SHEWING HOW RECONCILIATION WAS MADE.
"Look at that," said Mrs. Trevelyan, when her sister came into her room about an hour before dinner-time. Nora read the letter, and then asked her sister what she meant to do. "I have written to Mrs. Peacock. I don't know what else I can do. It is very hard upon you,—that you should have been kept at home. But I don't suppose Mr. Glascock would have been at Mrs. Peacock's."
"And what else will you do, Emily?"
"Nothing;—simply live deserted and forlorn till he shall choose to find his wits again. There is nothing else that a woman can do. If he chooses to dine at his club every day, I can't help it. We must put off all the engagements, and that will be hard upon you."
"Don't talk about me. It is too terrible to think that there should be such a quarrel."
"What can I do? Have I been wrong?"
"Simply do what he tells you, whether it is wrong or right. If it's right, it ought to be done, and if it's wrong, it will not be your fault."
"That's very easily said, and it sounds logical; but you must know it's unreasonable."
"I don't care about reason. He is your husband, and if he wishes it you should do it. And what will be the harm? You don't mean to see Colonel Osborne any more. You have already said that he's not to be admitted."
"I have said that nobody is to be admitted. Louis has driven me to that. How can I look the servant in the face and tell him that any special gentleman is not to be admitted to see me? Oh dear! oh dear! have I done anything to deserve it? Was ever so monstrous an accusation made against any woman! If it were not for my boy, I would defy him to do his worst."
On the day following, Nora again became a messenger between the husband and wife, and before dinner-time a reconciliation had been effected. Of course the wife gave way at last; and of course she gave way so cunningly that the husband received none of the gratification which he had expected in her surrender. "Tell him to come," Nora had urged. "Of course he can come if he pleases," Emily had replied. Then Nora had told Louis to come, and Louis had demanded whether, if he did so, the promise which he had exacted would be given. It is to be feared that Nora perverted the truth a little; but if ever such perversion may be forgiven, forgiveness was due to her. If they could only be brought together, she was sure that there would be a reconciliation. They were brought together, and there was a reconciliation.
"Dearest Emily, I am so glad to come to you," said the husband, walking up to his wife in their bed-room, and taking her in his arms.
"I have been very unhappy, Louis, for the last two days," said she, very gravely,—returning his kiss, but returning it somewhat coldly.
"We have both been unhappy, I am sure," said he. Then he paused that the promise might be made to him. He had certainly understood that it was to be made without reserve,—as an act on her part which she had fully consented to perform. But she stood silent, with one hand on the dressing-table, looking away from him, very beautiful, and dignified too, in her manner; but not, as far as he could judge, either repentant or submissive. "Nora said that you would make me the promise which I ask from you."
"I cannot think, Louis, how you can want such a promise from me."
"I think it right to ask it; I do indeed."
"Can you imagine that I shall ever willingly see this gentleman again after what has occurred? It will be for you to tell the servant. I do not know how I can do that. But, as a matter of course, I will encourage no person to come to your house of whom you disapprove. It would be exactly the same of any man or of any woman."
"That is all that I ask."
"I am surprised that you should have thought it necessary to make any formal request in the matter. Your word was quite sufficient. That you should find cause of complaint in Colonel Osborne's coming here is of course a different thing."
"Quite a different thing," said he.
"I cannot pretend to understand either your motives or your fears. I do not understand them. My own self-respect prevents me from supposing it to be possible that you have attributed an evil thought to me."
"Indeed, indeed, I never have," said the husband.
"That I can assure you I regard as a matter of course," said the wife.
"But you know, Emily, the way in which the world talks."
"The world! And do you regard the world, Louis?"
"Lady Milborough, I believe, spoke to yourself."
"Lady Milborough! No, she did not speak to me. She began to do so, but I was careful to silence her at once. From you, Louis, I am bound to hear whatever you may choose to say to me; but I will not hear from any other lips a single word that may be injurious to your honour." This she said very quietly, with much dignity, and he felt that he had better not answer her. She had given him the promise which he had demanded, and he began to fear that if he pushed the matter further she might go back even from that amount of submission. So he kissed her again, and had the boy brought into the room, and by the time that he went to dress for dinner he was able, at any rate, to seem to be well pleased.
"Richard," he said to the servant, as soon as he was down-stairs, "when Colonel Osborne calls again, say that your mistress is—not at home." He gave the order in the most indifferent tone of voice which he could assume; but as he gave it he felt thoroughly ashamed of it. Richard, who, with the other servants, had of course known that there had been a quarrel between his master and mistress for the last two days, no doubt understood all about it.
While they were sitting at dinner on the next day, a Saturday, there came another note from Colonel Osborne. The servant brought it to his mistress, and she, when she had looked at it, put it down by her plate. Trevelyan knew immediately from whom the letter had come, and understood how impossible it was for his wife to give it up in the servant's presence. The letter lay there till the man was out of the room, and then she handed it to Nora. "Will you give that to Louis?" she said. "It comes from the man whom he supposes to be my lover."
"Emily!" said he, jumping from his seat, "how can you allow words so horrible and so untrue to fall from your mouth?"
"If it be not so, why am I to be placed in such a position as this? The servant knows, of course, from whom the letter comes, and sees that I have been forbidden to open it." Then the man returned to the room, and the remainder of the dinner passed off almost in silence. It was their custom when they dined without company to leave the dining-room together, but on this evening Trevelyan remained for a few minutes that he might read Colonel Osborne's letter. He waited, standing on the rug with his face to the fire-place, till he was quite alone, and then he opened it. It ran as follows:—
House of Commons, Saturday.
Trevelyan, as he read this, cursed Colonel Osborne between his teeth.
I called this afternoon, but you were out. I am afraid you will be disappointed by what I have to tell you, but you should rather be glad of it. They say at the C. O. that Sir Marmaduke would not receive their letter if sent now till the middle of June, and that he could not be in London, let him do what he would, till the end of July. They hope to have the session over by that time, and therefore the committee is to be put off till next session. They mean to have Lord Bowles home from Canada, and they think that Bowles would like to be here in the winter. Sir Marmaduke will be summoned for February next, and will of course stretch his stay over the hot months. All this will, on the whole, be for the best. Lady Rowley could hardly have packed up her things and come away at a day's notice, whatever your father might have done. I'll call to-morrow at luncheon time.
There was nothing objectionable in this letter,—excepting always the "Dear Emily,"—nothing which it was not imperative on Colonel Osborne to communicate to the person to whom it was addressed. Trevelyan must now go up-stairs and tell the contents of the letter to his wife. But he felt that he had created for himself a terrible trouble. He must tell his wife what was in the letter, but the very telling of it would be a renewing of the soreness of his wound. And then what was to be done in reference to the threatened visit for the Sunday morning? Trevelyan knew very well that were his wife denied at that hour, Colonel Osborne would understand the whole matter. He had doubtless in his anger intended that Colonel Osborne should understand the whole matter; but he was calmer now than he had been then, and almost wished that the command given by him had not been so definite and imperious. He remained with his arm on the mantel-piece, thinking of it, for some ten minutes, and then went up into the drawing-room. "Emily," he said, walking up to the table at which she was sitting, "you had better read that letter."
"I would so much rather not," she replied haughtily.
"Then Nora can read it. It concerns you both equally."
Nora, with hesitating hand, took the letter and read it. "They are not to come after all," said she, "till next February."
"And why not?" asked Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Something about the session. I don't quite understand."
"Lord Bowles is to come from Canada," said Louis, "and they think he would prefer being here in the winter. I dare say he would."
"But what has that to do with papa?"
"I suppose they must both be here together," said Nora.
"I call that very hard indeed," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"I can't agree with you there," said her husband. "His coming at all is so much of a favour that it is almost a job."
"I don't see that it is a job at all," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "Somebody is wanted, and nobody can know more of the service than papa does. But as the other man is a lord, I suppose papa must give way. Does he say anything about mamma, Nora?"
"You had better read the letter yourself," said Trevelyan, who was desirous that his wife should know of the threatened visit.
"No, Louis, I shall not do that. You must not blow hot and cold too. Till the other day I should have thought that Colonel Osborne's letters were as innocent as an old newspaper. As you have supposed them to be poisoned I will have nothing to do with them."
This speech made him very angry. It seemed that his wife, who had yielded to him, was determined to take out the value of her submission in the most disagreeable words which she could utter. Nora now closed the letter and handed it back to her brother-in-law. He laid it down on the table beside him, and sat for a while with his eyes fixed upon his book. At last he spoke again. "Colonel Osborne says that he will call to-morrow at luncheon time. You can admit him, if you please, and thank him for the trouble he has taken in this matter."
"I shall not remain in the room if he be admitted," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
There was silence again for some minutes, and the cloud upon Trevelyan's brow became blacker than before. Then he rose from his chair and walked round to the sofa on which his wife was sitting. "I presume," said he, "that your wishes and mine in this matter must be the same."
"I cannot tell what your wishes are," she replied. "I never was more in the dark on any subject in my life. My wishes at present are confined to a desire to save you as far as may be possible from the shame which must be attached to your own suspicions."
"I have never had any suspicions."
