LADY MILBOROUGH AS AMBASSADOR.
"Of course, I know you are right," said Nora to her sister;—"right as far as Colonel Osborne is concerned; but nevertheless you ought to give way."
"And be trampled upon?" said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Yes; and be trampled upon, if he should trample on you;—which, however, he is the last man in the world to do."
"And to endure any insult and any names? You yourself—you would be a Griselda, I suppose."
"I don't want to talk about myself," said Nora, "nor about Griselda. But I know that, however unreasonable it may seem, you had better give way to him now and tell him what there was in the note to Colonel Osborne."
"Never! He has ordered me not to see him or to write to him, or to open his letters,—having, mind you, ordered just the reverse a day or two before; and I will obey him. Absurd as it is, I will obey him. But as for submitting to him, and letting him suppose that I think he is right;—never! I should be lying to him then, and I will never lie to him. He has said that we must part, and I suppose it will be better so. How can a woman live with a man that suspects her? He cannot take my baby from me."
There were many such conversations as the above between the two sisters before Mrs. Trevelyan received from her husband the communication with which she had been threatened. And Nora, acting on her own judgment in the matter, made an attempt to see Mr. Trevelyan, writing to him a pretty little note, and beseeching him to be kind to her. But he declined to see her, and the two women sat at home, with the baby between them, holding such pleasant conversations as that above narrated. When such tempests occur in a family, a woman will generally suffer the least during the thick of the tempest. While the hurricane is at the fiercest, she will be sustained by the most thorough conviction that the right is on her side, that she is aggrieved, that there is nothing for her to acknowledge, and no position that she need surrender. Whereas her husband will desire a compromise, even amidst the violence of the storm. But afterwards, when the wind has lulled, but while the heavens around are still all black and murky, then the woman's sufferings begin. When passion gives way to thought and memory, she feels the loneliness of her position,—the loneliness, and the possible degradation. It is all very well for a man to talk about his name and his honour; but it is the woman's honour and the woman's name that are, in truth, placed in jeopardy. Let the woman do what she will, the man can, in truth, show his face in the world;—and, after awhile, does show his face. But the woman may be compelled to veil hers, either by her own fault, or by his. Mrs. Trevelyan was now told that she was to be separated from her husband, and she did not, at any rate, believe that she had done any harm. But, if such separation did come, where could she live, what could she do, what position in the world would she possess? Would not her face be, in truth, veiled as effectually as though she had disgraced herself and her husband?
And then there was that terrible question about the child. Mrs. Trevelyan had said a dozen times to her sister that her husband could not take the boy away from her. Nora, however, had never assented to this, partly from a conviction of her own ignorance, not knowing what might be the power of a husband in such a matter, and partly thinking that any argument would be good and fair by which she could induce her sister to avoid a catastrophe so terrible as that which was now threatened.
"I suppose he could take him, if he chose," she said at last.
"I don't believe he is wicked like that," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "He would not wish to kill me."
"But he will say that he loves baby as well as you do."
"He will never take my child from me. He could never be so bad as that."
"And you will never be so bad as to leave him," said Nora after a pause. "I will not believe that it can come to that. You know that he is good at heart,—that nobody on earth loves you as he does."
So they went on for two days, and on the evening of the second day there came a letter from Trevelyan to his wife. They had neither of them seen him, although he had been in and out of the house. And on the afternoon of the Sunday a new grievance, a very terrible grievance, was added to those which Mrs. Trevelyan was made to bear. Her husband had told one of the servants in the house that Colonel Osborne was not to be admitted. And the servant to whom he had given this order was the—cook. There is no reason why a cook should be less trustworthy in such a matter than any other servant; and in Mr. Trevelyan's household there was a reason why she should be more so,—as she, and she alone, was what we generally call an old family domestic. She had lived with her master's mother, and had known her master when he was a boy. Looking about him, therefore, for some one in his house to whom he could speak,—feeling that he was bound to convey the order through some medium,—he called to him the ancient cook, and imparted to her so much of his trouble as was necessary to make the order intelligible. This he did with various ill-worded assurances to Mrs. Prodgers that there really was nothing amiss. But when Mrs. Trevelyan heard what had been done,—which she did from Mrs. Prodgers herself, Mrs. Prodgers having been desired by her master to make the communication,—she declared to her sister that everything was now over. She could never again live with a husband who had disgraced his wife by desiring her own cook to keep a guard upon her. Had the footman been instructed not to admit Colonel Osborne, there would have been in such instruction some apparent adherence to the recognised usages of society. If you do not desire either your friend or your enemy to be received into your house, you communicate your desire to the person who has charge of the door. But the cook!
"And now, Nora, if it were you, do you mean to say that you would remain with him?" asked Mrs. Trevelyan.
Nora simply replied that anything under any circumstances would be better than a separation.
On the morning of the third day there came the following letter:—
Wednesday, June 1, 12 midnight.
You will readily believe me when I say that I never in my life was so wretched as I have been during the last two days. That you and I should be in the same house together and not able to speak to each other is in itself a misery, but this is terribly enhanced by the dread lest this state of things should be made to continue.
I want you to understand that I do not in the least suspect you of having as yet done anything wrong,—or having even said anything injurious either to my position as your husband, or to your position as my wife. But I cannot but perceive that you are allowing yourself to be entrapped into an intimacy with Colonel Osborne which if it be not checked, will be destructive to my happiness and your own. After what had passed before, you cannot have thought it right to receive letters from him which I was not to see, or to write letters to him of which I was not to know the contents. It must be manifest to you that such conduct on your part is wrong as judged by any of the rules by which a wife's conduct can be measured. And yet you have refused even to say that this shall be discontinued! I need hardly explain to you that if you persist in this refusal you and I cannot continue to live together as man and wife. All my hopes and prospects in life will be blighted by such a separation. I have not as yet been able to think what I should do in such wretched circumstances. And for you, as also for Nora, such a catastrophe would be most lamentable. Do, therefore, think of it well, and write me such a letter as may bring me back to your side.
There is only one friend in the world to whom I could endure to talk of this great grief, and I have been to her and told her everything. You will know that I mean Lady Milborough. After much difficult conversation I have persuaded her to see you, and she will call in Curzon Street to-morrow about twelve. There can be no kinder-hearted, or more gentle woman in the world than Lady Milborough; nor did any one ever have a warmer friend than both you and I have in her. Let me implore you then to listen to her, and be guided by her advice.
Pray believe, dearest Emily, that I am now, as ever, your most affectionate husband, and that I have no wish so strong as that we should not be compelled to part.
This epistle was, in many respects, a very injudicious composition. Trevelyan should have trusted either to the eloquence of his own written words, or to that of the ambassador whom he was about to despatch; but by sending both he weakened both. And then there were certain words in the letter which were odious to Mrs. Trevelyan, and must have been odious to any young wife. He had said that he did not "as yet" suspect her of having done anything wrong. And then, when he endeavoured to explain to her that a separation would be very injurious to herself, he had coupled her sister with her, thus seeming to imply that the injury to be avoided was of a material kind. She had better do what he told her, as, otherwise, she and her sister would not have a roof over their head! That was the nature of the threat which his words were supposed to convey.
The matter had become so serious, that Mrs. Trevelyan, haughty and stiff-necked as she was, did not dare to abstain from showing the letter to her sister. She had no other counsellor, at any rate, till Lady Milborough came, and the weight of the battle was too great for her own unaided spirit. The letter had been written late at night, as was shown by the precision of the date, and had been brought to her early in the morning. At first she had determined to say nothing about it to Nora, but she was not strong enough to maintain such a purpose. She felt that she needed the poor consolation of discussing her wretchedness. She first declared that she would not see Lady Milborough. "I hate her, and she knows that I hate her, and she ought not to have thought of coming," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
But she was at last beaten out of this purpose by Nora's argument, that all the world would be against her if she refused to see her husband's old friend. And then, though the letter was an odious letter, as she declared a dozen times, she took some little comfort in the fact that not a word was said in it about the baby. She thought that if she could take her child with her into any separation, she could endure it, and her husband would ultimately be conquered.
"Yes; I'll see her," she said, as they finished the discussion. "As he chooses to send her, I suppose I had better see her. But I don't think he does much to mend matters when he sends the woman whom he knows I dislike more than any other in all London."
Exactly at twelve o'clock Lady Milborough's carriage was at the door. Trevelyan was in the house at the time and heard the knock at the door. During those two or three days of absolute wretchedness, he spent most of his hours under the same roof with his wife and sister-in-law, though he spoke to neither of them. He had had his doubts as to the reception of Lady Milborough, and was, to tell the truth, listening with most anxious ear, when her ladyship was announced. His wife, however, was not so bitterly contumacious as to refuse admittance to his friend, and he heard the rustle of the ponderous silk as the old woman was shown up-stairs. When Lady Milborough reached the drawing-room, Mrs. Trevelyan was alone.
"I had better see her by myself," she had said to her sister.
Nora had then left her, with one word of prayer that she would be as little defiant as possible.
"That must depend," Emily had said, with a little shake of her head.
There had been a suggestion that the child should be with her, but the mother herself had rejected this.
"It would be stagey," she had said, "and clap-trap. There is nothing I hate so much as that."
She was sitting, therefore, quite alone, and as stiff as a man in armour, when Lady Milborough was shown up to her.
And Lady Milborough herself was not at all comfortable as she commenced the interview. She had prepared many wise words to be spoken, but was not so little ignorant of the character of the woman with whom she had to deal, as to suppose that the wise words would get themselves spoken without interruption. She had known from the first that Mrs. Trevelyan would have much to say for herself, and the feeling that it would be so became stronger than ever as she entered the room. The ordinary feelings between the two ladies were cold and constrained, and then there was silence for a few moments when the Countess had taken her seat. Mrs. Trevelyan had quite determined that the enemy should fire the first shot.
"This is a very sad state of things," said the Countess.
"Yes, indeed, Lady Milborough."
"The saddest in the world;—and so unnecessary;—is it not?"
"Very unnecessary, indeed, as I think."
"Yes, my dear, yes. But, of course, we must remember—"
Then Lady Milborough could not clearly bring to her mind what it was that she had to remember.
"The fact is, my dear, that all this kind of thing is too monstrous to be thought of. Goodness, gracious, me; two young people like you and Louis, who thoroughly love each other, and who have got a baby, to think of being separated! Of course it is out of the question."
"You cannot suppose, Lady Milborough, that I want to be separated from my husband?"
