He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XX

Shewing How Colonel Osborne Went to Cockchaffington

Together with Miss Stanbury’s first letter to her sister-inlaw a letter had also been delivered to Mrs Trevelyan. Nora Rowley, as her sister had left the room with this in her hand, had expressed her opinion that it had come from Trevelyan; but it had in truth been written by Colonel Osborne. And when that second letter from Miss Stanbury had been received at the Clock House, that in which she in plain terms begged pardon for the accusation conveyed in her first letter, Colonel Osborne had started on his deceitful little journey to Cockchaffington, and Mr Bozzle, the ex-policeman who had him in hand, had already asked his way to Nuncombe Putney.

When Colonel Osborne learned that Louis Trevelyan had broken up his establishment in Curzon Street, and had sent his wife away into a barbarous retirement in Dartmoor, for such was the nature of the information on the subject which was spread among Trevelyan’s friends in London, and when he was made aware also that all this was done on his account because he was so closely intimate with Trevelyan’s wife, and because Trevelyan’s wife was, and persisted in continuing to be, so closely intimate with him his vanity was gratified. Although it might be true and no doubt was true that he said much to his friends and to himself of the deep sorrow which he felt that such a trouble should befall his old friend and his old friend’s daughter; nevertheless, as he curled his grey whiskers before the glass, and made the thost of such remnant of hair as was left on the top of his head, as he looked to the padding of his coat, and completed a study of the wrinkles beneath his eyes, so that in conversation they might be as little apparent as possible, he felt more of pleasure than of pain in regard to the whole affair. It was very sad that it should be so, but it was human. Had it been in his power to set the whole matter right by a word, he would probably have spoken that word; but as this was not possible, as Trevelyan had in his opinion made a gross fool of himself, as Emily Trevelyan was very nice, and not the less nice in that she certainly was fond of himself, as great tyranny had been used towards her, and as he himself had still the plea of old family friendship to protect his conscience — to protect his conscience unless he went so far as to make that plea an additional sting to his conscience — he thought that, as a man, he must follow up the matter. Here was a young, and fashionable, and very pretty woman banished to the wilds of Dartmoor for his sake. And, as far as he could understand, she would not have been so banished had she consented to say that she would give up her acquaintance with him. In such circumstances as these was it possible that he should do nothing? Various ideas ran through his head. He began to think that if Trevelyan were out of the way, he might might perhaps be almost tempted to make this woman his wife. She was so nice that he almost thought that he might be rash enough for that, although he knew well the satisfaction of being a bachelor; but as the thought suggested itself to him, he was well aware that he was thinking of a thing quite distant from him. The reader is not to suppose that Colonel Osborne meditated any making-away with the husband. Our colonel was certainly not the man for a murder. Nor did he even think of running away with his friend’s daughter. Though he told himself that he could dispose of his wrinkles satisfactorily, still he knew himself and his powers sufficiently to be aware that he was no longer fit to be the hero of such a romance as that. He acknowledged to himself that there was much labour to be gone through in running away with another man’s wife; and that the results, in respect to personal comfort, are not always happy. But what if Mrs Trevelyan were to divorce herself from her husband on the score of her husband’s cruelty? Various horrors were related as to the man’s treatment of his wife. By some it was said that she was in the prison on Dartmoor or, if not actually in the prison, an arrangement which the prison discipline might perhaps make difficult, that she was in the custody of one of the prison warders who possessed a prim cottage and a grim wife, just outside the prison walls. Colonel Osborne did not himself believe even so much as this, but he did believe that Mrs Trevelyan had been banished to some inhospitable region, to some dreary comfortless abode, of which, as the wife of a man of fortune, she would have great ground to complain. So thinking, he did not probably declare to himself that a divorce should be obtained, and that, in such event, he would marry the lady, but ideas came across his mind in that direction. Trevelyan was a cruel Bluebeard; Emily, as he was studious to call Mrs Trevelyan, was a dear injured saint. And as for himself, though he acknowledged to himself that the lumbago pinched him now and again, so that he could not rise from his chair with all the alacrity of youth, yet, when he walked along Pall Mall with his coat properly buttoned, he could not but observe that a great many young women looked at him with admiring eyes.

