By the end of July Mrs Trevelyan with her sister was established in the Clock House, at Nuncombe Putney, under the protection of Hugh’s mother; but before the reader is made acquainted with any of the circumstances of their life there, a few words must be said of an occurrence which took place before those two ladies left Curzon Street.
As to the quarrel between Trevelyan and his wife, things went from bad to worse. Lady Milborough continued to interfere, writing letters to Emily which were full of good sense, but which, as Emily said herself, never really touched the point of dispute. ‘Am I, who am altogether unconscious of having done anything amiss, to confess that I have been in the wrong? If it were about a small matter, I would not mind, for the sake of peace. But when it concerns my conduct in reference to another man I would rather die first,’ That had been Mrs Trevelyan’s line of thought and argument in the matter; but then old Lady Milborough in her letters spoke only of the duty of obedience as promised at the altar. ‘But I didn’t promise to tell a lie,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. And there were interviews between Lady Milborough and Trevelyan, and interviews between Lady Milborough and Nora Rowley. The poor dear old dowager was exceedingly busy and full of groans, prescribing Naples, prescribing a course of extra prayers, prescribing a general course of letting bygones be bygones to which, however, Trevelyan would by no means assent without some assurance, which he might regard as a guarantee, prescribing retirement to a small town in the west of France, if Naples would not suffice; but she could effect nothing.
Mrs Trevelyan, indeed, did a thing which was sure of itself to render any steps taken for a reconciliation ineffectual. In the midst of all this turmoil while she and her husband were still living in the same house, but apart because of their absurd quarrel respecting Colonel Osborne, she wrote another letter to that gentleman. The argument by which she justified this to herself, and to her sister after it was done, was the real propriety of her own conduct throughout her whole intimacy with Colonel Osborne. ‘But that is just what Louis doesn’t want you to do,’ Nora had said, filled with anger and dismay. ‘Then let Louis give me an order to that effect, and behave to me like a husband, and I will obey him,’ Emily had answered. And she had gone on to plead that in her present condition she was under no orders from her husband. She was left to judge for herself, and judging for herself she knew, as she said, that it best that she should write to Colonel Osborne. Unfortunately there was no ground for hoping that Colonel Osborne was ignorant of this insane jealousy on the part of her husband. It was better, therefore, she said, that she should write to him whom on the occasion she took care to name to her sister as ‘papa’s old friend’ and explain to him what she would wish him to do, and what not to do. Colonel Osborne answered the letter very quickly, throwing much more of demonstrative affection than he should have done into his ‘Dear Emily’ and his ‘Dearest Friend.’ Of course Mrs Trevelyan had burned this answer, and of course Mr Trevelyan had been told of the correspondence. His wife, indeed, had been especially careful that there should be nothing secret about the matter that it should be so known in the house that Mr Trevelyan should be sure to hear of it. And he had heard of it, and been driven almost mad by it. He had flown off to Lady Milborough, and had reduced his old friend to despair by declaring that, after all, he began to fear that his wife was was was infatuated by that d scoundrel. Lady Milborough forgave the language, but protested that he was wrong in his suspicion. ‘To continue to correspond with him after what I have said to her!’ exclaimed Trevelyan. ‘Take her to Naples at once,’ said Lady Milborough, ‘at once!’ ‘And have him after me?’ said Trevelyan. Lady Milborough had no answer ready, and not having thought of this looked very blank. ‘I should find it harder to deal with her there even than here,’ continued Trevelyan. Then it was that Lady Milborough spoke of the small town in the west of France, urging as her reason that such a man as Colonel Osborne would certainly not follow them there; but Trevelyan had become indignant at this, declaring that if his wife’s good name could be preserved in no other manner than that, it would not be worth preserving at all. Then Lady Milborough had begun to cry, and had continued crying for a very long time. She was very unhappy as unhappy as her nature would allow her to be. She would have made almost any sacrifice to bring the two young people together, would have willingly given her time, her money, her labour in the cause, would probably herself have gone to the little town in the west of France, had her going been of any service. But, nevertheless, after her own fashion, she extracted no small enjoyment out of the circumstances of this miserable quarrel. The Lady Milboroughs of the day hate the Colonel Osbornes from the very bottoms of their warm hearts and pure souls; but they respect the Colonel Osbornes almost as much as they hate them, and find it to be an inestimable privilege to be brought into some contact with these roaring lions.
