Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley were to reach England about the end of March or the beginning of April, and both Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora Rowley were almost sick for their arrival. Both their uncle and aunt had done very much for them, had been true to them in their need, and had submitted to endless discomforts in order that their nieces might have respectable shelter in their great need; but nevertheless their conduct had not been of a kind to produce either love or friendship. Each of the sisters felt that she had been much better off at Nuncombe Putney, and that either the weakness of Mrs. Stanbury, or the hardness of Priscilla, was preferable to the repulsive forbearance of their clerical host. He did not scold them. He never threw it in Mrs. Trevelyan's teeth that she had been separated from her husband by her own fault; he did not tell them of his own discomfort. But he showed it in every gesture, and spoke of it in every tone of his voice;—so that Mrs. Trevelyan could not refrain from apologising for the misfortune of her presence.
"My dear," he said, "things can't be pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. You were quite right to come here. I am glad for all our sakes that Sir Marmaduke will be with us so soon."
She had almost given up in her mind the hope that she had long cherished, that she might some day be able to live again with her husband. Every step which he now took in reference to her seemed to be prompted by so bitter an hostility, that she could not but believe that she was hateful to him. How was it possible that a husband and his wife should again come together, when there had been between them such an emissary as a detective policeman? Mrs. Trevelyan had gradually come to learn that Bozzle had been at Nuncombe Putney, watching her, and to be aware that she was still under the surveillance of his eye. For some months past now she had neither seen Colonel Osborne, nor heard from him. He had certainly by his folly done much to produce the ruin which had fallen upon her; but it never occurred to her to blame him. Indeed she did not know that he was liable to blame. Mr. Outhouse always spoke of him with indignant scorn, and Nora had learned to think that much of their misery was due to his imprudence. But Mrs. Trevelyan would not see this, and, not seeing it, was more widely separated from her husband than she would have been had she acknowledged that any excuse for his misconduct had been afforded by the vanity and folly of the other man.
Lady Rowley had written to have a furnished house taken for them from the first of April, and a house had been secured in Manchester Street. The situation in question is not one which is of itself very charming, nor is it supposed to be in a high degree fashionable; but Nora looked forward to her escape from St. Diddulph's to Manchester Street as though Paradise were to be re-opened to her as soon as she should be there with her father and mother. She was quite clear now as to her course about Hugh Stanbury. She did not doubt but that she could so argue the matter as to get the consent of her father and mother. She felt herself to be altogether altered in her views of life, since experience had come upon her, first at Nuncombe Putney, and after that, much more heavily and seriously, at St. Diddulph's. She looked back as though to a childish dream to the ideas which had prevailed with her when she had told herself, as she used to do so frequently, that she was unfit to be a poor man's wife. Why should she be more unfit for such a position than another? Of course there were many thoughts in her mind, much of memory if nothing of regret, in regard to Mr. Glascock and the splendour that had been offered to her. She had had her chance of being a rich man's wife, and had rejected it,—had rejected it twice, with her eyes open. Readers will say that if she loved Hugh Stanbury with all her heart, there could be nothing of regret in her reflections. But we are perhaps accustomed in judging for ourselves and of others to draw the lines too sharply, and to say that on this side lie vice, folly, heartlessness, and greed,—and on the other honour, love, truth, and wisdom,—the good and the bad each in its own domain. But the good and the bad mix themselves so thoroughly in our thoughts, even in our aspirations, that we must look for excellence rather in overcoming evil than in freeing ourselves from its influence. There had been many moments of regret with Nora;—but none of remorse. At the very moment in which she had sent Mr. Glascock away from her, and had felt that he had now been sent away for always, she had been full of regret. Since that there had been many hours in which she had thought of her own self-lesson, of that teaching by which she had striven to convince herself that she could never fitly become a poor man's wife. But the upshot of it all was a healthy pride in what she had done, and a strong resolution that she would make shirts and hem towels for her husband if he required it. It had been given her to choose, and she had chosen. She had found herself unable to tell a man that she loved him when she did not love him,—and equally unable to conceal the love which she did feel. "If he wheeled a barrow of turnips about the street, I'd marry him to-morrow," she said to her sister one afternoon as they were sitting together in the room which ought to have been their uncle's study.
