Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XXIII

Osborne Hamley Reviews His Position

Osborne had his solitary cup of coffee in the drawing-room. He was very unhappy too, after his fashion. He stood on the hearth-rug pondering over his situation. He was not exactly aware how hardly his father was pressed for ready-money; the squire had never spoken to him on the subject without being angry; and many of his loose contradictory statements — all of which, however contradictory they might appear, had their basis in truth — were set down by his son to the exaggeration of passion. But it was uncomfortable enough to a young man of Osborne’s age to feel himself continually hampered for want of a five-pound note. The principal supplies for the liberal — almost luxurious table at the Hall, came off the estate; so that there was no appearance of poverty as far as the household went; and as long as Osborne was content at home, he had everything he could wish for; but he had a wife elsewhere — he wanted to see her continually — and that necessitated journeys. She, poor thing! had to be supported: where was the money for the journeys and for Aimee’s modest wants to come from? That was the puzzle in Osborne’s mind just now. While he had been at college his allowance — heir of the Hamleys — had been three hundred, while Roger had to be content with a hundred less. The payment of these annual sums had given the squire a good deal of trouble; but he thought of it as a merely temporary inconvenience, perhaps unreasonably thought so. Osborne was to do great things; take high honours, get a fellowship, marry a long-descended heiress, live in some of the many uninhabited rooms at the Hall, and help the squire in the management of the estate that would some time be his. Roger was to be a clergyman; steady, slow Roger was just fitted for that, and when he declined entering the Church, preferring a life of more activity and adventure, Roger was to be- anything; he was useful and practical, and fit for all the employments from which Osborne was shut out by his fastidiousness, and his (pseudo) genius; so it was well he was an eldest son, for he would never have done to struggle through the world; and as for his settling down to a profession, it would be like cutting blocks with a razor! And now here was Osborne, living at home, but longing to be elsewhere; his allowance stopped in reality; indeed the punctual payment of it during the last year or two had been owing to his mother’s exertions; but nothing had been said about its present cessation by either father or son: money matters were too sore a subject between them. Every now and then the squire threw him a ten-pound note or so; but the sort of suppressed growl with which they were given, and the entire uncertainty as to when he might receive them, rendered any calculation based upon their receipt exceedingly vague and uncertain.

‘What in the world can I do to secure an income?’ thought Osborne, as he stood on the hearth-rug, his back to a blazing fire, his cup of coffee sent up in the rare old china that had belonged to the Hall for generations; his dress finished, as dress of Osborne’s could hardly fail to be. One could hardly have thought that this elegant young man, standing there in the midst of comfort that verged on luxury, should have been turning over that one great problem in his mind; but so it was. ‘What can I do to be sure of a present income? Things cannot go on as they are. I should need support for two or three years, even if I entered myself at the Temple, or Lincoln’s Inn.’ It would be impossible for live on my pay in the army; besides, I should hate that profession. In fact, there are evils attending all professions — I couldn’t bring myself to become a member of any I’ve ever heard of. Perhaps I’m more fitted to take orders than anything else, but to be compelled to write weekly sermons whether one had anything to say or not, and, probably, doomed only to associate with people below one in refinement and education! Yet poor Aimee must have money. I can’t bear to compare our dinners here, overloaded with joints and game and sweets, as Morgan will persist in sending them up, with Aimee’s two little mutton-chops. Yet what would my father say if he knew I’d married a Frenchwoman? In his present mood he’d disinherit me, if that is possible; and he’d speak about her in a way I couldn’t stand. A Roman Catholic, too! Well, I don’t repent it. I’d do it again. Only if my mother had been in good health, if she could have heard my story, and known Aimee! As it is, I must keep it secret; but where to get money? Where to get money?’