"A husband without suspicions does not intercept his wife's letters. A husband without suspicions does not call in the aid of his servants to guard his wife. A husband without suspicions—"
"Emily," exclaimed Nora Rowley, "how can you say such things,—on purpose to provoke him?"
"Yes; on purpose to provoke me," said Trevelyan.
"And have I not been provoked? Have I not been injured? You say now that you have not suspected me, and yet in what condition do I find myself? Because an old woman has chosen to talk scandal about me, I am placed in a position in my own house which is disgraceful to you and insupportable to myself. This man has been in the habit of coming here on Sundays, and will, of course, know that we are at home. You must manage it as you please. If you choose to receive him, I will go up-stairs."
"Why can't you let him come in and go away, just as usual?" said Nora.
"Because Louis has made me promise that I will never willingly be in his company again," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "I would have given the world to avoid a promise so disgraceful to me; but it was exacted, and it shall be kept." Having so spoken, she swept out of the room, and went up-stairs to the nursery. Trevelyan sat for an hour with his book before him, reading or pretending to read, but his wife did not come down-stairs. Then Nora went up to her, and he descended to his solitude below. So far he had hardly gained much by the enforced obedience of his wife.
On the next morning the three went to church together, and as they were walking home Trevelyan's heart was filled with returning gentleness towards his wife. He could not bear to be at wrath with her after the church service which they had just heard together. But he was softer-hearted than was she, and knowing this, was almost afraid to say anything that would again bring forth from her expressions of scorn. As soon as they were alone within the house he took her by the hand and led her apart. "Let all this be," said he, "as though it had never been."
"That will hardly be possible, Louis," she answered. "I cannot forget that I have been—cautioned."
"But cannot you bring yourself to believe that I have meant it all for your good?"
"I have never doubted it, Louis;—never for a moment. But it has hurt me to find that you should think that such caution was needed for my good."
It was almost on his tongue to beg her pardon, to acknowledge that he had made a mistake, and to implore her to forget that he had ever made an objection to Colonel Osborne's visit. He remembered at this moment the painful odiousness of that "Dear Emily;" but he had to reconcile himself even to that, telling himself that, after all, Colonel Osborne was an old man,—a man older even than his wife's father. If she would only have met him with gentleness, he would have withdrawn his command, and have acknowledged that he had been wrong. But she was hard, dignified, obedient, and resentful. "It will, I think," he said, "be better for both of us that he should be asked in to lunch to-day."
"You must judge of that," said Emily. "Perhaps, upon the whole, it will be best. I can only say that I will not be present. I will lunch up-stairs with baby, and you can make what excuse for me you please." This was all very bad, but it was in this way that things were allowed to arrange themselves. Richard was told that Colonel Osborne was coming to lunch, and when he came something was muttered to him about Mrs. Trevelyan being not quite well. It was Nora who told the innocent fib, and though she did not tell it well, she did her very best. She felt that her brother-in-law was very wretched, and she was most anxious to relieve him. Colonel Osborne did not stay long, and then Nora went up-stairs to her sister.
Louis Trevelyan felt that he had disgraced himself. He had meant to have been strong, and he had, as he knew, been very weak. He had meant to have acted in a high-minded, honest, manly manner; but circumstances had been so untoward with him, that on looking at his own conduct, it seemed to him to have been mean, and almost false and cowardly. As the order for the exclusion of this hated man from his house had been given, he should at any rate have stuck to the order. At the moment of his vacillation he had simply intended to make things easy for his wife; but she had taken advantage of his vacillation, and had now clearly conquered him. Perhaps he respected her more than he had done when he was resolving, three or four days since, that he would be the master in his own house; but it may be feared that the tenderness of his love for her had been impaired.
Late in the afternoon his wife and sister-in-law came down dressed for walking, and, finding Trevelyan in the library, they asked him to join them,—it was a custom with them to walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon,—and he at once assented, and went out with them. Emily, who had had her triumph, was very gracious. There should not be a word more said by her about Colonel Osborne. She would avoid that gentleman, never receiving him in Curzon Street, and having as little to say to him as possible elsewhere; but she would not throw his name in her husband's teeth, or make any reference to the injury which had so manifestly been done to her. Unless Louis should be indiscreet, it should be as though it had been forgotten. As they walked by Chesterfield House and Stanhope Street into the park, she began to discuss the sermon they had heard that morning, and when she found that that subject was not alluring, she spoke of a dinner to which they were to go at Mrs. Fairfax's house. Louis Trevelyan was quite aware that he was being treated as a naughty boy, who was to be forgiven.
They went across Hyde Park into Kensington Gardens, and still the same thing was going on. Nora found it to be almost impossible to say a word. Trevelyan answered his wife's questions, but was otherwise silent. Emily worked very hard at her mission of forgiveness, and hardly ceased in her efforts at conciliatory conversation. Women can work so much harder in this way than men find it possible to do! She never flagged, but continued to be fluent, conciliatory, and intolerably wearisome. On a sudden they came across two men together, who, as they all knew, were barely acquainted with each other. These were Colonel Osborne and Hugh Stanbury.
"I am glad to find you are able to be out," said the Colonel.
"Thanks; yes. I think my seclusion just now was almost as much due to baby as to anything else. Mr. Stanbury, how is it we never see you now?"
"It is the D. R., Mrs. Trevelyan;—nothing else. The D. R. is a most grateful mistress, but somewhat exacting. I am allowed a couple of hours on Sundays, but otherwise my time is wholly passed in Fleet Street."
"How very unpleasant."
"Well; yes. The unpleasantness of this world consists chiefly in the fact that when a man wants wages, he must earn them. The Christian philosophers have a theory about it. Don't they call it the primeval fall, original sin, and that kind of thing?"
"Mr. Stanbury, I won't have irreligion. I hope that doesn't come from writing for the newspapers."
"Certainly not with me, Mrs. Trevelyan. I have never been put on to take that branch yet. Scrubby does that with us, and does it excellently. It was he who touched up the Ritualists, and then the Commission, and then the Low Church bishops, till he didn't leave one of them a leg to stand upon."
"What is it, then, that the Daily Record upholds?"
"It upholds the Daily Record. Believe in that and you will surely be saved." Then he turned to Miss Rowley, and they two were soon walking on together, each manifestly interested in what the other was saying, though there was no word of tenderness spoken between them.
Colonel Osborne was now between Mr. and Mrs. Trevelyan. She would have avoided the position had it been possible for her to do so. While they were falling into their present places, she had made a little mute appeal to her husband to take her away from the spot, to give her his arm and return with her, to save her in some way from remaining in company with the man to whose company for her he had objected; but he took no such step. It had seemed to him that he could take no such step without showing his hostility to Colonel Osborne.
They walked on along the broad path together, and the Colonel was between them.
"I hope you think it satisfactory,—about Sir Rowley," he said.
"Beggars must not be choosers, you know, Colonel Osborne. I felt a little disappointed when I found that we were not to see them till February next."
"They will stay longer then, you know, than they could now."
"I have no doubt when the time comes we shall all believe it to be better."
"I suppose you think, Emily, that a little pudding to-day is better than much to-morrow."
Colonel Osborne certainly had a caressing, would-be affectionate mode of talking to women, which, unless it were reciprocated and enjoyed, was likely to make itself disagreeable. No possible words could have been more innocent than those he had now spoken; but he had turned his face down close to her face, and had almost whispered them. And then, too, he had again called her by her Christian name. Trevelyan had not heard the words. He had walked on, making the distance between him and the other man greater than was necessary, anxious to show to his wife that he had no jealousy at such a meeting as this. But his wife was determined that she would put an end to this state of things, let the cost be what it might. She did not say a word to Colonel Osborne, but addressed herself at once to her husband.
"Louis," she said, "will you give me your arm? We will go back, if you please." Then she took her husband's arm, and turned herself and him abruptly away from their companion.
The thing was done in such a manner that it was impossible that Colonel Osborne should not perceive that he had been left in anger. When Trevelyan and his wife had gone back a few yards, he was obliged to return for Nora. He did so, and then rejoined his wife.
"It was quite unnecessary, Emily," he said, "that you should behave like that."
"Your suspicions," she said, "have made it almost impossible for me to behave with propriety."
"You have told him everything now," said Trevelyan.
"And it was requisite that he should be told," said his wife. Then they walked home without interchanging another word. When they reached their house, Emily at once went up to her own room, and Trevelyan to his. They parted as though they had no common interest which was worthy of a moment's conversation. And she by her step, and gait, and every movement of her body showed to him that she was not his wife now in any sense that could bring to him a feeling of domestic happiness. Her compliance with his command was of no use to him unless she could be brought to comply in spirit. Unless she would be soft to him he could not be happy. He walked about his room uneasily for half-an-hour, trying to shake off his sorrow, and then he went up to her room. "Emily," he said, "for God's sake let all this pass away."
"What is to pass away?"
"This feeling of rancour between you and me. What is the world to us unless we can love one another? At any rate it will be nothing to me."
"Do you doubt my love?" said she.
"No; certainly not."
"Nor I yours. Without love, Louis, you and I can not be happy. But love alone will not make us so. There must be trust, and there must also be forbearance. My feeling of annoyance will pass away in time; and till it does, I will shew it as little as may be possible."
