He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVII

Mr Trevelyan’s Letter to His Wife

Trevelyan, when he was left alone, sat for above a couple of hours contemplating the misery of his position, and endeavouring to teach himself by thinking what ought to be his future conduct. It never occurred to him during these thoughts that it would be well that he should at once take back his wife, either as a matter of duty, or of welfare, for himself or for her. He had taught himself to believe that she had disgraced him; and, though this feeling of disgrace made him so wretched that he wished that he were dead, he would allow himself to make no attempt at questioning the correctness of his conviction. Though he were to be shipwrecked for ever, even that seemed to be preferable to supposing that he had been wrong. Nevertheless, he loved his wife dearly, and, in the white heat of his anger endeavoured to be merciful to her. When Stanbury accused him of severity, he would not condescend to defend himself; but he told himself then of his great mercy. Was he not as fond of his own boy as any other father, and had he not allowed her to take the child because he had felt that a mother’s love was more imperious, more craving in its nature, than the love of a father? Had that been severe? And had he not resolved to allow her every comfort which her unfortunate position the self-imposed misfortune of her position would allow her to enjoy? She had come to him without a shilling; and yet, bad as her treatment of him had been, he was willing to give enough not only to support her, but her sister also, with every comfort. Severe! No; that, at least, was an undeserved accusation. He had been anything but severe. Foolish he might have been, in taking a wife from a home in which she had been unable to learn the discretion of a matron; too trusting he had been, and too generous but certainly not severe. But, of course, as he said to himself, a young man like Stanbury would take the part of a woman with whose sister he was in love. Then he turned his thoughts upon Bozzle, and there came over him a crushing feeling of ignominy, shame, moral dirt, and utter degradation, as he reconsidered his dealings with that ingenious gentleman. He was paying a rogue to watch the steps of a man whom he hated, to pry into the home secrets, to read the letters, to bribe the servants, to record the movements of this rival, this successful rival, in his wife’s affections! It was a filthy thing and yet what could he do? Gentlemen of old, his own grandfather or his father, would have taken such a fellow as Colonel Osborne by the throat and have caned him, and afterwards would have shot him, or have stood to be shot.

All that was changed now, but it was not his fault that it was changed. He was willing enough to risk his life, could any opportunity of risking it in this cause be obtained for him. But were he to cudgel Colonel Osborne, he would be simply arrested, and he would then be told that he had disgraced himself foully by striking a man old enough to be his father!

How was he to have avoided the employment of some such man as Bozzle? He had also employed a gentleman, his friend, Stanbury; and what was the result? The facts were not altered. Even Stanbury did not attempt to deny that there had been a correspondence, and that there had been a visit. But Stanbury was so blind to all impropriety, or pretended such blindness, that he defended that which all the world agreed in condemning. Of what use had Stanbury been to him? He had wanted facts, not advice. Stanbury had found out no facts for him; but Bozzle, either by fair means or foul, did get at the truth. He did not doubt but that Bozzle was right about that letter written only yesterday, and received on that very morning. His wife, who had probably been complaining of her wrongs to Stanbury, must have retired from that conversation to her chamber, and immediately have written this letter to her lover! With such a woman as that what can be done in these days otherwise than by the aid of such a one as Bozzle? He could not confine his wife in a dungeon. He could not save himself from the disgrace of her misconduct by any rigours of surveillance on his own part. As wives are managed nowadays, he could not forbid to her the use of the post-office, could not hinder her from seeing this hypocritical scoundrel, who carried on his wickedness under the false guise of family friendship. He had given her every chance to amend her conduct; but, if she were resolved on disobedience, he had no means of enforcing obedience. The facts, however, it was necessary that he should know.

And now, what should he do? How should he go to work to make her understand that she could not write even a letter without his knowing it; and that if she did either write to the man or see him he would immediately take the child from her, and provide for her only in such fashion as the law should demand from him? For himself, and his own life, he thought that he had determined what he would do. It was impossible that he should continue to live in London. He was ashamed to enter a club. He had hardly a friend to whom it was not an agony to speak. They who knew of him, knew also of his disgrace, and no longer asked him to their houses. For days past he had eaten alone, and sat alone, and walked alone. All study was impossible to him. No pursuit was open to him. He spend his time in thinking of his wife, and of the disgrace which she had brought upon him. Such a life as this, he knew, was unmanly and shameful, and it was absolutely necessary for him that he should in some way change it. He would go out of England, and would travel if only he could so dispose of his wife that she might be safe from any possible communication with Colonel Osborne. If that could be effected, nothing that money could do should be spared for her. If that could not be effected he would remain at home and crush her.

