On the next day Harry was not better, but the doctor said that there was no cause for alarm. He was suffering from a low fever, and his sister had better be kept out of his room. He would not sleep, and was restless, and it might be some time before he could return to London.
Early in the day the rector came into his son’s bedroom, and told him and his mother, who was there, the news which he had just heard from the great house. “Hugh has come home,” he said, “and is going out yachting for the rest of the Summer. They are going to Norway in Jack Stuart’s yacht. Archie is going with them.” Now Archie was known to be a great man in a yacht, cognizant of ropes, well up in booms and spars, very intimate with bolts, and one to whose hands a tiller came as naturally as did the saddle of a steeple-chase horse to the legs of his friend Doodles. “They are going to fish,” said the rector.
“But Jack Stuart’s yacht is only a river boat — or just big enough for Cowes harbor, but nothing more,” said Harry, roused in his bed to some excitement by the news.
“I know nothing about Jack Stuart or his boat either,” said the rector; “but that’s what they told me. He’s down here, at any rate, for I saw the servant that came with him.”
“What a shame it is,” said Mrs. Clavering —“a scandalous shame.”
“You mean his going away?” said the rector.
“Of course I do; his leaving her here by herself; all alone. He can have no heart; after losing her child and suffering as she has done. It makes me ashamed of my own name.”
“You can’t alter him, my dear. He has his good qualities and his bad — and the bad ones are by far the more conspicuous.”
“I don’t know any good qualities he has.”
“He does not get into debt. He will not destroy the property. He will leave the family after him as well off as it was before him — and though he is a hard man, he does nothing actively cruel. Think of Lord Ongar, and then you’ll remember that there are worse men than Hugh. Not that I like him. I am never comfortable for a moment in his presence. I always feel that he wants to quarrel with me, and that I almost want to quarrel with him.”
“I detest him,” said Harry, from beneath the bedclothes.
“You won’t be troubled with him any more this Summer, for he means to be off in less than a week.”
“And what is she to do?” asked Mrs. Clavering.
“Live here as she has done ever since Julia married. I don’t see that it will make much difference to her. He’s never with her when he’s in England, and I should think she must be more comfortable without him than with him.”
“It’s a great catch for Archie,” said Harry.
“Archie Clavering is a fool,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“They say he understands a yacht,” said the rector, who then left the room.
The rector’s news was all true. Sir Hugh Clavering had come down to the Park, and had announced his intention of going to Norway in Jack Stuart’s yacht. Archie also had been invited to join the party. Sir Hugh intended to leave the Thames in about a week, and had not thought it necessary to give his wife any intimation of the fact, till he told her himself of his intention. He took, I think, a delight in being thus overharsh in his harshness to her. He proved to himself thus not only that he was master, but that he would be master without any let or drawback, without compunction, and even without excuses for his ill-conduct. There should be no plea put in by him in his absences, that he had only gone to catch a few fish, when his intentions had been other than piscatorial. He intended to do as he liked now and always-and he intended that his wife should know that such was his intention. She was now childless, and, therefore, he had no other terms to keep with her than those which appertained to her necessities for bed and board. There was the house, and she might live in it; and there were the butchers and the bakers, and other tradesmen to supply her wants. Nay; there were the old carriage and the old horses at her disposal, if they could be of any service to her. Such were Sir Hugh Clavering’s ideas as to the bonds inflicted upon him by his marriage vows.
“I’m going to Norway next week” It was thus Sir Hugh communicated his intention to his wife within five minutes of their first greeting.
“To Norway, Hugh?”
“Yes; why not to Norway? I and one or two others have got some fishing there. Archie is going, too. It will keep him from spending his money; or rather from spending money which isn’t his.”
“And for how long will you be gone?”
It was part of Sir Hugh Clavering’s theory as to these matters that-there should be no lying in the conduct of them. He would not condescend to screen any part of his doings by a falsehood — so he answered this question with exact truth.
“I don’t suppose we shall be back before October.”
“Not before October?”
“No. We are talking of putting in on the coast of Normandy somewhere; and probably may run down to Brittany. I shall be back, at any rate, for the hunting. As for the partridges, the game has gone so much to the devil here that they are not worth coming for.”
“You’ll be away four months?”
“I suppose I shall if I don’t come back till October.” Then he left her, calculating that she would have considered the matter before he returned, and have decided that no good could come to her from complaint. She knew his purpose now, and would no doubt reconcile herself to it quickly — perhaps with a few tears, which would not hurt him if he did not see them.
