Louis Trevelyan went down to his club in Pall Mall, the Acrobats, and there heard a rumour that added to his anger against Colonel Osborne. The Acrobats was a very distinguished club, into which it was now difficult for a young man to find his way, and almost impossible for a man who was no longer young, and therefore known to many. It had been founded some twenty years since with the idea of promoting muscular exercise and gymnastic amusements; but the promoters had become fat and lethargic, and the Acrobats spent their time mostly in playing whist, and in ordering and eating their dinners. There were supposed to be, in some out-of-the-way part of the building, certain poles and sticks and parallel bars with which feats of activity might be practised, but no one ever asked for them now-a-days, and a man, when he became an Acrobat, did so with a view either to the whist or the cook, or possibly to the social excellences of the club. Louis Trevelyan was an Acrobat;—as was also Colonel Osborne.
"So old Rowley is coming home," said one distinguished Acrobat to another in Trevelyan's hearing.
"How the deuce is he managing that? He was here a year ago?"
"Osborne is getting it done. He is to come as a witness for this committee. It must be no end of a lounge for him. It doesn't count as leave, and he has every shilling paid for him, down to his cab-fares when he goes out to dinner. There's nothing like having a friend at Court."
Such was the secrecy of Colonel Osborne's secret! He had been so chary of having his name mentioned in connection with a political job, that he had found it necessary to impose on his young friend the burden of a secret from her husband, and yet the husband heard the whole story told openly at his club on the same day! There was nothing in the story to anger Trevelyan had he not immediately felt that there must be some plan in the matter between his wife and Colonel Osborne, of which he had been kept ignorant. Hitherto, indeed, his wife, as the reader knows, could not have told him. He had not seen her since the matter had been discussed between her and her friend. But he was angry because he first learned at his club that which he thought he ought to have learned at home.
As soon as he reached his house he went at once to his wife's room, but her maid was with her, and nothing could be said at that moment. He then dressed himself, intending to go to Emily as soon as the girl had left her; but the girl remained,—was, as he believed, kept in the room purposely by his wife, so that he should have no moment of private conversation. He went down-stairs, therefore, and found Nora standing by the drawing-room fire.
"So you are dressed first to-day?" he said. "I thought your turn always came last."
"Emily sent Jenny to me first to-day because she thought you would be home, and she didn't go up to dress till the last minute."
This was intended well by Nora, but it did not have the desired effect. Trevelyan, who had no command over his own features, frowned, and showed that he was displeased. He hesitated a moment, thinking whether he would ask Nora any question as to this report about her father and mother; but, before he had spoken, his wife was in the room.
"We are all late, I fear," said Emily.
"You, at any rate, are the last," said her husband.
"About half a minute," said the wife.
Then they got into the hired brougham which was standing at the door.
Trevelyan, in the sweet days of his early confidence with his wife, had offered to keep a carriage for her, explaining to her that the luxury, though costly, would not be beyond his reach. But she had persuaded him against the carriage, and there had come to be an agreement that instead of the carriage there should always be an autumn tour. "One learns something from going about; but one learns nothing from keeping a carriage," Emily had said. Those had been happy days, in which it had been intended that everything should always be rose-coloured. Now he was meditating whether, in lieu of that autumn tour, it would not be necessary to take his wife away to Naples altogether, so that she might be removed from the influence of—of—of—; no, not even to himself would he think of Colonel Osborne as his wife's lover. The idea was too horrible! And yet, how dreadful was it that he should have, for any reason, to withdraw her from the influence of any man!
