He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIV

The Clock House at Nuncombe Putney

It was not till a fortnight had passed after the transaction recorded in the last chapter, that Mrs Trevelyan and Nora Rowley first heard the proposition that they should go to live at Nuncombe Putney. From bad to worse the quarrel between the husband and the wife had gone on, till Trevelyan had at last told his friend Lady Milborough that he had made up his mind that they must live apart. She is so self-willed and perhaps I am the same,’ he had said, ‘that it is impossible that we should live together.’ Lady Milborough had implored and called to witness all testimonies, profane and sacred, against such a step — had almost gone down on her knees. Go to Naples; why not Naples? Or to the quiet town in the west of France, which was so dull that a wicked roaring lion, fond of cities and gambling, and eating and drinking, could not live in such a place! Oh, why not go to the quiet town in the west of France? Was not anything better than this flying in the face of God and man? Perhaps Trevelyan did not himself like the idea of the quiet dull French town. Perhaps he thought that the flying in the face of God and man was all done by his wife, not by him; and that it was right that his wife should feel the consequences. After many such entreaties, many such arguments, it was at last decided that the house in Curzon Street should be given up, and that he and his wife live apart.

‘And what about Nora Rowley?’ asked Lady Milborough, who had become aware by this time of Nora’s insane folly in having refused Mr Glascock.

‘She will go with her sister, I suppose.’

‘And who will maintain her? Dear, dear, dear! It does seem as though some young people were bent upon cutting their own throats, and all their family’s.’

Poor Lady Milborough just at this time went as near to disliking the Rowleys as was compatible with her nature. It was not possible to her to hate anybody. She thought that she hated the Colonel Osbornes; but even that was a mistake. She was very angry, however, with both Mrs Trevelyan and her sister, and was disposed to speak of them as though they had been born to create trouble and vexation.

Trevelyan had not given any direct answer to that question about Nora Rowley’s maintenance, but he was quite prepared to bear all necessary expense in that direction, at any rate till Sir Marmaduke should have arrived. At first there had been an idea that the two sisters should go to the house of their aunt, Mrs Outhouse. Mrs Outhouse was the wife as the reader may perhaps remember of a clergyman living in the east of London. St. Diddulph’s-in-the-East was very much in the east indeed. It was a parish outside the City, lying near the river, very populous, very poor, very low in character, and very uncomfortable. There was a rectory-house, queerly situated at the end of a little blind lane, with a gate of its own, and a so-called garden about twenty yards square. But the rectory of St. Diddulph’s cannot be said to have been a comfortable abode. The neighbourhood was certainly not alluring. Of visiting society within a distance of three or four miles there was none but what was afforded by the families of other East-end clergymen. And then Mr Outhouse himself was a somewhat singular man. He was very religious, devoted to his work, most kind to the poor; but he was unfortunately a strongly-biased man, and at the same time very obstinate withal. He had never allied himself very cordially with his wife’s brother, Sir Marmaduke, allowing himself to be carried away by a prejudice that people living at the West-end, who frequented clubs and were connected in any way with fashion, could not be appropriate companions for himself. The very title which Sir Marmaduke had acquired was repulsive to him, and had induced him to tell his wife more than once that Sir this or Sir that could not be fitting associates for a poor East-end clergyman. Then his wife’s niece had married a man of fashion, a man supposed at St. Diddulph’s to be very closely allied to fashion; and Mr Outhouse had never been induced even to dine in the house in Curzon Street. When, therefore, he heard that Mr and Mrs Trevelyan were to be separated within two years of their marriage, it could not be expected that he should be very eager to lend to the two sisters the use of his rectory.

There had been interviews between Mr Outhouse and Trevelyan, and between Mrs Outhouse and her niece; and then there was an interview between Mr Outhouse and Emily, in which it was decided that Mrs Trevelyan would not go to the parsonage of St. Diddulph’s. She had been very outspoken to her uncle, declaring that she by no means intended to carry herself as a disgraced woman. Mr Outhouse had quoted St. Paul to her; ‘Wives, obey your husbands.’ Then she had got up and had spoken very angrily. ‘I look for support from you,’ she said, ‘as the man who is the nearest to me, till my father shall come.’ ‘But I cannot support you in what is wrong,’ said the clergyman. Then Mrs Trevelyan had left the room, and would not see her uncle again.