Then he bethought him of his poems — would they sell, and bring him in money? In spite of Milton, he thought they might; and he went to fetch his MSS. out of his room. He sate down near the fire, trying to study them with a critical eye, to represent public opinion as far as he could. He had changed his style since the Mrs. Hemans’ days. He was essentially imitative in his poetic faculty; and of late he had followed the lead of a popular writer of sonnets.’ He turned his poems over: they were almost equivalent to an autobiographical passage in his life. Arranging them in their order, they came as follows:—

‘To Aimee, Walking with a Little Child.’
‘To Aimee, Singing at her Work.’
‘To Aimee, turning away from me while I told my Love.’
‘Aimee’s Confession.’
‘Aimee in Despair.’
‘The Foreign Land in which my Aimee dwells.’
‘The Wedding Ring.’
‘The Wife.’

When he came to this last sonnet he put down his bundle of papers and began to think. ‘The wife.’ Yes, and a French wife, and a Roman Catholic wife — and a wife who might be said to have been in service! And his father’s hatred of the French, both collectively and individually — collectively, as tumultuous brutal ruffians, who murdered their king, and committed all kinds of bloody atrocities: individually, as represented by ‘Boney,’ and the various caricatures of ‘Johnny Crapaud’ that had been in full circulation about five-and-twenty years before this time — when the squire had been young and capable of receiving impressions. As for the form of religion in which Mrs. Osborne Hamley had been brought up, it is enough to say that Catholic emancipation had begun to be talked about by some politicians, and that the sullen roar of the majority of Englishmen, at the bare idea of it, was surging in the distance with ominous threatenings; the very mention of such a measure before the squire was, as Osborne well knew, like shaking a red flag before a bull.

And then he considered that if Aimee had had the unspeakable, the incomparable blessing of being born of English parents, in the very heart of England — Warwickshire, for instance — and had never heard of priests, or mass, or confession, or the Pope, or Guy Fawkes, but had been born, baptized, and bred in the Church of England, without having ever seen the outside of a dissenting meeting-house, or a papist chapel — even with all these advantages, her having been a (what was the equivalent for ‘bonne’ in English? ‘nursery governess’ was a term hardly invented) nursery-maid, with wages paid down once a quarter, liable to be dismissed at a month’s warning, and having her tea and sugar doled out to her, would be a shock to his father’s old ancestral pride that he would hardly ever get over.

‘If he saw her!’ thought Osborne. ‘If he could but see her!’ But if the squire were to see Aimee, he would also hear her speak her pretty broken English — precious to her husband, as it was in it that she had confessed brokenly with her English tongue, that she loved him soundly with her French heart — and Squire Hamley piqued himself on being a good hater of the French. ‘She would make such a loving, sweet, docile little daughter to my father — she would go as near as any one could towards filling up the blank void in this house, if he would but have her; but he won’t; he never would; and he shan’t have the opportunity of scouting her. Yet if I called her “Lucy” in these sonnets; and if they made a great effect — were praised in Blackwood and the Quarterly — and all the world was agog to find out the author; and I told him my secret — I could if I were successful — I think then he would ask who Lucy was, and I could tell him all then. If — how I hate “ifs.” “If me no ifs.” My life has been based on “whens;” and first they have turned to “ifs,” and then they have vanished away. It was “when Osborne gets honours,” and then “if Osborne,” and then a failure altogether. I said to Aimee, “When my mother sees you,” and now it is “If my father saw her,” with a very faint prospect of its ever coming to pass.’ So he let the evening hours flow on and disappear in reveries like these; winding up with a sudden determination to try the fate of his poems with a publisher, with the direct expectation of getting money for them, and an ulterior fancy that, if successful, they might work wonders with this father.

When Roger came home Osborne did not let a day pass before telling his brother of his plans. He never did conceal anything long from Roger; the feminine part of his character made him always desirous of a confidant, and as sweet sympathy as he could extract. But Roger’s opinion had no effect on Osborne’s actions; and Roger knew this full well. So when Osborne began with —‘I want your advice on a plan I have got in my head,’ Roger replied: ‘Some one told me that the Duke of Wellington’s maxim was never to give advice unless he could enforce its being carried into effect. Now I can’t do that; and you know, old boy, you don’t follow out my advice when you’ve got it.’

