The well-weighed decision of Miss Stanbury respecting the Stanbury-Trevelyan arrangement at Nuncombe Putney had been communicated to Dorothy as the two walked home at night across the Close from Mrs. MacHugh's house, and it was accepted by Dorothy as being wise and proper. It amounted to this. If Mrs. Trevelyan should behave herself with propriety in her retirement at the Clock House, no further blame in the matter should be attributed to Mrs. Stanbury for receiving her,—at any rate in Dorothy's hearing. The existing scheme, whether wise or foolish, should be regarded as an accepted scheme. But if Mrs. Trevelyan should be indiscreet,—if, for instance, Colonel Osborne should show himself at Nuncombe Putney,—then, for the sake of the family, Miss Stanbury would speak out, and would speak out very loudly. All this Dorothy understood, and she could perceive that her aunt had strong suspicion that there would be indiscretion.
"I never knew one like her," said Miss Stanbury, "who, when she'd got away from one man, didn't want to have another dangling after her."
A week had hardly passed after the party at Mrs. MacHugh's, and Mrs. Trevelyan had hardly been three weeks at Nuncombe Putney, before the tidings which Miss Stanbury almost expected reached her ears.
"The Colonel's been at the Clock House, ma'am," said Martha.
Now, it was quite understood in the Close by this time that "the Colonel" meant Colonel Osborne.
"I'm told he has though, ma'am, for sure and certain."
"Who says so?"
"Giles Hickbody was down at Lessboro', and see'd him hisself,—a portly, middle-aged man,—not one of your young scampish-like lovers."
"That's the man."
"Oh, yes. He went over to Nuncombe Putney, as sure as anything;—hired Mrs. Clegg's chaise and pair, and asked for Mrs. Trevelyan's house as open as anything. When Giles asked in the yard, they told him as how that was the married lady's young man."
"I'd like to be at his tail,—so I would,—with a mop-handle," said Miss Stanbury, whose hatred for those sins by which the comfort and respectability of the world are destroyed, was not only sincere, but intense. "Well; and what then?"
"He came back and slept at Mrs. Clegg's that night,—at least, that was what he said he should do."
Miss Stanbury, however, was not so precipitate or uncharitable as to act strongly upon information such as this. Before she even said a word to Dorothy, she made further inquiry. She made very minute inquiry, writing even to her very old and intimate friend Mrs. Ellison, of Lessboro',—writing to that lady a most cautious and guarded letter. At last it became a fact proved to her mind that Colonel Osborne had been at the Clock House, had been received there, and had remained there for hours,—had been allowed access to Mrs. Trevelyan, and had slept the night at the inn at Lessboro'. The thing was so terrible to Miss Stanbury's mind, that even false hair, Dr. Colenso, and penny newspapers did not account for it.
"I shall begin to believe that the Evil One has been allowed to come among us in person because of our sins," she said to Martha;—and she meant it.
In the meantime, Mrs. Trevelyan, as may be remembered, had hired Mrs. Crocket's open carriage, and the three young women, Mrs. Trevelyan, Nora, and Priscilla, made a little excursion to Princetown, somewhat after the fashion of a picnic. At Princetown, in the middle of Dartmoor, about nine miles from Nuncombe Putney, is the prison establishment at which are kept convicts undergoing penal servitude. It is regarded by all the country round with great interest, chiefly because the prisoners now and again escape, and then there comes a period of interesting excitement until the escaped felon shall have been again taken. How can you tell where he may be, or whether it may not suit him to find his rest in your own cupboard, or under your own bed? And then, as escape without notice will of course be the felon's object, to attain that he will probably cut your throat, and the throat of everybody belonging to you. All which considerations give an interest to Princetown, and excite in the hearts of the Devonians of these parts a strong affection for the Dartmoor prison. Of those who visit Princetown comparatively few effect an entrance within the walls of the gaol. They look at the gloomy place with a mysterious interest, feeling something akin to envy for the prisoners who have enjoyed the privilege of solving the mysteries of prison life, and who know how men feel when they have their hair cut short, and are free from moral responsibility for their own conduct, and are moved about in gangs, and treated like wild beasts.
But the journey to Princetown, from whatever side it is approached, has the charm of wild and beautiful scenery. The spot itself is ugly enough; but you can go not thither without breathing the sweetest, freshest air, and encountering that delightful sense of romance which moorland scenery always produces. The idea of our three friends was to see the Moor rather than the prison, to learn something of the country around, and to enjoy the excitement of eating a sandwich sitting on a hillock, in exchange for the ordinary comforts of a good dinner with chairs and tables. A bottle of sherry and water and a paper of sandwiches contained their whole banquet; for ladies, though they like good things at picnics, and, indeed, at other times, almost as well as men like them, very seldom prepare dainties for themselves alone. Men are wiser and more thoughtful, and are careful to have the good things, even if they are to be enjoyed without companionship.
Mrs. Crocket's boy, though he was only about three feet high, was a miracle of skill and discretion. He used the machine, as the patent drag is called, in going down the hills with the utmost care. He never forced the beast beyond a walk if there was the slightest rise in the ground; and as there was always a rise, the journey was slow. But the three ladies enjoyed it thoroughly, and Mrs. Trevelyan was in better spirits than she herself had thought to be possible for her in her present condition. Most of us have recognised the fact that a dram of spirits will create,—that a so-called nip of brandy will create hilarity, or, at least, alacrity, and that a glass of sherry will often "pick up" and set in order the prostrate animal and mental faculties of the drinker. But we are not sufficiently alive to the fact that copious draughts of fresh air,—of air fresh and unaccustomed,—will have precisely the same effect. We do know that now and again it is very essential to "change the air;" but we generally consider that to do that with any chance of advantage, it is necessary to go far afield; and we think also that such change of the air is only needful when sickness of the body has come upon us, or when it threatens to come. We are seldom aware that we may imbibe long potations of pleasure and healthy excitement without perhaps going out of our own county; that such potations are within a day's journey of most of us; and that they are to be had for half-a-crown a head, all expenses told. Mrs. Trevelyan probably did not know that the cloud was lifted off her mind, and the load of her sorrow made light to her, by the special vigour of the air of the Moor; but she did know that she was enjoying herself, and that the world was pleasanter to her than it had been for months past.
When they had sat upon their hillocks, and eaten their sandwiches,—regretting that the basket of provisions had not been bigger,—and had drunk their sherry and water out of the little horn mug which Mrs. Crocket had lent them, Nora started off across the moorland alone. The horse had been left to be fed in Princetown, and they had walked back to a bush under which they had rashly left their basket of provender concealed. It happened, however, that on that day there was no escaped felon about to watch what they had done, and the food and the drink had been found secure. Nora had gone off, and as her sister and Priscilla sat leaning against their hillocks with their backs to the road, she could be seen standing now on one little eminence and now on another, thinking, doubtless, as she stood on the one how good it would be to be Lady Peterborough, and, as she stood on the other, how much better to be Mrs. Hugh Stanbury. Only,—before she could be Mrs. Hugh Stanbury it would be necessary that Mr. Hugh Stanbury should share her opinion,—and necessary also that he should be able to maintain a wife. "I should never do to be a very poor man's wife," she said to herself; and remembered as she said it, that in reference to the prospect of her being Lady Peterborough, the man who was to be Lord Peterborough was at any rate ready to make her his wife, and on that side there were none of those difficulties about house, and money, and position which stood in the way of the Hugh Stanbury side of the question. She was not, she thought, fit to be the wife of a very poor man; but she conceived of herself that she would do very well as a future Lady Peterborough in the drawing-rooms of Monkhams. She was so far vain as to fancy that she could look, and speak, and move, and have her being after the fashion which is approved for the Lady Peterboroughs of the world. It was not clear to her that Nature had not expressly intended her to be a Lady Peterborough; whereas, as far as she could see, Nature had not intended her to be a Mrs. Hugh Stanbury, with a precarious income of perhaps ten guineas a week when journalism was doing well. So she moved on to another little eminence to think of it there. It was clear to her that if she should accept Mr. Glascock she would sell herself, and not give herself away; and she had told herself scores of times before this, that a young woman should give herself away, and not sell herself;—should either give herself away, or keep herself to herself as circumstances might go. She had been quite sure that she would never sell herself. But this was a lesson which she had taught herself when she was very young, before she had come to understand the world and its hard necessities. Nothing, she now told herself, could be worse than to hang like a mill-stone round the neck of a poor man. It might be a very good thing to give herself away for love,—but it would not be a good thing to be the means of ruining the man she loved, even if that man were willing to be so ruined. And then she thought that she could also love that other man a little,—could love him sufficiently for comfortable domestic purposes. And it would undoubtedly be very pleasant to have all the troubles of her life settled for her. If she were Mrs. Glascock, known to the world as the future Lady Peterborough, would it not be within her power to bring her sister and her sister's husband again together? The tribute of the Monkhams' authority and influence to her sister's side of the question would be most salutary. She tried to make herself believe that in this way she would be doing a good deed. Upon the whole, she thought that if Mr. Glascock should give her another chance she would accept him. And he had distinctly promised that he would give her another chance. It might be that this unfortunate quarrel in the Trevelyan family would deter him. People do not wish to ally themselves with family quarrels. But if the chance came in her way she would accept it. She had made up her mind to that, when she turned round from off the last knoll on which she had stood, to return to her sister and Priscilla Stanbury.
They two had sat still under the shade of a thorn bush, looking at Nora as she was wandering about, and talking together more freely than they had ever done before on the circumstances that had brought them together. "How pretty she looks," Priscilla had said, as Nora was standing with her figure clearly marked by the light.
