During this time, while Hugh was sitting with his love under the oak trees at Monkhams, and Dorothy was being converted into Mrs. Brooke Burgess in Exeter Cathedral, Mrs. Trevelyan was living with her husband in the cottage at Twickenham. Her life was dreary enough, and there was but very little of hope in it to make its dreariness supportable. As often happens in periods of sickness, the single friend who could now be of service to the one or to the other was the doctor. He came daily to them, and with that quick growth of confidence which medical kindness always inspires, Trevelyan told to this gentleman all the history of his married life,—and all that Trevelyan told to him he repeated to Trevelyan's wife. It may therefore be understood that Trevelyan, between them, was treated like a child.
Dr. Nevill had soon been able to tell Mrs. Trevelyan that her husband's health had been so shattered as to make it improbable that he should ever again be strong either in body or in mind. He would not admit, even when treating his patient like a child, that he had ever been mad, and spoke of Sir Marmaduke's threat as unfortunate. "But what could papa have done?" asked the wife.
"It is often, no doubt, difficult to know what to do; but threats are seldom of avail to bring a man back to reason. Your father was angry with him, and yet declared that he was mad. That in itself was hardly rational. One does not become angry with a madman."
One does not become angry with a madman; but while a man has power in his hands over others, and when he misuses that power grossly and cruelly, who is there that will not be angry? The misery of the insane more thoroughly excites our pity than any other suffering to which humanity is subject; but it is necessary that the madness should be acknowledged to be madness before the pity can be felt. One can forgive, or, at any rate, make excuses for any injury when it is done; but it is almost beyond human nature to forgive an injury when it is a-doing, let the condition of the doer be what it may. Emily Trevelyan at this time suffered infinitely. She was still willing to yield in all things possible, because her husband was ill,—because perhaps he was dying; but she could no longer satisfy herself with thinking that all that she admitted,—all that she was still ready to admit,—had been conceded in order that her concessions might tend to soften the afflictions of one whose reason was gone. Dr. Nevill said that her husband was not mad;—and indeed Trevelyan seemed now to be so clear in his mind that she could not doubt what the doctor said to her. She could not think that he was mad,—and yet he spoke of the last two years as though he had suffered from her almost all that a husband could suffer from a wife's misconduct. She was in doubt about his health. "He may recover," the doctor said; "but he is so weak that the slightest additional ailment would take him off." At this time Trevelyan could not raise himself from his bed, and was carried, like a child, from one room to another. He could eat nothing solid, and believed himself to be dying. In spite of his weakness,—and of his savage memories in regard to the past,—he treated his wife on all ordinary subjects with consideration. He spoke much of his money, telling her that he had not altered, and would not alter, the will that he had made immediately on his marriage. Under that will all his property would be hers for her life, and would go to their child when she was dead. To her this will was more than just,—it was generous in the confidence which it placed in her; and he told his lawyer, in her presence, that, to the best of his judgment, he need not change it. But still there passed hardly a day in which he did not make some allusion to the great wrong which he had endured, throwing in her teeth the confessions which she had made,—and almost accusing her of that which she certainly never had confessed, even when, in the extremity of her misery at Casalunga, she had thought that it little mattered what she said, so that for the moment he might be appeased. If he died, was he to die in this belief? If he lived, was he to live in this belief? And if he did so believe, was it possible that he should still trust her with his money and with his child?
"Emily," he said one day, "it has been a terrible tragedy, has it not?" She did not answer his question, sitting silent as it was her custom to do when he addressed her after such fashion as this. At such times she would not answer him; but she knew that he would press her for an answer. "I blame him more than I do you," continued Trevelyan,—"infinitely more. He was a serpent intending to sting me from the first,—not knowing perhaps how deep the sting would go." There was no question in this, and the assertion was one which had been made so often that she could let it pass. "You are young, Emily, and it may be that you will marry again."
"Never," she said, with a shudder. It seemed to her then that marriage was so fearful a thing that certainly she could never venture upon it again.
"All I ask of you is, that should you do so, you will be more careful of your husband's honour."
"Louis," she said, getting up and standing close to him, "tell me what it is that you mean." It was now his turn to remain silent, and hers to demand an answer. "I have borne much," she continued, "because I would not vex you in your illness."
"You have borne much?"
"Indeed and indeed, yes. What woman has ever borne more!"
"And I?" said he.
"Dear Louis, let us understand each other at last. Of what do you accuse me? Let us, at any rate, know each other's thoughts on this matter, of which each of us is ever thinking."
"I make no new accusation."
"I must protest then against your using words which seem to convey accusation. Since marriages were first known upon earth, no woman has ever been truer to her husband than I have been to you."
"Were you lying to me then at Casalunga when you acknowledged that you had been false to your duties?"
