Stanbury made his journey without pause or hindrance till he reached Florence, and as the train for Siena made it necessary that he should remain there for four or five hours, he went to an inn, and dressed and washed himself, and had a meal, and was then driven to Mr. Spalding's house. He found the American Minister at home, and was received with cordiality; but Mr. Spalding could tell him little or nothing about Trevelyan. They went up to Mrs. Spalding's room, and Hugh was told by her that she had seen Mrs. Trevelyan once since her niece's marriage, and that then she had represented her husband as being very feeble. Hugh, in the midst of his troubles, was amused by a second and a third, perhaps by a fourth, reference to "Lady Peterborough." Mrs. Spalding's latest tidings as to the Trevelyans had been received through "Lady Peterborough" from Nora Rowley. "Lady Peterborough" was at the present moment at Naples, but was expected to pass north through Florence in a day or two. They, the Spaldings themselves, were kept in Florence in this very hot weather by this circumstance. They were going up to the Tyrolese mountains for a few weeks as soon as "Lady Peterborough" should have left them for England. "Lady Peterborough" would have been so happy to make Mr. Stanbury's acquaintance, and to have heard something direct from her friend Nora. Then Mrs. Spalding smiled archly, showing thereby that she knew all about Hugh Stanbury and his relation to Nora Rowley. From all which, and in accordance with the teaching which we got,—alas, now many years ago,—from a great master on the subject, we must conclude that poor, dear Mrs. Spalding was a snob. Nevertheless, with all deference to the memory of that great master, we think that Mrs. Spalding's allusions to the success in life achieved by her niece were natural and altogether pardonable; and that reticence on the subject,—a calculated determination to abstain from mentioning a triumph which must have been very dear to her,—would have betrayed on the whole a condition of mind lower than that which she exhibited. While rank, wealth, and money are held to be good things by all around us, let them be acknowledged as such. It is natural that a mother should be as proud when her daughter marries an Earl's heir as when her son becomes Senior Wrangler; and when we meet a lady in Mrs. Spalding's condition who purposely abstains from mentioning the name of her titled daughter, we shall be disposed to judge harshly of the secret workings of that lady's thoughts on the subject. We prefer the exhibition, which we feel to be natural. Mr. Spalding got our friend by the button-hole, and was making him a speech on the perilous condition in which Mrs. Trevelyan was placed; but Stanbury, urged by the circumstances of his position, pulled out his watch, pleaded the hour, and escaped.
He found Mrs. Trevelyan waiting for him at the station at Siena. He would hardly have known her,—not from any alteration that was physically personal to herself, not that she had become older in face, or thin, or grey, or sickly,—but that the trouble of her life had robbed her for the time of that brightness of apparel, of that pride of feminine gear, of that sheen of high-bred womanly bearing with which our wives and daughters are so careful to invest themselves. She knew herself to be a wretched woman, whose work in life now was to watch over a poor prostrate wretch, and who had thrown behind her all ideas of grace and beauty. It was not quickly that this condition had come upon her. She had been unhappy at Nuncombe Putney; but unhappiness had not then told upon the outward woman. She had been more wretched still at St. Diddulph's, and all the outward circumstances of life in her uncle's parsonage had been very wearisome to her; but she had striven against it all, and the sheen and outward brightness had still been there. After that her child had been taken from her, and the days which she had passed in Manchester Street had been very grievous;—but even yet she had not given way. It was not till her child had been brought back to her, and she had seen the life which her husband was living, and that her anger,—hot anger,—had been changed to pity, and that with pity love had returned, it was not till this point had come in her sad life that her dress became always black and sombre, that a veil habitually covered her face, that a bonnet took the place of the jaunty hat that she had worn, and that the prettinesses of her life were lain aside. "It is very good of you to come," she said; "very good. I hardly knew what to do, I was so wretched. On the day that I sent he was so bad that I was obliged to do something." Stanbury, of course, inquired after Trevelyan's health, as they were being driven up to Mrs. Trevelyan's lodgings. On the day on which she had sent the telegram her husband had again been furiously angry with her. She had interfered, or had endeavoured to interfere, in some arrangements as to his health and comfort, and he had turned upon her with an order that the child should be at once sent back to him, and that she should immediately quit Siena. "When I said that Louey could not be sent,—and who could send a child into such keeping,—he told me that I was the basest liar that ever broke a promise, and the vilest traitor that had ever returned evil for good. I was never to come to him again,—never; and the gate of the house would be closed against me if I appeared there."
