She rolled, in a confused manner, the corners of her warm shawl over her unconscious fingers.
"I read the note you left for your husband. this</i> enough to hurl you on the step you took? Surely not. You must have yielded in the persuasions of that wicked man."
"It is all over now," she wailed.
"Carlyle was true and faithful to you, and to you alone. Few women have the chance of happiness, in their married life, in the degree that you had. He is an upright and good man; one of nature's gentlemen; one that England may be proud of as having grown upon her soil. The more I see of him, the greater becomes my admiration of him, and of his thorough honor. Do you know what he did in the matter of the damages?"
She shook her head.
"He did not wish to proceed for damages, or only for the trifling sum demanded by law; but the jury, feeling for his wrongs, gave unprecedently heavy ones. Since the fellow came into his baronetcy they have been paid. Carlyle immediately handed them over to the county hospital. He holds the apparently obsolete opinion that money cannot wipe out a wife's dishonor."
"Let us close those topics" implored the poor invalid. "I acted wickedly and madly, and have the consequences to bear forever. More I cannot say."
"Where do you intend to fix your future residence?" inquired the earl.
"I am unable to tell. I shall leave this town as soon as I am well enough."
"Aye. It cannot be pleasant for you to remain under the eyes of its inhabitants. You were here with him, were you not?"
"They think I am his wife," she murmured. "The servants think it."
"That's well, so far. How many servants have you?"
"Two. I am not strong enough yet to do much myself, so am obliged to keep two," she continued, as if in apology for the extravagance, under her reduced circumstances. "As soon as ever the baby can walk, I shall manage to do with one."
The earl looked confounded. "The baby!" he uttered, in a tone of astonishment and grief painful to her to hear. "Isabel, is there a child?"
Not less painful was her own emotion as she hid her face. Lord Mount Severn rose and paced the room with striding steps.
"I did not know it! I did not know it! Wicked, heartless villain! He ought to have married you before its birth. Was the divorce out previously?" he asked stopping short in his strides to put the question.
"Coward! Sneak! May good men shun him from henceforth! May his queen refuse to receive him! You, an earl's daughter! Oh, Isabel, how utterly you have lost yourself!"
Lady Isabel started from her chair in a burst of hysterical sobs, her hands extended beseechingly toward the earl. "Spare me! Spare me! You have been rending my heart ever since you came; indeed I am too weak to bear it."
The earl, in truth, had been betrayed into showing more of his sentiments than he intended. He recalled his recollection.
"Well, well, sit down again, Isabel," he said, putting her into her chair. "We shall go to the point I chiefly came here to settle. What sum will it take you to live upon? Quietly; as of course you would now wish to live, but comfortably."
"I will not accept anything," she replied. "I will get my own living." And the earl's irascibility again arose at the speech. He spoke in a sharp tone.
"Absurd, Isabel! Do not add romantic folly to your own mistakes. Get your own living, indeed! As much as is necessary for you to live upon, I shall supply. No remonstrance; I tell you I am acting as for your father. Do you suppose he would have abandoned you to starve or to work?"
The allusion touched every chord within her bosom, and the tears fell fast. "I thought I could get my living by teaching," she sobbed.
"And how much did you anticipate the teaching would bring you in?"
"Not very much," she listlessly said. "A hundred a year, perhaps; I am very clever at music and singing. That sum might keep us, I fancy, even if I only went out by the day."
"And a fine 'keep' it would be! You shall have that sum every quarter!"
"No, no! no, no! I do not deserve it; I could not accept it; I have forfeited all claim to assistance."
"Not to mine. Now, it is of no use to excite yourself, my mind is made up. I never willingly forego a duty, and I look upon this not only as a duty, but as an imperative one. Upon my return, I shall immediately settle four hundred upon you, and you can draw it quarterly."
"Then half that sum," she reflected, knowing how useless it was to contend with Lord Mount Severn when he got upon the stilts of "duty." "Indeed, two hundred a year will be ample; it will seem like riches to me."
"I have named the sum, Isabel, and I shall not make it less. A hundred pounds every three months shall be paid to you, dating from this day. This does not count," said he, laying down some notes on the table.
He took her hand within his in token of farewell; turned and was gone.
And Lady Isabel remained in her chamber alone.
Alone; alone! Alone for evermore!