When Miss Stanbury, in the Close at Exeter, was first told of the arrangement that had been made at Nuncombe Putney, she said some very hard words as to the thing that had been done. She was quite sure that Mrs Trevelyan was no better than she should be. Ladies who were separated from their husbands never were any better than they should be. And what was to be thought of any woman, who, when separated from her husband, would put herself under the protection of such a Paladin as Hugh Stanbury. She heard the tidings of course from Dorothy, and spoke her mind even to Dorothy plainly enough; but it was to Martha that she expressed herself with her fullest vehemence.
‘We always knew,’ she said, ‘that my brother had married an addle-pated, silly woman, one of the most unsuited to be the mistress of a clergyman’s house that ever a man set eyes on; but I didn’t think she’d allow herself to be led into such a stupid thing as this.’
‘I don’t suppose the lady has done anything amiss any more than combing her husband’s hair, and the like of that,’ said Martha.
‘Don’t tell me! Why, by their own story, she has got a lover.’
‘But he ain’t to come after her down here, I suppose. And as for lovers, ma’am, I’m told that the most of ’em have ’em up in London. But it don’t mean much, only just idle talking and gallivanting.’
‘When women can’t keep themselves from idle talking with strange gentlemen, they are very far gone on the road to the devil. That’s my notion. And that was everybody’s notion a few years ago. But now, what with divorce bills, and woman’s rights, and penny papers, and false hair, and married women being just like giggling girls, and giggling girls knowing just as much as married women, when a woman has been married a year or two she begins to think whether she mayn’t have more fun for her money by living apart from her husband.’
‘Miss Dorothy says —’
‘Oh, bother what Miss Dorothy says! Miss Dorothy only knows what it has suited that scamp, her brother, to tell her. I understand this woman has come away because of a lover; and if that’s so, my sister-inlaw is very wrong to receive her. The temptation of the Clock House has been too much for her. It’s not my doing; that’s all.’
That evening Miss Stanbury and Dorothy went out to tea at the house of Mrs MacHugh, and there the matter was very much discussed. The family of the Trevelyans was known by name in these parts, and the fact of Mrs Trevelyan having been sent to live in a Devonshire village, with Devonshire ladies who had a relation in Exeter so well esteemed as Miss Stanbury of the Close, were circumstances of themselves sufficient to ensure a considerable amount of prestige at the city tea-table for the tidings of this unfortunate family quarrel. Some reticence was of course necessary because of the presence of Miss Stanbury and of Dorothy. To Miss Stanbury herself Mrs MacHugh and Mrs Crumbie, of Cronstadt House, did not scruple to express themselves very plainly, and to whisper a question as to what was to be done should the lover make his appearance at Nuncombe Putney; but they who spoke of the matter before Dorothy, were at first more charitable, or, at least, more forbearing. Mr Gibson, who was one of the minor canons, and the two Miss Frenches from Heavitree, who had the reputation of hunting unmarried clergymen in couples, seemed to have heard all about it. When Mrs MacHugh and Miss Stanbury, with Mr and Mrs Crumbie, had seated themselves at their whist-table, the younger people were able to express their opinions without danger of interruption or of rebuke. It was known to all Exeter by this time, that Dorothy Stanbury’s mother had gone to the Clock House, and that she had done so in order that Mrs Trevelyan might have a home. But it was not yet known whether anybody had called upon them. There was Mrs Merton, the wife of the present parson of Nuncombe, who had known the Stanburys for the last twenty years; and there was Mrs Ellison of Lessboro’, who lived only four miles from Nuncombe, and who kept a pony-carriage. It would be a great thing to know how these ladies had behaved in so difficult and embarrassing a position. Mrs Trevelyan and her sister had now been at Nuncombe Putney for more than a fortnight, and something in that matter of calling must have been done or have been left undone. In answer to an ingeniously-framed question asked by Camilla French, Dorothy at once set the matter at rest. ‘Mrs Merton,’ said Camilla French, ‘must find it a great thing to have two new ladies come to the village, especially now that she has lost you, Miss Stanbury?’
‘Mamma tells me,’ said Dorothy, ‘that Mrs Trevelyan and Miss Rowley do not mean to know anybody. They have given it out quite plainly, so that there should be no mistake.’
‘Dear, dear!’ said Camilla French.
‘I dare say it’s for the best,’ said Arabella French, who was the elder, and who looked very meek and soft. Miss French almost always looked meek and soft.
‘I’m afraid it will make it very dull for your mother not seeing her old friends,’ said Mr Gibson.
‘Mamma won’t feel that at all,’ said Dorothy.
‘Mrs Stanbury, I suppose, will see her own friends at her own house just the same,’ said Camilla.
‘There would be great difficulty in that, when there is a lady who is to remain unknown,’ said Arabella. ‘Don’t you think so, Mr Gibson?’ Mr Gibson replied that perhaps there might be a difficulty, but he wasn’t sure. The difficulty, he thought, might be got over if the ladies did not always occupy the same room.
