They were approaching at that moment, Francis Levison and Lady Isabel. He was expressing his regret at the untoward accident of the cross for the tenth time that night. “I feel that it can never be atoned for,” whispered he; “that the heartfelt homage of my whole life would not be sufficient compensation.”
He spoke in a tone of thrilling gentleness, gratifying to the ear but dangerous to the heart. Lady Isabel glanced up and caught his eyes gazing upon her with the deepest tenderness—a language hers had never yet encountered. A vivid blush again arose to her cheek, her eyelids fell, and her timid words died away in silence.
“Take care, take care, my young Lady Isabel,” murmured the Oxonian under his breath, as they passed him, “that man is as false as he is fair.”
“I think he is a rascal,” remarked the earl.
“I know he is; I know a thing or two about him. He would ruin her heart for the renown of the exploit, because she’s a beauty, and then fling it away broken. He has none to give in return for the gift.”
“Just as much as my new race-horse has,” concluded the earl. “She is very beautiful.”
West Lynne was a town of some importance, particularly in its own eyes, though being neither a manufacturing one nor a cathedral one, nor even the chief town of the county, it was somewhat primitive in its manners and customs. Passing out at the town, toward the east, you came upon several detached gentleman’s houses, in the vicinity of which stood the church of St. Jude, which was more aristocratic, in the matter of its congregation, than the other churches of West Lynne. For about a mile these houses were scattered, the church being situated at their commencement, close to that busy part of the place, and about a mile further on you came upon the beautiful estate which was called East Lynne.
Between the gentlemen’s houses mentioned and East Lynne, the mile of road was very solitary, being much overshadowed with trees. One house alone stood there, and that was about three-quarters of a mile before you came to East Lynne. It was on the left hand side, a square, ugly, red brick house with a weathercock on the top, standing some little distance from the road. A flat lawn extended before it, and close to the palings, which divided it from the road, was a grove of trees, some yards in depth. The lawn was divided by a narrow middle gravel path, to which you gained access from the portico of the house. You entered upon a large flagged hall with a reception room on either hand, and the staircase, a wide one, facing you; by the side of the staircase you passed on to the servants’ apartments and offices. That place was called the Grove, and was the property and residence of Richard Hare, Esq., commonly called Mr. Justice Hare.
The room to the left hand, as you went in, was the general sitting-room; the other was very much kept boxed up in lavender and brown Holland, to be opened on state occasions. Justice and Mrs. Hare had three children, a son and two daughters. Annie was the elder of the girls, and had married young; Barbara, the younger was now nineteen, and Richard the eldest—but we shall come to him hereafter.