She carried things altogether with a high hand at this time. When old Mr Bideawhile called upon her, her husband’s ancient family lawyer, she told that gentleman that if it was her husband’s will that they should live apart, it must be so. She could not force him to remain with her. She could not compel him to keep up the house in Curzon Street. She had certain rights, she believed. She spoke then, she said, of pecuniary rights not of those other rights which her husband was determined, and was no doubt able, to ignore. She did not really know what those pecuniary rights might be, nor was she careful to learn their exact extent. She would thank Mr Bideawhile to see that things were properly arranged. But of this her husband, and Mr Bideawhile, might be quite sure; she would take nothing as a favour. She would not go to her uncle’s house. She declined to tell Mr Bideawhile why she had so decided; but she had decided. She was ready to listen to any suggestion that her husband might make as to her residence, but she must claim to have some choice in the matter. As to her sister, of course she intended to give Nora a home as long as such a home might be wanted. It would be very sad for Nora, but in existing circumstances such an arrangement would be expedient. She would not go into details as to expense. Her husband was driving her away from him, and it was for him to say what proportion of his income he would choose to give for her maintenance for hers and for that of the child. She was not desirous of anything beyond the means of decent living, but of course she must for the present find a home for her sister as well as for herself. When speaking of her baby she had striven hard so to speak that Mr Bideawhile should find no trace of doubt in the tones of her voice. And yet she had been full of doubt full of fear. As Mr Bideawhile had uttered nothing antagonistic to her wishes in this matter had seemed to agree that wherever the mother went thither the child would go also Mrs Trevelyan had considered herself to be successful in this interview.

The idea of a residence at Nuncombe Putney had occurred first to Trevelyan himself, and he had spoken of it to Hugh Stanbury. There had been some difficulty in this, because he had snubbed Stanbury grievously when his friend had attempted to do some work of gentle interference between him and his wife; and when he began the conversation, he took the trouble of stating, in the first instance, that the separation was a thing fixed so that nothing might be urged on that subject. ‘It is to be. You will understand that,’ he said; ‘and if you think that your mother would agree to the arrangement, it would be satisfactory to me, and might, I think, be made pleasant to her. Of course, your mother would be made to understand that the only fault with which my wife is charged is that of indomitable disobedience to my wishes.’

‘Incompatibility of temper,’ suggested Stanbury.

‘You may call it that if you please; though I must say for myself that I do not think that I have displayed any temper to which a woman has a right to object. Then he had gone on to explain what he was prepared to do about money. He would pay, through Stanbury’s hands, so much for maintenance and so much for house rent, on the understanding that the money was not to go into his wife’s hands. ‘I shall prefer,’ he said, ‘to make myself, on her behalf, what disbursements may be necessary. I will take care that she receives a proper sum quarterly through Mr Bideawhile for her own clothes and for those of our poor boy.’ Then Stanbury had told him of the Clock House, and there had been an agreement made between them; an agreement which was then, of course, subject to the approval of the ladies at Nuncombe Putney. When the suggestion was made to Mrs Trevelyan with a proposition that the Clock House should be taken for one year, and that for that year, at least, her boy should remain with her she assented to it. She did so with all the calmness that she was able to assume; but, in truth, almost everything seemed to have been gained, when she found that she was not to be separated from her baby. ‘I have no objection to living in Devonshire if Mr Trevelyan wishes it,’ she said, in her most stately manner; ‘and certainly no objection to living with Mr Stanbury’s mother.’ Then Mr Bideawhile explained to her that Nuncombe Putney was not a large town was, in fact, a very small and a very remote village. ‘That will make no difference whatsoever as far as I am concerned,’ she answered; ‘and as for my sister, she must put up with it till my father and my mother are here. I believe the scenery at Nuncombe Putney is very pretty.’ ‘Lovely!’ said Mr Bideawhile, who had a general idea that Devonshire is supposed to be a picturesque county. ‘With such a life before me as I must lead,’ continued Mrs Trevelyan, ‘an ugly neighbourhood, one that would itself have had no interest for a stranger, would certainly have been an additional sorrow.’ So it had been settled, and by the end of July, Mrs Trevelyan, with her sister and baby, was established at the Clock House, under the protection of Mrs Stanbury. Mrs Trevelyan had brought down her own maid and her own nurse, and had found that the arrangements made by her husband had, in truth, been liberal. The house in Curzon Street had been given up, the furniture had been sent to a warehouse, and Mr Trevelyan had gone into lodgings. ‘There never were two young people so insane since the world began,’ said Lady Milborough to her old friend, Mrs Fairfax, when the thing was done.

