“Is this the fact?” cried the earl.
“My lord,” coldly replied Mr. Carlyle, “whatever may be my defects in your eyes, I am at least a man of truth. Until this moment, the suspicion that you were in ignorance of the contemplated marriage never occurred to me.”
“So far, then, I beg your pardon, Mr. Carlyle. But how came the marriage about at all—how came it to be hurried over in this unseemly fashion? You made the offer at Easter, Isabel tells me, and you married her three weeks after it.”
“And I would have married her and brought her away with me the day I did make it, had it been practicable,” returned Mr. Carlyle. “I have acted throughout for her comfort and happiness.”
“Oh, indeed!” exclaimed the earl, returning to his disagreeable tone. “Perhaps you will put me in possession of the facts, and of your motives.”
“I warn you that the facts to you will not bear a pleasant sound, Lord Mount Severn.”
“Allow me to be the judge of that,” said the earl.
“Business took me to Castle Marling on Good Friday. On the following day I called at your house; after your own and Isabel’s invitation, it was natural I should; in fact, it would have been a breach of good feeling not to do so, I found Isabel ill-treated and miserable; far from enjoying a happy home in your house—”
“What, sir?” interrupted the earl. “Ill-treated and miserable?”
“Ill-treated even to blows, my lord.”
The earl stood as one petrified, staring at Mr. Carlyle.
“I learnt it, I must premise, through the chattering revelations of your little son; Isabel, of course, would not have mentioned it to me; but when the child had spoken, she did not deny it. In short she was too broken-hearted, too completely bowed in spirit to deny it. It aroused all my feelings of indignation—it excited in me an irresistible desire to emancipate her from this cruel life, and take her where she would find affection, and I hope happiness. There was only one way which I could do this, and I risked it. I asked her to become my wife, and to return to her home at East Lynne.”
The earl was slowly recovering from his petrifaction. “Then, am I to understand, that when you called that day at my house, you carried no intention with you of proposing to Isabel?”
“Not any. It was an impromptu step, the circumstances under which I found her calling it forth.”
The earl paced the room, perplexed still, and evidently disturbed. “May I inquire if you love her?” he abruptly said.
Mr. Carlyle paused ere he spoke, and a red flush dyed his face. “Those sort of feelings man rarely acknowledges to man, Lord Mount Severn, but I will answer you. I do love her, passionately and sincerely; I learnt to love her at East Lynne; but I could have carried my love silently within me to the end of my life and never betrayed it; and probably should have done so, but for the unexpected visit to Castle Marling. If the idea of making her my wife had never previously occurred to me as practicable, it was that I deemed her rank incompatible with my own.”