"Yes; she is very pretty, and has been much admired. This terrible affair of mine is a cruel blow to her."
"You mean that it is bad for her to come and live here—without society."
"Not exactly that,—though of course it would be better for her to go out. And I don't know how a girl is ever to get settled in the world unless she goes out. But it is always an injury to be connected in any way with a woman who is separated from her husband. It must be bad for you."
"It won't hurt me," said Priscilla. "Nothing of that kind can hurt me."
"I mean that people say such ill-natured things."
"I stand alone, and can take care of myself," said Priscilla. "I defy the evil tongues of all the world to hurt me. My personal cares are limited to an old gown and bread and cheese. I like a pair of gloves to go to church with, but that is only the remnant of a prejudice. The world has so very little to give me, that I am pretty nearly sure that it will take nothing away."
"And you are contented?"
"Well, no; I can't say that I am contented. I hardly think that anybody ought to be contented. Should my mother die and Dorothy remain with my aunt, or get married, I should be utterly alone in the world. Providence, or whatever you call it, has made me a lady after a fashion, so that I can't live with the ploughmen's wives, and at the same time has so used me in other respects, that I can't live with anybody else."
"Why should not you get married, as well as Dorothy?"
"Who would have me? And if I had a husband I should want a good one,—a man with a head on his shoulders, and a heart. Even if I were young and good-looking, or rich, I doubt whether I could please myself. As it is I am as likely to be taken bodily to heaven, as to become any man's wife."
"I suppose most women think so of themselves at some time, and yet they are married."
"I am not fit to marry. I am often cross, and I like my own way, and I have a distaste for men. I never in my life saw a man whom I wished even to make my intimate friend. I should think any man an idiot who began to make soft speeches to me, and I should tell him so."
"Ah; you might find it different when he went on with it."
"But I think," said Priscilla, "that when a woman is married there is nothing to which she should not submit on behalf of her husband."
"You mean that for me."
"Of course I mean it for you. How should I not be thinking of you, living as you are under the same roof with us? And I am thinking of Louey." Louey was the baby. "What are you to do when after a year or two his father shall send for him to have him under his own care?"
"Nothing shall separate me from my child," said Mrs. Trevelyan eagerly.
"That is easily said; but I suppose the power of doing as he pleased would be with him."
"Why should it be with him? I do not at all know that it would be with him. I have not left his house. It is he that has turned me out."
"There can, I think, be very little doubt what you should do," said Priscilla, after a pause, during which she had got up from her seat under the thorn bush.
"What should I do?" asked Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Go back to him."
"I will to-morrow if he will write and ask me. Nay; how could I help myself? I am his creature, and must go or come as he bids me. I am here only because he has sent me."
"You should write and ask him to take you."
"Ask him to forgive me because he has ill-treated me?"
"Never mind about that," said Priscilla, standing over her companion, who was still lying under the bush. "All that is twopenny-halfpenny pride, which should be thrown to the winds. The more right you have been hitherto the better you can afford to go on being right. What is it that we all live upon but self-esteem? When we want praise it is only because praise enables us to think well of ourselves. Every one to himself is the centre and pivot of all the world."
"It's a very poor world that goes round upon my pivot," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"I don't know how this quarrel came up," exclaimed Priscilla, "and I don't care to know. But it seems a trumpery quarrel,—as to who should beg each other's pardon first, and all that kind of thing. Sheer and simple nonsense! Ask him to let it all be forgotten. I suppose he loves you?"
"How can I know? He did once."
"And you love him?"
"Yes. I love him certainly."
"I don't see how you can have a doubt. Here is Jack with the carriage, and if we don't mind he'll pass us by without seeing us."
Then Mrs. Trevelyan got up, and when they had succeeded in diverting Jack's attention for a moment from the horse, they called to Nora, who was still moving about from one knoll to another, and who showed no desire to abandon the contemplations in which she had been engaged.
It had been mid-day before they left home in the morning, and they were due to be at home in time for tea,—which is an epoch in the day generally allowed to be more elastic than some others. When Mrs. Stanbury lived in the cottage her hour for tea had been six; this had been stretched to half-past seven when she received Mrs. Trevelyan at the Clock House; and it was half-past eight before Jack landed them at their door. It was manifest to them all as they entered the house that there was an air of mystery in the face of the girl who had opened the door for them. She did not speak, however, till they were all within the passage. Then she uttered a few words very solemnly. "There be a gentleman come," she said.
"A gentleman!" said Mrs. Trevelyan, thinking in the first moment of her husband, and in the second of Colonel Osborne.
"He be for you, miss," said the girl, bobbing her head at Nora.
Upon hearing this Nora sank speechless into the chair which stood in the passage.
A GENTLEMAN COMES TO NUNCOMBE PUTNEY.
It soon became known to them all as they remained clustered in the hall that Mr. Glascock was in the house. Mrs. Stanbury came out to them and informed them that he had been at Nuncombe Putney for the last five hours, and that he had asked for Mrs. Trevelyan when he called. It became evident as the affairs of the evening went on, that Mrs. Stanbury had for a few minutes been thrown into a terrible state of amazement, thinking that "the Colonel" had appeared. The strange gentleman, however, having obtained admittance, explained who he was, saying that he was very desirous of seeing Mrs. Trevelyan,—and Miss Rowley. It may be presumed that a glimmer of light did make its way into Mrs. Stanbury's mind on the subject; but up to the moment at which the three travellers arrived, she had been in doubt on the subject. Mr. Glascock had declared that he would take a walk, and in the course of the afternoon had expressed high approval of Mrs. Crocket's culinary skill. When Mrs. Crocket heard that she had entertained the son of a lord, she was very loud in her praise of the manner in which he had eaten two mutton chops and called for a third. He had thought it no disgrace to apply himself to the second half of an apple pie, and had professed himself to be an ardent admirer of Devonshire cream. "It's them counter-skippers as turns up their little noses at the victuals as is set before them," said Mrs. Crocket.
After his dinner Mr. Glascock had returned to the Clock House, and had been sitting there for an hour with Mrs. Stanbury, not much to her delight or to his, when the carriage was driven up to the door.
"He is to go back to Lessboro' to-night," said Mrs. Stanbury in a whisper.
"Of course you must see him before he goes," said Mrs. Trevelyan to her sister. There had, as was natural, been very much said between the two sisters about Mr. Glascock. Nora had abstained from asserting in any decided way that she disliked the man, and had always absolutely refused to allow Hugh Stanbury's name to be mixed up with the question. Whatever might be her own thoughts about Hugh Stanbury she had kept them even from her sister. When her sister had told her that she had refused Mr. Glascock because of Hugh, she had shown herself to be indignant, and had since that said one or two fine things as to her capacity to refuse a brilliant offer simply because the man who had made it was indifferent to her. Mrs. Trevelyan had learned from her that her suitor had declared his intention to persevere; and here was perseverance with a vengeance! "Of course you must see him,—at once," said Mrs. Trevelyan. Nora for a few seconds had remained silent, and then had run up to her room. Her sister followed her instantly.
"What is the meaning of it all?" said Priscilla to her mother.
"I suppose he is in love with Miss Rowley," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"But who is he?"
Then Mrs. Stanbury told all that she knew. She had seen from his card that he was an Honourable Mr. Glascock. She had collected from what he had said that he was an old friend of the two ladies. Her conviction was strong in Mr. Glascock's favour,—thinking, as she expressed herself, that everything was right and proper,—but she could hardly explain why she thought so.
"I do wish that they had never come," said Priscilla, who could not rid herself of an idea that there must be danger in having to do with women who had men running after them.
"Of course I'll see him," said Nora to her sister. "I have not refused to see him. Why do you scold me?"
"I have not scolded you, Nora; but I do want you to think how immensely important this is."
"Of course it is important."
"And so much the more so because of my misfortunes! Think how good he must be, how strong must be his attachment, when he comes down here after you in this way."
"But I have to think of my own feelings."
"You know you like him. You have told me so. And only fancy what mamma will feel! Such a position! And the man so excellent! Everybody says that he hasn't a fault in any way."
"I hate people without faults."
"Oh, Nora, Nora, that is foolish! There, there; you must go down. Pray,—pray do not let any absurd fancy stand in your way, and destroy everything. It will never come again, Nora. And, only think; it is all now your own, if you will only whisper one word."
"Ah!—one word,—and that a falsehood!"
"No,—no. Say you will try to love him, and that will be enough. And you do love him?"
"Yes, you do. It is only the opposition of your nature that makes you fight against him. Will you go now?"
"Let me be for two minutes by myself," said Nora, "and then I'll come down. Tell him that I'm coming." Mrs. Trevelyan stooped over her, kissed her, and then left her.
Nora, as soon as she was alone, stood upright in the middle of the room and held her hands up to her forehead. She had been far from thinking, when she was considering the matter easily among the hillocks, that the necessity for an absolute decision would come upon her so instantaneously. She had told herself only this morning that it would be wise to accept the man, if he should ever ask a second time;—and he had come already. He had been waiting for her in the village while she had been thinking whether he would ever come across her path again. She thought that it would have been easier for her now to have gone down with a "yes" in her mouth, if her sister had not pressed her so hard to say that "yes." The very pressure from her sister seemed to imply that such pressure ought to be resisted. Why should there have been pressure, unless there were reasons against her marrying him? And yet, if she chose to take him, who would have a right to complain of her? Hugh Stanbury had never spoken to her a word that would justify her in even supposing that he would consider himself to be ill-used. All others of her friends would certainly rejoice, would applaud her, pat her on the back, cover her with caresses, and tell her that she had been born under a happy star. And she did like the man. Nay;—she thought she loved him. She withdrew her hands from her brow, assured herself that her lot in life was cast, and with hurrying fingers attempted to smooth her hair and to arrange her ribbons before the glass. She would go to the encounter boldly and accept him honestly. It was her duty to do so. What might she not do for brothers and sisters as the wife of Lord Peterborough of Monkhams? She saw that that arrangement before the glass could be of no service, and she stepped quickly to the door. If he did not like her as she was, he need not ask her. Her mind was made up, and she would do it. But as she went down the stairs to the room in which she knew that he was waiting for her, there came over her a cold feeling of self-accusation,—almost of disgrace. "I do not care," she said. "I know that I'm right." She opened the door quickly, that there might be no further doubt, and found that she was alone with him.
