Trevelyan’s letter to his wife fell like a thunderbolt among them at Nuncombe Putney. Mrs Trevelyan was altogether unable to keep it to herself; indeed she made no attempt at doing so. Her husband had told her that she was to be banished from the Clock House because her present hostess was unable to endure her misconduct, and of course she demanded the reasons of the charge that was thus brought against her. When she first read the letter, which she did in the presence of her sister, she towered in her passion.
‘Disgraced him! I have never disgraced him. It is he that has disgraced me. Correspondence! Yes he shall see it all. Unjust, ignorant, foolish man! He does not remember that the last instructions he really gave me, were to bid me see Colonel Osborne. Take my boy away! Yes. Of course, I am a woman and must suffer. I will write to Colonel Osborne, and will tell him the truth, and will send my letter to Louis. He shall know how he has ill-treated me! I will not take a penny of his money, not a penny. Maintain you! I believe he thinks that we are beggars. Leave this house because of my conduct! What can Mrs Stanbury have said? What can any of them have said? I will demand to be told. Free himself from the connection! Oh, Nora, Nora! that it should come to this! that I should be thus threatened, who have been as innocent as a baby! If it were not for my child, I think that I should destroy myself!’
Nora said what she could to comfort her sister, insisting chiefly on the promise that the child should not be taken away. There was no doubt as to the husband’s power in the mind of either of them; and though, as regarded herself, Mrs Trevelyan would have defied her husband, let his power be what it might, yet she acknowledged to herself that she was in some degree restrained by the fear that she would find herself deprived of her only comfort.
‘We must just go where he bids us till papa comes,’ said Nora.
‘And when papa is here, what help will there be then? He will not let me go back to the islands with my boy. For myself I might die, or get out of his way anywhere. I can see that. Priscilla Stanbury is right when she says that no woman should trust herself to any man. Disgraced! That I should live to be told by my husband that I had disgraced him by a lover!’
There was some sort of agreement made between the two sisters as to the manner in which Priscilla should be interrogated respecting the sentence of banishment which had been passed. They both agreed that it would be useless to make inquiry of Mrs Stanbury. If anything had really been said to justify the statement made in Mr Trevelyan’s letter, it must have come from Priscilla, and have reached Trevelyan through Priscilla’s brother. They, both of them, had sufficiently learned the ways of the house to be sure that Mrs Stanbury had not been the person active in the matter. They went down, therefore, together, and found Priscilla seated at her desk in the parlour. Mrs Stanbury was also in the room, and it had been presumed between the sisters that the interrogation should be made in that lady’s absence; but Mrs Trevelyan was too hot in the matter for restraint, and she at once opened out her budget of grievance.
‘I have a letter from my husband,’ she said and then paused. But Priscilla, seeing from the fire in her eyes that she was much moved, made no reply, but turned to listen to what might further be said. ‘I do not know why I should trouble you with his suspicions,’ continued Mrs Trevelyan, ‘or read to you what he says about Colonel Osborne.’ As she spoke she was holding her husband’s letter open in her hands. ‘There is nothing in it that you do not know. He says I have corresponded with him. So I have and he shall see the correspondence. He says that Colonel Osborne visited me. He did come to see me and Nora.’
‘As any other old man might have done,’ said Nora.
‘It was not likely that I should openly confess myself to be afraid to see my father’s old friend. But the truth is, my husband does not know what a woman is.’
She had begun by declaring that she would not trouble her friend with any statement of her husband’s complaints against her; but now she had made her way to the subject, and could hardly refrain herself. Priscilla understood this, and thought that it would be wise to interrupt her by a word that might bring her back to her original purpose. ‘Is there anything,’ said she, ‘which we can do to help you?’
‘To help me? No God only can help me. But Louis informs me that I am to be turned out of this house, because you demand that we should go.’
‘Who says that?’ exclaimed Mrs Stanbury.
‘My husband. Listen; this is what he says “I am greatly grieved to hear from my friend Mr Stanbury that your conduct in reference to Colonel Osborne has been such as to make it necessary that you should leave Mrs Stanbury’s house.” Is that true? Is that true?’ In her general mode of carrying herself, and of enduring the troubles of her life, Mrs Trevelyan was a strong woman; but now her grief was too much for her, and she burst out into tears. ‘I am the most unfortunate woman that ever was born!’ she sobbed out through her tears.
‘I never said that you were to go,’ said Mrs Stanbury.
‘But your son has told Mr Trevelyan that we must go,’ said Nora, who felt that her sense of injury against Hugh Stanbury was greatly increased by what had taken place. To her mind he was the person most important in the matter. Why had he desired that they should be sent away from the Clock House? She was very angry with him, and declared to herself that she hated him with all her heart. For this man she had sent away that other lover, a lover who had really loved her! And she had even confessed that it was so!
