He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXIX

Mr and Mrs Outhouse

Both Mr Outhouse and his wife were especially timid in taking upon themselves the cares of other people. Not on that account is it to be supposed that they were bad or selfish. They were both given much to charity, and bestowed both in time and money more than is ordinarily considered necessary even from persons in their position. But what they gave, they gave away from their own quiet hearth. Had money been wanting to the daughters of his wife’s brother, Mr Outhouse would have opened such small coffer as he had with a free hand. But he would have much preferred that his benevolence should be used in a way that would bring upon him no further responsibility and no questionings from people whom he did not know and could not understand.

The Rev. Oliphant Outhouse had been Rector of St. Diddulph’s-in-the-East for the last fifteen years, having married the sister of Sir Marmaduke Rowley then simply Mr Rowley, with a colonial appointment in Jamaica of 120 pounds per annum twelve years before his promotion, while he was a curate in one of the populous borough parishes. He had thus been a London clergyman all his life; but he knew almost as little of London society as though he had held a cure in a Westmoreland valley. He had worked hard, but his work had been altogether among the poor. He had no gift of preaching, and had acquired neither reputation nor popularity. But he could work, and having been transferred because of that capability to the temporary curacy of St. Diddulph’s out of one diocese into another, he had received the living from the bishop’s hands when it became vacant.

A dreary place was the parsonage of St. Diddulph’s-in-the-East for the abode of a gentleman. Mr Outhouse had not, in his whole parish, a parishioner with whom he could consort. The greatest men around him were the publicans, and the most numerous were men employed in and around the docks. Dredgers of mud, navvies employed on suburban canals, excavators, loaders and unloaders of cargo, cattle drivers, whose driving, however, was done mostly on board ship — such and such like were the men who were the fathers of the families of St. Diddulph’s-in-the-East. And there was there, not far removed from the muddy estuary of a little stream that makes its black way from the Essex marshes among the houses of the poorest of the poor into the Thames, a large commercial establishment for turning the carcasses of horses into manure. Messrs Flowsem and Blurt were in truth the great people of St. Diddulph’s-in-the-East; but the closeness of their establishment was not an additional attraction to the parsonage. They were liberal, however, with their money, and Mr Outhouse was disposed to think, custom perhaps having made the establishment less objectionable to him than it was at first, that St. Diddulph’s-in-the-East would be more of a Pandemonium than it now was, if by any sanitary law Messrs Flowsem and Blurt were compelled to close their doors. ‘Non olet,’ he would say with a grim smile when the charitable cheque of the firm would come punctually to hand on the first Saturday after Christmas.

But such a house as his would be, as he knew, but a poor residence for his wife’s nieces. Indeed, without positively saying that he was unwilling to receive them, he had, when he first heard of the breaking up of the house in Curzon Street, shewn that he would rather not take upon his shoulders so great a responsibility. He and his wife had discussed the matter between them, and had come to the conclusion that they did not know what kind of things might have been done in Curzon Street. They would think no evil, they said; but the very idea of a married woman with a lover was dreadful to them. It might be that their niece was free from blame. They hoped so. And even though her sin had been of ever so deep a dye, they would take her in if it were indeed necessary. But they hoped that such help from them might not be needed. They both knew how to give counsel to a poor woman, how to rebuke a poor man, how to comfort, encourage, or to upbraid the poor. Practice had told them how far they might go with some hope of doing good and at what stage of demoralisation no good from their hands was any longer within the scope of fair expectation. But all this was among the poor. With what words to encourage such a one as their niece Mrs Trevelyan, to encourage her or to rebuke her, as her conduct might seem to make necessary, they both felt that They were altogether ignorant. To them Mrs Trevelyan was a fine lady. To Mr Outhouse, Sir Marmaduke had ever been a fine gentleman, given much to worldly things, who cared more for whist and a glass of wine than for anything else, and who thought that he had a good excuse for never going to church in England because he was called upon, as he said, to show himself in the governor’s pew always once on Sundays, and frequently twice, when he was at the seat of his government. Sir Marmaduke manifestly looked upon church as a thing in itself notoriously disagreeable. To Mr Outhouse it afforded the great events of the week. And Mrs Outhouse would declare that to hear her husband preach was the greatest joy of her life. It may be understood therefore that though the family connection between the Rowleys and the Outhouses had been kept up with a semblance of affection, it had never blossomed forth into cordial friendship.