He felt that he had nothing more to say, and then he left her; but he had gained nothing by the interview. She was still hard and cold, and still assumed a tone which seemed to imply that she had manifestly been the injured person.
Colonel Osborne, when he was left alone, stood for a few moments on the spot, and then with a whistle, a shake of the head, and a little low chuckle of laughter, rejoined the crowd.
MISS JEMIMA STANBURY, OF EXETER.
Miss Jemima Stanbury, the aunt of our friend Hugh, was a maiden lady, very much respected, indeed, in the city of Exeter. It is to be hoped that no readers of these pages will be so un-English as to be unable to appreciate the difference between county society and town society,—the society, that is, of a provincial town, or so ignorant as not to know also that there may be persons so privileged, that although they live distinctly within a provincial town, there is accorded to them, as though by brevet rank, all the merit of living in the county. In reference to persons so privileged, it is considered that they have been made free from the contamination of contiguous bricks and mortar by certain inner gifts, probably of birth, occasionally of profession, possibly of merit. It is very rarely, indeed, that money alone will bestow this acknowledged rank; and in Exeter, which by the stringency and excellence of its well-defined rules on such matters, may perhaps be said to take the lead of all English provincial towns, money alone has never availed. Good blood, especially if it be blood good in Devonshire, is rarely rejected. Clergymen are allowed within the pale,—though by no means as certainly as used to be the case; and, indeed, in these days of literates, clergymen have to pass harder examinations than those ever imposed upon them by bishops' chaplains, before they are admitted ad eundem among the chosen ones of the city of Exeter. The wives and daughters of the old prebendaries see well to that. And, as has been said, special merit may prevail. Sir Peter Mancrudy, the great Exeter physician, has won his way in,—not at all by being Sir Peter, which has stood in his way rather than otherwise,—but by the acknowledged excellence of his book about saltzes. Sir Peter Mancrudy is supposed to have quite a metropolitan, almost a European reputation,—and therefore is acknowledged to belong to the county set, although he never dines out at any house beyond the limits of the city. Now, let it be known that no inhabitant of Exeter ever achieved a clearer right to be regarded as "county," in opposition to "town," than had Miss Jemima Stanbury. There was not a tradesman in Exeter who was not aware of it, and who did not touch his hat to her accordingly. The men who drove the flies, when summoned to take her out at night, would bring oats with them, knowing how probable it was that they might have to travel far. A distinct apology was made if she was asked to drink tea with people who were simply "town." The Noels of Doddescombe Leigh, the Cliffords of Budleigh Salterton, the Powels of Haldon, the Cheritons of Alphington,—all county persons, but very frequently in the city,—were greeted by her, and greeted her, on terms of equality. Her most intimate friend was old Mrs. MacHugh, the widow of the last dean but two, who could not have stood higher had she been the widow of the last bishop. And then, although Miss Stanbury was intimate with the Frenches of Heavitree, with the Wrights of Northernhay, with the Apjohns of Helion Villa,—a really magnificent house, two miles out of the city on the Crediton Road, and with the Crumbies of Cronstadt House, Saint Ide's,—who would have been county people, if living in the country made the difference;—although she was intimate with all these families, her manner to them was not the same, nor was it expected to be the same, as with those of her own acknowledged set. These things are understood in Exeter so well!
Miss Stanbury belonged to the county set, but she lived in a large brick house, standing in the Close, almost behind the Cathedral. Indeed it was so close to the eastern end of the edifice that a carriage could not be brought quite up to her door. It was a large brick house, very old, with a door in the middle, and five steps ascending to it between high iron rails. On each side of the door there were two windows on the ground floor, and above that there were three tiers of five windows each, and the house was double throughout, having as many windows looking out behind into a gloomy courtyard. But the glory of the house consisted in this, that there was a garden attached to it, a garden with very high walls, over which the boughs of trees might be seen, giving to the otherwise gloomy abode a touch of freshness in the summer, and a look of space in the winter, which no doubt added something to the reputation even of Miss Stanbury. The fact,—for it was a fact,—that there was no gloomier or less attractive spot in the whole city than Miss Stanbury's garden, when seen inside, did not militate against this advantage. There were but half-a-dozen trees, and a few square yards of grass that was never green, and a damp ungravelled path on which no one ever walked. Seen from the inside the garden was not much; but, from the outside, it gave a distinct character to the house, and produced an unexpressed acknowledgment that the owner of it ought to belong to the county set.
The house and all that was in it belonged to Miss Stanbury herself, as did also many other houses in the neighbourhood. She was the owner of the "Cock and Bottle," a very decent second class inn on the other side of the Close, an inn supposed to have clerical tendencies, which made it quite suitable for a close. The choristers took their beer there, and the landlord was a retired verger. Nearly the whole of one side of a dark passage leading out of the Close towards the High Street belonged to her; and though the passage be narrow and the houses dark, the locality is known to be good for trade. And she owned two large houses in the High Street, and a great warehouse at St. Thomas's, and had been bought out of land by the Railway at St. David's,—much to her own dissatisfaction, as she was wont to express herself, but, undoubtedly, at a very high price. It will be understood therefore, that Miss Stanbury was wealthy, and that she was bound to the city in which she lived by peculiar ties.
But Miss Stanbury had not been born to this wealth, nor can she be said to have inherited from her forefathers any of these high privileges which had been awarded to her. She had achieved them by the romance of her life and the manner in which she had carried herself amidst its vicissitudes. Her father had been vicar of Nuncombe Putney, a parish lying twenty miles west of Exeter, among the moors. And on her father's death, her brother, also now dead, had become vicar of the same parish,—her brother, whose only son, Hugh Stanbury, we already know, working for the "D. R." up in London. When Miss Stanbury was twenty-one she became engaged to a certain Mr. Brooke Burgess, the eldest son of a banker in Exeter,—or, it might, perhaps, be better said, a banker himself; for at the time Mr. Brooke Burgess was in the firm. It need not here be told how various misfortunes arose, how Mr. Burgess quarrelled with the Stanbury family, how Jemima quarrelled with her own family, how, when her father died, she went out from Nuncombe Putney parsonage, and lived on the smallest pittance in a city lodging, how her lover was untrue to her and did not marry her, and how at last he died and left her every shilling that he possessed.
The Devonshire people, at the time, had been much divided as to the merits of the Stanbury quarrel. There were many who said that the brother could not have acted otherwise than he did; and that Miss Stanbury, though by force of character and force of circumstances she had weathered the storm, had in truth been very indiscreet. The results, however, were as have been described. At the period of which we treat, Miss Stanbury was a very rich lady, living by herself in Exeter, admitted, without question, to be one of the county set, and still at variance with her brother's family. Except to Hugh, she had never spoken a word to one of them since her brother's death. When the money came into her hands, she at that time being over forty and her nephew being then just ten years old, she had undertaken to educate him, and to start him in the world. We know how she had kept her word, and how and why she had withdrawn herself from any further responsibility in the matter.
And in regard to this business of starting the young man she had been careful to let it be known that she would do no more than start him. In the formal document, by means of which she had made the proposal to her brother, she had been careful to let it be understood that simple education was all that she intended to bestow upon him,—"and that only," she had added, "in the event of my surviving till his education be completed." And to Hugh himself she had declared that any allowance which she made him after he was called to the Bar, was only made in order to give him room for his foot, a spot of ground from whence to make his first leap. We know how he made that leap, infinitely to the disgust of his aunt, who, when he refused obedience to her in the matter of withdrawing from the Daily Record, immediately withdrew from him, not only her patronage and assistance, but even her friendship and acquaintance. This was the letter which she wrote to him—
I don't think that writing radical stuff for a penny newspaper is a respectable occupation for a gentleman, and I will have nothing to do with it. If you choose to do such work, I cannot help it; but it was not for such that I sent you to Harrow and Oxford, nor yet up to London and paid £100 a year to Mr. Lambert. I think you are treating me badly, but that is nothing to your bad treatment of yourself. You need not trouble yourself to answer this, unless you are prepared to say that you will not write any more stuff for that penny newspaper. Only I wish to be understood. I will have no connection that I can help, and no acquaintance at all, with radical scribblers and incendiaries.
The Close, Exeter, April 15, 186—.
Hugh Stanbury had answered this, thanking his aunt for past favours, and explaining to her,—or striving to do so,—that he felt it to be his duty to earn his bread, as a means of earning it had come within his reach. He might as well have spared himself the trouble. She simply wrote a few words across his own letter in red ink:—"The bread of unworthiness should never be earned or eaten;" and then sent the letter back under a blank envelope to her nephew.