‘There is a misunderstanding about this,’ said Priscilla.
‘It must be with your brother, then,’ said Nora.
‘I think not,’ said Priscilla: ‘I think that it has been with Mr Trevelyan.’ Then she went on to explain, with much difficulty, but still with a slow distinctness that was peculiar to her, what had really taken place. ‘We have endeavoured,’ she said, ‘to show you, my mother and I, that we have not misjudged you; but it is certainly true that I told my brother that I did not think the arrangement a good one quite as a permanence.’ It was very difficult, and her cheeks were red as she spoke, and her lips faltered. It was an exquisite pain to her to have to give the pain which her words would convey; but there was no help for it as she said to herself more than once at the time, there was nothing to be done but to tell the truth.
‘I never said so,’ blurted out Mrs Stanbury, with her usual weakness.
‘No, mother. It was my saying. In discussing what was best for us all, with Hugh, I told him what I have just now explained.’
‘Then of course we must go,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, who had gulped down her sobs and was resolved to be firm, to give way to no more tears, to bear all without sign of womanly weakness.
‘You will stay with us till your father comes,’ said Priscilla.
‘Of course you will,’ said Mrs Stanbury ‘you and Nora. We have got to be such friends, now.’
‘No,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘As to friendship for me, it is out of the question. We must pack up, Nora, and go somewhere. Heaven knows where!’
Nora was now sobbing. ‘Why your brother should want to turn us out after he has sent us here!’
‘My brother wants nothing of the kind,’ said Priscilla. ‘Your sister has no better friend than my brother.’
‘It will be better, Nora, to discuss the matter no further,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘We must go away somewhere; and the sooner the better. To be an unwelcome guest is always bad; but to be unwelcome for such a reason as this is terrible.’
‘There is no reason,’ said Mrs Stanbury; ‘indeed there is none.’
‘Mrs Trevelyan will understand us better when she is less excited,’ said Priscilla. ‘I am not surprised that she should be indignant now. I can only say again that we hope you will stay with us till Sir Marmaduke Rowley shall be in England.’
‘That is not what your brother means,’ said Nora.
‘Nor is it what I mean,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘Nora, we had better go to our own room. I suppose I must write to my husband; indeed, of course I must, that I may send him the the correspondence. I fear I cannot walk out into the street, Mrs Stanbury, and make you quit of me till I hear from him. And if I were to go to an inn at once, people would speak evil of me and I have no money.’
‘My dear, how can you think of such a thing!’ said Mrs Stanbury.
‘But you may be quite sure that we shall be gone within three days or four at the furthest. Indeed, I will pledge myself not to remain longer than that even though I should have to go to the poor-house. Neither I nor my sister will stay in any family to contaminate it. Come, Nora.’ And so speaking she sailed out of the room, and her sister followed her.
‘Why did you say anything about, it? Oh dear, oh dear! why did you speak to Hugh? See what you have done?’
‘I am sorry that I did speak,’ replied Priscilla, slowly.
‘Sorry! Of course you are sorry; but what good is that?’
‘But, mother; I do not think that I was wrong. I feel sure that the real fault in all this is with Mr Trevelyan as it has been all through. He should not have written to her as he has done.’
‘I suppose Hugh did tell him.’
‘No doubt and I told Hugh; but not after the fashion in which he has told her. I blame myself mostly for this that we ever consented to come to this house. We had no business here. Who is to pay the rent?’
‘Hugh insisted upon taking it.’
‘Yes and he will pay the rent; and we shall be a drag upon him, as though he had been fool enough to have a wife and a family of his own. And what good have we done? We had not strength enough to say that that wicked man should not see her when he came, for he is a wicked man.’
‘If we had done that she would have been as bad then as she is now.’
‘Mother, we had no business to meddle either with her badness or her goodness. What had we to do with the wife of such a one as Mr Trevelyan, or with any woman who was separated from her husband?’
‘It was Hugh who thought we should be of service to them.’
‘Yes and I do not blame him. He is in a position to be of service to people. He can do work and earn money, and has a right to think and to speak. We have a right to think only for ourselves, and we should not have yielded to him. How are we to get back again out of this house to our cottage?’
‘They are pulling the cottage down, Priscilla.’
‘To some other cottage, mother. Do you not feel while we are living here that we are pretending to be what we are not? After all, Aunt Stanbury was right, though it was not her business to meddle with us. We should never have come here. That poor woman now regards us as her bitter enemies.’
‘I meant to do for the best,’ said Mrs Stanbury.
‘The fault was mine, mother.’
‘But you meant it for the best, my dear.’