Lady Milborough lived ever so far away, in Eccleston Square, but Trevelyan did not say a single word to either of his companions during the journey. He was cross and vexed, and was conscious that they knew that he was cross and vexed. Mrs. Trevelyan and her sister talked to each other the whole way, but they did so in that tone which clearly indicates that the conversation is made up, not for any interest attached to the questions asked or the answers given, but because it is expedient that there should not be silence. Nora said something about Marshall and Snellgrove, and tried to make believe that she was very anxious for her sister's answer. And Emily said something about the opera at Covent Garden, which was intended to show that her mind was quite at ease. But both of them failed altogether, and knew that they failed. Once or twice Trevelyan thought that he would say a word in token, as it were, of repentance. Like the naughty child who knew that he was naughty, he was trying to be good. But he could not do it. The fiend was too strong within him. She must have known that there was a proposition for her father's return through Colonel Osborne's influence. As that man at the club had heard it, how could she not have known it? When they got out at Lady Milborough's door he had spoken to neither of them.
There was a large dull party, made up mostly of old people. Lady Milborough and Trevelyan's mother had been bosom friends, and Lady Milborough had on this account taken upon herself to be much interested in Trevelyan's wife. But Louis Trevelyan himself, in discussing Lady Milborough with Emily, had rather turned his mother's old friend into ridicule, and Emily had, of course, followed her husband's mode of thinking. Lady Milborough had once or twice given her some advice on small matters, telling her that this or that air would be good for her baby, and explaining that a mother during a certain interesting portion of her life, should refresh herself with a certain kind of malt liquor. Of all counsel on such domestic subjects Mrs. Trevelyan was impatient,—as indeed it was her nature to be in all matters, and consequently, authorized as she had been by her husband's manner of speaking of his mother's friend, she had taken a habit of quizzing Lady Milborough behind her back, and almost of continuing the practice before the old lady's face. Lady Milborough, who was the most affectionate old soul alive, and good-tempered with her friends to a fault, had never resented this, but had come to fear that Mrs. Trevelyan was perhaps a little flighty. She had never as yet allowed herself to say anything worse of her young friend's wife than that. And she would always add that that kind of thing would cure itself as the nursery became full. It must be understood therefore that Mrs. Trevelyan was not anticipating much pleasure from Lady Milborough's party, and that she had accepted the invitation as a matter of duty.
There was present among the guests a certain Honourable Charles Glascock, the eldest son of Lord Peterborough, who made the affair more interesting to Nora than it was to her sister. It had been whispered into Nora's ears, by more than one person,—and among others by Lady Milborough, whose own daughters were all married,—that she might, if she thought fit, become the Honourable Mrs. Charles Glascock. Now, whether she might think fit, or whether she might not, the presence of the gentleman under such circumstances, as far as she was concerned, gave an interest to the evening. And as Lady Milborough took care that Mr. Glascock should take Nora down to dinner, the interest was very great. Mr. Glascock was a good-looking man, just under forty, in Parliament, heir to a peerage, and known to be well off in respect to income. Lady Milborough and Mrs. Trevelyan had told Nora Rowley that should encouragement in that direction come in her way, she ought to allow herself to fall in love with Mr. Glascock. A certain amount of encouragement had come in her way, but she had not as yet allowed herself to fall in love with Mr. Glascock. It seemed to her that Mr. Glascock was quite conscious of the advantages of his own position, and that his powers of talking about other matters than those with which he was immediately connected were limited. She did believe that he had in truth paid her the compliment of falling in love with her, and this is a compliment to which few girls are indifferent. Nora might perhaps have tried to fall in love with Mr. Glascock, had she not been forced to make comparisons between him and another. This other one had not fallen in love with her, as she well knew; and she certainly had not fallen in love with him. But still, the comparison was forced upon her, and it did not result in favour of Mr. Glascock. On the present occasion Mr. Glascock as he sat next to her almost proposed to her.
"You have never seen Monkhams?" he said. Monkhams was his father's seat, a very grand place in Worcestershire. Of course he knew very well that she had never seen Monkhams. How should she have seen it?
"I have never been in that part of England at all," she replied.
"I should so like to show you Monkhams. The oaks there are the finest in the kingdom. Do you like oaks?"
