He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

Shewing How Colonel Osborne Went to Nuncombe Putney

Colonel Osborne was expected at Nuncombe Putney on the Friday, and, it was Thursday evening before either Mrs Stanbury or Priscilla was told of his coming. Emily had argued the matter with Nora, declaring that she would make the communication herself, and that she would make it when she pleased, and how she pleased. ‘If Mrs Stanbury thinks,’ said she, ‘that I am going to be treated as a prisoner, or that I will not judge myself as to whom I may see, or whom I may not see, she is very much mistaken.’ Nora felt that were she to give information to those ladies in opposition to her sister’s wishes, she would express suspicion on her own part by doing so; and she was silent. On that same Thursday Priscilla had written her last defiant letter to her aunt, that letter in which she had cautioned her aunt to make no further accusation without being sure of her facts. To Priscilla’s imagination that coming of Lucifer in person, of which Mrs Trevelyan had spoken, would hardly have been worse than the coming of Colonel Osborne. When, therefore, Mrs Trevelyan declared the fact on the Thursday evening, vainly endeavouring to speak of the threatened visit in an ordinary voice, and as of an ordinary circumstance, it was as though a thunderbolt had fallen upon them.

‘Colonel Osborne coming here!’ said Priscilla, mindful of the Stanbury correspondence mindful of the evil tongues of the world.

‘And why not?’ demanded Mrs Trevelyan, who had heard nothing of the Stanbury correspondence.

‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ ejaculated Mrs Stanbury, who, of course, was aware of all that had passed between the Clock House and the house in the Close, though the letters had been written by her daughter.

Nora was determined to stand up for her sister, whatever might be the circumstances of the case. ‘I wish Colonel Osborne were not coming,’ said she, ‘because it makes a foolish fuss; but I cannot understand how anybody can suppose it to be wrong that Emily should see papa’s very oldest friend in the world.’

‘But why is he coming?’ demanded Priscilla.

‘Because he wants to see an acquaintance at Cockchaffington;’ said Mrs Trevelyan; ‘and there is a wonderful church-door there.’

‘A church-fiddlestick!’ said Priscilla.

The matter was debated throughout all the evening. At one time there was a great quarrel between the ladies, and then there was a reconciliation. The point on which Mrs Trevelyan stood with the greatest firmness was this that it did not become her, as a married woman ‘whose conduct had always been good and who was more careful as to that than she was even of her name, to be ashamed to meet any man. ‘Why should I not see Colonel Osborne, or Colonel anybody else who might call here with the same justification for calling which his old friendship gives him?’ Priscilla endeavoured to explain to her that her husband’s known wishes ought to hinder her from doing so. ‘My husband should have remained with me, to express his wishes,’ Mrs Trevelyan replied.

Neither could Mrs Stanbury nor could Priscilla bring herself to say that the man should not be admitted into the house. In the course of the debate, in the heat of her anger, Mrs Trevelyan declared that were any such threat held out to her, she would leave the house and see Colonel Osborne in the Street, or at the inn.

‘No, Emily; no,’ said Nora.

‘But I will. I will not submit to be treated as a guilty woman, or as a prisoner. They may say what they like, but I won’t be shut up.’

‘No one has tried to shut you up,’ said Priscilla.

‘You are afraid of that old woman at Exeter,’ said Mrs Trevelyan; for by this time the facts of the Stanbury correspondence had all been elicited in general conversation; ‘and yet you know how uncharitable and malicious she is.’

‘We are not afraid of her,’ said Priscilla. ‘We are afraid of nothing but of doing wrong.’

‘And will it be wrong to let an old gentleman come into the house,’ said Nora, ‘who is nearly sixty, and who has known us ever since we were born?’

‘If he is nearly sixty, Priscilla,’ said Mrs Stanbury, ‘that does seem to make a difference.’ Mrs Stanbury herself was only just sixty, and she felt herself to be quite an old woman.

‘They may be devils at eighty,’ said Priscilla.

