mrs_henry_wood (mrs_henry_wood) wrote in serialsensation,

Chapter 26, 'Alone For Evermore' (1/2)

A surprise awaited Lady Isabel Vane. It was on a windy day in the following March that a traveller arrived at Grenoble, and inquired his way of a porter, to the best hotel in the place, his French being such as only an Englishman can produce.

"Hotel? Let's see," returned the man, politely, but with native indifference. "There are two hotels, nearly contiguous to each other, and monsieur would find himself comfortable at either. There is the Tross Dauphins, and there is the Ambassadeurs."

"Monsieur" chose haphazard, the Hotel des Ambassadeurs, and was conducted to it. Shortly after his arrival there, he inquired his road to the Place Grenette, and was offered to be shown: but he preferred that it should be described to him, and to go alone. The Place was found, and he thence turned to the apartments of Lady Isabel Vane.

Lady Isabel was sitting where you saw her the previous December--in the precise spot--courting the warmth of the fire, and it seemed, courting the sparks also, for they appeared as fond of her as formerly. The marvel was, how she had escaped spontaneous combustion; but there she was yet, and her clothes likewise. You might think that but a night had passed, when you looked at the room, for it wore precisely the same aspect now, as then; everything was the same, even to the child's cradle in the remote corner, partially hidden by the bed-curtains, and the sleeping child in it. Lady Isabel's progress toward recovery was remarkably lingering, as is frequently the case when mind and body are both diseased. She was so sitting when Susanne entered the room, and said that a "Monsieur Anglais" had arrived in the town to see her, and was waiting below, in the saloon.

Lady Isabel was startled. An English gentleman--to see her!

English for certain, was Susanne's answer, for she had difficulty to comprehend his French.

Who could be desirous to see her? One out of the world and forgotten! "Susanne," she cried aloud, a thought striking her, "it is never Sir Fran--it is not monsieur!"

"Not in the least like monsieur," complacently answered Susanne. "It is a tall, brave English gentleman, proud and noble looking like a prince."

Every pulse within Lady Isabel's body throbbed rebelliously: her heart bounded till it was like to burst her side, and she turned sick with astonishment.

"Tall, brave, noble?" could that description apply to any but Mr. Carlyle? Strange that so unnatural an idea should have occurred to her; it would not have done so in a calmer moment. She rose, tottered across the chamber, and prepared to descend. Susanne's tongue was let loose at the proceeding.

"Was miladi out of her senses? To attempt going downstairs would be a pretty ending, for she'd surely fall by the way. Miladi knew that the bottom step was of lead, and that no head could pitch down upon that, without ever never being a head any more, except in the hospitals. Let miladi sit still in her place and she'd bring the monsieur up. What did it signify? He was not a young petit maitre, to quiz things: he was fifty, if he was a day: his hair already turned to fine gray."

This set the question touching Mr. Carlyle at rest, and her heart stilled again. The next moment she was inwardly laughing in her bitter mockery at her insensate folly. Mr. Carlyle come to see her! _Her_! Francis Levison might be sending over some man of business, regarding the money question, was her next thought: if so, she should certainly refuse to see him.

"Go down to the gentleman and ask him his name Susanne. Ask also from whence he came."

Susanne disappeared, and returned, and the gentleman behind her. Whether she had invited him, or whether he had chosen to come uninvited, there he was. Lady Isabel caught a glimpse, and flung her hands over her burning cheeks of shame. It was Lord Mount Severn.

"How did you find out where I was?" she gasped, when some painful words had been uttered on both sides.

"I went to Sir Francis Levison and demanded your address. Certain recent events implied that he and you must have parted, and I therefore deemed it time to inquire what he had done with you."

"Since last July," she interrupted. Lifting up her wan face, now colorless again. "Do not think worse of me than I am. He was here in December for an hour's recriminating interview, and we parted for life."

"What have you heard of him lately?"

"Not anything. I never know what is passing in the world at home; I have no newspaper, no correspondence; and he would scarcely be so bold as to write to me again."

"I shall not shock you, then by some tidings I bring you regarding him," returned Lord Mount Severn.

"The greatest shock to me would be to hear that I should ever again be subjected to the sight of him," she answered.

"He is married."

"Heaven have pity on his poor wife!" was all the comment of Lady Isabel.

"He has married Alice Challoner."

She lifted her head, then, in simple surprise. "Alice? Not Blanche?"

"The story runs that he has played Blanche very false. That he has been with her much during the last three or four months, leading on her expectations; and then suddenly proposed for her younger sister. I know nothing of the details myself; it is not likely; and I heard nothing, until one evening at the club I saw the announcement of the marriage for the following day at St. George's. I was at the church the next morning before he was."

"Not to stop it; not to intercept the marriage!" breathlessly uttered the Lady Isabel.

"Certainly not. I had no power to attempt anything of the sort. I went to demand an answer to my question--what he had done with you, and where you were. He gave me this address, but said he knew nothing of your movements since December."

There was a long silence. The earl appeared to be alternately ruminating and taking a survey of the room. Isabel sat with her head down.

"Why did you seek me out?" she presently broke forth. "I am not worth it. I have brought enough disgrace upon your name."

"And upon your husband's and upon your children's," he rejoined, in the most severe manner, for it was not in the nature of the Earl of Mount Severn to gloss over guilt. "Nevertheless it is incumbent upon me, as your nearest blood relative, to see after you, now that you are alone again, and to take care, as far as I can, that you do not lapse lower."

He might have spared her that stab. But she scarcely understood him. She looked at him, wondering whether she did understand.

"You have not a shilling in the world," he resumed. "How do you propose to live?"

"I have some money yet. When--"

"His money?" sharply and haughtily interposed the earl.

"No," she indignantly replied. "I am selling my trinkets. Before they are all gone, I shall look out to get a living in some way; by teaching, probably."

"Trinkets!" repeated Lord Mount Severn. "Mr. Carlyle told me that you carried nothing away with you from East Lynne."

"Nothing that he had given me. These were mine before I married. You have seen Mr. Carlyle, then?" she faltered.

"Seen him?" echoed the indignant earl. "When such a blow was dealt him by a member of my family, could I do less than hasten to East Lynne to tender my sympathies? I went with another subject too--to discover what could have been the moving springs of your conduct; for I protest, when the black tidings reached me, I believed that you must have gone mad. You were one of the last whom I should have feared to trust. But I learned nothing, and Carlyle was as ignorant as I. How could you strike him such a blow?"

Lower and lower drooped her head, brighter shone the shame on her hectic cheek. An awful blow to Mr. Carlyle it must have been; she was feeling it in all its bitter intensity. Lord Mount Severn read her repentant looks.

"Isabel," he said, in a tone which had lost something of its harshness, and it was the first time he had called her by her Christian name, "I see that you are reaping the fruits. Tell me how it happened. What demon prompted you to sell yourself to that bad man?"

"He is a bad man!" she exclaimed. "A base, heartless man!"

"I warned you at the commencement of your married life to avoid him; to shun all association with him; not to admit him to your house."

"His coming to East Lynne was not my doing," she whispered. "Mr. Carlyle invited him."

"I know he did. Invited him in his unsuspicious confidence, believing his wife to be his wife, a trustworthy woman of honor," was the severe remark.

She did not reply; she could not gainsay it; she only sat with her meek face of shame and her eyelids drooping.
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