"Who does not like oaks? But we have none in the islands, and nobody has ever seen so few as I have."
"I'll show you Monkhams some day. Shall I? Indeed, I hope that some day I may really show you Monkhams."
Now when an unmarried man talks to a young lady of really showing her the house in which it will be his destiny to live, he can hardly mean other than to invite her to live there with him. It must at least be his purpose to signify that, if duly encouraged, he will so invite her. But Nora Rowley did not give Mr. Glascock much encouragement on this occasion.
"I'm afraid it is not likely that anything will ever take me into that part of the country," she said. There was something perhaps in her tone which checked Mr. Glascock, so that he did not then press the invitation.
When the ladies were up-stairs in the drawing-room, Lady Milborough contrived to seat herself on a couch intended for two persons only, close to Mrs. Trevelyan. Emily, thinking that she might perhaps hear some advice about Guinness's stout, prepared herself to be saucy. But the matter in hand was graver than that. Lady Milborough's mind was uneasy about Colonel Osborne.
"My dear," said she, "was not your father very intimate with that Colonel Osborne?"
"He is very intimate with him, Lady Milborough."
"Ah, yes; I thought I had heard so. That makes it of course natural that you should know him."
"We have known him all our lives," said Emily, forgetting probably that out of the twenty-three years and some months which she had hitherto lived, there had been a consecutive period of more than twenty years in which she had never seen this man whom she had known all her life.
"That makes a difference, of course; and I don't mean to say anything against him."
"I hope not, Lady Milborough, because we are all especially fond of him." This was said with so much of purpose, that poor, dear old Lady Milborough was stopped in her good work. She knew well the terrible strait to which Augustus Poole had been brought with his wife, although nobody supposed that Poole's wife had ever entertained a wrong thought in her pretty little heart. Nevertheless he had been compelled to break up his establishment, and take his wife to Naples, because this horrid Colonel would make himself at home in Mrs. Poole's drawing-room in Knightsbridge. Augustus Poole, with courage enough to take any man by the beard, had taking by the beard been possible, had found it impossible to dislodge the Colonel. He could not do so without making a row which would have been disgraceful to himself and injurious to his wife; and therefore he had taken Mrs. Poole to Naples. Lady Milborough knew the whole story, and thought that she foresaw that the same thing was about to happen in the drawing-room in Curzon Street. When she attempted to say a word to the wife, she found herself stopped. She could not go on in that quarter after the reception with which the beginning of her word had been met. But perhaps she might succeed better with the husband. After all, her friendship was with the Trevelyan side, and not with the Rowleys.
"My dear Louis," she said, "I want to speak a word to you. Come here." And then she led him into a distant corner, Mrs. Trevelyan watching her all the while, and guessing why her husband was thus carried away. "I just want to give you a little hint, which I am sure I believe is quite unnecessary," continued Lady Milborough. Then she paused, but Trevelyan would not speak. She looked into his face, and saw that it was black. But the man was the only child of her dearest friend, and she persevered. "Do you know I don't quite like that Colonel Osborne coming so much to your house." The face before her became still blacker, but still the man said nothing. "I dare say it is a prejudice on my part, but I have always disliked him. I think he is a dangerous friend;—what I call a snake in the grass. And though Emily's high good sense, and love for you, and general feelings on such a subject, are just what a husband must desire—Indeed, I am quite sure that the possibility of anything wrong has never entered into her head. But it is the very purity of her innocence which makes the danger. He is a bad man, and I would just say a word to her, if I were you, to make her understand that his coming to her of a morning is not desirable. Upon my word, I believe there is nothing he likes so much as going about and making mischief between men and their wives."
Thus she delivered herself; and Louis Trevelyan, though he was sore and angry, could not but feel that she had taken the part of a friend. All that she had said had been true; all that she had said to him he had said to himself more than once. He too hated the man. He believed him to be a snake in the grass. But it was intolerably bitter to him that he should be warned about his wife's conduct by any living human being; that he, to whom the world had been so full of good fortune,—that he, who had in truth taught himself to think that he deserved so much good fortune, should be made the subject of care on behalf of his friend, because of danger between himself and his wife! On the spur of the moment he did not know what answer to make. "He is not a man whom I like myself," he said.
