2)

A sunny afternoon in summer. More correctly speaking, it may be said a summer's evening, for the bright beams were already slanting athwart the substantial garden of Mr. Justice Hare, and the tea hour, seven, was passing. Mr. and Mrs. Hare and Barbara were seated at the meal; somehow, meals always did seem in process at Justice Hare's; if it was not breakfast, it was luncheon--if it was not luncheon, it was dinner--if it was not dinner, it was tea. Barbara sat in tears, for the justice was giving her a "piece of his mind," and poor Mrs. Hare deferently agreeing with her husband, as she would have done had he proposed to set the house on fire and burn her up in it, yet sympathizing with Barbara, moved uneasily in her chair.

"You do it for the purpose; you do it to anger me," thundered the justice, bringing down his hand on the tea-table and causing the cups to rattle.

"No I don't, papa," sobbed Barbara.

"Then why do you do it?"

Barbara was silent.

"No; you can't answer; you have nothing to urge. What is the matter, pray, with Major Thorn? Come, I will be answered."

"I don't like him," faltered Barbara.

"You do like him; you are telling me an untruth. You have liked him well enough whenever he has been here."

"I like him as an acquaintance, papa; not as a husband."

"Not as a husband!" repeated the exasperated justice. "Why, bless my heart and body, the girl's going mad! Not as a husband! Who asked you to like him as a husband before he became such? Did ever you hear that it was necessary or expedient, or becoming for a young lady to act on and begin to 'like' a gentleman as 'her husband?'"

Barbara felt a little bewildered.

"Here's the whole parish saying that Barbara Hare can't be married, that nobody will have her, on account of--of--of that cursed stain left by----, I won't trust myself to name him, I should go too far. Now, don't you think that's a pretty disgrace, a fine state of things?"

"But it is not true," said Barbara; "people do ask me."

"But what's the use of their asking when you say 'No?'" raved the justice. "Is that the way to let the parish know that they ask? You are an ungrateful, rebellious, self-willed daughter, and you'll never be otherwise."

Barbara's tears flowed freely. The justice gave a dash at the bell handle, to order the tea things carried away, and after their removal the subject was renewed, together with Barbara's grief. That was the worst of Justice Hare. Let him seize hold of a grievance, it was not often he got upon a real one, and he kept on at it, like a blacksmith hammering at his forge. In the midst of a stormy oration, tongue and hands going together, Mr. Carlyle came in.

Not much altered; not much. A year and three-quarters had gone by and they had served to silver his hair upon the temples. His manner, too, would never again be careless and light as it once had been. He was the same keen man of business, the same pleasant, intelligent companion; the generality of people saw no change in him. Barbara rose to escape.

"No," said Justice Hare, planting himself between her and the door; "that's the way you like to get out of my reach when I am talking to you. You won't go; so sit down again. I'll tell you of your ill-conduct before Mr. Carlyle, and see if that will shame you."

Barbara resumed her seat, a rush of crimson dyeing her cheeks. And Mr. Carlyle looked inquiringly, seeming to ask an explanation of her distress. The justice continued after his own fashion.

"You know, Carlyle, that horrible blow that fell upon us, that shameless disgrace. Well, because the parish can't clack enough about the fact itself, it must begin about Barbara, saying that the disgrace and humiliation are reflected upon her, and that nobody will come near her to ask her to be his wife. One would think, rather than lie under the stigma and afford the parish room to talk, she'd marry the first man that came, if it was the parish beadle--anybody else would. But now, what are the facts? You'll stare when you know them. She has received a bushel of good offers--a bushel of them," repeated the justice, dashing his hand down on his knee, "and she says 'No!' to all. The last was to-day, from Major Thorn, and, my young lady takes and puts the stopper upon it, as usual, without reference to me or her mother, without saying with your leave or by your leave. She wants to be kept in her room for a week upon bread and water, to bring her to her senses."

Mr. Carlyle glanced at Barbara. She was sitting meekly under the infliction, her wet eyelashes falling on her flushed cheeks and shading her eyes. The justice was heated enough, and had pushed his flaxen wig nearly hind-part before, in the warmth of his argument.

"What did you say to her?" snapped the justice.

"Matrimony may not have charms for Barbara," replied Mr. Carlyle half jokingly.

"Nothing does have charms for her that ought to have," growled Justice Hare. "She's one of the contrary ones. By the way, though," hastily resumed the justice, leaving the objectionable subject, as another flashed across his memory, "they were coupling your name and matrimony together, Carlyle, last night, at the Buck's Head."