But there arose to dear Lady Milborough a great trouble out of this quarrel, irrespective of the absolute horror of the separation of a young husband from his young wife. And the excess of her trouble on this head was great proof of the real goodness of her heart. For, in this matter, the welfare of Trevelyan himself was not concerned but rather that of the Rowley family. Now the Rowleys had not given Lady Milborough any special reason for loving them. When she had first heard that her dear young friend Louis was going to marry a girl from the Mandarins, she had been almost in despair. It was her opinion that had he properly understood his own position, he would have promoted his welfare by falling in love with the daughter of some English country gentleman or some English peer, to which honour, with his advantages, Lady Milborough thought that he might have aspired. Nevertheless, when the girl from the Mandarins had been brought home as Mrs Trevelyan, Lady Milborough had received her with open arms — had received even the sister-inlaw with arms partly open. Had either of them shown any tendency to regard her as a mother, she would have showered motherly cares upon them. For Lady Milborough was like an old hen, in her capacity for taking many under her wings. The two sisters had hardly done more than bear with her, Nora, indeed, bearing with her more graciously than Mrs Trevelyan; and in return, even for this, the old dowager was full of motherly regard. Now she knew well that Mr Glascock was over head and ears in love with Nora Rowley. It only wanted the slightest management and the easiest discretion to bring him on his knees, with an offer of his hand. And, then, how much that hand contained, how much, indeed, as compared with that other hand, which was to be given in return, and which was to speak the truth completely empty! Mr Glascock was the heir to a peer, was the heir to a rich peer, was the heir to a very, very old peer. He was in Parliament. The world spoke well of him. He was not, so to say, by any means an old man himself. He was good-tempered, reasonable, easily led, and yet by no means despicable. On all subjects connected with land, he held an opinion that was very much respected, and was supposed to be a thoroughly good specimen of an upper-class Englishman. Here was a suitor! But it was not to be supposed that such a man as Mr Glascock would be so violently in love as to propose to a girl whose nearest known friend and female relation was misbehaving herself?
Only they who have closely watched the natural uneasinesses of human hens can understand how great was Lady Milborough’s anxiety on this occasion. Marriage to her was a thing always delightful to contemplate. Though she had never been sordidly a matchmaker, the course of the world around her had taught her to regard men as fish to be caught, and girls as the anglers who ought to catch them. Or, rather, could her mind have been accurately analysed, it would have been found that the girl was regarded as half-angler and half-bait. Any girl that angled visibly with her own hook, with a manifestly expressed desire to catch a fish, was odious to her. And she was very gentle-hearted in regard to the fishes, thinking that every fish in the river should have the hook and bait presented to him in the mildest, pleasantest form. But still, when the trout was well in the basket, her joy was great; and then came across her unlaborious mind some half-formed idea that a great ordinance of nature was being accomplished in the teeth of difficulties. For as she well knew there is a difficulty in the catching of fish.
Lady Milborough, in her kind anxiety on Nora’s behalf that the fish should be landed before Nora might be swept away in her sister’s ruin hardly knew what step she might safely take. Mrs Trevelyan would not see her again having already declared that any further interview would be painful and useless. She had spoken to Trevelyan, but Trevelyan had declared that he could do nothing. What was there that he could have done? He could not, as he said, overlook the gross improprieties of his wife’s conduct, because his wife’s sister had, or might possibly have, a lover. And then as to speaking to Mr Glascock himself nobody knew better than Lady Milborough how very apt fish are to be frightened.
But at last Lady Milborough did speak to Mr Glascock making no allusion whatever to the hook prepared for himself, but saying a word or two as to the affairs of that other fish, whose circumstances, as he floundered about in the bucket of matrimony, were not as happy as they might have been. The care, the discretion, nay, the wisdom with which she did this were most excellent. She had become aware that Mr Glascock had already heard of the unfortunate affair in Curzon Street. Indeed, every one who knew the Trevelyans had heard of it, and a great many who did not know them. No harm, therefore, could be done by mentioning the circumstance. Lady Milborough did mention it, explaining that the only person really in fault was that odious destroyer of the peace of families, Colonel Osborne, of whom Lady Milborough, on that occasion, said some very severe things indeed. Poor dear Mrs Trevelyan was foolish, obstinate, and self-reliant but as innocent as the babe unborn. That things would come right before long no one who knew the affair — and she knew it from beginning to end — could for a moment doubt. The real victim would be that sweetest of all girls, Nora Rowley. Mr Glascock innocently asked why Nora Rowley should be a victim. ‘Don’t you understand, Mr Glascock, how the most remote connection with a thing of that kind tarnishes a young woman’s standing in the world?’ Mr Glascock was almost angry with the well-pleased Countess as he declared that he could not see that Miss Rowley’s standing was at all tarnished; and old Lady Milborough, when he got up and left her, felt that she had done a good morning’s work. If Nora could have known it all, Nora ought to have been very grateful, for Mr Glascock got into a cab in Eccleston Square and had himself driven direct to Curzon Street. He himself believed that he was at that moment only doing the thing which he had for some time past resolved that he would do; but we perhaps may be justified in thinking that the actual resolution was first fixed by the discretion of Lady Milborough’s communication. At any rate he arrived in Curzon Street with his mind fully resolved, and had spent the minutes in the cab considering how he had better perform the business in hand.
