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- He Knew He Was Right - 20/179 -
dislike more than any other in all London.'
Exactly at twelve o'clock Lady Milborough's carriage was at the door. Trevelyan was in the house at the time and heard the knock at the door. During those two or three days of absolute wretchedness, he spent most of his hours under the same roof with his wife and sister-in-law, though he spoke to neither of them. He had had his doubts as to the reception of Lady Milborough, and was, to tell the truth, listening with most anxious ear, when her Ladyship was announced. His wife, however, was not so bitterly contumacious as to refuse admittance to his friend, and he heard the rustle of the ponderous silk as the old woman was shown upstairs. When Lady Milborough reached the drawing-room, Mrs Trevelyan was alone.
'I had better see her by myself,' she had said to her sister.
Nora had then left her, with one word of prayer that she would be as little defiant as possible.
'That must depend,' Emily had said, with a little shake of her head.
There had been a suggestion that the child should be with her, but the mother herself had rejected this.
'It would be stagey,' she had said, 'and clap-trap. There is nothing I hate so much as that.'
She was sitting, therefore, quite alone, and as stiff as a man in armour, when Lady Milborough was shown up to her.
And Lady Milborough herself was not at all comfortable as she commenced the interview. She had prepared many wise words to be spoken, but was not so little ignorant of the character of the woman with whom she had to deal, as to suppose that the wise words would get themselves spoken without interruption. She had known from the first that Mrs Trevelyan would have much to say for herself, and the feeling that it would be so became stronger than ever as she entered the room. The ordinary feelings between the two ladies were cold and constrained, and then there was silence for a few moments when the Countess had taken her seat. Mrs Trevelyan had quite determined that the enemy should fire the first shot.
'This is a very sad state of things,' said the Countess.
'Yes, indeed, Lady Milborough.'
'The saddest in the world and so unnecessary is it not?'
'Very unnecessary, indeed, as I think.'
'Yes, my dear, yes. But, of course, we must remember.'
Then Lady Milborough could not clearly bring to her mind what it was that she had to remember.
'The fact is, my dear, that all this kind of thing is too monstrous to be thought of. Goodness, gracious, me; two young people like you and Louis, who thoroughly love each other, and who have got a baby, to think of being separated! Of course it is out of the question.'
'You cannot suppose, Lady Milborough, that I want to be separated from my husband?'
'Of course not. How should it be possible? The very idea is too shocking to be thought of. I declare I haven't slept since Louis was talking to me about it. But, my dear, you must remember, you know, that a husband has a right to expect some sort of submission from his wife.'
'He has a right to expect obedience, Lady Milborough.'
'Of course; that is all one wants.'
'And I will obey Mr Trevelyan in anything reasonable.'
'But, my dear, who is to say what is reasonable? That, you see, is always the difficulty. You must allow that your husband is the person who ought to decide that.'
'Has he told you that I have refused to obey him, Lady Milborough?'
The Countess paused a moment before she replied. 'Well, yes; I think he has,' she said. 'He asked you to do something about a letter, a letter to that Colonel Osborne, who is a man, my dear, really to be very much afraid of; a man who has done a great deal of harm, and you declined. Now in a matter of that kind of course the husband--'
'Lady Milborough, I must ask you to listen to me. You have listened to Mr Trevelyan, and I must ask you to listen to me. I am sorry to trouble you, but as you have come here about this unpleasant business, you must forgive me if I insist upon it.'
'Of course I will listen to you, my dear.'
'I have never refused to obey my husband, and I do not refuse now. The gentleman of whom you have been speaking is an old friend of my father's, and has become my friend. Nevertheless, had Mr Trevelyan given me any plain order about him, I should have obeyed him. A wife does not feel that her chances of happiness are increased when she finds that her husband suspects her of being too intimate with another man. It is a thing very hard to bear. But I would have endeavoured to bear it, knowing how important it is for both our sakes, and more especially for our child. I would have made excuses, and would have endeavoured to think that this horrid feeling on his part is nothing more than a short delusion.'