‘They will be together again before next April,’ Mrs Fairfax had replied. But Mrs Fairfax was a jolly dame who made the best of everything. Lady Milborough raised her hands in despair and shook her head. ‘I don’t suppose, though, that Mr Glascock will go to Devonshire after his lady love,’ said Mrs Fairfax. Lady Milborough again raised her hands, and again shook her head.

Mrs Stanbury had given an easy assent when her son proposed to her this new mode of life, but Priscilla had had her doubts. Like all women, she thought that when a man was to be separated from his wife, the woman must he in the wrong. And though it must be doubtless comfortable to go from the cottage to the Clock House, it would, she said, with much prudence, be very uncomfortable to go back from the Clock House to the cottage. Hugh replied very cavalierly generously, that is, rashly, and somewhat impetuously that he would guarantee them against any such degradation.

‘We don’t want to be a burden upon you, my dear,’ said the mother.

‘You would be a great burden on me,’ he replied, ‘if you were living uncomfortably while I am able to make you comfortable.’

Mrs Stanbury was soon won over by Mrs Trevelyan, by Nora, and especially by the baby; and even Priscilla, after a week or two, began to feel that she liked their company. Priscilla was a young woman who read a great deal, and even had some gifts of understanding what she read. She borrowed books from the clergyman, and paid a penny a week to the landlady of the Stag and Antlers for the hire during half a day of the weekly newspaper. But now there came a box of books from Exeter, and a daily paper from London, and to improve all this both the new corners were able to talk with her about the things she read. She soon declared to her mother that she liked Miss Rowley much the best of the two. Mrs Trevelyan was too fond of having her own way. She began to understand, she would say to her mother, that a man might find it difficult to live with Mrs Trevelyan. ‘She hardly ever yields about anything,’ said Priscilla. As Miss Priscilla Stanbury was also very fond of having her own way, it was not surprising that she should object to that quality in this lady, who had come to live under the same roof with her.

The country about Nuncombe Putney is perhaps as pretty as any in England. It is beyond the river Teign, between that and Dartmoor, and is so lovely in all its variations of rivers, rivulets, broken ground, hills and dales, old broken, battered, time-worn timber, green knolls, rich pastures, and heathy common, that the wonder is that English lovers of scenery know so little of it. At the Stag and Antlers old Mrs Crocket, than whom no old woman in the public line was ever more generous, more peppery, or more kind, kept two clean bed-rooms, and could cook a leg of Dartmoor mutton and make an apple pie against any woman in Devonshire. ‘Drat your fish!’ she would say, when some self-indulgent and exacting traveller would wish for more than these accustomed viands. ‘Cock you up with dainties! If you can’t eat your victuals without fish, you must go to Exeter. And then you’ll get it stinking may-hap.’ Now Priscilla Stanbury and Mrs Crocket were great friends, and there had been times of deep want, in which Mrs Crocket’s friendship had been very serviceable to the ladies at the cottage. The three young women had been to the inn one morning to ask after a conveyance from Nuncombe Putney to Princetown, and had found that a four-wheeled open carriage with an old horse and a very young driver could be hired there. ‘We have never dreamed of such a thing,’ Priscilla Stanbury had said, ‘and the only time I was at Prince-town I walked there and back.’ So they had called at the Stag and Antlers, and Mrs Crocket had told them her mind upon several matters.

