‘Look at that,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, when her sister came into her room about an hour before dinnertime. Nora read the letter, and then asked her sister what she meant to do. ‘I have written to Mrs Peacock. I don’t know what else I can do. It is very hard upon you that you should have been kept at home. But I don’t suppose Mr Glascock would have been at Mrs Peacock’s.’
‘And what else will you do, Emily?’
‘Nothing, simply live deserted and forlorn till he shall choose to find his wits again. There is nothing else that a woman can do. If he chooses to dine at his club every day I can’t help it. We must put off all the engagements, and that will be hard upon you.’
‘Don’t talk about me. It is too terrible to think that there should be such a quarrel.’
‘What can I do? Have I been wrong?’
‘Simply do what he tells you, whether it is wrong or right. If it’s right, it ought to be done, and if it’s wrong, it will not be your fault.’
‘That’s very easily said, and it sounds logical; but you must know it’s unreasonable.’
‘I don’t care about reason. He is your husband, and if he wishes it, you should do it. And what will be the harm? You don’t mean to see Colonel Osborne any more. You have already said that he’s not to be admitted.’
‘I have said that nobody is to be admitted. Louis has driven me to that. How can I look the servant in the face and tell him that any special gentleman is not to be admitted to see me? Oh dear! oh dear! have I done anything to deserve it? Was ever so monstrous an accusation made against any woman! If it were not for my boy, I would defy him to do his worst.’
On the day following Nora again became a messenger between the husband and wife, and before dinner-time a reconciliation had been effected. Of course the wife gave way at last; and of course she gave way so cunningly that the husband received none of the gratification which he had expected in her surrender. ‘Tell him to come,’ Nora had urged. ‘Of course he can come if he pleases,’ Emily had replied. Then Nora had told Louis to come, and Louis had demanded whether, if he did so, the promise which he exacted would be given. It is to be feared that Nora perverted the truth a little; but if ever such perversion may be forgiven, forgiveness was due to her. If they could only be brought together, she was sure that there would be a reconciliation. They were brought together, and there was a reconciliation.
‘Dearest Emily, I am so glad to come to you,’ said the husband, walking up to his wife in their bed-room, and taking her in his arms.
‘I have been very unhappy, Louis, for the last two days,’ said she, very gravely returning his kiss, but returning it somewhat coldly.
‘We have both been unhappy, I am sure,’ said he. Then he paused that the promise might be made to him. He had certainly understood that it was to be made without reserve as an act on her part which she had fully consented to perform. But she stood silent, with one hand on the dressing table, looking away from him, very beautiful, and dignified too, in her manner; but not, as far as he could judge, either repentant or submissive. ‘Nora said that you would make me the promise which I ask from you.’
‘I cannot think, Louis, how you can want such a promise from me.’
‘I think it right to ask it; I do indeed.’
‘Can you imagine that I shall ever willingly see this gentleman again after what has occurred? It will be for you to tell the servant. I do not know how I can do that. But, as a matter of course, I will encourage no person to come to your house of whom you disapprove. It would be exactly the same of any man or of any woman.’ ‘That is all that I ask.’
‘I am surprised that you should have thought it necessary to make any formal request in the matter. Your word was quite sufficient. That you should find cause of complaint in Colonel Osborne’s coming here is of course a different thing.’
Quite a different thing,’ said he.
I cannot pretend to understand either your motives or your fears. I do not understand them. My own self-respect prevents me from supposing it to be possible that you have attributed an evil thought to me.’
Indeed, indeed, I never have,’ said the husband.
‘That I can assure you I regard as a matter of course,’ said the wife.
‘But you know, Emily, the way in which the world talks.’
‘The world! And do you regard the world, Louis?’
‘Lady Milborough, I believe, spoke to yourself.’