‘You have never seen Mrs Trevelyan, have you, Miss Stanbury?’ asked Camilla.
‘She is not an old family friend, then or anything of that sort?’
‘Oh, dear, no.’
‘Because,’ said Arabella, ‘it is so odd how different people get together sometimes.’ Then Dorothy explained that Mr Trevelyan and her brother Hugh had long been friends.
‘Oh! of Mr Trevelyan,’ said Camilla. ‘Then it is he that has sent his wife to Nuncombe, not she that has come there?’
‘I suppose there has been some agreement,’ said Dorothy.
‘Just so; just so,’ said Arabella, the meek. ‘I should like to see her. They say that she is very beautiful; don’t they?’
‘My brother says that she is handsome.’
‘Exceedingly lovely, I’m told,’ said Camilla. ‘I should like to see her shouldn’t you, Mr Gibson?’
‘I always like to see a pretty woman,’ said Mr Gibson, with a polite bow, which the sisters shared between them.
‘I suppose she’ll go to church,’ said Camilla.
‘Very likely not,’ said Arabella. ‘Ladies of that sort very often don’t go to church. I dare say you’ll find that she’ll never stir out of the place at all, and that not a soul in Nuncombe will ever see her except the gardener. It is such a thing for a woman to be separated from her husband! Don’t you think so, Mr Gibson?’
‘Of course it is,’ said he, with a shake of his head, which was intended to imply that the censure of the church must of course attend any sundering of those whom the church had bound together; but which implied also by the absence from it of any intense clerical severity, that as the separated wife was allowed to live with so very respectable a lady as Mrs Stanbury, there must probably be some mitigating circumstances attending this special separation.
‘I wonder what he is like?’ said Camilla, after a pause.
‘Who?’ asked Arabella.
‘The gentleman,’ said Camilla.
‘What gentleman?’ demanded Arabella.
‘I don’t mean Mr Trevelyan,’ said Camilla.
‘I don’t believe there really is eh is there?’ said Mr Gibson, very timidly.
‘Oh, dear, yes,’ said Arabella.
‘I’m afraid there’s something of the kind,’ said Camilla. ‘I’ve heard that there is, and I’ve heard his name.’ Then she whispered very closely into the ear of Mr Gibson the words, ‘Colonel Osborne,’ as though her lips were far too pure to mention aloud any sound so full of iniquity.
‘Indeed!’ said Mr Gibson.
‘But he’s quite an old man,’ said Dorothy, ‘and knew her father intimately before she was born. And, as far as I can understand, her husband does not suspect her in the least. And it’s only because there’s a misunderstanding between them, and not at all because of the gentleman.’
‘Oh!’ exclaimed Camilla.
‘Ah!’ exclaimed Arabella.
‘That would make a difference,’ said Mr Gibson.
‘But for a married woman to have her name mentioned at all with a gentleman it is so bad; is it not, Mr Gibson?’ And then Arabella also had her whisper into the clergyman’s ear very closely. ‘I’m afraid there’s not a doubt about the Colonel. I’m afraid not. I am indeed.’
‘Two by honours and the odd, and it’s my deal,’ said Miss Stanbury, briskly, and the sharp click with which she put the markers down upon the table was heard all through the room. ‘I don’t want anybody to tell me,’ she said, ‘that when a young woman is parted from her husband, the chances are ten to one that she has been very foolish.’
‘But what’s a woman to do, if her husband beats her?’ said Mrs Crumbie.
‘Beat him again,’ said Mrs MacHugh.
‘And the husband will be sure to have the worst of it,’ said Mr Crumbie. ‘Well, I declare, if you haven’t turned up an honour again, Miss Stanbury!’
‘It was your wife that cut it to me, Mr Crumbie.’ Then they were again at once immersed in the play, and the name neither of Trevelyan nor Osborne was heard till Miss Stanbury was marking her double under the candlestick; but during all the pauses in the game the conversation went back to the same topic, and when the rubber was over they who had been playing it lost themselves for ten minutes in the allurements of the interesting subject. It was so singular a coincidence that the lady should have gone to Nuncombe Putney of all villages in England, and to the house of Mrs Stanbury of all ladies in England. And then was she innocent, or was she guilty; and if guilty, in what degree? That she had been allowed to bring her baby with her was considered to be a great point in her favour. Mr Crumbie’s opinion was that it was ‘only a few words’. Mrs Crumbie was afraid that she had been a little light. Mrs MacHugh said that there was never fire without smoke. And Miss Stanbury, as she took her departure, declared that the young women of the present day didn’t know what they were after. ‘They think that the world should be all frolic and dancing, and they have no more idea of doing their duty and earning their bread than a boy home for the holidays has of doing lessons.’
Then, as she went home with Dorothy across the Close, she spoke a word which she intended to be very serious. ‘I don’t mean to say anything against your mother for what she has done as yet. Somebody must take the woman in, and perhaps it was natural. But if that Colonel what’s-his-name makes his way down to Nuncombe Putney, your mother must send her packing, if she has any respect either for herself or for Priscilla.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14