"Miss Rowley," he said, "I am afraid you will think that I am persecuting you."
"I have no right to think that," she answered.
"I'll tell you why I have come. My dear father, who has always been my best friend, is very ill. He is at Naples, and I must go to him. He is very old, you know,—over eighty; and will never live to come back to England. From what I hear, I think it probable that I may remain with him till everything is over."
"I did not know that he was so old as that."
"They say that he can hardly live above a month or two. He will never see my wife,—if I can have a wife; but I should like to tell him, if it were possible,—that,—that—"
"I understand you, Mr. Glascock."
"I told you that I should come to you again, and as I may possibly linger at Naples all the winter, I could not go without seeing you. Miss Rowley, may I hope that you can love me?"
She did not answer him a word, but stood looking away from him with her hands clasped together. Had he asked her whether she would be his wife, it is possible that the answer which she had prepared would have been spoken. But he had put the question in another form. Did she love him? If she could only bring herself to say that she could love him, she might be lady of Monkhams before the next summer had come round.
"Nora," he said, "do you think that you can love me?"
"No," she said, and there was something almost of fierceness in the tone of her voice as she answered him.
"And must that be your final answer to me?"
"Mr. Glascock, what can I say?" she replied. "I will tell you the honest truth:—I will tell you everything. I came into this room determined to accept you. But you are so good, and so kind, and so upright, that I cannot tell you a falsehood. I do not love you. I ought not to take what you offer me. If I did, it would be because you are rich, and a lord; and not because I love you. I love some one else. There;—pray, pray do not tell of me; but I do." Then she flung away from him and hid her face in a corner of the sofa out of the light.
Her lover stood silent, not knowing how to go on with the conversation, not knowing how to bring it to an end. After what she had now said to him it was impossible that he should press her further. It was almost impossible that he should wish to do so. When a lady is frank enough to declare that her heart is not her own to give, a man can hardly wish to make further prayer for the gift. "If so," he said, "of course I have nothing to hope."
She was sobbing, and could not answer him. She was half repentant, partly proud of what she had done,—half repentant in that she had lost what had seemed to her to be so good, and full of remorse in that she had so unnecessarily told her secret.
"Perhaps," said he, "I ought to assure you that what you have told me shall never be repeated by my lips."
She thanked him for this by a motion of her head and hand, not by words;—and then he was gone. How he managed to bid adieu to Mrs. Stanbury and her sister, or whether he saw them as he left the house, she never knew. In her corner of the sofa, weeping in the dark, partly proud and partly repentant, she remained till her sister came to her. "Emily," she said, jumping up, "say nothing about it; not a word. It is of no use. The thing is done and over, and let it altogether be forgotten."
"It is done and over, certainly," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Exactly;—and I suppose a girl may do what she likes with herself in that way. If I choose to decline to take anything that is pleasant, and nice, and comfortable, nobody has a right to scold me. And I won't be scolded."
"But, my child, who is scolding you?"
"You mean to scold me. But it is of no use. The man has gone, and there is an end of it. Nothing that you can say or I can think will bring him back again. I don't want anybody to tell me that it would be better to be Lady Peterborough, with everything that the world has to give, than to live here without a soul to speak to, and to have to go back to those horrible islands next year. You can't think that I am very comfortable."
"But what did you say to him, Nora?"
"What did I say to him? What could I say to him? Why didn't he ask me to be his wife without saying anything about love? He asked me if I loved him. Of course I don't love him. I would have said I did, but it stuck in my throat. I am willing enough, I believe, to sell myself to the devil, but I don't know how to do it. Never mind. It's done, and now I'll go to bed."
She did go to bed, and Mrs. Trevelyan explained to the two ladies as much as was necessary of what had occurred. When Mrs. Stanbury came to understand that the gentleman who had been closeted with her would, probably, in a few months be a lord himself, that he was a very rich man, a member of Parliament, and one of those who are decidedly born with gold spoons in their mouths, and understood also that Nora Rowley had refused him, she was lost in amazement. Mr. Glascock was about forty years of age, and appeared to Nora Rowley, who was nearly twenty years his junior, to be almost an old man. But to Mrs. Stanbury, who was over sixty, Mr. Glascock seemed to be quite in the flower of his age. The bald place at the top of his head simply showed that he had passed his boyhood, and the grey hairs at the back of his whiskers were no more than outward signs of manly discretion. She could not understand why any girl should refuse such an offer, unless the man were himself bad in morals, or in temper. But Mrs. Trevelyan had told her while Nora and Mr. Glascock were closeted together, that he was believed by them all to be good and gentle. Nevertheless she felt a considerable increase of respect for a young lady who had refused the eldest son of a lord. Priscilla, when she heard what had occurred, expressed to her mother a moderated approval. According to her views a girl would much more often be right to refuse an offer of marriage than to accept it, let him who made the offer be who he might. And the fact of the man having been sent away with a refusal somewhat softened Priscilla's anger at his coming there at all.
"I suppose he is a goose," said she to her mother, "and I hope there won't be any more of this kind running after them while they are with us."
Nora, when she was alone, wept till her heart was almost broken. It was done, and the man was gone, and the thing was over. She had quite sufficient knowledge of the world to realise perfectly the difference between such a position as that which had been offered to her, and the position which in all probability she would now be called upon to fill. She had had her chance, and Fortune had placed great things at her disposal. It must be said of her also that the great things which Fortune had offered to her were treasures very valuable in her eyes. Whether it be right and wise to covet or to despise wealth and rank, there was no doubt but that she coveted them. She had been instructed to believe in them, and she did believe in them. In some mysterious manner of which she herself knew nothing, taught by some preceptor the nobility of whose lessons she had not recognised though she had accepted them, she had learned other things also,—to revere truth and love, and to be ambitious as regarded herself of conferring the gift of her whole heart upon some one whom she could worship as a hero. She had spoken the simple truth when she had told her sister that she had been willing to sell herself to the devil, but that she had failed in her attempt to execute the contract. But now as she lay weeping on her bed, tearing herself with remorse, picturing to herself in the most vivid colours all that she had thrown away, telling herself of all that she might have done and all that she might have been, had she not allowed the insane folly of a moment to get the better of her, she received little or no comfort from the reflection that she had been true to her better instincts. She had told the man that she had refused him because she loved Hugh Stanbury;—at least, as far as she could remember what had passed, she had so told him. And how mean it was of her to allow herself to be actuated by an insane passion for a man who had never spoken to her of love, and how silly of her afterwards to confess it! Of what service could such a passion be to her life? Even were it returned, she could not marry such a one as Hugh Stanbury. She knew enough of herself to be quite sure that were he to ask her to do so to-morrow, she would refuse him. Better go and be scorched, and bored to death, and buried at the Mandarins, than attempt to regulate a poor household which, as soon as she made one of its number, would be on the sure road to ruin!
For a moment there came upon her, not a thought, hardly an idea,—something of a waking dream that she would write to Mr. Glascock and withdraw all that she had said. Were she to do so he would probably despise her, and tell her that he despised her;—but there might be a chance. It was possible that such a declaration would bring him back to her;—and did it not bring him back to her she would only be where she was, a poor lost, shipwrecked creature, who had flung herself upon the rocks and thrown away her only chance of a prosperous voyage across the ocean of life; her only chance, for she was not like other girls, who at any rate remain on the scene of action, and may refit their spars and still win their way. For there were to be no more seasons in London, no more living in Curzon Street, no renewed power of entering the ball-rooms and crowded staircases in which high-born wealthy lovers can be conquered. A great prospect had been given to her, and she had flung it aside! That letter of retractation was, however, quite out of the question. The reader must not suppose that she had ever thought that she could write it. She thought of nothing but of coming misery and remorse. In her wretchedness she fancied that she had absolutely disclosed to the man who loved her the name of him whom she had been mad enough to say that she loved. But what did it matter? Let it be as it might, she was destroyed.
The next morning she came down to breakfast pale as a ghost; and they who saw her knew at once that she had done that which had made her a wretched woman.
THE STANBURY CORRESPONDENCE.
Half an hour after the proper time, when the others had finished their tea and bread and butter, Nora Rowley came down among them pale as a ghost. Her sister had gone to her while she was dressing, but she had declared that she would prefer to be alone. She would be down directly, she had said, and had completed her toilet without even the assistance of her maid. She drank her cup of tea and pretended to eat her toast; and then sat herself down, very wretchedly, to think of it all again. It had been all within her grasp,—all of which she had ever dreamed! And now it was gone! Each of her three companions strove from time to time to draw her into conversation, but she seemed to be resolute in her refusal. At first, till her utter prostration had become a fact plainly recognised by them all, she made some little attempt at an answer when a direct question was asked of her; but after a while she only shook her head, and was silent, giving way to absolute despair.