"Of course not. How should it be possible? The very idea is too shocking to be thought of. I declare I haven't slept since Louis was talking to me about it. But, my dear, you must remember, you know, that a husband has a right to expect some—some—some—a sort of—submission from his wife."
"He has a right to expect obedience, Lady Milborough."
"Of course; that is all one wants."
"And I will obey Mr. Trevelyan—in anything reasonable."
"But, my dear, who is to say what is reasonable? That, you see, is always the difficulty. You must allow that your husband is the person who ought to decide that."
"Has he told you that I have refused to obey him, Lady Milborough?"
The Countess paused a moment before she replied. "Well, yes; I think he has," she said. "He asked you to do something about a letter,—a letter to that Colonel Osborne, who is a man, my dear, really to be very much afraid of; a man who has done a great deal of harm,—and you declined. Now in a matter of that kind of course the husband—"
"Lady Milborough, I must ask you to listen to me. You have listened to Mr. Trevelyan, and I must ask you to listen to me. I am sorry to trouble you, but as you have come here about this unpleasant business, you must forgive me if I insist upon it."
"Of course I will listen to you, my dear."
"I have never refused to obey my husband, and I do not refuse now. The gentleman of whom you have been speaking is an old friend of my father's, and has become my friend. Nevertheless, had Mr. Trevelyan given me any plain order about him, I should have obeyed him. A wife does not feel that her chances of happiness are increased when she finds that her husband suspects her of being too intimate with another man. It is a thing very hard to bear. But I would have endeavoured to bear it, knowing how important it is for both our sakes, and more especially for our child. I would have made excuses, and would have endeavoured to think that this horrid feeling on his part is nothing more than a short delusion."
"But my dear—"
"I must ask you to hear me out, Lady Milborough. But when he tells me first that I am not to meet the man, and so instructs the servants; then tells me that I am to meet him, and go on just as I was going before, and then again tells me that I am not to see him, and again instructs the servants,—and, above all, the cook!—that Colonel Osborne is not to come into the house, then obedience becomes rather difficult."
"Just say now that you will do what he wants, and then all will be right."
"I will not say so to you, Lady Milborough. It is not to you that I ought to say it. But as he has chosen to send you here, I will explain to you that I have never disobeyed him. When I was free, in accordance with Mr. Trevelyan's wishes, to have what intercourse I pleased with Colonel Osborne, I received a note from that gentleman on a most trivial matter. I answered it as trivially. My husband saw my letter, closed, and questioned me about it. I told him that the letter was still there, and that if he chose to be a spy upon my actions he could open it and read it."
"My dear, how could you bring yourself to use the word spy to your husband?"
"How could he bring himself to accuse me as he did? If he cares for me let him come and beg my pardon for the insult he has offered me."
"Oh, Mrs. Trevelyan,—"
"Yes; that seems very wrong to you, who have not had to bear it. It is very easy for a stranger to take a husband's part, and help to put down a poor woman who has been ill-used. I have done nothing wrong, nothing to be ashamed of; and I will not say that I have. I never have spoken a word to Colonel Osborne that all the world might not hear."
"Nobody has accused you, my dear."
"Yes; he has accused me, and you have accused me, and you will make all the world accuse me. He may put me out of his house if he likes, but he shall not make me say I have been wrong, when I know I have been right. He cannot take my child from me."
"But he will."
"No," shouted Mrs. Trevelyan, jumping up from her chair, "no; he shall never do that. I will cling to him so that he cannot separate us. He will never be so wicked,—such a monster as that. I would go about the world saying what a monster he had been to me." The passion of the interview was becoming too great for Lady Milborough's power of moderating it, and she was beginning to feel herself to be in a difficulty. "Lady Milborough," continued Mrs. Trevelyan, "tell him from me that I will bear anything but that. That I will not bear."
"Dear Mrs. Trevelyan, do not let us talk about it."
"Who wants to talk about it? Why do you come here and threaten me with a thing so horrible? I do not believe you. He would not dare to separate me and my—child."
"But you have only to say that you will submit yourself to him."
"I have submitted myself to him, and I will submit no further. What does he want? Why does he send you here? He does not know what he wants. He has made himself miserable by an absurd idea, and he wants everybody to tell him that he has been right. He has been very wrong; and if he desires to be wise now, he will come back to his home, and say nothing further about it. He will gain nothing by sending messengers here."
Lady Milborough, who had undertaken a most disagreeable task from the purest motives of old friendship, did not like being called a messenger; but the woman before her was so strong in her words, so eager, and so passionate, that she did not know how to resent the injury. And there was coming over her an idea, of which she herself was hardly conscious, that after all, perhaps, the husband was not in the right. She had come there with the general idea that wives, and especially young wives, should be submissive. She had naturally taken the husband's part; and having a preconceived dislike to Colonel Osborne, she had been willing enough to think that precautionary measures were necessary in reference to so eminent, and notorious, and experienced a Lothario. She had never altogether loved Mrs. Trevelyan, and had always been a little in dread of her. But she had thought that the authority with which she would be invested on this occasion, the manifest right on her side, and the undeniable truth of her grand argument, that a wife should obey, would carry her, if not easily, still successfully through all difficulties. It was probably the case that Lady Milborough when preparing for her visit, had anticipated a triumph. But when she had been closeted for an hour with Mrs. Trevelyan, she found that she was not triumphant. She was told that she was a messenger, and an unwelcome messenger; and she began to feel that she did not know how she was to take herself away.
"I am sure I have done everything for the best," she said, getting up from her chair.
"The best will be to send him back, and make him feel the truth."
"The best for you, my dear, will be to consider well what should be the duty of a wife."
"I have considered, Lady Milborough. It cannot be a wife's duty to acknowledge that she has been wrong in such a matter as this."
Then Lady Milborough made her curtsey and got herself away in some manner that was sufficiently awkward, and Mrs. Trevelyan curtseyed also as she rang the bell; and, though she was sore and wretched, and, in truth, sadly frightened, she was not awkward. In that encounter, so far as it had gone, she had been the victor.
As soon as she was alone and the carriage had been driven well away from the door, Mrs. Trevelyan left the drawing-room and went up to the nursery. As she entered she clothed her face with her sweetest smile. "How is his own mother's dearest, dearest, darling duck?" she said, putting out her arms and taking the boy from the nurse. The child was at this time about ten months old, and was a strong, hearty, happy infant, always laughing when he was awake and always sleeping when he did not laugh, because his little limbs were free from pain and his little stomach was not annoyed by internal troubles. He kicked, and crowed, and sputtered, when his mother took him, and put up his little fingers to clutch her hair, and was to her as a young god upon the earth. Nothing in the world had ever been created so beautiful, so joyous, so satisfactory, so divine! And they told her that this apple of her eye was to be taken away from her! No;—that must be impossible. "I will take him into my own room, nurse, for a little while—you have had him all the morning," she said; as though the "having baby" was a privilege over which there might almost be a quarrel. Then she took her boy away with her, and when she was alone with him, went through such a service in baby-worship as most mothers will understand. Divide these two! No; nobody should do that. Sooner than that, she, the mother, would consent to be no more than a servant in her husband's house. Was not her baby all the world to her?
On the evening of that day the husband and wife had an interview together in the library, which, unfortunately, was as unsatisfactory as Lady Milborough's visit. The cause of the failure of them all lay probably in this,—that there was no decided point which, if conceded, would have brought about a reconciliation. Trevelyan asked for general submission, which he regarded as his right, and which in the existing circumstances he thought it necessary to claim, and though Mrs. Trevelyan did not refuse to be submissive she would make no promise on the subject. But the truth was that each desired that the other should acknowledge a fault, and that neither of them would make that acknowledgment. Emily Trevelyan felt acutely that she had been ill-used, not only by her husband's suspicion, but by the manner in which he had talked of his suspicion to others,—to Lady Milborough and the cook, and she was quite convinced that she was right herself, because he had been so vacillating in his conduct about Colonel Osborne. But Trevelyan was equally sure that justice was on his side. Emily must have known his real wishes about Colonel Osborne; but when she had found that he had rescinded his verbal orders about the admission of the man to the house,—which he had done to save himself and her from slander and gossip,—she had taken advantage of this and had thrown herself more entirely than ever into the intimacy of which he disapproved! When they met, each was so sore that no approach to terms was made by them.
"If I am to be treated in that way, I would rather not live with you," said the wife. "It is impossible to live with a husband who is jealous."
"All I ask of you is that you shall promise me to have no further communication with this man."
"I will make no promise that implies my own disgrace."
"Then we must part; and if that be so, this house will be given up. You may live where you please,—in the country, not in London; but I shall take steps that Colonel Osborne does not see you."
"I will not remain in the room with you to be insulted thus," said Mrs. Trevelyan. And she did not remain, but left the chamber, slamming the door after her as she went.
"It will be better that she should go," said Trevelyan, when he found himself alone. And so it came to pass that that blessing of a rich marriage, which had as it were fallen upon them at the Mandarins from out of heaven, had become, after an interval of but two short years, anything but an unmixed blessing.
MISS STANBURY'S GENEROSITY.
On one Wednesday morning early in June, great preparations were being made at the brick house in the Close at Exeter for an event which can hardly be said to have required any preparation at all. Mrs. Stanbury and her elder daughter were coming into Exeter from Nuncombe Putney to visit Dorothy. The reader may perhaps remember that when Miss Stanbury's invitation was sent to her niece, she was pleased to promise that such visits should be permitted on a Wednesday morning. Such a visit was now to be made, and old Miss Stanbury was quite moved by the occasion. "I shall not see them, you know, Martha," she had said, on the afternoon of the preceding day.
"I suppose not, ma'am."
"Certainly not. Why should I? It would do no good."
"It is not for me to say, ma'am, of course."
"No, Martha, it is not. And I am sure that I am right. It's no good going back and undoing in ten minutes what twenty years have done. She's a poor harmless creature, I believe."
"The most harmless in the world, ma'am."
"But she was as bad as poison to me when she was young, and what's the good of trying to change it now? If I was to tell her that I loved her, I should only be lying."
"Then, ma'am, I would not say it."
"And I don't mean. But you'll take in some wine and cake, you know."
"I don't think they'll care for wine and cake."