"If he wheeled a big barrow, you'd have to wheel a little one," said her sister.
"Then I'd do it. I shouldn't mind. There has been this advantage in St. Diddulph's, that nothing can be triste, nothing dull, nothing ugly after it."
"It may be so with you, Nora;—that is in imagination."
"What I mean is that living here has taught me much that I never could have learned in Curzon Street. I used to think myself such a fine young woman,—but, upon my word, I think myself a finer one now."
"I don't quite know what you mean."
"I don't quite know myself; but I nearly know. I do know this, that I've made up my own mind about what I mean to do."
"You'll change it, dear, when mamma is here, and things are comfortable again. It's my belief that Mr. Glascock would come to you again to-morrow if you would let him." Mrs. Trevelyan was, naturally, in complete ignorance of the experience of transatlantic excellence which Mr. Glascock had encountered in Italy.
"But I certainly should not let him. How would it be possible after what I wrote to Hugh?"
"All that might pass away," said Mrs. Trevelyan,—slowly, after a long pause.
"All what might pass away? Have I not given him a distinct promise? Have I not told him that I loved him, and sworn that I would be true to him? Can that be made to pass away,—even if one wished it?"
"Of course it can. Nothing need be fixed for you till you have stood at the altar with a man and been made his wife. You may choose still. I can never choose again."
"I never will, at any rate," said Nora.
Then there was another pause. "It seems strange to me, Nora," said the elder sister, "that after what you have seen you should be so keen to be married to any one."
"What is a girl to do?"
"Better drown herself than do as I have done. Only think what there is before me. What I have gone through is nothing to it. Of course I must go back to the Islands. Where else am I to live? Who else will take me?"
"Come to us," said Nora.
"Us, Nora! Who are the us? But in no way would that be possible. Papa will be here, perhaps, for six months." Nora thought it quite possible that she might have a home of her own before six months were passed,—even though she might be wheeling the smaller barrow,—but she would not say so. "And by that time everything must be decided."
"I suppose it must."
"Of course papa and mamma must go back," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"Papa might take a pension. He's entitled to a pension now."
"He'll never do that as long as he can have employment. They'll go back, and I must go with them. Who else would take me in?"
"I know who would take you in, Emily."
"My darling, that is romance. As for myself, I should not care where I went. If it were even to remain here, I could bear it."
"I could not," said Nora, decisively.
"It is so different with you, dear. I don't suppose it is possible I should take my boy with me to the Islands; and how—am I—to go—anywhere—without him?" Then she broke down, and fell into a paroxysm of sobs, and was in very truth a broken-hearted woman.
Nora was silent for some minutes, but at last she spoke. "Why do you not go back to him, Emily?"
"How am I to go back to him? What am I to do to make him take me back?" At this very moment Trevelyan was in the house, but they did not know it.
"Write to him," said Nora.
"What am I to say? In very truth I do believe that he is mad. If I write to him, should I defend myself or accuse myself? A dozen times I have striven to write such a letter,—not that I might send it, but that I might find what I could say should I ever wish to send it. And it is impossible. I can only tell him how unjust he has been, how cruel, how mad, how wicked!"
"Could you not say to him simply this?—'Let us be together, wherever it may be; and let bygones be bygones.'"
"While he is watching me with a policeman? While he is still thinking that I entertain a—lover? While he believes that I am the base thing that he has dared to think me?"
"He has never believed it."
"Then how can he be such a villain as to treat me like this? I could not go to him, Nora;—not unless I went to him as one who was known to be mad, over whom in his wretched condition it would be my duty to keep watch. In no other way could I overcome my abhorrence of the outrages to which he has subjected me."
