A THIRD PARTY IS SO OBJECTIONABLE.
Hugh Stanbury went in search of Trevelyan immediately on his return to London, and found his friend at his rooms in Lincoln's Inn.
"I have executed my commission," said Hugh, endeavouring to speak of what he had done in a cheery voice.
"I am much obliged to you, Stanbury; very much;—but I do not know that I need trouble you to tell me anything about it."
"And why not?"
"I have learned it all from that—man."
"From Bozzle. He has come back, and has been with me, and has learned everything."
"Look here, Trevelyan;—when you asked me to go down to Devonshire, you promised me that there should be nothing more about Bozzle. I expect you to put that rascal, and all that he has told you, out of your head altogether. You are bound to do so for my sake, and you will be very wise to do so for your own."
"I was obliged to see him when he came."
"Yes, and to pay him, I do not doubt. But that is all done, and should be forgotten."
"I can't forget it. Is it true or untrue that he found that man down there? Is it true or untrue that my wife received Colonel Osborne at your mother's house? Is it true or untrue that Colonel Osborne went down there with the express object of seeing her? Is it true or untrue that they had corresponded? It is nonsense to bid me to forget all this. You might as well ask me to forget that I had desired her neither to write to him, nor to see him."
"If I understand the matter," said Trevelyan, "you are incorrect in one of your assertions."
"You must excuse me if I am wrong, Trevelyan; but I don't think you ever did tell your wife not to see this man, or not to write to him?"
"I never told her! I don't understand what you mean."
"Not in so many words. It is my belief that she has endeavoured to obey implicitly every clear instruction that you have given her."
"You are wrong;—absolutely and altogether wrong. Heaven and earth! Do you mean to tell me now, after all that has taken place, that she did not know my wishes?"
"I have not said that. But you have chosen to place her in such a position, that though your word would go for much with her, she cannot bring herself to respect your wishes."
"And you call that being dutiful and affectionate!"
"I call it human and reasonable; and I think that it is compatible with duty and affection. Have you consulted her wishes?"
"Consult them now then, and bid her come back to you."
"No;—never! As far as I can see, I will never do so. The moment she is away from me this man goes to her, and she receives him. She must have known that she was wrong,—and you must know it."
"I do not think that she is half so wrong as you yourself," said Stanbury. To this Trevelyan made no answer, and they both remained silent some minutes. Stanbury had a communication to make before he went, but it was one which he wished to delay as long as there was a chance that his friend's heart might be softened;—one which he need not make if Trevelyan would consent to receive his wife back to his house. There was the day's paper lying on the table, and Stanbury had taken it up and was reading it,—or pretending to read it.
"I will tell you what I propose to do," said Trevelyan.
"It is best both for her and for me that we should be apart."
"I cannot understand how you can be so mad as to say so."
"You don't understand what I feel. Heaven and earth! To have a man coming and going—. But, never mind. You do not see it, and nothing will make you see it. And there is no reason why you should."
"I certainly do not see it. I do not believe that your wife cares more for Colonel Osborne, except as an old friend of her father's, than she does for the fellow that sweeps the crossing. It is a matter in which I am bound to tell you what I think."
"Very well. Now, if you have freed your mind, I will tell you my purpose. I am bound to do so, because your people are concerned in it. I shall go abroad."
"And leave her in England?"
"Certainly. She will be safer here than she can be abroad,—unless she should choose to go back with her father to the islands."
"And take the boy?"
"No;—I could not permit that. What I intend is this. I will give her £800 a year, as long as I have reason to believe that she has no communication whatever, either by word of mouth or by letter, with that man. If she does, I will put the case immediately into the hands of my lawyer, with instructions to him to ascertain from counsel what severest steps I can take."
"How I hate that word severe, when applied to a woman."
"I dare say you do,—when applied to another man's wife. But there will be no severity in my first proposition. As for the child,—if I approve of the place in which she lives, as I do at present,—he shall remain with her for nine months in the year till he is six years old. Then he must come to me. And he shall come to me altogether if she sees or hears from that man. I believe that £800 a year will enable her to live with all comfort under your mother's roof."
"As to that," said Stanbury, slowly, "I suppose I had better tell you at once, that the Nuncombe Putney arrangement cannot be considered as permanent."
"Because my mother is timid and nervous, and altogether unused to the world."
"That unfortunate woman is to be sent away,—even from Nuncombe Putney!"
"Understand me, Trevelyan."
"I understand you. I understand you most thoroughly. Nor do I wonder at it in the least. Do not suppose that I am angry with your mother, or with you, or with your sister. I have no right to expect that they should keep her after that man has made his way into their house. I can well conceive that no honest, high-minded lady would do so."
"It is not that at all."
"But it is that. How can you tell me that it isn't? And yet you would have me believe that I am not disgraced!" As he said this Trevelyan got up, and walked about the room, tearing his hair with his hands. He was in truth a wretched man, from whose mind all expectation of happiness was banished, who regarded his own position as one of incurable ignominy, looking upon himself as one who had been made unfit for society by no fault of his own. What was he to do with the wretched woman who could be kept from the evil of her pernicious vanity by no gentle custody, whom no most distant retirement would make safe from the effects of her own ignorance, folly, and obstinacy? "When is she to go?" he asked in a low, sepulchral tone,—as though these new tidings that had come upon him had been fatal—laden with doom, and finally subversive of all chance even of tranquillity.
"When you and she may please."
"That is all very well;—but let me know the truth. I would not have your mother's house—contaminated; but may she remain there for a week?"
Stanbury jumped from his seat with an oath. "I tell you what it is, Trevelyan;—if you speak of your wife in that way, I will not listen to you. It is unmanly and untrue to say that her presence can—contaminate any house."
"That is very fine. It may be chivalrous in you to tell me on her behalf that I am a liar,—and that I am not a man."
"You drive me to it."
"But what am I to think when you are forced to declare that this unfortunate woman can not be allowed to remain at your mother's house,—a house which has been especially taken with reference to a shelter for her? She has been received,—with the idea that she would be discreet. She has been indiscreet, past belief, and she is to be turned out,—most deservedly. Heaven and earth! Where shall I find a roof for her head?" Trevelyan as he said this was walking about the room with his hands stretched up towards the ceiling; and as his friend was attempting to make him comprehend that there was no intention on the part of any one to banish Mrs. Trevelyan from the Clock House, at least for some months to come,—not even till after Christmas unless some satisfactory arrangement could be sooner made,—the door of the room was opened by the boy, who called himself a clerk, and who acted as Trevelyan's servant in the chambers, and a third person was shown into the room. That third person was Mr. Bozzle. As no name was given, Stanbury did not at first know Mr. Bozzle, but he had not had his eye on Mr. Bozzle for half a minute before he recognised the ex-policeman by the outward attributes and signs of his profession. "Oh, is that you, Mr. Bozzle?" said Trevelyan, as soon as the great man had made his bow of salutation. "Well;—what is it?"
"Mr. Hugh Stanbury, I think," said Bozzle, making another bow to the young barrister.
"That's my name," said Stanbury.
"Exactly so, Mr. S. The identity is one as I could prove on oath in any court in England. You was on the railway platform at Exeter on Saturday when we was waiting for the 12 express 'buss;—wasn't you now, Mr. S.?"
"What's that to you?"
"Well;—as it do happen, it is something to me. And, Mr. S., if you was asked that question in hany court in England or before even one of the metropolitan bekes, you wouldn't deny it."
"Why the devil should I deny it? What's all this about, Trevelyan?"
"Of course you can't deny it, Mr. S. When I'm down on a fact, I am down on it. Nothing else wouldn't do in my profession."
"Have you anything to say to me, Mr. Bozzle?" asked Trevelyan.
"Well;—I have; just a word."
"About your journey to Devonshire?"
"Well;—in a way it is about my journey to Devonshire. It's all along of the same job, Mr. Trewillian."
"You can speak before my friend here," said Trevelyan. Bozzle had taken a great dislike to Hugh Stanbury, regarding the barrister with a correct instinct as one who was engaged for the time in the same service with himself, and who was his rival in that service. When thus instigated to make as it were a party of three in this delicate and most confidential matter, and to take his rival into his confidence, he shook his head slowly and looked Trevelyan hard in the face,—"Mr. Stanbury is my particular friend," said Trevelyan, "and knows well the circumstances of this unfortunate affair. You can say anything before him."
Bozzle shook his head again. "I'd rayther not, Mr. Trewillian," said he. "Indeed I'd rayther not. It's something very particular."
"If you take my advice," said Stanbury, "you will not hear him yourself."
"That's your advice, Mr. S.?" asked Mr. Bozzle.
"Yes;—that's my advice. I'd never have anything to do with such a fellow as you as long as I could help it."
"I dare say not, Mr. S.; I dare say not. We're hexpensive, and we're haccurate;—neither of which is much in your line, Mr. S., if I understand about it rightly."
"Mr. Bozzle, if you've got anything to tell, tell it," said Trevelyan angrily.
"A third party is so objectionable," pleaded Bozzle.
"Never mind. That is my affair."
"It is your affair, Mr. Trewillian. There's not a doubt of that. The lady is your wife."
"Damnation!" shouted Trevelyan.
"But the credit, sir," said Bozzle. "The credit is mine. And here is Mr. S. has been down a interfering with me, and doing no 'varsal good, as I'll undertake to prove by evidence before the affair is over."
