Lady Isabel Carlyle had spent it on the continent--that refuge for such fugitives--now moving about from place to place with her companion, now stationary and alone. Quite half the time--taking one absence with the other--he had been away from her, chiefly in Paris, pursuing his own course and his own pleasure.
How fared it with Lady Isabel? Just as it must be expected to fare, and does fare, when a high-principled gentlewoman falls from her pedestal. Never had she experienced a moment's calm, or peace, or happiness, since the fatal night of quitting her home. She had taken a blind leap in a moment of wild passion, when, instead of the garden of roses it had been her persuader's pleasure to promise her she would fall into, but which, in truth, she had barely glanced at, for that had not been her moving motive, she had found herself plunged into a yawning abyss of horror, from which there was never more any escape--never more, never more. The very instant--the very night of her departure, she awoke to what she had done. The guilt, whose aspect had been shunned in the prospective, assumed at once its true frightful color, the blackness of darkness; and a lively remorse, a never-dying anguish, took possession of her soul forever. Oh, reader, believe me! Lady--wife--mother! Should you ever be tempted to abandon your home, so will you awake. Whatever trials may be the lot of your married life, though they may magnify themselves to your crushed spirit as beyond the nature, the endurance of woman to bear, _resolve_ to bear them; fall down upon your knees, and pray to be enabled to bear them--pray for patience--pray for strength to resist the demon that would tempt you to escape; bear unto death, rather than forfeit your fair name and your good conscience; for be assured that the alternative, if you do rush on to it, will be found worse than death.
Poor thing--poor Lady Isabel! She had sacrificed husband, children, reputation, home, all that makes life of value to woman. She had forfeited her duty to God, had deliberately broken his commandments, for the one poor miserable mistake of flying with Francis Levison. But the instant the step was irrevocable, the instant she had left the barrier behind, repentance set in. Even in the first days of her departure, in the fleeting moments of abandonment, when it may be supposed she might momentarily forget conscience, it was sharply wounding her with its adder stings; and she knew that her whole future existence, whether spent with that man or without him, would be a dark course of gnawing retribution.
Nearly a year went by, save some six or eight weeks, when, one morning in July, Lady Isabel made her appearance in the breakfast-room. They were staying now at Grenoble. Taking that town on their way to Switzerland through Savoy, it had been Captain Levison's pleasure to halt in it. He engaged apartments, furnished, in the vicinity of the Place Grenette. A windy, old house it was, full of doors and windows, chimneys and cupboards; and he said he should remain there. Lady Isabel remonstrated; she wished to go farther on, where they might get quicker news from England; but her will now was as nothing. She was looking like the ghost of her former self. Talk of her having looked ill when she took that voyage over the water with Mr. Carlyle; you should have seen her now--misery marks the countenance worse than sickness. Her face was white and worn, her hands were thin, her eyes were sunken and surrounded by a black circle--care was digging caves for them. A stranger might have attributed these signs to the state of her health; she knew better--knew that they were the effects of her wretched mind and heart.
It was very late for breakfast, but why should she rise early only to drag through another endless day? Languidly she took her seat at the table, just as Captain Levison's servant, a Frenchman whom he had engaged in Paris, entered the room with two letters.
"_Point de gazette_, Pierre?" she said.
And all the time the sly fox had got the _Times_ in his coat pocket. But he was only obeying the orders of his master. It had been Captain Levison's recent pleasure that the newspapers should not be seen by Lady Isabel until he had over-looked them. You will speedily gather his motive.
Pierre departed toward Captain Levison's room, and Lady Isabel took up the letters and examined their superscription with interest. It was known to her that Mr. Carlyle had not lost a moment in seeking a divorce and the announcement that it was granted was now daily expected. She was anxious for it--anxious that Captain Levison should render her the only reparation in his power before the birth of her unhappy child. Little thought she that there was not the least intention on his part to make her reparation, any more than he had made it to others who had gone before her. She had become painfully aware of the fact that the man for whom she had chosen to sacrifice herself was bad, but she had not learned all his badness yet.
Captain Levison, unwashed, unshaven, with a dressing-gown loosely flung on, lounged in to breakfast. The decked-out dandies before the world are frequently the greatest slovens in domestic privacy. He wished her good morning in a careless tone of apathy, and she as apathetically answered to it.
"Pierre says there are some letters," he began. "What a precious hot day it is!"
"Two," was her short reply, her tone sullen as his. For if you think my good reader, that the flattering words, the ardent expressions, which usually attend the first go-off of these promising unions last out a whole ten months, you are in egregious error. Compliments the very opposite to honey and sweetness have generally supervened long before. Try it, if you don't believe me.
"Two letters," she continued, "and they are both in the same handwriting--your solicitors', I believe."
Up went his hand at the last word, and he made a sort of grab at the letters, stalked to the farthest window, opened it, and glanced over its contents.
"Sir--We beg to inform you that the suit Carlyle vs. Carlyle, is at an end. The divorce was pronounced without opposition. According to your request, we hasten to forward you the earliest intimation of the fact.
"We are, sir, faithfully yours,
"MOSS & GRAB.
"F. LEVISON, Esq."
It was over, then, and all claim to the name of Carlyle was declared to have been forfeited by the Lady Isabel forever. Captain Levison folded up the letter, and placed it securely in an inner pocket.