"But for the child's sake, Emily."
"Ah, yes! If it were simply to grovel in the dust before him it should be done. If humiliation would suffice,—or any self-abasement that were possible to me! But I should be false if I said that I look forward to any such possibility. How can he wish to have me back again after what he has said and done? I am his wife, and he has disgraced me before all men by his own words. And what have I done, that I should not have done;—what left undone on his behalf that I should have done? It is hard that the foolish workings of a weak man's mind should be able so completely to ruin the prospects of a woman's life!"
Nora was beginning to answer this by attempting to shew that the husband's madness was, perhaps, only temporary, when there came a knock at the door, and Mrs. Outhouse was at once in the room. It will be well that the reader should know what had taken place at the parsonage while the two sisters had been together up-stairs, so that the nature of Mrs. Outhouse's mission to them may explain itself. Mr. Outhouse had been in his closet down-stairs, when the maid-servant brought word to him that Mr. Trevelyan was in the parlour, and was desirous of seeing him.
"Mr. Trevelyan!" said the unfortunate clergyman, holding up both his hands. The servant understood the tragic importance of the occasion quite as well as did her master, and simply shook her head. "Has your mistress seen him?" said the master. The girl again shook her head. "Ask your mistress to come to me," said the clergyman. Then the girl disappeared; and in a few minutes Mrs. Outhouse, equally imbued with the tragic elements of the day, was with her husband.
Mr. Outhouse began by declaring that no consideration should induce him to see Trevelyan, and commissioned his wife to go to the man and tell him that he must leave the house. When the unfortunate woman expressed an opinion that Trevelyan had some legal rights upon which he might probably insist, Mr. Outhouse asserted roundly that he could have no legal right to remain in that parsonage against the will of the rector. "If he wants to claim his wife and child, he must do it by law,—not by force; and thank God, Sir Marmaduke will be here before he can do that." "But I can't make him go," said Mrs. Outhouse. "Tell him that you'll send for a policeman," said the clergyman.
It had come to pass that there had been messages backwards and forwards between the visitor and the master of the house, all carried by that unfortunate lady. Trevelyan did not demand that his wife and child should be given up to him;—did not even, on this occasion, demand that his boy should be surrendered to him,—now, at once. He did say, very repeatedly, that of course he must have his boy, but seemed to imply that, under certain circumstances, he would be willing to take his wife to live with him again. This appeared to Mrs. Outhouse to be so manifestly the one thing that was desirable,—to be the only solution of the difficulty that could be admitted as a solution at all,—that she went to work on that hint, and ventured to entertain a hope that a reconciliation might be effected. She implored her husband to lend a hand to the work;—by which she intended to imply that he should not only see Trevelyan, but consent to meet the sinner on friendly terms. But Mr. Outhouse was on the occasion even more than customarily obstinate. His wife might do what she liked. He would neither meddle nor make. He would not willingly see Mr. Trevelyan in his own house;—unless, indeed, Mr. Trevelyan should attempt to force his way up into the nursery. Then he said that which left no doubt on his wife's mind that, should any violence be attempted, her husband would manfully join the mêlée.
But it soon became evident that no such attempt was to be made on that day. Trevelyan was lachrymose, heartbroken, and a sight pitiable to behold. When Mrs. Outhouse loudly asserted that his wife had not sinned against him in the least,—"not in a tittle, Mr. Trevelyan," she repeated over and over again,—he began to assert himself, declaring that she had seen the man in Devonshire, and corresponded with him since she had been at St. Diddulph's; and when the lady had declared that the latter assertion was untrue, he had shaken his head, and had told her that perhaps she did not know all. But the misery of the man had its effect upon her, and at last she proposed to be the bearer of a message to his wife. He had demanded to see his child, offering to promise that he would not attempt to take the boy by force on this occasion,—saying, also, that his claim by law was so good, that no force could be necessary. It was proposed by Mrs. Outhouse that he should first see the mother,—and to this he at last assented. How blessed a thing would it be if these two persons could be induced to forget the troubles of the last twelve months, and once more to love and trust each other! "But, sir," said Mrs. Outhouse, putting her hand upon his arm;—"you must not upbraid her, for she will not bear it." "She knows nothing of what is due to a husband," said Trevelyan, gloomily. The task was not hopeful; but, nevertheless, the poor woman resolved to do her best.