But this blow was almost more than Lady Clavering could bear — was more than she could bear in silence. Why she should have grudged her husband his trip abroad, seeing that his presence in England could hardly have been a solace to her, it is hard to understand. Had he remained in England, he would rarely have been at Clavering Park; and when he was at the Park he would rarely have given her the benefit of his society. When they were together, he was usually scolding her, or else sitting in gloomy silence, as though that phase of his life was almost insupportable to him. He was so unusually disagreeable in his intercourse with her, that his absence, one would think, must be preferable to his presence. But women can bear anything better than desertion. Cruelty is bad, but neglect is worse than cruelty, and desertion worse even than neglect. To be treated as though she were not in existence, or as though her existence were a nuisance simply to be endured, and, as far as possible, to be forgotten, was more than even Lady Clavering could bear without complaint. When her husband left her, she sat meditating how she might turn against her oppresser. She was a woman not apt for fighting — unlike her sister, who knew well how to use the cudgels in her own behalf; she was timid, not gifted with a full flow of words, prone to sink and become dependent; but she — even she — with all these deficiencies-felt that she must make some stand against the outrage to which he was now to be subjected.
“Hugh,” she said, when she next saw him, “you can’t really mean that you are going to leave me from this time till the Winter?”
“I said nothing about the Winter.”
“Well — till October?”
“I said that I was going, and I usually mean what I say.”
“I cannot believe it, Hugh; I cannot bring myself to think that you will be so cruel.”
“Look here, Hermy, if you take to calling names, I won’t stand it.”
“And I won’t stand it, either. What am I to do? Am I to be here in this dreadful barrack of a house all alone? How would you like it? Would you bear it for one month, let alone four or five? I won’t remain here; I tell you that fairly.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t wan’t to go anywhere, but I’ll go away somewhere and die; I will indeed. I’ll destroy myself or something.”
“Yes; of course it’s a joke to you. What have I done to deserve this? Have I ever done anything that you told me not? It’s all because of Hughy — my darling — so it is; and it’s cruel of you, and not like a husband; and it’s not manly. It’s very cruel. I didn’t think anybody would have been so cruel as you are to me.” Then she broke down and burst into tears.
“Have you done, Hermy?” said her husband.
“No; I’ve not done.”
“Then go on again,” said he.
But in truth she had done, and could only repeat her last accusation. “You’re very, very cruel.”
“You said that before.”
“And I’ll say it again. I’ll tell everybody; so I will. I’ll tell your uncle at the rectory, and he shall speak to you.”
“Look here, Hermy, I can bear a deal of nonsense from you because some women are given to talk nonsense; but if I find you telling tales about me out of this house, and especially to my uncle, or indeed, to anybody I’ll let you know what it is to be cruel.”
“You can’t be worse than you are.”
“Don’t try me; that’s all. And as I suppose you have now said all that you’ve got to say, if you please we will regard that subject as finished.” The poor woman had said all that she could say, and had no further means of carrying on the war. In her thoughts she could do so; in her thoughts she could wander forth out of the gloomy house in the night, and perish in the damp and cold, leaving a paper behind her to tell the world that her husband’s cruelty had brought her to that pass. Or she would go to Julia and leave him forever. Julia, she thought, would still receive her. But as to one thing she had certainly made up her mind; she would go with her complaint to Mrs. Clavering at the rectory, let her lord and master show his anger in whatever form he might please.
The next day Sir Hugh himself made her a proposition which somewhat softened the aspect of affairs. This he did in his usual voice, with something of a smile on his face, and speaking as though he were altogether oblivious of the scenes of yesterday. “I was thinking, Hermy,” he said, “that you might have Julia down here while I am away.”
“Have Julia here?”
“Yes; why not? She’ll come, I’m sure, when she knows that my back is turned.”
“I’ve never thought about asking her — at least not lately.”
“No; of course. But you might as well do so now. It seems that she never goes to Ongar Park, and, as far as I can learn, never will. I’m going to see her myself.”
“You going to see her?”
“Yes; Lord Ongar’s people want to know whether she can be induced to give up the place; that is, to sell her interest in it. I have promised to see her. Do you write her a letter first, and tell her that I want to see her; and ask her also to come here as soon as she can leave London.”
“But wouldn’t the lawyers: do it better than you?”
“Well; one would think so; but I am commissioned to make her a kind of apology from the whole Courton family. They fancy they’ve been hard upon her; and, by George, I believe they have. I may be able to say a word for myself too. If she isn’t a fool she’ll put her anger in her pocket, and come down to you.”
Lady Clavering liked the idea of having her sister with her, but she was not quite meek enough to receive the permission now given her as full compensation for the injury done. She said that she would do as he had bidden her, and then went back to her own grievances. “I don’t suppose Julia, even if she would come for a little time, would find it very pleasant to live in such a place as this, all alone.”
“She wouldn’t be all alone when you are with her,” said Hugh, gruffly, and then again went out, leaving his wife to become used to her misfortune by degrees.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01