Trevelyan got back to his own house at about three, and on going into the library, found on his table a letter to him addressed in his wife’s handwriting. He opened it quickly, hoping to find that promise which he had demanded, and resolving that if it were made he would at once become affectionate, yielding, and gentle to his wife. But there was not a word written by his wife within the envelope. It contained simply another letter, already opened, addressed to her. This letter had been brought up to her during her husband’s absence from the house, and was as follows:
‘I have just come from the Colonial Office. It is all settled, and Sir M. has been sent for. Of course, you will tell T. now. Yours, F.O.
The letter was, of course, from Colonel Osborne, and Mrs Trevelyan, when she received it, had had great doubts whether she would enclose it to her husband opened or unopened. She had hitherto refused to make the promise which her husband exacted, but nevertheless, she was minded to obey him; Had he included in his demand any requirement that she should receive no letter from Colonel Osborne, she would not have opened this one. But nothing had been said about letters, and she would not shew herself to be afraid. So she read the note, and then sent it down to be put on Mr Trevelyan’s table in an envelope addressed to him.
‘If he is not altogether blinded, it will show him how cruelly he has wronged me,’ said she to her sister. She was sitting at the time with her boy in her lap, telling herself that the child’s features were in all respects the very same as his father’s, and that, come what come might, the child should always be taught by her to love and respect his father. And then there came a horrible thought. What if the child should be taken away from her? If this quarrel, out of which she saw no present mode of escape, were to lead to a separation between her and her husband, would not the law, and the judges, and the courts, and all the Lady Milboroughs of their joint acquaintance into the bargain, say that the child should go with his father? The judges, and the courts, and the Lady Milboroughs would, of course, say that she was the sinner. And what could she do without her boy? Would not any humility, any grovelling in the dust be better for her than that? ‘It is a very poor thing to be a woman,’ she said to her sister.
‘It is perhaps better than being a dog,’ said Nora; ‘but, of course, we can’t compare ourselves to men.’
‘It would be better to be a dog. One wouldn’t be made to suffer so much. When a puppy is taken away from its mother, she is bad enough for a few days, but she gets over it in a week.’ There was a pause then for a few moments. Nora knew well which way ran the current of her sister’s thoughts, and had nothing at the present moment which she could say on that subject.
‘It is very hard for a woman to know what to do,’ continued Emily, ‘but if she is to marry, I think she had better marry a fool. After all, a fool generally knows that he is a fool, and will trust some one, though he may not trust his wife.’
‘I will never wittingly marry a fool,’ said Nora.
‘You will marry Mr Glascock, of course. I don’t say that he is a fool; but I do not think he has that kind of strength which shows itself in perversity.’
‘If he asked me, I should not have him, and he will never ask me.’
‘He will ask you, and, of course, you’ll take him. Why not? You can’t be otherwise than a woman. And you must marry. And this man is a gentleman, and will be a peer. There is nothing on earth against him, except that he does not set the Thames on fire. Louis intends to set the Thames on fire some day, and see what comes of it.’
‘All the same, I shall not marry Mr Glascock. A woman can die, at any rate,’ said Nora.
‘No, she can’t. A woman must be decent; and to die of want is very indecent. She can’t die, and she mustn’t be in want, and she oughtn’t to be a burden. I suppose it was thought necessary that every man should have two to choose from; and therefore there are so many more of us than the world wants. I wonder whether you’d mind taking that downstairs to his table? I don’t like to send it by the servant; and I don’t want to go myself.’
Then Nora had taken the letter down, and left it where Louis Trevelyan would be sure to find it.
