"I wish the right man could be found; but it seems as far off as ever," remarked Mr. Carlyle.
Barbara sat ruminating. It seemed that she would say something to Mr. Carlyle, but a feeling caused her to hesitate. When she did at length speak, it was in a low, timid voice.
"You remember the description Richard gave, that last night, of the person he had met--the true Thorn?"
"Did it strike you then--has it ever occurred to you to think--that it accorded with some one?"
"In what way, Barbara?" he asked, after a pause. "It accorded with the description Richard always gave of the man Thorn."
"Richard spoke of the peculiar movement of throwing off the hair from the forehead--in this way. Did that strike you as being familiar, in connection with the white hand and the diamond ring?"
"Many have a habit of pushing off their hair--I think I do it myself sometimes. Barbara, what do you mean? Have you a suspicion of any one?"
"Have you?" she returned, answering the question by asking another.
"I have not. Since Captain Thorn was disposed of, my suspicions have not pointed anywhere."
This sealed Barbara's lips. She had hers, vague doubts, bringing wonder more than anything else. At times she had thought the same doubts might have occurred to Mr. Carlyle; she now found that they had not. The terrible domestic calamity which had happened to Mr. Carlyle the same night that Richard protested he had seen Thorn, had prevented Barbara's discussing the matter with him then, and she had never done so since. Richard had never been further heard of, and the affair had remained in abeyance.
"I begin to despair of its ever being discovered," she observed. "What will become of poor Richard?"
"We can but wait, and hope that time may bring forth its own elucidation," continued Mr. Carlyle.
"Ah," sighed Barbara, "but it is weary waiting--weary, weary."
"How is it you contrive to get under the paternal displeasure?" he resumed, in a gayer tone.
She blushed vividly, and it was her only answer.
"The Major Thorn alluded to by your papa is our old friend, I presume?"
Barbara inclined her head.
"He is a very pleasant man, Barbara. Many a young lady in West Lynne would be proud to get him."
There was a pause. Barbara broke it, but she did not look at Mr. Carlyle as she spoke.
"The other rumor--is it a correct one?"
"What other rumor?"
"That you are to marry Louisa Dobede."
"It is not. I have no intention of marrying any one. Nay, I will say it more strongly; it is my intention not to marry any one--to remain as I am."
Barbara lifted her eyes to his in the surprise of the moment.
"You look amused, Barbara. Have you been lending your credence to the gossips, who have so kindly disposed of me to Louisa Dobede?"
"Not so. But Louisa Dobede is a girl to be coveted, and, as mamma says, it might be happier for you if you married again. I thought you would be sure to do so."
"No. She--who was my wife--lives."
"What of that?" uttered Barbara, in simplicity.
He did not answer for a moment, and when he did, it was in a low, almost imperceptible tone, as he stood by the table at which Barbara sat, and looked down on her.
"'Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery.'"
And before Barbara could answer, if, indeed, she had found any answer to make, or had recovered her surprise, he had taken his hat and was gone.
To return for a short while to Lady Isabel. As the year advanced she grew stronger, and in the latter part of the summer she made preparations for quitting Grenoble. Where she would fix her residence, or what she would do, she knew not. She was miserable and restless, and cared little what became of her. The remotest spot on earth, one unpenetrated by the steps of civilized man, appeared the most desirable for her. Where was she to find this?
She set out on her search, she and the child and its nurse. Not Susanne. Susanne had a sweetheart in Grenoble, and declined to leave it, so a girl was engaged for the child in her place. Lady Isabel wound up her housekeeping, had her things packed and forwarded to Paris, there to wait her orders and finally quitted Grenoble. It was a fine day when she left it--all too fine for the dark ending it was to bring.
When a railway accident does take place in France, it is an accident. None of your milk-and-water affairs, where a few bruises and a great fright are the extent of the damages but too often a calamity whose remembrance lasts a lifetime. Lady Isabel had travelled a considerable distance that first day, and at the dusk of evening, as they were approaching a place, Cammere, where she purposed to halt for the night, a dreadful accident occurred. The details need not be given, and will not be. It is sufficient to say that some of the passengers were killed, her child and nurse being amongst them, and she herself was dangerously injured.
The injuries lay chiefly in her left leg and in her face--the lower part of her face. The surgeons, taking their cursory view of her, as they did of the rest of the sufferers, were not sparing in their remarks, for they believed her to be insensible. She had gathered that the leg was to be amputated, and that she would probably die under the operation--but her turn to be attended to was not yet. How she contrived to write she never knew, but she got a pen and ink brought to her, and did succeed in scrawling a letter to Lord Mount Severn.
