He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter X

Hard Words

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:

‘Albany, Monday.

Dear Emily,

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,

F. O.

‘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,

Emily Trevelyan.

‘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 on 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 upstairs 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?’

‘I have.’

‘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.’

‘Well go on.’

‘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 tomorrow morning.’

So saying, he left the room, and, passing through the hall, saw that the letter had been taken away.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43