He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXVII

River’s Cottage

Three days after Hugh Stanbury’s visit to Manchester Street, he wrote a note to Lady Rowley, telling her of the address at which might be found both Trevelyan and his son. As Bozzle had acknowledged, facts are things which may be found out. Hugh had gone to work somewhat after the Bozzlian fashion, and had found out this fact. ‘He lives at a place called River’s Cottage, at Willesden,’ wrote Stanbury. ‘If you turn off the Harrow Road to the right, about a mile beyond the cemetery, you will find the cottage on the left hand side of the lane, about a quarter of a mile from the Harrow Road. I believe you can go to Willesden by railway but you had better take a cab from London.’ There was much consultation respecting this letter between Lady Rowley and Mrs Trevelyan, and it was decided that it should not be shown to Sir Marmaduke. To see her child was at the present moment the most urgent necessity of the poor mother, and both the ladies felt that Sir Marmaduke in his wrath might probably impede rather than assist her in this desire. If told where he might find Trevelyan, he would probably insist on starting in quest of his son-inlaw himself, and the distance between the mother and her child might become greater in consequence, instead of less. There were many consultations; and the upshot of these was, that Lady Rowley and her daughter determined to start for Willesden without saying anything to Sir Marmaduke of the purpose they had in hand. When Emily expressed her conviction that if Trevelyan should be away from home they would probably be able to make their way into the house so as to see the child, Lady Rowley with some hesitation acknowledged that such might be the case. But the child’s mother said nothing to her own mother of a scheme which she had half formed of so clinging to her boy that no human power should separate them.

They started in a cab, as advised by Stanbury, and were driven to a point on the road from which a lane led down to Willesden, passing by River’s Cottage. They asked as they came along, and met no difficulty in finding their way. At the point on the road indicated, there was a country inn for hay-waggoners, and here Lady Rowley proposed that they should leave their cab, urging that it might be best to call at the cottage in the quietest manner possible; but Mrs Trevelyan, with her scheme in her head for the recapture of their child, begged that the cab might go on and thus they were driven up to the door.

River’s Cottage was not a prepossessing abode. It was a new building, of light-coloured bricks, with a door in the middle and one window on each side. Over the door was a stone tablet, bearing the name River’s Cottage. There was a little garden between the road and the house, across which there was a straight path to the door. In front of one window was a small shrub, generally called a puzzle-monkey, and in front of the other was a variegated laurel. There were two small morsels of green turf, and a distant view round the corner of the house of a row of cabbage stumps. If Trevelyan were living there, he had certainly come down in the world since the days in which he had occupied the house in Curzon Street. The two ladies got out of the cab, and slowly walked across the little garden. Mrs Trevelyan was dressed in black, and she wore a thick veil.

She had altogether been unable to make up her mind as to what should be her conduct to her husband should she see him. That must be governed by circumstances as they might occur. Her visit was made not to him, but to her boy.

The door was opened before they knocked, and Trevelyan himself was standing in the narrow passage.

Lady Rowley was the first to speak. ‘Louis,’ she said, ‘I have brought your wife to see you.’

‘Who told you that I was here?’ he asked, still standing in the passage.

‘Of course a mother would find out where was her child,’ said Lady Rowley.

‘You should not have come here without notice,’ he said. ‘I was careful to let you know the conditions on which you should come.’

‘You do not mean that I shall not see my child,’ said the mother. ‘Oh, Louis, you will let me see him.’

Trevelyan hesitated a moment, still keeping his position firmly in the doorway. By this time an old woman, decently dressed and of comfortable appearance, had taken her place behind him, and behind her was a slip of a girl about fifteen years of age. This was the owner of River’s Cottage and her daughter, and all the inhabitants of the cottage were now there, standing in the passage. ‘I ought not to let you see him,’ said Trevelyan; ‘you have intruded upon me in coming here! I had not wished to see you here till you had complied with the order I had given you.’ What a meeting between a husband and a wife who had not seen each other now for many months, between a husband and a wife who were still young enough not to have outlived the first impulses of their early love! He still stood there guarding the way, and had not even put out his hand to greet her. He was guarding the way lest she should, without his permission, obtain access to her own child! She had not removed her veil, and now she hardly dared to step over the threshold of her husband’s house. At this moment, she perceived that the woman behind was pointing to the room on the left, as the cottage was entered, and Emily at once understood that her boy was there. Then at that moment she heard her son’s voice, as, in his solitude, the child began to cry. ‘I must go in,’ she said; ‘I will go in;’ and rushing on she tried to push aside her husband. Her mother aided her, nor did Trevelyan attempt to stop her with violence, and in a moment she was kneeling at the foot of a small sofa, with her child in her arms. ‘I had not intended to hinder you,’ said Trevelyan, ‘but I require from you a promise that you will not attempt to remove him.’