When therefore the clergyman of St. Diddulph’s received a letter from his niece, Nora, begging him to take her into his parsonage till Sir Marmaduke should arrive in the course of the spring, and hinting also a wish that her uncle Oliphant should see Mr Trevelyan and if possible arrange that his other niece should also come to the parsonage, he was very much perturbed in spirit. There was a long consultation between him and his wife before anything could be settled, and it may be doubted whether anything would have been settled, had not Mr Trevelyan himself made his way to the parsonage, on the second day of the family conference. Mr and Mrs Outhouse had both seen the necessity of sleeping upon the matter. They had slept upon it, and the discourse between them on the second day was so doubtful in its tone that more sleeping would probably have been necessary had not Mr Trevelyan appeared and compelled them to a decision.

‘You must remember that I make no charge against her,’ said Trevelyan, after the matter had been discussed for about an hour.

‘Then why should she not come back to you?’ said Mr Outhouse, timidly.

‘Some day she may if she will be obedient. But it cannot be now. She has set me at defiance; and even yet it is too clear from the tone of her letter to me that she thinks that she has been right to do so. How could we live together in amity when she addresses me as a cruel tyrant?’

‘Why did she go away at first?’ asked Mrs Outhouse.

‘Because she would compromise my name by an intimacy which I did not approve. But I do not come here to defend myself, Mrs Outhouse. You probably think that I have been wrong. You are her friend; and to you, I will not even say that I have been right. What I want you to understand is this. She cannot come back to me now. It would not be for my honour that she should do so.’

‘But, sir would it not be for your welfare, as a Christian?’ asked Mr Outhouse.

‘You must not be angry with me, if I say that I will not discuss that just now. I did not come here to discuss it.’

‘It is very sad for our poor niece,’ said Mrs Outhouse. ‘It is very sad for me,’ said Trevelyan, gloomily ‘very sad, indeed. My home is destroyed; my life is made solitary; I do not even see my own child. She has her boy with her, and her sister. I have nobody.’

‘I can’t understand, for the life of me; why you should not live together just like any other people,’ said Mrs Outhouse, whose woman’s spirit was arising in her bosom. ‘When people are married, they must put up with something at least, most always.’ This she added, lest it might be for a moment imagined that she had had any cause for complaint with her Mr Outhouse.

‘Pray excuse me, Mrs Outhouse; but I cannot discuss that. The question between us is this: can you consent to receive your two nieces till their father’s return and if so, in what way shall I defray the expense of their living? You will of course understand that I willingly undertake the expense not only of my wife’s maintenance and of her sister’s also, but that I will cheerfully allow anything that may be required either for their comfort or recreation.’

‘I cannot take my nieces into my house as lodgers,’ said Mr Outhouse.

‘No, not as lodgers; but of course you can understand that it is for me to pay for my own wife. I know I owe you an apology for mentioning it but how else could I make my request to you?’

‘If Emily and Nora come here they must come as our guests,’ said Mrs Outhouse.

‘Certainly,’ said the clergyman. ‘And if I am told they are in want of a home they shall find one here till their father comes. But I am bound to say that as regards the elder I think her home should be elsewhere.’

‘Of course it should,’ said Mrs Outhouse. ‘I don’t know anything about the law, but it seems to me very odd that a young woman should be turned out in this way. You say she has done nothing?’

‘I will not argue the matter,’ said Trevelyan.

‘That’s all very well, Mr Trevelyan,’ said the lady, ‘but she’s my own niece, and if I don’t stand up for her I don’t know who will. I never heard such a thing in my life as a wife being sent away after such a fashion as that. We wouldn’t treat a cookmaid so; that we wouldn’t. As for coming here, she shall come if she pleases, but I shall always say that it’s the greatest shame I ever heard of.’

Nothing came of this visit at last. The lady grew in her anger; and Mr Trevelyan, in his own defence, was driven to declare that his wife’s obstinate intimacy with Colonel Osborne had almost driven him out of his senses. Before he left the parsonage he was brought even to tears by his own narration of his own misery whereby Mr Outhouse was considerably softened, although Mrs Outhouse became more and more stout in the defence of her own sex. But nothing at last came of it. Trevelyan insisted on paying for his wife, wherever she might be placed; and when he found that this would not be permitted to him at the parsonage, he was very anxious to take some small furnished house in the neighbourhood, in which the two sisters might live for the next six months under the wings of their uncle and aunt But even Mr Outhouse was moved to pleasantry by this suggestion, as he explained the nature of the tenements which were common at St. Diddulph’s. Two rooms, front and back, they might have for about five-and sixpence a week in a house with three other families. ‘But perhaps that is not exactly what you’d like,’ said Mr Outhouse. The interview ended with no result, and Mr Trevelyan took his leave, declaring to himself that he was worse off than the foxes, who have holes in which to lay their heads, but it must be presumed that his sufferings in this respect were to be by attorney; as it was for his wife, and not for himself, that the necessary hole was now required.

