And, without another word, Alice Levison quitted the room as abruptly as she had entered it.
Well, the London visit came to an end. It was of little more than three weeks’ duration, for Barbara must be safe at home again. Mr. Carlyle remained for the rest of the season alone, but he varied it with journeys to East Lynne. He had returned home for good now, July, although the session had not quite terminated. There was another baby at East Lynne, a lovely little baby, pretty as Barbara herself had been at a month old. William was fading rapidly. The London physicians had but confirmed the opinion of Dr. Martin, and it was evident to all that the close would not be long protracted.
Somebody else was fading—Lady Isabel. The cross had been too heavy, and she was sinking under its weight. Can you wonder at it?
An intensely hot day it was under the July sun. Afy Hallijohn was sailing up the street in its beams, finer and vainer than ever. She encountered Mr. Carlyle.
“So, Afy, you are really going to be married at last?”
“Jiffin fancies so, sir. I am not sure yet but what I shall change my mind. Jiffin thinks there’s nobody like me. If I could eat gold and silver, he’d provide it; and he’s as fond as fond can be. But then you know, sir, he’s half soft.”
“Soft as to you, perhaps,” laughed Mr. Carlyle. “I consider him a very civil, respectable man, Afy.”
“And then, I never did think to marry a shopkeeper,” grumbled Afy; “I looked a little higher than that. Only fancy, sir, having a husband who wears a white apron tied round him!”
“Terrible!” responded Mr. Carlyle, with a grave face.
“Not but what it will be a tolerable settlement,” rejoined Afy, veering round a point. “He’s having his house done up in style, and I shall keep two good servants, and do nothing myself but dress and subscribe to the library. He makes plenty of money.”
“A very tolerable settlement, I should say,” returned Mr. Carlyle; and Afy’s face fell before the glance of his eye, merry though it was. “Take care you don’t spend all his money for him, Afy.”
“I’ll take care of that,” nodded Afy, significantly. “Sir,” she somewhat abruptly added, “what is it that’s the matter with Joyce?”
“I do not know,” said Mr. Carlyle, becoming serious. “There does appear to be something the matter with her, for she is much changed.”
“I never saw anybody so changed in my life,” exclaimed Afy. “I told her the other day that she was just like one who had got some dreadful secret upon their mind.”
“It is really more like that than anything else,” observed Mr. Carlyle.
“But she is one of the close ones, is Joyce,” continued Afy. “No fear that she’ll give out a clue, if it does not suit her to do so. She told me, in answer, to mind my own business, and not to take absurd fancies in my head. How is the baby, sir, and Mrs. Carlyle?”