"The affair is over," said Stanbury.
"That's as you think, Mr. S. That's where your information goes to, Mr. S. Mine goes a little beyond that, Mr. S. I've means as you can know nothing about, Mr. S. I've irons in the fire, what you're as ignorant on as the babe as isn't born."
"No doubt you have, Mr. Bozzle," said Stanbury.
"I has. And now if it be that I must speak before a third party, Mr. Trewillian, I'm ready. It ain't that I'm no ways ashamed. I've done my duty, and knows how to do it. And let a counsel be ever so sharp, I never yet was so 'posed but what I could stand up and hold my own. The Colonel, Mr. Trewillian, got,—a letter,—from your lady,—this morning."
"I don't believe it," said Stanbury, sharply.
"Very likely not, Mr. S. It ain't in my power to say anything whatever about you believing or not believing. But Mr. T.'s lady has wrote the letter; and the Colonel,—he has received it. You don't look after these things, Mr. S. You don't know the ways of 'em. But it's my business. The lady has wrote the letter, and the Colonel,—why, he has received it." Trevelyan had become white with rage when Bozzle first mentioned this continued correspondence between his wife and Colonel Osborne. It never occurred to him to doubt the correctness of the policeman's information, and he regarded Stanbury's assertion of incredulity as being simply of a piece with his general obstinacy in the matter. At this moment he began to regret that he had called in the assistance of his friend, and that he had not left the affair altogether in the hands of that much more satisfactory, but still more painful, agent, Mr. Bozzle. He had again seated himself, and for a moment or two remained silent on his chair. "It ain't my fault, Mr. Trewillian," continued Bozzle, "if this little matter oughtn't never to have been mentioned before a third party."
"It is of no moment," said Trevelyan, in a low voice. "What does it signify who knows it now?"
"Do not believe it, Trevelyan," said Stanbury.
"Very well, Mr. S. Very well. Just as you like. Don't believe it. Only it's true, and it's my business to find them things out. It's my business, and I finds 'em out. Mr. Trewillian can do as he likes about it. If it's right, why, then it is right. It ain't for me to say nothing about that. But there's the fact. The lady, she has wrote another letter; and the Colonel,—why, he has received it. There ain't nothing wrong about the post-office. If I was to say what was inside of that billydou,—why, then I should be proving what I didn't know; and when it came to standing up in court, I shouldn't be able to hold my own. But as for the letter, the lady wrote it, and the Colonel,—he received it."
"That will do, Mr. Bozzle," said Trevelyan.
"Shall I call again, Mr. Trewillian?"
"No;—yes. I'll send to you, when I want you. You shall hear from me."
"I suppose I'd better be keeping my eyes open about the Colonel's place, Mr. Trewillian?"
"For God's sake, Trevelyan, do not have anything more to do with this man!"
"That's all very well for you, Mr. S.," said Bozzle. "The lady ain't your wife."
"Can you imagine anything more disgraceful than all this?" said Stanbury.
"Nothing; nothing; nothing!" answered Trevelyan.
"And I'm to keep stirring, and be on the move?" again suggested Bozzle, who prudently required to be fortified by instructions before he devoted his time and talents even to so agreeable a pursuit as that in which he had been engaged.
"You shall hear from me," said Trevelyan.
"Very well;—very well. I wish you good-day, Mr. Trewillian. Mr. S., yours most obedient. There was one other point, Mr. Trewillian."
"What point?" asked Trevelyan, angrily.
"If the lady was to join the Colonel—"
"That will do, Mr. Bozzle," said Trevelyan, again jumping up from his chair. "That will do." So saying, he opened the door, and Bozzle, with a bow, took his departure. "What on earth am I to do? How am I to save her?" said the wretched husband, appealing to his friend.
Stanbury endeavoured with all his eloquence to prove that this latter piece of information from the spy must be incorrect. If such a letter had been written by Mrs. Trevelyan to Colonel Osborne, it must have been done while he, Stanbury, was staying at the Clock House. This seemed to him to be impossible; but he could hardly explain why it should be impossible. She had written to the man before, and had received him when he came to Nuncombe Putney. Why was it even improbable that she should have written to him again? Nevertheless, Stanbury felt sure that she had sent no such letter. "I think I understand her feelings and her mind," said he; "and if so, any such correspondence would be incompatible with her previous conduct." Trevelyan only smiled at this,—or pretended to smile. He would not discuss the question; but believed implicitly what Bozzle had told him in spite of all Stanbury's arguments. "I can say nothing further," said Stanbury.
"No, my dear fellow. There is nothing further to be said, except this, that I will have my unfortunate wife removed from the decent protection of your mother's roof with the least possible delay. I feel that I owe Mrs. Stanbury the deepest apology for having sent such an inmate to trouble her repose."
"That is what I feel."
"And I say that it is nonsense. If you had never sent that wretched blackguard down to fabricate lies at Nuncombe Putney, my mother's repose would have been all right. As it is, Mrs. Trevelyan can remain where she is till after Christmas. There is not the least necessity for removing her at once. I only meant to say that the arrangement should not be regarded as altogether permanent. I must go to my work now. Good-bye."
Stanbury paused at the door, and then once more turned round. "I suppose it is of no use my saying anything further; but I wish you to understand fully that I regard your wife as a woman much ill-used, and I think you are punishing her, and yourself, too, with a cruel severity for an indiscretion of the very slightest kind."
MR. TREVELYAN'S LETTER TO HIS WIFE.
Trevelyan, when he was left alone, sat for above a couple of hours contemplating the misery of his position, and endeavouring to teach himself by thinking what ought to be his future conduct. It never occurred to him during these thoughts that it would be well that he should at once take back his wife, either as a matter of duty, or of welfare, for himself or for her. He had taught himself to believe that she had disgraced him; and, though this feeling of disgrace made him so wretched that he wished that he were dead, he would allow himself to make no attempt at questioning the correctness of his conviction. Though he were to be shipwrecked for ever, even that seemed to be preferable to supposing that he had been wrong. Nevertheless, he loved his wife dearly, and, in the white heat of his anger endeavoured to be merciful to her. When Stanbury accused him of severity, he would not condescend to defend himself; but he told himself then of his great mercy. Was he not as fond of his own boy as any other father, and had he not allowed her to take the child because he had felt that a mother's love was more imperious, more craving in its nature, than the love of a father? Had that been severe? And had he not resolved to allow her every comfort which her unfortunate position,—the self-imposed misfortune of her position,—would allow her to enjoy? She had come to him without a shilling; and yet, bad as her treatment of him had been, he was willing to give enough not only to support her, but her sister also, with every comfort. Severe! No; that, at least, was an undeserved accusation. He had been anything but severe. Foolish he might have been, in taking a wife from a home in which she had been unable to learn the discretion of a matron; too trusting he had been, and too generous,—but certainly not severe. But, of course, as he said to himself, a young man like Stanbury would take the part of a woman with whose sister he was in love. Then he turned his thoughts upon Bozzle, and there came over him a crushing feeling of ignominy, shame, moral dirt, and utter degradation, as he reconsidered his dealings with that ingenious gentleman. He was paying a rogue to watch the steps of a man whom he hated, to pry into the home secrets, to read the letters, to bribe the servants, to record the movements of this rival, this successful rival, in his wife's affections! It was a filthy thing,—and yet what could he do? Gentlemen of old, his own grandfather, or his father, would have taken such a fellow as Colonel Osborne by the throat and have caned him, and afterwards would have shot him, or have stood to be shot. All that was changed now,—but it was not his fault that it was changed. He was willing enough to risk his life, could any opportunity of risking it in this cause be obtained for him. But were he to cudgel Colonel Osborne, he would be simply arrested, and he would then be told that he had disgraced himself foully by striking a man old enough to be his father!
How was he to have avoided the employment of some such man as Bozzle? He had also employed a gentleman, his friend, Stanbury; and what was the result? The facts were not altered. Even Stanbury did not attempt to deny that there had been a correspondence, and that there had been a visit. But Stanbury was so blind to all impropriety, or pretended such blindness, that he defended that which all the world agreed in condemning. Of what use had Stanbury been to him? He had wanted facts, not advice. Stanbury had found out no facts for him; but Bozzle, either by fair means or foul, did get at the truth. He did not doubt but that Bozzle was right about that letter written only yesterday, and received on that very morning. His wife, who had probably been complaining of her wrongs to Stanbury, must have retired from that conversation to her chamber, and immediately have written this letter to her lover! With such a woman as that what can be done in these days otherwise than by the aid of such a one as Bozzle? He could not confine his wife in a dungeon. He could not save himself from the disgrace of her misconduct, by any rigours of surveillance on his own part. As wives are managed now-a-days, he could not forbid to her the use of the post-office,—could not hinder her from seeing this hypocritical scoundrel, who carried on his wickedness under the false guise of family friendship. He had given her every chance to amend her conduct: but, if she were resolved on disobedience, he had no means of enforcing obedience. The facts, however, it was necessary that he should know.