He was at once shown into the drawing-room, where he found the two sisters, and Mrs Trevelyan, as soon as she saw him, understood the purpose of his coming. There was an air of determination about him, a manifest intention of doing something, an absence of that vagueness which almost always flavours a morning visit. This was so strongly marked that Mrs Trevelyan felt that she would have been almost justified in getting up and declaring that, as this visit was paid to her sister, she would retire. But, any such declaration on her part was unnecessary, as Mr Glascock had not been in the room three minutes before he asked her to go. By some clever device of his own, he got her into the back room and whispered to her that he wanted to say a few words in private to her sister.
‘Oh, certainly,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, smiling.
‘I dare say you may guess what they are,’ said he. ‘I don’t know what chance I may have?’
‘I can tell you nothing about that,’ she replied, ‘as I know nothing. But you have my good wishes.’
And then she went.
It may be presumed that gradually some idea of Mr Glascock’s intention had made its way into Nora’s mind by the time that she found herself alone with that gentleman. Why else had he brought into the room with him that manifest air of a purpose? Why else had he taken the very strong step of sending the lady of the house out of her own drawing-room? Nora, beginning to understand this, put herself into an attitude of defence. She had never told herself that she would refuse Mr Glascock. She had never acknowledged to herself that there was another man whom she liked better than she liked Mr Glascock. But had she ever encouraged any wish for such an interview, her feelings at this moment would have been very different from what they were. As it was, she would have given much to postpone it, so that she might have asked herself questions, and have discovered whether she could reconcile herself to do that which, no doubt, all her friends would commend her for doing. Of course, it was clear enough to the mind of the girl that she had her fortune to make, and that her beauty and youth were the capital on which she had to found it. She had not lived so far from all taint of corruption as to feel any actual horror at the idea of a girl giving herself to a man not because the man had already, by his own capacities in that direction, forced her heart from her but because he was one likely to be at all points a good husband. Had all this affair concerned any other girl, any friend of her own, and had she known all the circumstances of the case, she would have had no hesitation in recommending that other girl to marry Mr Glascock. A girl thrown out upon the world without a shilling must make her hay while the sun shines. But, nevertheless, there was something within her bosom which made her long for a better thing than this. She had dreamed, if she had not thought, of being able to worship a man; but she could hardly worship Mr Glascock. She had dreamed, if she had not thought, of leaning upon a man all through life with her whole weight, as though that man had been specially made to be her staff, her prop, her support, her wall of comfort and protection. She knew that if she were to marry Mr Glascock and become Lady Peterborough, in due course she must stand a good deal by her own strength, and live without that comfortable leaning. Nevertheless, when she found herself alone with the man, she by no means knew whether she would refuse him or not. But she knew that she must pluck up courage for an important moment, and she collected herself, braced her muscles, as it were, for a fight, and threw her mind into an attitude of contest.
Mr Glascock, as soon as the door was shut behind Mrs Trevelyan’s back, took a chair and placed it close beside the head of the sofa on which Nora was sitting. ‘Miss Rowley,’ he said, ‘you and I have known each other now for some months, and I hope you have learned to regard me as a friend.’
‘Oh, yes, indeed,’ said Nora, with some spirit.
‘It has seemed to me that we have met as friends, and I can most truly say for myself, that I have taken the greatest possible pleasure in your acquaintance. It is not only that I admire you very much,’ he looked straight before him as he said this, and moved about the point of the stick which he was holding in both his hands ‘it is not only that, perhaps not chiefly that, though I do admire you very much; but the truth is, that I like everything about you.’
Nora smiled, but she said nothing. It was better, she thought, to let him tell his story; but his mode of telling it was not without its efficacy. It was not the simple praise which made its way with her but a certain tone in the words which seemed to convince her that they were true. If he had really found her, or fancied her to be what he said, there was a manliness in his telling her so in the plainest words that pleased her much.