‘Why should she not take him home with her?’ said Lady Rowley.

‘Because I will not have it so,’ replied Trevelyan. ‘Because I choose that it should be understood that I am to be the master of my own affairs.’

Mrs Trevelyan had now thrown aside her bonnet and her veil, and was covering her child with caresses. The poor little fellow, whose mind had been utterly dismayed by the events which had occurred to him since his capture, though he returned her kisses, did so in fear and trembling. And he was still sobbing, rubbing his eyes with his knuckles, and by no means yielding himself with his whole heart to his mother’s tenderness as she would have had him do. ‘Louey,’ she said, whispering to him, ‘you know mamma; you haven’t forgotten mamma?’ He half murmured some little infantine word through his sobs, and then put his cheek up to be pressed against his mother’s face. ‘Louey will never, never forget his own mamma will he, Louey?’ The poor boy had no assurances to give, and could only raise his cheek again to be kissed. In the meantime Lady Rowley and Trevelyan were standing by, not speaking to each other, regarding the scene in silence.

She, Lady Rowley, could see that he was frightfully altered in appearance, even since the day on which she had so lately met him in the City. His cheeks were thin and haggard, and his eyes were deep and very bright, and he moved them quickly from side to side, as though ever suspecting something. He seemed to be smaller in stature, withered, as it were, as though he had melted away. And, though he stood looking upon his wife and child, he was not for a moment still. He would change the posture of his hands and arms, moving them quickly with little surreptitious jerks; and would shuffle his feet upon the floor, almost without altering his position. His clothes hung about him, and his linen was soiled and worn. Lady Rowley noticed this especially, as he had been a man peculiarly given to neatness of apparel. He was the first to speak. ‘You have come down here in a cab?’ said he.

‘Yes in a cab, from London,’ said Lady Rowley.

‘Of course you will go back in it? You cannot stay here. There is no accommodation. It is a wretched place, but it suits the boy. As for me, all places are now alike.’

‘Louis,’ said his wife, springing up from her knees, coming to him, and taking his right hand between both her own, ‘you will let me take him with me. I know you will let me take him with me.’

‘I cannot do that, Emily; it would be wrong.’

‘Wrong to restore a child to his mother? Oh, Louis, think of it, What must my life be without him or you?’

‘Don’t talk of me. It is too late for that.’

‘Not if you will be reasonable, Louis, and listen to me. Oh, heavens, how ill you are!’ As she said this she drew nearer to him, so that her face was almost close to his. ‘Louis, come back; come back, and let it all be forgotten. It shall be a dream, a horrid dream, and nobody shall speak of it.’ He left his hand within hers and stood looking into her face. He was well aware that his life since he had left her had been one long hour of misery. There had been to him no alleviation, no comfort, no consolation. He had not a friend left to him. Even his satellite, the policeman, was becoming weary of him and manifestly suspicious. The woman with whom he was now lodging, and whose resources were infinitely benefited by his payments to her, had already thrown out hints that she was afraid of him. And as he looked at his wife, he knew that he loved her. Everything for him now was hot and dry and poor and bitter. How sweet would it be again to sit with her soft hand in his, to feel her cool brow against his own, to have the comfort of her care, and to hear the music of loving words! The companionship of his wife had once been to him everything in the world; but now, for many months past, he had known no companion. She bade him come to her, and look upon all this trouble as a dream not to be mentioned. Could it be possible that it should be so, and that they might yet be happy together, perhaps in some distant country, where the story of all their misery might not be known? He felt all this truly and with a keen accuracy. If he were mad, he was not all mad. ‘I will tell you of nothing that is past,’ said she, hanging to him, and coming still nearer to him, and embracing his arm.

Could she have condescended to ask him not to tell her of the past, had it occurred to her so to word her request, she might perhaps have prevailed. But who can say how long the tenderness of his heart would have saved him from further outbreak and whether such prevailing on her part would have been of permanent service? As it was, her words wounded him in that spot of his inner self which was most sensitive, on that spot from whence had come all his fury. A black cloud came upon his brow, and he made an effort to withdraw himself from her grasp. It was necessary to him that she should in some fashion own that he had been right, and now she was promising him that she would not tell him of his fault! He could not thus swallow down all the convictions by which he had fortified himself to bear the misfortunes which he had endured. Had he not quarrelled with every friend he possessed on this score; and should he now stultify himself in all those quarrels by admitting that he had been cruel, unjust, and needlessly jealous? And did not truth demand of him that he should cling to his old assurances? Had she not been disobedient, ill-conditioned, and rebellious? Had she not received the man, both him personally and his letters, after he had explained to her that his honour demanded that it should not be so? How could he come into such terms as those now proposed to him, simply because he longed to enjoy the rich sweetness of her soft hand, to feel the fragrance of her breath, and to quench the heat of his forehead in the cool atmosphere of her beauty? ‘Why have you driven me to this by your intercourse with that man?’ he said. ‘Why, why, why did you do it?’

