Never before Mr. Carlyle was the lady’s temper vented upon her; plenty fell to his own share, when he and his sister were alone; and he had become so accustomed to the sort of thing all his life—had got used to it, like the eels do to skinning—that it went, as the saying runs, in at one ear and out at the other, making no impression. He never dreamt that Isabel also received her portion.
It was a morning early in April. Joyce sat, in its gray dawn, over a large fire in the dressing-room of Lady Isabel Carlyle, her hands clasped to pain, and the tears coursing down her cheeks. Joyce was frightened; she had had some experience in illness; but illness of this nature she had never witnessed, and she was fervently hoping never to witness it again. In the adjoining room lay Lady Isabel, sick nearly unto death.
The door from the corridor slowly opened, and Miss Carlyle slowly entered. She had probably never walked with so gentle a step in all her life, and she had got a thick-wadded mantle over her head and ears. Down she sat in a chair quite meekly, and Joyce saw that her face looked as gray as the early dawn.
“Joyce,” whispered she, “is there any danger?”
“Oh, ma’am, I trust not! But it’s hard to witness, and it must be awful to bear.”
“It is our common curse, Joyce. You and I may congratulate ourselves that we have not chose to encounter it. Joyce,” she added, after a pause, “I trust there’s no danger; I should not like her to die.”
Miss Carlyle spoke in a low, dread tone. Was she fearing that, if her poor young sister-in-law did die, a weight would rest on her own conscience for all time—a heavy, ever-present weight, whispering that she might have rendered her short year of marriage more happy, had she chosen; and that she had not so chosen, but had deliberately steeled every crevice of her heart against her? Very probably; she looked anxious and apprehensive in the morning’s twilight.
“If there’s any danger, Joyce—”
“Why, do you think there’s danger, ma’am?” interrupted Joyce. “Are other people not as ill as this?”
“It is to be hoped they are not,” rejoined Miss Carlyle. “And why is the express gone to Lynneborough for Dr. Martin?”
Up started Joyce, awe struck. “An express for Dr. Martin! Oh, ma’am! Who sent it? When did it go?”
“All I know is, that’s its gone. Mr. Wainwright went to your master, and he came out of his room and sent John galloping to the telegraph office at West Lynne; where could your ears have been, not to hear the horse tearing off? I heard it, I know that, and a nice fright it put me in. I went to Mr. Carlyle’s room to ask what was amiss, and he said he did not know himself—nothing, he hoped. And then he shut his door again in my face, instead of stopping to speak to me as any other Christian would.”
Joyce did not answer; she was faint with apprehension; and there was a silence, broken only by the sounds from the next room. Miss Carlyle rose, and a fanciful person might have thought she was shivering.