When Louis Trevelyan was twenty-four years old, he had all the world before him where to choose; and, among other things, he chose to go to the Mandarin Islands, and there fell in love with Emily Rowley, the daughter of Sir Marmaduke, the governor. Sir Marmaduke Rowley, at this period of his life, was a respectable middle-aged public servant, in good repute, who had, however, as yet achieved for himself neither an exalted position nor a large fortune. He had been governor of many islands, and had never lacked employment; and now, at the age of fifty, found himself at the Mandarins, with a salary of 3,000 pounds a year, living in a temperature at which 80 in the shade is considered to be cool, with eight daughters, and not a shilling saved. A governor at the Mandarins who is social by nature and hospitable on principle, cannot save money in the islands even on 3,000 pounds a year when he has eight daughters. And at the Mandarins, though hospitality is a duty, the gentlemen who ate Sir Rowley's dinners were not exactly the men whom he or Lady Rowley desired to welcome to their bosoms as sons-in-law. Nor when Mr Trevelyan came that way, desirous of seeing everything in the somewhat indefinite course of his travels, had Emily Rowley, the eldest of the flock, then twenty years of age, seen as yet any Mandariner who exactly came up to her fancy. And, as Louis Trevelyan was a remarkably handsome young man, who was well connected, who had been ninth wrangler at Cambridge, who had already published a volume of poems, and who possessed 3,000 pounds a year of his own, arising from various perfectly secure investments, he was not forced to sigh long in vain. Indeed, the Rowleys, one and all, felt that providence had been very good to them in sending young Trevelyan on his travels in that direction, for he seemed to be a very pearl among men. Both Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley felt that there might be objections to such a marriage as that proposed to them, raised by the Trevelyan family. Lady Rowley would not have liked her daughter to go to England, to be received with cold looks by strangers. But it soon appeared that there was no one to make objections. Louis, the lover, had no living relative nearer than cousins. His father, a barrister of repute, had died a widower, and had left the money which he had made to an only child. The head of the family was a first cousin who lived in Cornwall on a moderate property, a very good sort of stupid fellow, as Louis said, who would be quite indifferent as to any marriage that his cousin might make. No man could be more independent or more clearly justified in pleasing himself than was this lover. And then he himself proposed that the second daughter, Nora, should come and live with them in London. What a lover to fall suddenly from the heavens into such a dovecote!
'I haven't a penny-piece to give either of them,' said Sir Rowley.
'It is my idea that girls should not have fortunes,' said Trevelyan. 'At any rate, I am quite sure that men should never look for money. A man must be more comfortable, and, I think, is likely to be more affectionate, when the money has belonged to himself.'
Sir Rowley was a high-minded gentleman, who would have liked to have handed over a few thousand pounds on giving up his daughters; but, having no thousands of pounds to hand over, he could not but admire the principles of his proposed son-in-law. As it was about time for him to have his leave of absence, he and sundry of the girls went to England with Mr Trevelyan, and the wedding was celebrated in London by the Rev. Oliphant Outhouse, of Saint Diddulph-in-the-East, who had married Sir Rowley's sister. Then a small house was taken and furnished in Curzon Street, Mayfair, and the Rowleys went back to the seat of their government, leaving Nora, the second girl, in charge of her elder sister.
The Rowleys had found, on reaching London, that they had lighted upon a pearl indeed. Louis Trevelyan was a man of whom all people said all good things. He might have been a fellow of his college had he not been a man of fortune. He might already, so Sir Rowley was told, have been in Parliament, had he not thought it to be wiser to wait awhile. Indeed, he was very wise in many things. He had gone out on his travels thus young, not in search of excitement, to kill beasts, or to encounter he knew not what novelty and amusement, but that he might see men and know the world. He had been on his travels for more than a year when the winds blew him to the Mandarins. Oh, how blessed were the winds! And, moreover, Sir Rowley found that his son-in-law was well spoken of at the clubs by those who had known him during his university career, as a man popular as well as wise, not a book-worm, or a dry philosopher, or a prig. He could talk on all subjects, was very generous, a man sure to be honoured and respected; and then such a handsome, manly fellow, with short brown hair, a nose divinely chiselled, an Apollo's mouth, six feet high, with shoulders and legs and arms in proportion—a pearl of pearls! Only, as Lady Rowley was the first to find out, he liked to have his own way.
'But his way is such a good way,' said Sir Marmaduke. 'He will be such a good guide for the girls!'
'But Emily likes her way too,' said Lady Rowley.
