So he lived on a wretched life in London. He could hardly endure to show himself at his club, fearing that every one would be talking of him as the man who was separated from his wife,—perhaps as the man of whose wife Colonel Osborne was the dear friend. No doubt for a day or two there had been much of such conversation; but it had died away from the club long before his consciousness had become callous. At first he had gone into a lodging in Mayfair; but this had been but for a day or two. After that he had taken a set of furnished chambers in Lincoln's Inn, immediately under those in which Stanbury lived; and thus it came to pass that he and Stanbury were very much thrown together. As Trevelyan would always talk of his wife this was rather a bore; but our friend bore with it, and would even continue to instruct the world through the columns of the D. R. while Trevelyan was descanting on the peculiar cruelty of his own position.
"I wish to be just, and even generous; and I do love her with all my heart," he said one afternoon, when Hugh was very hard at work.
"'It is all very well for gentlemen to call themselves reformers,'" Hugh was writing, "'but have these gentlemen ever realised to themselves the meaning of that word? We think that they have never done so as long as—' Of course you love her," said Hugh, with his eyes still on the paper, still leaning on his pen, but finding by the cessation of sound that Trevelyan had paused, and therefore knowing that it was necessary that he should speak.
"As much as ever," said Trevelyan, with energy.
"'As long as they follow such a leader, in such a cause, into whichever lobby he may choose to take them—' Exactly so,—exactly," said Stanbury; "just as much as ever."
"You are not listening to a word," said Trevelyan.
"I haven't missed a single expression you have used," said Stanbury. "But a fellow has to do two things at a time when he's on the daily press."
"I beg your pardon for interrupting you," said Trevelyan, angrily, getting up, taking his hat, and stalking off to the house of Lady Milborough. In this way he became rather a bore to his friends. He could not divest his mind of the injury which had accrued to him from his wife's conduct, nor could he help talking of the grief with which his mind was laden. And he was troubled with sore suspicions, which, as far as they concerned his wife, had certainly not been merited. It had seemed to him that she had persisted in her intimacy with Colonel Osborne in a manner that was not compatible with that wife-like indifference which he regarded as her duty. Why had she written to him and received letters from him when her husband had plainly told her that any such communication was objectionable? She had done so, and as far as Trevelyan could remember her words, had plainly declared that she would continue to do so. He had sent her away into the most remote retirement he could find for her; but the post was open to her. He had heard much of Mrs. Stanbury, and of Priscilla, from his friend Hugh, and thoroughly believed that his wife was in respectable hands. But what was to prevent Colonel Osborne from going after her, if he chose to do so? And if he did so choose, Mrs. Stanbury could not prevent their meeting. He was racked with jealousy, and yet he did not cease to declare to himself that he knew his wife too well to believe that she would sin. He could not rid himself of his jealousy, but he tried with all his might to make the man whom he hated the object of it, rather than the woman whom he loved.
He hated Colonel Osborne with all his heart. It was a regret to him that the days of duelling were over, so that he could not shoot the man. And yet, had duelling been possible to him, Colonel Osborne had done nothing that would have justified him in calling his enemy out, or would even have enabled him to do so with any chance of inducing his enemy to fight. Circumstances, he thought, were cruel to him beyond compare, in that he should have been made to suffer so great torment without having any of the satisfaction of revenge. Even Lady Milborough, with all her horror as to the Colonel, could not tell him that the Colonel was amenable to any punishment. He was advised that he must take his wife away and live at Naples because of this man,—that he must banish himself entirely if he chose to repossess himself of his wife and child;—and yet nothing could be done to the unprincipled rascal by whom all his wrongs and sufferings were occasioned! Thinking it very possible that Colonel Osborne would follow his wife, he had a watch set upon the Colonel. He had found a retired policeman,—a most discreet man, as he was assured,—who, for a consideration, undertook the management of interesting jobs of this kind. The man was one Bozzle, who had not lived without a certain reputation in the police courts. In these days of his madness, therefore, he took Mr. Bozzle into his pay; and after a while he got a letter from Bozzle with the Exeter post-mark. Colonel Osborne had left London with a ticket for Lessboro'. Bozzle also had taken a place by the same train for that small town. The letter was written in the railway carriage, and, as Bozzle explained, would be posted by him as he passed through Exeter. A further communication should be made by the next day's post, in a letter which Mr. Bozzle proposed to address to Z. A., Post-office, Waterloo Place.