And now, what should he do? How should he go to work to make her understand that she could not write even a letter without his knowing it; and that if she did either write to the man or see him he would immediately take the child from her, and provide for her only in such fashion as the law should demand from him? For himself, and for his own life, he thought that he had determined what he would do. It was impossible that he should continue to live in London. He was ashamed to enter a club. He had hardly a friend to whom it was not an agony to speak. They who knew him, knew also of his disgrace, and no longer asked him to their houses. For days past he had eaten alone, and sat alone, and walked alone. All study was impossible to him. No pursuit was open to him. He spent his time in thinking of his wife, and of the disgrace which she had brought upon him. Such a life as this, he knew, was unmanly and shameful, and it was absolutely necessary for him that he should in some way change it. He would go out of England, and would travel,—if only he could so dispose of his wife that she might be safe from any possible communication with Colonel Osborne. If that could be effected, nothing that money could do should be spared for her. If that could not be effected he would remain at home,—and crush her.
That night before he went to bed he wrote a letter to his wife, which was as follows;—
I have learned, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you have corresponded with Colonel Osborne since you have been at Nuncombe Putney, and also that you have seen him there. This has been done in direct opposition to my expressed wishes, and I feel myself compelled to tell you that such conduct is disgraceful to you, and disgracing to me. I am quite at a loss to understand how you can reconcile to yourself so flagrant a disobedience of my instructions, and so perverse a disregard to the opinion of the world at large.
But I do not write now for the sake of finding fault with you. It is too late for me to have any hope that I can do so with good effect, either as regards your credit or my happiness. Nevertheless, it is my duty to protect both you and myself from further shame; and I wish to tell you what are my intentions with that view. In the first place, I warn you that I keep a watch on you. The doing so is very painful to me, but it is absolutely necessary. You cannot see Colonel Osborne, or write to him, without my knowing it. I pledge you my word that in either case,—that is, if you correspond with him or see him,—I will at once take our boy away from you. I will not allow him to remain, even with a mother, who shall so misconduct herself. Should Colonel Osborne address a letter to you, I desire that you will put it under an envelope addressed to me.
If you obey my commands on this head I will leave our boy with you nine months out of every year till he shall be six years old. Such, at least, is my present idea, though I will not positively bind myself to adhere to it. And I will allow you £800 per year for your own maintenance and that of your sister. I am greatly grieved to find from my friend Mr. Stanbury that your conduct in reference to Colonel Osborne has been such as to make it necessary that you should leave Mrs. Stanbury's house. I do not wonder that it should be so. I shall immediately seek for a future home for you, and when I have found one that is suitable, I will have you conveyed to it.
I must now further explain my purposes,—and I must beg you to remember that I am driven to do so by your direct disobedience to my expressed wishes. Should there be any further communication between you and Colonel Osborne, not only will I take your child away from you, but I will also limit the allowance to be made to you to a bare sustenance. In such case, I shall put the matter into the hands of a lawyer, and shall probably feel myself driven to take steps towards freeing myself from a connection which will be disgraceful to my name.
For myself, I shall live abroad during the greater part of the year. London has become to me uninhabitable, and all English pleasures are distasteful.
When he had finished this he read it twice, and believed that he had written, if not an affectionate, at any rate a considerate letter. He had no bounds to the pity which he felt for himself in reference to the injury which was being done to him, and he thought that the offers which he was making, both in respect to his child and the money, were such as to entitle him to his wife's warmest gratitude. He hardly recognised the force of the language which he used when he told her that her conduct was disgraceful, and that she had disgraced his name. He was quite unable to look at the whole question between him and his wife from her point of view. He conceived it possible that such a woman as his wife should be told that her conduct would be watched, and that she should be threatened with the Divorce Court, with an effect that should, upon the whole, be salutary. There be men, and not bad men either, and men neither uneducated, or unintelligent, or irrational in ordinary matters, who seem to be absolutely unfitted by nature to have the custody or guardianship of others. A woman in the hands of such a man can hardly save herself or him from endless trouble. It may be that between such a one and his wife, events shall flow on so evenly that no ruling, no constraint is necessary,—that even the giving of advice is never called for by the circumstances of the day. If the man be happily forced to labour daily for his living till he be weary, and the wife be laden with many ordinary cares, the routine of life may run on without storms;—but for such a one, if he be without work, the management of a wife will be a task full of peril. The lesson may be learned at last; he may after years come to perceive how much and how little of guidance the partner of his life requires at his hands; and he may be taught how that guidance should be given;—but in the learning of the lesson there will be sorrow and gnashing of teeth. It was so now with this man. He loved his wife. To a certain extent he still trusted her. He did not believe that she would be faithless to him after the fashion of women who are faithless altogether. But he was jealous of authority, fearful of slights, self-conscious, afraid of the world, and utterly ignorant of the nature of a woman's mind.
He carried the letter with him in his pocket throughout the next morning, and in the course of the day he called upon Lady Milborough. Though he was obstinately bent on acting in accordance with his own views, yet he was morbidly desirous of discussing the grievousness of his position with his friends. He went to Lady Milborough, asking for her advice, but desirous simply of being encouraged by her to do that which he was resolved to do on his own judgment.
"Down,—after her,—to Nuncombe Putney!" said Lady Milborough, holding up both her hands.
"Yes; he has been there. And she has been weak enough to see him."
"My dear Louis, take her to Naples at once,—at once."
"It is too late for that now, Lady Milborough."
"Too late! Oh, no. She has been foolish, indiscreet, disobedient,—what you will of that kind. But, Louis, don't send her away; don't send your young wife away from you. Those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder."
"I cannot consent to live with a wife with whom neither my wishes nor my word have the slightest effect. I may believe of her what I please, but, think what the world will believe! I cannot disgrace myself by living with a woman who persists in holding intercourse with a man whom the world speaks of as her lover."
"Take her to Naples," said Lady Milborough, with all the energy of which she was capable.
"I can take her nowhere, nor will I see her, till she has given proof that her whole conduct towards me has been altered. I have written a letter to her, and I have brought it. Will you excuse me if I ask you to take the trouble to read it?"
Then he handed Lady Milborough the letter, which she read very slowly, and with much care.
"I don't think I would—would—would—"
"Would what?" demanded Trevelyan.
"Don't you think that what you say is a little,—just a little prone to make,—to make the breach perhaps wider?"
"No, Lady Milborough. In the first place, how can it be wider?"
"You might take her back, you know; and then if you could only get to Naples!"
"How can I take her back while she is corresponding with this man?"
"She wouldn't correspond with him at Naples."
Trevelyan shook his head and became cross. His old friend would not at all do as old friends are expected to do when called upon for advice.
"I think," said he, "that what I have proposed is both just and generous."
"But, Louis, why should there be any separation?"
"She has forced it upon me. She is headstrong, and will not be ruled."
"But this about disgracing you. Do you think that you must say that?"
"I think I must, because it is true. If I do not tell her the truth, who is there that will do so? It may be bitter now, but I think that it is for her welfare."
"Dear, dear, dear!"
"I want nothing for myself, Lady Milborough."
"I am sure of that, Louis."
"My whole happiness was in my home. No man cared less for going out than I did. My child and my wife were everything to me. I don't suppose that I was ever seen at a club in the evening once throughout a season. And she might have had anything that she liked,—anything! It is hard, Lady Milborough; is it not?"
Lady Milborough, who had seen the angry brow, did not dare to suggest Naples again. But yet, if any word might be spoken to prevent this utter wreck of a home, how good a thing it would be! He had got up to leave her, but she stopped him by holding his hand. "For better, for worse, Louis; remember that."
"Why has she forgotten it?"
"She is flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone. And for the boy's sake! Think of your boy, Louis. Do not send that letter. Sleep on it, Louis, and think of it."
"I have slept on it."
"There is no promise in it of forgiveness after a while. It is written as though you intended that she should never come back to you."
"That shall be as she behaves herself."
"But tell her so. Let there be some one bright spot in what you say to her, on which her mind may fix itself. If she be not altogether hardened, that letter will drive her to despair."
But Trevelyan would not give up the letter, nor indicate by a word that he would reconsider the question of its propriety. He escaped as soon as he could from Lady Milborough's room, and almost declared as he did so, that he would never enter her doors again. She had utterly failed to see the matter in the proper light. When she talked of Naples she must surely have been unable to comprehend the extent of the ill-usage to which he, the husband, had been subjected. How was it possible that he should live under the same roof with a wife who claimed to herself the right of receiving visitors of whom he disapproved,—a visitor,—a gentleman,—one whom the world called her lover? He gnashed his teeth and clenched his fist as he thought of his old friend's ignorance of the very first law in a married man's code of laws.
But yet when he was out in the streets he did not post his letter at once; but thought of it throughout the whole day, trying to prove the weight of every phrase that he had used. Once or twice his heart almost relented. Once he had the letter in his hand, that he might tear it. But he did not tear it. He put it back into his pocket, and thought again of his grievance. Surely it was his first duty in such an emergency to be firm!
It was certainly a wretched life that he was leading. In the evening he went all alone to an eating-house for his dinner, and then, sitting with a miserable glass of sherry before him, he again read and re-read the epistle which he had written. Every harsh word that it contained was, in some sort, pleasant to his ear. She had hit him hard, and should he not hit her again? And then, was it not his bounden duty to let her know the truth? Yes; it was his duty to be firm.
So he went out and posted the letter.
Trevelyan's letter to his wife fell like a thunderbolt among them at Nuncombe Putney. Mrs. Trevelyan was altogether unable to keep it to herself;—indeed she made no attempt at doing so. Her husband had told her that she was to be banished from the Clock House because her present hostess was unable to endure her misconduct, and of course she demanded the reasons of the charge that was thus brought against her. When she first read the letter, which she did in the presence of her sister, she towered in her passion.