On the next day she had gone again, however, and had seen him, and had visited him on every day since. Nothing further had been said about the child, and he had now become almost too weak for violent anger. "I told him you were coming, and though he would not say so, I think he is glad of it. He expects you to-morrow."
"I will go this evening, if he will let me."
"Not to-night. I think he goes to bed almost as the sun sets. I am never there myself after four or five in the afternoon. I told him that you should be there to-morrow,—alone. I have hired a little carriage, and you can take it. He said specially that I was not to come with you. Papa goes certainly on next Saturday?" It was a Saturday now,—this day on which Stanbury had arrived at Siena.
"He leaves town on Friday."
"You must make him believe that. Do not tell him suddenly, but bring it in by degrees. He thinks that I am deceiving him. He would go back if he knew that papa were gone."
They spent a long evening together, and Stanbury learned all that Mrs. Trevelyan could tell him of her husband's state. There was no doubt, she said, that his reason was affected; but she thought the state of his mind was diseased in a ratio the reverse of that of his body, and that when he was weakest in health, then were his ideas the most clear and rational. He never now mentioned Colonel Osborne's name, but would refer to the affairs of the last two years as though they had been governed by an inexorable Fate which had utterly destroyed his happiness without any fault on his part. "You may be sure," she said, "that I never accuse him. Even when he says terrible things of me,—which he does,—I never excuse myself. I do not think I should answer a word, if he called me the vilest thing on earth." Before they parted for the night many questions were of course asked about Nora, and Hugh described the condition in which he and she stood to each other. "Papa has consented, then?"
"Yes,—at four o'clock in the morning,—just as I was leaving them."
"And when is it to be?"
"Nothing has been settled, and I do not as yet know where she will go to when they leave London. I think she will visit Monkhams when the Glascock people return to England."
"What an episode in life,—to go and see the place, when it might all now have been hers!"
"I suppose I ought to feel dreadfully ashamed of myself for having marred such promotion," said Hugh.
"Nora is such a singular girl;—so firm, so headstrong, so good, and so self-reliant that she will do as well with a poor man as she would have done with a rich. Shall I confess to you that I did wish that she should accept Mr. Glascock, and that I pressed it on her very strongly? You will not be angry with me?"
"I am only the more proud of her;—and of myself."
"When she was told of all that he had to give in the way of wealth and rank, she took the bit between her teeth and would not be turned an inch. Of course she was in love."
"I hope she may never regret it;—that is all."
"She must change her nature first. Everything she sees at Monkhams will make her stronger in her choice. With all her girlish ways, she is like a rock;—nothing can move her."
Early on the next morning Hugh started alone for Casalunga, having first, however, seen Mrs. Trevelyan. He took out with him certain little things for the sick man's table;—as to which, however, he was cautioned to say not a word to the sick man himself. And it was arranged that he should endeavour to fix a day for Trevelyan's return to England. That was to be the one object in view. "If we could get him to England," she said, "he and I would, at any rate, be together, and gradually he would be taught to submit himself to advice." Before ten in the morning, Stanbury was walking up the hill to the house, and wondering at the dreary, hot, hopeless desolation of the spot. It seemed to him that no one could live alone in such a place, in such weather, without being driven to madness. The soil was parched and dusty, as though no drop of rain had fallen there for months. The lizards, glancing in and out of the broken walls, added to the appearance of heat. The vegetation itself was of a faded yellowish green, as though the glare of the sun had taken the fresh colour out of it. There was a noise of grasshoppers and a hum of flies in the air, hardly audible, but all giving evidence of the heat. Not a human voice was to be heard, nor the sound of a human foot, and there was no shelter; but the sun blazed down full upon everything. He took off his hat, and rubbed his head with his handkerchief as he struck the door with his stick. Oh God, to what misery had a little folly brought two human beings who had had every blessing that the world could give within their reach!
