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- He Knew He Was Right - 50/179 -
'If the lady was to join the Colonel--'
'That will do, Mr Bozzle,' said Trevelyan, again jumping up from his chair. 'That will do.' So saying, he opened the door, and Bozzle, with a bow, took his departure. 'What on earth am I to do? How am I to save her?' said the wretched husband, appealing to his friend.
Stanbury endeavoured with all his eloquence to prove that this latter piece of information from the spy must be incorrect. If such a letter had been written by Mrs Trevelyan to Colonel Osborne, it must have been done while he, Stanbury, was staying at the Clock House. This seemed to him to be impossible; but he could hardly explain why it should be impossible. She had written to the man before, and had received him when he came to Nuncombe Putney. Why was it even improbable that she should have written to him again? Nevertheless, Stanbury felt sure that she had sent no such letter. 'I think I understand her feelings and her mind,' said he; 'and if so, any such correspondence would be incompatible with her previous conduct.' Trevelyan only smiled at this or pretended to smile. He would not discuss the question; but believed implicitly what Bozzle had told him in spite of all Stanbury's arguments. 'I can say nothing further,' said Stanbury.
'No, my dear fellow. There is nothing further to be said, except this, that I will have my unfortunate wife removed from the decent protection of your mother's roof with the least possible delay. I feel that I owe Mrs Stanbury the deepest apology for having sent such an inmate to trouble her repose.'
'That is what I feel.'
'And I say that it is nonsense. If you had never sent that wretched blackguard down to fabricate lies at Nuncombe Putney, my mother's repose would have been all right. As it is, Mrs Trevelyan can remain where she is till after Christmas. There is not the least necessity for removing her at once. I only meant to say that the arrangement should not be regarded as altogether permanent. I must go to my work now. Goodbye.'
Stanbury paused at the door, and then once more turned round. 'I suppose it is of no use my saying anything further; but I wish you to understand fully that I regard your wife as a woman much ill-used, and I think you are punishing her, and yourself, too, with a cruel severity for an indiscretion of the very slightest kind.'
MR TREVELYAN'S LETTER TO HIS WIFE
Trevelyan, when he was left alone, sat for above a couple of hours contemplating the misery of his position, and endeavouring to teach himself by thinking what ought to be his future conduct. It never occurred to him during these thoughts that it would be well that he should at once take back his wife, either as a matter of duty, or of welfare, for himself or for her. He had taught himself to believe that she had disgraced him; and, though this feeling of disgrace made him so wretched that he wished that he were dead, he would allow himself to make no attempt at questioning the correctness of his conviction. Though he were to be shipwrecked for ever, even that seemed to be preferable to supposing that he had been wrong. Nevertheless, he loved his wife dearly, and, in the white heat of his anger endeavoured to be merciful to her. When Stanbury accused him of severity, he would not condescend to defend himself; but he told himself then of his great mercy. Was he not as fond of his own boy as any other father, and had he not allowed her to take the child because he had felt that a mother's love was more imperious, more craving in its nature, than the love of a father? Had that been severe? And had he not resolved to allow her every comfort which her unfortunate position the self-imposed misfortune of her position would allow her to enjoy? She had come to him without a shilling; and yet, bad as her treatment of him had been, he was willing to give enough not only to support her, but her sister also, with every comfort. Severe! No; that, at least, was an undeserved accusation. He had been anything but severe. Foolish he might have been, in taking a wife from a home in which she had been unable to learn the discretion of a matron; too trusting he had been, and too generous but certainly not severe. But, of course, as he said to himself, a young man like Stanbury would take the part of a woman with whose sister he was in love. Then he turned his thoughts upon Bozzle, and there came over him a crushing feeling of ignominy, shame, moral dirt, and utter degradation, as he reconsidered his dealings with that ingenious gentleman. He was paying a rogue to watch the steps of a man whom he hated, to pry into the home secrets, to read the letters, to bribe the servants, to record the movements of this rival, this successful rival, in his wife's affections! It was a filthy thing and yet what could he do? Gentlemen of old, his own grandfather or his father, would have taken such a fellow as Colonel Osborne by the throat and have caned him, and afterwards would have shot him, or have stood to be shot.
All that was changed now, but it was not his fault that it was changed. He was willing enough to risk his life, could any opportunity of risking it in this cause be obtained for him. But were he to cudgel Colonel Osborne, he would be simply arrested, and he would then be told that he had disgraced himself foully by striking a man old enough to be his father!