And now Mrs. Outhouse was in her niece's room, asking her to go down and see her husband. Little Louis had at the time been with the nurse, and the very moment that the mother heard that the child's father was in the house, she jumped up and rushed away to get possession of her treasure. "Has he come for baby?" Nora asked in dismay. Then Mrs. Outhouse, anxious to obtain a convert to her present views, boldly declared that Mr. Trevelyan had no such intention. Mrs. Trevelyan came back at once with the boy, and then listened to all her aunt's arguments. "But I will not take baby with me," she said. At last it was decided that she should go down alone, and that the child should afterwards be taken to his father in the drawing-room; Mrs. Outhouse pledging herself that the whole household should combine in her defence if Mr. Trevelyan should attempt to take the child out of that room. "But what am I to say to him?" she asked.
"Say as little as possible," said Mrs. Outhouse,—"except to make him understand that he has been in error in imputing fault to you."
"He will never understand that," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
A considerable time elapsed after that before she could bring herself to descend the stairs. Now that her husband was so near her, and that her aunt had assured her that she might reinstate herself in her position, if she could only abstain from saying hard words to him, she wished that he was away from her again, in Italy. She knew that she could not refrain from hard words. How was it possible that she should vindicate her own honour, without asserting with all her strength that she had been ill-used; and, to speak truth on the matter, her love for the man, which had once been true and eager, had been quelled by the treatment she had received. She had clung to her love in some shape, in spite of the accusations made against her, till she had heard that the policeman had been set upon her heels. Could it be possible that any woman should love a man, or at least that any wife should love a husband, after such usage as that? At last she crept gently down the stairs, and stood at the parlour-door. She listened, and could hear his steps, as he paced backwards and forwards through the room. She looked back, and could see the face of the servant peering round from the kitchen-stairs. She could not endure to be watched in her misery, and, thus driven, she opened the parlour-door. "Louis," she said, walking into the room, "Aunt Mary has desired me to come to you."
"Emily!" he exclaimed, and ran to her and embraced her. She did not seek to stop him, but she did not return the kiss which he gave her. Then he held her by her hands, and looked into her face, and she could see how strangely he was altered. She thought that she would hardly have known him, had she not been sure that it was he. She herself was also changed. Who can bear sorrow without such change, till age has fixed the lines of the face, or till care has made them hard and unmalleable? But the effect on her was as nothing to that which grief, remorse, and desolation had made on him. He had had no child with him, no sister, no friend. Bozzle had been his only refuge,—a refuge not adapted to make life easier to such a man as Trevelyan; and he,—in spite of the accusations made by himself against his wife, within his own breast hourly since he had left her,—had found it to be very difficult to satisfy his own conscience. He told himself from hour to hour that he knew that he was right; but in very truth he was ever doubting his own conduct.
"You have been ill, Louis," she said, looking at him.
"Ill at ease, Emily;—very ill at ease! A sore heart will make the face thin, as well as fever or ague. Since we parted I have not had much to comfort me."
"Nor have I,—nor any of us," said she. "How was comfort to come from such a parting?"
Then they both stood silent together. He was still holding her by the hand, but she was careful not to return his pressure. She would not take her hand away from him; but she would show him no sign of softness till he should have absolutely acquitted her of the accusation he had made against her. "We are man and wife," he said after awhile. "In spite of all that has come and gone I am yours, and you are mine."
"You should have remembered that always, Louis."
