“It could not be, my lady,” was the decisive answer. “It must not be. It is as a thing impossible.”
Lady Isabel burst into tears. “I can’t die for the trouble,” she wailed. “You keep my children from me. They must not come, you say, lest I should betray myself. Now you would keep my husband. Joyce, Joyce, let me see him!”
Her husband! Poor thing! Joyce was in a maze of distress, though not the less firm. Her eyes were wet with tears; but she believed she should be infringing her allegiance to her mistress did she bring Mr. Carlyle to the presence of his former wife; altogether it might be productive of nothing but confusion.
A knock at the chamber door. Joyce called out, “Come in.” The two maids, Hannah and Sarah, were alone in the habit of coming to the room, and neither of them had ever known Madame Vine as Lady Isabel. Sarah put in her head.
“Master wants you, Miss Joyce.”
“He is in the dining-room. I have just taken down Master Arthur to him.”
Mr. Carlyle had got “Master Arthur” on his shoulder when Joyce entered. Master Arthur was decidedly given to noise and rebellion, and was already, as Wilson expressed it, “sturdy upon his pins.”
“How is Madame Vine, Joyce?”
Joyce scarcely knew how to answer. But she did not dare to equivocate as to her precarious state. And where the use, when a few hours would probably see the end of it?
“She is very ill, indeed, sir.”
“Sir, I fear she is dying.”
Mr. Carlyle, in his consternation, put down Arthur. “Dying!”
“I hardly think she will last till morning, sir!”
“Why, what has killed her?” he uttered in amazement.
Joyce did not answer. She looked pale and confused.
“Have you had Dr. Martin?”
“Oh, no, sir. It would be of no use.”
“No use!” repeated Mr. Carlyle, in a sharp accent. “Is that the way to treat dying people? Assume it is of no use to send for advice, and so quietly let them die! If Madame Vine is as ill as you say, a telegraphic message must be sent off at once. I had better see her,” he cried, moving to the door.
Joyce, in her perplexity, dared to place her back against it, preventing his egress. “Oh, master! I beg your pardon, but—it would not be right. Please, sir, do not think of going into her room!”
Mr. Carlyle thought Joyce was taken with a fit of prudery. “Why can’t I go in?” he asked.
“Mrs. Carlyle would not like it, sir,” stammered Joyce, her cheeks scarlet now.
Mr. Carlyle stared at her. “Some of you take up odd ideas,” he cried. “In Mrs. Carlyle’s absence, it is necessary that some one should see her! Let a lady die in my house, and never see after her! You are out of your senses, Joyce. I shall go in after dinner; so prepare Madame Vine.”
The dinner was being brought in then. Joyce, feeling like one in a nervous attack, picked up Arthur and carried him to Sarah in the nursery. What on earth was she to do?