"If I acknowledged that, I did lie. I never said that; but yet I did lie,—believing it to be best for you that I should do so. For your honour's sake, for the child's sake, weak as you are, Louis, I must protest that it was so. I have never injured you by deed or thought."
"And yet you have lied to me! Is a lie no injury;—and such a lie! Emily, why did you lie to me? You will tell me to-morrow that you never lied, and never owned that you had lied."
Though it should kill him, she must tell him the truth now. "You were very ill at Casalunga," she said, after a pause.
"But not so ill as I am now. I could breathe that air. I could live there. Had I remained I should have been well now,—but what of that?"
"Louis, you were dying there. Pray, pray listen to me. We thought that you were dying; and we knew also that you would be taken from that house."
"That was my affair. Do you mean that I could not keep a house over my head?" At this moment he was half lying, half sitting, in a large easy chair in the little drawing-room of their cottage, to which he had been carried from the adjoining bed-room. When not excited, he would sit for hours without moving, gazing through the open window, sometimes with some pretext of a book lying within the reach of his hand; but almost without strength to lift it, and certainly without power to read it. But now he had worked himself up to so much energy that he almost raised himself up in his chair, as he turned towards his wife. "Had I not the world before me, to choose a house in?"
"They would have put you somewhere, and I could not have reached you."
"In a madhouse, you mean. Yes;—if you had told them."
"Will you listen, dear Louis? We knew that it was our duty to bring you home; and as you would not let me come to you, and serve you, and assist you to come here where you are safe,—unless I owned that you had been right, I said that you had been right."
"And it was a lie,—you say now?"
"All that is nothing. I cannot go through it; nor should you. There is the only question. You do not think that I have been—? I need not say the thing. You do not think that?" As she asked the question, she knelt beside him, and took his hand in hers, and kissed it. "Say that you do not think that, and I will never trouble you further about the past."
"Yes;—that is it. You will never trouble me!" She glanced up into his face and saw there the old look which he used to wear when he was at Willesden and at Casalunga; and there had come again the old tone in which he had spoken to her in the bitterness of his wrath:—the look and the tone, which had made her sure that he was a madman. "The craft and subtlety of women passes everything!" he said. "And so at last I am to tell you that from the beginning it has been my doing. I will never say so, though I should die in refusing to do it."
After that there was no possibility of further conversation, for there came upon him a fit of coughing, and then he swooned; and in half-an-hour he was in bed, and Dr. Nevill was by his side. "You must not speak to him at all on this matter," said the doctor. "But if he speaks to me?" she asked. "Let it pass," said the doctor. "Let the subject be got rid of with as much ease as you can. He is very ill now, and even this might have killed him." Nevertheless, though this seemed to be stern, Dr. Nevill was very kind to her, declaring that the hallucination in her husband's mind did not really consist of a belief in her infidelity, but arose from an obstinate determination to yield nothing. "He does not believe it; but he feels that were he to say as much, his hands would be weakened and yours strengthened."
"Can he then be in his sane mind?"
"In one sense all misconduct is proof of insanity," said the doctor. "In his case the weakness of the mind has been consequent upon the weakness of the body."
Three days after that Nora visited Twickenham from Monkhams in obedience to a telegram from her sister. "Louis," she said, "had become so much weaker, that she hardly dared to be alone with him. Would Nora come to her?" Nora came of course, and Hugh met her at the station, and brought her with him to the cottage. He asked whether he might see Trevelyan, but was told that it would be better that he should not. He had been almost continually silent since the last dispute which he had with his wife; but he had given little signs that he was always thinking of the manner in which he had been brought home by her from Italy, and of the story she had told him of her mode of inducing him to come. Hugh Stanbury had been her partner in that struggle, and would probably be received, if not with sullen silence, then with some attempt at rebuke. But Hugh did see Dr. Nevill, and learned from him that it was hardly possible that Trevelyan should live many hours. "He has worn himself out," said the doctor, "and there is nothing left in him by which he can lay hold of life again." Of Nora her brother-in-law took but little notice, and never again referred in her hearing to the great trouble of his life. He said to her a word or two about Monkhams, and asked a question now and again as to Lord Peterborough,—whom, however, he always called Mr. Glascock; but Hugh Stanbury's name was never mentioned by him. There was a feeling in his mind that at the very last he had been duped in being brought to England, and that Stanbury had assisted in the deception. To his wife he would whisper little petulant regrets for the loss of the comforts of Casalunga, and would speak of the air of Italy and of Italian skies and of the Italian sun, as though he had enjoyed at his Sienese villa all the luxuries which climate can give, and would have enjoyed them still had he been allowed to remain there. To all this she would say nothing. She knew now that he was failing quickly, and there was only one subject on which she either feared or hoped to hear him speak. Before he left her for ever and ever would he tell her that he had not doubted her faith?