On receiving this first letter, Trevelyan was in an agony of doubt, as well as misery. What should he do? Should he go to Lady Milborough, or to Stanbury; or should he at once follow Colonel Osborne and Mr. Bozzle to Lessboro'? It ended in his resolving at last to wait for the letter which was to be addressed to Z. A. But he spent an interval of horrible suspense, and of insane rage. Let the laws say what they might, he would have the man's blood, if he found that the man had even attempted to wrong him. Then, at last, the second letter reached him. Colonel Osborne and Mr. Bozzle had each of them spent the day in the neighbourhood of Lessboro', not exactly in each other's company, but very near to each other. "The Colonel" had ordered a gig, on the day after his arrival at Lessboro', for the village of Cockchaffington; and, for all Mr. Bozzle knew, the Colonel had gone to Cockchaffington. Mr. Bozzle was ultimately inclined to think that the Colonel had really spent his day in going to Cockchaffington. Mr. Bozzle himself, knowing the wiles of such men as Colonel Osborne, and thinking at first that that journey to Cockchaffington might only be a deep ruse, had walked over to Nuncombe Putney. There he had had a pint of beer and some bread and cheese at Mrs. Crocket's house, and had asked various questions, to which he did not receive very satisfactory answers. But he inspected the Clock House very minutely, and came to a decided opinion as to the point at which it would be attacked, if burglary were the object of the assailants. And he observed the iron gates, and the steps, and the shape of the trees, and the old pigeon-house-looking fabric in which the clock used to be placed. There was no knowing when information might be wanted, or what information might not be of use. But he made himself tolerably sure that Colonel Osborne did not visit Nuncombe Putney on that day; and then he walked back to Lessboro'. Having done this, he applied himself to the little memorandum book in which he kept the records of these interesting duties, and entered a claim against his employer for a conveyance to Nuncombe Putney and back, including driver and ostler; and then he wrote his letter. After that he had a hot supper, with three glasses of brandy and water, and went to bed with a thorough conviction that he had earned his bread on that day.
The letter to Z. A. did not give all these particulars, but it did explain that Colonel Osborne had gone off, apparently, to Cockchaffington, and that he,—Bozzle,—had himself visited Nuncombe Putney. "The hawk hasn't been nigh the dovecot as yet," said Mr. Bozzle in his letter, meaning to be both mysterious and facetious.
It would be difficult to say whether the wit or the mystery disgusted Trevelyan the most. He had felt that he was defiling himself with dirt when he first went to Mr. Bozzle. He knew that he was having recourse to means that were base and low,—which could not be other than base or low, let the circumstances be what they might. But Mr. Bozzle's conversation had not been quite so bad as Mr. Bozzle's letters; as it may have been that Mr. Bozzle's successful activity was more insupportable than his futile attempts. But, nevertheless, something must be done. It could not be that Colonel Osborne should have gone down to the close neighbourhood of Nuncombe Putney without the intention of seeing the lady whom his obtrusive pertinacity had driven to that seclusion. It was terrible to Trevelyan that Colonel Osborne should be there, and not the less terrible because such a one as Mr. Bozzle was watching the Colonel on his behalf. Should he go to Nuncombe Putney himself? And if so, when he got to Nuncombe Putney what should he do there? At last, in his suspense and his grief, he resolved that he would tell the whole to Hugh Stanbury.
"Do you mean," said Hugh, "that you have put a policeman on his track?"
"The man was a policeman once."
"What we call a private detective. I can't say I think you were right."
"But you see that it was necessary," said Trevelyan.
"I can't say that it was necessary. To speak out, I can't understand that a wife should be worth watching who requires watching."