‘Colonel Osborne is not a devil at all,’ said Nora.

‘But mamma is so foolish,’ said Priscilla. ‘The man’s age does not matter in the least.’

‘I beg your pardon, my dear,’ said Mrs Stanbury, very humbly.

At that time the quarrel was raging, but afterwards came the reconciliation. Had it not been for the Stanbury correspondence the fact of Colonel Osborne’s threatened visit would have been admitted as a thing necessary, as a disagreeable necessity; but how was the visit to be admitted and passed over in the teeth of that correspondence? Priscilla felt very keenly the peculiar cruelty of her position. Of course, Aunt Stanbury would hear of the visit. Indeed, any secrecy in the matter was not compatible with Priscilla’s ideas of honesty. Her aunt had apologised humbly for having said that Colonel Osborne had been at Nuncombe. That apology, doubtless, had been due. Colonel Osborne had not been at Nuncombe when the accusation had been made, and the accusation had been unjust and false. But his coming had been spoken of by Priscilla in her own letters as an occurrence which was quite out of the question. Her anger against her aunt had been for saying that the man had come, not for objecting to such a visit. And now the man was coming, and Aunt Stanbury would know all about it. How great, how terrible, how crushing would be Aunt Stanbury’s triumph!

‘I must write and tell her,’ said Priscilla.

‘I am sure I shall not object,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘And Hugh must be told,’ said Mrs Stanbury.

‘You may tell all the world, if you like,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.

In this way it was settled among them that Colonel Osborne was to be received. On the next morning, Friday morning, Colonel Osborne, doubtless having heard something of Mrs Crocket from his friend at Cockchaffington, was up early, and had himself driven over to Nuncombe Putney before breakfast. The ever-watchful Bozzle was, of course, at his heels or rather, not at his heels on the first two miles of the journey; for Bozzle, with painful zeal, had made himself aware of all the facts, and had started on the Nuncombe Putney road half an hour before the Colonel’s fly was in motion. And when the fly passed him he was lying discreetly hidden behind an old oak. The driver, however, had caught a glimpse of him as he was topping a hill, and having seen him about on the previous day, and perceiving that he was dressed in a decent coat and trousers, and that, nevertheless, he was not a gentleman, began to suspect that he was somebody. There was a great deal said afterwards about Bozzle in Mrs Clegg’s yard at Lessboro’; but the Lessboro’ mind was never able to satisfy itself altogether respecting Bozzle and his mission. As to Colonel Osborne and his mission, the Lessboro’ mind did satisfy itself with much certainty. The horse was hardly taken from out of Colonel Osborne’s fly in Mrs Crocket’s yard when Bozzle stepped into the village by a path which he had already discovered, and soon busied himself among the tombs in the churchyard. Now, one corner of the churchyard was immediately opposite to the iron gate leading into the Clock House. ‘Drat ’un,’ said the wooden-legged postman, still sitting on his donkey, to Mrs Crocket’s ostler, ‘if there be’ant the chap as was here yesterday when I was a starting, and I zeed ’un in Lezbro’ Street thick very morning.’ ‘He be’ant arter no good, that ’un,’ said the ostler. After that a close watch was kept upon the watcher.

In the meantime, Colonel Osborne had ordered his breakfast at the Stag and Antlers, and had asked questions as to the position of the Clock House. He was altogether ignorant of Mr Bozzle, although Mr Bozzle had been on his track now for two days and two nights. He had determined, as he came on to Nuncombe Putney, that he would not be shame-faced about his visit to Mrs Trevelyan. It is possible that he was not so keen in the matter as he had. Been when he planned his journey in London; and, it may be, that he really tried to make himself believe that he had come all the way to the confines of Dartmoor to see the porch of Cockchaffington Church. The session in London was over, and it was necessary for such a man as Colonel Osborne that he should do something with himself before he went down to the Scotch grouse. He had long desired to see something of the most picturesque county in England; and now, as he sat eating his breakfast in Mrs Crocket’s parlour, he almost looked upon his dear Emily as a subsidiary attraction. ‘Oh, that’s the Clock House,’ he said to Mrs Crocket. ‘No, I have not the pleasure of knowing Mrs Stanbury; very respectable lady, so I have heard; widow of a clergyman; ah, yes; son up in London; I know him, always writing books, is he? Very clever, I dare say. But there’s a lady indeed, two ladies whom I do know. Mrs Trevelyan is there, I think and Miss Rowley.’

