This day she had partaken of her early dinner--such as it was, for her appetite failed--and had dozed asleep in the arm chair, when a noise arose from below, like a carriage driving into the courtyard through the porte cochere. It instantly aroused her. Had he come?
"Who is it?" she asked of the nurse.
"Miladi, it is monsieur; and Pierre is with him. I have begged milady often and often not to fret, for monsieur would surely come; miladi, see, I am right."
The girl departed, closing the door, and Lady Isabel sat looking at it, schooling her patience. Another moment, and it was flung open.
Sir Francis Levison approached to greet her as he came in. She waved him off, begging him, in a subdued, quiet tone, not to draw too near, as any little excitement made her faint now. He took a seat opposite to her, and began pushing the logs together with his boot, as he explained that he really could not get away from town before.
"Why did you come now?" she quietly rejoined.
"Why did I come?" repeated he. "Are these all the thanks a fellow gets for travelling in this inclement weather? I thought you would at least have been glad to welcome me, Isabel."
"Sir Francis," she rejoined, speaking still with almost unnatural calmness, as she continued to do throughout the interview--though the frequent changes in her countenance, and the movement of her hands, when she laid them from time to time on her chest to keep down its beating, told what effort the struggle cost her--"Sir Francis, I am glad, for one reason, to welcome you; we must come to an understanding one with the other; and, so far, I am pleased that you are here. It was my intention to have communicated with you by letter as soon as I found myself capable of the necessary exertion, but your visit has removed the necessity. I wish to deal with you quite unreservedly, without concealment, or deceit; I must request you so to deal with me."
"What do you mean by 'deal?'" he asked, settling the logs to his apparent satisfaction.
"To speak and act. Let there be plain truth between us at this interview, if there never has been before."
"I don't understand you."
"Naked truth, unglossed over," she pursued, bending her eyes determinately upon him. "It must be."
"With all my heart," returned Sir Francis. "It is you who have thrown out the challenge, mind."
"When you left in July you gave me a sacred promise to come back in time for our marriage; you know what I mean when I say 'in time,' but--"
"Of course I meant to do so when I gave the promise," he interrupted. "But no sooner had I set my foot in London than I found myself overwhelmed with business, and away from it I could not get. Even now I can only remain with you a couple of days, for I must hasten back to town."
"You are breaking faith already," she said, after hearing him calmly to the end. "Your words are not words of truth, but of deceit. You did not intend to be back in time for the marriage, or otherwise you would have caused it to take place ere you went at all."
"What fancies you do take up!" uttered Francis Levison.
"Some time subsequent to your departure," she quietly went on, "one of the maids was setting to rights the clothes in your dressing-closet, and she brought me a letter she found in one of the pockets. I saw by the date that it was one of those two which you received on the morning of your departure. It contained the information that the divorce was pronounced."
She spoke so quietly, so apparently without feeling or passion, that Sir Francis was agreeably astonished. He should have less trouble in throwing off the mask. But he was an ill-tempered man; and to hear that the letter had been found to have the falseness of his fine protestations and promises laid bare, did not improve his temper now. Lady Isabel continued,--
"It would have been better to have undeceived me then; to have told me that the hopes I was cherishing for the sake of the unborn child were worse than vain."
"I did not judge so," he replied. "The excited state you then appeared to be in, would have precluded your listening to any sort of reason."
Her heart beat a little quicker; but she stilled it.
"You deem that it was not in reason that I should aspire to be the wife of Sir Francis Levison?"
He rose and began kicking at the logs; with the heel of his boot this time.
"Well, Isabel, you must be aware that it is an awful sacrifice for a man in my position to marry a divorced woman."
The hectic flushed into her thin cheeks, but her voice sounded calm as before.
"When I expected or wished, for the 'sacrifice,' it was not for my own sake; I told you so then. But it was not made; and the child's inheritance is that of sin and shame. There he lies."
Sir Francis half turned to where she pointed, and saw an infant's cradle by the side of the bed. He did not take the trouble to look at it.