As soon as he was gone Mrs Outhouse answered Nora’s letter, and without meaning to be explicit, explained pretty closely what had taken place. The spare bedroom at the parsonage was ready to receive either one or both of the sisters till Sir Marmaduke should be in London, if one or both of them should choose to come. And though there was no nursery at the parsonage, for Mr and Mrs Outhouse had been blessed with no children, still room should be made for the little boy. But they must come as visitors ‘as our own nieces,’ said Mrs Outhouse. And she went on to say that she would have nothing to do with the quarrel between Mr Trevelyan and his wife. All such quarrels were very bad but as to this quarrel she could take no part either one side or the other. Then she stated that Mr Trevelyan had been at the parsonage, but that no arrangement had been made, because Mr Trevelyan had insisted on paying for their board and lodging.

This letter reached Nuncombe Putney before any reply was received by Mrs Trevelyan from her husband. This was on the Saturday morning, and Mrs Trevelyan had pledged herself to Mrs Stanbury that she would leave the Clock House on the Monday. Of course, there was no need that she should do so. Both Mrs Stanbury and Priscilla would now have willingly consented to their remaining till Sir Marmaduke should be in England. But Mrs Trevelyan’s high spirit revolted against this after all that had been said. She thought that she should hear from her husband on the morrow, but the post on Sunday brought no letter from Trevelyan. On the Saturday they had finished packing up so certain was Mrs Trevelyan that some instructions as to her future destiny would be sent to her by her lord.

At last they decided on the Sunday that they would both go at once to St. Diddulph’s; or perhaps it would be more correct to say that this was the decision of the elder sister. Nora would willingly have yielded to Priscilla’s entreaties, and have remained. But Emily declared that she could not, and would not, stay in the house. She had a few pounds what would suffice for her journey; and as Mr Trevelyan had not thought proper to send his orders to her, she would go without them. Mrs Outhouse was her aunt, and her nearest relative in England. Upon whom else could she lean in this time of her great affliction? A letter, therefore, was written to Mrs Outhouse, saying that the whole party, including the boy and nurse, would be at St. Diddulph’s on the Monday evening, and the last cord was put to the boxes.

‘I suppose that he is very angry,’ Mrs Trevelyan said to her sister, ‘but I do not feel that I care about that now. He shall have nothing to complain of in reference to any gaiety on my part. I will see no one. I will have no correspondence. But I will not remain here, after what he has said to me, let him be ever so angry. I declare, as I think of it, it seems to me that no woman was ever so cruelly treated as I have been.’ Then she wrote one further line to her husband.

‘Not having received any orders from you, and having promised Mrs Stanbury that I would leave this house on Monday, I go with Nora to my aunt, Mrs Outhouse, tomorrow.

E. T.’

On the Sunday evening the four ladies drank tea together, and they all made an effort to be civil, and even affectionate, to each other. Mrs Trevelyan had at last allowed Priscilla to explain how it had come to pass that she had told her brother that it would be better both for her mother and for herself that the existing arrangements should be brought to an end, and there had come to be an agreement between them that they should all part in amity. But the conversation on the Sunday evening was very difficult.

‘I am sure we shall always think of you both with the greatest kindness,’ said Mrs Stanbury.

‘As for me,’ said Priscilla, ‘your being with us has been a delight that I cannot describe, only it has been wrong.’

‘I know too well,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, ‘that in our present circumstances we are unable to carry delight with us anywhere.’

‘You hardly understand what our life has been,’ said Priscilla; ‘but the truth is that we had no right to receive you in such a house as this. It has not been our way of living, and it cannot continue to be so. It is not wonderful that people should talk of us. Had it been called your house, it might have been better.’

‘And what will you do now?’ asked Nora.

‘Get out of this place as soon as we can. It is often hard to go back to the right path; but it may always be done or at least attempted.’

‘It seems to me that I take misery with me wherever I go,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.

‘My dear, it has not been your fault,’ said Mrs Stanbury.

‘I do not like to blame my brother,’ said Priscilla, ‘because he has done his best to be good to us all and the punishment will fall heaviest upon him, because he must pay for it.’

‘He should not be allowed to pay a shilling,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.

Then the morning came, and at seven o’clock the two sisters, with the nurse and child, started for Lessboro’ Station in Mrs Crocket’s open carriage, the luggage having been sent on in a cart. There were many tears shed, and any one looking at the party would have thought that very dear friends were being torn asunder.

‘Mother,’ said Priscilla, as soon as the parlour door was shut, and the two were alone together, ‘we must take care that we never are brought again into such a mistake as that. They who protect the injured should be strong themselves.’

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