"Will you do as I tell you? What matters whether they care for it or not? They need not take it. It will look better for Miss Dorothy. If Dorothy is to remain here I shall choose that she should be respected." And so the question of the cake and wine had been decided overnight. But when the morning came Miss Stanbury was still in a twitter. Half-past ten had been the hour fixed for the visit, in consequence of there being a train in from Lessboro', due at the Exeter station at ten. As Miss Stanbury breakfasted always at half-past eight, there was no need of hurry on account of the expected visit. But, nevertheless, she was in a fuss all the morning; and spoke of the coming period as one in which she must necessarily put herself into solitary confinement.
"Perhaps your mamma will be cold," she said, "and will expect a fire."
"Oh, dear, no, Aunt Stanbury."
"It could be lighted of course. It is a pity they should come just so as to prevent you from going to morning service; is it not?"
"I could go with you, aunt, and be back very nearly in time. They won't mind waiting a quarter of an hour."
"What; and have them here all alone! I wouldn't think of such a thing. I shall go up-stairs. You had better come to me when they are gone. Don't hurry them. I don't want you to hurry them at all; and if you require anything, Martha will wait upon you. I have told the girls to keep out of the way. They are so giddy, there's no knowing what they might be after. Besides,—they've got their work to mind."
All this was very terrible to poor Dorothy, who had not as yet quite recovered from the original fear with which her aunt had inspired her,—so terrible that she was almost sorry that her mother and sister were coming to her. When the knock was heard at the door, precisely as the cathedral clock was striking half-past ten,—to secure which punctuality, and thereby not to offend the owner of the mansion, Mrs. Stanbury and Priscilla had been walking about the Close for the last ten minutes,—Miss Stanbury was still in the parlour.
"There they are!" she exclaimed, jumping up. "They haven't given a body much time to run away, have they, my dear? Half a minute, Martha,—just half a minute!" Then she gathered up her things as though she had been ill-treated in being driven to make so sudden a retreat, and Martha, as soon as the last hem of her mistress's dress had become invisible on the stairs, opened the front door for the visitors.
"Do you mean to say you like it?" said Priscilla, when they had been there about a quarter of an hour.
"H—u—sh," whispered Mrs. Stanbury.
"I don't suppose she's listening at the door," said Priscilla.
"Indeed, she's not," said Dorothy. "There can't be a truer, honester woman, than Aunt Stanbury."
"But is she kind to you, Dolly?" asked the mother.
"Very kind; too kind. Only I don't understand her quite, and then she gets angry with me. I know she thinks I'm a fool, and that's the worst of it."
"Then, if I were you, I would come home," said Priscilla.
"She'll never forgive you if you do," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"And who need care about her forgiveness?" said Priscilla.
"I don't mean to go home yet, at any rate," said Dorothy. Then there was a knock at the door, and Martha entered with the cake and wine. "Miss Stanbury's compliments, ladies, and she hopes you'll take a glass of sherry." Whereupon she filled out the glasses and carried them round.
"Pray give my compliments and thanks to my sister Stanbury," said Dorothy's mother. But Priscilla put down the glass of wine without touching it, and looked her sternest at the maid.
Altogether, the visit was not very successful, and poor Dorothy almost felt that if she chose to remain in the Close she must lose her mother and sister, and that without really making a friend of her aunt. There had as yet been no quarrel,—nothing that had been plainly recognised as disagreeable; but there had not as yet come to be any sympathy, or assured signs of comfortable love. Miss Stanbury had declared more than once that it would do, but had not succeeded in showing in what the success consisted. When she was told that the two ladies were gone, she desired that Dorothy might be sent to her, and immediately began to make anxious inquiries.
"Well, my dear, and what do they think of it?"
"I don't know, aunt, that they think very much."
"And what do they say about it?"
"They didn't say very much, aunt. I was very glad to see mamma and Priscilla. Perhaps I ought to tell you that mamma gave me back the money I sent her."
"What did she do that for?" asked Miss Stanbury very sharply.
"Because she says that Hugh sends her now what she wants." Miss Stanbury, when she heard this, looked very sour. "I thought it best to tell you, you know."
"It will never come to any good, got in that way,—never."
"But, Aunt Stanbury, isn't it good of him to send it?"
"I don't know. I suppose it's better than drinking, and smoking, and gambling. But I dare say he gets enough for that too. When a man, born and bred like a gentleman, condescends to let out his talents and education for such purposes, I dare say they are willing enough to pay him. The devil always does pay high wages. But that only makes it so much the worse. One almost comes to doubt whether any one ought to learn to write at all, when it is used for such vile purposes. I've said what I've got to say, and I don't mean to say anything more. What's the use? But it has been hard upon me,—very. It was my money did it, and I feel I've misused it. It's a disgrace to me which I don't deserve."
For a couple of minutes Dorothy remained quite silent, and Miss Stanbury did not herself say anything further. Nor during that time did she observe her niece, or she would probably have seen that the subject was not to be dropped. Dorothy, though she was silent, was not calm, and was preparing herself for a crusade in her brother's defence.
"Aunt Stanbury, he's my brother, you know."
"Of course he's your brother. I wish he were not."
"I think him the best brother in the world,—and the best son."
"Why does he sell himself to write sedition?"
"He doesn't sell himself to write sedition. I don't see why it should be sedition, or anything wicked, because it's sold for a penny."
"If you are going to cram him down my throat, Dorothy, you and I had better part."
"I don't want to say anything about him, only you ought—not—to abuse him—before me." By this time Dorothy was beginning to sob, but Miss Stanbury's countenance was still very grim and very stern. "He's coming home to Nuncombe Putney, and I want to—see—see him," continued Dorothy.
"Hugh Stanbury coming to Exeter! He won't come here."
"Then I'd rather go home, Aunt Stanbury."
"Very well, very well," said Miss Stanbury, and she got up and left the room.
Dorothy was in dismay, and began to think that there was nothing for her to do but to pack up her clothes and prepare for her departure. She was very sorry for what had occurred, being fully alive to the importance of the aid not only to herself, but to her mother and sister, which was afforded by the present arrangement, and she felt very angry with herself, in that she had already driven her aunt to quarrel with her. But she had found it to be impossible to hear her own brother abused without saying a word on his behalf. She did not see her aunt again till dinner-time, and then there was hardly a word uttered. Once or twice Dorothy made a little effort to speak, but these attempts failed utterly. The old woman would hardly reply even by a monosyllable, but simply muttered something, or shook her head when she was addressed. Jane, who waited at table, was very demure and silent, and Martha, who once came into the room during the meal, merely whispered a word into Miss Stanbury's ear. When the cloth was removed, and two glasses of port had been poured out by Miss Stanbury herself, Dorothy felt that she could endure this treatment no longer. How was it possible that she could drink wine under such circumstances?
"Not for me, Aunt Stanbury," said she, with a deploring tone.
"I couldn't drink it to-day."
"Why didn't you say so before it was poured out? And why not to-day? Come, drink it. Do as I bid you." And she stood over her niece, as a tragedy queen in a play with a bowl of poison. Dorothy took it and sipped it from mere force of obedience. "You make as many bones about a glass of port wine as though it were senna and salts," said Miss Stanbury. "Now I've got something to say to you." By this time the servant was gone, and the two were seated alone together in the parlour. Dorothy, who had not as yet swallowed above half her wine, at once put the glass down. There was an importance in her aunt's tone which frightened her, and made her feel that some evil was coming. And yet, as she had made up her mind that she must return home, there was no further evil that she need dread. "You didn't write any of those horrid articles?" said Miss Stanbury.
"No, aunt; I didn't write them. I shouldn't know how."
"And I hope you'll never learn. They say women are to vote, and become doctors, and if so, there's no knowing what devil's tricks they mayn't do. But it isn't your fault about that filthy newspaper. How he can let himself down to write stuff that is to be printed on straw is what I can't understand."
"I don't see how it can make a difference as he writes it."
"It would make a great deal of difference to me. And I'm told that what they call ink comes off on your fingers like lamp-black. I never touched one, thank God; but they tell me so. All the same; it isn't your fault."
"I've nothing to do with it, Aunt Stanbury."
"Of course you've not. And as he is your brother it wouldn't be natural that you should like to throw him off. And, my dear, I like you for taking his part. Only you needn't have been so fierce with an old woman."
"Indeed—indeed I didn't mean to be—fierce, Aunt Stanbury."
"I never was taken up so short in my life. But we won't mind that. There; he shall come and see you. I suppose he won't insist on leaving any of his nastiness about."
"But is he to come here, Aunt Stanbury?"
"He may if he pleases."
"Oh, Aunt Stanbury!"
"When he was here last he generally had a pipe in his mouth, and I dare say he never puts it down at all now. Those things grow upon young people so fast. But if he could leave it on the door-step just while he's here I should be obliged to him."
"But, dear aunt, couldn't I see him in the street?"
"Out in the street! No, my dear. All the world is not to know that he's your brother; and he is dressed in such a rapscallion manner that the people would think you were talking to a house-breaker." Dorothy's face became again red as she heard this, and the angry words were very nearly spoken. "The last time I saw him," continued Miss Stanbury, "he had on a short, rough jacket, with enormous buttons, and one of those flipperty-flopperty things on his head, that the butcher-boys wear. And, oh, the smell of tobacco! As he had been up in London I suppose he thought Exeter was no better than a village, and he might do just as he pleased. But he knew that if I'm particular about anything, it is about a gentleman's hat in the streets. And he wanted me—me!—to walk with him across to Mrs. MacHugh's! We should have been hooted about the Close like a pair of mad dogs;—and so I told him."
"All the young men seem to dress like that now, Aunt Stanbury."
"No, they don't. Mr. Gibson doesn't dress like that."
"But he's a clergyman, Aunt Stanbury."
"Perhaps I'm an old fool. I dare say I am, and of course that's what you mean. At any rate I'm too old to change, and I don't mean to try. I like to see a difference between a gentleman and a house-breaker. For the matter of that I'm told that there is a difference, and that the house-breakers all look like gentlemen now. It may be proper to make us all stand on our heads, with our legs sticking up in the air; but I for one don't like being topsy-turvey, and I won't try it. When is he to reach Exeter?"
"He is coming on Tuesday next, by the last train."
"Then you can't see him that night. That's out of the question. No doubt he'll sleep at the Nag's Head, as that's the lowest radical public-house in the city. Martha shall try to find him. She knows more about his doings than I do. If he chooses to come here the following morning before he goes down to Nuncombe Putney, well and good. I shall wait up till Martha comes back from the train on Tuesday night, and hear." Dorothy was of course full of gratitude and thanks; but yet she felt almost disappointed by the result of her aunt's clemency on the matter. She had desired to take her brother's part, and it had seemed to her as though she had done so in a very lukewarm manner. She had listened to an immense number of accusations against him, and had been unable to reply to them because she had been conquered by the promise of a visit. And now it was out of the question that she should speak of going. Her aunt had given way to her, and of course had conquered her.