‘Lady Milborough! No, she did not speak to me. She began to do so, but I was careful to silence her at once. From you, Louis, I am bound to hear whatever you may choose to say to me; but I will not hear from any other lips a single word that may be injurious to your honour.’ This she said very quietly, with much dignity, and he felt that he had better not answer her. She had given him the promise which he had demanded, and he began to fear that if he pushed the matter further she might go back even from that amount of submission. So he kissed her again, and had the boy brought into the room, and by the time that he went to dress for dinner he was able, at any rate, to seem to be well pleased.
‘Richard,’ he said to the servant, as soon as he was downstairs, ‘when Colonel Osborne calls again, say’ that your mistress is not at home.’ He gave the order in the most indifferent tone of voice which he could assume; but as he gave it he felt thoroughly ashamed of it. Richard, who, with the other servants, had of course known that there had been a quarrel between his master and mistress for the last two days, no doubt understood all about it.
While they were sitting at dinner on the next day, a Saturday, there came another note from Colonel Osborne. The servant brought it to his mistress, and she, when she had looked at it, put it down by her plate. Trevelyan knew immediately from whom the letter had come, and understood how impossible it was for his wife to give it up in the servant’s presence. The letter lay there till the man was out of the room, and then she handed it to Nora. ‘Will you give that to Louis?’ she said. ‘It comes from the man whom he supposes to be my lover.’
‘Emily!’ said he, jumping from his seat, ‘how can you allow words so horrible and so untrue to fall from your mouth?’ ‘If it be not so, why am I to be placed in such a position as this? The servant knows, of course, from whom the letter comes, and sees that I have been forbidden to open it.’ Then the man returned to the room, and the remainder of the dinner passed off almost in silence. It was their custom when they dined without company to leave the dining-room together, but on this evening Trevelyan remained for a few minutes that he might read Colonel Osborne’s letter, He waited, standing on the rug with his face to the fire-place, till he was quite alone, and then he opened it. It ran as follows:
‘House of Commons, Saturday.
‘DEAR EMILY,’ Trevelyan, as he read this, cursed Colonel Osborne between his teeth.
I called this afternoon, but you were out. I am afraid you will be disappointed by what I have to tell you, but you should rather be glad of it. They say at the C.O. that Sir Marmaduke would not receive their letter if sent now till the middle of June, and that he could not be in London, let him do what he would, till the end of July. They hope to have the session over by that time, and therefore the committee is to be put off till next session. They mean to have Lord Bowles home from Canada, and they think that Bowles would like to be here in the winter. Sir Marmaduke will be summoned for February next, and will of course stretch his stay over the hot months. All this will, on the whole, be for the best. Lady Rowley could hardly have packed up her things and come away at a day’s notice, whatever your father might have done. I’ll call tomorrow at luncheon time.
There was nothing objectionable in this letter excepting always the ‘Dear Emily’ nothing which it was not imperative on Colonel Osborne to communicate to the person to whom it was addressed. Trevelyan must now go upstairs and tell the contents of the letter to his wife. But he felt that he had created for himself a terrible trouble. He must tell his wife what was in the letter, but the very telling of it would be a renewing of the soreness of his wound. And then what was to be done in reference to the threatened visit for the Sunday morning? Trevelyan knew very well that were his wife denied at that hour, Colonel Osborne would understand the whole matter. He had doubtless in his anger intended that Colonel Osborne should understand the whole matter; but he was calmer now than he had been then, and almost wished that the command given by him had not been so definite and imperious. He remained with his arm on the mantel-piece, thinking of it, for some ten minutes, and then went up into the drawing-room. ‘Emily,’ he said, walking up to the table at which she was sitting, ‘you had better read that letter.’
‘I would so much rather not,’ she replied haughtily.
‘Then Nora can read it. It concerns you both equally.’
Nora, with hesitating hand, took the letter and read it. ‘They are not to come after all,’ said she, ‘till next February.’
‘And why not?’ asked Mrs Trevelyan.
‘Something about the session. I don’t quite understand.’
‘Lord Bowles is to come from Canada,’ said Louis, ‘and they think he would prefer being here in the winter. I dare say he would.’