A very perceptible tinge of red rose to the face of Mr. Carlyle, telling of inward emotion, but his voice and manner betrayed none.

"Indeed," he carelessly said.

"Ah, you are a sly one; you are, Carlyle. Remember how sly you were over your first----" marriage, Justice Hare was going to bring out, but it suddenly occurred to him that all circumstances considered, it was not precisely the topic to recall to Mr. Carlyle. So he stopped himself in the utterance, coughed, and went on again. "There you go, over to see Sir John Dobede, not to see Sir John, but paying court to Miss Dobede."

"So the Buck's Head was amusing itself with that!" good-naturedly observed Mr. Carlyle. "Well, Miss Dobede is going to be married, and I am drawing up the settlements."

"It's not she; she marries young Somerset; everybody knows that. It's the other one, Louisa. A nice girl, Carlyle."

"Very," responded Mr. Carlyle, and it was all the answer he gave. The justice, tired of sitting indoors, tired, perhaps, of extracting nothing satisfactory from Mr. Carlyle, rose, shook himself, set his wig aright before the chimney-glass, and quitted the house on his customary evening visit to the Buck's Head. Barbara, who watched him down the path, saw that he encountered someone who happened to be passing the gate. She could not at first distinguish who it might be, nothing but an arm and shoulder cased in velveteen met her view, but as their positions changed in conversation--his and her father's--she saw that it was Locksley; he had been the chief witness, not a vindictive one; he could not help himself, against her brother Richard, touching the murder of Hallijohn.

Meanwhile Mrs. Hare had drawn Mr. Carlyle into a chair close by her own.

"Archibald, will you forgive me if I say a word upon the topic introduced by Mr. Hare?" she said, in a low tone, as she shook his hand. "You know how fondly I have ever regarded you, second only to my poor Richard. Your welfare and happiness are precious to me. I wish I could in any way promote them. It occurs to me, sometimes, that you are not at present so happy as you might be."

"I have some sources of happiness," said Mr. Carlyle. "My children and I have plenty of sources of interest. What do you mean, dear Mrs. Hare?"

"Your home might be made happier."

Mr. Carlyle smiled, nearly laughed. "Cornelia takes care of that, as she did in the old days, you know."

"Yes, I know. Would it not be as well to consider whether she would not be better in a home of her own--and for you to give East Lynne another mistress?"

He shook his head.

"Archibald, it would be happier for you; it would indeed. It is only in new ties that you can forget the past. You might find recompense yet for the sorrow you have gone through; and I know none," repeated Mrs. Hare, emphatically, "more calculated to bring it you than that sweet girl, Louisa Dobede."

"So long as--" Mr. Carlyle was beginning, and had not got so far in his sentence, when he was interrupted by an exclamation from Barbara.

"What can be the matter with papa? Locksley must have said something to anger him. He is coming in the greatest passion, mamma; his face crimson, and his hands and arms working."

"Oh, dear, Barbara!" was all poor Mrs. Hare's reply. The justice's great bursts of passion frightened her.

In he came, closed the door, and stood in the middle of the room, looking alternately at Mrs. Hare and Barbara.

"What is this cursed report, that's being whispered in the place!" quoth he, in a tone of suppressed rage, but not unmixed with awe.

"What report?" asked Mr. Carlyle, for the justice waited for an answer, and Mrs. Hare seemed unable to speak. Barbara took care to keep silence; she had some misgivings that the justice's words might be referring to herself--to the recent grievance.

"A report that he--he--has been here disguised as a laborer, has dared to show himself in the place where he'll come yet, to the gibbet."

Mrs. Hare's face turned as white as death; Mr. Carlyle rose and dexterously contrived to stand before her, so that it should not be seen. Barbara silently locked her hands, one within the other, and turned to the window.

"Of whom did you speak?" asked Mr. Carlyle, in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he were putting the most matter-of-fact question. He knew too well; but he thought to temporize for the sake of Mrs. Hare.

"Of whom do I speak!" uttered the exasperated justice, nearly beside himself with passion; "of whom would I speak but the bastard Dick! Who else in West Lynne is likely to come to a felon's death?"

"Oh, Richard!" sobbed forth Mrs. Hare, as she sank back in her chair, "be merciful. He is our own true son."