"Disgraced him! I have never disgraced him. It is he that has disgraced me. Correspondence! Yes;—he shall see it all. Unjust, ignorant, foolish man! He does not remember that the last instructions he really gave me, were to bid me see Colonel Osborne. Take my boy away! Yes. Of course, I am a woman and must suffer. I will write to Colonel Osborne, and will tell him the truth, and will send my letter to Louis. He shall know how he has ill-treated me! I will not take a penny of his money;—not a penny. Maintain you! I believe he thinks that we are beggars. Leave this house because of my conduct! What can Mrs. Stanbury have said? What can any of them have said? I will demand to be told. Free himself from the connection! Oh, Nora, Nora! that it should come to this!—that I should be thus threatened, who have been as innocent as a baby! If it were not for my child, I think that I should destroy myself!"
Nora said what she could to comfort her sister, insisting chiefly on the promise that the child should not be taken away. There was no doubt as to the husband's power in the mind of either of them; and though, as regarded herself, Mrs. Trevelyan would have defied her husband, let his power be what it might, yet she acknowledged to herself that she was in some degree restrained by the fear that she would find herself deprived of her only comfort.
"We must just go where he bids us,—till papa comes," said Nora.
"And when papa is here, what help will there be then? He will not let me go back to the islands,—with my boy. For myself I might die, or get out of his way anywhere. I can see that. Priscilla Stanbury is right when she says that no woman should trust herself to any man. Disgraced! That I should live to be told by my husband that I had disgraced him,—by a lover!"
There was some sort of agreement made between the two sisters as to the manner in which Priscilla should be interrogated respecting the sentence of banishment which had been passed. They both agreed that it would be useless to make inquiry of Mrs. Stanbury. If anything had really been said to justify the statement made in Mr. Trevelyan's letter, it must have come from Priscilla, and have reached Trevelyan through Priscilla's brother. They, both of them, had sufficiently learned the ways of the house to be sure that Mrs. Stanbury had not been the person active in the matter. They went down, therefore, together, and found Priscilla seated at her desk in the parlour. Mrs. Stanbury was also in the room, and it had been presumed between the sisters that the interrogations should be made in that lady's absence; but Mrs. Trevelyan was too hot in the matter for restraint, and she at once opened out her budget of grievance.
"I have a letter from my husband," she said,—and then paused. But Priscilla, seeing from the fire in her eyes that she was much moved, made no reply, but turned to listen to what might further be said. "I do not know why I should trouble you with his suspicions," continued Mrs. Trevelyan, "or read to you what he says about—Colonel Osborne." As she spoke she was holding her husband's letter open in her hands. "There is nothing in it that you do not know. He says I have corresponded with him. So I have;—and he shall see the correspondence. He says that Colonel Osborne visited me. He did come to see me and Nora."
"As any other old man might have done," said Nora.
"It was not likely that I should openly confess myself to be afraid to see my father's old friend. But the truth is, my husband does not know what a woman is."
She had begun by declaring that she would not trouble her friend with any statement of her husband's complaints against her; but now she had made her way to the subject, and could hardly refrain herself. Priscilla understood this, and thought that it would be wise to interrupt her by a word that might bring her back to her original purpose. "Is there anything," said she, "which we can do to help you?"
"To help me? No;—God only can help me. But Louis informs me that I am to be turned out of this house, because you demand that we should go."
"Who says that?" exclaimed Mrs. Stanbury.
"My husband. Listen; this is what he says:—'I am greatly grieved to hear from my friend Mr. Stanbury that your conduct in reference to Colonel Osborne has been such as to make it necessary that you should leave Mrs. Stanbury's house.' Is that true? Is that true?" In her general mode of carrying herself, and of enduring the troubles of her life, Mrs. Trevelyan was a strong woman; but now her grief was too much for her, and she burst out into tears. "I am the most unfortunate woman that ever was born!" she sobbed out through her tears.
"I never said that you were to go," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"But your son has told Mr. Trevelyan that we must go," said Nora, who felt that her sense of injury against Hugh Stanbury was greatly increased by what had taken place. To her mind he was the person most important in the matter. Why had he desired that they should be sent away from the Clock House? She was very angry with him, and declared to herself that she hated him with all her heart. For this man she had sent away that other lover,—a lover who had really loved her! And she had even confessed that it was so!
"There is a misunderstanding about this," said Priscilla.
"It must be with your brother, then," said Nora.
"I think not," said Priscilla. "I think that it has been with Mr. Trevelyan." Then she went on to explain, with much difficulty, but still with a slow distinctness that was peculiar to her, what had really taken place. "We have endeavoured," she said, "to show you,—my mother and I,—that we have not misjudged you; but it is certainly true that I told my brother that I did not think the arrangement a good one,—quite as a permanence." It was very difficult, and her cheeks were red as she spoke, and her lips faltered. It was an exquisite pain to her to have to give the pain which her words would convey; but there was no help for it,—as she said to herself more than once at the time,—there was nothing to be done but to tell the truth.
"I never said so," blurted out Mrs. Stanbury, with her usual weakness.
"No, mother. It was my saying. In discussing what was best for us all, with Hugh, I told him,—what I have just now explained."
"Then of course we must go," said Mrs. Trevelyan, who had gulped down her sobs and was resolved to be firm,—to give way to no more tears, to bear all without sign of womanly weakness.
"You will stay with us till your father comes," said Priscilla.
"Of course you will," said Mrs. Stanbury,—"you and Nora. We have got to be such friends, now."
"No," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "As to friendship for me, it is out of the question. We must pack up, Nora, and go somewhere. Heaven knows where!"
Nora was now sobbing. "Why your brother—should want to turn us out,—after he has sent us here—!"
"My brother wants nothing of the kind," said Priscilla. "Your sister has no better friend than my brother."
"It will be better, Nora, to discuss the matter no further," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "We must go away,—somewhere; and the sooner the better. To be an unwelcome guest is always bad; but to be unwelcome for such a reason as this is terrible."
"There is no reason," said Mrs. Stanbury; "indeed there is none."
"Mrs. Trevelyan will understand us better when she is less excited," said Priscilla. "I am not surprised that she should be indignant now. I can only say again that we hope you will stay with us till Sir Marmaduke Rowley shall be in England."
"That is not what your brother means," said Nora.
"Nor is it what I mean," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "Nora, we had better go to our own room. I suppose I must write to my husband; indeed, of course I must, that I may send him—the correspondence. I fear I cannot walk out into the street, Mrs. Stanbury, and make you quit of me, till I hear from him. And if I were to go to an inn at once, people would speak evil of me;—and I have no money."
"My dear, how can you think of such a thing!" said Mrs. Stanbury.
"But you may be quite sure that we shall be gone within three days,—or four at the furthest. Indeed, I will pledge myself not to remain longer than that,—even though I should have to go to the poor-house. Neither I nor my sister will stay in any family,—to contaminate it. Come, Nora." And so speaking she sailed out of the room, and her sister followed her.
"Why did you say anything about it? Oh dear, oh dear! why did you speak to Hugh? See what you have done!"
"I am sorry that I did speak," replied Priscilla slowly.
"Sorry! Of course you are sorry; but what good is that?"
"But, mother, I do not think that I was wrong. I feel sure that the real fault in all this is with Mr. Trevelyan, as it has been all through. He should not have written to her as he has done."
"I suppose Hugh did tell him."
"No doubt;—and I told Hugh; but not after the fashion in which he has told her. I blame myself mostly for this,—that we ever consented to come to this house. We had no business here. Who is to pay the rent?"
"Hugh insisted upon taking it."
"Yes;—and he will pay the rent; and we shall be a drag upon him, as though he had been fool enough to have a wife and a family of his own. And what good have we done? We had not strength enough to say that that wicked man should not see her when he came;—for he is a wicked man."
"If we had done that she would have been as bad then as she is now."
"Mother, we had no business to meddle either with her badness or her goodness. What had we to do with the wife of such a one as Mr. Trevelyan, or with any woman who was separated from her husband?"
"It was Hugh who thought we should be of service to them."
"Yes;—and I do not blame him. He is in a position to be of service to people. He can do work and earn money, and has a right to think and to speak. We have a right to think only for ourselves, and we should not have yielded to him. How are we to get back again out of this house to our cottage?"
"They are pulling the cottage down, Priscilla."
"To some other cottage, mother. Do you not feel while we are living here that we are pretending to be what we are not? After all, Aunt Stanbury was right, though it was not her business to meddle with us. We should never have come here. That poor woman now regards us as her bitter enemies."
"I meant to do for the best," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"The fault was mine, mother."
"But you meant it for the best, my dear."
"Meaning for the best is trash. I don't know that I did mean it for the best. While we were at the cottage we paid our way and were honest. What is it people say of us now?"
"They can't say any harm."
"They say that we are paid by the husband to keep his wife, and paid again by the lover to betray the husband."
"Yes;—it is shocking enough. But that comes of people going out of their proper course. We were too humble and low to have a right to take any part in such a matter. How true it is that while one crouches on the ground, one can never fall."