‘Meaning for the best is trash. I don’t know that I did mean it for the best. While we were at the cottage we paid our way and were honest. What is it people say of us now?’
‘They can’t say any harm.’
‘They say that we are paid by the husband to keep his wife, and paid again by the lover to betray the husband.’
‘Yes it is shocking enough. But that comes of people going out of their proper course. We were too humble and low to have a right to take any part in such a matter. How true it is that while one crouches on the ground, one can never fall.’
The matter was discussed in the Clock House all day, between Mrs Stanbury and Priscilla, and between Mrs Trevelyan and Nora, in their rooms and in the garden; but nothing could come of such discussions. No change could be made till further instructions should have been received from the angry husband; nor could any kind of argument be even invented by Priscilla which might be efficacious in inducing the two ladies to remain at the Clock House, even should Mr Trevelyan allow them to do so. They all felt the intolerable injustice, as it appeared to them, of their subjection to the caprice of an unreasonable and ill-conditioned man; but to all of them it seemed plain enough that in this matter the husband must exercise his own will at any rate, till Sir Marmaduke should be in England. There were many difficulties throughout the day. Mrs Trevelyan would not go down to dinner, sending word that she was ill, and that she would, if she were allowed, have some tea in her own room. And Nora said that she would remain with her sister. Priscilla went to them more than once; and late in the evening they all met in the parlour. But any conversation seemed to he impossible; and Mrs Trevelyan, as she went up to her room at night, again declared that she would rid the house of her presence as soon as possible.
One thing, however, was done on that melancholy day. Mrs Trevelyan wrote to her husband, and enclosed Colonel Osborne’s letter to herself, and a copy of her reply. The reader will hardly require to be told that no such further letter had been written by her as that of which Bozzle had given information to her husband. Men whose business it is to detect hidden and secret things, are very apt to detect things which have never been done. What excuse can a detective make even to himself for his own existence if he can detect nothing? Mr Bozzle was an active-minded man, who gloried in detecting, and who, in the special spirit of his trade, had taught himself to believe that all around him were things secret and hidden, which would be within his power of unravelling if only the slightest clue were put in his hand. He lived by the crookednesses of people, and therefore was convinced that straight doings in the world were quite exceptional. Things dark and dishonest, fights fought and races run that they might be lost, plants and crosses, women false to their husbands, sons false to their fathers, daughters to their mothers, servants to their masters, affairs always secret, dark, foul, and fraudulent, were to him the normal condition of life. It was to be presumed that Mrs Trevelyan should continue to correspond with her lover, that old Mrs Stanbury should betray her trust by conniving at the lover’s visit, that everybody concerned should be steeped to the hips in lies and iniquity. When, therefore, he found at Colonel Osborne’s rooms that the Colonel had received a letter with the Lessboro’ post-mark, addressed in the handwriting of a woman, he did not scruple to declare that Colonel Osborne had received, on that morning, a letter from Mr Trevelyan’s ‘lady.’ But in sending to her husband what she called with so much bitterness, ‘the correspondence,’ Mrs Trevelyan had to enclose simply the copy of one sheet note from herself.
But she now wrote again to Colonel Osborne, and enclosed to her husband, not a copy of what she had written, but the note itself. It was as follows:
‘Nuncombe Putney, Wednesday, August 10.
‘My dear Colonel Osborne,
‘My husband has desired me not to see you, or to write to you, or to hear from you again. I must therefore beg you to enable me to obey him at any rate, till papa comes to England.
And then she wrote to her husband, and in the writing of this letter there was much doubt, much labour, and many changes. We will give it as it was written when completed:
‘I have received your letter, and will obey your commands to the best of my power. In order that you may not be displeased by any further unavoidable correspondence between me and Colonel Osborne, I have written to him a note, which I now send to you. I send it that you may forward it. If you do not choose to do so, I cannot be answerable either for his seeing me, or for his writing to me again.
I send also copies of all the correspondence I have had with Colonel Osborne since you turned me out of your house. When he came to call on me, Nora remained with me while he was here. I blush while I write this not for myself, but that I should be so suspected as to make such a statement necessary.
You say that I have disgraced you and myself. I have done neither. I am disgraced but it is you that have disgraced me. I have never spoken a word or done a thing, as regards you, of which I have cause to be ashamed.
I have told Mrs Stanbury that I and Nora will leave her house as soon as we can be made to know where we are to go. I beg that this may be decided instantly, as else we must walk out into the street without a shelter. After what has been said, I cannot remain here.
My sister bids me say that she will relieve you of all burden respecting herself as soon as possible. She will probably be able to find a home with my aunt, Mrs Outhouse, till papa comes to England. As for myself, I can only say that till he comes, I shall do exactly what you order.
Nuncombe Putney, August 10.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55