Late in the evening she went out into the garden, and Priscilla followed her. It was now the end of July, and the summer was in its glory. The ladies, during the day, would remain in the drawing-room with the windows open and the blinds down, and would sit in the evening reading and working, or perhaps pretending to read and work, under the shade of a cedar which stood upon the lawn. No retirement could possibly be more secluded than was that of the garden of the Clock House. No stranger could see into it, or hear sounds from out of it. Though it was not extensive, it was so well furnished with those charming garden shrubs which, in congenial soils, become large trees, that one party of wanderers might seem to be lost from another amidst its walls. On this evening Mrs. Stanbury and Mrs. Trevelyan had gone out as usual, but Priscilla had remained with Nora Rowley. After a while Nora also got up and went through the window all alone. Priscilla, having waited for a few minutes, followed her; and caught her in a long green walk that led round the bottom of the orchard.
"What makes you so wretched?" she said.
"Why do you say I am wretched?"
"Because it's so visible. How is one to go on living with you all day and not notice it?"
"I wish you wouldn't notice it. I don't think it kind of you to notice it. If I wanted to talk of it, I would say so."
"It is better generally to speak of a trouble than to keep it to oneself," said Priscilla.
"All the same, I would prefer not to speak of mine," said Nora.
Then they parted, one going one way and one the other, and Priscilla was certainly angry at the reception which had been given to the sympathy which she had proffered. The next day passed almost without a word spoken between the two. Mrs. Stanbury had not ventured as yet to mention to her guest the subject of the rejected lover, and had not even said much on the subject to Mrs. Trevelyan. Between the two sisters there had been, of course, some discussion on the matter. It was impossible that it should be allowed to pass without it; but such discussions always resulted in an assertion on the part of Nora that she would not be scolded. Mrs. Trevelyan was very tender with her, and made no attempt to scold her,—tried, at last, simply to console her; but Nora was so continually at work scolding herself, that every word spoken to her on the subject of Mr. Glascock's visit seemed to her to carry with it a rebuke.
But on the second day she herself accosted Priscilla Stanbury. "Come into the garden," she said, when they two were for a moment alone together; "I want to speak to you." Priscilla, without answering, folded up her work and put on her hat. "Come down to the green walk," said Nora. "I was savage to you last night, and I want to beg your pardon."
"You were savage," said Priscilla, smiling, "and you shall have my pardon. Who would not pardon you any offence, if you asked it?"
"I am so miserable!" she said.
"I don't know. I can't tell. And it is of no use talking about it now, for it is all over. But I ought not to have been cross to you, and I am very sorry."
"That does not signify a straw; only so far, that when I have been cross, and have begged a person's pardon,—which I don't do as often as I ought,—I always feel that it begets kindness. If I could help you in your trouble I would."
"You can't fetch him back again."
"You mean Mr. Glascock. Shall I go and try?"
Nora smiled and shook her head. "I wonder what he would say if you asked him. But if he came I should do the same thing."
"I do not in the least know what you have done, my dear. I only see that you mope about, and are more down in the mouth than any one ought to be, unless some great trouble has come."
"A great trouble has come."
"I suppose you have had your choice,—either to accept your lover or to reject him."
"No; I have not had my choice."
"It seems to me that no one has dictated to you; or, at least, that you have obeyed no dictation."
"Of course, I can't explain it to you. It is impossible that I should."
"If you mean that you regret what you have done because you have been false to the man, I can sympathise with you. No one has ever a right to be false, and if you are repenting a falsehood, I will willingly help you to eat your ashes and to wear your sackcloth. But if you are repenting a truth—"
"Then you must eat your ashes by yourself, for me; and I do not think that you will ever be able to digest them."
"I do not want anybody to help me," said Nora proudly.
"Nobody can help you, if I understand the matter rightly. You have got to get the better of your own covetousness and evil desires, and you are in the fair way to get the better of them if you have already refused to be this man's wife because you could not bring yourself to commit the sin of marrying him when you did not love him. I suppose that is about the truth of it; and indeed, indeed, I do sympathise with you. If you have done that, though it is no more than the plainest duty, I will love you for it. One finds so few people that will do any duty that taxes their self-indulgence."
"But he did not ask me to marry him."
"Then I do not understand anything about it."
"He asked me to love him."
"But he meant you to be his wife?"
"Oh yes;—he meant that of course."
"And what did you say?" asked Priscilla.
"That I didn't love him," replied Nora.
"And that was the truth?"
"Yes;—it was the truth."
"And what do you regret?—that you didn't tell him a lie?"
"No;—not that," said Nora slowly.
"What then? You cannot regret that you have not basely deceived a man who has treated you with a loving generosity?" They walked on silent for a few yards, and then Priscilla repeated her question. "You cannot mean that you are sorry that you did not persuade yourself to do evil?"
"I don't want to go back to the islands, and to lose myself there, and to be nobody;—that is what I mean. And I might have been so much! Could one step from the very highest rung of the ladder to the very lowest and not feel it?"
"But you have gone up the ladder,—if you only knew it," said Priscilla. "There was a choice given to you between the foulest mire of the clay of the world, and the sun-light of the very God. You have chosen the sun-light, and you are crying after the clay! I cannot pity you; but I can esteem you, and love you, and believe in you. And I do. You'll get yourself right at last, and there's my hand on it, if you'll take it." Nora took the hand that was offered to her, held it in her own for some seconds, and then walked back to the house and up to her own room in silence.
The post used to come into Nuncombe Putney at about eight in the morning, carried thither by a wooden-legged man who rode a donkey. There is a general understanding that the wooden-legged men in country parishes should be employed as postmen, owing to the great steadiness of demeanour which a wooden leg is generally found to produce. It may be that such men are slower in their operations than would be biped postmen; but as all private employers of labour demand labourers with two legs, it is well that the lame and halt should find a refuge in the less exacting service of the government. The one-legged man who rode his donkey into Nuncombe Putney would reach his post-office not above half an hour after his proper time; but he was very slow in stumping round the village, and seldom reached the Clock House much before ten. On a certain morning two or three days after the conversation just recorded it was past ten when he brought two letters to the door, one for Mrs. Trevelyan, and one for Mrs. Stanbury. The ladies had finished their breakfast, and were seated together at an open window. As was usual, the letters were given into Priscilla's hands, and the newspaper which accompanied them into those of Mrs. Trevelyan, its undoubted owner. When her letter was handed to her, she looked at the address closely and then walked away with it into her own room.
"I think it's from Louis," said Nora, as soon as the door was closed. "If so, he is telling her to come back."
"Mamma, this is for you," said Priscilla. "It is from Aunt Stanbury. I know her handwriting."
"From your aunt? What can she be writing about? There is something wrong with Dorothy." Mrs. Stanbury held the letter but did not open it. "You had better read it, my dear. If she is ill, pray let her come home."
But the letter spoke of nothing amiss as regarded Dorothy, and did not indeed even mention Dorothy's name. Luckily Priscilla read the letter in silence, for it was an angry letter. "What is it, Priscilla? Why don't you tell me? Is anything wrong?" said Mrs. Stanbury.
"Nothing is wrong, mamma,—except that my aunt is a silly woman."
"Goodness me! what is it?"
"It is a family matter," said Nora smiling, "and I will go."
"What can it be?" demanded Mrs. Stanbury again as soon as Nora had left the room.
"You shall hear what it can be. I will read it you," said Priscilla. "It seems to me that of all the women that ever lived my Aunt Stanbury is the most prejudiced, the most unjust, and the most given to evil thinking of her neighbours. This is what she has thought fit to write to you, mamma." Then Priscilla read her aunt's letter, which was as follows:—
The Close, Exeter, July 31, 186—.
Dear Sister Stanbury,
I am informed that the lady who is living with you because she could not continue to live under the same roof with her lawful husband, has received a visit at your house from a gentleman who was named as her lover before she left her own. I am given to understand that it was because of this gentleman's visits to her in London, and because she would not give up seeing him, that her husband would not live with her any longer.
"But the man has never been here at all," said Mrs. Stanbury, in dismay.
"Of course he has not been here. But let me go on."
I have got nothing to do with your visitors, [continued the letter] and I should not interfere but for the credit of the family. There ought to be somebody to explain to you that much of the abominable disgrace of the whole proceeding will rest upon you, if you permit such goings on in your house. I suppose it is your house. At any rate you are regarded as the mistress of the establishment, and it is for you to tell the lady that she must go elsewhere. I do hope that you have done so, or at least that you will do so now. It is intolerable that the widow of my brother,—a clergyman,—should harbour a lady who is separated from her husband and who receives visits from a gentleman who is reputed to be her lover. I wonder much that your eldest daughter should countenance such a proceeding.
Mrs. Stanbury, when the letter had been read to her, held up both her hands in despair. "Dear, dear," she exclaimed. "Oh, dear!"
"She had such pleasure in writing it," said Priscilla, "that one ought hardly to begrudge it her." The blackest spot in the character of Priscilla Stanbury was her hatred for her aunt in Exeter. She knew that her aunt had high qualities, and yet she hated her aunt. She was well aware that her aunt was regarded as a shining light by very many good people in the county, and yet she hated her aunt. She could not but acknowledge that her aunt had been generous to her brother, and was now very generous to her sister, and yet she hated her aunt. It was now a triumph to her that her aunt had fallen into so terrible a quagmire, and she was by no means disposed to let the sinning old woman easily out of it.
"It is as pretty a specimen," she said, "as I ever knew of malice and eaves-dropping combined."
"Don't use such hard words, my dear."
"Look at her words to us," said Priscilla. "What business has she to talk to you about the credit of the family and abominable disgrace? You have held your head up in poverty, while she has been rolling in money."
"She has been very good to Hugh,—and now to Dorothy."