Late on the Tuesday evening, after ten o'clock, Hugh Stanbury was walking round the Close with his aunt's old servant. He had not put up at that dreadfully radical establishment of which Miss Stanbury was so much afraid, but had taken a bed-room at the Railway Inn. From there he had walked up to the Close with Martha, and now was having a few last words with her before he would allow her to return to the house.
"I suppose she'd as soon see the devil as see me," said Hugh.
"If you speak in that way, Mr. Hugh, I won't listen to you."
"And yet I did everything I could to please her; and I don't think any boy ever loved an old woman better than I did her."
"That was while she used to send you cakes, and ham, and jam to school, Mr. Hugh."
"Of course it was, and while she sent me flannel waistcoats to Oxford. But when I didn't care any longer for cakes or flannel then she got tired of me. It is much better as it is, if she'll only be good to Dorothy."
"She never was bad to anybody, Mr. Hugh. But I don't think an old lady like her ever takes to a young woman as she does to a young man, if only he'll let her have a little more of her own way than you would. It's my belief that you might have had it all for your own some day, if you'd done as you ought."
"That's nonsense, Martha. She means to leave it all to the Burgesses. I've heard her say so."
"Say so; yes. People don't always do what they say. If you'd managed rightly you might have it all;—and so you might now."
"I'll tell you what, old girl; I shan't try. Live for the next twenty years under her apron strings, that I may have the chance at the end of it of cutting some poor devil out of his money! Do you know the meaning of making a score off your own bat, Martha?"
"No, I don't; and if it's anything you're like to do, I don't think I should be the better for learning,—by all accounts. And now if you please, I'll go in."
"Good night, Martha. My love to them both, and say I'll be there to-morrow exactly at half-past nine. You'd better take it. It won't turn to slate-stone. It hasn't come from the old gentleman."
"I don't want anything of that kind, Mr. Hugh;—indeed I don't."
"Nonsense. If you don't take it you'll offend me. I believe you think I'm not much better than a schoolboy still."
"I don't think you're half so good, Mr. Hugh," said the old servant, sticking the sovereign which Hugh had given her in under her glove as she spoke.
On the next morning that other visit was made at the brick house, and Miss Stanbury was again in a fuss. On this occasion, however, she was in a much better humour than before, and was full of little jokes as to the nature of the visitation. Of course, she was not to see her nephew herself, and no message was to be delivered from her, and none was to be given to her from him. But an accurate report was to be made to her as to his appearance, and Dorothy was to be enabled to answer a variety of questions respecting him after he was gone. "Of course, I don't want to know anything about his money," Miss Stanbury said, "only I should like to know how much these people can afford to pay for their penny trash." On this occasion she had left the room and gone up-stairs before the knock came at the door, but she managed, by peeping over the balcony, to catch a glimpse of the "flipperty-flopperty" hat which her nephew certainly had with him on this occasion.
Hugh Stanbury had great news for his sister. The cottage in which Mrs. Stanbury lived at Nuncombe Putney, was the tiniest little dwelling in which a lady and her two daughters ever sheltered themselves. There was, indeed, a sitting-room, two bed-rooms, and a kitchen; but they were all so diminutive in size that the cottage was little more than a cabin. But there was a house in the village, not large indeed, but eminently respectable, three stories high, covered with ivy, having a garden behind it, and generally called the Clock House, because there had once been a clock upon it. This house had been lately vacated, and Hugh informed his sister that he was thinking of taking it for his mother's accommodation. Now, the late occupants of the Clock House, at Nuncombe Putney, had been people with five or six hundred a year. Had other matters been in accordance, the house would almost have entitled them to consider themselves as county people. A gardener had always been kept there,—and a cow!
"The Clock House for mamma!"
"Well, yes. Don't say a word about it as yet to Aunt Stanbury, as she'll think that I've sold myself altogether to the old gentleman."
"But, Hugh, how can mamma live there?"
"The fact is, Dorothy, there is a secret. I can't tell you quite yet. Of course, you'll know it, and everybody will know it, if the thing comes about. But as you won't talk, I will tell you what most concerns ourselves."
"And am I to go back?"
"Certainly not,—if you will take my advice. Stick to your aunt. You don't want to smoke pipes, and wear Tom-and-Jerry hats, and write for the penny newspapers."
Now Hugh Stanbury's secret was this;—that Louis Trevelyan's wife and sister-in-law were to leave the house in Curzon Street, and come and live at Nuncombe Putney, with Mrs. Stanbury and Priscilla. Such, at least, was the plan to be carried out, if Hugh Stanbury should be successful in his present negotiations.
THE HONOURABLE MR. GLASCOCK.
By the end of July Mrs. Trevelyan with her sister was established in the Clock House, at Nuncombe Putney, under the protection of Hugh's mother; but before the reader is made acquainted with any of the circumstances of their life there, a few words must be said of an occurrence which took place before those two ladies left Curzon Street.
As to the quarrel between Trevelyan and his wife things went from bad to worse. Lady Milborough continued to interfere, writing letters to Emily which were full of good sense, but which, as Emily said herself, never really touched the point of dispute. "Am I, who am altogether unconscious of having done anything amiss, to confess that I have been in the wrong? If it were about a small matter, I would not mind, for the sake of peace. But when it concerns my conduct in reference to another man I would rather die first." That had been Mrs. Trevelyan's line of thought and argument in the matter; but then old Lady Milborough in her letters spoke only of the duty of obedience as promised at the altar. "But I didn't promise to tell a lie," said Mrs. Trevelyan. And there were interviews between Lady Milborough and Trevelyan, and interviews between Lady Milborough and Nora Rowley. The poor dear old dowager was exceedingly busy and full of groans, prescribing Naples, prescribing a course of extra prayers, prescribing a general course of letting by-gones be by-gones,—to which, however, Trevelyan would by no means assent without some assurance, which he might regard as a guarantee,—prescribing retirement to a small town in the west of France if Naples would not suffice; but she could effect nothing.
Mrs. Trevelyan, indeed, did a thing which was sure of itself to render any steps taken for a reconciliation ineffectual. In the midst of all this turmoil,—while she and her husband were still living in the same house, but apart because of their absurd quarrel respecting Colonel Osborne, she wrote another letter to that gentleman. The argument by which she justified this to herself, and to her sister after it was done, was the real propriety of her own conduct throughout her whole intimacy with Colonel Osborne. "But that is just what Louis doesn't want you to do," Nora had said, filled with anger and dismay. "Then let Louis give me an order to that effect, and behave to me like a husband, and I will obey him," Emily had answered. And she had gone on to plead that in her present condition she was under no orders from her husband. She was left to judge for herself, and,—judging for herself,—she knew, as she said, that it was best that she should write to Colonel Osborne. Unfortunately there was no ground for hoping that Colonel Osborne was ignorant of this insane jealousy on the part of her husband. It was better, therefore, she said, that she should write to him,—whom on the occasion she took care to name to her sister as "papa's old friend,"—and explain to him what she would wish him to do, and what not to do. Colonel Osborne answered the letter very quickly, throwing much more of demonstrative affection than he should have done into his "Dear Emily," and his "Dearest Friend." Of course Mrs. Trevelyan had burned this answer, and of course Mr. Trevelyan had been told of the correspondence. His wife, indeed, had been especially careful that there should be nothing secret about the matter,—that it should be so known in the house that Mr. Trevelyan should be sure to hear of it. And he had heard of it, and been driven almost mad by it. He had flown off to Lady Milborough, and had reduced his old friend to despair by declaring that, after all, he began to fear that his wife was—was—was—infatuated by that d—— scoundrel. Lady Milborough forgave the language, but protested that he was wrong in his suspicion. "To continue to correspond with him after what I have said to her!" exclaimed Trevelyan. "Take her to Naples at once,"—said Lady Milborough;—"at once!" "And have him after me?" said Trevelyan. Lady Milborough had no answer ready, and not having thought of this looked very blank. "I should find it harder to deal with her there even than here," continued Trevelyan. Then it was that Lady Milborough spoke of the small town in the west of France, urging as her reason that such a man as Colonel Osborne would certainly not follow them there; but Trevelyan had become indignant at this, declaring that if his wife's good name could be preserved in no other manner than that, it would not be worth preserving at all. Then Lady Milborough had begun to cry, and had continued crying for a very long time. She was very unhappy,—as unhappy as her nature would allow her to be. She would have made almost any sacrifice to bring the two young people together;—would have willingly given her time, her money, her labour in the cause;—would probably herself have gone to the little town in the west of France, had her going been of any service. But, nevertheless, after her own fashion, she extracted no small enjoyment out of the circumstances of this miserable quarrel. The Lady Milboroughs of the day hate the Colonel Osbornes from the very bottoms of their warm hearts and pure souls; but they respect the Colonel Osbornes almost as much as they hate them, and find it to be an inestimable privilege to be brought into some contact with these roaring lions.
But there arose to dear Lady Milborough a great trouble out of this quarrel, irrespective of the absolute horror of the separation of a young husband from his young wife. And the excess of her trouble on this head was great proof of the real goodness of her heart. For, in this matter, the welfare of Trevelyan himself was not concerned;—but rather that of the Rowley family. Now the Rowleys had not given Lady Milborough any special reason for loving them. When she had first heard that her dear young friend Louis was going to marry a girl from the Mandarins, she had been almost in despair. It was her opinion that had he properly understood his own position, he would have promoted his welfare by falling in love with the daughter of some English country gentleman,—or some English peer, to which honour, with his advantages, Lady Milborough thought that he might have aspired. Nevertheless, when the girl from the Mandarins had been brought home as Mrs. Trevelyan, Lady Milborough had received her with open arms,—had received even the sister-in-law with arms partly open. Had either of them shown any tendency to regard her as a mother, she would have showered motherly cares upon them. For Lady Milborough was like an old hen, in her capacity for taking many under her wings. The two sisters had hardly done more than bear with her,—Nora, indeed, bearing with her more graciously than Mrs. Trevelyan; and in return, even for this, the old dowager was full of motherly regard. Now she knew well that Mr. Glascock was over head and ears in love with Nora Rowley. It only wanted the slightest management and the easiest discretion to bring him on his knees, with an offer of his hand. And, then, how much that hand contained!—how much, indeed, as compared with that other hand, which was to be given in return, and which was,—to speak the truth,—completely empty! Mr. Glascock was the heir to a peer, was the heir to a rich peer, was the heir to a very, very old peer. He was in Parliament. The world spoke well of him. He was not, so to say, by any means an old man himself. He was good-tempered, reasonable, easily led, and yet by no means despicable. On all subjects connected with land, he held an opinion that was very much respected, and was supposed to be a thoroughly good specimen of an upper-class Englishman. Here was a suitor! But it was not to be supposed that such a man as Mr. Glascock would be so violently in love as to propose to a girl whose nearest known friend and female relation was misbehaving herself.
