He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXIX

‘I Can Sleep on the Boards’

Three days after this there came another carriage to the bottom of the hill on which Casalunga stood, and a lady got out of it all alone. It was Emily Trevelyan, and she had come thither from Siena in quest of her husband and her child. On the previous day Sir Marmaduke’s courier had been at the house with a note from the wife to the husband, and had returned with an answer, in which Mrs Trevelyan was told that, if she would come quite alone, she should see her child. Sir Marmaduke had been averse to any further intercourse with the man, other than what might be made in accordance with medical advice, and, if possible, with government authority. Lady Rowley had assented to her daughter’s wish, but had suggested that she should at least be allowed to go also at any rate, as far as the bottom of the hill. But Emily had been very firm, and Mr Glascock had supported her. He was confident that the man would do no harm to her, and he was indisposed to believe that any interference on the part of the Italian Government could be procured in such a case with sufficient celerity to be of use. He still thought it might be possible that the wife might prevail over the husband, or the mother over the father. Sir Marmaduke was at last obliged to yield, and Mrs Trevelyan went to Siena with no other companion but the courier. From Siena she made the journey quite alone; and having learned the circumstances of the house from Mr Glascock, she got out of the carriage, and walked up the hill. There were still the two men coopering at the vats, but she did not stay to speak to them. She went through the big gates, and along the slanting path to the door, not doubting of her way, for Mr Glascock had described it all to her, making a small plan of the premises, and even explaining to her the position of the room in which her boy and her husband slept. She found the door open, and an Italian maid-servant at once welcomed her to the house, and assured her that the signor would be with her immediately. She was sure that the girl knew that she was the boy’s mother, and was almost tempted to ask questions at once as to the state of the household; but her knowledge of Italian was slight, and she felt that she was so utterly a stranger in the land that she could dare to trust no one. Though the heat was great, her face was covered with a thick veil. Her dress was black, from head to foot, and she was as a woman who mourned for her husband. She was led into the room which her father had been allowed to enter through the window; and here she sat, in her husband’s house, feeling that in no position in the world could she be more utterly separated from the interests of all around her. In a few minutes the door was opened, and her husband was with her, bringing the boy in his hand. He had dressed himself with some care; but it may be doubted whether the garments which he wore did not make him appear thinner even and more haggard than he had looked to be in his old dressing-gown. He had not shaved himself, but his long hair was brushed back from his forehead, after a fashion quaint and very foreign to his former ideas of dress. His wife had not expected that her child would come to her at once, had thought that some entreaties would be necessary, some obedience perhaps exacted from her, before she would be allowed to see him; and now her heart was softened, and she was grateful to her husband. But she could not speak to him till she had had the boy in her arms. She tore off her bonnet, and then clinging to the child, covered him with kisses. ‘Louey, my darling! Louey; you remember mamma?’ The child pressed himself close to his mother’s bosom, but spoke never a word. He was cowed and overcome, not only by the incidents of the moment, but by the terrible melancholy of his whole life. He had been taught to understand, without actual spoken lessons, that he was to live with his father, and that the former woman-given happinesses of his life were at an end. In this second visit from his mother he did not forget her. He recognised the luxury of her love; but it did not occur to him even to hope that she might have come to rescue him from the evil of his days. Trevelyan was standing by, the while, looking on; but he did not speak till she addressed him.

‘I am so thankful to you for bringing him to me,’ she said.

‘I told you that you should see him,’ he said. ‘Perhaps it might have been better that I should have sent him by a servant; but there are circumstances which make me fear to let him out of my sight.’

‘Do you think that I did not wish to see you also? Louis, why do you do me so much wrong? Why do you treat me with such cruelty?’ Then she threw her arms round his neck, and before he could repulse her before he could reflect whether it would be well that he should repulse her or not she had covered his brow and cheeks and lips with kisses. ‘Louis,’ she said; ‘Louis, speak to me!’

‘It is hard to speak sometimes,’ he said.

‘You love me, Louis?’

‘Yes I love you. But I am afraid of you!’