"Is a man to do nothing then? And even now it is not my wife whom I doubt."
"As for Colonel Osborne, if he chooses to go to Lessboro', why shouldn't he? Nothing that you can do, or that Bozzle can do, can prevent him. He has a perfect right to go to Lessboro'."
"But he has not a right to go to my wife."
"And if your wife refuses to see him; or having seen him,—for a man may force his way in anywhere with a little trouble,—if she sends him away with a flea in his ear, as I believe she would—"
"She is so frightfully indiscreet."
"I don't see what Bozzle can do."
"He has found out at any rate that Osborne is there," said Trevelyan. "I am not more fond of dealing with such fellows than you are yourself. But I think it is my duty to know what is going on. What ought I to do now?"
"I should do nothing,—except dismiss Bozzle."
"You know that that is nonsense, Stanbury."
"Whatever I did I should dismiss Bozzle." Stanbury was now quite in earnest, and, as he repeated his suggestion for the dismissal of the policeman, pushed his writing things away from him. "If you ask my opinion, you know, I must tell you what I think. I should get rid of Bozzle as a beginning. If you will only think of it, how can your wife come back to you if she learns that you have set a detective to watch her?"
"But I haven't set the man to watch her."
"Colonel Osborne is nothing to you, except as he is concerned with her. This man is now down in her neighbourhood; and, if she learns that, how can she help feeling it as a deep insult? Of course the man watches her as a cat watches a mouse."
"But what am I to do? I can't write to the man and tell him to come away. Osborne is down there, and I must do something. Will you go down to Nuncombe Putney yourself, and let me know the truth?"
After much debating of the subject, Hugh Stanbury said that he would himself go down to Nuncombe Putney alone. There were difficulties about the D. R.; but he would go to the office of the newspaper and overcome them. How far the presence of Nora Rowley at his mother's house may have assisted in bringing him to undertake the journey, perhaps need not be accurately stated. He acknowledged to himself that the claims of friendship were strong upon him; and that as he had loudly disapproved of the Bozzle arrangement, he ought to lend a hand to some other scheme of action. Moreover, having professed his conviction that no improper visiting could possibly take place under his mother's roof, he felt bound to shew that he was not afraid to trust to that conviction himself. He declared that he would be ready to proceed to Nuncombe Putney to-morrow;—but only on condition that he might have plenary power to dismiss Bozzle.
"There can be no reason why you should take any notice of the man," said Trevelyan.
"How can I help noticing him when I find him prowling about the place? Of course I shall know who he is."
"I don't see that you need know anything about him."
"My dear Trevelyan, you cannot have two ambassadors engaged in the same service without communication with each other. And any communication with Mr. Bozzle, except that of sending him back to London, I will not have." The controversy was ended by the writing of a letter from Trevelyan to Bozzle, which was confided to Stanbury, in which the ex-policeman was thanked for his activity and requested to return to London for the present. "As we are now aware that Colonel Osborne is in the neighbourhood," said the letter, "my friend Mr. Stanbury will know what to do."
As soon as this was settled, Stanbury went to the office of the D. R. and made arrangement as to his work for three days. Jones could do the article on the Irish Church upon a pinch like this, although he had not given much study to the subject as yet; and Puddlethwaite, who was great in City matters, would try his hand on the present state of society in Rome, a subject on which it was essential that the D. R. should express itself at once. Having settled these little troubles Stanbury returned to his friend, and in the evening they dined together at a tavern.
"And now, Trevelyan, let me know fairly what it is that you wish," said Stanbury.
"I wish to have my wife back again."
"Simply that. If she will agree to come back, you will make no difficulty."
"No; not quite simply that. I shall desire that she shall be guided by my wishes as to any intimacies she may form."
"That is all very well; but is she to give any undertaking? Do you intend to exact any promise from her? It is my opinion that she will be willing enough to come back, and that when she is with you there will be no further cause for quarrelling. But I don't think she will bind herself by any exacted promise; and certainly not through a third person."