‘I know,’ continued he, ‘that this is a very bald way of telling, of pleading my cause; but I don’t know whether a bald way may not be the best, if it can only make itself understood to be true. Of course, Miss Rowley, you know what I mean. As I said before, you have all those things which not only make me love you, but which make me like you also. If you think that you can love me, say so; and, as long as I live, I will do my best to make you happy as my wife.’
There was a clearness of expression in this, and a downright surrender of himself, which so flattered her and so fluttered her that she was almost reduced to the giving of herself up because she could not reply to such an appeal in language less courteous than that of agreement. After a moment or two she found herself remaining silent, with a growing feeling that silence would be taken as conveying consent. There floated quickly across her brain an idea of the hardness of a woman’s lot, in that she should be called upon to decide her future fate for life in half a minute. He had had weeks to think of this, weeks in which it would have been almost unmaidenly in her so to think of it as to have made up her mind to accept the man. Had she so made up her mind, and had he not come to her, where would she have been then? But he had come to her. There he was, still poking about with his stick, waiting for her, and she must answer him. And he was the eldest son of a peer, an enormous match for her, very proper in all respects; such a man, that if she should accept him, everybody around her would regard her fortune in life as miraculously successful. He was not such a man that anyone would point at her and say ‘there; see another of them who has sold herself for money and a title!’ Mr Glascock was not an Apollo, not an admirable Crichton; but he was a man whom any girl might have learned to love. Now he had asked her to be his wife, and it was necessary that she should answer him. He sat there waiting for her very patiently, still poking about the point of his stick.
Did she really love him? Though she was so pressed by consideration of time, she did find a moment in which to ask herself the question. With a quick turn of an eye she glanced at him, to see what he was like. Up to this moment, though she knew him well, she could have given no details of his personal appearance. He was a better-looking man than Hugh Stanbury, so she told herself with a passing thought; but he lacked, he lacked; what was it that he lacked? Was it youth, or spirit, or strength; or was it some outward sign of an inward gift of mind? Was it that he was heavy while Hugh was light? Was it that she could find no fire in his eye, while Hugh’s eyes were full of flashing? Or was it that for her, especially for her, Hugh was the appointed staff and appropriate wall of protection? Be all that as it might, she knew at the moment that she did love, not this man, but that other who was writing articles for the Daily Record. She must refuse the offer that was so brilliant, and give up the idea of reigning as queen at Monkhams.
‘Oh, Mr Glascock,’ she said, ‘I ought to answer you more quickly.’
‘No, dearest; not more quickly than suits you. Nothing ever in this world can be more important both to you and to me. If you want more time to think of it, take more time.’
‘No, Mr Glascock; I do not. I don’t know why I should have paused. Is not the truth best?’
‘Yes certainly the truth is best.’
‘I do not love you. Pray, pray understand me.’
‘I understand it too well, Miss Rowley.’ The stick was still going, and the eyes more intently, fixed than ever on something opposite.
‘I do like you; I like you very much. And I am so grateful! I cannot understand why such a man as you should want to make me your wife.’
‘Because I love you better than all the others; simply that. That reason, and that only, justifies a man in wanting to marry a girl.’ What a good fellow he was, and how flattering were his words! Did he not deserve what he wanted, even though it could not be given without a sacrifice? But yet she did not love him. As she looked at him again she could not there recognise her staff. And she looked at him she was more than ever convinced that that other staff ought to be her staff. ‘May I come again after a month, say?’ he asked, when there had been another short period of silence.
‘No, no. Why should you trouble yourself? I am not worth it.’
‘It is for me to judge of that, Miss Rowley.’
‘All the same, I know that I am not worth it. And I could not tell you to do that.’
‘Then I will wait, and come again without your telling me.’
‘Oh, Mr Glascock, I did not mean that; indeed I did not. Pray do not think that. Take what I say as final. I like you more than I can say; and I feel a gratitude to you that I cannot express, which I shall never forget. I have never known any one who has seemed to be so good as you. But It is just what I said before.’ And then she fairly burst into tears.
‘Miss Rowley,’ he said, very slowly, ‘pray do not think that I want to ask any question which it might embarrass you to answer. But my happiness is so greatly at stake; and, if you will allow me to say so, your happiness, too, is so greatly concerned, that it is most important that we should not come to a conclusion too quickly. If I thought that your heart were vacant I would wait patiently. I have been thinking of you as my possible wife for weeks past, for months past. Of course you have not had such thoughts about me.’ As he said this she almost loved him for his considerate goodness. ‘It has sometimes seemed to me odd that girls should love men in such a hurry. If your heart be free, I will wait. And if you esteem me, you can see, and try whether you cannot learn to love me.’