The matter was discussed in the Clock House all day, between Mrs. Stanbury and Priscilla, and between Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora, in their rooms and in the garden; but nothing could come of such discussions. No change could be made till further instructions should have been received from the angry husband; nor could any kind of argument be even invented by Priscilla which might be efficacious in inducing the two ladies to remain at the Clock House, even should Mr. Trevelyan allow them to do so. They all felt the intolerable injustice, as it appeared to them,—of their subjection to the caprice of an unreasonable and ill-conditioned man; but to all of them it seemed plain enough that in this matter the husband must exercise his own will,—at any rate till Sir Marmaduke should be in England. There were many difficulties throughout the day. Mrs. Trevelyan would not go down to dinner, sending word that she was ill, and that she would, if she were allowed, have some tea in her own room. And Nora said that she would remain with her sister. Priscilla went to them more than once; and late in the evening they all met in the parlour. But any conversation seemed to be impossible; and Mrs. Trevelyan, as she went up to her room at night, again declared that she would rid the house of her presence as soon as possible.
One thing, however, was done on that melancholy day. Mrs. Trevelyan wrote to her husband, and enclosed Colonel Osborne's letter to herself, and a copy of her reply. The reader will hardly require to be told that no such further letter had been written by her as that of which Bozzle had given information to her husband. Men whose business it is to detect hidden and secret things, are very apt to detect things which have never been done. What excuse can a detective make even to himself for his own existence if he can detect nothing? Mr. Bozzle was an active-minded man, who gloried in detecting, and who, in the special spirit of his trade, had taught himself to believe that all around him were things secret and hidden, which would be within his power of unravelling if only the slightest clue were put in his hand. He lived by the crookednesses of people, and therefore was convinced that straight doings in the world were quite exceptional. Things dark and dishonest, fights fought and races run that they might be lost, plants and crosses, women false to their husbands, sons false to their fathers, daughters to their mothers, servants to their masters, affairs always secret, dark, foul, and fraudulent, were to him the normal condition of life. It was to be presumed that Mrs. Trevelyan should continue to correspond with her lover,—that old Mrs. Stanbury should betray her trust by conniving at the lover's visit,—that everybody concerned should be steeped to the hips in lies and iniquity. When, therefore, he found at Colonel Osborne's rooms that the Colonel had received a letter with the Lessboro' post-mark, addressed in the handwriting of a woman, he did not scruple to declare that Colonel Osborne had received, on that morning, a letter from Mr. Trevelyan's "lady." But in sending to her husband what she called with so much bitterness, "the correspondence," Mrs. Trevelyan had to enclose simply the copy of one sheet note from herself.
But she now wrote again to Colonel Osborne, and enclosed to her husband, not a copy of what she had written, but the note itself. It was as follows:—
Nuncombe Putney, Wednesday, August 10.
My dear Colonel Osborne,
My husband has desired me not to see you, or to write to you, or to hear from you again. I must therefore beg you to enable me to obey him,—at any rate till papa comes to England.
And then she wrote to her husband, and in the writing of this letter there was much doubt, much labour, and many changes. We will give it as it was written when completed:—
I have received your letter, and will obey your commands to the best of my power. In order that you may not be displeased by any further unavoidable correspondence between me and Colonel Osborne, I have written to him a note, which I now send to you. I send it that you may forward it. If you do not choose to do so, I cannot be answerable either for his seeing me, or for his writing to me again.
I send also copies of all the correspondence I have had with Colonel Osborne since you turned me out of your house. When he came to call on me, Nora remained with me while he was here. I blush while I write this;—not for myself, but that I should be so suspected as to make such a statement necessary.
You say that I have disgraced you and myself. I have done neither. I am disgraced;—but it is you that have disgraced me. I have never spoken a word or done a thing, as regards you, of which I have cause to be ashamed.
I have told Mrs. Stanbury that I and Nora will leave her house as soon as we can be made to know where we are to go. I beg that this may be decided instantly, as else we must walk out into the street without a shelter. After what has been said, I cannot remain here.
My sister bids me say that she will relieve you of all burden respecting herself as soon as possible. She will probably be able to find a home with my aunt, Mrs. Outhouse, till papa comes to England. As for myself, I can only say that till he comes, I shall do exactly what you order.
Nuncombe Putney, August 10.
MR. AND MRS. OUTHOUSE.
Both Mr. Outhouse and his wife were especially timid in taking upon themselves the cares of other people. Not on that account is it to be supposed that they were bad or selfish. They were both given much to charity, and bestowed both in time and money more than is ordinarily considered necessary, even from persons in their position. But what they gave, they gave away from their own quiet hearth. Had money been wanting to the daughters of his wife's brother, Mr. Outhouse would have opened such small coffer as he had with a free hand. But he would have much preferred that his benevolence should be used in a way that would bring upon him no further responsibility and no questionings from people whom he did not know and could not understand.
The Rev. Oliphant Outhouse had been Rector of St. Diddulph's-in-the-East for the last fifteen years, having married the sister of Sir Marmaduke Rowley,—then simply Mr. Rowley, with a colonial appointment in Jamaica of £120 per annum,—twelve years before his promotion, while he was a curate in one of the populous borough parishes. He had thus been a London clergyman all his life; but he knew almost as little of London society as though he had held a cure in a Westmoreland valley. He had worked hard, but his work had been altogether among the poor. He had no gift of preaching, and had acquired neither reputation nor popularity. But he could work;—and having been transferred because of that capability to the temporary curacy of St. Diddulph's,—out of one diocese into another,—he had received the living from the bishop's hands when it became vacant.
A dreary place was the parsonage of St. Diddulph's-in-the-East for the abode of a gentleman. Mr. Outhouse had not, in his whole parish, a parishioner with whom he could consort. The greatest men around him were the publicans, and the most numerous were men employed in and around the docks. Dredgers of mud, navvies employed on suburban canals, excavators, loaders and unloaders of cargo, cattle drivers, whose driving, however, was done mostly on board ship,—such and such like were the men who were the fathers of the families of St. Diddulph's-in-the-East. And there was there, not far removed from the muddy estuary of a little stream that makes its black way from the Essex marshes among the houses of the poorest of the poor into the Thames, a large commercial establishment for turning the carcasses of horses into manure. Messrs. Flowsem and Blurt were in truth the great people of St. Diddulph's-in-the-East; but the closeness of their establishment was not an additional attraction to the parsonage. They were liberal, however, with their money, and Mr. Outhouse was disposed to think,—custom perhaps having made the establishment less objectionable to him than it was at first,—that St. Diddulph's-in-the-East would be more of a Pandemonium than it now was, if by any sanitary law Messrs. Flowsem and Blurt were compelled to close their doors. "Non olet," he would say with a grim smile when the charitable cheque of the firm would come punctually to hand on the first Saturday after Christmas.
But such a house as his would be, as he knew, but a poor residence for his wife's nieces. Indeed, without positively saying that he was unwilling to receive them, he had, when he first heard of the breaking up of the house in Curzon Street, shewn that he would rather not take upon his shoulders so great a responsibility. He and his wife had discussed the matter between them, and had come to the conclusion that they did not know what kind of things might have been done in Curzon Street. They would think no evil, they said; but the very idea of a married woman with a lover was dreadful to them. It might be that their niece was free from blame. They hoped so. And even though her sin had been of ever so deep a dye, they would take her in,—if it were indeed necessary. But they hoped that such help from them might not be needed. They both knew how to give counsel to a poor woman, how to rebuke a poor man,—how to comfort, encourage, or to upbraid the poor. Practice had told them how far they might go with some hope of doing good;—and at what stage of demoralisation no good from their hands was any longer within the scope of fair expectation. But all this was among the poor. With what words to encourage such a one as their niece Mrs. Trevelyan,—to encourage her or to rebuke her, as her conduct might seem to make necessary,—they both felt that they were altogether ignorant. To them Mrs. Trevelyan was a fine lady. To Mr. Outhouse, Sir Marmaduke had ever been a fine gentleman, given much to worldly things, who cared more for whist and a glass of wine than for anything else, and who thought that he had a good excuse for never going to church in England because he was called upon, as he said, to show himself in the governor's pew always once on Sundays, and frequently twice, when he was at the seat of his government. Sir Marmaduke manifestly looked upon church as a thing in itself notoriously disagreeable. To Mr. Outhouse it afforded the great events of the week. And Mrs. Outhouse would declare that to hear her husband preach was the greatest joy of her life. It may be understood therefore that though the family connection between the Rowleys and the Outhouses had been kept up with a semblance of affection, it had never blossomed forth into cordial friendship.
When therefore the clergyman of St. Diddulph's received a letter from his niece, Nora, begging him to take her into his parsonage till Sir Marmaduke should arrive in the course of the spring, and hinting also a wish that her uncle Oliphant should see Mr. Trevelyan and if possible arrange that his other niece should also come to the parsonage, he was very much perturbed in spirit. There was a long consultation between him and his wife before anything could be settled, and it may be doubted whether anything would have been settled, had not Mr. Trevelyan himself made his way to the parsonage, on the second day of the family conference. Mr. and Mrs. Outhouse had both seen the necessity of sleeping upon the matter. They had slept upon it, and the discourse between them on the second day was so doubtful in its tone that more sleeping would probably have been necessary had not Mr. Trevelyan appeared and compelled them to a decision.
"You must remember that I make no charge against her," said Trevelyan, after the matter had been discussed for about an hour.
"Then why should she not come back to you?" said Mr. Outhouse, timidly.
"Some day she may,—if she will be obedient. But it cannot be now. She has set me at defiance; and even yet it is too clear from the tone of her letter to me that she thinks that she has been right to do so. How could we live together in amity when she addresses me as a cruel tyrant?"