That night before he went to bed he wrote a letter to his wife, which was as follows:

Dear Emily,

I have learned, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you have corresponded with Colonel Osborne since you have been at Nuncombe Putney, and also that you have seen him there. This has been done in direct opposition to my expressed wishes, and I feel myself compelled to tell you that such conduct is disgraceful to you, and disgracing to me. I am quite at a loss to understand how you can reconcile to yourself so flagrant a disobedience of my instructions, and so perverse a disregard to the opinion of the world at large.

But I do not write now for the sake of finding fault with you. It is too late for me to have any hope that I can do so with good effect, either as regards your credit or my happiness. Nevertheless, it is my duty to protect both you and myself from further shame; and I wish to tell you what are my intentions with that view. In the first place, I warn you that I keep a watch on you. The doing so is very painful to me, but it is absolutely necessary. You cannot see Colonel Osborne, or write to him, without my knowing it. I pledge you my word that in either case — that is, if you correspond with him or see him — I will at once take our boy away from you. I will not allow him to remain, even with a mother, who shall so misconduct herself. Should Colonel Osborne address a letter to you, I desire that you will put it under an envelope addressed to me.

If you obey my commands on this head I will leave our boy with you nine months out of every year till he shall be six years old. Such, at least, is my present idea, though I will not positively bind myself to adhere to it. And I will allow you 800 pounds per year, for your own maintenance and that of your sister. I am greatly grieved to find from my friend Mr Stanbury that your conduct in reference to Colonel Osborne has been such as to make it necessary that you should leave Mrs Stanbury’s house. I do not wonder that it should be so. I shall immediately seek for a future home for you, and when I have found one that is suitable, I will have you conveyed to it.

I must now further explain my purposes and I must beg you to remember that I am driven to do so by your direct disobedience to my expressed wishes. Should there be any further communication between you and Colonel Osborne, not only will I take your child away from you, but I will also limit the allowance to be made to you to a bare sustenance. In such case, I shall put the matter into the hands of a lawyer, and shall probably feel myself driven to take steps towards freeing myself from a connection which will be disgraceful to my name.

For myself, I shall live abroad during the greater part of the year. London has become to me uninhabitable, and all English pleasures are distasteful.

Yours affectionately,

Louis Trevelyan.’

When he had finished this he read it twice, and believed that he had written, if not an affectionate, at any rate a considerate letter. He had no bounds to the pity which he felt for himself in reference to the injury which was being done to him, and he thought that the offers which he was making, both in respect to his child and the money, were such as to entitle him to his wife’s warmest gratitude. He hardly recognised the force of the language which he used when he told her that her conduct was disgraceful, and that she had disgraced his name. He was quite unable to look at the whole question between him and his wife from her point of view. He conceived it possible that such a woman as his wife should be told that her conduct would be watched, and that she should be threatened with the Divorce Court, with an effect that should, upon the whole, be salutary. There be men, and not bad men either, and men neither uneducated, or unintelligent, or irrational in ordinary matters, who seem to be absolutely unfitted by nature to have the custody or guardianship of others. A woman in the hands of such a man can hardly save herself or him from endless trouble. It may be that between such a one and his wife, events shall flow on so evenly that no ruling, no constraint is necessary that even the giving of advice is never called for by the circumstances of the day. If the man be happily forced to labour daily for his living till he be weary, and the wife be laden with many ordinary cares, the routine of life may run on without storms; but for such a one, if he be without work, the management of a wife will be a task full of peril. The lesson may be learned at last; he may after years come to perceive how much and how little of guidance the partner of his life requires at his hands; and he may be taught how that guidance should be given, but in the learning of the lesson there will be sorrow and gnashing of teeth. It was so now with this man. He loved his wife. To a certain extent he still trusted her. He did not believe that she would be faithless to him after the fashion of women who are faithless altogether But he was jealous of authority, fearful of slights, self-conscious, afraid of the world, and utterly ignorant of the nature of a woman’s mind.

He carried the letter with him in his pocket throughout the next morning, and in the course of the day he called upon Lady Milborough. Though he was obstinately bent on acting in accordance with his own views, yet he was morbidly desirous of discussing the grievousness of his position with his friends. He went to Lady Milborough, asking for her advice, but desirous simply of being encouraged by her to do that which he was resolved to do on his own judgment.