‘Not always, I know. Not when it does not agree with my own opinion. You are thinking about this concealment of my marriage, but you’re not up in all the circumstances. You know how fully I meant to have done it, if there had not been that row about my debts; and then my mother’s illness and death. And now you’ve no conception how my father is changed — how irritable he has become! Wait till you’ve been at home a week! Robinson, Morgan — it’s the same with them all; but worst of all with me!’

‘Poor fellow!’ said Roger; ‘I thought he looked terribly changed; shrunken, and his ruddiness of complexion altered.’

‘Why, he hardly takes half the exercise he used to do, so it’s no wonder. He has turned away all the men off the new works, which used to be such an interest to him; and because the roan cob stumbled with him one day, and nearly threw him, he won’t ride it; and yet he won’t sell it and buy another, which would be the sensible plan; so there are two old horses eating their heads off, while he is constantly talking about money and expense. And that brings me to what I was going to say. I’m desperately hard up for money, and so I’ve been collecting my poems — weeding them well, you know — going over them quite critically, in fact; and I want to know if you think Deighton would publish them. You’ve a name in Cambridge, you know; and I daresay he would look at them if you offered them to him.’

‘I can but try,’ said Roger; ‘but I’m afraid you won’t get much by them.’

‘I don’t expect much. I’m a new man, and must make my name. I should be content with a hundred. If I’d a hundred pounds I’d set myself to do something. I might keep myself and Aimee by my writings while I studied for the bar; or, if the worst came to the worst, a hundred pounds would take us to Australia.’

‘Australia! Why, Osborne, what could you do there? And leave my father! I hope you’ll never get your hundred pounds, if that’s the use you’re to make of it! Why, you’d break the squire’s heart.’

‘It might have done once,’ said Osborne, gloomily, ‘but it would not now. He looks at me askance, and shies away from conversation with me. Let me alone for noticing and feeling this kind of thing. It’s this very susceptibility to outward things that gives me what faculty I have; and it seems to me as if my bread, and my wife’s too, were to depend upon it. You’ll soon see for yourself the terms which I am on with my father!’

Roger did soon see. His father had slipped into a habit of silence at meal times — a habit which Osborne, who was troubled and anxious enough for his own part, had not striven to break. Father and son sate together, and exchanged all the necessary speeches connected with the occasion civilly enough; but it was a relief to them when their intercourse was over, and they separated — the father to brood over his sorrow and his disappointment, which were real and deep enough, and the injury he had received from his boy, which was exaggerated in his mind by his ignorance of the actual steps Osborne had taken to raise money. If the money-lenders had calculated the chances of his father’s life or death in making their bargain, Osborne himself had thought only of how soon and how easily he could get the money requisite for clearing him from all imperious claims at Cambridge, and for enabling him to follow Aimee to her home in Alsace, and for the subsequent marriage. As yet, Roger had never seen his brother’s wife; indeed, he had only been taken into Osborne’s full confidence after all was decided in which his advice could have been useful. And now, in the enforced separation, Osborne’s whole thought, both the poetical and practical sides of his mind, ran upon the little wife who was passing her lonely days in farmhouse lodgings, wondering when her bridegroom husband would come to her next. With such an engrossing subject it was, perhaps, no wonder that he unconsciously neglected his father; but it was none the less sad at the time, and to be regretted in its consequences.

‘I may come in and have a pipe with you, sir, mayn’t I?’ said Roger, that first evening, pushing gently against the study-door, which his father held only half open.

‘You’ll not like it,’ said the squire, still holding the door against him, but speaking in a relenting tone. ‘The tobacco I use isn’t what young men like. Better go and have a cigar with Osborne.’

‘No. I want to sit with you, and I can stand pretty strong tobacco.’

Roger pushed in, the resistance slowly giving way before him.

‘It will make your clothes smell. You’ll have to borrow Osborne’s scents to sweeten yourself,’ said the squire, grimly, at the same time pushing a short smart amber-mouthed pipe to his son.

‘No; I’ll have a churchwarden. Why, father, do you think I’m a baby to put up with a doll’s head like this?’ looking at the carving upon it.