It was thus with no settled scheme that the Colonel went to work, and made inquiries, and ascertained Mrs Trevelyan’s address in Devonshire. When he learned it, he thought that he had done much; though, in truth, there had been no secrecy in the matter. Scores of people knew Mrs Trevelyan’s address besides the newsvendor who supplied her paper, from whose boy Colonel Osborne’s servant obtained the information. But when the information had been obtained, it was expedient that it should be used; and therefore Colonel Osborne wrote the following letter:

‘Acrobats Club, July 31, 186-Dear Emily,’

Twice the Colonel wrote Dearest Emily, and twice he tore the sheet on which the words were written. He longed to be ardent, but still it was so necessary to be prudent! He was not quite sure of the lady. Women sometimes tell their husbands, even when they have quarrelled with them. And, although ardent expressions in writing to pretty women are pleasant to male writers, it is not pleasant for a gentleman to be asked what on earth he means by that sort of thing at his tune of life. The Colonel gave half an hour to the consideration, and then began the letter, Dear Emily. If prudence be the soul of valour, may it not be considered also the very mainspring, or, perhaps, the pivot of love?

‘Dear Emily

I need hardly tell you with what dismay I have heard of all that has taken place in Curzon Street. I fear that you must have suffered much, and that you are suffering now. It is an inexpressible relief to me to hear that you have your child with you, and Nora. But, nevertheless, to have your home taken away from you, to be sent out of London, to be banished from all society! And for what? The manner in which the minds of some men work is quite incomprehensible.

As for myself, I feel that I have lost the company of a friend whom indeed I can very ill spare. I have a thousand things to say to you, and among them one or two which I feel that I must say that I ought to say. As it happens, an old schoolfellow of mine is Vicar of Cockchaffington, a village which I find by the map is very near to Nuncombe Putney. I saw him in town last spring, and he then asked me to pay him a visit. There is something in his church which people go to see, and though I don’t understand churches much, I shall go and see it. I shall run down on Wednesday, and shall sleep at the inn at Lessboro’. I see that Lessboro’ is a market town, and I suppose there is an inn. I shall go over to my friend on the Thursday, but shall return to Lessboro’. Though a man be ever so eager to see a church doorway, he need not sleep at the parsonage. On the following day, I will get over to Nuncombe Putney, and I hope that you will see me. Considering my long friendship with you, and my great attachment to your father and mother, I do not think that the strictest martinet would tell you that you need hesitate in the matter.

I have seen Mr Trevelyan twice at the club, but he has not spoken to me. Under such circumstances I could not of course speak to him. Indeed, I may say that my feelings towards him just at present are of such a nature as to preclude me from doing so with any appearance of cordiality.

Dear Emily,

Believe me now, as always, your affectionate friend,

Frederic Osborne.’

When he read that letter over to himself a second time he felt quite sure that he had not committed himself. Even if his friend were to send the letter to her husband, it could not do him any harm. He was aware that he might have dilated more on the old friendship between himself and Sir Marmaduke, but he experienced a certain distaste to the mention of things appertaining to years long past. It did not quite suit him in his present frame of mind to speak of his regard in those quasi-paternal terms which he would have used had it satisfied him to represent himself simply as her father’s friend. His language therefore had been a little doubtful, so that the lady might, if she were so minded, look upon him in that tender light in which her husband had certainly chosen to regard him.

When the letter was handed to Mrs Trevelyan, she at once took it with her up to her own room, so that she might be alone when she read it. The handwriting was quite familiar to her, and she did not choose that even her sister should see it. She had told herself twenty times over that, while living at Nuncombe Putney, she was not living under the guardianship of Mrs Stanbury. She would consent to live under the guardianship of no one, as her husband did not choose to remain with her and protect her. She had done no wrong, and she would submit to no other authority, than that of her legal lord and master. Nor, according to her views of her own position, was it in his power to depute that authority to others. He had caused the separation, and now she must be the sole judge of her own actions. In itself, a correspondence between her and her father’s old friend was in no degree criminal or even faulty. There was no reason, moral, social, or religious, why an old man, over fifty, who had known her all her life, should not write to her. But yet she could not say aloud before Mrs Stanbury, and Priscilla, and her sister, that she had received a letter from Colonel Osborne. She felt that the colour had come to her cheek, and that she could not even walk out of the room as though the letter had been a matter of indifference to her.