‘But what has that to do with papa?’
‘I suppose they must both be here together,’ said Nora.
‘I call that very hard indeed,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.
‘I can’t agree with you there,’ said her husband. ‘His coming at all is so much of a favour that it is almost a job.’
‘I don’t see that it is a job at all,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘Somebody is wanted, and nobody can know more of the service than papa does. But as the other man is a lord I suppose papa must give way. Does he say anything about mamma, Nora?’
‘You had better read the letter yourself,’ said Trevelyan, who was desirous that his wife should know of the threatened visit.
‘No, Louis, I shall not do that. You must not blow hot and cold too. Till the other day I should have thought that Colonel Osborne’s letters were as innocent as an old newspaper. As you have supposed them to be poisoned I will have nothing to do with them.’
This speech made him very angry. It seemed that his wife, who had yielded to him, was determined to take out the value of her submission in the most disagreeable words which she could utter. Nora now closed the letter and handed it back to her brother-inlaw. He laid it down on the table beside him, and sat for a while with his eyes fixed upon his book. At last he spoke again. ‘Colonel Osborne says that he will call tomorrow at luncheon time. You can admit him, if you please, and thank him for the trouble he has taken in this matter.’
‘I shall not remain in the room if he be admitted,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.
There was silence again for some minutes, and the cloud upon Trevelyan’s brow became blacker than before. Then he rose from his chair and walked round to the sofa on which his wife was sitting. ‘I presume,’ said he, ‘that your wishes and mine in this matter must be the same.’
‘I cannot tell what your wishes are,’ she replied. ‘I never was more in the dark on any subject in my life. My wishes at present are confined to a desire to save you as far as may be possible from the shame which must be attached to your own suspicions.’
‘I have never had any suspicions.’
‘A husband without suspicions does not intercept his wife’s letters. A husband without suspicions does not call in the aid of his servants to guard his wife. A husband without suspicions.’
‘Emily,’ exclaimed Nora Rowley, ‘how can you say such things on purpose to provoke him?’
‘Yes; on purpose to provoke me,’ said Trevelyan.
‘And have I not been provoked? Have I not been injured? You say now that you have not suspected me, and yet in what condition do I find myself? Because an old woman has chosen to talk scandal about me, I am placed in a position in my own house which is disgraceful to you and insupportable to myself. This man has been in the habit of coming here on Sundays, and will, of course, know that we are at home. You must manage it as you please. If you choose to receive him, I will go upstairs.’
‘Why can’t you let him come in and go away, just as usual?’ said Nora.
‘Because Louis has made me promise that I will never willingly be in his company again,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘I would have given the world to avoid a promise so disgraceful to me; but it was exacted, and it shall be kept.’ Having so spoken, she swept out of the room, and went upstairs to the nursery. Trevelyan sat for an hour with his book before him, reading or pretending to read, but his wife did not come downstairs. Then Nora went up to her, and he descended to his solitude below. So far he had hardly gained much by the enforced obedience of his wife.
On the next morning the three went to church together; as they were walking home Trevelyan’s heart was filled with returning gentleness towards his wife. He could not bear to be at wrath with her after the church service which they had just heard together. But he was softer-hearted than was she, and knowing this, was almost afraid to say anything that would again bring forth from her expressions of scorn. As soon as they were alone within the house he took her by the hand and led her apart. ‘Let all this be,’ said he, ‘as though it had never been.’
‘That will hardly be possible, Louis,’ she answered. ‘I cannot forget that I have been cautioned.’ ‘But cannot you bring yourself to believe that I have meant it all for your good?’
‘I have never doubted it, Louis never for a moment. But it has hurt me to find that you should think that such caution was needed for my good.’