"If I were Dorothy I would have none of her goodness. She likes some one to trample on,—some one of the name to patronise. She shan't trample on you and me, mamma."
Then there was a discussion as to what should be done; or rather a discourse in which Priscilla explained what she thought fit to do. Nothing, she decided, should be said to Mrs. Trevelyan on the subject; but an answer should be sent to Aunt Stanbury. Priscilla herself would write this answer, and herself would sign it. There was some difference of opinion on this point, as Mrs. Stanbury thought that if she might be allowed to put her name to it, even though Priscilla should write it, the wording of it would be made, in some degree, mild,—to suit her own character. But her daughter was imperative, and she gave way.
"It shall be mild enough in words," said Priscilla, "and very short."
Then she wrote her letter as follows:—
Nuncombe Putney, August 1, 186—.
Dear Aunt Stanbury,
You have found a mare's nest. The gentleman you speak of has never been here at all, and the people who bring you news have probably hoaxed you. I don't think that mamma has ever disgraced the family, and you can have no reason for thinking that she ever will. You should, at any rate, be sure of what you are saying before you make such cruel accusations.
P.S.—Another gentleman did call here,—not to see Mrs. Trevelyan; but I suppose mamma's house need not be closed against all visitors.
Poor Dorothy had passed evil hours from the moment in which her aunt had so far certified herself as to Colonel Osborne's visit to Nuncombe as to make her feel it to be incumbent on her to interfere. After much consideration Miss Stanbury had told her niece the dreadful news, and had told also what she intended to do. Dorothy, who was in truth horrified at the iniquity of the fact which was related, and who never dreamed of doubting the truth of her aunt's information, hardly knew how to interpose. "I am sure mamma won't let there be anything wrong," she had said.
"And you don't call this wrong?" said Miss Stanbury, in a tone of indignation.
"But perhaps mamma will tell them to go."
"I hope she will. I hope she has. But he was allowed to be there for hours. And now three days have passed and there is no sign of anything being done. He came and went and may come again when he pleases." Still Dorothy pleaded. "I shall do my duty," said Miss Stanbury.
"I am quite sure mamma will do nothing wrong," said Dorothy. But the letter was written and sent, and the answer to the letter reached the house in the Close in due time.
When Miss Stanbury had read and re-read the very short reply which her niece had written, she became at first pale with dismay, and then red with renewed vigour and obstinacy. She had made herself, as she thought, quite certain of her facts before she had acted on her information. There was some equivocation, some most unworthy deceit in Priscilla's letter. Or could it be possible that she herself had been mistaken? Another gentleman had been there;—not, however, with the object of seeing Mrs. Trevelyan! So said Priscilla. But she had made herself sure that the man in question was a man from London, a middle-aged man from London, who had specially asked for Mrs. Trevelyan, and who had at once been known to Mrs. Clegg, at the Lessboro' inn, to be Mrs. Trevelyan's lover. Miss Stanbury was very unhappy, and at last sent for Giles Hickbody. Giles Hickbody had never pretended to know the name. He had seen the man and had described him, "Quite a swell, ma'am; and a Lon'oner, and one as'd be up to anything; but not a young 'un; no, not just a young 'un, zartainly." He was cross-examined again now, and said that all he knew about the man's name was that there was a handle to it. This was ended by Miss Stanbury sending him down to Lessboro' to learn the very name of the gentleman, and by his coming back with that of the Honourable George Glascock written on a piece of paper. "They says now as he was arter the other young 'ooman," said Giles Hickbody. Then was the confusion of Miss Stanbury complete.
It was late when Giles returned from Lessboro', and nothing could be done that night. It was too late to write a letter for the next morning's post. Miss Stanbury, who was as proud of her own discrimination as she was just and true, felt that a day of humiliation had indeed come for her. She hated Priscilla almost as vigorously as Priscilla hated her. To Priscilla she would not write to own her fault; but it was incumbent on her to confess it to Mrs. Stanbury. It was incumbent on her also to confess it to Dorothy. All that night she did not sleep, and the next morning she went about abashed, wretched, hardly mistress of her own maids. She must confess it also to Martha, and Martha would be very stern to her. Martha had pooh-poohed the whole story of the lover, seeming to think that there could be no reasonable objection to a lover past fifty.
"Dorothy," she said at last, about noon, "I have been over hasty about your mother and this man. I am sorry for it, and must—beg—everybody's—pardon."
"I knew mamma would do nothing wrong," said Dorothy.
"To do wrong is human, and she, I suppose, is not more free than others; but in this matter I was misinformed. I shall write and beg her pardon; and now I beg your pardon."
"Not mine, Aunt Stanbury."
"Yes, yours and your mother's, and the lady's also,—for against her has the fault been most grievous. I shall write to your mother and express my contrition." She put off the evil hour of writing as long as she could, but before dinner the painful letter had been written, and carried by herself to the post. It was as follows:—
The Close, August 3, 186—.
Dear Sister Stanbury,
I have now learned that the information was false on which my former letter was based. I am heartily sorry for any annoyance I may have given you. I can only inform you that my intentions were good and upright. Nevertheless, I humbly beg your pardon.
Mrs. Stanbury, when she received this, was inclined to let the matter drop. That her sister-in-law should express such abject contrition was to her such a lowering of the great ones of the earth, that the apology conveyed to her more pain than pleasure. She could not hinder herself from sympathising with all that her sister-in-law had felt when she had found herself called upon to humiliate herself. But it was not so with Priscilla. Mrs. Stanbury did not observe that her daughter's name was scrupulously avoided in the apology; but Priscilla observed it. She would not let the matter drop, without an attempt at the last word. She therefore wrote back again as follows;—
Nuncombe Putney, August 4, 186—.
Dear Aunt Stanbury,
I am glad you have satisfied yourself about the gentleman who has so much disquieted you. I do not know that the whole affair would be worth a moment's consideration, were it not that mamma and I, living as we do so secluded a life, are peculiarly apt to feel any attack upon our good name,—which is pretty nearly all that is left to us. If ever there were women who should be free from attack, at any rate from those of their own family, we are such women. We never interfere with you, or with anybody; and I think you might abstain from harassing us by accusations.
Pray do not write to mamma in such a strain again, unless you are quite sure of your ground.
"Impudent!" said Miss Stanbury to Martha, when she had read the letter. "Ill-conditioned, impudent vixen!"
"She was provoked, miss," said Martha.
"Well; yes; yes;—and I suppose it is right that you should tell me of it. I dare say it is part of what I ought to bear for being an old fool, and too cautious about my own flesh and blood. I will bear it. There. I was wrong, and I will say that I have been justly punished. There,—there!"
How very much would Miss Stanbury's tone have been changed had she known that at that very moment Colonel Osborne was eating his breakfast at Mrs. Crocket's inn, in Nuncombe Putney!
BOZZLE, THE EX-POLICEMAN.
When Mr. Trevelyan had gone through the miserable task of breaking up his establishment in Curzon Street, and had seen all his furniture packed, including his books, his pictures, and his pet Italian ornaments, it was necessary that he should go and live somewhere. He was very wretched at this time,—so wretched that life was a burden to him. He was a man who loved his wife;—to whom his child was very dear; and he was one too to whom the ordinary comforts of domestic life were attractive and necessary. There are men to whom release from the constraint imposed by family ties will be, at any rate for a time, felt as a release. But he was not such a man. There was no delight to him in being able to dine at his club, and being free to go whither he pleased in the evening. As it was, it pleased him to go no whither in the evenings; and his mornings were equally blank to him. He went so often to Mr. Bideawhile, that the poor old lawyer became quite tired of the Trevelyan family quarrel. Even Lady Milborough, with all her power of sympathising, began to feel that she would almost prefer on any morning that her dear young friend, Louis Trevelyan, should not be announced. Nevertheless, she always saw him when he came, and administered comfort according to her light. Of course he would have his wife back before long. That was the only consolation she was able to offer; and she offered it so often that he began gradually to feel that something might be done towards bringing about so desirable an event. After what had occurred they could not live again in Curzon Street,—nor even in London for awhile; but Naples was open to them. Lady Milborough said so much to him of the advantages which always came in such circumstances from going to Naples, that he began to regard such a trip as almost the natural conclusion of his adventure. But then there came that very difficult question;—what step should be first taken? Lady Milborough proposed that he should go boldly down to Nuncombe Putney, and make the arrangement. "She will only be too glad to jump into your arms," said Lady Milborough. Trevelyan thought that if he went to Nuncombe Putney, his wife might perhaps jump into his arms; but what would come after that? How would he stand then in reference to his authority? Would she own that she had been wrong? Would she promise to behave better in future? He did not believe that she was yet sufficiently broken in spirit to make any such promise. And he told himself again and again that it would be absurd in him to allow her to return to him without such subjection, after all that he had gone through in defence of his marital rights. If he were to write to her a long letter, argumentative, affectionate, exhaustive, it might be better. He was inclined to believe of himself that he was good at writing long, affectionate, argumentative, and exhaustive letters. But he would not do even this as yet. He had broken up his house, and scattered all his domestic gods to the winds, because she had behaved badly to him; and the thing done was too important to allow of redress being found so easily.
So he lived on a wretched life in London. He could hardly endure to show himself at his club, fearing that every one would be talking of him as the man who was separated from his wife,—perhaps as the man of whose wife Colonel Osborne was the dear friend. No doubt for a day or two there had been much of such conversation; but it had died away from the club long before his consciousness had become callous. At first he had gone into a lodging in Mayfair; but this had been but for a day or two. After that he had taken a set of furnished chambers in Lincoln's Inn, immediately under those in which Stanbury lived; and thus it came to pass that he and Stanbury were very much thrown together. As Trevelyan would always talk of his wife this was rather a bore; but our friend bore with it, and would even continue to instruct the world through the columns of the D. R. while Trevelyan was descanting on the peculiar cruelty of his own position.