Only they who have closely watched the natural uneasiness of human hens can understand how great was Lady Milborough's anxiety on this occasion. Marriage to her was a thing always delightful to contemplate. Though she had never been sordidly a match-maker, the course of the world around her had taught her to regard men as fish to be caught, and girls as the anglers who ought to catch them. Or, rather, could her mind have been accurately analysed, it would have been found that the girl was regarded as half-angler and half-bait. Any girl that angled visibly with her own hook, with a manifestly expressed desire to catch a fish, was odious to her. And she was very gentle-hearted in regard to the fishes, thinking that every fish in the river should have the hook and bait presented to him in the mildest, pleasantest form. But still, when the trout was well in the basket, her joy was great; and then came across her unlaborious mind some half-formed idea that a great ordinance of nature was being accomplished in the teeth of difficulties. For,—as she well knew,—there is a difficulty in the catching of fish.
Lady Milborough, in her kind anxiety on Nora's behalf,—that the fish should be landed before Nora might be swept away in her sister's ruin,—hardly knew what step she might safely take. Mrs. Trevelyan would not see her again,—having already declared that any further interview would be painful and useless. She had spoken to Trevelyan, but Trevelyan had declared that he could do nothing. What was there that he could have done? He could not, as he said, overlook the gross improprieties of his wife's conduct, because his wife's sister had, or might possibly have, a lover. And then as to speaking to Mr. Glascock himself,—nobody knew better than Lady Milborough how very apt fish are to be frightened.
But at last Lady Milborough did speak to Mr. Glascock,—making no allusion whatever to the hook prepared for himself, but saying a word or two as to the affairs of that other fish, whose circumstances, as he floundered about in the bucket of matrimony, were not as happy as they might have been. The care, the discretion, nay, the wisdom with which she did this were most excellent. She had become aware that Mr. Glascock had already heard of the unfortunate affair in Curzon Street. Indeed, every one who knew the Trevelyans had heard of it, and a great many who did not know them. No harm, therefore, could be done by mentioning the circumstance. Lady Milborough did mention it, explaining that the only person really in fault was that odious destroyer of the peace of families, Colonel Osborne, of whom Lady Milborough, on that occasion, said some very severe things indeed. Poor dear Mrs. Trevelyan was foolish, obstinate, and self-reliant;—but as innocent as the babe unborn. That things would come right before long no one who knew the affair,—and she knew it from beginning to end,—could for a moment doubt. The real victim would be that sweetest of all girls, Nora Rowley. Mr. Glascock innocently asked why Nora Rowley should be a victim. "Don't you understand, Mr. Glascock, how the most remote connection with a thing of that kind tarnishes a young woman's standing in the world?" Mr. Glascock was almost angry with the well-pleased Countess as he declared that he could not see that Miss Rowley's standing was at all tarnished; and old Lady Milborough, when he got up and left her, felt that she had done a good morning's work. If Nora could have known it all, Nora ought to have been very grateful, for Mr. Glascock got into a cab in Eccleston Square and had himself driven direct to Curzon Street. He himself believed that he was at that moment only doing the thing which he had for some time past resolved that he would do; but we perhaps may be justified in thinking that the actual resolution was first fixed by the discretion of Lady Milborough's communication. At any rate he arrived in Curzon Street with his mind fully resolved, and had spent the minutes in the cab considering how he had better perform the business in hand.
He was at once shown into the drawing-room, where he found the two sisters, and Mrs. Trevelyan, as soon as she saw him, understood the purpose of his coming. There was an air of determination about him, a manifest intention of doing something, an absence of that vagueness which almost always flavours a morning visit. This was so strongly marked that Mrs. Trevelyan felt that she would have been almost justified in getting up and declaring that, as this visit was paid to her sister, she would retire. But any such declaration on her part was unnecessary, as Mr. Glascock had not been in the room three minutes before he asked her to go. By some clever device of his own, he got her into the back room and whispered to her that he wanted to say a few words in private to her sister.
"Oh, certainly," said Mrs. Trevelyan, smiling.
"I dare say you may guess what they are," said he. "I don't know what chance I may have."
"I can tell you nothing about that," she replied, "as I know nothing. But you have my good wishes."
And then she went.
It may be presumed that gradually some idea of Mr. Glascock's intention had made its way into Nora's mind by the time that she found herself alone with that gentleman. Why else had he brought into the room with him that manifest air of a purpose? Why else had he taken the very strong step of sending the lady of the house out of her own drawing-room? Nora, beginning to understand this, put herself into an attitude of defence. She had never told herself that she would refuse Mr. Glascock. She had never acknowledged to herself that there was another man whom she liked better than she liked Mr. Glascock. But had she ever encouraged any wish for such an interview, her feelings at this moment would have been very different from what they were. As it was, she would have given much to postpone it, so that she might have asked herself questions, and have discovered whether she could reconcile herself to do that which, no doubt, all her friends would commend her for doing. Of course, it was clear enough to the mind of the girl that she had her fortune to make, and that her beauty and youth were the capital on which she had to found it. She had not lived so far from all taint of corruption as to feel any actual horror at the idea of a girl giving herself to a man,—not because the man had already, by his own capacities in that direction, forced her heart from her,—but because he was one likely to be at all points a good husband. Had all this affair concerned any other girl, any friend of her own, and had she known all the circumstances of the case, she would have had no hesitation in recommending that other girl to marry Mr. Glascock. A girl thrown out upon the world without a shilling must make her hay while the sun shines. But, nevertheless, there was something within her bosom which made her long for a better thing than this. She had dreamed, if she had not thought, of being able to worship a man; but she could hardly worship Mr. Glascock. She had dreamed, if she had not thought, of leaning upon a man all through life with her whole weight, as though that man had been specially made to be her staff, her prop, her support, her wall of comfort and protection. She knew that if she were to marry Mr. Glascock and become Lady Peterborough, in due course she must stand a good deal by her own strength, and live without that comfortable leaning. Nevertheless, when she found herself alone with the man, she by no means knew whether she would refuse him or not. But she knew that she must pluck up courage for an important moment, and she collected herself, braced her muscles, as it were, for a fight, and threw her mind into an attitude of contest.
Mr. Glascock, as soon as the door was shut behind Mrs. Trevelyan's back, took a chair and placed it close beside the head of the sofa on which Nora was sitting. "Miss Rowley," he said, "you and I have known each other now for some months, and I hope you have learned to regard me as a friend."
"Oh, yes, indeed," said Nora, with some spirit.
"It has seemed to me that we have met as friends, and I can most truly say for myself, that I have taken the greatest possible pleasure in your acquaintance. It is not only that I admire you very much,"—he looked straight before him as he said this, and moved about the point of the stick which he was holding in both his hands,—"it is not only that,—perhaps not chiefly that, though I do admire you very much; but the truth is, that I like everything about you."
Nora smiled, but she said nothing. It was better, she thought, to let him tell his story; but his mode of telling it was not without its efficacy. It was not the simple praise which made its way with her but a certain tone in the words which seemed to convince her that they were true. If he had really found her, or fancied her to be what he said, there was a manliness in his telling her so in the plainest words that pleased her much.
"I know," continued he, "that this is a very bald way of telling—of pleading—my cause; but I don't know whether a bald way may not be the best, if it can only make itself understood to be true. Of course, Miss Rowley, you know what I mean. As I said before, you have all those things which not only make me love you, but which make me like you also. If you think that you can love me, say so; and, as long as I live, I will do my best to make you happy as my wife."
There was a clearness of expression in this, and a downright surrender of himself, which so flattered her and so fluttered her that she was almost reduced to the giving of herself up because she could not reply to such an appeal in language less courteous than that of agreement. After a moment or two she found herself remaining silent, with a growing feeling that silence would be taken as conveying consent. There floated quickly across her brain an idea of the hardness of a woman's lot, in that she should be called upon to decide her future fate for life in half a minute. He had had weeks to think of this,—weeks in which it would have been almost unmaidenly in her so to think of it as to have made up her mind to accept the man. Had she so made up her mind, and had he not come to her, where would she have been then? But he had come to her. There he was, still poking about with his stick, waiting for her, and she must answer him. And he was the eldest son of a peer,—an enormous match for her, very proper in all respects; such a man, that if she should accept him, everybody around her would regard her fortune in life as miraculously successful. He was not such a man that any one would point at her and say,—"There; see another of them who has sold herself for money and a title!" Mr. Glascock was not an Apollo, not an admirable Crichton; but he was a man whom any girl might have learned to love. Now he had asked her to be his wife, and it was necessary that she should answer him. He sat there waiting for her very patiently, still poking about the point of his stick.
Did she really love him? Though she was so pressed by consideration of time, she did find a moment in which to ask herself the question. With a quick turn of an eye she glanced at him, to see what he was like. Up to this moment, though she knew him well, she could have given no details of his personal appearance. He was a better-looking man than Hugh Stanbury,—so she told herself with a passing thought; but he lacked—he lacked; what was it that he lacked? Was it youth, or spirit, or strength; or was it some outward sign of an inward gift of mind? Was it that he was heavy while Hugh was light? Was it that she could find no fire in his eye, while Hugh's eyes were full of flashing? Or was it that for her, especially for her, Hugh was the appointed staff and appropriate wall of protection? Be all that as it might, she knew at the moment that she did love, not this man, but that other who was writing articles for the Daily Record. She must refuse the offer that was so brilliant, and give up the idea of reigning as queen at Monkhams.
"Oh, Mr. Glascock," she said, "I ought to answer you more quickly."
"No, dearest; not more quickly than suits you. Nothing ever in this world can be more important both to you and to me. If you want more time to think of it, take more time."
"No, Mr. Glascock; I do not. I don't know why I should have paused. Is not the truth best?"
"Yes,—certainly the truth is best."
"I do not—love you. Pray, pray understand me."