‘Down after her to Nuncombe Putney!’ said Lady Milborough, holding up both her hands.

‘Yes; he has been there. And she has been weak enough to see him.’

‘My dear Louis, take her to Naples at once — at once.’

‘It is too late for that now, Lady Milborough.’

‘Too late! Oh no. She has been foolish, indiscreet, disobedient — what you will of that kind. But, Louis, don’t send her away; don’t send your young wife away from you. Those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’

‘I cannot consent to live with a wife with whom neither my wishes nor my word have the slightest effect. I may believe of her what I please; but, think what the world will believe! I cannot disgrace myself by living with a woman who persists in holding intercourse with a man whom the world speaks of as her lover.’

‘Take her to Naples,’ said Lady Milborough, with all the energy of which she was capable.

‘I can take her nowhere, nor will I see her, till she has given proof that her whole conduct towards me has been altered. I have written a letter to her, and I have brought it. Will you excuse me if I ask you to take the trouble to read it?’

Then he handed Lady Milborough the letter, which she read very slowly, and with much care.

‘I don’t think I would — would — would —’

‘Would what?’ demanded Trevelyan.

‘Don’t you think that what you say is a little — just a little — prone to make to make the breach perhaps wider?’

‘No, Lady Milborough. In the first place, how can it be wider?’

‘You might take her back, you know; and then if you could only get to Naples!’

‘How can I take her back while she is corresponding with this man?’

‘She wouldn’t correspond with him at Naples.’

Trevelyan shook his head and became cross. His old friend would not at all do as old friends are expected to do when called upon for advice.

‘I think,’ said he, ‘that what I have proposed is both just and generous.’

‘But, Louis, why should there be any separation?’

‘She has forced it upon me. She is headstrong, and will not be ruled.’

‘But this about disgracing you. Do you think that you must say that?’

‘I think I must, because it is true. If I do not tell her the truth, who is there that will do so? It may be bitter now, but I think that it is for her welfare.’

‘Dear, dear, dear!’

‘I want nothing for myself, Lady Milborough.’

‘I am sure of that, Louis.’

‘My whole happiness was in my home. No man cared less for going out than I did. My child and my wife were everything to me. I don’t suppose that I was ever seen at a club in the evening once throughout a season. And she might have had anything that she liked — anything! It is hard; Lady Milborough; is it not?’

Lady Milborough, who had seen the angry brow, did not dare to suggest Naples again. But yet, if any word might be spoken to prevent this utter wreck of a home, how good a thing it would be! He had got up to leave her, but she stopped him by holding his hand.

‘For better, for worse, Louis; remember that.’

‘Why has she forgotten it?’

‘She is flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone. And for the boy’s sake! Think of your boy, Louis. Do not send that letter. Sleep on it, Louis, and think of it.’

‘I have slept on it.’

‘There is no promise in it of forgiveness after a while. It is written as though you intended that she should never come back to you.’.

‘That shall be as she behaves herself.’

‘But tell her so. Let there be some one bright spot in what you say to her, on which her mind may fix itself. If she be not altogether hardened, that letter will drive her to despair.’

But Trevelyan would not give up the letter, nor indicate by a word that he would reconsider the question of its propriety. He escaped as soon as he could from Lady Milborough’s room, and almost declared as he did so, that he would never enter her doors again. She had utterly failed to see the matter in the proper light. When she talked of Naples she must surely have been unable to comprehend the extent of the ill-usage to which he, the husband, had been subjected. How was it possible that he should live under the same roof with a wife who claimed to herself the right of receiving visitors of whom he disapproved — a visitor, a gentleman, one whom the world called her lover? He gnashed his teeth and clenched his fist as he thought of his old friend’s ignorance of the very first law in a married man’s code of laws.

But yet when he was out in the streets he did not post his letter at once; but thought of it throughout the whole day, trying to prove the weight of every phrase that he had used. Once or twice his heart almost relented. Once he had the letter in his hand, that he might tear it. But he did not tear it. He put it back into his pocket, and thought again of his grievance. Surely it was his first duty in such an emergency to be firm!

It was certainly a wretched life that he was leading. In the evening he went all alone to an eating-house for his dinner, and then, sitting with a miserable glass of sherry before him, he again read and re-read the epistle which he had written. Every harsh word that it contained was, in some sort, pleasant to his ear. She had hit him hard, and should he not hit her again? And then, was it not his bounden duty to let her know the truth? Yes; it was his duty to be firm.

So he went out and posted the letter.

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