In a few minutes he was conducted through the house, and found Trevelyan seated in a chair under the verandah which looked down upon the olive trees. He did not even get up from his seat, but put out his left hand and welcomed his old friend. "Stanbury," he said, "I am glad to see you,—for auld lang syne's sake. When I found out this retreat, I did not mean to have friends round me here. I wanted to try what solitude was;—and, by heaven, I've tried it!" He was dressed in a bright Italian dressing-gown or woollen paletot,—Italian, as having been bought in Italy, though, doubtless, it had come from France,—and on his feet he had green worked slippers, and on his head a brocaded cap. He had made but little other preparation for his friend in the way of dressing. His long dishevelled hair came down over his neck, and his beard covered his face. Beneath his dressing-gown he had on a night-shirt and drawers, and was as dirty in appearance as he was gaudy in colours. "Sit down and let us two moralise," he said. "I spend my life here doing nothing,—nothing,—nothing; while you cudgel your brain from day to day to mislead the British public. Which of us two is taking the nearest road to the devil?"
Stanbury seated himself in a second arm-chair, which there was there in the verandah, and looked as carefully as he dared to do at his friend. There could be no mistake as to the restless gleam of that eye. And then the affected air of ease, and the would-be cynicism, and the pretence of false motives, all told the same story. "They used to tell us," said Stanbury, "that idleness is the root of all evil."
"They have been telling us since the world began so many lies, that I for one have determined never to believe anything again. Labour leads to greed, and greed to selfishness, and selfishness to treachery, and treachery straight to the devil,—straight to the devil. Ha, my friend, all your leading articles won't lead you out of that. What's the news? Who's alive? Who dead? Who in? Who out? What think you of a man who has not seen a newspaper for two months; and who holds no conversation with the world further than is needed for the cooking of his polenta and the cooling of his modest wine-flask?"
"You see your wife sometimes," said Stanbury.
"My wife! Now, my friend, let us drop that subject. Of all topics of talk it is the most distressing to man in general, and I own that I am no exception to the lot. Wives, Stanbury, are an evil, more or less necessary to humanity, and I own to being one who has not escaped. The world must be populated, though for what reason one does not see. I have helped,—to the extent of one male bantling; and if you are one who consider population desirable, I will express my regret that I should have done no more."
It was very difficult to force Trevelyan out of this humour, and it was not till Stanbury had risen apparently to take his leave that he found it possible to say a word as to his mission there. "Don't you think you would be happier at home?" he asked.
"Where is my home, Sir Knight of the midnight pen?"
"England is your home, Trevelyan."
"No, sir; England was my home once; but I have taken the liberty accorded to me by my Creator of choosing a new country. Italy is now my nation, and Casalunga is my home."
"Every tie you have in the world is in England."
"I have no tie, sir;—no tie anywhere. It has been my study to untie all the ties; and, by Jove, I have succeeded. Look at me here. I have got rid of the trammels pretty well,—haven't I?—have unshackled myself, and thrown off the paddings, and the wrappings, and the swaddling clothes. I have got rid of the conventionalities, and can look Nature straight in the face. I don't even want the Daily Record, Stanbury;—think of that!"
Stanbury paced the length of the terrace, and then stopped for a moment down under the blaze of the sun, in order that he might think how to address this philosopher. "Have you heard," he said at last, "that I am going to marry your sister-in-law, Nora Rowley?"
"Then there will be two more full-grown fools in the world certainly, and probably an infinity of young fools coming afterwards. Excuse me, Stanbury, but this solitude is apt to make one plain-spoken."
"I got Sir Marmaduke's sanction the day before I left."
"Then you got the sanction of an illiterate, ignorant, self-sufficient, and most contemptible old man; and much good may it do you."