She was a thorough Tory of the old school. Had Hugh taken to writing for a newspaper that had cost sixpence, or even threepence, for its copies, she might perhaps have forgiven him. At any rate the offence would not have been so flagrant. And had the paper been conservative instead of liberal, she would have had some qualms of conscience before she gave him up. But to live by writing for a newspaper! and for a penny newspaper!! and for a penny radical newspaper!!! It was more than she could endure. Of what nature were the articles which he contributed it was impossible that she should have any idea, for no consideration would have induced her to look at a penny newspaper, or to admit it within her doors. She herself took in the John Bull and the Herald, and daily groaned deeply at the way in which those once great organs of true British public feeling were becoming demoralised and perverted. Had any reduction been made in the price of either of them, she would at once have stopped her subscription. In the matter of politics she had long since come to think that everything good was over. She hated the name of Reform so much that she could not bring herself to believe in Mr. Disraeli and his bill. For many years she had believed in Lord Derby. She would fain believe in him still if she could. It was the great desire of her heart to have some one in whom she believed. In the bishop of her diocese she did believe, and annually sent him some little comforting present from her own hand. And in two or three of the clergymen around her she believed, finding in them a flavour of the unascetic godliness of ancient days which was gratifying to her palate. But in politics there was hardly a name remaining to which she could fix her faith and declare that there should be her guide. For awhile she thought she would cling to Mr. Lowe; but, when she made inquiry, she found that there was no base there of really well-formed conservative granite. The three gentlemen who had dissevered themselves from Mr. Disraeli when Mr. Disraeli was passing his Reform bill, were doubtless very good in their way; but they were not big enough to fill her heart. She tried to make herself happy with General Peel, but General Peel was after all no more than a shade to her. But the untruth of others never made her untrue, and she still talked of the excellence of George III. and the glories of the subsequent reign. She had a bust of Lord Eldon, before which she was accustomed to stand with hands closed and to weep,—or to think that she wept.
She was a little woman, now nearly sixty years of age, with bright grey eyes, and a strong Roman nose, and thin lips, and a sharp-cut chin. She wore a head-gear that almost amounted to a mob-cap, and beneath it her grey hair was always frizzled with the greatest care. Her dress was invariably of black silk, and she had five gowns,—one for church, one for evening parties, one for driving out, and one for evenings at home, and one for mornings. The dress, when new, always went to church. Nothing, she was wont to say, was too good for the Lord's house. In the days of crinolines she had protested that she had never worn one,—a protest, however, which was hardly true; and now, in these later days, her hatred was especially developed in reference to the head-dresses of young women. "Chignon" was a word which she had never been heard to pronounce. She would talk of "those bandboxes which the sluts wear behind their noddles;" for Miss Stanbury allowed herself the use of much strong language. She was very punctilious in all her habits, breakfasting ever at half-past eight, and dining always at six. Half-past five had been her time, till the bishop, who, on an occasion, was to be her guest, once signified to her that such an hour cut up the day and interfered with clerical work. Her lunch was always of bread and cheese, and they who lunched with her either eat that,—or the bread without the cheese. An afternoon "tea" was a thing horrible to her imagination. Tea and buttered toast at half-past eight in the evening was the great luxury of her life. She was as strong as a horse, and had never hitherto known a day's illness. As a consequence of this, she did not believe in the illness of other people,—especially not in the illness of women. She did not like a girl who could not drink a glass of beer with her bread and cheese in the middle of the day, and she thought that a glass of port after dinner was good for everybody. Indeed, she had a thorough belief in port wine, thinking that it would go far to cure most miseries. But she could not put up with the idea that a woman, young or old, should want the stimulus of a glass of sherry to support her at any odd time of the day. Hot concoctions of strong drink at Christmas she would allow to everybody, and was very strong in recommending such comforts to ladies blessed, or about to be blessed, with babies. She took the sacrament every month, and gave away exactly a tenth of her income to the poor. She believed that there was a special holiness in a tithe of a thing, and attributed the commencement of the downfall of the Church of England to rent charges, and the commutation of clergymen's incomes. Since Judas, there had never been, to her thinking, a traitor so base, or an apostate so sinful, as Colenso; and yet, of the nature of Colenso's teaching she was as ignorant as the towers of the cathedral opposite to her.
She believed in Exeter, thinking that there was no other provincial town in England in which a maiden lady could live safely and decently. London to her was an abode of sin; and though, as we have seen, she delighted to call herself one of the county set, she did not love the fields and lanes. And in Exeter the only place for a lady was the Close. Southernhay and Northernhay might be very well, and there was doubtless a respectable neighbourhood on the Heavitree side of the town; but for the new streets, and especially for the suburban villas, she had no endurance. She liked to deal at dear shops; but would leave any shop, either dear or cheap, in regard to which a printed advertisement should reach her eye. She paid all her bills at the end of each six months, and almost took a delight in high prices. She would rejoice that bread should be cheap, and grieve that meat should be dear, because of the poor; but in regard to other matters no reduction in the cost of an article ever pleased her. She had houses as to which she was told by her agent that the rents should be raised; but she would not raise them. She had others which it was difficult to let without lowering the rents, but she would not lower them. All change was to her hateful and unnecessary.
She kept three maid-servants, and a man came in every day to clean the knives and boots. Service with her was well requited, and much labour was never exacted. But it was not every young woman who could live with her. A rigidity as to hours, as to religious exercises, and as to dress, was exacted, under which many poor girls altogether broke down; but they who could stand this rigidity came to know that their places were very valuable. No one belonging to them need want for aught, when once the good opinion of Miss Stanbury had been earned. When once she believed in her servant there was nobody like that servant. There was not a man in Exeter could clean a boot except Giles Hickbody,—and if not in Exeter, then where else? And her own maid Martha, who had lived with her now for twenty years, and who had come with her to the brick house when she first inhabited it, was such a woman that no other servant anywhere was fit to hold a candle to her. But then Martha had great gifts,—was never ill, and really liked having sermons read to her.
Such was Miss Stanbury, who had now discarded her nephew Hugh. She had never been tenderly affectionate to Hugh, or she would hardly have asked him to live in London on a hundred a year. She had never really been kind to him since he was a boy, for although she had paid for him, she had been almost penurious in her manner of doing so, and had repeatedly given him to understand, that in the event of her death not a shilling would be left to him. Indeed, as to that matter of bequeathing her money, it was understood that it was her purpose to let it all go back to the Burgess family. With the Burgess family she had kept up no sustained connection, it being quite understood that she was never to be asked to meet the only one of them now left in Exeter. Nor was it as yet known to any one in what manner the money was to go back, how it was to be divided, or who were to be the recipients. But she had declared that it should go back, explaining that she had conceived it to be a duty to let her own relations know that they would not inherit her wealth at her death.
About a week after she had sent back poor Hugh's letter with the endorsement on it as to unworthy bread, she summoned Martha to the back parlour in which she was accustomed to write her letters. It was one of the theories of her life that different rooms should be used only for the purposes for which they were intended. She never allowed pens and ink up into the bed-rooms, and had she ever heard that any guest in her house was reading in bed, she would have made an instant personal attack upon that guest, whether male or female, which would have surprised that guest. Poor Hugh would have got on better with her had he not been discovered once smoking in the garden. Nor would she have writing materials in the drawing-room or dining-room. There was a chamber behind the dining-room in which there was an inkbottle, and if there was a letter to be written, let the writer go there and write it. In the writing of many letters, however, she put no confidence, and regarded penny postage as one of the strongest evidences of the coming ruin.
"Martha," she said, "I want to speak to you. Sit down. I think I am going to do something." Martha sat down, but did not speak a word. There had been no question asked of her, and the time for speaking had not come. "I am writing to Mrs. Stanbury, at Nuncombe Putney; and what do you think I am saying to her?"
Now the question had been asked, and it was Martha's duty to reply.
"Writing to Mrs. Stanbury, ma'am?"
"Yes, to Mrs. Stanbury."
"It ain't possible for me to say, ma'am, unless it's to put Mr. Hugh from going on with the newspapers."
"When my nephew won't be controlled by me, I shan't go elsewhere to look for control over him; you may be sure of that, Martha. And remember, Martha, I don't want to have his name mentioned again in the house. You will tell them all so, if you please."
"He was a very nice gentleman, ma'am."
"Martha, I won't have it; and there's an end of it. I won't have it. Perhaps I know what goes to the making of a nice gentleman as well as you do."
"Mr. Hugh, ma'am,—"
"I won't have it, Martha. And when I say so, let there be an end of it." As she said this, she got up from her chair, and shook her head, and took a turn about the room. "If I'm not mistress here, I'm nobody."
"Of course you're mistress here, ma'am."
"And if I don't know what's fit to be done, and what's not fit, I'm too old to learn; and, what's more, I won't be taught. I'm not going to have my house crammed with radical incendiary stuff, printed with ink that stinks, on paper made out of straw. If I can't live without penny literature, at any rate I'll die without it. Now listen to me."
"I have asked Mrs. Stanbury to send one of the girls over here."
"To live, ma'am?" Martha's tone as she asked the question, showed how deeply she felt its importance.
"Yes, Martha; to live."
"You'll never like it, ma'am."
"I don't suppose I shall."
"You'll never get on with it, ma'am; never. The young lady'll be out of the house in a week; or if she ain't, somebody else will."
"You mean yourself."
"I'm only a servant, ma'am, and it don't signify about me."
"You're a fool."
"That's true, ma'am, I don't doubt."
"I've sent for her, and we must do the best we can. Perhaps she won't come."
"She'll come fast enough," said Martha. "But whether she'll stay, that's a different thing. I don't see how it's possible she's to stay. I'm told they're feckless, idle young ladies. She'll be so soft, ma'am, and you,—"
"Well; what of me?"
