On one Sunday morning, when the month of May was nearly over, Hugh Stanbury met Colonel Osborne in Curzon Street, not many yards from Trevelyan’s door. Colonel Osborne had just come from the house, and Stanbury was going to it. Hugh had not spoken to Osborne since the day, now a fortnight since, on which both of them had witnessed the scene in the park; but on that occasion they had been left together, and it had been impossible for them not to say a few words about their mutual friends. Osborne had expressed his sorrow that there should be any misunderstanding, and had called Trevelyan a ‘confounded fool.’ Stanbury had suggested that there was something in it which they two probably did not understand, and that matters would be sure to come all right. ‘The truth is Trevelyan bullies her,’ said Osborne; ‘and if he goes on with that he’ll be sure to get the worst of it.’ Now on this present occasion Stanbury asked whether he would find the ladies at home. ‘Yes, they are both there,’ said Osborne. ‘Trevelyan has just gone out in a huff. She’ll never be able to go on living with him. Anybody can see that with half an eye.’ Then he had passed on, and Hugh Stanbury knocked at the door.
He was shown up into the drawing-room, and found both the sisters there; but he could see that Mrs Trevelyan had been in tears. The avowed purpose of his visit — that is, the purpose which he had avowed to himself — was to talk about his sister Dorothy. He had told Miss Rowley, while walking in the park with her, how Dorothy had been invited over to Exeter by her aunt, and how he had counselled his sister to accept the invitation. Nora had expressed herself very interested as to Dorothy’s fate, and had said how much she wished that she knew Dorothy. We all understand how sweet it is, when two such persons as Hugh Stanbury and Nora Rowley cannot speak of their love for each other, to say these tender things in regard to some one else. Nora had been quite anxious to know how Dorothy had been received by that old conservative warrior, as Hugh Stanbury had called his aunt, and Hugh had now come to Curzon Street with a letter from Dorothy in his pocket. But when he saw that there had been some cause for trouble, he hardly knew how to introduce his subject.
‘Trevelyan is not at home?’ he asked.
‘No,’ said Emily, with her face turned away. ‘He went out and left us a quarter of an hour since. Did you meet Colonel Osborne?’
‘I was speaking to him in the street not a moment since.’ As he answered he could see that Nora was making some sign to her sister. Nora was most anxious that Emily should not speak of what had just occurred, but her signs were all thrown away. ‘Somebody must tell him,’ said Mrs Trevelyan, ‘and I don’t know who can do so better than so old a friend as Mr Stanbury.’
‘Tell what, and to whom?’ he asked.
‘No, no, no,’ said Nora.
‘Then I must tell him myself,’ said she, ‘that is all. As for standing this kind of life, it is out of the question. I should either destroy myself or go mad.’
‘If I could do any good I should be so happy,’ said Stanbury.
‘Nobody can do any good between a man and wife,’ said Nora.
Then Mrs Trevelyan began to tell her story, putting aside, with an impatient motion of her hands, the efforts which her sister made to stop her. She was very angry, and as she told it, standing up, all trace of sobbing soon disappeared from her voice. ‘The fact is,’ she said, ‘he does not know his own mind, or what to fear or what not to fear. He told me that I was never to see Colonel Osborne again.
‘What is the use, Emily, of your repeating that to Mr Stanbury?’
‘Why should I not repeat it? Colonel Osborne is papa’s oldest friend, and mine too. He is a man I like very much, who is a real friend to me. As he is old enough to be my father, one would have thought that my husband could have found no objection.’
‘I don’t know much about his age,’ said Stanbury.
‘It does make a difference. It must make a difference. I should not think of becoming so intimate with a younger man. But, however, when my husband told me that I was to see him no more, though the insult nearly killed me, I determined to obey him. An order was given that Colonel Osborne should not be admitted. You may imagine how painful it was; but it was given, and I was prepared to bear it.’
‘But he had been lunching with you on that Sunday.’
‘Yes; that is just it. As soon as it was given Louis would rescind it, because he was ashamed of what he had done. He was so jealous that he did not want me to see the man; and yet he was so afraid that it should be known that he ordered me to see him. He ordered him into the house at last, and I— I went away upstairs.’
‘That was on the Sunday that we met you in the park?’ asked Stanbury.
‘What is the use of going back to all that?’ said Nora.
‘Then I met him by chance in the park,’ continued Mrs Trevelyan, ‘and because he said a word which I knew would anger my husband, I left him abruptly. Since that my husband has begged that things might go on as they were before. He could not bear that Colonel Osborne himself should think that he was jealous. Well; I gave way, and the man has been here as before. And now there has been a scene which has been disgraceful to us all. I cannot stand it, and I won’t. If he does not behave himself with more manliness I will leave him.’