‘You be’ant Muster Trevelyan, be you?’ said Mrs Crocket, looking at him very hard.

‘No, I’m not Mr Trevelyan.’

‘Nor yet “the Colonel” they doo be talking about?’

‘Well, yes, I am a colonel. I don’t know why anybody should talk about me. I’ll just step out now, however, and see my friends.’

‘It’s madam’s lover,’ said Mrs Crocket to herself, ‘as sure as eggs is eggs.’ As she said so, Colonel Osborne boldly walked across the village and pulled the bell at the iron gate, while Bozzle, crouching among the tombs, saw the handle in his hand. ‘There he is,’ said Priscilla. Everybody in the Clock House had known that the fly, which they had seen, had brought ‘the Colonel’ into Nuncombe Putney. Everybody had known that he had breakfasted at the Stag and Antlers. And everybody now knew that he was at the gate, ringing the bell. ‘Into the drawing room,’ said Mrs Stanbury, with a fearful, tremulous whisper to the girl who went across the little garden in front to open the iron gate. The girl felt as though Apollyon were there, and as though she were called upon to admit Apollyon. Mrs Stanbury having uttered her whisper, hurried way upstairs. Priscilla held her ground in the parlour, determined to be near the scene of action if there might be need. And it must be acknowledged that she peeped from behind the curtain, anxious to catch a glimpse of the terrible man, whose coming to Nuncombe Putney she regarded as so severe a misfortune.

The plan of the campaign had all been arranged. Mrs Trevelyan and Nora together received Colonel Osborne in the drawing-room. It was understood that Nora was to remain there during the whole visit. ‘It is horrible to think that such a precaution should be necessary,’ Mrs Trevelyan had said, ‘but perhaps it may be best. There is no knowing what the malice of people may not invent.’

‘My dear girls,’ said the Colonel, ‘I am delighted to see you,’ and he gave a hand to each.

‘We are not very cheerful here,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, ‘as you may imagine.’

‘But the scenery is beautiful,’ said Nora, ‘and the people we are living with are very kind and nice.’

‘I am very glad of that,’ said the Colonel. Then there was a pause, and it seemed, for a moment, that none of them knew how to begin a general conversation. Colonel Osborne was quite sure, by this time, that he had come down to Devonshire with the express object of seeing the door of the church at Cockchaffington, and Mrs Trevelyan was beginning to think that he certainly had not come to see her. ‘Have you heard from your father since you have been here?’ asked the Colonel.

Then there was an explanation about Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley. Mr Trevelyan’s name was not mentioned; but Mrs Trevelyan stated that she had explained to her mother all the painful circumstances of her present life. Sir Marmaduke, as Colonel Osborne was aware, was expected to be in England in the spring, and Lady Rowley would, of course, come with him. Nora thought that they might probably now come before that time; but Mrs Trevelyan declared that it was out of the question that they should do so. She was sure that her father could not leave the islands except when he did so in obedience to official orders. The expense of doing so would be ruinous to him. And what good would he do? In this way there was a great deal of family conversation, in which Colonel Osborne was able to take a part; but not a word was said about Mr Trevelyan.