‘What a dear old woman!’ said Nora, as they came away, having made their bargain for the open carriage.

‘I think she takes quite enough upon herself, you know,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.

‘She is a dear old woman,’ said Priscilla, not attending at all to the last words that had been spoken. ‘She is one of the best friends I have in the world. If I were to say the best out of my own family, perhaps I should not be wrong.’

‘But she uses such very odd language for a woman,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. Now Mrs Crocket had certainly ‘dratted’ and ‘darned’ the boy, who wouldn’t come as fast as she had wished, and had laughed at Mrs Trevelyan very contemptuously, when that lady had suggested that the urchin, who was at last brought forth, might not be a safe charioteer down some of the hills.

‘I suppose I’m used to it,’ said Priscilla. ‘At any rate I know I like it. And I like her.’

‘I dare say she’s a good sort of woman,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, ‘only —’

‘I am not saying anything about her being a good woman now,’ said Priscilla, interrupting the other with some vehemence, ‘but only that she is my friend.’

‘I liked her of all things,’ said Nora. ‘Has she lived here always?’

‘Yes; all her life. The house belonged to her father and to her grandfather before her, and I think she says she has never slept out of it a dozen times in her life. Her husband is dead, and her daughters are married away, and she has the great grief and trouble of a ne’er-do-well son. He’s away now, and she’s all alone.’ Then after a pause, she continued; ‘I dare say it seems odd to you, Mrs Trevelyan, that we should speak of the innkeeper as a dear friend; but you must remember that we have been poor among the poorest and are so indeed now. We only came into our present house to receive you. That is where we used to live,’ and she pointed to the tiny cottage, which now that it was dismantled and desolate, looked to be doubly poor. ‘There have been times when we should have gone to bed very hungry if it had not been for Mrs Crocket.’

Later in the day Mrs Trevelyan, finding Priscilla alone, had apologized for what she had said about the old woman. ‘I was very thoughtless and forgetful, but I hope you will not be angry with me. I will be ever so fond of her if you will forgive me.’

‘Very well,’ said Priscilla, smiling; ‘on those conditions I will forgive you.’ And from that time there sprang up something like a feeling of friendship between Priscilla and Mrs Trevelyan. Nevertheless Priscilla was still of opinion that the Clock House arrangement was dangerous, and should never have been made; and Mrs Stanbury, always timid of her own nature, began to fear that it must be so, as soon as she was removed from the influence of her son. She did not see much even of the few neighbours who lived around her, but she fancied that people looked at her in church as though she had done that which she ought not to have done, in taking herself to a big and comfortable house for the sake of lending her protection to a lady who was separated from her husband. It was not that she believed that Mrs Trevelyan had been wrong; but that, knowing herself to be weak, she fancied that she and her daughter would be enveloped in the danger and suspicion which could not but attach themselves to the lady’s condition, instead of raising the lady out of the cloud as would have been the case had she herself been strong. Mrs Trevelyan, who was sharpsighted and clear-witted, soon saw that it was so, and spoke to Priscilla on the subject before she had been a fortnight in the house. ‘I am afraid your mother does not like our being here,’ she said.

‘How am I to answer that?’ Priscilla replied.

‘Just tell the truth.’

‘The truth is so uncivil. At first I did not like it. I disliked it very much.’

‘Why did you give way?’

‘I didn’t give way. Hugh talked my mother over. Mamma does what I tell her, except when Hugh tells her something else. I was afraid, because, down here, knowing nothing of the world, I didn’t wish that we, little people, should be mixed up in the quarrels and disagreements of those who are so much bigger.’

‘I don’t know who it is that is big in this matter.’

‘You are big at any rate by comparison. But now it must go on. The house has been taken, and my fears are over as regards you. What you observe in mamma is only the effect, not yet quite worn out, of what I said before you came. You may be quite sure of this that we neither of us believe a word against you. Your position is a very unfortunate one; but if it can be remedied by your staying here with us, pray stay with us.’

‘It cannot be remedied,’ said Emily; ‘but we could not be anywhere more comfortable than we are here.’

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