Barbara was at the seaside, and Lady Isabel was in her bed, dying. You remember the old French saying, L’homme propose, et Dieu dispose. An exemplification of it was here.
She, Lady Isabel, had consented to remain at East Lynne during Mrs. Carlyle’s absence, on purpose that she might be with her children. But the object was frustrated, for Lucy and Archibald had been removed to Miss Carlyle’s. It was Mr. Carlyle’s arrangement. He thought the governess ought to have entire respite from all charge; and that poor governess dared not say, let them stay with me. Lady Isabel had also purposed to be safely away from East Lynne before the time came for her to die; but that time had advanced with giant strides, and the period for removal was past. She was going out as her mother had done, rapidly unexpectedly, “like the snuff of a candle.” Wilson was in attendance on her mistress; Joyce remained at home.
Barbara had chosen a watering-place near, not thirty miles off, so that Mr. Carlyle went there most evenings, returning to his office in the mornings. Thus he saw little of East Lynne, paying one or two flying visits only. From the Saturday to the Wednesday in the second week, he did not come home at all, and it was in those few days that Lady Isabel had changed for the worse. On the Wednesday he was expected home to dinner and to sleep.
Joyce was in a state of frenzy—or next door to it. Lady Isabel was dying, and what would become of the ominous secret? A conviction, born of her fears, was on the girl’s mind that, with death, the whole must become known; and who was to foresee what blame might not be cast upon her, by her master and mistress, for not having disclosed it? She might be accused of having been an abettor in the plot from the first! Fifty times it was in Joyce’s mind to send for Miss Carlyle and tell her all.
The afternoon was fast waning, and the spirit of Lady Isabel seemed to be waning with it. Joyce was in the room in attendance upon her. She had been in a fainting state all day, but felt better now. She was partially raised in bed by pillows, a white Cashmere shawl over her shoulders, her nightcap off, to allow as much air as possible to come to her, and the windows stood open.
Footsteps sounded on the gravel in the quiet stillness of the summer air. They penetrated even to her ear, for all her faculties were keen yet. Beloved footsteps; and a tinge of hectic rose to her cheeks. Joyce, who stood at the window, glanced out. It was Mr. Carlyle.
“Joyce!” came forth a cry from the bed, sharp and eager.
Joyce turned round. “My lady?”
“I should die happily if I might see him.”
“See him!” uttered Joyce, doubting her own ears. “My lady! See him! Mr. Carlyle!”
“What can it signify? I am already as one dead. Should I ask it or wish it, think you, in rude life? The yearning has been upon me for days Joyce; it is keeping death away.”