"I understand it too well, Miss Rowley." The stick was still going, and the eyes more intently fixed than ever on something opposite.
"I do like you; I like you very much. And I am so grateful! I cannot understand why such a man as you should want to make me your wife."
"Because I love you better than all the others; simply that. That reason, and that only, justifies a man in wanting to marry a girl." What a good fellow he was, and how flattering were his words! Did he not deserve what he wanted, even though it could not be given without a sacrifice? But yet she did not love him. As she looked at him again she could not there recognise her staff. As she looked at him she was more than ever convinced that that other staff ought to be her staff. "May I come again,—after a month, say?" he asked, when there had been another short period of silence.
"No, no. Why should you trouble yourself? I am not worth it."
"It is for me to judge of that, Miss Rowley."
"All the same, I know that I am not worth it. And I could not tell you to do that."
"Then I will wait, and come again without your telling me."
"Oh, Mr. Glascock, I did not mean that; indeed I did not. Pray do not think that. Take what I say as final. I like you more than I can say; and I feel a gratitude to you that I cannot express,—which I shall never forget. I have never known any one who has seemed to be so good as you. But— It is just what I said before." And then she fairly burst into tears.
"Miss Rowley," he said, very slowly, "pray do not think that I want to ask any question which it might embarrass you to answer. But my happiness is so greatly at stake; and, if you will allow me to say so, your happiness, too, is so greatly concerned, that it is most important that we should not come to a conclusion too quickly. If I thought that your heart were vacant I would wait patiently. I have been thinking of you as my possible wife for weeks past,—for months past. Of course you have not had such thoughts about me." As he said this she almost loved him for his considerate goodness. "It has sometimes seemed to me odd that girls should love men in such a hurry. If your heart be free, I will wait. And if you esteem me, you can see, and try whether you cannot learn to love me."
"I do esteem you."
"It depends on that question, then?" he said, slowly.
She sat silent for fully a minute, with her hands clasped; and then she answered him in a whisper. "I do not know," she said.
He also was silent for a while before he spoke again. He ceased to poke with his stick, and got up from his chair, and stood a little apart from her, not looking at her even yet.
"I see," he said at last. "I understand. Well, Miss Rowley, I quite perceive that I cannot press my suit any further now. But I shall not despair altogether. I know this, that if I might possibly succeed, I should be a very happy man. Good-bye, Miss Rowley."
She took his offered hand and pressed it so warmly, that had he not been manly and big-hearted, he would have taken such pressure as a sign that she wished him to ask her again. But such was his nature.
"God bless you," he said, "and make you happy, whatever you may choose to do."
Then he left her, and she heard him walk down the stairs with heavy slow steps, and she thought that she could perceive from the sound that he was sad at heart, but that he was resolved not to show his sadness outwardly.
When she was alone she began to think in earnest of what she had done. If the reader were told that she regretted the decision which she had been forced to make so rapidly, a wrong impression would be given of the condition of her thoughts. But there came upon her suddenly a strange capacity for counting up and making a mental inventory of all that might have been hers. She knew,—and where is the girl so placed that does not know?—that it is a great thing to be an English peeress. Now, as she stood there thinking of it all, she was Nora Rowley without a shilling in the world, and without a prospect of a shilling. She had often heard her mother speak fearful words of future possible days, when colonial governing should no longer be within the capacity of Sir Marmaduke. She had been taught from a very early age that all the material prosperity of her life must depend on matrimony. She could never be comfortably disposed of in the world, unless some fitting man who possessed those things of which she was so bare, should wish to make her his wife. Now there had come a man so thoroughly fitting, so marvellously endowed, that no worldly blessing would have been wanting. Mr. Glascock had more than once spoken to her of the glories of Monkhams. She thought of Monkhams now more than she had ever thought of the place before. It would have been a great privilege to be the mistress of an old time-honoured mansion, to call oaks and elms her own, to know that acres of gardens were submitted to her caprices, to look at herds of cows and oxen, and be aware that they lowed on her own pastures. And to have been the mother of a future peer of England, to have the nursing, and sweet custody and very making of a future senator,—would not that have been much? And the man himself who would have been her husband was such a one that any woman might have trusted herself to him with perfect confidence. Now that he was gone she almost fancied that she did love him. Then she thought of Hugh Stanbury, sitting as he had described himself, in a little dark closet at the office of the "D. R.," in a very old inky shooting-coat, with a tarnished square-cut cloth cap upon his head, with a short pipe in his mouth, writing at midnight for the next morning's impression, this or that article according to the order of his master, "the tallow-chandler;"—for the editor of the Daily Record was a gentleman whose father happened to be a grocer in the City, and Hugh had been accustomed thus to describe the family trade. And she might certainly have had the peer, and the acres of garden, and the big house, and the senatorial honours; whereas the tallow-chandler's journeyman had never been so out-spoken. She told herself from moment to moment that she had done right; that she would do the same a dozen times, if a dozen times the experiment could be repeated; but still, still, there was the remembrance of all that she had lost. How would her mother look at her, her anxious, heavily-laden mother, when the story should be told of all that had been offered to her and all that had been refused?
As she was thinking of this Mrs. Trevelyan came into the room. Nora felt that though she might dread to meet her mother, she could be bold enough on such an occasion before her sister. Emily had not done so well with her own affairs, as to enable her to preach with advantage about marriage.
"He has gone?" said Mrs. Trevelyan, as she opened the door.
"Yes, he has gone."
"Well? Do not pretend, Nora, that you will not tell me."
"There is nothing worth the telling, Emily."
"What do you mean? I am sure he has proposed. He told me in so many words that it was his intention."
"Whatever has happened, dear, you may be quite sure that I shall never be Mrs. Glascock."
"Then you have refused him,—because of Hugh Stanbury!"
"I have refused him, Emily, because I did not love him. Pray let that be enough."
Then she walked out of the room with something of stateliness in her gait,—as might become a girl who had had it in her power to be the future Lady Peterborough; but as soon as she reached the sacredness of her own chamber, she gave way to an agony of tears. It would, indeed, be much to be a Lady Peterborough. And she had, in truth, refused it all because of Hugh Stanbury! Was Hugh Stanbury worth so great a sacrifice?
THE CLOCK HOUSE AT NUNCOMBE PUTNEY.
It was not till a fortnight had passed after the transaction recorded in the last chapter, that Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora Rowley first heard the proposition that they should go to live at Nuncombe Putney. From bad to worse the quarrel between the husband and the wife had gone on, till Trevelyan had at last told his friend Lady Milborough that he had made up his mind that they must live apart. "She is so self-willed,—and perhaps I am the same," he had said, "that it is impossible that we should live together." Lady Milborough had implored and called to witness all testimonies, profane and sacred, against such a step,—had almost gone down on her knees. Go to Naples,—why not Naples? Or to the quiet town in the west of France, which was so dull that a wicked roaring lion, fond of cities and gambling, and eating and drinking, could not live in such a place! Oh, why not go to the quiet town in the west of France? Was not anything better than this flying in the face of God and man? Perhaps Trevelyan did not himself like the idea of the quiet dull French town. Perhaps he thought that the flying in the face of God and man was all done by his wife, not by him; and that it was right that his wife should feel the consequences. After many such entreaties, many such arguments, it was at last decided that the house in Curzon Street should be given up, and that he and his wife live apart.
"And what about Nora Rowley?" asked Lady Milborough, who had become aware by this time of Nora's insane folly in having refused Mr. Glascock.
"She will go with her sister, I suppose."
"And who will maintain her? Dear, dear, dear! It does seem as though some young people were bent upon cutting their own throats, and all their family's."
Poor Lady Milborough just at this time went as near to disliking the Rowleys as was compatible with her nature. It was not possible to her to hate anybody. She thought that she hated the Colonel Osbornes; but even that was a mistake. She was very angry, however, with both Mrs. Trevelyan and her sister, and was disposed to speak of them as though they had been born to create trouble and vexation.
Trevelyan had not given any direct answer to that question about Nora Rowley's maintenance, but he was quite prepared to bear all necessary expense in that direction, at any rate till Sir Marmaduke should have arrived. At first there had been an idea that the two sisters should go to the house of their aunt, Mrs. Outhouse. Mrs. Outhouse was the wife,—as the reader may perhaps remember,—of a clergyman living in the east of London. St. Diddulph's-in-the-East was very much in the east indeed. It was a parish outside the City, lying near the river, very populous, very poor, very low in character, and very uncomfortable. There was a rectory-house, queerly situated at the end of a little blind lane, with a gate of its own, and a so-called garden about twenty yards square. But the rectory of St. Diddulph's cannot be said to have been a comfortable abode. The neighbourhood was certainly not alluring. Of visiting society within a distance of three or four miles there was none but what was afforded by the families of other East-end clergymen. And then Mr. Outhouse himself was a somewhat singular man. He was very religious, devoted to his work, most kind to the poor; but he was unfortunately a strongly-biased man, and at the same time very obstinate withal. He had never allied himself very cordially with his wife's brother, Sir Marmaduke, allowing himself to be carried away by a prejudice that people living at the West-end, who frequented clubs, and were connected in any way with fashion, could not be appropriate companions for himself. The very title which Sir Marmaduke had acquired was repulsive to him, and had induced him to tell his wife more than once that Sir this or Sir that could not be fitting associates for a poor East-end clergyman. Then his wife's niece had married a man of fashion,—a man supposed at St. Diddulph's to be very closely allied to fashion; and Mr. Outhouse had never been induced even to dine in the house in Curzon Street. When, therefore, he heard that Mr. and Mrs. Trevelyan were to be separated within two years of their marriage, it could not be expected that he should be very eager to lend to the two sisters the use of his rectory.
There had been interviews between Mr. Outhouse and Trevelyan, and between Mrs. Outhouse and her niece; and then there was an interview between Mr. Outhouse and Emily, in which it was decided that Mrs. Trevelyan would not go to the parsonage of St. Diddulph's. She had been very outspoken to her uncle, declaring that she by no means intended to carry herself as a disgraced woman. Mr. Outhouse had quoted St. Paul to her; "Wives, obey your husbands." Then she had got up and had spoken very angrily. "I look for support from you," she said, "as the man who is the nearest to me, till my father shall come." "But I cannot support you in what is wrong," said the clergyman. Then Mrs. Trevelyan had left the room, and would not see her uncle again.