"Just be careful, Louis, that is all," said Lady Milborough, and then she was gone.
To be cautioned about his wife's conduct cannot be pleasant to any man, and it was very unpleasant to Louis Trevelyan. He, too, had been asked a question about Sir Marmaduke's expected visit to England after the ladies had left the room. All the town had heard of it except himself. He hardly spoke another word that evening till the brougham was announced; and his wife had observed his silence. When they were seated in the carriage, he together with his wife and Nora Rowley, he immediately asked a question about Sir Marmaduke. "Emily," he said, "is there any truth in a report I hear that your father is coming home?" No answer was made, and for a moment or two there was silence. "You must have heard of it, then," he said. "Perhaps you can tell me, Nora, as Emily will not reply. Have you heard anything of your father's coming?"
"Yes; I have heard of it," said Nora slowly.
"And why have I not been told?"
"It was to be kept a secret," said Mrs. Trevelyan boldly.
"A secret from me; and everybody else knows it! And why was it to be a secret?"
"Colonel Osborne did not wish that it should be known," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"And what has Colonel Osborne to do between you and your father in any matter with which I may not be made acquainted? I will have nothing more between you and Colonel Osborne. You shall not see Colonel Osborne. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, I hear you, Louis."
"And do you mean to obey me? By G——, you shall obey me. Remember this, that I lay my positive order upon you, that you shall not see Colonel Osborne again. You do not know it, perhaps, but you are already forfeiting your reputation as an honest woman, and bringing disgrace upon me by your familiarity with Colonel Osborne."
"Oh, Louis, do not say that!" said Nora.
"You had better let him speak it all at once," said Emily.
"I have said what I have got to say. It is now only necessary that you should give me your solemn assurance that you will obey me."
"If you have said all that you have to say, perhaps you will listen to me," said his wife.
"I will listen to nothing till you have given me your promise."
"Then I certainly shall not give it you."
"Dear Emily, pray, pray do what he tells you," said Nora.
"She has yet to learn that it is her duty to do as I tell her," said Trevelyan. "And because she is obstinate, and will not learn from those who know better than herself what a woman may do, and what she may not, she will ruin herself, and destroy my happiness."
"I know that you have destroyed my happiness by your unreasonable jealousy," said the wife. "Have you considered what I must feel in having such words addressed to me by my husband? If I am fit to be told that I must promise not to see any man living, I cannot be fit to be any man's wife." Then she burst out into an hysterical fit of tears, and in this condition she got out of the carriage, entered her house, and hurried up to her own room.
"Indeed, she has not been to blame," said Nora to Trevelyan on the staircase.
"Why has there been a secret kept from me between her and this man; and that too, after I had cautioned her against being intimate with him? I am sorry that she should suffer; but it is better that she should suffer a little now, than that we should both suffer much by-and-by."
Nora endeavoured to explain to him the truth about the committee, and Colonel Osborne's promised influence, and the reason why there was to be a secret. But she was too much in a hurry to get to her sister to make the matter plain, and he was too much angered to listen to her. He shook his head when she spoke of Colonel Osborne's dislike to have his name mentioned in connection with the matter. "All the world knows it," he said with scornful laughter.
It was in vain that Nora endeavoured to explain to him that though all the world might know it, Emily herself had only heard of the proposition as a thing quite unsettled, as to which nothing at present should be spoken openly. It was in vain to endeavour to make peace on that night. Nora hurried up to her sister, and found that the hysterical tears had again given place to anger. She would not see her husband, unless he would beg her pardon; and he would not see her unless she would give the promise he demanded. And the husband and wife did not see each other again on that night.