Sir Marmaduke argued the matter no further, but thought, no doubt, that such a husband as Louis Trevelyan was entitled to have his own way. He probably had not observed his daughter's temper so accurately as his wife had done. With eight of them coming up around him, how should he have observed their tempers? At any rate, if there were anything amiss with Emily's temper, it would be well that she should find her master in such a husband as Louis Trevelyan.
For nearly two years the little household in Curzon Street went on well, or if anything was the matter no one outside of the little household was aware of it. And there was a baby, a boy, a young Louis, and a baby in such a household is apt to make things go sweetly.
The marriage had taken place in July, and after the wedding tour there had been a winter and a spring in London; and then they passed a month or two at the sea-side, after which the baby had been born. And then there came another winter and another spring. Nora Rowley was with them in London, and by this time Mr Trevelyan had begun to think that he should like to have his own way completely. His baby was very nice, and his wife was clever, pretty, and attractive. Nora was all that an unmarried sister should be. But but there had come to be trouble and bitter words. Lady Rowley had been right when she said that her daughter Emily also liked to have her own way.
'If I am suspected,' said Mrs Trevelyan to her sister one morning, as they sat together in the little back drawing-room, 'life will not be worth having.'
'How can you talk of being suspected, Emily?'
'What does he mean then by saying that he would rather not have Colonel Osborne here? A man older than my own father, who has known me since I was a baby!'
'He didn't mean anything of that kind, Emily. You know he did not, and you should not say so. It would be too horrible to think of.'
'It was a great deal too horrible to be spoken, I know. If he does not beg my pardon, I shall I shall continue to live with him, of course, as a sort of upper servant, because of baby. But he shall know what I think and feel.'
'If I were you I would forget it.'
'How can I forget it? Nothing that I can do pleases him. He is civil and kind to you because he is not your master; but you don't know what things he says to me. Am I to tell Colonel Osborne not to come? Heavens and earth! How should I ever hold up my head again if I were driven to do that? He will be here today I have no doubt; and Louis will sit there below in the library, and hear his step, and will not come up.'
'Tell Richard to say you are not at home.'
'Yes; and everybody will understand why. And for what am I to deny myself in that way to the best and oldest friend I have? If any such orders are to be given, let him give them and then see what will come of it.'
Mrs Trevelyan had described Colonel Osborne truly as far as words went, in saying that he had known her since she was a baby, and that he was an older man than her father. Colonel Osborne's age exceeded her father's by about a month, and as he was now past fifty, he might be considered perhaps, in that respect, to be a safe friend for a young married woman. But he was in every respect a man very different from Sir Marmaduke. Sir Marmaduke, blessed and at the same time burdened as he was with a wife and eight daughters, and condemned as he had been to pass a large portion of his life within the tropics, had become at fifty what many people call quite a middle-aged man. That is to say, he was one from whom the effervescence and elasticity and salt of youth had altogether passed away. He was fat and slow, thinking much of his wife and eight daughters, thinking much also of his dinner. Now Colonel Osborne was a bachelor, with no burdens but those imposed upon him by his position as a member of Parliament, a man of fortune to whom the world had been very easy. It was not therefore said so decidedly of him as of Sir Marmaduke, that he was a middle-aged man, although he had probably already lived more than two-thirds of his life. And he was a good-looking man of his age, bald indeed at the top of his head, and with a considerable sprinkling of grey hair through his bushy beard; but upright in his carriage, active, and quick in his step, who dressed well, and was clearly determined to make the most he could of what remained to him of the advantages of youth. Colonel Osborne was always so dressed that no one ever observed the nature of his garments, being no doubt well aware that no man after twenty-five can afford to call special attention to his coat, his hat, his cravat, or his trousers; but nevertheless the matter was one to which he paid much attention, and he was by no means lax in ascertaining what his tailor did for him. He always rode a pretty horse, and mounted his groom on one at any rate as pretty. He was known to have an excellent stud down in the shires, and had the reputation of going well with hounds. Poor Sir Marmaduke could not have ridden a hunt to save either his government or his credit. When, therefore, Mrs Trevelyan declared to her sister that Colonel Osborne was a man whom she was entitled to regard with semi-parental feelings of veneration because he was older than her father, she made a comparison which was more true in the letter than in the spirit. And when she asserted that Colonel Osborne had known her since she was a baby, she fell again into the same mistake. Colonel Osborne had indeed known her when she was a baby, and had in old days been the very intimate friend of her father; but of herself he had seen little or nothing since those baby days, till he had met her just as she was about to become Mrs Trevelyan; and though it was natural that so old a friend should come to her and congratulate her and renew his friendship, nevertheless it was not true that he made his appearance in her husband's house in the guise of the useful old family friend, who gives silver cups to the children and kisses the little girls for the sake of the old affection which he has borne for the parents. We all know the appearance of that old gentleman, how pleasant and dear a fellow he is, how welcome is his face within the gate, how free he makes with our wine, generally abusing it, how he tells our eldest daughter to light his candle for him, how he gave silver cups when the girls were born, and now bestows tea-services as they get married—a most useful, safe, and charming fellow, not a year younger-looking or more nimble than ourselves, without whom life would be very blank. We all know that man; but such a man was not Colonel Osborne in the house of Mr Trevelyan's young bride.