"I have never forgotten it,—never. In no thought have I been untrue to you. My heart has never changed since first I gave it you." There came a bitter frown upon her face, of which she was so conscious herself, that she turned her face away from him. She still remembered her lesson, that she was not to anger him, and, therefore, she refrained from answering him at all. But the answer was there, hot within her bosom. Had he loved her,—and yet suspected that she was false to him and to her vows, simply because she had been on terms of intimacy with an old friend? Had he loved her, and yet turned her from his house? Had he loved her,—and set a policeman to watch her? Had he loved her, and yet spoken evil of her to all their friends? Had he loved her, and yet striven to rob her of her child? "Will you come to me?" he said.
"I suppose it will be better so," she answered slowly.
"Then you will promise me—" He paused, and attempted to turn her towards him, so that he might look her in the face.
"Promise what?" she said, quickly glancing round at him, and drawing her hand away from him as she did so.
"That all intercourse with Colonel Osborne shall be at an end."
"I will make no promise. You come to me to add one insult to another. Had you been a man, you would not have named him to me after what you have done to me."
"That is absurd. I have a right to demand from you such a pledge. I am willing to believe that you have not—"
"Have not what?"
"That you have not utterly disgraced me."
"God in heaven, that I should hear this!" she exclaimed. "Louis Trevelyan, I have not disgraced you at all,—in thought, in word, in deed, in look, or in gesture. It is you that have disgraced yourself, and ruined me, and degraded even your own child."
"Is this the way in which you welcome me?"
"Certainly it is,—in this way and in no other if you speak to me of what is past, without acknowledging your error." Her brow became blacker and blacker as she continued to speak to him. "It would be best that nothing should be said,—not a word. That it all should be regarded as an ugly dream. But, when you come to me and at once go back to it all, and ask me for a promise—"
"Am I to understand then that all idea of submission to your husband is to be at an end?"
"I will submit to no imputation on my honour,—even from you. One would have thought that it would have been for you to preserve it untarnished."
"And you will give me no assurance as to your future life?"
"None;—certainly none. If you want promises from me, there can be no hope for the future. What am I to promise? That I will not have—a lover? What respect can I enjoy as your wife if such a promise be needed? If you should choose to fancy that it had been broken you would set your policeman to watch me again! Louis, we can never live together again ever with comfort, unless you acknowledge in your own heart that you have used me shamefully."
"Were you right to see him in Devonshire?"
"Of course I was right. Why should I not see him,—or any one?"
"And you will see him again?"
"When papa comes, of course I shall see him."
"Then it is hopeless," said he, turning away from her.
"If that man is to be a source of disquiet to you, it is hopeless," she answered. "If you cannot so school yourself that he shall be the same to you as other men, it is quite hopeless. You must still be mad,—as you have been mad hitherto."
He walked about the room restlessly for a time, while she stood with assumed composure near the window. "Send me my child," he said at last.
"He shall come to you, Louis,—for a little; but he is not to be taken out from hence. Is that a promise?"
"You are to exact promises from me, where my own rights are concerned, while you refuse to give me any, though I am entitled to demand them! I order you to send the boy to me. Is he not my own?"
"Is he not mine too? And is he not all that you have left to me?"
He paused again, and then gave the promise. "Let him be brought to me. He shall not be removed now. I intend to have him. I tell you so fairly. He shall be taken from you unless you come back to me with such assurances as to your future conduct as I have a right to demand. There is much that the law cannot give me. It cannot procure wife-like submission, love, gratitude, or even decent matronly conduct. But that which it can give me, I will have."
She walked off to the door, and then as she was quitting the room she spoke to him once again. "Alas, Louis," she said, "neither can the law, nor medicine, nor religion, restore to you that fine intellect which foolish suspicions have destroyed." Then she left him and returned to the room in which her aunt, and Nora, and the child were all clustered together, waiting to learn the effects of the interview. The two women asked their questions with their eyes, rather than with spoken words. "It is all over," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "There is nothing left for me but to go back to papa. I only hear the same accusations, repeated again and again, and make myself subject to the old insults." Then Mrs. Outhouse knew that she could interfere no further, and that in truth nothing could be done till the return of Sir Marmaduke should relieve her and her husband from all further active concern in the matter.
