The earl could with difficulty believe it. Never had he been so utterly astonished. At first he really could not understand the tale.
“Did she—did she—come back to your house to die?” he blundered. “You never took her in? I don’t understand.”
Mr. Carlyle explained further; and the earl at length understood. But he did not recover his perplexed astonishment.
“What a mad act to come back here. Madame Vine! How on earth did she escape detection?”
“She did escape it,” said Mr. Carlyle. “The strange likeness Madame Vine possessed to my first wife did often strike me as being marvelous, but I never suspected the truth. It was a likeness, and not a likeness, for every part of her face and form was changed except her eyes, and those I never saw but through those disguising glasses.”
The earl wiped his hot face. The news had ruffled him no measured degree. He felt angry with Isabel, dead though she was, and thankful that Mrs. Carlyle was away.
“Will you see her?” whispered Mr. Carlyle as they entered the house.
They went up to the death-chamber, Mr. Carlyle procuring the key. It was the only time that he entered it. Very peaceful she looked now, her pale features so composed under her white cap and hands. Miss Carlyle and Joyce had done all that was necessary; nobody else had been suffered to approach her. Lord Mount Severn leaned over her, tracing the former looks of Isabel; and the likeness grew upon him in a wonderful degree.
“What did she die of?” he asked.
“She said a broken heart.”
“Ah!” said the earl. “The wonder is that it did not break before. Poor thing! Poor Isabel!” he added, touching her hand, “how she marred her own happiness! Carlyle, I suppose this is your wedding ring?”
Mr. Carlyle cast his eyes upon the ring. “Very probably.”
“To think of her never having discarded it!” remarked the earl, releasing the cold hand. “Well, I can hardly believe the tale now.”
He turned and quitted the room as he spoke. Mr. Carlyle looked steadfastly at the dead face for a minute or two, his fingers touching the forehead; but what his thoughts or feelings may have been, none can tell. Then he replaced the sheet over her face, and followed the earl.
They descended in silence to the breakfast-room. Miss Carlyle was seated at the table waiting for them. “Where could all your eyes have been?” exclaimed the earl to her, after a few sentences, referring to the event just passed.
“Just where yours would have been,” replied Miss Corny, with a touch of her old temper. “You saw Madame Vine as well as we did.”
“But not continuously. Only two or three times in all. And I do not remember ever to have seen her without her bonnet and veil. That Carlyle should not have recognized her is almost beyond belief.”