"You'll be so hard, ma'am!"
"I'm not a bit harder than you, Martha; nor yet so hard. I'll do my duty, or at least I'll try. Now you know all about it, and you may go away. There's the letter, and I mean to go out and post it myself."
"I KNOW IT WILL DO."
Miss Stanbury carried her letter all the way to the chief post-office in the city, having no faith whatever in those little subsidiary receiving houses which are established in different parts of the city. As for the iron pillar boxes which had been erected of late years for the receipt of letters, one of which,—a most hateful thing to her,—stood almost close to her own hall door, she had not the faintest belief that any letter put into one of them would ever reach its destination. She could not understand why people should not walk with their letters to a respectable post-office instead of chucking them into an iron stump,—as she called it,—out in the middle of the street with nobody to look after it. Positive orders had been given that no letter from her house should ever be put into the iron post. Her epistle to her sister-in-law, of whom she never spoke otherwise than as Mrs. Stanbury, was as follows:—
The Close, Exeter, 22nd April, 186—.
My Dear Sister Stanbury,
Your son, Hugh, has taken to courses of which I do not approve, and therefore I have put an end to my connection with him. I shall be happy to entertain your daughter Dorothy in my house if you and she approve of such a plan. Should you agree to this, she will be welcome to receive you or her sister,—not her brother,—in my house any Wednesday morning between half-past nine and half-past twelve. I will endeavour to make my house pleasant to her and useful, and will make her an allowance of £25 per annum for her clothes as long as she may remain with me. I shall expect her to be regular at meals, to be constant in going to church, and not to read modern novels.
I intend the arrangement to be permanent, but of course I must retain the power of closing it if, and when, I shall see fit. Its permanence must be contingent on my life. I have no power of providing for any one after my death.
I hope the young lady does not have any false hair about her.
When this note was received at Nuncombe Putney the amazement which it occasioned was extreme. Mrs. Stanbury, the widow of the late vicar, lived in a little morsel of a cottage on the outskirts of the village, with her two daughters, Priscilla and Dorothy. Their whole income, out of which it was necessary that they should pay rent for their cottage, was less than £70 per annum. During the last few months a five-pound note now and again had found its way to Nuncombe Putney out of the coffers of the "D. R.;" but the ladies there were most unwilling to be so relieved, thinking that their brother's career was of infinitely more importance than their comforts or even than their living. They were very poor, but they were accustomed to poverty. The elder sister was older than Hugh, but Dorothy, the younger, to whom this strange invitation was now made, was two years younger than her brother, and was now nearly twenty-six. How they had lived, and dressed themselves, and had continued to be called ladies by the inhabitants of the village was, and is, and will be a mystery to those who have had the spending of much larger incomes, but have still been always poor. But they had lived, had gone to church every Sunday in decent apparel, and had kept up friendly relations with the family of the present vicar, and with one or two other neighbours.
When the letter had been read first by the mother, and then aloud, and then by each of them separately, in the little sitting-room in the cottage, there was silence among them,—for neither of them desired to be the first to express an opinion. Nothing could be more natural than the proposed arrangement, had it not been made unnatural by a quarrel existing nearly throughout the whole life of the person most nearly concerned. Priscilla, the elder daughter, was the one of the family who was generally the ruler, and she at last expressed an opinion adverse to the arrangement. "My dear, you would never be able to bear it," said Priscilla.
"I suppose not," said Mrs. Stanbury, plaintively.
"I could try," said Dorothy.
"My dear, you don't know that woman," said Priscilla.
"Of course I don't know her," said Dorothy.
"She has always been very good to Hugh," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"I don't think she has been good to him at all," said Priscilla.
"But think what a saving it would be," said Dorothy. "And I could send home half of what Aunt Stanbury says she would give me."
"You must not think of that," said Priscilla, "because she expects you to be dressed."
"I should like to try," she said, before the morning was over,—"if you and mamma don't think it would be wrong."
The conference that day ended in a written request to Aunt Stanbury that a week might be allowed for consideration,—the letter being written by Priscilla, but signed with her mother's name,—and with a very long epistle to Hugh, in which each of the ladies took a part, and in which advice and decision were demanded. It was very evident to Hugh that his mother and Dorothy were for compliance, and that Priscilla was for refusal. But he never doubted for a moment. "Of course she will go," he said in his answer to Priscilla; "and she must understand that Aunt Stanbury is a most excellent woman, as true as the sun, thoroughly honest, with no fault but this, that she likes her own way. Of course Dolly can go back again if she finds the house too hard for her." Then he sent another five-pound note, observing that Dolly's journey to Exeter would cost money, and that her wardrobe would want some improvement.
"I'm very glad that it isn't me," said Priscilla, who, however, did not attempt to oppose the decision of the man of the family. Dorothy was greatly gratified by the excitement of the proposed change in her life, and the following letter, the product of the wisdom of the family, was written by Mrs. Stanbury:—
Nuncombe Putney, 1st May, 186—.
My Dear Sister Stanbury,
We are all very thankful for the kindness of your offer, which my daughter Dorothy will accept with feelings of affectionate gratitude. I think you will find her docile, good-tempered, and amiable; but a mother, of course, speaks well of her own child. She will endeavour to comply with your wishes in all things reasonable. She, of course, understands that should the arrangement not suit, she will come back home on the expression of your wish that it should be so. And she will, of course, do the same, if she should find that living in Exeter does not suit herself. [This sentence was inserted at the instance of Priscilla, after much urgent expostulation.] Dorothy will be ready to go to you on any day you may fix after the 7th of this month.
Believe me to remain,
Your affectionate sister-in-law,
"She's going to come," said Miss Stanbury to Martha, holding the letter in her hand.
"I never doubted her coming, ma'am," said Martha.
"And I mean her to stay, unless it's her own fault. She'll have the small room up-stairs, looking out front, next to mine. And you must go and fetch her."
"Go and fetch her, ma'am?"
"Yes. If you won't, I must."
"She ain't a child, ma'am. She's twenty-five years old, and surely she can come to Exeter by herself, with a railroad all the way from Lessboro'."
"There's no place a young woman is insulted in so bad as those railway carriages, and I won't have her come by herself. If she is to live with me, she shall begin decently at any rate."
Martha argued the matter, but was of course beaten, and on the day fixed started early in the morning for Nuncombe Putney, and returned in the afternoon to the Close with her charge. By the time that she had reached the house she had in some degree reconciled herself to the dangerous step that her mistress had taken, partly by perceiving that in face Dorothy Stanbury was very like her brother Hugh, and partly, perhaps, by finding that the young woman's manner to herself was both gentle and sprightly. She knew well that gentleness alone, without some back-bone of strength under it, would not long succeed with Miss Stanbury. "As far as I can judge, ma'am, she's a sweet young lady," said Martha, when she reported her arrival to her mistress, who had retired up-stairs to her own room, in order that she might thus hear a word of tidings from her lieutenant, before she showed herself on the field of action.
"Sweet! I hate your sweets," said Miss Stanbury.
"Then why did you send for her, ma'am?"
"Because I was an old fool. But I must go down and receive her, I suppose."
Then Miss Stanbury went down, almost trembling as she went. The matter to her was one of vital importance. She was going to change the whole tenour of her life for the sake,—as she told herself,—of doing her duty by a relative whom she did not even know. But we may fairly suppose that there had in truth been a feeling beyond that, which taught her to desire to have some one near her to whom she might not only do her duty as guardian, but whom she might also love. She had tried this with her nephew; but her nephew had been too strong for her, too far from her, too unlike to herself. When he came to see her he had smoked a short pipe,—which had been shocking to her,—and he had spoken of Reform, and Trades' Unions, and meetings in the parks, as though they had not been Devil's ordinances. And he was very shy of going to church,—utterly refusing to be taken there twice on the same Sunday. And he had told his aunt that owing to a peculiar and unfortunate weakness in his constitution he could not listen to the reading of sermons. And then she was almost certain that he had once kissed one of the maids! She had found it impossible to manage him in any way; and when he positively declared himself as permanently devoted to the degrading iniquities of penny newspapers, she had thought it best to cast him off altogether. Now, thus late in life, she was going to make another venture, to try an altogether new mode of living,—in order, as she said to herself, that she might be of some use to somebody,—but, no doubt, with a further unexpressed hope in her bosom, that the solitude of her life might be relieved by the companionship of some one whom she might love. She had arrayed herself in a clean cap and her evening gown, and she went down-stairs looking sternly, with a fully-developed idea that she must initiate her new duties by assuming a mastery at once. But inwardly she trembled, and was intensely anxious as to the first appearance of her niece. Of course there would be a little morsel of a bonnet. She hated those vile patches,—dirty flat daubs of millinery as she called them; but they had become too general for her to refuse admittance for such a thing within her doors. But a chignon, a bandbox behind the noddle,—she would not endure. And then there were other details of feminine gear, which shall not be specified, as to which she was painfully anxious,—almost forgetting in her anxiety that the dress of this young woman whom she was about to see must have ever been regulated by the closest possible economy.
The first thing she saw on entering the room was a dark straw hat, a straw hat with a strong penthouse flap to it, and her heart was immediately softened.