"Why did she go away at first?" asked Mrs. Outhouse.
"Because she would compromise my name by an intimacy which I did not approve. But I do not come here to defend myself, Mrs. Outhouse. You probably think that I have been wrong. You are her friend; and to you, I will not even say that I have been right. What I want you to understand is this. She cannot come back to me now. It would not be for my honour that she should do so."
"But, sir,—would it not be for your welfare, as a Christian?" asked Mr. Outhouse.
"You must not be angry with me, if I say that I will not discuss that just now. I did not come here to discuss it."
"It is very sad for our poor niece," said Mrs. Outhouse.
"It is very sad for me," said Trevelyan, gloomily;—"very sad, indeed. My home is destroyed; my life is made solitary; I do not even see my own child. She has her boy with her, and her sister. I have nobody."
"I can't understand, for the life of me, why you should not live together just like any other people," said Mrs. Outhouse, whose woman's spirit was arising in her bosom. "When people are married, they must put up with something;—at least, most always." This she added, lest it might be for a moment imagined that she had had any cause for complaint with her Mr. Outhouse.
"Pray excuse me, Mrs. Outhouse; but I cannot discuss that. The question between us is this,—can you consent to receive your two nieces till their father's return;—and if so, in what way shall I defray the expense of their living? You will of course understand that I willingly undertake the expense not only of my wife's maintenance and of her sister's also, but that I will cheerfully allow anything that may be required either for their comfort or recreation."
"I cannot take my nieces into my house as lodgers," said Mr. Outhouse.
"No, not as lodgers; but of course you can understand that it is for me to pay for my own wife. I know I owe you an apology for mentioning it;—but how else could I make my request to you?"
"If Emily and Nora come here they must come as our guests," said Mrs. Outhouse.
"Certainly," said the clergyman. "And if I am told they are in want of a home they shall find one here till their father comes. But I am bound to say that as regards the elder I think her home should be elsewhere."
"Of course it should," said Mrs. Outhouse. "I don't know anything about the law, but it seems to me very odd that a young woman should be turned out in this way. You say she has done nothing?"
"I will not argue the matter," said Trevelyan.
"That's all very well, Mr. Trevelyan," said the lady, "but she's my own niece, and if I don't stand up for her I don't know who will. I never heard such a thing in my life as a wife being sent away after such a fashion as that. We wouldn't treat a cookmaid so; that we wouldn't. As for coming here, she shall come if she pleases, but I shall always say that it's the greatest shame I ever heard of."
Nothing came of this visit at last. The lady grew in her anger; and Mr. Trevelyan, in his own defence, was driven to declare that his wife's obstinate intimacy with Colonel Osborne had almost driven him out of his senses. Before he left the parsonage he was brought even to tears by his own narration of his own misery;—whereby Mr. Outhouse was considerably softened, although Mrs. Outhouse became more and more stout in the defence of her own sex. But nothing at last came of it. Trevelyan insisted on paying for his wife, wherever she might be placed; and when he found that this would not be permitted to him at the parsonage, he was very anxious to take some small furnished house in the neighbourhood, in which the two sisters might live for the next six months under the wings of their uncle and aunt. But even Mr. Outhouse was moved to pleasantry by this suggestion, as he explained the nature of the tenements which were common at St. Diddulph's. Two rooms, front and back, they might have for about five-and-sixpence a week in a house with three other families. "But perhaps that is not exactly what you'd like," said Mr. Outhouse. The interview ended with no result, and Mr. Trevelyan took his leave, declaring to himself that he was worse off than the foxes, who have holes in which to lay their heads;—but it must be presumed that his sufferings in this respect were to be by attorney; as it was for his wife, and not for himself, that the necessary hole was now required.
As soon as he was gone Mrs. Outhouse answered Nora's letter, and without meaning to be explicit, explained pretty closely what had taken place. The spare bedroom at the parsonage was ready to receive either one or both of the sisters till Sir Marmaduke should be in London, if one or both of them should choose to come. And though there was no nursery at the parsonage,—for Mr. and Mrs. Outhouse had been blessed with no children,—still room should be made for the little boy. But they must come as visitors,—"as our own nieces," said Mrs. Outhouse. And she went on to say that she would have nothing to do with the quarrel between Mr. Trevelyan and his wife. All such quarrels were very bad,—but as to this quarrel she could take no part either one side or the other. Then she stated that Mr. Trevelyan had been at the parsonage, but that no arrangement had been made, because Mr. Trevelyan had insisted on paying for their board and lodging.
This letter reached Nuncombe Putney before any reply was received by Mrs. Trevelyan from her husband. This was on the Saturday morning, and Mrs. Trevelyan had pledged herself to Mrs. Stanbury that she would leave the Clock House on the Monday. Of course, there was no need that she should do so. Both Mrs. Stanbury and Priscilla would now have willingly consented to their remaining till Sir Marmaduke should be in England. But Mrs. Trevelyan's high spirit revolted against this after all that had been said. She thought that she should hear from her husband on the morrow, but the post on Sunday brought no letter from Trevelyan. On the Saturday they had finished packing up,—so certain was Mrs. Trevelyan that some instructions as to her future destiny would be sent to her by her lord.
At last they decided on the Sunday that they would both go at once to St. Diddulph's; or perhaps it would be more correct to say that this was the decision of the elder sister. Nora would willingly have yielded to Priscilla's entreaties, and have remained. But Emily declared that she could not, and would not, stay in the house. She had a few pounds,—what would suffice for her journey; and as Mr. Trevelyan had not thought proper to send his orders to her, she would go without them. Mrs. Outhouse was her aunt, and her nearest relative in England. Upon whom else could she lean in this time of her great affliction? A letter, therefore, was written to Mrs. Outhouse, saying that the whole party, including the boy and nurse, would be at St. Diddulph's on the Monday evening, and the last cord was put to the boxes.
"I suppose that he is very angry," Mrs. Trevelyan said to her sister, "but I do not feel that I care about that now. He shall have nothing to complain of in reference to any gaiety on my part. I will see no one. I will have no—correspondence. But I will not remain here after what he has said to me, let him be ever so angry. I declare, as I think of it, it seems to me that no woman was ever so cruelly treated as I have been." Then she wrote one further line to her husband.
Not having received any orders from you, and having promised Mrs. Stanbury that I would leave this house on Monday, I go with Nora to my aunt, Mrs. Outhouse, to-morrow.
On the Sunday evening the four ladies drank tea together, and they all made an effort to be civil, and even affectionate, to each other. Mrs. Trevelyan had at last allowed Priscilla to explain how it had come to pass that she had told her brother that it would be better both for her mother and for herself that the existing arrangements should be brought to an end, and there had come to be an agreement between them that they should all part in amity. But the conversation on the Sunday evening was very difficult.
"I am sure we shall always think of you both with the greatest kindness," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"As for me," said Priscilla, "your being with us has been a delight that I cannot describe;—only it has been wrong."
"I know too well," said Mrs. Trevelyan, "that in our present circumstances we are unable to carry delight with us anywhere."
"You hardly understand what our life has been," said Priscilla; "but the truth is that we had no right to receive you in such a house as this. It has not been our way of living, and it cannot continue to be so. It is not wonderful that people should talk of us. Had it been called your house, it might have been better."
"And what will you do now?" asked Nora.
"Get out of this place as soon as we can. It is often hard to go back to the right path; but it may always be done,—or at least attempted."
"It seems to me that I take misery with me wherever I go," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"My dear, it has not been your fault," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"I do not like to blame my brother," said Priscilla, "because he has done his best to be good to us all;—and the punishment will fall heaviest upon him, because he must pay for it."
"He should not be allowed to pay a shilling," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
Then the morning came, and at seven o'clock the two sisters, with the nurse and child, started for Lessboro' Station in Mrs. Crocket's open carriage, the luggage having been sent on in a cart. There were many tears shed, and any one looking at the party would have thought that very dear friends were being torn asunder.
"Mother," said Priscilla, as soon as the parlour door was shut, and the two were alone together, "we must take care that we never are brought again into such a mistake as that. They who protect the injured should be strong themselves."
DOROTHY MAKES UP HER MIND.
It was true that most ill-natured things had been said at Lessboro' and at Nuncombe Putney about Mrs. Stanbury and the visitors at the Clock House, and that these ill-natured things had spread themselves to Exeter. Mrs. Ellison of Lessboro', who was not the most good-natured woman in the world, had told Mrs. Merton of Nuncombe that she had been told that the Colonel's visit to the lady had been made by express arrangement between the Colonel and Mrs. Stanbury. Mrs. Merton, who was very good-natured, but not the wisest woman in the world, had declared that any such conduct on the part of Mrs. Stanbury was quite impossible. "What does it matter which it is,—Priscilla or her mother?" Mrs. Ellison had said. "These are the facts. Mrs. Trevelyan has been sent there to be out of the way of this Colonel; and the Colonel immediately comes down and sees her at the Clock House. But when people are very poor they do get driven to do almost anything."
Mrs. Merton, not being very wise, had conceived it to be her duty to repeat this to Priscilla; and Mrs. Ellison, not being very good-natured, had conceived it to be hers to repeat it to Mrs. MacHugh at Exeter. And then Bozzle's coming had become known.
"Yes, Mrs. MacHugh, a policeman in mufti down at Nuncombe! I wonder what our friend in the Close here will think about it! I have always said, you know, that if she wanted to keep things straight at Nuncombe, she should have opened her purse-strings."
