William slept on silently; she thought of the past. The dreadful reflection, “If I had not done as I did, how different would it have been now!” had been sounding its knell in her heart so often that she had almost ceased to shudder at it. The very nails of her hands had, before now, entered the palms, with the sharp pain it brought. Stealing over her more especially this night, there, as she knelt, her head lying on the counterpane, came the recollection of that first illness of hers. How she had lain, and, in that unfounded jealousy, imagined Barbara the house’s mistress. She dead! Barbara exalted to her place. Mr. Carlyle’s wife, her child’s stepmother! She recalled the day when, her mind excited by a certain gossip of Wilson’s—it was previously in a state of fever bordering on delirium—she had prayed her husband, in terror and anguish, not to marry Barbara. “How could he marry her?” he had replied, in his soothing pity. “She, Isabel, was his wife. Who was Barbara? Nothing to them?” But it had all come to pass. She had brought it forth. Not Mr. Carlyle; not Barbara; she alone. Oh, the dreadful misery of the retrospect!
Lost in thought, in anguish past and present, in self-condemning repentance, the time passed on. Nearly an hour must have elapsed since Mr. Carlyle’s departure, and William had not disturbed her. But who was this, coming into the room? Joyce.
She hastily rose up, as Joyce, advancing with a quiet step drew aside the clothes to look at William. “Master says he has been wanting me,” she observed. “Why—oh!”
It was a sharp, momentary cry, subdued as soon as uttered. Madame Vine sprang forward to Joyce’s side, looking also. The pale young face lay calm in its utter stillness; the busy little heart had ceased to beat. Jesus Christ had indeed come and taken the fleeting spirit.
Then she lost all self-control. She believed that she had reconciled herself to the child’s death, that she could part with him without too great emotion. But she had not anticipated it would be quite so soon; she had deemed that some hours more would at least be given him, and now the storm overwhelmed her. Crying, sobbing, calling, she flung herself upon him; she clasped him to her; she dashed off her disguising glasses; she laid her face upon his, beseeching him to come back to her, that she might say farewell—to her, his mother; her darling child, her lost William!
Joyce was terrified—terrified for consequences. With her full strength she pulled her from the boy, praying her to consider—to be still. “Do not, do not, for the love of Heaven! My lady! My lady!”
It was the old familiar title that struck upon her fears and induced calmness. She stared at Joyce, and retreated backward, after the manner of one receding from some hideous vision. Then, as recollection came to her, she snatched her glasses up and hurried them on.
“My lady, let me take you into your room. Mr. Carlyle is come; he is just bringing up his wife. Only think if you should give way before him! Pray come away!”