But Trevelyan was still down-stairs waiting for the child. At last it was arranged that Nora should take the boy into the drawing-room, and that Mrs. Outhouse should fetch the father up from the parlour to the room above it. Angry as was Mrs. Trevelyan with her husband, not the less was she anxious to make the boy good-looking and seemly in his father's eyes. She washed the child's face, put on him a clean frill and a pretty ribbon; and, as she did so, she bade him kiss his papa, and speak nicely to him, and love him. "Poor papa is unhappy," she said, "and Louey must be very good to him." The boy, child though he was, understood much more of what was passing around him than his mother knew. How was he to love papa when mamma did not do so? In some shape that idea had framed itself in his mind; and, as he was taken down, he knew it was impossible that he should speak nicely to his papa. Nora did as she was bidden, and went down to the first-floor. Mrs. Outhouse, promising that even if she were put out of the room by Mr. Trevelyan she would not stir from the landing outside the door, descended to the parlour and quickly returned with the unfortunate father. Mr. Outhouse, in the meantime, was still sitting in his closet, tormented with curiosity, but yet determined not to be seen till the intruder should have left his house.
"I hope you are well, Nora," he said, as he entered the room with Mrs. Outhouse.
"Quite well, thank you, Louis."
"I am sorry that our troubles should have deprived you of the home you had been taught to expect." To this Nora made no reply, but escaped, and went up to her sister. "My poor little boy," said Trevelyan, taking the child and placing it on his knee. "I suppose you have forgotten your unfortunate father." The child, of course, said nothing, but just allowed himself to be kissed.
"He is looking very well," said Mrs. Outhouse.
"Is he? I dare say he is well. Louey, my boy, are you happy?" The question was asked in a voice that was dismal beyond compare, and it also remained unanswered. He had been desired to speak nicely to his papa, but how was it possible that a child should speak nicely under such a load of melancholy? "He will not speak to me," said Trevelyan. "I suppose it is what I might have expected." Then the child was put off his knee on to the floor, and began to whimper. "A few months since he would sit there for hours, with his head upon my breast," said Trevelyan.
"A few months is a long time in the life of such an infant," said Mrs. Outhouse.
"He may go away," said Trevelyan. Then the child was led out of the room, and sent up to his mother.
"Emily has done all she can to make the child love your memory," said Mrs. Outhouse.
"To love my memory! What;—as though I were dead. I will teach him to love me as I am, Mrs. Outhouse. I do not think that it is too late. Will you tell your husband from me, with my compliments, that I shall cause him to be served with a legal demand for the restitution of my child?"
"But Sir Marmaduke will be here in a few days."
"I know nothing of that. Sir Marmaduke is nothing to me now. My child is my own,—and so is my wife. Sir Marmaduke has no authority over either one or the other. I find my child here, and it is here that I must look for him. I am sorry that you should be troubled, but the fault does not rest with me. Mr. Outhouse has refused to give me up my own child, and I am driven to take such steps for his recovery as the law has put within my reach."
"Why did you turn your wife out of doors, Mr. Trevelyan?" asked Mrs. Outhouse boldly.
"I did not turn her out of doors. I provided a fitting shelter for her. I gave her everything that she could want. You know what happened. That man went down and was received there. I defy you, Mrs. Outhouse, to say that it was my fault."
Mrs. Outhouse did attempt to show him that it was his fault; but while she was doing so he left the house. "I don't think she could go back to him," said Mrs. Outhouse to her husband. "He is quite insane upon this matter."
"I shall be insane, I know," said Mr. Outhouse, "if Sir Marmaduke does not come home very quickly." Nevertheless he quite ignored any legal power that might be brought to bear against him as to the restitution of the child to its father.