How was he to have avoided the employment of some such man as Bozzle? He had also employed a gentleman, his friend, Stanbury; and what was the result? The facts were not altered. Even Stanbury did not attempt to deny that there had been a correspondence, and that there had been a visit. But Stanbury was so blind to all impropriety, or pretended such blindness, that he defended that which all the world agreed in condemning. Of what use had Stanbury been to him? He had wanted facts, not advice. Stanbury had found out no facts for him; but Bozzle, either by fair means or foul, did get at the truth. He did not doubt but that Bozzle was right about that letter written only yesterday, and received on that very morning. His wife, who had probably been complaining of her wrongs to Stanbury, must have retired from that conversation to her chamber, and immediately have written this letter to her lover! With such a woman as that what can be done in these days otherwise than by the aid of such a one as Bozzle? He could not confine his wife in a dungeon. He could not save himself from the disgrace of her misconduct by any rigours of surveillance on his own part. As wives are managed nowadays, he could not forbid to her the use of the post-office, could not hinder her from seeing this hypocritical scoundrel, who carried on his wickedness under the false guise of family friendship. He had given her every chance to amend her conduct; but, if she were resolved on disobedience, he had no means of enforcing obedience. The facts, however, it was necessary that he should know.
And now, what should he do? How should he go to work to make her understand that she could not write even a letter without his knowing it; and that if she did either write to the man or see him he would immediately take the child from her, and provide for her only in such fashion as the law should demand from him? For himself, and his own life, he thought that he had determined what he would do. It was impossible that he should continue to live in London. He was ashamed to enter a club. He had hardly a friend to whom it was not an agony to speak. They who knew of him, knew also of his disgrace, and no longer asked him to their houses. For days past he had eaten alone, and sat alone, and walked alone. All study was impossible to him. No pursuit was open to him. He spend his time in thinking of his wife, and of the disgrace which she had brought upon him. Such a life as this, he knew, was unmanly and shameful, and it was absolutely necessary for him that he should in some way change it. He would go out of England, and would travel if only he could so dispose of his wife that she might be safe from any possible communication with Colonel Osborne. If that could be effected, nothing that money could do should be spared for her. If that could not be effected he would remain at home and crush her.
That night before he went to bed he wrote a letter to his wife, which was as follows:
I have learned, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you have corresponded with Colonel Osborne since you have been at Nuncombe Putney, and also that you have seen him there. This has been done in direct opposition to my expressed wishes, and I feel myself compelled to tell you that such conduct is disgraceful to you, and disgracing to me. I am quite at a loss to understand how you can reconcile to yourself so flagrant a disobedience of my instructions, and so perverse a disregard to the opinion of the world at large.
But I do not write now for the sake of finding fault with you. It is too late for me to have any hope that I can do so with good effect, either as regards your credit or my happiness. Nevertheless, it is my duty to protect both you and myself from further shame; and I wish to tell you what are my intentions with that view. In the first place, I warn you that I keep a watch on you. The doing so is very painful to me, but it is absolutely necessary. You cannot see Colonel Osborne, or write to him, without my knowing it. I pledge you my word that in either case--that is, if you correspond with him or see him--I will at once take our boy away from you. I will not allow him to remain, even with a mother, who shall so misconduct herself. Should Colonel Osborne address a letter to you, I desire that you will put it under an envelope addressed to me.
If you obey my commands on this head I will leave our boy with you nine months out of every year till he shall be six years old. Such, at least, is my present idea, though I will not positively bind myself to adhere to it. And I will allow you 800 pounds per year, for your own maintenance and that of your sister. I am greatly grieved to find from my friend Mr Stanbury that your conduct in reference to Colonel Osborne has been such as to make it necessary that you should leave Mrs Stanbury's house. I do not wonder that it should be so. I shall immediately seek for a future home for you, and when I have found one that is suitable, I will have you conveyed to it.
I must now further explain my purposes and I must beg you to remember that I am driven to do so by your direct disobedience to my expressed wishes. Should there be any further communication between you and Colonel Osborne, not only will I take your child away from you, but I will also limit the allowance to be made to you to a bare sustenance. In such case, I shall put the matter into the hands of a lawyer, and shall probably feel myself driven to take steps towards freeing myself from a connection which will be disgraceful to my name.
For myself, I shall live abroad during the greater part of the year. London has become to me uninhabitable, and all English pleasures are
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