Lady Isabel was ill. Ill in mind, and ominously ill in body. She kept her room, and Joyce attended on her. The household set down madame’s illness to the fatigue of having attended upon Master William; it was not thought of seriously by any one, especially as she declined to see a doctor. All her thoughts now were directed to the getting away from East Lynne, for it would never do to remain there to die; and she knew that death was on his way to her, and that no human power or skill—not all the faculty combined—could turn him back again. The excessive dread of detection was not upon her as it had been formerly. I mean she did not dread the consequences so much, if detection came. In nearing the grave, all fears and hopes, of whatever nature, relating to this world, lose their force, and fears or hopes regarding the next world take their place. Our petty feelings here are lost in the greater.
In returning to East Lynne, Lady Isabel had entered upon a daring act, and she found, in the working, that neither strength nor spirit was equal to it. Human passions and tempers were brought with us into this world, and they can only quit us when we bid it farewell, to enter upon immortality in the next.
When Lady Isabel was Mr. Carlyle’s wife, she had never wholly loved him. The very utmost homage that esteem, admiration, affection could give was his, but that mysterious passion called by the name of love, and which, as I truly and heartily believe, cannot, in its refined etherealism, be known to many of us, had not been given to him. It was now. From the very night she came back to East Lynne, her love for Mr. Carlyle had burst forth with an intensity never before felt. It had been smoldering almost ever since she quitted him. “Reprehensible!” groans a moralist. Very. Everybody knows that, as Afy would say. But her heart, you see, had not done with human passions, and they work ill, and contrariness, let the word stand, critic, if you please, and precisely everything they should not.
I shall get in for it, I fear, if I attempt to defend her. But it was not exactly the same thing, as though she suffered herself to fall in love with somebody else’s husband. Nobody would defend that. We have not turned Mormons yet, and the world does not walk upon its head. But this was a peculiar case. She, poor thing, almost regarded Mr. Carlyle as her husband. The bent of her thoughts was only too much inclined to this. The evil human heart again. Many and many a time did she wake up from a reverie, and strive to drive this mistaken view of things away from her, taking shame to herself. Ten minutes afterward, she would catch her brain reveling in the same rebellious vision. Mr. Carlyle’s love was not hers now, it was Barbara’s. Mr. Carlyle did not belong to her, he belonged to his wife. It was not only that he was not hers—he was another’s. You may, therefore, if you have the pleasure of being experienced in this sort of thing, guess a little of what her inward life was. Had there been no Barbara in the case, she might have lived and borne it; as it was, it had killed her before her time, that and the remorse together.