He did find it, and was sorely disappointed when he perceived that it contained no word from his wife to himself. He opened Colonel Osborne’s note, and read it, and became, as he did so, almost more angry than before. Who was this man that he should dare to address another man’s wife as ‘Dear Emily’? At the moment Trevelyan remembered well enough that he had heard the man so call his wife, that it had been done openly in his presence, and had not given him a thought. But Lady Rowley and Sir Marmaduke had then been present also; and that man on that occasion had been the old friend of the old father, and not the would-be young friend of the young daughter. Trevelyan could hardly reason about it, but felt that whereas the one was not improper, the other was grossly impertinent and even wicked. And then, again, his wife, his Emily, was to show to him, to her husband, or was not to show to him, the letter which she received from this man, the letter in which she was addressed as ‘Dear Emily,’ according to this man’s judgment and wish, and not according to his judgment and wish — not according to the judgment and wish of him who was her husband, her lord, and her master! ‘Of course, you will tell T. now.’ This was intolerable to him. It made him feel that he was to be regarded as second, and this man to be regarded as first. And then he began to recapitulate all the good things he had done for his wife, and all the causes which he had given her for gratitude. Had he not taken her to his bosom, and bestowed upon her the half of all that he had, simply for herself, asking for nothing more than her love? He had possessed money, position, a name all that makes life worth having. He had found her in a remote corner of the world, with no fortune, with no advantages of family or social standing, so circumstanced that any friend would have warned him against such a marriage; but he had given her his heart, and his hand, and his house, and had asked for nothing in return but that he should be all in all to her, that he should be her one god upon earth. And he had done more even than this. ‘Bring your sister,’ he had said. ‘The house shall be big enough for her also, and she shall be my sister as well as yours.’ Who had ever done more for a woman, or shown a more absolute confidence? And now what was the return he received? She was not contented with her one god upon earth, but must make to herself other gods — another god, and that too out of a lump of the basest clay to be found around her. He thought that he could remember to have heard it said in early days, long before he himself had had an idea of marrying, that no man should look for a wife from among the tropics, that women educated amidst the languors of those sunny climes rarely came to possess those high ideas of conjugal duty and feminine truth which a man should regard as the first requisites of a good wife. As he thought of all this, he almost regretted that he had ever visited the Mandarins, or ever heard the name of Sir Marmaduke Rowley.
He should have nourished no such thoughts in his heart. He had, indeed, been generous to his wife and to his wife’s family; but we may almost say that the man who is really generous in such matters is unconscious of his own generosity. The giver who gives the most, gives, and does not know that he gives. And had not she given too? In that matter of giving between a man and his wife, if each gives all, the two are equal, let the things given be what they may! King Cophetua did nothing for his beggar maid, unless she were to him, after he had married her, as royal a queen as though he had taken her from the oldest stock of reigning families then extant. Trevelyan knew all this himself, had said so to himself a score of times, though not probably in spoken words or formed sentences. But, that all was equal between himself and the wife of his bosom, had been a thing ascertained by him as a certainty. There was no debt of gratitude from her to him which he did not acknowledge to exist also as from him to her. But yet, in his anger, he could not keep himself from thinking of the gifts he had showered upon her. And he had been, was, would ever be, if she would only allow it, so true to her! He had selected no other friend to take her place in his councils! There was no ‘dear Mary’ or ‘dear Augusta’ with whom he had secrets to be kept from his wife. When there arose with him any question of interest such as was this of the return of Sir Marmaduke to her, he would show it in all its bearings to his wife. He had his secrets too, but his secrets had all been made secrets for her also. There was not a woman in the world in whose company he took special delight in her absence.
And if there had been, how much less would have been her ground of complaint? Let a man have any such friendships, what friendships he may, he does not disgrace his wife. He felt himself to be so true of heart that he desired no such friendships; but for a man indulging in such friendships there might be excuse. Even though a man be false, a woman is not shamed and brought unto the dust before all the world. But the slightest rumour on a woman’s name is a load of infamy on her husband’s shoulders. It was not enough for Caesar that his wife should be true; it was necessary to Caesar that she should not even be suspected. Trevelyan told himself that he suspected his wife of no sin. God forbid that it should ever come to that, both for his sake and for hers; and, above all, for the sake of that boy who was so dear to them both! But there would be the vile whispers, and dirty slanders would be dropped from envious tongues into envious ears, and minds prone to evil would think evil of him and of his. Had not Lady Milborough already cautioned him? Oh, that he should have lived to have been cautioned about his wife, that he should be told that eyes outside had looked into the sacred shrine of his heart and seen that things there were fatally amiss! And yet Lady Milborough was quite right. Had he not in his hand at this moment a document that proved her to be right? ‘Dear Emily’! He took this note and crushed it in his fist and then pulled it into fragments.