"My dear," she said, "I am glad to see you."
Dorothy, who, on her part, was trembling also, whose position was one to justify most intense anxiety, murmured some reply.
"Take off your hat," said the aunt, "and let me give you a kiss."
The hat was taken off and the kiss was given. There was certainly no chignon there. Dorothy Stanbury was light haired, with almost flaxen ringlets, worn after the old-fashioned way which we used to think so pretty when we were young. She had very soft grey eyes, which ever seemed to beseech you to do something when they looked at you, and her mouth was a beseeching mouth. There are women who, even amidst their strongest efforts at giving assistance to others, always look as though they were asking aid themselves, and such a one was Dorothy Stanbury. Her complexion was pale, but there was always present in it a tint of pink running here and there, changing with every word she spoke, changing indeed with every pulse of her heart. Nothing ever was softer than her cheek; but her hands were thin and hard, and almost fibrous with the working of the thread upon them. She was rather tall than otherwise, but that extreme look of feminine dependence which always accompanied her, took away something even from the appearance of her height.
"These are all real, at any rate," said her aunt, taking hold of the curls, "and won't be hurt by a little cold water."
Dorothy smiled but said nothing, and was then taken up to her bed-room. Indeed, when the aunt and niece sat down to dinner together Dorothy had hardly spoken. But Miss Stanbury had spoken, and things upon the whole had gone very well.
"I hope you like roast chicken, my dear?" said Miss Stanbury.
"Oh, thank you."
"And bread sauce? Jane, I do hope the bread sauce is hot."
If the reader thinks that Miss Stanbury was indifferent to considerations of the table, the reader is altogether ignorant of Miss Stanbury's character. When Miss Stanbury gave her niece the liver-wing, and picked out from the attendant sausages one that had been well browned and properly broken in the frying, she meant to do a real kindness.
"And now, my dear, there are mashed potatoes and bread sauce. As for green vegetables, I don't know what has become of them. They tell me I may have green peas from France at a shilling a quart; but if I can't have English green peas, I won't have any."
Miss Stanbury was standing up as she said this,—as she always did on such occasions, liking to have a full mastery over the dish.
"I hope you like it, my dear?"
"Everything is so very nice."
"That's right. I like to see a young woman with an appetite. Remember that God sends the good things for us to eat; and as long as we don't take more than our share, and give away something to those who haven't a fair share of their own, I for one think it quite right to enjoy my victuals. Jane, this bread sauce isn't hot. It never is hot. Don't tell me; I know what hot is!"
Dorothy thought that her aunt was very angry; but Jane knew Miss Stanbury better, and bore the scolding without shaking in her shoes.
"And now, my dear, you must take a glass of port wine. It will do you good after your journey."
Dorothy attempted to explain that she never did drink any wine, but her aunt talked down her scruples at once.
"One glass of port wine never did anybody any harm, and as there is port wine, it must be intended that somebody should drink it."
Miss Stanbury, as she sipped hers out very slowly, seemed to enjoy it much. Although May had come, there was a fire in the grate, and she sat with her toes on the fender, and her silk dress folded up above her knees. She sat quite silent in this position for a quarter of an hour, every now and then raising her glass to her lips. Dorothy sat silent also. To her, in the newness of her condition, speech was impossible.
"I think it will do," said Miss Stanbury at last.
As Dorothy had no idea what would do, she could make no reply to this.
"I'm sure it will do," said Miss Stanbury, after another short interval. "You're as like my poor sister as two eggs. You don't have headaches, do you?"
Dorothy said that she was not ordinarily affected in that way.
"When girls have headaches it comes from tight-lacing, and not walking enough, and carrying all manner of nasty smells about with them. I know what headaches mean. How is a woman not to have a headache, when she carries a thing on the back of her poll as big as a gardener's wheel-barrow? Come, it's a fine evening, and we'll go out and look at the towers. You've never even seen them yet, I suppose?"
So they went out, and finding the verger at the Cathedral door, he being a great friend of Miss Stanbury's, they walked up and down the aisles, and Dorothy was instructed as to what would be expected from her in regard to the outward forms of religion. She was to go to the Cathedral service on the morning of every week-day, and on Sundays in the afternoon. On Sunday mornings she was to attend the little church of St. Margaret. On Sunday evenings it was the practice of Miss Stanbury to read a sermon in the dining-room to all of whom her household consisted. Did Dorothy like daily services? Dorothy, who was more patient than her brother, and whose life had been much less energetic, said that she had no objection to going to church every day when there was not too much to do.
"There never need be too much to do to attend the Lord's house," said Miss Stanbury, somewhat angrily.
"Only if you've got to make the beds," said Dorothy.
"My dear, I beg your pardon," said Miss Stanbury. "I beg your pardon, heartily. I'm a thoughtless old woman, I know. Never mind. Now, we'll go in."
Later in the evening, when she gave her niece a candlestick to go to bed, she repeated what she had said before.
"It'll do very well, my dear. I'm sure it'll do. But if you read in bed either night or morning, I'll never forgive you."
This last caution was uttered with so much energy, that Dorothy gave a little jump as she promised obedience.
SHEWING HOW THE QUARREL PROGRESSED AGAIN.
On one Sunday morning, when the month of May was nearly over, Hugh Stanbury met Colonel Osborne in Curzon Street, not many yards from Trevelyan's door. Colonel Osborne had just come from the house, and Stanbury was going to it. Hugh had not spoken to Osborne since the day, now a fortnight since, on which both of them had witnessed the scene in the park; but on that occasion they had been left together, and it had been impossible for them not to say a few words about their mutual friends. Osborne had expressed his sorrow that there should be any misunderstanding, and had called Trevelyan a "confounded fool." Stanbury had suggested that there was something in it which they two probably did not understand, and that matters would be sure to come all right. "The truth is Trevelyan bullies her," said Osborne; "and if he goes on with that he'll be sure to get the worst of it." Now,—on this present occasion,—Stanbury asked whether he would find the ladies at home. "Yes, they are both there," said Osborne. "Trevelyan has just gone out in a huff. She'll never be able to go on living with him. Anybody can see that with half an eye." Then he had passed on, and Hugh Stanbury knocked at the door.
He was shown up into the drawing-room, and found both the sisters there; but he could see that Mrs. Trevelyan had been in tears. The avowed purpose of his visit,—that is, the purpose which he had avowed to himself,—was to talk about his sister Dorothy. He had told Miss Rowley, while walking in the park with her, how Dorothy had been invited over to Exeter by her aunt, and how he had counselled his sister to accept the invitation. Nora had expressed herself very interested as to Dorothy's fate, and had said how much she wished that she knew Dorothy. We all understand how sweet it is, when two such persons as Hugh Stanbury and Nora Rowley cannot speak of their love for each other, to say these tender things in regard to some one else. Nora had been quite anxious to know how Dorothy had been received by that old conservative warrior, as Hugh Stanbury had called his aunt, and Hugh had now come to Curzon Street with a letter from Dorothy in his pocket. But when he saw that there had been some cause for trouble, he hardly knew how to introduce his subject.
"Trevelyan is not at home?" he asked.
"No," said Emily, with her face turned away. "He went out and left us a quarter of an hour since. Did you meet Colonel Osborne?"
"I was speaking to him in the street not a moment since." As he answered he could see that Nora was making some sign to her sister. Nora was most anxious that Emily should not speak of what had just occurred, but her signs were all thrown away. "Somebody must tell him," said Mrs. Trevelyan, "and I don't know who can do so better than so old a friend as Mr. Stanbury."
"Tell what, and to whom?" he asked.
"No, no, no," said Nora.
"Then I must tell him myself," said she, "that is all. As for standing this kind of life, it is out of the question. I should either destroy myself or go mad."
"If I could do any good I should be so happy," said Stanbury.
"Nobody can do any good between a man and his wife," said Nora.
Then Mrs. Trevelyan began to tell her story, putting aside, with an impatient motion of her hands, the efforts which her sister made to stop her. She was very angry, and as she told it, standing up, all trace of sobbing soon disappeared from her voice. "The fact is," she said, "he does not know his own mind, or what to fear or what not to fear. He told me that I was never to see Colonel Osborne again."
"What is the use, Emily, of your repeating that to Mr. Stanbury?"
"Why should I not repeat it? Colonel Osborne is papa's oldest friend, and mine too. He is a man I like very much,—who is a real friend to me. As he is old enough to be my father, one would have thought that my husband could have found no objection."
"I don't know much about his age," said Stanbury.
"It does make a difference. It must make a difference. I should not think of becoming so intimate with a younger man. But, however, when my husband told me that I was to see him no more,—though the insult nearly killed me, I determined to obey him. An order was given that Colonel Osborne should not be admitted. You may imagine how painful it was; but it was given, and I was prepared to bear it."
"But he had been lunching with you on that Sunday."
"Yes; that is just it. As soon as it was given Louis would rescind it, because he was ashamed of what he had done. He was so jealous that he did not want me to see the man; and yet he was so afraid that it should be known that he ordered me to see him. He ordered him into the house at last, and I,—I went away up-stairs."
"That was on the Sunday that we met you in the park?" asked Stanbury.
"What is the use of going back to all that?" said Nora.