She carried things altogether with a high hand at this time. When old Mr. Bideawhile called upon her, her husband's ancient family lawyer, she told that gentleman that if it was her husband's will that they should live apart, it must be so. She could not force him to remain with her. She could not compel him to keep up the house in Curzon Street. She had certain rights, she believed. She spoke then, she said, of pecuniary rights,—not of those other rights which her husband was determined, and was no doubt able, to ignore. She did not really know what those pecuniary rights might be, nor was she careful to learn their exact extent. She would thank Mr. Bideawhile to see that things were properly arranged. But of this her husband, and Mr. Bideawhile, might be quite sure;—she would take nothing as a favour. She would not go to her uncle's house. She declined to tell Mr. Bideawhile why she had so decided; but she had decided. She was ready to listen to any suggestion that her husband might make as to her residence, but she must claim to have some choice in the matter. As to her sister, of course she intended to give Nora a home as long as such a home might be wanted. It would be very sad for Nora, but in existing circumstances such an arrangement would be expedient. She would not go into details as to expense. Her husband was driving her away from him, and it was for him to say what proportion of his income he would choose to give for her maintenance,—for hers and for that of their child. She was not desirous of anything beyond the means of decent living, but of course she must for the present find a home for her sister as well as for herself. When speaking of her baby she had striven hard so to speak that Mr. Bideawhile should find no trace of doubt in the tones of her voice. And yet she had been full of doubt,—full of fear. As Mr. Bideawhile had uttered nothing antagonistic to her wishes in this matter,—had seemed to agree that wherever the mother went thither the child would go also,—Mrs. Trevelyan had considered herself to be successful in this interview.
The idea of a residence at Nuncombe Putney had occurred first to Trevelyan himself, and he had spoken of it to Hugh Stanbury. There had been some difficulty in this, because he had snubbed Stanbury grievously when his friend had attempted to do some work of gentle interference between him and his wife; and when he began the conversation, he took the trouble of stating, in the first instance, that the separation was a thing fixed,—so that nothing might be urged on that subject. "It is to be. You will understand that," he said; "and if you think that your mother would agree to the arrangement, it would be satisfactory to me, and might, I think, be made pleasant to her. Of course, your mother would be made to understand that the only fault with which my wife is charged is that of indomitable disobedience to my wishes."
"Incompatibility of temper," suggested Stanbury.
"You may call it that if you please;—though I must say for myself that I do not think that I have displayed any temper to which a woman has a right to object." Then he had gone on to explain what he was prepared to do about money. He would pay, through Stanbury's hands, so much for maintenance and so much for house rent, on the understanding that the money was not to go into his wife's hands. "I shall prefer," he said, "to make myself, on her behalf, what disbursements may be necessary. I will take care that she receives a proper sum quarterly through Mr. Bideawhile for her own clothes,—and for those of our poor boy." Then Stanbury had told him of the Clock House, and there had been an agreement made between them;—an agreement which was then, of course, subject to the approval of the ladies at Nuncombe Putney. When the suggestion was made to Mrs. Trevelyan,—with a proposition that the Clock House should be taken for one year, and that for that year, at least, her boy should remain with her,—she assented to it. She did so with all the calmness that she was able to assume; but, in truth, almost everything seemed to have been gained, when she found that she was not to be separated from her baby. "I have no objection to living in Devonshire if Mr. Trevelyan wishes it," she said, in her most stately manner; "and certainly no objection to living with Mr. Stanbury's mother." Then Mr. Bideawhile explained to her that Nuncombe Putney was not a large town,—was, in fact, a very small and a very remote village. "That will make no difference whatsoever as far as I am concerned," she answered; "and as for my sister, she must put up with it till my father and my mother are here. I believe the scenery at Nuncombe Putney is very pretty." "Lovely!" said Mr. Bideawhile, who had a general idea that Devonshire is supposed to be a picturesque county. "With such a life before me as I must lead," continued Mrs. Trevelyan, "an ugly neighbourhood, one that would itself have had no interest for a stranger, would certainly have been an additional sorrow." So it had been settled, and by the end of July, Mrs. Trevelyan, with her sister and baby, was established at the Clock House, under the protection of Mrs. Stanbury. Mrs. Trevelyan had brought down her own maid and her own nurse, and had found that the arrangements made by her husband had, in truth, been liberal. The house in Curzon Street had been given up, the furniture had been sent to a warehouse, and Mr. Trevelyan had gone into lodgings. "There never were two young people so insane since the world began," said Lady Milborough to her old friend, Mrs. Fairfax, when the thing was done.
"They will be together again before next April," Mrs. Fairfax had replied. But Mrs. Fairfax was a jolly dame who made the best of everything. Lady Milborough raised her hands in despair, and shook her head. "I don't suppose, though, that Mr. Glascock will go to Devonshire after his lady love," said Mrs. Fairfax. Lady Milborough again raised her hands, and again shook her head.
Mrs. Stanbury had given an easy assent when her son proposed to her this new mode of life, but Priscilla had had her doubts. Like all women, she thought that when a man was to be separated from his wife, the woman must be in the wrong. And though it must be doubtless comfortable to go from the cottage to the Clock House, it would, she said, with much prudence, be very uncomfortable to go back from the Clock House to the cottage. Hugh replied very cavalierly,—generously, that is, rashly, and somewhat impetuously,—that he would guarantee them against any such degradation.
"We don't want to be a burden upon you, my dear," said the mother.
"You would be a great burden on me," he replied, "if you were living uncomfortably while I am able to make you comfortable."
Mrs. Stanbury was soon won over by Mrs. Trevelyan, by Nora, and especially by the baby; and even Priscilla, after a week or two, began to feel that she liked their company. Priscilla was a young woman who read a great deal, and even had some gifts of understanding what she read. She borrowed books from the clergyman, and paid a penny a week to the landlady of the Stag and Antlers for the hire during half a day of the weekly newspaper. But now there came a box of books from Exeter, and a daily paper from London, and,—to improve all this,—both the new comers were able to talk with her about the things she read. She soon declared to her mother that she liked Miss Rowley much the best of the two. Mrs. Trevelyan was too fond of having her own way. She began to understand, she would say to her mother, that a man might find it difficult to live with Mrs. Trevelyan. "She hardly ever yields about anything," said Priscilla. As Miss Priscilla Stanbury was also very fond of having her own way, it was not surprising that she should object to that quality in this lady, who had come to live under the same roof with her.
The country about Nuncombe Putney is perhaps as pretty as any in England. It is beyond the river Teign, between that and Dartmoor, and is so lovely in all its variations of rivers, rivulets, broken ground, hills and dales, old broken, battered, time-worn timber, green knolls, rich pastures, and heathy common, that the wonder is that English lovers of scenery know so little of it. At the Stag and Antlers old Mrs. Crocket, than whom no old woman in the public line was ever more generous, more peppery, or more kind, kept two clean bed-rooms, and could cook a leg of Dartmoor mutton and make an apple pie against any woman in Devonshire. "Drat your fish!" she would say, when some self-indulgent and exacting traveller would wish for more than these accustomed viands. "Cock you up with dainties! If you can't eat your victuals without fish, you must go to Exeter. And then you'll get it stinking mayhap." Now Priscilla Stanbury and Mrs. Crocket were great friends, and there had been times of deep want, in which Mrs. Crocket's friendship had been very serviceable to the ladies at the cottage. The three young women had been to the inn one morning to ask after a conveyance from Nuncombe Putney to Princetown, and had found that a four-wheeled open carriage with an old horse and a very young driver could be hired there. "We have never dreamed of such a thing," Priscilla Stanbury had said, "and the only time I was at Princetown I walked there and back." So they had called at the Stag and Antlers, and Mrs. Crocket had told them her mind upon several matters.
"What a dear old woman!" said Nora, as they came away, having made their bargain for the open carriage.
"I think she takes quite enough upon herself, you know," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"She is a dear old woman," said Priscilla, not attending at all to the last words that had been spoken. "She is one of the best friends I have in the world. If I were to say the best out of my own family, perhaps I should not be wrong."
"But she uses such very odd language for a woman," said Mrs. Trevelyan. Now Mrs. Crocket had certainly "dratted" and "darned" the boy, who wouldn't come as fast as she had wished, and had laughed at Mrs. Trevelyan very contemptuously, when that lady had suggested that the urchin, who was at last brought forth, might not be a safe charioteer down some of the hills.
"I suppose I'm used to it," said Priscilla. "At any rate I know I like it. And I like her."
"I dare say she's a good sort of woman," said Mrs. Trevelyan, "only—"
"I am not saying anything about her being a good woman now," said Priscilla, interrupting the other with some vehemence, "but only that she is my friend."
"I liked her of all things," said Nora. "Has she lived here always?"
"Yes; all her life. The house belonged to her father and to her grandfather before her, and I think she says she has never slept out of it a dozen times in her life. Her husband is dead, and her daughters are married away, and she has the great grief and trouble of a ne'er-do-well son. He's away now, and she's all alone." Then after a pause, she continued; "I dare say it seems odd to you, Mrs. Trevelyan, that we should speak of the innkeeper as a dear friend; but you must remember that we have been poor among the poorest—and are so indeed now. We only came into our present house to receive you. That is where we used to live," and she pointed to the tiny cottage, which now that it was dismantled and desolate, looked to be doubly poor. "There have been times when we should have gone to bed very hungry if it had not been for Mrs. Crocket."
Later in the day Mrs. Trevelyan, finding Priscilla alone, had apologized for what she had said about the old woman. "I was very thoughtless and forgetful, but I hope you will not be angry with me. I will be ever so fond of her if you will forgive me."
"Very well," said Priscilla, smiling; "on those conditions I will forgive you." And from that time there sprang up something like a feeling of friendship between Priscilla and Mrs. Trevelyan. Nevertheless Priscilla was still of opinion that the Clock House arrangement was dangerous, and should never have been made; and Mrs. Stanbury, always timid of her own nature, began to fear that it must be so, as soon as she was removed from the influence of her son. She did not see much even of the few neighbours who lived around her, but she fancied that people looked at her in church as though she had done that which she ought not to have done, in taking herself to a big and comfortable house for the sake of lending her protection to a lady who was separated from her husband. It was not that she believed that Mrs. Trevelyan had been wrong; but that, knowing herself to be weak, she fancied that she and her daughter would be enveloped in the danger and suspicion which could not but attach themselves to the lady's condition, instead of raising the lady out of the cloud,—as would have been the case had she herself been strong. Mrs. Trevelyan, who was sharpsighted and clear-witted, soon saw that it was so, and spoke to Priscilla on the subject before she had been a fortnight in the house. "I am afraid your mother does not like our being here," she said.