It was almost on his tongue to beg her pardon, to acknowledge that he had made a mistake, and to implore her to forget that he had ever made an objection to Colonel Osborne’s visit. He remembered at this moment the painful odiousness of that ‘Dear Emily;’ but he had to reconcile himself even to that, telling himself that, after all, Colonel Osborne was an old man, a man older even than his wife’s father. If she would only have met him with gentleness, he would have withdrawn his command, and have acknowledged that he had been wrong. But she was hard, dignified, obedient, and resentful. ‘It will, I think,’ he said, ‘be better for both of us that he should be asked in to lunch today.’
‘You must judge of that,’ said Emily. ‘Perhaps, upon the whole, it will be best. I can only say that I will not be present. I will lunch upstairs with baby, and you can make what excuse for me you please.’ This was all very bad, but it was in this way that things were allowed to arrange themselves. Richard was told that Colonel Osborne was coming to lunch, and when he came something was muttered to him about Mrs Trevelyan being not quite well. It was Nora who told the innocent fib, and though she did not tell it well, she did her very best. She felt that her brother-inlaw was very wretched, and she was most anxious to relieve him. Colonel Osborne did not stay long, and then Nora went upstairs to her sister.
Louis Trevelyan felt that he had disgraced himself. He had meant to have been strong, and he had, as he knew, been very weak. He had meant to have acted in a high-minded, honest, manly manner; but circumstances had been so untoward with him, that on looking at his own conduct, it seemed to him to have been mean, and almost false and cowardly. As the order for the exclusion of this hated man from his house had been given, he should at any rate have stuck to the order. At the moment of his vacillation he had simply intended to make things easy for his wife; but she had taken advantage of his vacillation, and had now clearly conquered him. Perhaps he respected her more than he had done when he was resolving, three or four days since, that he would be the master in his own house; but it may be feared that the tenderness of his love for her had been impaired.
Late in the afternoon his wife and sister-inlaw came down dressed for walking, and, finding Trevelyan in the library, they asked him to join them; it was a custom with them to walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon, and he at once assented, and went out with them. Emily, who had had her triumph, was very gracious. There should not be a word more said by her about Colonel Osborne. She would avoid that gentleman, never receiving him in Curzon Street, and having as little to say to him as possible elsewhere; but she would not throw his name in her husband’s teeth, or make any reference to the injury which had so manifestly been done to her. Unless Louis should be indiscreet, it should be as though it had been forgotten. As they walked by Chesterfield House and Stanhope Street into the park, she began to discuss the sermon they had heard that morning, and when she found that that subject was not alluring, she spoke of a dinner to which they were to go at Mrs Fairfax’s house. Louis Trevelyan was quite aware that he was being treated as a naughty boy, who was to be forgiven.
They went across Hyde Park into Kensington Gardens, and still the same thing was going on. Nora found it to be almost impossible to say a word. Trevelyan answered his wife’s questions, but was otherwise silent. Emily worked very hard at her mission of forgiveness, and hardly ceased in her efforts at conciliatory conversation. Women can work so much harder in this way than men find it possible to do! She never flagged, but continued to be fluent, conciliatory, and intolerably wearisome. On a sudden they came across two men together, who, as they all knew, were barely acquainted with each other. These were Colonel Osborne and Hugh Stanbury. ‘I am glad to find you are able to be out,’ said the Colonel.
‘Thanks; yes. I think my seclusion just now was almost as much due to baby as to anything else. Mr Stanbury, how is it we never see you now?’
‘It is the D.R., Mrs Trevelyan nothing else. The D.R. is a most grateful mistress, but somewhat exacting. I am allowed a couple of hours on Sundays, but otherwise my time is wholly passed in Fleet Street.’
‘How very unpleasant.’
‘Well; yes. The unpleasantness of this world consists chiefly in the fact that when a man wants wages, he must earn them. The Christian philosophers have a theory about it. Don’t they call it the primeval fall, original sin, and that kind of thing?’
‘Mr Stanbury, I won’t have irreligion. I hope that doesn’t come from writing for the newspapers.’