"Then I met him by chance in the park," continued Mrs. Trevelyan, "and because he said a word which I knew would anger my husband, I left him abruptly. Since that my husband has begged that things might go on as they were before. He could not bear that Colonel Osborne himself should think that he was jealous. Well; I gave way, and the man has been here as before. And now there has been a scene which has been disgraceful to us all. I cannot stand it, and I won't. If he does not behave himself with more manliness,—I will leave him."
"But what can I do?"
"Nothing, Mr. Stanbury," said Nora.
"Yes; you can do this. You can go to him from me, and can tell him that I have chosen you as a messenger because you are his friend. You can tell him that I am willing to obey him in anything. If he chooses, I will consent that Colonel Osborne shall be asked never to come into my presence again. It will be very absurd; but if he chooses, I will consent. Or I will let things go on as they are, and continue to receive my father's old friend when he comes. But if I do, I will not put up with an imputation on my conduct because he does not like the way in which the gentleman thinks fit to address me. I take upon myself to say that if any man alive spoke to me as he ought not to speak, I should know how to resent it myself. But I cannot fly into a passion with an old gentleman for calling me by my Christian name, when he has done so habitually for years."
From all this it will appear that the great godsend of a rich marriage, with all manner of attendant comforts, which had come in the way of the Rowley family as they were living at the Mandarins, had not turned out to be an unmixed blessing. In the matter of the quarrel, as it had hitherto progressed, the husband had perhaps been more in the wrong than his wife; but the wife, in spite of all her promises of perfect obedience, had proved herself to be a woman very hard to manage. Had she been earnest in her desire to please her lord and master in this matter of Colonel Osborne's visits,—to please him even after he had so vacillated in his own behests,—she might probably have so received the man as to have quelled all feeling of jealousy in her husband's bosom. But instead of doing so she had told herself that as she was innocent, and as her innocence had been acknowledged, and as she had been specially instructed to receive this man whom she had before been specially instructed not to receive, she would now fall back exactly into her old manner with him. She had told Colonel Osborne never to allude to that meeting in the park, and to ask no creature as to what had occasioned her conduct on that Sunday; thus having a mystery with him, which of course he understood as well as she did. And then she had again taken to writing notes to him and receiving notes from him,—none of which she showed to her husband. She was more intimate with him than ever, and yet she hardly ever mentioned his name to her husband. Trevelyan, acknowledging to himself that he had done no good by his former interference, feeling that he had put himself in the wrong on that occasion, and that his wife had got the better of him, had borne with all this, with soreness and a moody savageness of general conduct, but still without further words of anger with reference to the man himself. But now, on this Sunday, when his wife had been closeted with Colonel Osborne in the back drawing-room, leaving him with his sister-in-law, his temper had become too hot for him, and he had suddenly left the house, declaring that he would not walk with the two women on that day. "Why not, Louis?" his wife had said, coming up to him. "Never mind why not, but I shall not," he had answered; and then he left the room.
"What is the matter with him?" Colonel Osborne had asked.
"It is impossible to say what is the matter with him," Mrs. Trevelyan had replied. After that she had at once gone up-stairs to her child, telling herself that she was doing all that the strictest propriety could require in leaving the man's society as soon as her husband was gone. Then there was an awkward minute or two between Nora and Colonel Osborne, and he took his leave.
Stanbury at last promised that he would see Trevelyan, repeating, however, very frequently that often-used assertion, that no task is so hopeless as that of interfering between a man and his wife. Nevertheless he promised, and undertook to look for Trevelyan at the Acrobats on that afternoon. At last he got a moment in which to produce the letter from his sister, and was able to turn the conversation for a few minutes to his own affairs. Dorothy's letter was read and discussed by both the ladies with much zeal. "It is quite a strange world to me," said Dorothy, "but I am beginning to find myself more at my ease than I was at first. Aunt Stanbury is very good-natured, and when I know what she wants, I think I shall be able to please her. What you said of her disposition is not so bad to me, as of course a girl in my position does not expect to have her own way."
"Why shouldn't she have her share of her own way as well as anybody else?" said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Poor Dorothy would never want to have her own way," said Hugh.
"She ought to want it," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"She has spirit enough to turn if she's trodden on," said Hugh.
"That's more than what most women have," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
Then he went on with the letter. "She is very generous, and has given me £6 5s. in advance of my allowance. When I said I would send part of it home to mamma, she seemed to be angry, and said that she wanted me always to look nice about my clothes. She told me afterwards to do as I pleased, and that I might try my own way for the first quarter. So I was frightened, and only sent thirty shillings. We went out the other evening to drink tea with Mrs. MacHugh, an old lady whose husband was once dean. I had to go, and it was all very nice. There were a great many clergymen there, but many of them were young men." "Poor Dorothy," exclaimed Nora. "One of them was the minor canon who chants the service every morning. He is a bachelor—" "Then there is a hope for her," said Nora—"and he always talks a little as though he were singing the Litany." "That's very bad," said Nora; "fancy having a husband to sing the Litany to you always." "Better that, perhaps, than having him always singing something else," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
It was decided between them that Dorothy's state might on the whole be considered as flourishing, but that Hugh was bound as a brother to go down to Exeter and look after her. He explained, however, that he was expressly debarred from calling on his sister, even between the hours of half-past nine and half-past twelve on Wednesday mornings, and that he could not see her at all unless he did so surreptitiously.
"If I were you I would see my sister in spite of all the old viragos in Exeter," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "I have no idea of anybody taking so much upon themselves."
"You must remember, Mrs. Trevelyan, that she has taken upon herself much also in the way of kindness, in doing what perhaps I ought to call charity. I wonder what I should have been doing now if it were not for my Aunt Stanbury."
He took his leave, and went at once from Curzon Street to Trevelyan's club, and found that Trevelyan had not been there as yet. In another hour he called again, and was about to give it up, when he met the man whom he was seeking on the steps.
"I was looking for you," he said.
"Well, here I am."
It was impossible not to see in the look of Trevelyan's face, and not to hear in the tone of his voice, that he was, at the moment, in an angry and unhappy frame of mind. He did not move as though he were willing to accompany his friend, and seemed almost to know beforehand that the approaching interview was to be an unpleasant one.
"I want to speak to you, and perhaps you wouldn't mind taking a turn with me," said Stanbury.
But Trevelyan objected to this, and led the way into the club waiting-room. A club waiting-room is always a gloomy, unpromising place for a confidential conversation, and so Stanbury felt it to be on the present occasion. But he had no alternative. There they were together, and he must do as he had promised. Trevelyan kept on his hat and did not sit down, and looked very gloomy. Stanbury having to commence without any assistance from outward auxiliaries, almost forgot what it was that he had promised to do.
"I have just come from Curzon Street," he said.
"At least I was there about two hours ago."
"It doesn't matter, I suppose, whether it was two hours or two minutes," said Trevelyan.
"Not in the least. The fact is this; I happened to come upon the two girls there, when they were very unhappy, and your wife asked me to come and say a word or two to you."
"Was Colonel Osborne there?"
"No; I had met him in the street a minute or two before."
"Well, now; look here, Stanbury. If you'll take my advice, you'll keep your hands out of this. It is not but that I regard you as being as good a friend as I have in the world; but, to own the truth, I cannot put up with interference between myself and my wife."
"Of course you understand that I only come as a messenger."
"You had better not be a messenger in such a cause. If she has anything to say she can say it to myself."
"Am I to understand that you will not listen to me?"
"I had rather not."
"I think you are wrong," said Stanbury.
"In that matter you must allow me to judge for myself. I can easily understand that a young woman like her, especially with her sister to back her, should induce such a one as you to take her part."
"I am taking nobody's part. You wrong your wife, and you especially wrong Miss Rowley."
"If you please, Stanbury, we will say nothing more about it." This Trevelyan said holding the door of the room half open in his hand, so that the other was obliged to pass out through it.
"Good evening," said Stanbury, with much anger.
"Good evening," said Trevelyan, with an assumption of indifference.
Stanbury went away in absolute wrath, though the trouble which he had had in the interview was much less than he had anticipated, and the result quite as favourable. He had known that no good would come of his visit. And yet he was now full of anger against Trevelyan, and had become a partisan in the matter,—which was exactly that which he had resolutely determined that he would not become. "I believe that no woman on earth could live with him," he said to himself as he walked away. "It was always the same with him,—a desire for mastery, which he did not know how to use when he had obtained it. If it were Nora, instead of the other sister, he would break her sweet heart within a month."
Trevelyan dined at his club, and hardly spoke a word to any one during the evening. At about eleven he started to walk home, but went by no means straight thither, taking a long turn through St. James's Park, and by Pimlico. It was necessary that he should make up his mind as to what he would do. He had sternly refused the interference of a friend, and he must be prepared to act on his own responsibility. He knew well that he could not begin again with his wife on the next day as though nothing had happened. Stanbury's visit to him, if it had done nothing else, had made this impossible. He determined that he would not go to her room to-night, but would see her as early as possible in the morning;—and would then talk to her with all the wisdom of which he was master.
How many husbands have come to the same resolution; and how few of them have found the words of wisdom to be efficacious!