"I am the representative now of an ancient and respected baronetcy," he resumed, in a tone as of apology for his previous heartless words, "and to make you my wife would so offend all my family, that--"
"Stay," interrupted Lady Isabel, "you need not trouble yourself to find needless excuses. Had you taken this journey for the purpose of making me your wife, were you to propose to do so this day, and bring a clergyman into the room to perform the ceremony, it would be futile. The injury to the child can never be repaired; and, for myself, I cannot imagine any fate in life worse than being compelled to pass it with you."
"If you have taken this aversion to me, it cannot be helped," he coldly said, inwardly congratulating himself, let us not doubt, at being spared the work of trouble he had anticipated. "You made commotion enough once about me making you reparation."
She shook her head.
"All the reparation in your power to make--all the reparation that the whole world can invent could not undo my sin. It and the effects must lie upon me forever."
"Oh--sin!" was the derisive exclamation. "You ladies should think of that beforehand."
"Yes," she sadly answered. "May heaven help all to do so who may be tempted as I was."
"If you mean that as a reproach to me, it's rather out of place," chafed Sir Francis, whose fits of ill-temper were under no control, and who never, when in them, cared what he said to outrage the feelings of another. "The temptation to sin, as you call it, lay not in my persuasions half so much as in your jealous anger toward your husband."
"Quite true," was her reply.
"And I believe you were on the wrong scent, Isabel--if it will be any satisfaction to you to hear it. Since we are mutually on this complimentary discourse, it is of no consequence to smooth over facts."
"I do not understand what you would imply," she said, drawing her shawl round her with a fresh shiver. "How on the wrong scent?"
"With regard to your husband and that Hare girl. You were blindly, outrageously jealous of him."
"And I say I think you are on the wrong scent. I do not believe Mr. Carlyle ever thought of the girl--in that way."
"What do you mean?" she gasped.
"They had a secret between them--not of love--a secret of business; and those interviews they had together, her dancing attendance upon him perpetually, related to that, and that alone."
Her face was more flushed than it had been throughout the interview. He spoke quietly now, quite in an equal tone of reasoning; it was his way when the ill-temper was upon him: and the calmer he spoke, the more cutting were his words. He need not have told her this.
"What was the secret?" she inquired, in a low tone.
"Nay, I can't explain all; they did not take me into their confidence. They did not even take you; better, perhaps that they had though, as things have turned out, or seem to be turning. There's some disreputable secret attaching to the Hare family, and Carlyle was acting in it, under the rose, for Mrs. Hare. She could not seek out Carlyle herself, so she sent the young lady. That's all I know."
"How did you know it?"
"I had reason to think so."
"What reason? I must request you to tell me."
"I overheard scraps of their conversation now and then in those meetings, and so gathered my information."
"You told a different tale to me, Sir Francis," was her remark, as she turned her indignant eyes toward him.
Sir Francis laughed.
"All stratagems are fair in love and war."
She dared not immediately trust herself to reply, and a silence ensued. Sir Francis broke it, pointing with his left thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the cradle.
"What have you named that young article there?"
"The name which ought to have been his by inheritance--'Francis Levison,'" was her icy answer.
"Let's see--how old is he now?"
"He was born on the last day of August."
Sir Francis threw up his arms and stretched himself, as if a fit of idleness had overtaken him; then advanced to the cradle and pulled down the clothes.
"Who is he like, Isabel? My handsome self?"
"Were he like you in spirit, I would pray that he might die ere he could speak, or think!" she burst forth. And then remembering the resolution marked out for herself, subsided outwardly into calmness again.
"What else?" retorted Sir Francis. "You know my disposition pretty well by this time, Isabel, and may be sure that if you deal out small change to me, you will get it back again with interest."
She made no reply. Sir Francis put the clothes back over the sleeping child, returned to the fire, and stood a few moments with his back to it.
"Is my room prepared for me, do you know?" he presently asked.
"No, it is not," she quietly rejoined. "These apartments are mine now; they have been transferred into my name, and they can never again afford you accommodation. Will you be so obliging--I am not strong--as to hand me that writing case?"
Sir Francis walked to the table she indicated, which was at the far end of the great barn of a room, and taking the writing-case from it, gave it to her.
She reached her keys from the stand at her elbow, unlocked the case, and took from it some bank-notes.
"I received these from you a month ago," she said. "They came by post."
"And never had the grace to acknowledge them," he returned, in a sort of mock reproachful tone.
"Forty pounds. That was the amount, was it not?"