‘I do esteem you.’
‘It depends on that question, then?’ he said, slowly.
She sat silent for fully a minute, with her hands clasped; and then she answered him in a whisper. ‘I do not know,’ she said.
He also was silent for a while before he spoke again. He ceased to poke with his stick, and got up from his chair, and stood a little apart from her, not looking at her even yet.
‘I see,’ he said at last. ‘I understand. Well, Miss Rowley, I quite perceive that I cannot press my suit any further now. But I shall not despair altogether. I know this, that if I might possibly succeed, I should be a very happy man. Good-bye, Miss Rowley.’
She took his offered hand and pressed it so warmly, that had he not been manly and big-hearted, he would have taken such pressure as a sign that she wished him to ask her again. But such was his nature.
‘God bless you,’ he said, ‘and make you happy, whatever you may choose to do.’
Then he left her, and she heard him walk down the stairs with heavy slow steps, and she thought that she could perceive from the sound that he was sad at heart, but that he was resolved not to show his sadness outwardly.
When she was alone she began to think in earnest of what she had done. If the reader were told that she regretted the decision which she had been forced to make so rapidly, a wrong impression would be given of the condition of her thoughts. But there came upon her suddenly a strange capacity for counting up and making a mental inventory of all that might have been hers. She knew — and where is the girl so placed that does not know? — that it is a great thing to be an English peeress. Now, as she stood there thinking of it all, she was Nora Rowley without a shilling in the world, and without a prospect of a shilling. She had often heard her mother speak fearful words of future possible days, when colonial governing should no longer be within the capacity of Sir Marmaduke. She had been taught from a very early age that all the material prosperity of her life must depend on matrimony. She could never be comfortably disposed of in the world, unless some fitting man who possessed those things of which she was so bare, should wish to make her his wife. Now there had come a man so thoroughly fitting, so marvellously endowed, that no worldly blessing would have been wanting. Mr Glascock had more than once spoken to her of the glories of Monkhams. She thought of Monkhams now more than she had ever thought of the place before. It would have been a great privilege to be the mistress of an old time-honoured mansion, to call oaks and elms her own, to know that acres of gardens were submitted to her caprices, to look at herds of cows and oxen, and be aware that they lowed on her own pastures. And to have been the mother of a future peer of England, to have the nursing, and sweet custody and very making of a future senator would not that have been much? And the man himself who would have been her husband was such a one that any woman might have trusted herself to him with perfect confidence. Now that he was gone she almost fancied that she did love him. Then she thought of Hugh Stanbury, sitting as he had described himself, in a little dark closet at the office of the ‘D. R.,’ in a very old inky shooting-coat, with a tarnished square-cut cloth cap upon his head, with a short pipe in his mouth, writing at midnight for the next morning’s impression, this or that article according to the order of his master, ‘the tallow-chandler’; for the editor of the Daily Record was a gentleman whose father happened to be a grocer in the City, and Hugh had been accustomed thus to describe the family trade. And she might certainly have had the peer, and the acres of garden, and the big house, and the senatorial honours; whereas the tallowchandler’s journeyman had never been so outspoken. She told herself from moment to moment that she had done right; that she would do the same a dozen times, if a dozen times the experiment could be repeated; but still, still, there was the remembrance of all that she had lost. How would her mother look at her, her anxious, heavily-laden mother, when the story should be told of all that had been offered to her and all that had been refused?
As she was thinking of this Mrs Trevelyan came into the room. Nora felt that though she might dread to meet her mother, she could be bold enough on such an occasion before her sister. Emily had not done so well with her own affairs, as to enable her to preach with advantage about marriage.
‘He has gone?’ said Mrs Trevelyan, as she opened the door.
‘Yes, he has gone.’
‘Well? Do not pretend, Nora, that you will not tell me.’
‘There is nothing worth the telling, Emily.’
‘What do you mean? I am sure he has proposed. He told me in so many words that it was his intention.’
‘Whatever has happened, dear, you may be quite sure that I shall never be Mrs Glascock.’
‘Then you have refused him because of Hugh Stanbury!’
‘I have refused him, Emily, because I did not love him. Pray let that be enough.’
Then she walked out of the room with something of stateliness in her gait as might become a girl who had had it in her power to be the future Lady Peterborough; but as soon as she reached the sacredness of her own chamber, she gave way to an agony of tears. It would, indeed, be much to be a Lady Peterborough. And she had, in truth, refused it all because of Hugh Stanbury! Was Hugh Stanbury worth so great a sacrifice?
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55