"Let him be what he may, I was glad to have it. Most probably I shall never see him again. He sails from Southampton for the Mandarins on this day week."
"He does,—does he? May the devil sail along with him!—that is all I say. And does my much-respected and ever-to-be-beloved mother-in-law sail with him?"
"They all return together,—except Nora."
"Who remains to comfort you? I hope you may be comforted;—that is all. Don't be too particular. Let her choose her own friends, and go her own gait, and have her own way, and do you be blind and deaf and dumb and properly submissive; and it may be that she'll give you your breakfast and dinner in your own house,—so long as your hours don't interfere with her pleasures. If she should even urge you beside yourself by her vanity, folly, and disobedience,—so that at last you are driven to express your feeling,—no doubt she will come to you after a while and tell you with the sweetest condescension that she forgives you. When she has been out of your house for a twelvemonth or more, she will offer to come back to you, and to forget everything,—on condition that you will do exactly as she bids you for the future."
This attempt at satire, so fatuous, so plain, so false, together with the would-be jaunty manner of the speaker, who, however, failed repeatedly in his utterances from sheer physical exhaustion, was excessively painful to Stanbury. What can one do at any time with a madman? "I mentioned my marriage," said he, "to prove my right to have an additional interest in your wife's happiness."
"You are quite welcome, whether you marry the other one or not;—welcome to take any interest you please. I have got beyond all that, Stanbury;—yes, by Jove, a long way beyond all that."
"You have not got beyond loving your wife, and your child, Trevelyan?"
"Upon my word, yes;—I think I have. There may be a grain of weakness left, you know. But what have you to do with my love for my wife?"
"I was thinking more just now of her love for you. There she is at Siena. You cannot mean that she should remain there?"
"Certainly not. What the deuce is there to keep her there?"
"Come with her then to England."
"Why should I go to England with her? Because you bid me, or because she wishes it,—or simply because England is the most damnable, puritanical, God-forgotten, and stupid country on the face of the globe? I know no other reason for going to England. Will you take a glass of wine, Stanbury?" Hugh declined the offer. "You will excuse me," continued Trevelyan; "I always take a glass of wine at this hour." Then he rose from his chair, and helped himself from a cupboard that was near at hand. Stanbury, watching him as he filled his glass, could see that his legs were hardly strong enough to carry him. And Stanbury saw, moreover, that the unfortunate man took two glasses out of the bottle. "Go to England indeed. I do not think much of this country; but it is, at any rate, better than England."
Hugh perceived that he could do nothing more on the present occasion. Having heard so much of Trevelyan's debility, he had been astonished to hear the man speak with so much volubility and attempts at high-flown spirit. Before he had taken the wine he had almost sunk into his chair, but still he had continued to speak with the same fluent would-be cynicism. "I will come and see you again," said Hugh, getting up to take his departure.
"You might as well save your trouble, Stanbury; but you can come if you please, you know. If you should find yourself locked out, you won't be angry. A hermit such as I am must assume privileges."
"I won't be angry," said Hugh, good humouredly.
"I can smell what you are come about," said Trevelyan. "You and my wife want to take me away from here among you, and I think it best to stay here. I don't want much for myself, and why should I not live here? My wife can remain at Siena if she pleases, or she can go to England if she pleases. She must give me the same liberty;—the same liberty,—the same liberty." After this he fell a-coughing violently, and Stanbury thought it better to leave him. He had been at Casalunga about two hours, and did not seem as yet to have done any good. He had been astonished both by Trevelyan's weakness, and by his strength; by his folly, and by his sharpness. Hitherto he could see no way for his future sister-in-law out of her troubles.
When he was with her at Siena, he described what had taken place with all the accuracy in his power. "He has intermittent days," said Emily. "To-morrow he will be in quite another frame of mind,—melancholy, silent perhaps, and self-reproachful. We will both go to-morrow, and we shall find probably that he has forgotten altogether what has passed to-day between you and him."
So their plans for the morrow were formed.