"I wish to be just, and even generous; and I do love her with all my heart," he said one afternoon, when Hugh was very hard at work.
"'It is all very well for gentlemen to call themselves reformers,'" Hugh was writing, "'but have these gentlemen ever realised to themselves the meaning of that word? We think that they have never done so as long as—' Of course you love her," said Hugh, with his eyes still on the paper, still leaning on his pen, but finding by the cessation of sound that Trevelyan had paused, and therefore knowing that it was necessary that he should speak.
"As much as ever," said Trevelyan, with energy.
"'As long as they follow such a leader, in such a cause, into whichever lobby he may choose to take them—' Exactly so,—exactly," said Stanbury; "just as much as ever."
"You are not listening to a word," said Trevelyan.
"I haven't missed a single expression you have used," said Stanbury. "But a fellow has to do two things at a time when he's on the daily press."
"I beg your pardon for interrupting you," said Trevelyan, angrily, getting up, taking his hat, and stalking off to the house of Lady Milborough. In this way he became rather a bore to his friends. He could not divest his mind of the injury which had accrued to him from his wife's conduct, nor could he help talking of the grief with which his mind was laden. And he was troubled with sore suspicions, which, as far as they concerned his wife, had certainly not been merited. It had seemed to him that she had persisted in her intimacy with Colonel Osborne in a manner that was not compatible with that wife-like indifference which he regarded as her duty. Why had she written to him and received letters from him when her husband had plainly told her that any such communication was objectionable? She had done so, and as far as Trevelyan could remember her words, had plainly declared that she would continue to do so. He had sent her away into the most remote retirement he could find for her; but the post was open to her. He had heard much of Mrs. Stanbury, and of Priscilla, from his friend Hugh, and thoroughly believed that his wife was in respectable hands. But what was to prevent Colonel Osborne from going after her, if he chose to do so? And if he did so choose, Mrs. Stanbury could not prevent their meeting. He was racked with jealousy, and yet he did not cease to declare to himself that he knew his wife too well to believe that she would sin. He could not rid himself of his jealousy, but he tried with all his might to make the man whom he hated the object of it, rather than the woman whom he loved.
He hated Colonel Osborne with all his heart. It was a regret to him that the days of duelling were over, so that he could not shoot the man. And yet, had duelling been possible to him, Colonel Osborne had done nothing that would have justified him in calling his enemy out, or would even have enabled him to do so with any chance of inducing his enemy to fight. Circumstances, he thought, were cruel to him beyond compare, in that he should have been made to suffer so great torment without having any of the satisfaction of revenge. Even Lady Milborough, with all her horror as to the Colonel, could not tell him that the Colonel was amenable to any punishment. He was advised that he must take his wife away and live at Naples because of this man,—that he must banish himself entirely if he chose to repossess himself of his wife and child;—and yet nothing could be done to the unprincipled rascal by whom all his wrongs and sufferings were occasioned! Thinking it very possible that Colonel Osborne would follow his wife, he had a watch set upon the Colonel. He had found a retired policeman,—a most discreet man, as he was assured,—who, for a consideration, undertook the management of interesting jobs of this kind. The man was one Bozzle, who had not lived without a certain reputation in the police courts. In these days of his madness, therefore, he took Mr. Bozzle into his pay; and after a while he got a letter from Bozzle with the Exeter post-mark. Colonel Osborne had left London with a ticket for Lessboro'. Bozzle also had taken a place by the same train for that small town. The letter was written in the railway carriage, and, as Bozzle explained, would be posted by him as he passed through Exeter. A further communication should be made by the next day's post, in a letter which Mr. Bozzle proposed to address to Z. A., Post-office, Waterloo Place.
On receiving this first letter, Trevelyan was in an agony of doubt, as well as misery. What should he do? Should he go to Lady Milborough, or to Stanbury; or should he at once follow Colonel Osborne and Mr. Bozzle to Lessboro'? It ended in his resolving at last to wait for the letter which was to be addressed to Z. A. But he spent an interval of horrible suspense, and of insane rage. Let the laws say what they might, he would have the man's blood, if he found that the man had even attempted to wrong him. Then, at last, the second letter reached him. Colonel Osborne and Mr. Bozzle had each of them spent the day in the neighbourhood of Lessboro', not exactly in each other's company, but very near to each other. "The Colonel" had ordered a gig, on the day after his arrival at Lessboro', for the village of Cockchaffington; and, for all Mr. Bozzle knew, the Colonel had gone to Cockchaffington. Mr. Bozzle was ultimately inclined to think that the Colonel had really spent his day in going to Cockchaffington. Mr. Bozzle himself, knowing the wiles of such men as Colonel Osborne, and thinking at first that that journey to Cockchaffington might only be a deep ruse, had walked over to Nuncombe Putney. There he had had a pint of beer and some bread and cheese at Mrs. Crocket's house, and had asked various questions, to which he did not receive very satisfactory answers. But he inspected the Clock House very minutely, and came to a decided opinion as to the point at which it would be attacked, if burglary were the object of the assailants. And he observed the iron gates, and the steps, and the shape of the trees, and the old pigeon-house-looking fabric in which the clock used to be placed. There was no knowing when information might be wanted, or what information might not be of use. But he made himself tolerably sure that Colonel Osborne did not visit Nuncombe Putney on that day; and then he walked back to Lessboro'. Having done this, he applied himself to the little memorandum book in which he kept the records of these interesting duties, and entered a claim against his employer for a conveyance to Nuncombe Putney and back, including driver and ostler; and then he wrote his letter. After that he had a hot supper, with three glasses of brandy and water, and went to bed with a thorough conviction that he had earned his bread on that day.
The letter to Z. A. did not give all these particulars, but it did explain that Colonel Osborne had gone off, apparently, to Cockchaffington, and that he,—Bozzle,—had himself visited Nuncombe Putney. "The hawk hasn't been nigh the dovecot as yet," said Mr. Bozzle in his letter, meaning to be both mysterious and facetious.
It would be difficult to say whether the wit or the mystery disgusted Trevelyan the most. He had felt that he was defiling himself with dirt when he first went to Mr. Bozzle. He knew that he was having recourse to means that were base and low,—which could not be other than base or low, let the circumstances be what they might. But Mr. Bozzle's conversation had not been quite so bad as Mr. Bozzle's letters; as it may have been that Mr. Bozzle's successful activity was more insupportable than his futile attempts. But, nevertheless, something must be done. It could not be that Colonel Osborne should have gone down to the close neighbourhood of Nuncombe Putney without the intention of seeing the lady whom his obtrusive pertinacity had driven to that seclusion. It was terrible to Trevelyan that Colonel Osborne should be there, and not the less terrible because such a one as Mr. Bozzle was watching the Colonel on his behalf. Should he go to Nuncombe Putney himself? And if so, when he got to Nuncombe Putney what should he do there? At last, in his suspense and his grief, he resolved that he would tell the whole to Hugh Stanbury.
"Do you mean," said Hugh, "that you have put a policeman on his track?"
"The man was a policeman once."
"What we call a private detective. I can't say I think you were right."
"But you see that it was necessary," said Trevelyan.
"I can't say that it was necessary. To speak out, I can't understand that a wife should be worth watching who requires watching."
"Is a man to do nothing then? And even now it is not my wife whom I doubt."
"As for Colonel Osborne, if he chooses to go to Lessboro', why shouldn't he? Nothing that you can do, or that Bozzle can do, can prevent him. He has a perfect right to go to Lessboro'."
"But he has not a right to go to my wife."
"And if your wife refuses to see him; or having seen him,—for a man may force his way in anywhere with a little trouble,—if she sends him away with a flea in his ear, as I believe she would—"
"She is so frightfully indiscreet."
"I don't see what Bozzle can do."
"He has found out at any rate that Osborne is there," said Trevelyan. "I am not more fond of dealing with such fellows than you are yourself. But I think it is my duty to know what is going on. What ought I to do now?"
"I should do nothing,—except dismiss Bozzle."
"You know that that is nonsense, Stanbury."
"Whatever I did I should dismiss Bozzle." Stanbury was now quite in earnest, and, as he repeated his suggestion for the dismissal of the policeman, pushed his writing things away from him. "If you ask my opinion, you know, I must tell you what I think. I should get rid of Bozzle as a beginning. If you will only think of it, how can your wife come back to you if she learns that you have set a detective to watch her?"
"But I haven't set the man to watch her."
"Colonel Osborne is nothing to you, except as he is concerned with her. This man is now down in her neighbourhood; and, if she learns that, how can she help feeling it as a deep insult? Of course the man watches her as a cat watches a mouse."
"But what am I to do? I can't write to the man and tell him to come away. Osborne is down there, and I must do something. Will you go down to Nuncombe Putney yourself, and let me know the truth?"
After much debating of the subject, Hugh Stanbury said that he would himself go down to Nuncombe Putney alone. There were difficulties about the D. R.; but he would go to the office of the newspaper and overcome them. How far the presence of Nora Rowley at his mother's house may have assisted in bringing him to undertake the journey, perhaps need not be accurately stated. He acknowledged to himself that the claims of friendship were strong upon him; and that as he had loudly disapproved of the Bozzle arrangement, he ought to lend a hand to some other scheme of action. Moreover, having professed his conviction that no improper visiting could possibly take place under his mother's roof, he felt bound to shew that he was not afraid to trust to that conviction himself. He declared that he would be ready to proceed to Nuncombe Putney to-morrow;—but only on condition that he might have plenary power to dismiss Bozzle.
