The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 9.

“And acting duty all the merit lose.”

Some hours afterwards, hoping to find his sultana in a better humour, Mr. Bolingbroke returned; but no sooner did he approach the sofa on which she was still seated, than she again seemed to turn into stone, like the Princess Rhezzia, in the Persian Tales; who was blooming and charming, except when her husband entered the room. The unfortunate Princess Rhezzia loved her husband tenderly, but was doomed to this fate by a vile enchanter. If she was more to be pitied for being subject to involuntary metamorphosis, our heroine is surely more to be admired, for the constancy with which she endured a self-inflicted penance; a penance calculated to render her odious in the eyes of her husband.

“My dear,” said this most patient of men, “I am sorry to renew any ideas that will be disagreeable to you; I will mention the subject but once more, and then let it be forgotten for ever — our foolish dispute about Mr. Nettleby. Let us compromise the matter. I will bear Mr. John Nettleby for your sake, if you will bear Mrs. Granby for mine. I will go to see Mr. Nettleby to-morrow, if you will come the day afterwards with me to Mr. Granby’s. Where husband and wife do not agree in their wishes, it is reasonable that each should yield a little of their will to the other. I hope this compromise will satisfy you, my dear.”

“It does not become a wife to enter into any compromise with her husband; she has nothing to do but to obey, as soon as he signifies his pleasure. I shall go to Mr. Granby’s on Tuesday, as you command.”

“Command! my love.”

“As you — whatever you please to call it.”

“But are you satisfied with this arrangement, my dear?”

“It is no manner of consequence whether I am or not.”

“To me, you know, it is of the greatest: you must be sensible that my sincere wish is to make you happy: I give you some proof of it by consenting to keep up an acquaintance with a man whose company I dislike.”

“I am much obliged to you, my dear; but as to your going to see Mr. John Nettleby, it is a matter of perfect indifference to me; I only just mentioned it as a thing of course; I beg you will not do it on my account: I hope you will do whatever you think best and what pleases yourself, upon this and every other occasion. I shall never more presume to offer my advice.”

Nothing more could be obtained from the submissive wife; she went to Mr. Granby’s; she was all duty, for she knew the show of it was the most provoking thing upon earth to a husband, at least to such a husband as hers. She therefore persisted in this line of conduct, till she made her victim at last exclaim —

“I love thee and hate thee, but if I can tell

The cause of my love and my hate, may I die.

I can feel it, alas! I can feel it too well,

That I love thee and hate thee, but cannot tell why.”

His fair one was much flattered by this confession; she triumphed in having excited “this contrariety of feelings;” nor did she foresee the possibility of her husband’s recollecting that stanza which the school-boy, more philosophical than the poet, applies to his tyrant.

Whilst our heroine was thus acting to perfection the part of a dutiful wife, Mrs. Nettleby was seconding her to the best of her abilities, and announcing her amongst all their acquaintance, in the interesting character of —“a woman that is very much to be pitied.”

“Poor Mrs. Bolingbroke! — Don’t you think, ma’am, she is very much changed since her marriage? — Quite fallen away! — and all her fine spirits, what are become of them? — It really grieves my heart to see her. — Oh, she is a very unhappy woman!! really to be pitied, if you knew but all.”

Then a significant nod, or a melancholy mysterious look, set the imagination of the company at work; or, if this did not succeed, a whisper in plain terms pronounced Mr. Bolingbroke “a sad sort of husband, a very odd-tempered man, and, in short, a terrible tyrant; though nobody would guess it, who only saw him in company: but men are such deceivers!”

Mr. Bolingbroke soon found that all his wishes were thwarted, and all his hopes of happiness crossed, by the straws which this evil-minded dame contrived to throw in his way. Her influence over his wife he saw increased every hour: though they visited each other every day, these ladies could never meet without having some important secrets to impart, and conspiracies were to be performed in private, at which a husband could not be permitted to assist. Then notes without number were to pass continually, and these were to be thrown hastily into the fire at the approach of the enemy. Mr. Bolingbroke determined to break this league, which seemed to be more a league of hatred than of amity. — The London winter was now over, and, taking advantage of the continuance of his wife’s perverse fit of duty and unqualified submission, he one day requested her to accompany him into the country, to spend a few weeks with his friend Mr. Granby, at his charming place in Devonshire. The part of a wife was to obey, and Griselda was bound to support her character. She resolved, however, to make her obedience cost her lord as dear as possible, and she promised herself that this party of pleasure should become a party of pain. She and her lord were to travel in the same carriage with Mr. and Mrs. Granby. Griselda had only time, before she set off, to write a hasty billet to Mrs. Nettleby, to inform her of these intentions, and to bid her adieu till better times. Mrs. Nettleby sincerely regretted this interruption of their hourly correspondence; for she was deprived not only of the pleasure of hearing, but of making matrimonial complaints. She had now been married two months; and her fool began to grow restive; no animal on earth is more restive than a fool: but, confident that Mrs. Nettleby will hold the bridle with a strong hand, we leave her to pull against his hard mouth.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37