‘But what can I do?’
‘Nothing, Mr Stanbury,’ said Nora.
‘Yes; you can do this. You can go to him from me, and can tell him that I have chosen you as a messenger because you are his friend. You can tell him that I am willing to obey him in anything. If he chooses, I will consent that Colonel Osborne shall be asked never to come into my presence again. It will be very absurd; but if he chooses, I will consent. Or I will let things go on as they are, and continue to receive my father’s old friend when he comes. But if I do, I will not put up with an imputation on my conduct because he does not like the way in which the gentleman thinks fit to address me. I take upon myself to say that if any man alive spoke to me as he ought not to speak, I should know how to resent it myself. But I cannot fly into a passion with an old gentleman for calling me by my Christian name, when he has done so habitually for years.’
From all this it will appear that the great godsend of a rich marriage, with all manner of attendant comforts, which had come in the way of the Rowley family as they were living at the Mandarins, had not turned out to be an unmixed blessing. In the matter of the quarrel, as it had hitherto progressed, the husband had perhaps been more in the wrong than his wife; but the wife, in spite of all her promises of perfect obedience, had proved herself to be a woman very hard to manage. Had she been earnest in her desire to please her lord and master in this matter of Colonel Osborne’s visits, to please him even after he had so vacillated in his own behests, she might probably have so received the man as to have quelled all feeling of jealousy in her husband’s bosom. But instead of doing so she had told herself that as she was innocent, and as her innocence had been acknowledged, and as she had been specially instructed to receive this man whom she had before been specially instructed not to receive, she would now fall back exactly into her old manner with him. She had told Colonel Osborne never to allude to that meeting in the park, and to ask no creature as to what had occasioned her conduct on that Sunday; thus having a mystery with him, which of course he understood as well as she did. And then she had again taken to writing notes to him and receiving notes from him — none of which she showed to her husband. She was more intimate with him than ever, and yet she hardly ever mentioned his name to her husband. Trevelyan, acknowledging to himself that he had done no good by his former interference, feeling that he had put himself in the wrong on that occasion, and that his wife had got the better of him, had borne with all this with soreness and a moody savageness of general conduct, but still without further words of anger with reference to the man himself. But now, on this Sunday, when his wife had been closeted with Colonel Osborne in the back drawing-room, leaving him with his sister-inlaw, his temper had become too hot for him, and he had suddenly left the house, declaring that he would not walk with the two women on that day. ‘Why not, Louis?’ his wife had said, coming up to him. ‘Never mind why not, but I shall not,’ he had answered; and then he left the room.
‘What is the matter with him?’ Colonel Osborne had asked.
‘It is impossible to say what is the matter with him,’ Mrs Trevelyan had replied. After that she had at once gone upstairs to her child, telling herself that she was doing all that the strictest propriety could require in leaving the man’s society as soon as her husband was gone. Then there was an awkward minute or two between Nora and Colonel Osborne, and he took his leave.
Stanbury at last promised that he would see Trevelyan, repeating, however, very frequently that often used assertion, that no task is so hopeless as that of interfering between a man and his wife. Nevertheless he promised, and undertook to look for Trevelyan at the Acrobats on that afternoon. At last he got a moment in which to produce the letter from his sister, and was able to turn the conversation for a few minutes to his own affairs. Dorothy’s letter was read and discussed by both the ladies with much zeal. ‘It is quite a strange world to me,’ said Dorothy, ‘but I am beginning to find myself more at my ease than I was at first. Aunt Stanbury is very good-natured, and when I know what she wants, I think I shall be able to please her. What you said of her disposition is not so bad to me, as of course a girl in my position does not expect to have her own way.’
‘Why shouldn’t she have her share of her own way as well as anybody else?’ said Mrs Trevelyan.
‘Poor Dorothy would never want to have her own way,’ said Hugh.
‘She ought to want it,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.
‘She has spirit enough to turn if she’s trodden on,’ said Hugh.
‘That’s more than what most women have,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.
Then he went on with the letter. ‘She is very generous, and has given me 6 pounds 5s in advance of my allowance. When I said I would send part of it home to mamma, she seemed to be angry, and said that she wanted me always to look nice about my clothes. She told me afterwards to do as I pleased, and that I might try my own way for the first quarter. So I was frightened, and only sent thirty shillings. We went out the other evening to drink tea with Mrs MacHugh, an old lady whose husband was once dean. I had to go, and it was all very nice. There were a great many clergymen there, but many of them were young men.’ ‘Poor Dorothy,’ exclaimed Nora. ‘One of them was the minor canon who chants the service every morning. He is a bachelor.’ ‘Then there is a hope for her,’ said Nora ‘and he always talks a little as though he were singing the Litany.’ ‘That’s very bad,’ said Nora; ‘fancy having a husband to sing the Litany to you always.’ ‘Better that, perhaps, than having him always singing something else,’ said Mrs Trevelyan.