The squire was pleased in his heart, though he did not choose to show it. He only said, ‘Osborne brought it me when he came back from Germany. That’s three years ago.’ And then for some time they smoked in silence. But the voluntary companionship of his son was very soothing to the squire, though not a word might be said. The next speech he made showed the direction of his thoughts; indeed his words were always a transparent medium through which the current might be seen.

‘A deal of a man’s life comes and goes in three years — I’ve found that out.’ And he puffed away at his pipe again. While Roger was turning over in his mind what answer to make to this truism, the squire again stopped his smoking and spoke.

‘I remember when there was all that fuss about the Prince of Wales being made Regent, I read somewhere — I daresay it was in a newspaper — that kings and their heirs-apparent were always on bad terms. Osborne was quite a little chap then: he used to go out riding with me on White Surrey; you won’t remember the pony we called White Surrey?’

‘I remember it; but I thought it a tall horse in those days.’

‘Ah! that was because you were such a small lad, you know. I had seven horses in the stable then — not counting the farm-horses. I don’t recollect having a care then, except — she was always delicate, you know. But what a beautiful boy Osborne was! He was always dressed in black velvet — it was a foppery, but it wasn’t my doing, and it was all right, I’m sure. He’s a handsome fellow now, but the sunshine has gone out of his face.’

‘He’s a good deal troubled about this money, and the anxiety he has given you,’ said Roger, rather taking his brother’s feelings for granted.

‘Not he,’ said the squire, taking the pipe out of his mouth, and hitting the bowl so sharply against the hob that it broke in pieces. ‘There! But never mind! I say, not he, Roger! He’s none troubled about the money. It’s easy getting money from Jews if you’re the eldest son, and the heir. They just ask, “How old is your father, and has he had a stroke, or a fit?” and it’s settled out of hand, and then they come prowling about a place, and running down the timber and land — Don’t let us speak of him; it’s no good, Roger. He and I are out of tune, and it seems to me as if only God Almighty could put us to rights. It’s thinking of how he grieved her at last that makes me so bitter with him. And yet there’s a deal of good in him! and he’s so quick and clever, if only he’d give his mind to things. Now, you were always slow, Roger — all your masters used to say so.’

Roger laughed a little —

‘Yes; I’d many a nickname at school for my slowness,’ said he.

‘Never mind!’ said the squire, consolingly. ‘I’m sure I don’t. If you were a clever fellow like Osborne yonder, you’d be all for caring for books and writing, and you’d perhaps find it as dull as he does to keep company with a bumpkin-Squire Jones like me. Yet I daresay they think a deal of you at Cambridge,’ said he, after a pause, ‘since you’ve got this fine wranglership; I’d nearly forgotten that — the news came at such a miserable time.’

‘Well, yes! They’re always proud of the senior wrangler of the year up at Cambridge. Next year I must abdicate.’

The squire sate and gazed into the embers, still holding his useless pipe-stem. At last he said, in a low voice, as if scarcely aware he had got a listener — ‘I used to write to her when she was away in London, and tell her the home news. But no letter will reach her now! Nothing reaches her!’

Roger started up.

‘Where’s the tobacco-box, father? Let me fill you another pipe!’ and when he had done so, he stooped over his father and stroked his cheek. The squire shook his head.

‘You’ve only just come home, lad. You don’t know me, as I am now-a-days! Ask Robinson — I won’t have you asking Osborne, he ought to keep it to himself — but any of the servants will tell you I’m not like the same man for getting into passions with them. I used to be reckoned a good master, but that is past now! Osborne was once a little boy, and she was once alive — and I was once a good master — a good master — yes! It is all past now.’

He took up his pipe, and began to smoke afresh, and Roger, after a silence of some minutes, began a long story about some Cambridge man’s misadventure on the hunting-field, telling it with such humour that the squire was beguiled into hearty laughing. When they rose to go to bed, his father said to Roger —

‘Well, we’ve had a pleasant evening — at least, I have. But perhaps you have not; for I’m but poor company now, know.’

‘I don’t know when I’ve passed a happier evening, father,’ said Roger. And he spoke truly, though he did not trouble himself to find out the cause of his happiness.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:18