"Is there any news?" she asked.
"Of the divorce, I mean?"
"Tush!" was the response of Captain Levison, as if wishing to imply that the divorce was yet a far-off affair, and he proceeded to open the other letter.
"Sir--After sending off our last, dated to-day, we received tidings of the demise of Sir Peter Levison, your grand-uncle. He expired this afternoon in town, where he had come for the benefit of medical advice. We have much pleasure in congratulating you upon your accession to the title and estates, and beg to state that should it not be convenient to you to visit England at present, we will be happy to transact all necessary matters for you, on your favoring us with instructions. And we remain, sir, most faithfully yours,
"MOSS & GRAB.
"SIR FRANCIS LEVISON, Bart."
The outside of the letter was superscribed as the other, "F. Levison, Esquire," no doubt with a view to its more certain delivery.
"At last, thank the pigs!" was the gentleman's euphonious expression, as he tossed the letter, open, on the breakfast-table.
"The divorce is granted!" feverishly uttered Lady Isabel.
He made no reply, but seated himself to breakfast.
"May I read the letter? Is it for me to read?"
"For what else should I have thrown it there?" he said.
"A few days ago you put a letter, open on the table, I thought for me; but when I took it up you swore at me. Do you remember it Captain Levison?"
"You may drop that odious title, Isabel, which has stuck to me too long. I own a better, now."
"What one, pray?"
"You can look and see."
Lady Isabel took up the letter and read it. Sir Francis swallowed down his coffee, and rang the table hand-bell--the only bell you generally meet with in France. Pierre answered it.
"Put me up a change of things," said he, in French. "I start for England in an hour."
"It is very well," Pierre responded; and departed to do it. Lady Isabel waited till the man was gone, and then spoke, a faint flush of emotion in her cheeks.
"You do not mean what you say? You will not leave me yet?"
"I cannot do otherwise," he answered. "There's a mountain of business to be attended to, now that I am come into power."
"Moss & Grab say they will act for you. Had there been a necessity for your going, they would not have offered that."
"Ay, they do say so--with a nice eye to the feathering of their pockets! Besides, I should not choose for the old man's funeral to take place without me."
"Then I must accompany you," she urged.
"I wish you would not talk nonsense, Isabel. Are you in a state to travel night and day? Neither would home be agreeable to you yet awhile."
She felt the force of the objections. Resuming after a moment's pause--"Were you to go to England, you might not be back in time."
"In time for what?"
"Oh, how can you ask?" she rejoined, in a sharp tone of reproach; "you know too well. In time to make me your wife when the divorce shall appear."
"I shall chance it," coolly observed Sir Francis.
"Chance it! _chance_ the legitimacy of the child? You must assure that, before all things. More terrible to me than all the rest would it be, if--"
"Now don't put yourself in a fever, Isabel. How many times am I to be compelled to beg that of you! It does no good. Is it my fault, if I am called suddenly to England?"
"Have you no pity for your child?" she urged in agitation. "Nothing can repair the injury, if you once suffer it to come upon him. He will be a by-word amidst men throughout his life."
"You had better have written to the law lords to urge on the divorce," he returned. "I cannot help the delay."
"There has been no delay; quite the contrary. But it may be expected hourly now."
"You are worrying yourself for nothing, Isabel. I shall be back in time."
He quitted the room as he spoke, and Lady Isabel remained in it, the image of despair. Nearly an hour elapsed when she remembered the breakfast things, and rang for them to be removed. A maid-servant entered to do it, and she thought how ill miladi looked.
"Where is Pierre?" miladi asked.
"Pierre was making himself ready to attend monsieur to England."
Scarcely had she closed the door upon herself and the tray when Sir Francis Levison appeared, equipped for traveling. "Good-bye, Isabel," said he, without further circumlocution or ceremony.
Lady Isabel, excited beyond all self-control, slipped the bolt of the door; and, half leaning against it, half leaning at his feet, held up her hand in supplication.
"Francis, have you any consideration left for me--any in the world?"
"How can you be so alarmed, Isabel? Of course I have," he continued, in a peevish, though kind tone, as he took hold of her hands to raise her.
"No, not yet. I will remain here until you say you will wait another day or two. You know that the French Protestant minister is prepared to marry us the instant news of the divorce shall arrive; if you do care still for me, you will wait."
"I cannot wait," he replied, his tone changing to one of determination. "It is useless to urge it."
He broke from her and left the room, and in another minute had left the house, Pierre attending him. A feeling, amounting to a conviction, rushed over the unhappy lady that she had seen him for the last time until it was too late.
She was right. It was too late by weeks and months.
December came in. The Alps were covered with snow; Grenoble borrowed the shade, and looked cold, and white, and sleety, and sloppy; the gutters, running through the middle of certain of the streets, were unusually black, and the people crept along especially dismal. Close to the fire in the barn of a French bedroom, full of windows, and doors, and draughts, with its wide hearth and its wide chimney, into which we could put four or five of our English ones, shivered Lady Isabel Vane. She had an invalid cap on, and a thick woolen invalid shawl, and she shook and shivered perpetually; though she had drawn so close to the wood fire that there was a danger of her petticoats igniting, and the attendant had frequently to spring up and interpose between them and the crackling logs. Little did it seem to matter to Lady Isabel; she sat in one position, her countenance the picture of stony despair.