It was decided between them that Dorothy’s state might on the whole be considered as flourishing, but that Hugh was bound as a brother to go down to Exeter and look after her. He explained, however, that he was expressly debarred from calling on his sister, even between the hours of half-past nine and half-past twelve on Wednesday mornings, and that he could not see her at all unless he did so surreptitiously.
‘If I were you I would see my sister in spite of all the old viragos in Exeter,’ said Mrs Trevelyan. ‘I have no idea of anybody taking so much upon themselves.’
‘You must remember, Mrs Trevelyan, that she has taken upon herself much also in the way of kindness, in doing what perhaps I ought to call charity. I wonder what I should have been doing now if it were not for my Aunt Stanbury.’
He took his leave, and went at once from Curzon Street to Trevelyan’s club, and found that Trevelyan had not been there as yet. In another hour he called again, and was about to give it up, when he met the man whom he was seeking on the steps.
‘I was looking for you,’ he said.
‘Well, here I am.’
It was impossible not to see in the look of Trevelyan’s face, and not to hear in the tone of his voice, that he was, at the moment, in an angry and unhappy frame of mind. He did not move as though he were willing to accompany his friend, and seemed almost to know beforehand that the approaching interview was to be an unpleasant one.
‘I want to speak to you, and perhaps you wouldn’t mind taking a turn with me,’ said Stanbury.
But Trevelyan objected to this, and led the way into the club waiting-room. A club waiting-room is always a gloomy, unpromising place for a confidential conversation, and so Stanbury felt it to be on the present occasion. But he had no alternative. There they were together, and he must do as he had promised. Trevelyan kept on his hat and did not sit down, and looked very gloomy. Stanbury having to commence without any assistance from outward auxiliaries, almost forgot what it was that he had promised to do.
‘I have just come from Curzon Street,’ he said.
‘At least I was there about two hours ago.’
‘It doesn’t matter, I suppose, whether it was two hours or two minutes,’ said Trevelyan.
‘Not in the least. The fact is this; I happened to come upon the two girls there, when they were very unhappy, and your wife asked me to come and say a word or two to you.’
‘Was Colonel Osborne there?’
‘No; I had met him in the street a minute or two before.’
‘Well, now; look here, Stanbury. If you’ll take my advice, you’ll keep your hands out of this. It is not but that I regard you as being as good a friend as I have in the world; but, to own the truth, I cannot put up with interference between myself and my wife.’
‘Of course you understand that I only come as a messenger.’
‘You had better not be a messenger in such a cause. If she has anything to say she can say it to myself.’
‘Am I to understand that you will not listen to me?’
‘I had rather not.’
‘I think you are wrong,’ said Stanbury.
‘In that matter you must allow me to judge for myself. I can easily understand that a young woman like her, especially with her sister to back her, should induce such a one as you to take her part.’
‘I am taking nobody’s part. You wrong your wife, and you especially wrong Miss Rowley.’
‘If you please, Stanbury, we will say nothing more about it.’ This Trevelyan said holding the door of the room half open in his hand, so that the other was obliged to pass out through it.
‘Good evening,’ said Stanbury, with much anger.
‘Good evening,’ said Trevelyan, with an assumption of indifference.
Stanbury went away in absolute wrath, though the trouble which he had had in the interview was much less than he had anticipated, and the result quite as favourable. He had known that no good would come of his visit. And yet he was now full of anger against Trevelyan, and had become a partisan in the matter which was exactly that which he had resolutely determined that he would not become. ‘I believe that no woman on earth could live with him,’ he said to himself as he walked away. ‘It was always the same with him — a desire for mastery, which he did not know how to use when he had obtained it. If it were Nora, instead of the other sister, he would break her sweet heart within a month.’
Trevelyan dined at his club, and hardly spoke a word to any one during the evening. At about eleven he started to walk home, but went by no means straight thither, taking a long turn through St. James’s Park, and by Pimlico. It was necessary that he should make up his mind as to what he would do. He had sternly refused the interference of a friend, and he must be prepared to act on his own responsibility. He knew well that he could not begin again with his wife on the next day as though nothing had happened. Stanbury’s visit to him, if it had done nothing else, had made this impossible. He determined that he would not go to her room to-night, but would see her as early as possible in the morning and would then talk to her with all the wisdom of which he was master.
How many husbands have come to the same resolution; and how few of them have found the words of wisdom to be efficacious!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01