"There can be no reason why you should take any notice of the man," said Trevelyan.
"How can I help noticing him when I find him prowling about the place? Of course I shall know who he is."
"I don't see that you need know anything about him."
"My dear Trevelyan, you cannot have two ambassadors engaged in the same service without communication with each other. And any communication with Mr. Bozzle, except that of sending him back to London, I will not have." The controversy was ended by the writing of a letter from Trevelyan to Bozzle, which was confided to Stanbury, in which the ex-policeman was thanked for his activity and requested to return to London for the present. "As we are now aware that Colonel Osborne is in the neighbourhood," said the letter, "my friend Mr. Stanbury will know what to do."
As soon as this was settled, Stanbury went to the office of the D. R. and made arrangement as to his work for three days. Jones could do the article on the Irish Church upon a pinch like this, although he had not given much study to the subject as yet; and Puddlethwaite, who was great in City matters, would try his hand on the present state of society in Rome, a subject on which it was essential that the D. R. should express itself at once. Having settled these little troubles Stanbury returned to his friend, and in the evening they dined together at a tavern.
"And now, Trevelyan, let me know fairly what it is that you wish," said Stanbury.
"I wish to have my wife back again."
"Simply that. If she will agree to come back, you will make no difficulty."
"No; not quite simply that. I shall desire that she shall be guided by my wishes as to any intimacies she may form."
"That is all very well; but is she to give any undertaking? Do you intend to exact any promise from her? It is my opinion that she will be willing enough to come back, and that when she is with you there will be no further cause for quarrelling. But I don't think she will bind herself by any exacted promise; and certainly not through a third person."
"Then say nothing about it. Let her write a letter to me proposing to come,—and she shall come."
"Very well. So far I understand. And now what about Colonel Osborne? You don't want me to quarrel with him I suppose?"
"I should like to keep that for myself," said Trevelyan, grimly.
"If you will take my advice you will not trouble yourself about him," said Stanbury. "But as far as I am concerned, I am not to meddle or make with him? Of course," continued Stanbury, after a pause, "if I find that he is intruding himself in my mother's house, I shall tell him that he must not come there."
"But if you find him installed in your mother's house as a visitor,—how then?"
"I do not regard that as possible."
"I don't mean living there," said Trevelyan, "but coming backwards and forwards;—going on in habits of intimacy with,—with—?" His voice trembled so as he asked these questions, that he could not pronounce the word which was to complete them.
"With Mrs. Trevelyan, you mean."
"Yes; with my wife. I don't say that it is so; but it may be so. You will be bound to tell me the truth."
"I will certainly tell you the truth."
"And the whole truth."
"Yes; the whole truth."
"Should it be so I will never see her again,—never. And as for him;—but never mind." Then there was another short period of silence, during which Stanbury smoked his pipe and sipped his whisky toddy. "You must see," continued Trevelyan, "that it is absolutely necessary that I should do something. It is all very well for you to say that you do not like detectives. Neither do I like them. But what was I to do? When you condemn me you hardly realise the difficulties of my position."
"It is the deuce of a nuisance certainly," said Stanbury, through the cloud of smoke,—thinking now not at all of Mrs. Trevelyan, but of Mrs. Trevelyan's sister.
"It makes a man almost feel that he had better not marry at all," said Trevelyan.
"I don't see that. Of course there may come troubles. The tiles may fall on your head, you know, as you walk through the streets. As far as I can see, women go straight enough nineteen times out of twenty. But they don't like being,—what I call looked after."
"And did I look after my wife more than I ought?"
"I don't mean that; but if I were married,—which I never shall be, for I shall never attain to the respectability of a fixed income,—I fancy I shouldn't look after my wife at all. It seems to me that women hate to be told about their duties."
"But if you saw your wife, quite innocently, falling into an improper intimacy,—taking up with people she ought not to know,—doing that in ignorance, which could not but compromise yourself;—wouldn't you speak a word then?"
"Oh! I might just say, in an off-hand way, that Jones was a rascal, or a liar, or a fool, or anything of that sort. But I would never caution her against Jones. By George, I believe a woman can stand anything better than that."
"You have never tried it, my friend."
"And I don't suppose I ever shall. As for me, I believe Aunt Stanbury was right when she said that I was a radical vagabond. I dare say I shall never try the thing myself, and therefore it's very easy to have a theory. But I must be off. Good night, old fellow. I'll do the best I can; and, at any rate, I'll let you know the truth."
There had been a question during the day as to whether Stanbury should let his sister know by letter that he was expected; but it had been decided that he should appear at Nuncombe without any previous notification of his arrival. Trevelyan had thought that this was very necessary, and when Stanbury had urged that such a measure seemed to imply suspicion, he had declared that in no other way could the truth be obtained. He, Trevelyan, simply wanted to know the facts as they were occurring. It was a fact that Colonel Osborne was down in the neighbourhood of Nuncombe Putney. That, at least, had been ascertained. It might very possibly be the case that he would be refused admittance to the Clock House,—that all the ladies there would combine to keep him out. But,—so Trevelyan urged,—the truth on this point was desired. It was essentially necessary to his happiness that he should know what was being done.
"Your mother and sister," said he, "cannot be afraid of your coming suddenly among them."
Stanbury, so urged, had found it necessary to yield, but yet he had felt that he himself was almost acting like a detective policeman, in purposely falling down upon them without a word of announcement. Had chance circumstances made it necessary that he should go in such a manner he would have thought nothing of it. It would simply have been a pleasant joke to him.
As he went down by the train on the following day, he almost felt ashamed of the part which he had been called upon to perform.
SHEWING HOW COLONEL OSBORNE
WENT TO COCKCHAFFINGTON.
Together with Miss Stanbury's first letter to her sister-in-law a letter had also been delivered to Mrs. Trevelyan. Nora Rowley, as her sister had left the room with this in her hand, had expressed her opinion that it had come from Trevelyan; but it had in truth been written by Colonel Osborne. And when that second letter from Miss Stanbury had been received at the Clock House,—that in which she in plain terms begged pardon for the accusation conveyed in her first letter,—Colonel Osborne had started on his deceitful little journey to Cockchaffington, and Mr. Bozzle, the ex-policeman who had him in hand, had already asked his way to Nuncombe Putney.
When Colonel Osborne learned that Louis Trevelyan had broken up his establishment in Curzon Street, and had sent his wife away into a barbarous retirement in Dartmoor,—for such was the nature of the information on the subject which was spread among Trevelyan's friends in London;—and when he was made aware also that all this was done on his account,—because he was so closely intimate with Trevelyan's wife, and because Trevelyan's wife was, and persisted in continuing to be, so closely intimate with him,—his vanity was gratified. Although it might be true,—and no doubt was true,—that he said much to his friends and to himself of the deep sorrow which he felt that such a trouble should befall his old friend and his old friend's daughter; nevertheless, as he curled his grey whiskers before the glass, and made the most of such remnant of hair as was left on the top of his head, as he looked to the padding of his coat, and completed a study of the wrinkles beneath his eyes, so that in conversation they might be as little apparent as possible, he felt more of pleasure than of pain in regard to the whole affair. It was very sad that it should be so, but it was human. Had it been in his power to set the whole matter right by a word, he would probably have spoken that word; but as this was not possible, as Trevelyan had in his opinion made a gross fool of himself, as Emily Trevelyan was very nice, and not the less nice in that she certainly was fond of himself, as great tyranny had been used towards her, and as he himself had still the plea of old family friendship to protect his conscience,—to protect his conscience unless he went so far as to make that plea an additional sting to his conscience,—he thought that, as a man, he must follow up the matter. Here was a young, and fashionable, and very pretty woman banished to the wilds of Dartmoor for his sake. And, as far as he could understand, she would not have been so banished had she consented to say that she would give up her acquaintance with him. In such circumstances as these was it possible that he should do nothing? Various ideas ran through his head. He began to think that if Trevelyan were out of the way, he might,—might perhaps be almost tempted to make this woman his wife. She was so nice that he almost thought that he might be rash enough for that, although he knew well the satisfaction of being a bachelor; but as the thought suggested itself to him, he was well aware that he was thinking of a thing quite distant from him. The reader is not to suppose that Colonel Osborne meditated any making-away with the husband. Our Colonel was certainly not the man for a murder. Nor did he even think of running away with his friend's daughter. Though he told himself that he could dispose of his wrinkles satisfactorily, still he knew himself and his powers sufficiently to be aware that he was no longer fit to be the hero of such a romance as that. He acknowledged to himself that there was much labour to be gone through in running away with another man's wife; and that the results, in respect to personal comfort, are not always happy. But what if Mrs. Trevelyan were to divorce herself from her husband on the score of her husband's cruelty? Various horrors were related as to the man's treatment of his wife. By some it was said that she was in the prison on Dartmoor,—or, if not actually in the prison, an arrangement which the prison discipline might perhaps make difficult,—that she was in the custody of one of the prison warders who possessed a prim cottage and a grim wife, just outside the prison walls. Colonel Osborne did not himself believe even so much as this, but he did believe that Mrs. Trevelyan had been banished to some inhospitable region, to some dreary comfortless abode, of which, as the wife of a man of fortune, she would have great ground to complain. So thinking, he did not probably declare to himself that a divorce should be obtained, and that, in such event, he would marry the lady,—but ideas came across his mind in that direction. Trevelyan was a cruel Bluebeard; Emily,—as he was studious to call Mrs. Trevelyan,—was a dear injured saint. And as for himself, though he acknowledged to himself that the lumbago pinched him now and again, so that he could not rise from his chair with all the alacrity of youth, yet, when he walked along Pall Mall with his coat properly buttoned, he could not but observe that a great many young women looked at him with admiring eyes.