"Never a true son of the Hares," raved the justice. "A true son of wickedness, and cowardice, and blight, and evil. If he has dared to show his face at West Lynne, I'll set the whole police of England upon his track, that he may be brought here as he ought, if he must come. When Locksley told me of it just now, I raised my hand to knock him down, so infamously false did I deem the report. Do _you_ know anything of his having been here?" continued the justice to his wife, in a pointed, resolute tone.

How Mrs. Hare would have extricated herself, or what she would have answered, cannot even be imagined, but Mr. Carlyle interposed.

"You are frightening Mrs. Hare, sir. Don't you see that she knows nothing of it--that the very report of such a thing is alarming her into illness? But--allow me to inquire what it may be that Locksley said?"

"I met him at the gate," retorted Justice Hare, turning his attention upon Mr. Carlyle. "He was going by as I reached it. 'Oh, justice, I am glad I met you. That's a nasty report in the place that Richard has been here. I'd see what I could do toward hushing it up, sir, if I were you, for it may only serve to put the police in mind of by gone things, which it may be better they should forget.' Carlyle, I went, as I tell you, to knock him down. I asked him how he could have the hardihood to repeat such slander to my face. He was on the high horse directly; said the parish spoke the slander, not he; and I got out of him what it was he had heard."

"And what was it?" interrupted Mr. Carlyle, more eagerly than he generally spoke.

"Why, they say the fellow showed himself here some time ago, a year or so, disguised as a farm laborer--confounded fools! Not but what he'd have been the fool had he done it."

"To be sure he would," repeated Mr. Carlyle, "and he is not fool enough for that, sir. Let West Lynne talk, Mr. Hare; but do not put faith in a word of its gossip. I never do. Poor Richard, wherever he may be--"

"I won't have him pitied in my presence," burst forth the justice. "Poor Richard, indeed! Villain Richard, if you please."

"I was about to observe that, wherever he may be--whether in the backwoods of America, or digging for gold in California, or wandering about the United Kingdom--there is little fear that he will quit his place of safety to dare the dangerous ground of West Lynne. Had I been you, sir, I should have laughed at Locksley and his words."

"Why does West Lynne invent such lies?"

"Ah, there's the rub. I dare say West Lynne could not tell why, if it were paid for doing it; but it seems to have been a lame story it had got up this time. If they must have concocted a report that Richard had been seen at West Lynne, why put it back to a year ago--why not have fixed it for to-day or yesterday? If I heard anything more, I would treat it with the silence and contempt it deserves, justice."

Silence and contempt were not greatly in the justice's line; noise and explosion were more so. But he had a high opinion of the judgment of Mr. Carlyle; and growling a sort of assent, he once more set forth to pay his evening visit.

"Oh, Archibald!" uttered Mrs. Hare, when her husband was half-way down the path, "what a mercy that you were here! I should inevitably have betrayed myself."

Barbara turned round from the window, "But what could have possessed Locksley to say what he did?" she exclaimed.

"I have no doubt Locksley spoke with a motive," said Mr. Carlyle. "He is not unfriendly to Richard, and thought, probably, that by telling Mr. Hare of the report he might get it stopped. The rumor had been mentioned to me."

Barbara turned cold all over. "How can it have come to light?" she breathed.

"I am at a loss to know," said Mr. Carlyle. "The person to mention it to me was Tom Herbert. 'I say,' said he meeting me yesterday, 'what's this row about Dick Hare?' 'What now?' I asked him. 'Why, that Dick was at West Lynne some time back, disguised as a farm laborer.' Just the same, you see, that Locksley said to Mr. Hare. I laughed at Tom Herbert," continued Mr. Carlyle; "turned his report into ridicule also, before I had done with him."

"Will it be the means of causing Richard's detection?" murmured Mrs. Hare from between her dry lips.

"No, no," warmly responded Mr. Carlyle. "Had the report arisen immediately after he was really here, it might not have been so pleasant; but nearly two years have elapsed since the period. Be under no uneasiness, dear Mrs. Hare, for rely upon it there is no cause."

"But how could it have come out, Archibald?" she urged, "and at this distant period of time?"

"I assure you I am quite at a loss to imagine. Had anybody at West Lynne seen and recognized Richard, they would have spoken of it at the time. Do not let it trouble you; the rumor will die away."

Mrs. Hare sighed deeply, and left the room to proceed to her own chamber. Barbara and Mr. Carlyle were alone.
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