She had long discussions with Nora on the matter, as though all the future of her life depended on it. It was in vain that Nora tried to make her understand that if hereafter the spirit of her husband could know anything of the troubles of his mortal life, could ever look back to the things which he had done in the flesh, then would he certainly know the truth, and all suspicion would be at an end. And if not, if there was to be no such retrospect, what did it matter now, for these few last hours before the coil should be shaken off, and all doubt and all sorrow should be at an end? But the wife, who was soon to be a widow, yearned to be acquitted in this world by him to whom her guilt or her innocence had been matter of such vital importance. "He has never thought it," said Nora.
"But if he would say so! If he would only look it! It will be all in all to me as long as I live in this world." And then, though they had determined between themselves in spoken words never to regard him again as one who had been mad, in all their thoughts and actions towards him they treated him as though he were less responsible than an infant. And he was mad;—mad though every doctor in England had called him sane. Had he not been mad he must have been a fiend,—or he could not have tortured, as he had done, the woman to whom he owed the closest protection which one human being can give to another.
During these last days and nights she never left him. She had done her duty to him well, at any rate since the time when she had been enabled to come near him in Italy. It may be that in the first days of their quarrel, she had not been regardful, as she should have been, of a husband's will,—that she might have escaped this tragedy by submitting herself to the man's wishes, as she had always been ready to submit herself to his words. Had she been able always to keep her neck in the dust under his foot, their married life might have been passed without outward calamity, and it is possible that he might still have lived. But if she erred, surely she had been scourged for her error with scorpions. As she sat at his bedside watching him, she thought of her wasted youth, of her faded beauty, of her shattered happiness, of her fallen hopes. She had still her child,—but she felt towards him that she herself was so sad a creature, so sombre, so dark, so necessarily wretched from this time forth till the day of her death, that it would be better for the boy that she should never be with him. There could be nothing left for her but garments dark with woe, eyes red with weeping, hours sad from solitude, thoughts weary with memory. And even yet,—if he would only now say that he did not believe her to have been guilty, how great would be the change in her future life!
Then came an evening in which he seemed to be somewhat stronger than he had been. He had taken some refreshment that had been prepared for him, and, stimulated by its strength, had spoken a word or two both to Nora and to his wife. His words had been of no especial interest,—alluding to some small detail of his own condition, such as are generally the chosen topics of conversation with invalids. But he had been pronounced to be better, and Nora spoke to him cheerfully, when he was taken into the next room by the man who was always at hand to move him. His wife followed him, and soon afterwards returned, and bade Nora good night. She would sit by her husband, and Nora was to go to the room below, that she might receive her lover there. He was expected out that evening, but Mrs. Trevelyan said that she would not see him. Hugh came and went, and Nora took herself to her chamber. The hours of the night went on, and Mrs. Trevelyan was still sitting by her husband's bed. It was still September, and the weather was very warm. But the windows had been all closed since an hour before sunset. She was sitting there thinking, thinking, thinking. Dr. Nevill had told her that the time now was very near. She was not thinking now how very near it might be, but whether there might yet be time for him to say that one word to her.
"Emily," he said, in the lowest whisper.
"Darling!" she answered, turning round and touching him with her hand.
"My feet are cold. There are no clothes on them."
She took a thick shawl and spread it double across the bottom of the bed, and put her hand upon his arm. Though it was clammy with perspiration, it was chill, and she brought the warm clothes up close round his shoulders. "I can't sleep," he said. "If I could sleep, I shouldn't mind." Then he was silent again, and her thoughts went harping on, still on the same subject. She told herself that if ever that act of justice were to be done for her, it must be done that night. After a while she turned round over him ever so gently, and saw that his large eyes were open and fixed upon the wall.
She was kneeling now on the chair close by the bed head, and her hand was on the rail of the bedstead supporting her. "Louis," she said, ever so softly.
"Can you say one word for your wife, dear, dear, dearest husband?"
"I have not been a harlot to you;—have I?"
"What name is that?"
"But what a thing, Louis! Kiss my hand, Louis, if you believe me." And very gently she laid the tips of her fingers on his lips. For a moment or two she waited, and the kiss did not come. Would he spare her in this the last moment left to him either for justice or for mercy? For a moment or two the bitterness of her despair was almost unendurable. She had time to think that were she once to withdraw her hand, she would be condemned for ever;—and that it must be withdrawn. But at length the lips moved, and with struggling ear she could hear the sound of the tongue within, and the verdict of the dying man had been given in her favour. He never spoke a word more either to annul it or to enforce it.
Some time after that she crept into Nora's room. "Nora," she said, waking the sleeping girl, "it is all over."
"It is all over. Mrs. Richards is there. It is better than an hour since now. Let me come in." She got into her sister's bed, and there she told the tale of her tardy triumph. "He declared to me at last that he trusted me," she said,—almost believing that real words had come from his lips to that effect. Then she fell into a flood of tears, and after a while she also slept.