‘Certainly not with me, Mrs Trevelyan. I have never been put on to take that branch yet. Scruby does that with us, and does it excellently. It was he who touched up the Ritualists, and then the Commission, and then the Low Church bishops, till he didn’t leave one of them a leg to stand upon.’
‘What is it, then, that the Daily Record upholds?’
‘It upholds the Daily Record. Believe in that and you will surely be saved.’ Then he turned to Miss Rowley, and they two were soon walking on together, each manifestly interested in what the other was saying, though there was no word of tenderness spoken between them.
Colonel Osborne was now between Mr and Mrs Trevelyan. She would have avoided the position had it been possible for her to do so. While they were falling into their present places, she had made a little mute appeal to her husband to take her away from the spot, to give her his arm and return with her, to save her in some way from remaining in company with the man to whose company for her he had objected; but he took no such step. It had seemed to him that he could take no such step without showing his hostility to Colonel Osborne.
They walked on along the broad path together, and the Colonel was between them.
‘I hope you think it satisfactory about Sir Rowley,’ he said.
‘Beggars must not be choosers, you know, Colonel Osborne. I felt a little disappointed when I found that we were not to see them till February next.’
‘They will stay longer then, you know, than they could now.’
‘I have no doubt when the time comes we shall all believe it to be better.’
‘I suppose you think, Emily, that a little pudding today is better than much tomorrow.’
Colonel Osborne certainly had a caressing, would-be affectionate mode of talking to women, which, unless it were reciprocated and enjoyed, was likely to make itself disagreeable. No possible words could have been more innocent than those he had now spoken; but he had turned his face down close to her face, and had almost whispered them. And then, too, he had again called her by her Christian name. Trevelyan had not heard the words. He had walked on, making the distance between him and the other man greater than was necessary, anxious to show to his wife that he had no jealousy at such a meeting as this. But his wife was determined that she would put an end to this state of things, let the cost be what it might. She did not say a word to Colonel Osborne, but addressed herself at once to her husband. ‘Louis,’ she said, ‘will you give me your arm? We will go back, if you please.’ Then she took her husband’s arm and turned herself and him abruptly away from their companion.
The thing was done in such a manner that it was impossible that Colonel Osborne should not perceive that he had been left in anger. When Trevelyan and his wife had gone back a few yards, he was obliged to return for Nora. He did so, and then rejoined his wife.
‘It was quite unnecessary, Emily,’ he said, ‘that you should behave like that.’
‘Your suspicions,’ she said, ‘have made it almost impossible for me to behave with propriety.’
‘You have told him everything now,’ said Trevelyan.
‘And it was requisite that he should be told,’ said his wife. Then they walked home without interchanging another word. When they reached their house, Emily at once went up to her own room, and Trevelyan to his. They parted as though they had no common interest which was worthy of a moment’s conversation. And she by her step, and gait, and every movement of her body showed to him that she was not his wife now in any sense that could bring to him a feeling of domestic happiness. Her compliance with his command was of no use to him unless she could be brought to comply in spirit. Unless she would be soft to him he could not be happy. He walked about his room uneasily for half-an-hour, trying to shake off his sorrow, and then he went up to her room. ‘Emily,’ he said, ‘for God’s sake let all this pass away.’
‘What is to pass away?’
‘This feeling of rancour between you and me. What is the world to us unless we can love one another? At any rate it will be nothing to me.’
‘Do you doubt my love?’ said she.
‘No; certainly not.’
‘Nor I yours. Without love, Louis, you and I can not be happy. But love alone will not make us so. There must be trust, and there must also be forbearance. My feeling of annoyance will pass away in time; and till it does, I will shew it as little as may be possible.’
He felt that he had nothing more to say, and then he left her; but he had gained nothing by the interview. She was still hard and cold, and still assumed a tone which seemed to imply that she had manifestly been the injured person.
Colonel Osborne, when he was left alone, stood for a few moments on the spot, and then with a whistle, a shake of the head, and a little low chuckle of laughter, rejoined the crowd.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14