'But, my dear--'
'I must ask you to hear me out, Lady Milborough. But when he tells me first that I am not to meet the man, and so instructs the servants; then tells me that I am to meet him, and go on just as I was going before, and then again tells me that I am not to see him, and again instructs the servants and, above all, the cook that Colonel Osborne is not to come into the house, then obedience becomes rather difficult.'
'Just say now that you will do what he wants, and then all will be right.'
'I will not say so to you, Lady Milborough. It is not to you that I ought to say it. But as he has chosen to send you here, I will explain to you that I have never disobeyed him. When I was free, in accordance with Mr Trevelyan's wishes, to have what intercourse I pleased with Colonel Osborne, I received a note from that gentleman on a most trivial matter. I answered it as trivially. My husband saw my letter, closed, and questioned me about it. I told him that the letter was still there, and that if he chose to be a spy upon my actions he could open it and read it.'
'My dear, how could you bring yourself to use the word spy to your husband?'
'How could he bring himself to accuse me as he did? If he cares for me let him come and beg my pardon for the insult he has offered me.'
'Oh, Mrs Trevelyan!'
'Yes; that seems very wrong to you, who have not had to bear it. It is very easy for a stranger to take a husband's part, and help to put down a poor woman who has been ill used. I have done nothing wrong, nothing to be ashamed of; and I will not say that I have. I never have spoken a word to Colonel Osborne that all the world might not hear.'
'Nobody has accused you, my dear.'
'Yes; he has accused me, and you have accused me, and you will make all the world accuse me. He may put me out of his house if he likes, but he shall not make me say I have been wrong, when I know I have been right. He cannot take my child from me.'
'But he will.'
'No,' shouted Mrs Trevelyan, jumping up from her chair, 'no; he shall never do that. I will cling to him so that he cannot separate us. He will never be so wicked, such a monster as that. I would go about the world saying what a monster he had been to me.' The passion of the interview was becoming too great for Lady Milborough's power of moderating it, and she was beginning to feel herself to be in a difficulty. 'Lady Milborough,' continued Mrs Trevelyan, 'tell him from me that I will bear anything but that. That I will not bear.'
'Dear Mrs Trevelyan, do not let us talk about it.'
'Who wants to talk about it? Why do you come here and threaten me with a thing so horrible? I do not believe you. He would not dare to separate me and my child.'
'But you have only to say that you will submit yourself to him.'
'I have submitted myself to him, and I will submit no further. What does he want? Why does he send you here? He does not know what he wants. He has made himself miserable by an absurd idea, and he wants everybody to tell him that he has been right. He has been very wrong; and if he desires to be wise now, he will come back to his home, and say nothing further about it. He will gain nothing by sending messengers here.'
Lady Milborough, who had undertaken a most disagreeable task from the purest motives of old friendship, did not like being called a messenger; but the woman before her was so strong in her words, so eager, and so passionate, that she did not know how to resent the injury. And there was coming over her an idea, of which she herself was hardly conscious, that after all, perhaps, the husband was not in the right. She had come there with the general idea that wives, and especially young wives, should be submissive. She had naturally taken the husband's part; and having a preconceived dislike to Colonel Osborne, she had been willing enough to think that precautionary measures were necessary in reference to so eminent, and notorious, and experienced a Lothario. She had never altogether loved Mrs Trevelyan, and had always been a little in dread of her. But she had thought that the authority with which she would be invested on this occasion, the manifest right on her side, and the undeniable truth of her grand argument, that a wife should obey, would carry her, if not easily, still successfully through all difficulties. It was probably the case that Lady Milborough when preparing for her visit, had anticipated a triumph. But when she had been closeted for an hour with Mrs Trevelyan, she found that she was not triumphant. She was told that she was a messenger, and an unwelcome messenger; and she began to feel that she did not know how she was to take herself away.
'I am sure I have done everything for the best,' she said, getting up
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