But what should he do? There was, first of all considerations, the duty which he owed to his wife, and the love which he bore her. That she was ignorant and innocent he was sure; but then she was so contumacious that he hardly knew how to take a step in the direction of guarding her from the effects of her ignorance, and maintaining for her the advantages of her innocence. He was her master, and she must know that he was her master. But how was he to proceed when she refused to obey the plainest and most necessary command which he laid upon her? Let a man be ever so much his wife’s master, he cannot maintain his masterdom by any power which the law places in his hands. He had asked his wife for a promise of obedience, and she would not give it to him! What was he to do next? He could, no doubt, at least he thought so, keep the man from her presence. He could order the servant not to admit the man, and the servant would, doubtless, obey him. But to what a condition would he then have been brought! Would not the world then be over for him over for him as the husband of a wife whom he could not love unless he respected her? Better that there should be no such world, than call in the aid of a servant to guard the conduct of his wife!
As he thought of it all it seemed to him that if she would not obey him, and give him this promise, they must be separated. He would not live with her, he would not give her the privileges of his wife, if she refused to render to him the obedience which was his privilege. The more he thought of it, the more convinced he was that he ought not to yield to her. Let her once yield to him, and then his tenderness should begin, and there should be no limit to it. But he would not see her till she had yielded. He would not see her; and if he should find that she did see Colonel Osborne, then he would tell her that she could no longer dwell under the same roof with him.
His resolution on these points was very strong, and yet there came over him a feeling that it was his duty to be gentle. There was a feeling also that that privilege of receiving obedience, which was so indubitably his own, could only be maintained by certain wise practices on his part in which gentleness must predominate. Wives are bound to obey their husbands, but obedience cannot be exacted from wives, as it may from servants, by aid of law and with penalties, or as from a horse, by punishments, and manger curtailments. A man should be master in his own house, but he should make his mastery palatable, equitable, smooth, soft to the touch, a thing almost unfelt. How was he to do all this now, when he had already given an order to which obedience had been refused unless under certain stipulations an agreement with which would be degradation to him? He had pointed out to his wife her duty, and she had said she would do her duty as pointed out, on condition that he would beg her pardon for having pointed it out! This he could not and would not do. Let the heavens fall, and the falling of the heavens in this case was a separation between him and his wife, but he would not consent to such injustice as that!
But what was he to do at this moment especially with reference to that note which he had destroyed. At last he resolved to write to his wife, and he consequently did write and send to her the following letter:
If Colonel Osborne should write to you again, it will be better that you should not open his letter. As you know his handwriting you will have no difficulty in so arranging. Should any further letter come from Colonel Osborne addressed to you, you had better put it under cover to me, and take no notice of it yourself.
I shall dine at the club today. We were to have gone to Mrs Peacock’s in the evening. You had better write a line to say that we shall not be there. I am very sorry that Nora should lose her evening. Pray think very carefully over what I have asked of you. My request to you is, that you shall give me a promise that you will not willingly see Colonel Osborne again. Of course you will understand that this is not supposed to extend to accidental meetings, as to which, should they occur, and they would be sure to occur, you would find that they would be wholly unnoticed by me.
But I must request that you will comply with my wish in this matter. If you will send for me I will go to you instantly, and after one word from you to the desired effect, you will find that there will be no recurrence by me to a subject so hateful. As I have done, and am doing what I think to be right, I cannot stultify myself by saying that I think I have been wrong.
Yours always, dearest Emily,
With the most thorough love,
This letter he himself put on his wife’s dressing-room table, and then he went out to his club.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01