She told him that a sad accident had taken place; she could not say how; all was confusion; and that her child and maid were killed. She herself was dangerously injured, and was about to undergo an operation, which the doctors believed she could not survive; only in case of her death would the letter be sent to Lord Mount Severn. She could not die, she said, without a word of thanks for all his kindness; and she begged him, when he saw Mr. Carlyle, to say that with her last breath she humbly implored his forgiveness, and his children's whom she no longer dared to call hers.
Now this letter, by the officiousness of a servant at the inn to which the sufferers were carried, was taken at once to the post. And, after all, things turned out not quite so bad as anticipated; for when the doctors came to examine the state of Lady Isabel, not cursorily, they found there would be no absolute necessity for the operation contemplated. Fond as the French surgeons are of the knife, to resort to it in this instance would have been cruel, and they proceeded to other means of cure.
The letter was duly delivered at the town house of Lord Mount Severn, where it was addressed. The countess was sojourning there for a few days; she had quitted it after the season, but some business, or pleasure, had called her again to town. Lord Vane was with her, but the earl was in Scotland. They were at breakfast, she and her son, when the letter was brought in: eighteen pence to pay. Its scrawled address, its foreign aspect, its appearance, altogether, excited her curiosity; in her own mind, she believed she had dropped upon a nice little conjugal mare's nest.
"I shall open this," cried she.
"Why, it is addressed to papa!" exclaimed Lord Vane who possessed all his father's notions of honor.
"But such an odd letter! It may require an immediate answer; or is some begging petition, perhaps. Get on with your breakfast."
Lady Mount Severn opened the letter, and with some difficulty spelt through its contents. They shocked even her.
"How dreadful!" she uttered, in the impulse of the moment.
"What is dreadful?" asked Lord Vane, looking up from his breakfast.
"Lady Isabel--Isabel Vane--you have not forgotten her?"
"Forgotten her!" he echoed. "Why, mamma, I must possess a funny memory to have forgotten her already."
"She is dead. She has been killed in a railway accident in France."
His large blue eyes, honest and true as they had been in childhood, filled, and his face flushed. He said nothing, for emotion was strong within him.
"But, shocking as it is, it is better for her," went on the countess; "for, poor creature what could her future life had been?"
"Oh, don't say it!" impetuously broke out the young viscount. "Killed in a railway accident, and for you to say that it is better for her!"
"So it is better," said the countess. "Don't go into heroics, William. You are quite old enough to know that she had brought misery upon herself, and disgrace upon all connected with her. No one could ever have taken notice of her again."
"I would," said the boy, stoutly.
Lady Mount Severn smiled derisively.
"I would. I never liked anybody in the world half so much as I liked Isabel."
"That's past and gone. You would not have continued to like her, after the disgrace she wrought."
"Somebody else wrought more of the disgrace than she did; and, had I been a man, I would have shot him dead," flashed the viscount.
"You don't know anything about it."
"Don't I!" returned he, not over dutifully. But Lady Mount Severn had not brought him up to be dutiful.
"May I read the letter, mamma?" he demanded, after a pause.
"If you can read it," she replied, tossing it to him. "It is written in the strangest style; syllables divided, and the words running one into the other. She wrote it herself when she was dying."
Lord Vane took the letter to a window, and stayed looking over it for some time; the countess ate an egg and a plate of ham meanwhile. Presently he came back with it folded, and laid in on the table.
"You will forward it to papa to-day," he observed.
"I shall forward it to him. But there's no hurry; and I don't exactly know where your papa may be. I shall send the notice of her death to the papers; and I am glad to do it; it is a blight removed from the family."
"Mamma, I do think you are the unkindest woman that ever breathed!"
"I'll give you something to call me unkind for, if you don't mind," retorted the countess, her color rising. "Dock you of your holiday, and pack you back to school to-day."
A few mornings after this Mr. Carlyle left East Lynne and proceeded to his office as usual. Scarcely was he seated, when Mr. Dill entered, and Mr. Carlyle looked at him inquiringly, for it was not Mr. Carlyle's custom to be intruded upon by any person until he had opened his letters; then he would ring for Mr. Dill. The letters and the Times newspaper lay on the table before him. The old gentleman came up in a covert, timid sort of way, which made Mr. Carlyle look all the more.
"I beg pardon, sir; will you let me ask if you have heard any particular news?"
"Yes, I have heard it," replied Mr. Carlyle.