She was still clinging to him. ‘Louis,’ she said, ‘I am your wife.’

‘Yes; you are my wife.’

‘And will you still believe such evil of me without any cause?’

‘There has been cause horrible cause. You must repent, repent, repent.’

‘Heaven help me,’ said the woman, falling back from him, and returning to the boy who was now seated in Lady Rowley’s lap. ‘Mamma, do you speak to him. What can I say? Would he think better of me were I to own myself to have been guilty, when there has been no guilt, no slightest fault? Does he wish me to purchase my child by saying that I am not fit to be his mother?’

‘Louis,’ said Lady Rowley, ‘if any man was ever wrong, mad, madly mistaken, you are so now.’

‘Have you come out here to accuse me again, as you did, before in London?’ he asked. ‘Is that the way in which you and she intend to let the past be, as she says, like a dream? She tells me that I am ill. It is true. I am ill and she is killing me, killing me, by her obstinacy.’

‘What would you have me do?’ said the wife, again rising from her child.

‘Acknowledge your transgressions, and say that you will amend your conduct for the future.’

‘Mamma, mamma what shall I say to him?’

‘Who can speak to a man that is beside himself?’ replied Lady Rowley.

‘I am not so beside myself as yet, Lady Rowley, but that I know how to guard my own honour and to protect my own child. I have told you, Emily, the terms on which you can come back to me. You had better now return to your mother’s house; and if you wish again to have a house of your own, and your husband, and your boy, you know by what means you may acquire them. For another week I shall remain here; after that I shall remove far from hence.’

‘And where will you go, Louis?’

‘As yet I know not. To Italy, I think, or perhaps to America. It matters little where for me.’

‘And will Louey be taken with you?’

‘Certainly he will go with me. To strive to bring him up so that he may be a happier man than his father is all that there is now left for me in life.’ Mrs Trevelyan had now got the boy in her arms, and her mother was seated by her on the sofa. Trevelyan was standing away from them, but so near the door that no sudden motion on their part would enable them to escape with the boy without his interposition. It now again occurred to the mother to carry off her prize in opposition to her husband, but she had no scheme to that effect laid with her mother, and she could not reconcile herself to the idea of a contest with him in which personal violence would be necessary. The woman of the house had, indeed, seemed to sympathise with her, but she could not dare in such a matter to trust to assistance from a stranger. ‘I do not wish to be uncourteous,’ said Trevelyan, ‘but if you have no assurance to give me, you had better leave me.’

Then there came to be a bargaining about time, and the poor woman begged almost on her knees that she might be allowed to take her child upstairs and be with him alone for a few minutes. It seemed to her that she had not seen her boy till she had had him to herself, in absolute privacy, till she had kissed his limbs, and had her hand upon his smooth back, and seen that he was white and clean and bright as he had ever been. And the bargain was made. She was asked to pledge her word that she would not take him out of the house, and she pledged her word, feeling that there was no strength in her for that action which she had meditated. He, knowing that he might still guard the passage at the bottom of the stairs, allowed her to go with the boy to his bedroom, while he remained below with Lady Rowley. A quarter of an hour was allowed to her, and she humbly promised that she would return when that time was expired.

Trevelyan held the door open for her as she went, and kept it open during her absence. There was hardly a word said between him and Lady Rowley, but he paced from the passage into the room and from the room into the passage with his hands behind his back. ‘It is cruel,’ he said once. ‘It is very cruel.’

‘It is you that are cruel,’ said Lady Rowley.

‘Of course, of course. That is natural from you. I expect that from you.’ To this she made no answer, and he did not open his lips again.

After a while Mrs Trevelyan called to her mother, and Lady Rowley was allowed to go upstairs. The quarter of an hour was of course greatly stretched, and all the time Trevelyan continued to pace in and out of the room. He was patient, for he did not summon them; but went on pacing backwards and forwards, looking now and again to see that the cab was at its place, that no deceit was being attempted, no second act of kidnapping being perpetrated. At last the two ladies came down the stairs, and the boy was with them and the woman of the house.

‘Louis,’ said the wife, going quickly up to her husband, ‘I will do anything, if you will give me my child.’

‘What will you do?’

‘Anything; say what you want. He is all the world to me, and I cannot live if he be taken from me.’

‘Acknowledge that you have been wrong.’

‘But how, in what words, how am I to speak it?’

‘Say that you have sinned and that you will sin no more.’

‘Sinned, Louis, as the woman did in the Scripture?

‘He cannot think that it is so,’ said Lady Rowley.