Illustration It is to be feared that men in general do not regret as they should do any temporary ill-feeling, or irritating jealousy between husbands and wives, of which they themselves have been the cause. The author is not speaking now of actual love-makings, of intrigues and devilish villany, either perpetrated or imagined; but rather of those passing gusts of short-lived and unfounded suspicion to which, as to other accidents, very well-regulated families may occasionally be liable. When such suspicion rises in the bosom of a wife, some woman intervening or being believed to intervene between her and the man who is her own, that woman who has intervened or been supposed to intervene, will either glory in her position or bewail it bitterly, according to the circumstances of the case. We will charitably suppose that, in a great majority of such instances, she will bewail it. But when such painful jealous doubts annoy the husband, the man who is in the way will almost always feel himself justified in extracting a slightly pleasurable sensation from the transaction. He will say to himself probably, unconsciously indeed, and with no formed words, that the husband is an ass, an ass if he be in a twitter either for that which he has kept or for that which he has been unable to keep, that the lady has shewn a good deal of appreciation, and that he himself is—is—is—quite a Captain bold of Halifax. All the while he will not have the slightest intention of wronging the husband's honour, and will have received no greater favour from the intimacy accorded to him than the privilege of running on one day to Marshall and Snellgrove's, the haberdashers, and on another to Handcocks', the jewellers. If he be allowed to buy a present or two, or to pay a few shillings here or there, he has achieved much. Terrible things now and again do occur, even here in England; but women, with us, are slow to burn their household gods. It happens, however, occasionally, as we are all aware, that the outward garments of a domestic deity will be a little scorched; and when this occurs, the man who is the interloper, will generally find a gentle consolation in his position, let its interest be ever so flaccid and unreal, and its troubles in running about, and the like, ever so considerable and time-destructive.
It was so certainly with Colonel Osborne when he became aware that his intimacy with Mrs. Trevelyan had caused her husband uneasiness. He was not especially a vicious man, and had now, as we know, reached a time of life when such vice as that in question might be supposed to have lost its charm for him. A gentleman over fifty, popular in London, with a seat in Parliament, fond of good dinners, and possessed of everything which the world has to give, could hardly have wished to run away with his neighbour's wife, or to have destroyed the happiness of his old friend's daughter. Such wickedness had never come into his head; but he had a certain pleasure in being the confidential friend of a very pretty woman; and when he heard that that pretty woman's husband was jealous, the pleasure was enhanced rather than otherwise. On that Sunday, as he had left the house in Curzon Street, he had told Stanbury that Trevelyan had just gone off in a huff, which was true enough, and he had walked from thence down Clarges Street, and across Piccadilly to St. James's Street, with a jauntier step than usual, because he was aware that he himself had been the occasion of that trouble. This was very wrong; but there is reason to believe that many such men as Colonel Osborne, who are bachelors at fifty, are equally malicious.
He thought a good deal about it on that evening, and was still thinking about it on the following morning. He had promised to go up to Curzon Street on the Monday,—really on some most trivial mission, on a matter of business which no man could have taken in hand whose time was of the slightest value to himself or any one else. But now that mission assumed an importance in his eyes, and seemed to require either a special observance or a special excuse. There was no real reason why he should not have stayed away from Curzon Street for the next fortnight; and had he done so he need have made no excuse to Mrs. Trevelyan when he met her. But the opportunity for a little excitement was not to be missed, and instead of going he wrote to her the following note:—
What was it all about yesterday? I was to have come up with the words of that opera, but perhaps it will be better to send it. If it be not wicked, do tell me whether I am to consider myself as a banished man. I thought that our little meetings were so innocent,—and so pleasant! The green-eyed monster is of all monsters the most monstrous,—and the most unreasonable. Pray let me have a line, if it be not forbidden.
Yours always heartily,
Putting aside all joking, I beg you to remember that I consider myself always entitled to be regarded by you as your most sincere friend.
When this was brought to Mrs. Trevelyan, about twelve o'clock in the day, she had already undergone the infliction of those words of wisdom which her husband had prepared for her, and which were threatened at the close of the last chapter. Her husband had come up to her while she was yet in her bed-room, and had striven hard to prevail against her. But his success had been very doubtful. In regard to the number of words, Mrs. Trevelyan certainly had had the best of it. As far as any understanding, one of another, was concerned, the conversation had been useless. She believed herself to be injured and aggrieved, and would continue so to assert, let him implore her to listen to him as loudly as he might. "Yes;—I will listen, and I will obey you," she had said, "but I will not endure such insults without telling you that I feel them." Then he had left her, fully conscious that he had failed, and went forth out of his house into the City, to his club, to wander about the streets, not knowing what he had best do to bring back that state of tranquillity at home which he felt to be so desirable.
Mrs. Trevelyan was alone when Colonel Osborne's note was brought to her, and was at that moment struggling with herself in anger against her husband. If he laid any command upon her, she would execute it; but she would never cease to tell him that he had ill-used her. She would din it into his ears, let him come to her as often as he might with his wise words. Wise words! What was the use of wise words when a man was such a fool in nature? And as for Colonel Osborne,—she would see him if he came to her three times a day, unless her husband gave some clearly intelligible order to the contrary. She was fortifying her mind with this resolution when Colonel Osborne's letter was brought to her. She asked whether any servant was waiting for an answer. No,—the servant, who had left it, had gone at once. She read the note, and sat working, with it before her, for a quarter of an hour; and then walked over to her desk and answered it.
My dear Colonel Osborne,
It will be best to say nothing whatever about the occurrence of yesterday; and if possible, not to think of it. As far as I am concerned, I wish for no change;—except that people should be more reasonable. You can call of course whenever you please; and I am very grateful for your expression of friendship.
Yours most sincerely,
Thanks for the words of the opera.
When she had written this, being determined that all should be open and above board, she put a penny stamp on the envelope, and desired that the letter should be posted. But she destroyed that which she had received from Colonel Osborne. In all things she would act as she would have done if her husband had not been so foolish, and there could have been no reason why she should have kept so unimportant a communication.
In the course of the day Trevelyan passed through the hall to the room which he himself was accustomed to occupy behind the parlour, and as he did so saw the note lying ready to be posted, took it up, and read the address. He held it for a moment in his hand, then replaced it on the hall table, and passed on. When he reached his own table he sat down hurriedly, and took up in his hand some Review that was lying ready for him to read. But he was quite unable to fix his mind upon the words before him. He had spoken to his wife on that morning in the strongest language he could use as to the unseemliness of her intimacy with Colonel Osborne; and then, the first thing she had done when his back was turned was to write to this very Colonel Osborne, and tell him, no doubt, what had occurred between her and her husband. He sat thinking of it all for many minutes. He would probably have declared himself that he had thought of it for an hour as he sat there. Then he got up, went up-stairs and walked slowly into the drawing-room. There he found his wife sitting with her sister. "Nora," he said, "I want to speak to Emily. Will you forgive me, if I ask you to leave us for a few minutes?" Nora, with an anxious look at Emily, got up and left the room.
"Why do you send her away?" said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Because I wish to be alone with you for a few minutes. Since what I said to you this morning, you have written to Colonel Osborne."
"Yes;—I have. I do not know how you have found it out; but I suppose you keep a watch on me."
"I keep no watch on you. As I came into the house, I saw your letter lying in the hall."
"Very well. You could have read it if you pleased."
"Emily, this matter is becoming very serious, and I strongly advise you to be on your guard in what you say. I will bear much for you, and much for our boy; but I will not bear to have my name made a reproach."
"Sir, if you think your name is shamed by me, we had better part," said Mrs. Trevelyan, rising from her chair, and confronting him with a look before which his own almost quailed.
"It may be that we had better part," he said, slowly. "But in the first place I wish you to tell me what were the contents of that letter."
"If it was there when you came in, no doubt it is there still. Go and look at it."
"That is no answer to me. I have desired you to tell me what are its contents."
"I shall not tell you. I will not demean myself by repeating anything so insignificant in my own justification. If you suspect me of writing what I should not write, you will suspect me also of lying to conceal it."
"Have you heard from Colonel Osborne this morning?"
"And where is his letter?"
"I have destroyed it."
Again he paused, trying to think what he had better do, trying to be calm. And she stood still opposite to him, confronting him with the scorn of her bright angry eyes. Of course, he was not calm. He was the very reverse of calm. "And you refuse to tell me what you wrote," he said.
"The letter is there," she answered, pointing away towards the door. "If you want to play the spy, go and look at it for yourself."
"Do you call me a spy?"
"And what have you called me? Because you are a husband, is the privilege of vituperation to be all on your side?"
"It is impossible that I should put up with this," he said;—"quite impossible. This would kill me. Anything is better than this. My present orders to you are not to see Colonel Osborne, not to write to him or have any communication with him, and to put under cover to me, unopened, any letter that may come from him. I shall expect your implicit obedience to these orders."
"Have I your promise?"
"No;—no. You have no promise. I will make no promise exacted from me in so disgraceful a manner."
"You refuse to obey me?"
"I will refuse nothing, and will promise nothing."
"Then we must part;—that is all. I will take care that you shall hear from me before to-morrow morning."
So saying, he left the room, and, passing through the hall, saw that the letter had been taken away.