The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 13.

“He sighs for freedom, she for power.”

Mr. Bolingbroke did not comply with his wife’s request, or rather with her injunction, to write every post: and when he did write, Griselda always found some fault with his letters. They were too short, too stiff, or too cold, and “very different indeed,” she said, “from what he used to write before he was married.” This was certainly true; and absence was not at the present crisis the most advantageous thing possible to our heroine. Absence is said to extinguish a weak flame, and to increase a strong one. Mr. Bolingbroke’s passion for his Griselda had, by some means, been of late diminished. He parted from her with the disagreeable impression of a dispute upon his mind. As he went farther from her he perceived that instead of dragging a lengthened chain, his chain grew lighter. His uncle recovered: he found agreeable society in the neighbourhood; he was persuaded to prolong his stay: his mind, which had been continually harassed, now enjoyed some tranquillity. On an unlucky evening, he recollected Martial’s famous epigram and his wife, in one and the same instant:

“My mind still hovering round about you,

I thought I could not live without you;

But now we have lived three weeks asunder,

How I lived with you is the wonder.”

In the mean time, our heroine’s chief amusement, in her husband’s absence, was writing to complain of him to Mrs. Nettleby. This lady’s answers were now filled with a reciprocity of conjugal abuse; she had found, to her cost, that it is the most desperate imprudence to marry a fool, in the hopes of governing him. All her powers of tormenting were lost upon her blessed helpmate. He was not to be moved by wit or sarcasm, eloquence or noise, tears or caresses, reason, jealousy, or the opinion of the world.

What did he care what the world thought, he would do as he pleased himself; he would be master in his own house: it did not signify talking or crying, or being in the right; right or wrong, he would be obeyed; a wife should never govern him; he had no notion of letting a woman rule, for his part; women were born to obey, and promised it in church. As to jealousy, let his wife look to that; if she did not choose to behave properly, he knew his remedy, and would as soon be divorced as not: “Rule a wife and have a wife,” was the burden of his song.

It was in vain to goad his insensible nature, in hopes of obtaining any good: vain as the art said to be possessed by Linnæus, of producing pearls by pricking oysters. Mrs. Nettleby, the witty, the spirited Widow Nettleby, was now in the most hopeless and abject condition; tyrannized over by a dunce — and who could pity her? not even her dear Griselda.

One day Mrs. Bolingbroke received an epistle of seven pages from poor Mrs. Nettleby, giving a full and true account of Mr. Nettleby’s extraordinary obstinacy about “the awning of a pleasure-boat, which he would not suffer to be made according to her directions, and which consequently caused the oversetting of the boat, and very nearly the deaths of all the party.” Tired with the long history, and with the notes upon the history of this adventure, in Mrs. Nettleby’s declamatory style, our heroine walked out to refresh herself. She followed a pleasant path in a field near the house, and came to a shady lane, where she heard Mr. and Mrs. Granby’s voices. She went towards the place. There was a turn in the lane, and a thick hedge of hawthorn prevented them from being immediately seen. As she approached, she heard Mr. Granby saying to Emma, in the fondest tone of affection, “My dear Emma, pray let it be done the way that you like best.”

They were looking at a cottage which they were building. The masons had, by mistake, followed the plan which Mr. Granby proposed, instead of that which Emma had suggested. The wall was half built; but Mr. Granby desired that it might be pulled down and altered to suit Emma’s taste.

“Bless me!” cried Griselda, with great surprise, “are you really going to have it pulled down, Mr. Granby?”

“Certainly,” replied he; “and what is more, I am going to help to pull it down.”

He ran to assist the masons, and worked with a degree of zeal, which increased Mrs. Bolingbroke’s astonishment.

“Good Heavens! — He could not do more for you if you were his mistress.”

“He never did so much for me, till I was his wife,” said Emma.

“That’s strange! — Very unlike other men. But, my dear,” said Mrs. Bolingbroke, taking Mrs. Granby’s arm, and drawing her aside, “how did you acquire such surprising power over your husband?”

“By not desiring it, I believe,” replied Emma, smiling; “I have never used any other art.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54