But Trevelyan had not understood her. ‘Lady Rowley, I should have fancied that my thoughts at any rate were my own. But this is useless now. The child cannot go with you today, nor can you remain here. Go home and think of what I have said. If then you will do as I would have you, you shall return.’

With many embraces, with promises of motherly love, and with prayers for love in return, the poor woman did at last leave the house, and return to the cab. As she went there was a doubt on her own mind whether she should ask to kiss her husband; but he made no sign, and she at last passed out without any mark of tenderness. He stood by the cab as they entered it, and closed the door upon them, and then went slowly back to his room. ‘My poor bairn,’ he said to the boy; ‘my poor bairn.’

‘Why for mamma go?’ sobbed the child.

‘Mamma goes; oh, heaven and earth, why should she go? She goes because her spirit is obstinate, and she will not bend. She is stiff-necked, and will not submit herself. But Louey must love mamma always, and mamma some day will come back to him, and be good to him.’

‘Mamma is good always,’ said the child. Trevelyan had intended on this very afternoon to have gone up to town to transact business with Bozzle; for he still believed, though the aspect of the man was bitter to him as wormwood, that Bozzle was necessary to him in all his business. And he still made appointments with the man, sometimes at Stony Walk, in the Borough, and sometimes at the tavern in Poulter’s Court, even though Bozzle not unfrequently neglected to attend the summons of his employer. And he would go to his banker’s and draw out money, and then walk about the crowded lanes of the City, and afterwards return to his desolate lodgings at Willesden, thinking that he had been transacting business and that this business was exacted from him by the unfortunate position of his affairs. But now he gave up his journey. His retreat had been discovered; and there came upon him at once a fear that if he left the house his child would be taken. His landlady told him on this very day that the boy ought to be sent to his mother, and had made him understand that it would not suit her to find a home any longer for one who was so singular in his proceedings. He believed that his child would be given up at once, if he were not there to guard it. He stayed at home, therefore, turning in his mind many schemes. He had told his wife that he should go either to Italy or to America at once; but in doing so he had had no formed plan in his head. He had simply imagined at the moment that such a threat would bring her to submission. But now it became a question whether he would do better than go to America. He suggested to himself that he should go to Canada, and fix himself with his boy on some remote farm, far away from any city; and would then invite his wife to join him if she would. She was too obstinate, as he told himself, ever to yield, unless she should be absolutely softened and brought down to the ground by the loss of her child. What would do this so effectually as the interposition of the broad ocean between him and her? He sat thinking of this for the rest of the day, and Louey was left to the charge of the mistress of River’s Cottage.

‘Do you think he believes it, mamma?’ Mrs Trevelyan said to her mother when they had already made nearly half their journey home in the cab. There had been nothing spoken hitherto between them, except some half-formed words of affection intended for consolation to the young mother in her great affliction.

‘He does not know what he believes, dearest.’

‘You heard what he said. I was to own that I had sinned.’

‘Sinned yes; because you will not obey him like a slave. That is sin to him.’

‘But I asked him, mamma. Did you not hear me? I could not say the word plainer but I asked him whether he meant that sin. He must have known, and he would not answer me. And he spoke of my transgression. Mamma, if he believed that, he would not let me come back at all.’

‘He did not believe it, Emily.’

‘Could he possibly then so accuse me, the mother of his child! If his heart be utterly hard and false towards me, if it is possible that he should be cruel to me with such cruelty as that, still he must love his boy. Why did he not answer me, and say that he did not think it?’

‘Simply because his reason has left him.’

‘But if he be mad, mamma, ought we to leave him like that? And, then, did you see his eyes, and his face, and his hands? Did you observe how thin he is and his back, how bent? And his clothes, how they were torn and soiled. It cannot be right that he should be left like that.’

‘We will tell papa when we get home,’ said Lady Rowley, who was herself beginning to be somewhat frightened by what she had seen. It is all very well to declare that a friend is mad when one simply desires to justify one’s self in opposition to that friend, but the matter becomes much more serious when evidence of the friend’s insanity becomes true and circumstantial. ‘I certainly think that a physician should see him,’ continued Lady Rowley. On their return home Sir Marmaduke was told of what had occurred, and there was a long family discussion in which it was decided that Lady Milborough should be consulted, as being the oldest friend of Louis Trevelyan himself with whom they were acquainted. Trevelyan had relatives of his own name living in Cornwall; but Mrs Trevelyan herself had never even met one of that branch of the family.

Sir Marmaduke, however, resolved that he himself would go out to see his son-inlaw. He too had called Trevelyan mad, but he did not believe that the madness was of such a nature as to interfere with his own duties in punishing the man who had ill used his daughter. He would at any rate see Trevelyan himself; but of this he said nothing either to his wife or to his child.

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