From all which it may be understood, that Priscilla Stanbury's desire to go back to their old way of living had not been without reason.
It may be imagined that Miss Stanbury of the Close did not receive with equanimity the reports which reached her. And, of course, when she discussed the matter either with Martha or with Dorothy, she fell back upon her own early appreciation of the folly of the Clock House arrangement. Nevertheless, she had called Mrs. Ellison very bad names, when she learned from her friend Mrs. MacHugh what reports were being spread by the lady from Lessboro'.
"Mrs. Ellison! Yes; we all know Mrs. Ellison. The bitterest tongue in Devonshire, and the falsest! There are some people at Lessboro' who would be well pleased if she paid her way there as well as those poor women do at Nuncombe. I don't think much of what Mrs. Ellison says."
"But it is bad about the policeman," said Mrs. MacHugh.
"Of course it's bad. It's all bad. I'm not saying that it's not bad. I'm glad I've got this other young woman out of it. It's all that young man's doing. If I had a son of my own, I'd sooner follow him to the grave than hear him call himself a Radical."
Then, on a sudden, there came to the Close news that Mrs. Trevelyan and her sister were gone. On the very Monday on which they went, Priscilla sent a note on to her sister, in which no special allusion was made to Aunt Stanbury, but which was no doubt written with the intention that the news should be communicated.
"Gone; are they? As it is past wishing that they hadn't come, it's the best thing they could do now. And who is to pay the rent of the house, now they have gone?" As this was a point on which Dorothy was not prepared to trouble herself at present, she made no answer to the question.
Dorothy at this time was in a state of very great perturbation on her own account. The reader may perhaps remember that she had been much startled by a proposition that had been made to her in reference to her future life. Her aunt had suggested to her that she should become—Mrs. Gibson. She had not as yet given any answer to that proposition, and had indeed found it to be quite impossible to speak about it at all. But there can be no doubt that the suggestion had opened out to her altogether new views of life. Up to the moment of her aunt's speech to her, the idea of her becoming a married woman had never presented itself to her. In her humility it had not occurred to her that she should be counted as one among the candidates for matrimony. Priscilla had taught her to regard herself,—indeed, they had both so regarded themselves,—as born to eat and drink, as little as might be, and then to die. Now, when she was told that she could, if she pleased, become Mrs. Gibson, she was almost lost in a whirl of new and confused ideas. Since her aunt had spoken, Mr. Gibson himself had dropped a hint or two which seemed to her to indicate that he also must be in the secret. There had been a party, with a supper, at Mrs. Crumbie's, at which both the Miss Frenches had been present. But Mr. Gibson had taken her, Dorothy Stanbury, out to supper, leaving both Camilla and Arabella behind him in the drawing-room! During the quarter of an hour afterwards in which the ladies were alone while the gentlemen were eating and drinking, both Camilla and Arabella continued to wreak their vengeance. They asked questions about Mrs. Trevelyan, and suggested that Mr. Gibson might be sent over to put things right. But Miss Stanbury had heard them, and had fallen upon them with a heavy hand.
"There's a good deal expected of Mr. Gibson, my dears," she said, "which it seems to me Mr. Gibson is not inclined to perform."
"It is quite indifferent to us what Mr. Gibson may be inclined to perform," said Arabella. "I'm sure we shan't interfere with Miss Dorothy."
As this was said quite out loud before all the other ladies, Dorothy was overcome with shame. But her aunt comforted her when they were again at home.
"Laws, my dear; what does it matter? When you're Mrs. Gibson, you'll be proud of it all."
Was it then really written in the book of the Fates that she, Dorothy Stanbury, was to become Mrs. Gibson? Poor Dorothy began to feel that she was called upon to exercise an amount of thought and personal decision to which she had not been accustomed. Hitherto, in the things which she had done, or left undone, she had received instructions which she could obey. Had her mother and Priscilla told her positively not to go to her aunt's house, she would have remained at Nuncombe without complaint. Had her aunt since her coming given her orders as to her mode of life,—enjoined, for instance, additional church attendances, or desired her to perform menial services in the house,—she would have obeyed, from custom, without a word. But when she was told that she was to marry Mr. Gibson, it did seem to her to be necessary to do something more than obey. Did she love Mr. Gibson? She tried hard to teach herself to think that she might learn to love him. He was a nice-looking man enough, with sandy hair, and a head rather bald, with thin lips, and a narrow nose, who certainly did preach drawling sermons; but of whom everybody said that he was a very excellent clergyman. He had a house and an income, and all Exeter had long since decided that he was a man who would certainly marry. He was one of those men of whom it may be said that they have no possible claim to remain unmarried. He was fair game, and unless he surrendered himself to be bagged before long, would subject himself to just and loud complaint. The Miss Frenches had been aware of this, and had thought to make sure of him among them. It was a little hard upon them that the old maid of the Close, as they always called Miss Stanbury, should interfere with them when their booty was almost won. And they felt it to be the harder because Dorothy Stanbury was, as they thought, so poor a creature. That Dorothy herself should have any doubt as to accepting Mr. Gibson, was an idea that never occurred to them. But Dorothy had her doubts. When she came to think of it, she remembered that she had never as yet spoken a word to Mr. Gibson, beyond such little trifling remarks as are made over a tea-table. She might learn to love him, but she did not think that she loved him as yet.
"I don't suppose all this will make any difference to Mr. Gibson," said Miss Stanbury to her niece, on the morning after the receipt of Priscilla's note stating that the Trevelyans had left Nuncombe.
Dorothy always blushed when Mr. Gibson's name was mentioned, and she blushed now. But she did not at all understand her aunt's allusion. "I don't know what you mean, aunt," she said.
"Well, you know, my dear, what they say about Mrs. Trevelyan and the Clock House is not very nice. If Mr. Gibson were to turn round and say that the connection wasn't pleasant, no one would have a right to complain."
The faint customary blush on Dorothy's cheeks which Mr. Gibson's name had produced now covered her whole face even up to the roots of her hair. "If he believes bad of mamma, I'm sure, Aunt Stanbury, I don't want to see him again."
"That's all very fine, my dear, but a man has to think of himself, you know."
"Of course he thinks of himself. Why shouldn't he? I dare say he thinks of himself more than I do."
"Dorothy, don't be a fool. A good husband isn't to be caught every day."
"Aunt Stanbury, I don't want to catch any man."
"Dorothy, don't be a fool."
"I must say it. I don't suppose Mr. Gibson thinks of me the least in the world."
"Psha! I tell you he does."
"But as for mamma and Priscilla, I never could like anybody for a moment who would be ashamed of them."
She was most anxious to declare that, as far as she knew herself and her own wishes at present, she entertained no partiality for Mr. Gibson,—no feeling which could become partiality even if Mr. Gibson was to declare himself willing to accept her mother and her sister with herself. But she did not dare to say so. There was an instinct within her which made it almost impossible to her to express an objection to a suitor before the suitor had declared himself to be one. She could speak out as touching her mother and her sister,—but as to her own feelings she could express neither assent nor dissent.
"I should like to have it settled soon," said Miss Stanbury, in a melancholy voice. Even to this Dorothy could make no reply. What did soon mean? Perhaps in the course of a year or two. "If it could be arranged by the end of this week, it would be a great comfort to me." Dorothy almost fell off her chair, and was stricken altogether dumb. "I told you, I think, that Brooke Burgess is coming here?"
"You said he was to come some day."
"He is to be here on Monday. I haven't seen him for more than twelve years; and now he's to be here next week? Dear, dear! When I think sometimes of all the hard words that have been spoken, and the harder thoughts that have been in people's minds, I often regret that the money ever came to me at all. I could have done without it, very well,—very well."
"But all the unpleasantness is over now, aunt."
"I don't know about that. Unpleasantness of that kind is apt to rankle long. But I wasn't going to give up my rights. Nobody but a coward does that. They talked of going to law and trying the will, but they wouldn't have got much by that. And then they abused me for two years. When they had done and got sick of it, I told them they should have it all back again as soon as I am dead. It won't be long now. This Burgess is the elder nephew, and he shall have it all."
"Is not he grateful?"
"No. Why should he be grateful? I don't do it for special love of him. I don't want his gratitude; nor anybody's gratitude. Look at Hugh. I did love him."
"I am grateful, Aunt Stanbury."
"Are you, my dear? Then show it by being a good wife to Mr. Gibson, and a happy wife. I want to get everything settled while Burgess is here. If he is to have it, why should I keep him out of it whilst I live? I wonder whether Mr. Gibson would mind coming and living here, Dolly?"
The thing was coming so near to her that Dorothy began to feel that she must, in truth, make up her mind, and let her aunt know also how it had been made up. She was sensible enough to-perceive that if she did not prepare herself for the occasion she would find herself hampered by an engagement simply because her aunt had presumed that it was out of the question that she should not acquiesce. She would drift into marriage with Mr. Gibson against her will. Her greatest difficulty was the fact that her aunt clearly had no doubt on the subject. And as for herself, hitherto her feelings did not, on either side, go beyond doubts. Assuredly it would be a very good thing for her to become Mrs. Gibson, if only she could create for herself some attachment for the man. At the present moment her aunt said nothing more about Mr. Gibson, having her mind much occupied with the coming of Mr. Brooke Burgess.