"Then say nothing about it. Let her write a letter to me proposing to come,—and she shall come."
"Very well. So far I understand. And now what about Colonel Osborne? You don't want me to quarrel with him I suppose?"
"I should like to keep that for myself," said Trevelyan, grimly.
"If you will take my advice you will not trouble yourself about him," said Stanbury. "But as far as I am concerned, I am not to meddle or make with him? Of course," continued Stanbury, after a pause, "if I find that he is intruding himself in my mother's house, I shall tell him that he must not come there."
"But if you find him installed in your mother's house as a visitor,—how then?"
"I do not regard that as possible."
"I don't mean living there," said Trevelyan, "but coming backwards and forwards;—going on in habits of intimacy with,—with—?" His voice trembled so as he asked these questions, that he could not pronounce the word which was to complete them.
"With Mrs. Trevelyan, you mean."
"Yes; with my wife. I don't say that it is so; but it may be so. You will be bound to tell me the truth."
"I will certainly tell you the truth."
"And the whole truth."
"Yes; the whole truth."
"Should it be so I will never see her again,—never. And as for him;—but never mind." Then there was another short period of silence, during which Stanbury smoked his pipe and sipped his whisky toddy. "You must see," continued Trevelyan, "that it is absolutely necessary that I should do something. It is all very well for you to say that you do not like detectives. Neither do I like them. But what was I to do? When you condemn me you hardly realise the difficulties of my position."
"It is the deuce of a nuisance certainly," said Stanbury, through the cloud of smoke,—thinking now not at all of Mrs. Trevelyan, but of Mrs. Trevelyan's sister.
"It makes a man almost feel that he had better not marry at all," said Trevelyan.
"I don't see that. Of course there may come troubles. The tiles may fall on your head, you know, as you walk through the streets. As far as I can see, women go straight enough nineteen times out of twenty. But they don't like being,—what I call looked after."
"And did I look after my wife more than I ought?"
"I don't mean that; but if I were married,—which I never shall be, for I shall never attain to the respectability of a fixed income,—I fancy I shouldn't look after my wife at all. It seems to me that women hate to be told about their duties."
"But if you saw your wife, quite innocently, falling into an improper intimacy,—taking up with people she ought not to know,—doing that in ignorance, which could not but compromise yourself;—wouldn't you speak a word then?"
"Oh! I might just say, in an off-hand way, that Jones was a rascal, or a liar, or a fool, or anything of that sort. But I would never caution her against Jones. By George, I believe a woman can stand anything better than that."
"You have never tried it, my friend."
"And I don't suppose I ever shall. As for me, I believe Aunt Stanbury was right when she said that I was a radical vagabond. I dare say I shall never try the thing myself, and therefore it's very easy to have a theory. But I must be off. Good night, old fellow. I'll do the best I can; and, at any rate, I'll let you know the truth."
There had been a question during the day as to whether Stanbury should let his sister know by letter that he was expected; but it had been decided that he should appear at Nuncombe without any previous notification of his arrival. Trevelyan had thought that this was very necessary, and when Stanbury had urged that such a measure seemed to imply suspicion, he had declared that in no other way could the truth be obtained. He, Trevelyan, simply wanted to know the facts as they were occurring. It was a fact that Colonel Osborne was down in the neighbourhood of Nuncombe Putney. That, at least, had been ascertained. It might very possibly be the case that he would be refused admittance to the Clock House,—that all the ladies there would combine to keep him out. But,—so Trevelyan urged,—the truth on this point was desired. It was essentially necessary to his happiness that he should know what was being done.
"Your mother and sister," said he, "cannot be afraid of your coming suddenly among them."
Stanbury, so urged, had found it necessary to yield, but yet he had felt that he himself was almost acting like a detective policeman, in purposely falling down upon them without a word of announcement. Had chance circumstances made it necessary that he should go in such a manner he would have thought nothing of it. It would simply have been a pleasant joke to him.
As he went down by the train on the following day, he almost felt ashamed of the part which he had been called upon to perform.