"I believe so."
"Allow me to return them to you. Count them."
"Return them to me--for what?" inquired Sir Francis, in amazement.
"I have no longer anything whatever to do with you in any way. Do not make my arm ache, holding out these notes to you so long! Take them!"
Sir Francis took the notes from her hand and placed them on a stand near to her.
"If it be your wish that all relations should end between us, why, let it be so," he said. "I must confess I think it may be the wisest course, as things have come to this pass; for a cat and dog life, which would seemingly be ours, is not agreeable. Remember, though, that it is your doing, not mine. But you cannot think I am going to see you starve, Isabel. A sum--we will fix upon the amount amicably--shall be placed to your credit half-yearly, and--"
"I beg of you to cease," she passionately interrupted. "What do you take me for?"
"Take you for! Why, how can you live? You have no fortune--you must receive assistance from some one."
"I will not receive it from you. If the whole world denied me, and I could find no help from strangers, or means of earning my own bread, and it was necessary that I should still exist, I would apply to my husband for means, rather than to you. In saying this, it ought to convince you that the topic may cease."
"Your husband!" sarcastically rejoined Sir Francis. "Generous man!"
A flush, deep and painful, dyed her cheeks. "I should have said my late husband. You need not have reminded me of the mistake."
"If you will accept nothing for yourself, you must for the child. He, at any rate, falls to my share. I shall give you a few hundred a year with him."
She beat her hands before her, as if beating off the man and his words. "Not a farthing, now or ever. Were you to attempt to send money to him, I would throw it into the nearest river. _Whom_ do you take me for? What do you take me for?" she repeated, rising in her bitter mortification. "If you have put me beyond the pale of the world, I am still Lord Mount Severn's daughter!"
"You did as much toward putting yourself beyond its pale as--"
"Don't I know it? Have I not said so?" she sharply interrupted. And then she sat, striving to calm herself, clasping together her shaking hands.
"Well, if you will persist in this perverse resolution, I cannot mend it," resumed Sir Francis. "In a little time you may probably wish to recall it; in which case a line, addressed to me at my banker's, will--"
Lady Isabel drew herself up. "Put away those notes, if you please," she interrupted, not allowing him to finish his sentence.
He took out his pocket-book and placed the bank notes within it.
"Your clothes--those you left here when you went to England--you will have the goodness to order Pierre to take away this afternoon. And now, Sir Francis, I believe that is all: we will part."
"To remain mortal enemies from henceforth? Is that to be it?"
"To be strangers," she replied, correcting him. "I wish you a good day."
"So you will not even shake hands with me, Isabel?"
"I would prefer not."
And thus they parted. Sir Francis left the room, but not immediately the house. He went into a distant apartment, and, calling the servants before him--there were but two--gave them each a year's wages in advance--"That they might not have to trouble miladi for money," he said to them. Then he paid a visit to the landlord, and handed him, likewise a year's rent in advance, making the same remark. After that, he ordered dinner at a hotel, and the same night he and Pierre departed on their journey home again, Sir Francis thanking his lucky star that he had so easily got rid of a vexatious annoyance.
And Lady Isabel? She passed her evening alone, sitting in the same place, close to the fire and the sparks. The attendant remonstrated that miladi was remaining up too late for her strength, but miladi ordered her and her remonstrances into an adjoining room.
When Lady Isabel lay down to rest, she sank into a somewhat calmer sleep than she had known of late; also into a dream. She thought she was back at East Lynne--not back, in one sense, but that she seemed never to have gone away from it--walking in the flower garden with Mr. Carlyle, while the three children played on the lawn. Her arm was within her husband's, and he was relating something to her. What the news was, she could not remember afterward, excepting that it was connected with the office and old Mr. Dill, and that Mr. Carlyle laughed when he told it. They appeared to be interrupted by the crying of Archibald; and, in turning to the lawn to ask what was the matter, she awoke. Alas! It was the actual crying of her own child which awoke her--this last child--the ill-fated little being in the cradle beside her. But, for a single instant, she forgot recent events and doings, she believed she was indeed in her happy home at East Lynne, a proud woman, an honored wife. As recollection flashed across her, with its piercing stings, she gave vent to a sharp cry of agony, of unavailing despair.