"How am I to answer that?" Priscilla replied.
"Just tell the truth."
"The truth is so uncivil. At first I did not like it. I disliked it very much."
"Why did you give way?"
"I didn't give way. Hugh talked my mother over. Mamma does what I tell her, except when Hugh tells her something else. I was afraid, because, down here, knowing nothing of the world, I didn't wish that we, little people, should be mixed up in the quarrels and disagreements of those who are so much bigger."
"I don't know who it is that is big in this matter."
"You are big,—at any rate by comparison. But now it must go on. The house has been taken, and my fears are over as regards you. What you observe in mamma is only the effect, not yet quite worn out, of what I said before you came. You may be quite sure of this,—that we neither of us believe a word against you. Your position is a very unfortunate one; but if it can be remedied by your staying here with us, pray stay with us."
"It cannot be remedied," said Emily; "but we could not be anywhere more comfortable than we are here."
WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT IN THE CLOSE.
When Miss Stanbury, in the Close at Exeter, was first told of the arrangement that had been made at Nuncombe Putney, she said some very hard words as to the thing that had been done. She was quite sure that Mrs. Trevelyan was no better than she should be. Ladies who were separated from their husbands never were any better than they should be. And what was to be thought of any woman, who, when separated from her husband, would put herself under the protection of such a Paladin as Hugh Stanbury? She heard the tidings of course from Dorothy, and spoke her mind even to Dorothy plainly enough; but it was to Martha that she expressed herself with her fullest vehemence.
"We always knew," she said, "that my brother had married an addle-pated, silly woman, one of the most unsuited to be the mistress of a clergyman's house that ever a man set eyes on; but I didn't think she'd allow herself to be led into such a stupid thing as this."
"I don't suppose the lady has done anything amiss,—any more than combing her husband's hair, and the like of that," said Martha.
"Don't tell me! Why, by their own story, she has got a lover."
"But he ain't to come after her down here, I suppose. And as for lovers, ma'am, I'm told that the most of 'em have 'em up in London. But it don't mean much, only just idle talking and gallivanting."
"When women can't keep themselves from idle talking with strange gentlemen, they are very far gone on the road to the devil. That's my notion. And that was everybody's notion a few years ago. But now, what with divorce bills, and women's rights, and penny papers, and false hair, and married women being just like giggling girls, and giggling girls knowing just as much as married women, when a woman has been married a year or two she begins to think whether she mayn't have more fun for her money by living apart from her husband."
"Miss Dorothy says—"
"Oh, bother what Miss Dorothy says! Miss Dorothy only knows what it has suited that scamp, her brother, to tell her. I understand this woman has come away because of a lover; and if that's so, my sister-in-law is very wrong to receive her. The temptation of the Clock House has been too much for her. It's not my doing; that's all."
That evening Miss Stanbury and Dorothy went out to tea at the house of Mrs. MacHugh, and there the matter was very much discussed. The family of the Trevelyans was known by name in these parts, and the fact of Mrs. Trevelyan having been sent to live in a Devonshire village, with Devonshire ladies who had a relation in Exeter so well esteemed as Miss Stanbury of the Close, were circumstances of themselves sufficient to ensure a considerable amount of prestige at the city tea-table for the tidings of this unfortunate family quarrel. Some reticence was of course necessary because of the presence of Miss Stanbury and of Dorothy. To Miss Stanbury herself Mrs. MacHugh and Mrs. Crumbie, of Cronstadt House, did not scruple to express themselves very plainly, and to whisper a question as to what was to be done should the lover make his appearance at Nuncombe Putney; but they who spoke of the matter before Dorothy, were at first more charitable, or, at least, more forbearing. Mr. Gibson, who was one of the minor canons, and the two Miss Frenches from Heavitree, who had the reputation of hunting unmarried clergymen in couples, seemed to have heard all about it. When Mrs. MacHugh and Miss Stanbury, with Mr. and Mrs. Crumbie, had seated themselves at their whist-table, the younger people were able to express their opinions without danger of interruption or of rebuke. It was known to all Exeter by this time, that Dorothy Stanbury's mother had gone to the Clock House, and that she had done so in order that Mrs. Trevelyan might have a home. But it was not yet known whether anybody had called upon them. There was Mrs. Merton, the wife of the present parson of Nuncombe, who had known the Stanburys for the last twenty years; and there was Mrs. Ellison of Lessboro', who lived only four miles from Nuncombe, and who kept a pony-carriage. It would be a great thing to know how these ladies had behaved in so difficult and embarrassing a position. Mrs. Trevelyan and her sister had now been at Nuncombe Putney for more than a fortnight, and something in that matter of calling must have been done,—or have been left undone. In answer to an ingeniously-framed question asked by Camilla French, Dorothy at once set the matter at rest. "Mrs. Merton," said Camilla French, "must find it a great thing to have two new ladies come to the village, especially now that she has lost you, Miss Stanbury?"
"Mamma tells me," said Dorothy, "that Mrs. Trevelyan and Miss Rowley do not mean to know anybody. They have given it out quite plainly, so that there should be no mistake."
"Dear, dear," said Camilla French.
"I dare say it's for the best," said Arabella French, who was the elder, and who looked very meek and soft. Miss French almost always looked meek and soft.
"I'm afraid it will make it very dull for your mother,—not seeing her old friends," said Mr. Gibson.
"Mamma won't feel that at all," said Dorothy.
"Mrs. Stanbury, I suppose, will see her own friends at her own house just the same," said Camilla.
"There would be great difficulty in that, when there is a lady who is to remain unknown," said Arabella. "Don't you think so, Mr. Gibson?" Mr. Gibson replied that perhaps there might be a difficulty, but he wasn't sure. The difficulty, he thought, might be got over if the ladies did not always occupy the same room.
"You have never seen Mrs. Trevelyan, have you, Miss Stanbury?" asked Camilla.
"She is not an old family friend, then,—or anything of that sort?"
"Oh, dear, no."
"Because," said Arabella, "it is so odd how different people get together sometimes." Then Dorothy explained that Mr. Trevelyan and her brother Hugh had long been friends.
"Oh!—of Mr. Trevelyan," said Camilla. "Then it is he that has sent his wife to Nuncombe, not she that has come there?"
"I suppose there has been some agreement," said Dorothy.
"Just so; just so," said Arabella, the meek. "I should like to see her. They say that she is very beautiful; don't they?"
"My brother says that she is handsome."
"Exceedingly lovely, I'm told," said Camilla. "I should like to see her,—shouldn't you, Mr. Gibson?"
"I always like to see a pretty woman," said Mr. Gibson, with a polite bow, which the sisters shared between them.
"I suppose she'll go to church," said Camilla.
"Very likely not," said Arabella. "Ladies of that sort very often don't go to church. I dare say you'll find that she'll never stir out of the place at all, and that not a soul in Nuncombe will ever see her except the gardener. It is such a thing for a woman to be separated from her husband! Don't you think so, Mr. Gibson?"
"Of course it is," said he, with a shake of his head, which was intended to imply that the censure of the church must of course attend any sundering of those whom the church had bound together; but which implied also by the absence from it of any intense clerical severity, that as the separated wife was allowed to live with so very respectable a lady as Mrs. Stanbury, there must probably be some mitigating circumstances attending this special separation.
"I wonder what he is like?" said Camilla, after a pause.
"Who?" asked Arabella.
"The gentleman," said Camilla.
"What gentleman?" demanded Arabella.
"I don't mean Mr. Trevelyan," said Camilla.
"I don't believe there really is,—eh,—is there?" said Mr. Gibson, very timidly.
"Oh, dear, yes," said Arabella.
"I'm afraid there's something of the kind," said Camilla. "I've heard that there is, and I've heard his name." Then she whispered very closely into the ear of Mr. Gibson the words, "Colonel Osborne," as though her lips were by far too pure to mention aloud any sound so full of iniquity.
"Indeed!" said Mr. Gibson.
"But he's quite an old man," said Dorothy, "and knew her father intimately before she was born. And, as far as I can understand, her husband does not suspect her in the least. And it's only because there's a misunderstanding between them, and not at all because of the gentleman."
"Oh!" exclaimed Camilla.
"Ah!" exclaimed Arabella.
"That would make a difference," said Mr. Gibson.
"But for a married woman to have her name mentioned at all with a gentleman,—it is so bad; is it not, Mr. Gibson?" And then Arabella also had her whisper into the clergyman's ear,—very closely. "I'm afraid there's not a doubt about the Colonel. I'm afraid not. I am indeed."
"Two by honours and the odd, and it's my deal," said Miss Stanbury, briskly, and the sharp click with which she put the markers down upon the table was heard all through the room. "I don't want anybody to tell me," she said, "that when a young woman is parted from her husband, the chances are ten to one that she has been very foolish."
"But what's a woman to do, if her husband beats her?" said Mrs. Crumbie.
"Beat him again," said Mrs. MacHugh.
"And the husband will be sure to have the worst of it," said Mr. Crumbie. "Well, I declare, if you haven't turned up an honour again, Miss Stanbury!"
"It was your wife that cut it to me, Mr. Crumbie." Then they were again at once immersed in the play, and the name neither of Trevelyan nor Osborne was heard till Miss Stanbury was marking her double under the candlestick; but during all pauses in the game the conversation went back to the same topic, and when the rubber was over they who had been playing it lost themselves for ten minutes in the allurements of the interesting subject. It was so singular a coincidence that the lady should have gone to Nuncombe Putney of all villages in England, and to the house of Mrs. Stanbury of all ladies in England. And then was she innocent, or was she guilty; and if guilty, in what degree? That she had been allowed to bring her baby with her was considered to be a great point in her favour. Mr. Crumbie's opinion was that it was "only a few words." Mrs. Crumbie was afraid that she had been a little light. Mrs. MacHugh said that there was never fire without smoke. And Miss Stanbury, as she took her departure, declared that the young women of the present day didn't know what they were after. "They think that the world should be all frolic and dancing, and they have no more idea of doing their duty and earning their bread than a boy home for the holidays has of doing lessons."
Then, as she went home with Dorothy across the Close, she spoke a word which she intended to be very serious. "I don't mean to say anything against your mother for what she has done as yet. Somebody must take the woman in, and perhaps it was natural. But if that Colonel What's-his-name makes his way down to Nuncombe Putney, your mother must send her packing, if she has any respect either for herself or for Priscilla."