"Then, sir, I beg your pardon a thousand times over. It occurred to me that you probably had not, Mr. Archibald; and I thought I would have said a word to prepare you, before you came upon it suddenly in the paper."
"To prepare me!" echoed Mr. Carlyle, as old Dill was turning away. "Why, what has come to you, Dill? Are you afraid my nerves are growing delicate, or that I shall faint over the loss of a hundred pounds? At the very most, we shall not suffer above that extent."
Old Dill turned back again.
"If I don't believe you are speaking of the failure of Kent & Green! It's not that, Mr. Archibald. They won't affect us much; and there'll be a dividend, report runs."
"What is it, then?"
"Then you have not heard it, sir! I am glad that I'm in time. It might not be well for you to have seen it without a word of preparation, Mr. Archibald."
"If you have not gone demented, you will tell me what you mean, Dill, and leave me to my letters," cried Mr. Carlyle, wondering excessively at his sober, matter-of-fact clerk's words and manner.
Old Dill put his hands upon the Times newspaper.
"It's here, Mr. Archibald, in the column of deaths; the first on the list. Please, prepare yourself a little before you look at it."
He shuffled out quickly, and Mr. Carlyle as quickly unfolded the paper. It was, as old Dill said, the first on the list of deaths:
"At Cammere, in France, on the 18th inst., Isabel Mary, only child of William, late Earl of Mount Severn."
Clients called; Mr. Carlyle's bell did not ring; an hour or two passed, and old Dill protested that Mr. Carlyle was engaged until he could protest no longer. He went in, deprecatingly. Mr. Carlyle sat yet with the newspaper before him, and the letters unopened at his elbow.
"There are one or two who will come in, Mr. Archibald--who _will_ see you; what am I to say?"
Mr. Carlyle stared at him for a moment, as if his wits had been in the next world. Then he swept the newspaper from before him, and was the calm, collected man of business again.
As the news of Lady Isabel's marriage had first come in the knowledge of Lord Mount Severn through the newspapers, so singular to say did the tidings of her death. The next post brought him the letter, which his wife had tardily forwarded. But, unlike Lady Mount Severn, he did not take her death as entirely upon trust; he thought it possible the letter might have been dispatched without its having taken place; and he deemed it incumbent on him to make inquiries. He wrote immediately to the authorities of the town, in the best French he could muster, asking for particulars, and whether she was really dead.
He received, in due course a satisfactory answer; satisfactory in so far as that it set his doubts at rest. He had inquired after her by her proper name, and title, "La Dame Isabelle Vane," and as the authorities could find none of the survivors owning that name, they took it for granted she was dead. They wrote him word that the child and nurse were killed on the spot; two ladies, occupying the same compartment of the carriage, had since died, one of whom was no doubt the mother and lady he inquired for. She was dead and buried, sufficient money having been found upon her person to defray the few necessary expenses.
Thus, through no premeditated intention of Lady Isabel, news of her death went forth to Lord Mount Severn and to the world. Her first intimation that she was regarded as dead, was through a copy of that very day's Times seen by Mr. Carlyle--seen by Lord Mount Severn. An English traveller, who had been amongst the sufferers, and who received the English newspaper daily, sometimes lent them to her to read. She was not travelling under her own name; she left that behind her when she left Grenoble; she had rendered her own too notorious to risk the chance recognition of travellers; and the authorities little thought that the quiet unobtrusive Madame Vine, slowly recovering at the inn, was the Dame Isabella Vane, respecting whom the grand English comte wrote.
Lady Isabel understood it at once; that the dispatching of her letter had been the foundation of the misapprehension; and she began to ask herself now, why she should undeceive Lord Mount Severn and the world. She longed, none knew with what intense longings, to be unknown, obscure, totally unrecognized by all; none can know it, till they have put a barrier between themselves and the world, as she had done. The child was gone--happy being! She thought she could never be sufficiently thankful that it was released from the uncertain future--therefore she had not his support to think of. She had only herself; and surely she could with ease earn enough for that; or she could starve; it mattered little which. No, there was no necessity for her continuing to accept the bounty of Lord Mount Severn, and she would let him and everybody else continue to believe that she was dead, and be henceforth only Madame Vine. A resolution she adhered to.
Thus the unhappy Isabel's career was looked upon as run. Lord Mount Severn forwarded her letter to Mr. Carlyle, with the confirmation of her death, which he had obtained from the French authorities. It was a nine day's wonder: "That poor, erring Lady Isabel was dead"--people did not call her names in the very teeth of her fate--and then it was over.
It was over. Lady Isabel was as one forgotten.