And would it have been a matter of indifference had there been nobody there to see her? Mrs Trevelyan was certainly not in love with Colonel Osborne. She was not more so now than she had been when her father’s friend, purposely dressed for the occasion, had kissed her in the vestry of the church in which she was married, and had given her a blessing, which was then intended to be semi-paternal as from an old man to a young woman. She was not in love with him never would be, never could be in love with him. Reader, you may believe in her so far as that. But where is the woman, who, when she is neglected, thrown over, and suspected by the man that she loves, will not feel the desire of some sympathy, some solicitude, some show of regard from another man? This woman’s life, too, had not hitherto been of such a nature that the tranquillity of the Clock House at Nuncombe Putney afforded to her all that she desired. She had been there now a month, and was almost sick from the want of excitement. And she was full of wrath against her husband. Why had he sent her there to break her heart in, a disgraceful retirement, when she had never wronged him? From morning to night she had no employment, no amusement, nothing to satisfy her cravings. Why was she to be doomed to such an existence? She had declared that as long as she could have her boy with her, she would be happy. She was allowed to have her boy; but she was anything but happy. When she received Colonel Osborne’s letter, while she held it in her hand still unopened, she never for a moment thought that that could make her happy. But there was in it something of excitement. And she painted the man to herself in brighter colours now than she had ever given to him in her former portraits. He cared for her. He was gracious to her. He appreciated her talents, her beauty, and her conduct. He knew that she deserved a treatment very different from that accorded to her by her husband. Why should she reject the sympathy of her father’s oldest friend, because her husband was madly jealous about an old man? Her husband had chosen to send her away, and to leave her, so that she must act on her own judgment. Acting on her own judgment, she read Colonel Osborne’s letter from first to last. She knew that he was wrong to speak of coming to Nuncombe Putney; but yet she thought that she would see him. She had a dim perception that she was standing on the edge of a precipice, on broken ground which might fall under her without a moment’s warning, and yet she would not retreat from the danger. Though Colonel Osborne was wrong, very wrong in coming to see her, yet she liked him for coming. Though she would be half afraid to tell her news to Mrs Stanbury, and more than half afraid to tell Priscilla, yet she liked the excitement of the fear. Nora would scold her; but Nora’s scolding she thought she could answer. And then it was not the fact that Colonel Osborne was coming down to Devonshire to see her. He was coming as far as Lessboro’ to see his friend at Cockchaffington. And when at Lessboro’, was it likely that he should leave the neighbourhood without seeing the daughter of his old ally? And why should he do so?

Was he to be unnatural in his conduct, uncivil, and unfriendly, because Mr Trevelyan had been foolish, suspicious, and insane?

So arguing with herself, she answered Colonel Osborne’s letter before she had spoken on the subject to any one in the house and this was her answer:

‘My dear Colonel Osborne,

I must leave it to your own judgment to decide whether you will come to Nuncombe Putney or not. There are reasons which would seem to make it expedient that you should stay away even though circumstances are bringing you into the immediate neighbourhood. But of these reasons I will leave you to be the judge. I will never let it be said that I myself have had cause to dread the visit of any old friend. Nevertheless, if you stay away, I shall understand why you do so.

Personally, I shall be glad to see you as I have always been. It seems odd to me that I cannot write in warmer tones to my father’s and mother’s oldest friend. Of course, you will understand that though I shall readily see you if you call, I cannot ask you to stay. In the first place, I am not now living in my own house. I am staying with Mrs Stanbury, and the place is called the Clock House.

Yours very sincerely,

Emily Trevelyan.’

The Clock House, Nuncombe Putney, Monday.’

Soon after she had written it, Nora came into her room, and at once asked concerning the letter which she had seen delivered to her sister that morning.

‘It was from Colonel Osborne,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.

‘From Colonel Osborne! How very wrong!’

‘I don’t see that it is wrong at all. Because Louis is foolish and mad, that cannot make another man wrong for doing the most ordinary thing in the world.’

‘I had hoped it had been from Louis,’ said Nora.

‘Oh dear, no. He is by no means so considerate. I do not suppose I shall hear from him, till he chooses to give some fresh order about myself or my child. He will hardly trouble himself to write to me, unless he take up some new freak to show me that he is my master.

‘And what does Colonel Osborne say?’

‘He is coming here.’

‘Coming here?’ almost shouted Nora.

‘Yes; absolutely here. Does it sound to you as if Lucifer himself were about to show his face. The fact is he happens to have a friend in the neighbourhood whom he has long promised to visit; and as he must be at Lessboro’, he does not choose to go away without the compliment of a call. It will be as much to you as to me.’

‘I don’t want to see him in the least,’ said Nora.

‘There is his letter. As you seem to be so suspicious you had better read it.’

Then Nora read it.

‘And there is a copy of my answer,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘I shall keep both, because I know so well what ill-natured things people will say.’

‘Dear Emily, do not send it,’ said Nora.

‘Indeed I shall. I will not be frightened by bugbears And I will not be driven to confess to any man on earth that I am afraid to see him. Why should I be afraid of Colonel Osborne? I will not submit to acknowledge that there can be any danger in Colonel Osborne. Were I to do so I should be repeating the insult against myself. If my husband wished to guide me in such matters why did he not stay with me?’

Then she went out into the village and posted the letter. Nora meanwhile was thinking whether she would call in the assistance of Priscilla Stanbury; but she did not like to take any such a step in opposition to her sister.

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