"I remember him twenty years ago and more; as nice a boy as you would wish to see. His father was the fourth of the brothers. Dear, dear! Three of them are gone; and the only one remaining is old Barty, whom no one ever loved."
The Burgesses had been great people in Exeter, having been both bankers and brewers there, but the light of the family had paled; and though Bartholomew Burgess, of whom Miss Stanbury declared that no one had ever loved him, still had a share in the bank, it was well understood in the city that the real wealth in the firm of Cropper and Burgess belonged to the Cropper family. Indeed the most considerable portion of the fortune that had been realised by old Mr. Burgess had come into the possession of Miss Stanbury herself. Bartholomew Burgess had never forgiven his brother's will, and between him and Jemima Stanbury the feud was irreconcileable. The next brother, Tom Burgess, had been a solicitor at Liverpool, and had done well there. But Miss Stanbury knew nothing of the Tom Burgesses as she called them. The fourth brother, Harry Burgess, had been a clergyman, and this Brooke Burgess, Junior, who was now coming to the Close, had been left with a widowed mother, the eldest of a large family. It need not now be told at length how there had been ill-blood also between this clergyman and the heiress. There had been attempts at friendship, and at one time Miss Stanbury had received the Rev. Harry Burgess and all his family at the Close;—but the attempts had not been successful; and though our old friend had never wavered in her determination to leave the money all back to some one of the Burgess family, and with this view had made a pilgrimage to London some twelve years since, and had renewed her acquaintance with the widow and the children, still there had been no comfortable relations between her and any of the Burgess family. Old Barty Burgess, whom she met in the Close, or saw in the High Street every day of her life, was her great enemy. He had tried his best,—so at least she was convinced,—to drive her out of the pale of society, years upon years ago, by saying evil things of her. She had conquered in that combat. Her victory had been complete, and she had triumphed after a most signal fashion. But this triumph did not silence Barty's tongue, nor soften his heart. When she prayed to be forgiven, as she herself forgave others, she always exempted Barty Burgess from her prayers. There are things which flesh and blood cannot do. She had not liked Harry Burgess' widow, nor for the matter of that, Harry Burgess himself. When she had last seen the children she had not liked any of them much, and had had her doubts even as to Brooke. But with that branch of the family she was willing to try again. Brooke was now coming to the Close, having received, however, an intimation, that if, during his visit to Exeter, he chose to see his Uncle Barty, any such intercourse must be kept quite in the background. While he remained in Miss Stanbury's house he was to remain there as though there were no such person as Mr. Bartholomew Burgess in Exeter.
At this time Brooke Burgess was a man just turned thirty, and was a clerk in the Ecclesiastical Record Office, in Somerset House. No doubt the peculiar nature and name of the public department to which he was attached had done something to recommend him to Miss Stanbury. Ecclesiastical records were things greatly to be reverenced in her eyes, and she felt that a gentleman who handled them and dealt with them would probably be sedate, gentlemanlike, and conservative. Brooke Burgess, when she had last seen him, was just about to enter upon the duties of the office. Then there had come offence, and she had in truth known nothing of him from that day to this. The visitor was to be at Exeter on the following Monday, and very much was done in preparation of his coming. There was to be a dinner party on that very day, and dinner parties were not common with Miss Stanbury. She had, however, explained to Martha that she intended to put her best foot forward. Martha understood perfectly that Mr. Brooke Burgess was to be received as the heir of property. Sir Peter Mancrudy, the great Devonshire chemist, was coming to dinner, and Mr. and Mrs. Powel from Haldon,—people of great distinction in that part of the county,—Mrs. MacHugh of course; and, equally of course, Mr. Gibson. There was a deep discussion between Miss Stanbury and Martha as to asking two of the Cliffords, and Mr. and Mrs. Noel from Doddiscombeleigh. Martha had been very much in favour of having twelve. Miss Stanbury had declared that with twelve she must have two waiters from the greengrocer's, and that two waiters would overpower her own domesticities below stairs. Martha had declared that she didn't care about them any more than if they were puppy dogs. But Miss Stanbury had been quite firm against twelve. She had consented to have ten,—for the sake of artistic arrangement at the table; "They should be pantaloons and petticoats alternate, you know," she had said to Martha,—and had therefore asked the Cliffords. But the Cliffords could not come, and then she had declined to make any further attempt. Indeed, a new idea had struck her. Brooke Burgess, her guest, should sit at one end of the table, and Mr. Gibson, the clergyman, at the other. In this way the proper alternation would be effected. When Martha heard this, Martha quite understood the extent of the good fortune that was in store for Dorothy. If Mr. Gibson was to be welcomed in that way, it could only be in preparation of his becoming one of the family.
And Dorothy herself became aware that she must make up her mind. It was not so declared to her, but she came to understand that it was very probable that something would occur on the coming Monday which would require her to be ready with her answer on that day. And she was greatly tormented by feeling that if she could not bring herself to accept Mr. Gibson,—should Mr. Gibson propose to her, as to which she continued to tell herself that the chance of such a thing must be very remote indeed,—but that if he should propose to her, and if she could not accept him, her aunt ought to know that it would be so before the moment came. But yet she could not bring herself to speak to her aunt as though any such proposition were possible.
It happened that during the week, on the Saturday, Priscilla came into Exeter. Dorothy met her sister at the railway station, and then the two walked together two miles and back along the Crediton Road. Aunt Stanbury had consented to Priscilla coming to the Close, even though it was not the day appointed for such visits; but the walk had been preferred, and Dorothy felt that she would be able to ask for counsel from the only human being to whom she could have brought herself to confide the fact that a gentleman was expected to ask her to marry him. But it was not till they had turned upon their walk, that she was able to open her mouth on the subject even to her sister. Priscilla had been very full of their own cares at Nuncombe, and had said much of her determination to leave the Clock House and to return to the retirement of some small cottage. She had already written to Hugh to this effect, and during their walk had said much of her own folly in having consented to so great a change in their mode of life. At last Dorothy struck in with her story.
"Aunt Stanbury wants me to make a change too."
"What change?" asked Priscilla anxiously.
"It is not my idea, Priscilla, and I don't think that there can be anything in it. Indeed, I'm sure there isn't. I don't see how it's possible that there should be."
"But what is it, Dolly?"
"I suppose there can't be any harm in my telling you."
"If it's anything concerning yourself, I should say not. If it concerns Aunt Stanbury, I dare say she'd rather you held your tongue."
"It concerns me most," said Dorothy.
"She doesn't want you to leave her, does she?"
"Well; yes; no. By what she said last,—I shouldn't leave her at all in that way. Only I'm sure it's not possible."
"I am the worst hand in the world, Dolly, at guessing a riddle."
"You've heard of that Mr. Gibson, the clergyman;—haven't you?"
"Of course I have."
"Well—. Mind, you know, it's only what Aunt Stanbury says. He has never so much as opened his lips to me himself, except to say, 'How do you do?' and that kind of thing."
"Aunt Stanbury wants you to marry him?"
"Of course it's out of the question," said Dorothy, sadly.
"I don't see why it should be out of the question," said Priscilla proudly. "Indeed, if Aunt Stanbury has said much about it, I should say that Mr. Gibson himself must have spoken to her."
"Do you think he has?"
"I do not believe that my aunt would raise false hopes," said Priscilla.
"But I haven't any hopes. That is to say, I had never thought about such a thing."
"But you think about it now, Dolly?"
"I should never have dreamed about it, only for Aunt Stanbury."
"But, dearest, you are dreaming of it now, are you not?"
"Only because she says that it is to be so. You don't know how generous she is. She says that if it should be so, she will give me ever so much money;—two thousand pounds!"
"Then I am quite sure that she and Mr. Gibson must understand each other."
"Of course," said Dorothy, sadly, "if he were to think of such a thing at all, it would only be because the money would be convenient."
"Not at all," said Priscilla, sternly,—with a sternness that was very comfortable to her listener. "Not at all. Why should not Mr. Gibson love you as well as any man ever loved any woman? You are nice-looking,"—Dorothy blushed beneath her hat even at her sister's praise,—"and good-tempered, and lovable in every way. And I think you are just fitted to make a good wife. And you must not suppose, Dolly, that because Mr. Gibson wouldn't perhaps have asked you without the money, that therefore he is mercenary. It so often happens that a gentleman can't marry unless the lady has some money!"
"But he hasn't asked me at all."
"I suppose he will, dear."
"I only know what Aunt Stanbury says."
"You may be sure that he will ask you."
"And what must I say, Priscilla?"
"What must you say? Nobody can tell you that, dear, but yourself. Do you like him?"
"I don't dislike him."
"Is that all?"
"I know him so very little, Priscilla. Everybody says he is very good;—and then it's a great thing, isn't it, that he should be a clergyman?"
"I don't know about that."
"I think it is. If it were possible that I should ever marry any one, I should like a clergyman so much the best."
"Then you do know what to say to him."
"No, I don't, Priscilla. I don't know at all."
"Look here, dearest. What my aunt offers to you is a very great step in life. If you can accept this gentleman I think you would be happy;—and I think, also, which should be of more importance for your consideration, that you would make him happy. It is a brighter prospect, dear Dolly, than to live either with us at Nuncombe, or even with Aunt Stanbury as her niece."
"But if I don't love him, Priscilla?"
"Then give it up, and be as you are, my own own, dearest sister."
"So I will," said Dorothy, and at that time her mind was made up.