Nor did ‘the Colonel’ find an opportunity of expressing a spark of that sentiment, for the purpose of expressing which he had made this journey to Devonshire. It is not pleasant to make love in the presence of a third person, even when that love is all fair and above board; but it is quite impracticable to do so to a married lady, when that married lady’s sister is present. No more futile visit than this of Colonel Osborne’s to the Clock House was ever made. And yet, though not a word was spoken to which Mr Trevelyan himself could have taken the slightest exception, the visit, futile as it was, could not but do an enormous deal of harm. Mrs Crocket had already guessed that the fine gentleman down from London was the lover of the married lady at the Clock House, who was separated from her husband. The wooden-legged postman and the ostler were not long in connecting the man among the tombstones with the visitor to the house. Trevelyan, as we are aware, already knew that Colonel Osborne was in the neighbourhood. And poor Priscilla Stanbury was now exposed to the terrible necessity of owning the truth to her aunt. ‘The Colonel,’ when he had sat an hour with his young friends, took his leave; and, as he walked back to Mrs Crocket’s, and ordered that his fly might be got ready for him, his mind was heavy with the disagreeable feeling that he had made an ass of himself. The whole affair had been a failure; and though he might be able to pass off the porch at Cockchaffington among his friends, he could not but be aware himself that he had spent his time, his trouble, and his money for nothing. He became aware, as he returned to Lessboro’, that had he intended to make any pleasant use whatever of his position in reference to Mrs Trevelyan, the tone of his letter and his whole mode of proceeding should have been less patriarchal. And he should have contrived a meeting without the presence of Nora Rowley.

As soon as he had left them, Mrs Trevelyan went to her own room, and Nora at once rejoined Priscilla.

‘Is he gone?’ asked Priscilla.

‘Oh, yes he has gone.’

‘What would I have given that he had never come!’

‘And yet,’ said Nora, ‘what harm has he done? I wish he had not come, because, of course, people will talk! But nothing was more natural than that he should come over to see us when he was so near us.’

‘Nora!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You don’t believe all that? In the neighbourhood! I believe he came on purpose to see your sister, and I think that it was a dastardly and most ungentleman-like thing to do.’

‘I am quite sure you are wrong, then altogether wrong,’ said Nora.

‘Very well. We must have our own opinions. I am glad you can be so charitable. But he should not have come here to this house, even though imperative business had brought him into the very village. But men in their vanity never think of the injury they may do to a woman’s name. Now I must go and write to my aunt. I am not going to have it said hereafter that I deceived her. And then I shall write to Hugh. Oh dear; oh dear!’

‘I am afraid we are a great trouble to you.’

‘I will not deceive you, because I like you. This is a great trouble to me. I have meant to be so prudent, and with all my prudence I have not been able to keep clear of rocks. And I have been so indignant with Aunt Stanbury! Now I must go and eat humble-pie.’

Then she eat humble pie after the following fashion:

‘Dear Aunt Stanbury

After what has passed between us, I think it right to tell you that Colonel Osborne has been at Nuncombe Putney, and that he called at the Clock House this morning. We did not see him. But Mrs Trevelyan and Miss Rowley, together, did see him. He remained here perhaps an hour.

‘I should not have thought it necessary to mention this to you, the matter being one in which you are not concerned, were it not for our former correspondence. When I last wrote, I had no idea that he was coming nor had mamma. And when you first wrote, he was not even expected by Mrs Trevelyan. The man you wrote about, was another gentleman as I told you before. All this is most disagreeable, and tiresome and would be quite nonsensical, but that circumstances seem to make it necessary.

As for Colonel Osborne, I wish he had not been here; but his coming would do no harm only that it will be talked about.

I think you will understand how it is that I feel myself constrained to write to you. I do hope that you will spare mamma, who is disturbed and harassed when she gets angry letters. If you have anything to say to myself, I don’t mind it.

Yours truly,

Priscilla Stanbury.’

The Clock House, Friday, August 5.’

She wrote also to her brother Hugh; but Hugh himself reached Nuncombe Putney before the letter reached him.

Mr Bozzle watched the Colonel out of the house, and watched him out of the village. When the Colonel was fairly started, Mr Bozzle walked back to Lessboro’.

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