‘What is it that you fear? I would give my life for you, if you would only come back to me and let me feel that you believed me to be true.’ He shook his head, and began to think while she still clung to him. He was quite sure that her father and mother had intended to bring a mad doctor down upon him, and he knew that his wife was in her mother’s hands. Should he yield to her now, should he make her any promise, might not the result be that he would be shut up in dark rooms, robbed of his liberty, robbed of what he loved better than his liberty, his power as a man. She would thus get the better of him and take the child, and the world would say that in this contest between him and her he had been the sinning one, and she the one against whom the sin had been done. It was the chief object of his mind, the one thing for which he was eager, that this should never come to pass. Let it once be conceded to him from all sides that he had been right, and then she might do with him almost as she willed. He knew well that he was ill. When he thought of his child, he would tell himself that he was dying. He was at some moments of his miserable existence fearfully anxious to come to terms with his wife, in order that at his death his boy might not be without a protector. Were he to die, then it would be better that his child should be with its mother. In his happy days, immediately after his marriage, he had made a will, in which he had left his entire property to his wife for her life, providing for its subsequent descent to his child or children. It had never even occurred to his poor shattered brain that it would be well for him to alter his will. Had he really believed that his wife had betrayed him, doubtless he would have done so. He would have hated her, have distrusted her altogether, and have believed her to be an evil thing. He had no such belief. But in his desire to achieve empire, and in the sorrows which had come upon him in his unsuccessful struggle, his mind had wavered so frequently, that his spoken words were no true indicators of his thoughts; and in all his arguments he failed to express either his convictions or his desires. When he would say something stronger than he intended, and it would be put to him by his wife, by her father or mother, or by some friend of hers, whether he did believe that she had been untrue to him, he would recoil from the answer which his heart would dictate, lest he should seem to make an acknowledgment that might weaken the ground upon which he stood. Then he would satisfy his own conscience by assuring himself that he had never accused her of such sin. She was still clinging to him now as his mind was working after this fashion. ‘Louis,’ she said, ‘let it all be as though there had been nothing.’

‘How can that be, my dear?’

‘Not to others, but to us it can be so. There shall be no word spoken of the past.’ Again he shook his head. ‘Will it not be best that there should be no word spoken?’

‘“Forgiveness may be spoken with the tongue,”’ he said, beginning to quote from a poem which had formerly been frequent in his hands.

‘Cannot there be real forgiveness between you and me, between husband and wife who, in truth, love each other? Do you think that I would tell you of it again?’ He felt that in all that she said there was an assumption that she had been right, and that he had been wrong. She was promising to forgive. She was undertaking to forget. She was willing to take him back to the warmth of her love, and the comfort of her kindness but was not asking to be taken back. This was what he could not and would not endure. He had determined that if she behaved well to him, he would not be harsh to her, and he was struggling to keep up to his resolve. He would accuse her of nothing if he could help it. But he could not say a word that would even imply that she need forget that she should forgive. It was for him to forgive and he was willing to do it, if she would accept forgiveness: ‘I will never speak a word, Louis,’ she said, laying her head upon his shoulder.

‘Your heart is still hardened,’ he replied slowly.

‘Hard to you?’

‘And your mind is dark. You do not see what you have done. In our religion, Emily, forgiveness is sure, not after penitence, but with repentance.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It means this, that though I would welcome you back to my arms with joy, I cannot do so, till you have confessed your fault.’

‘What fault, Louis? If I have made you unhappy, I do, indeed, grieve that it has been so.’

‘It is of no use,’ said he. ‘I cannot talk about it. Do you suppose that it does not tear me to the very soul to think of it?’

‘What is it that you think, Louis?’ As she had been travelling thither, she had determined that she would say anything that he wished her to say, make any admission that might satisfy him. That she could be happy again as other women are happy, she did not expect; but if it could be conceded between them that bygones should be bygones, she might live with him and do her duty, and, at least, have her child with her.

Her father had told her that her husband was mad; but she was willing to put up with his madness on such terms as these. What could her husband do to her in his madness that he could not do also to the child? ‘Tell me what you want me to say, and I will say it,’ she said.

‘You have sinned against me,’ he said, raising her head gently from his shoulder.

‘Never!’ she exclaimed. ‘As God is my judge, I never have!’ As she said this, she retreated and took the sobbing boy again into her arms.

He was at once placed upon his guard, telling himself that he saw the necessity of holding by his child. How could he tell? Might there not be policemen down from Florence, ready round the house, to seize the boy and carry him away. Though all his remaining life should be a torment to him, though infinite plagues should be poured upon his head, though he should die like a dog, alone, unfriended, and in despair, while he was fighting this battle of his, he would not give way. ‘That is sufficient,’ he said. ‘Louey must return now to his own chamber.’

‘I may go with him?’

‘No, Emily. You cannot go with him now. I will thank you to release him, that I may take him.’ She still held the little fellow closely pressed in her arms. ‘Do not reward me for my courtesy by further disobedience,’ he said.

‘You will let me come again?’ To this he made no reply. ‘Tell me that I may come again.’

‘I do not think that I shall remain here long.’

‘And I may not stay now?’

‘That would be impossible. There is no accommodation for you.’

‘I could sleep on the boards beside his cot,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.

‘That is my place,’ he replied. ‘You may know that he is not disregarded. With my own hands I tend him every morning. I take him out myself. I feed him myself. He says his prayers to me. He learns from me, and can say his letters nicely. You need not fear for him. No mother was ever more tender with her child than I am with him.’ Then he gently withdrew the boy from her arms, and she let her child go, lest he should learn to know that there was a quarrel between his father and his mother. ‘If you will excuse me,’ he said, ‘I will not come down to you again today. My servant will see you to your carriage.’

So he left her; and she, with an Italian girl at her heels, got into her vehicle, and was taken back to Siena. There she passed the night alone at the inn, and on the next morning returned to Florence by the railway.

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