It was thus with no settled scheme that the Colonel went to work, and made inquiries, and ascertained Mrs. Trevelyan's address in Devonshire. When he learned it, he thought that he had done much; though, in truth, there had been no secrecy in the matter. Scores of people knew Mrs. Trevelyan's address besides the newsvendor who supplied her paper, from whose boy Colonel Osborne's servant obtained the information. But when the information had been obtained, it was expedient that it should be used; and therefore Colonel Osborne wrote the following letter:—
Acrobats Club, July 31, 186—.
Twice the Colonel wrote Dearest Emily, and twice he tore the sheet on which the words were written. He longed to be ardent, but still it was so necessary to be prudent! He was not quite sure of the lady. Women sometimes tell their husbands, even when they have quarrelled with them. And, although ardent expressions in writing to pretty women are pleasant to male writers, it is not pleasant for a gentleman to be asked what on earth he means by that sort of thing at his time of life. The Colonel gave half an hour to the consideration, and then began the letter, Dear Emily. If prudence be the soul of valour, may it not be considered also the very mainspring, or, perhaps, the pivot of love?
I need hardly tell you with what dismay I have heard of all that has taken place in Curzon Street. I fear that you must have suffered much, and that you are suffering now. It is an inexpressible relief to me to hear that you have your child with you, and Nora. But, nevertheless, to have your home taken away from you, to be sent out of London, to be banished from all society! And for what? The manner in which the minds of some men work is quite incomprehensible.
As for myself, I feel that I have lost the company of a friend, whom indeed I can very ill spare. I have a thousand things to say to you, and among them one or two which I feel that I must say,—that I ought to say. As it happens, an old schoolfellow of mine is Vicar of Cockchaffington, a village which I find by the map is very near to Nuncombe Putney. I saw him in town last spring, and he then asked me to pay him a visit. There is something in his church which people go to see, and though I don't understand churches much, I shall go and see it. I shall run down on Wednesday, and shall sleep at the inn at Lessboro'. I see that Lessboro' is a market town, and I suppose there is an inn. I shall go over to my friend on the Thursday, but shall return to Lessboro'. Though a man be ever so eager to see a church door-way, he need not sleep at the parsonage. On the following day, I will get over to Nuncombe Putney, and I hope that you will see me. Considering my long friendship with you, and my great attachment to your father and mother, I do not think that the strictest martinet would tell you that you need hesitate in the matter.
I have seen Mr. Trevelyan twice at the club, but he has not spoken to me. Under such circumstances I could not of course speak to him. Indeed, I may say that my feelings towards him just at present are of such a nature as to preclude me from doing so with any appearance of cordiality.
Believe me now, as always, your affectionate friend,
When he read that letter over to himself a second time he felt quite sure that he had not committed himself. Even if his friend were to send the letter to her husband, it could not do him any harm. He was aware that he might have dilated more on the old friendship between himself and Sir Marmaduke, but he experienced a certain distaste to the mention of things appertaining to years long past. It did not quite suit him in his present frame of mind to speak of his regard in those quasi-paternal terms which he would have used had it satisfied him to represent himself simply as her father's friend. His language therefore had been a little doubtful, so that the lady might, if she were so minded, look upon him in that tender light in which her husband had certainly chosen to regard him.
When the letter was handed to Mrs. Trevelyan, she at once took it with her up to her own room, so that she might be alone when she read it. The handwriting was quite familiar to her, and she did not choose that even her sister should see it. She had told herself twenty times over that, while living at Nuncombe Putney, she was not living under the guardianship of Mrs. Stanbury. She would consent to live under the guardianship of no one, as her husband did not choose to remain with her and protect her. She had done no wrong, and she would submit to no other authority, than that of her legal lord and master. Nor, according to her views of her own position, was it in his power to depute that authority to others. He had caused the separation, and now she must be the sole judge of her own actions. In itself, a correspondence between her and her father's old friend was in no degree criminal or even faulty. There was no reason, moral, social, or religious, why an old man, over fifty, who had known her all her life, should not write to her. But yet she could not say aloud before Mrs. Stanbury, and Priscilla, and her sister, that she had received a letter from Colonel Osborne. She felt that the colour had come to her cheek, and that she could not even walk out of the room as though the letter had been a matter of indifference to her.
And would it have been a matter of indifference had there been nobody there to see her? Mrs. Trevelyan was certainly not in love with Colonel Osborne. She was not more so now than she had been when her father's friend, purposely dressed for the occasion, had kissed her in the vestry of the church in which she was married, and had given her a blessing, which was then intended to be semi-paternal,—as from an old man to a young woman. She was not in love with him,—never would be, never could be in love with him. Reader, you may believe in her so far as that. But where is the woman, who, when she is neglected, thrown over, and suspected by the man that she loves, will not feel the desire of some sympathy, some solicitude, some show of regard from another man? This woman's life, too, had not hitherto been of such a nature that the tranquillity of the Clock House at Nuncombe Putney afforded to her all that she desired. She had been there now a month, and was almost sick from the want of excitement. And she was full of wrath against her husband. Why had he sent her there to break her heart in a disgraceful retirement, when she had never wronged him? From morning to night she had no employment, no amusement, nothing to satisfy her cravings. Why was she to be doomed to such an existence? She had declared that as long as she could have her boy with her, she would be happy. She was allowed to have her boy; but she was anything but happy. When she received Colonel Osborne's letter,—while she held it in her hand still unopened, she never for a moment thought that that could make her happy. But there was in it something of excitement. And she painted the man to herself in brighter colours now than she had ever given to him in her former portraits. He cared for her. He was gracious to her. He appreciated her talents, her beauty, and her conduct. He knew that she deserved a treatment very different from that accorded to her by her husband. Why should she reject the sympathy of her father's oldest friend, because her husband was madly jealous about an old man? Her husband had chosen to send her away, and to leave her, so that she must act on her own judgment. Acting on her own judgment, she read Colonel Osborne's letter from first to last. She knew that he was wrong to speak of coming to Nuncombe Putney; but yet she thought that she would see him. She had a dim perception that she was standing on the edge of a precipice, on broken ground which might fall under her without a moment's warning, and yet she would not retreat from the danger. Though Colonel Osborne was wrong, very wrong in coming to see her, yet she liked him for coming. Though she would be half afraid to tell her news to Mrs. Stanbury, and more than half afraid to tell Priscilla, yet she liked the excitement of the fear. Nora would scold her; but Nora's scolding she thought she could answer. And then it was not the fact that Colonel Osborne was coming down to Devonshire to see her. He was coming as far as Lessboro' to see his friend at Cockchaffington. And when at Lessboro', was it likely that he should leave the neighbourhood without seeing the daughter of his old ally? And why should he do so? Was he to be unnatural in his conduct, uncivil and unfriendly, because Mr. Trevelyan had been foolish, suspicious, and insane?
So arguing with herself, she answered Colonel Osborne's letter before she had spoken on the subject to any one in the house,—and this was her answer:—
My dear Colonel Osborne,
I must leave it to your own judgment to decide whether you will come to Nuncombe Putney or not. There are reasons which would seem to make it expedient that you should stay away,—even though circumstances are bringing you into the immediate neighbourhood. But of these reasons I will leave you to be the judge. I will never let it be said that I myself have had cause to dread the visit of any old friend. Nevertheless, if you stay away, I shall understand why you do so.
Personally, I shall be glad to see you,—as I have always been. It seems odd to me that I cannot write in warmer tones to my father's and mother's oldest friend. Of course, you will understand that though I shall readily see you if you call, I cannot ask you to stay. In the first place, I am not now living in my own house. I am staying with Mrs. Stanbury, and the place is called the Clock House.
Yours very sincerely,
The Clock House, Nuncombe Putney, Monday.
Soon after she had written it, Nora came into her room, and at once asked concerning the letter which she had seen delivered to her sister that morning.
"It was from Colonel Osborne," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"From Colonel Osborne! How very wrong!"
"I don't see that it is wrong at all. Because Louis is foolish and mad, that cannot make another man wrong for doing the most ordinary thing in the world."
"I had hoped it had been from Louis," said Nora.
"Oh dear, no. He is by no means so considerate. I do not suppose I shall hear from him, till he chooses to give some fresh order about myself or my child. He will hardly trouble himself to write to me, unless he takes up some new freak to show me that he is my master."
"And what does Colonel Osborne say?"
"He is coming here."
"Coming here?" almost shouted Nora.
"Yes; absolutely here. Does it sound to you as if Lucifer himself were about to show his face? The fact is, he happens to have a friend in the neighbourhood whom he has long promised to visit; and as he must be at Lessboro', he does not choose to go away without the compliment of a call. It will be as much to you as to me."
"I don't want to see him in the least," said Nora.
"There is his letter. As you seem to be so suspicious, you had better read it."
Then Nora read it.
"And there is a copy of my answer," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "I shall keep both, because I know so well what ill-natured things people will say."
"Dear Emily, do not send it," said Nora.
"Indeed I shall. I will not be frightened by bugbears. And I will not be driven to confess to any man on earth that I am afraid to see him. Why should I be afraid of Colonel Osborne? I will not submit to acknowledge that there can be any danger in Colonel Osborne. Were I to do so I should be repeating the insult against myself. If my husband wished to guide me in such matters, why did he not stay with me?"
Then she went out into the village and posted the letter. Nora meanwhile was thinking whether she would call in the assistance of Priscilla Stanbury; but she did not like to take any such a step in opposition to her sister.