Emily Rowley, when she was brought home from the Mandarin Islands to be the wife of Louis Trevelyan, was a very handsome young woman, tall, with a bust rather full for her age, with dark eyes eyes that looked to be dark because her eye-brows and eye-lashes were nearly black, but which were in truth so varying in colour that you could not tell their hue. Her brown hair was very dark and very soft; and the tint of her complexion was brown also, though the colour of her cheeks was often so bright as to induce her enemies to say falsely of her that she painted them. And she was very strong, as are some girls who come from the tropics, and whom a tropical climate has suited. She could sit on her horse the whole day long, and would never be weary with dancing at the Government House balls. When Colonel Osborne was introduced to her as the baby whom he had known, he thought it would be very pleasant to be intimate with so pleasant a friend, meaning no harm indeed, as but few men do mean harm on such occasions, but still, not regarding the beautiful young woman whom he had seen as one of a generation succeeding to that of his own, to whom it would be his duty to make himself useful on account of the old friendship which he bore to her father.
It was, moreover, well known in London though not known at all to Mrs Trevelyan that this ancient Lothario had before this made himself troublesome in more than one family. He was fond of intimacies with married ladies, and perhaps was not averse to the excitement of marital hostility. It must be remembered, however, that the hostility to which allusion is here made was not the hostility of the pistol or the horsewhip nor indeed was it generally the hostility of a word of spoken anger. A young husband may dislike the too-friendly bearing of a friend, and may yet abstain from that outrage on his own dignity and on his wife, which is conveyed by a word of suspicion. Louis Trevelyan having taken a strong dislike to Colonel Osborne, and having failed to make his wife understand that this dislike should have induced her to throw cold water upon the Colonel's friendship, had allowed himself to speak a word which probably he would have willingly recalled as soon as spoken. But words spoken cannot be recalled, and many a man and many a woman who has spoken a word at once regretted, are far too proud to express that regret. So it was with Louis Trevelyan when he told his wife that he did not wish Colonel Osborne to come so often to his house. He had said it with a flashing eye and an angry tone; and though she had seen the eye flash before, and was familiar with the angry tone, she had never before felt herself to be insulted by her husband. As soon as the word had been spoken Trevelyan had left the room and had gone down among his books. But when he was alone he knew that he had insulted his wife. He was quite aware that he should have spoken to her gently, and have explained to her, with his arm round her waist, that it would be better for both of them that this friend's friendship should be limited. There is so much in a turn of the eye and in the tone given to a word when such things have to be said, so much more of importance than in the words themselves. As Trevelyan thought of this, and remembered what his manner had been, how much anger he had expressed, how far he had been from having his arm round his wife's waist as he spoke to her, he almost made up his mind to go upstairs and to apologise. But he was one to whose nature the giving of any apology was repulsive. He could not bear to have to own himself to have been wrong. And then his wife had been most provoking in her manner to him. When he had endeavoured to make her understand his wishes by certain disparaging hints which he had thrown out as to Colonel Osborne, saying that he was a dangerous man, one who did not show his true character, a snake in the grass, a man without settled principles, and such like, his wife had taken up the cudgels for her friend, and had openly declared that she did not believe a word of the things that were alleged against him. 'But still for all that it is true,' the husband had said. 'I have no doubt that you think so,' the wife had replied. 'Men do believe evil of one another, very often. But you must excuse me if I say that I think you are mistaken. I have known Colonel Osborne much longer than you have done, Louis, and papa has always had the highest opinion of him.' Then Mr Trevelyan had become very angry, and had spoken those words which he could not recall. As he walked to and fro among his books downstairs, he almost felt that he ought to beg his wife's pardon. He knew his wife well enough to be sure that she would not forgive him unless he did so. He would do so, he thought, but not exactly now. A moment would come in which it might be easier than at present. He would be able to assure her when he went up to dress for dinner, that he had meant no harm. They were going out to dine at the house of a lady of rank, the Countess Dowager of Milborough, a lady standing high in the world's esteem, of whom his wife stood a little in awe; and he calculated that this feeling, if it did not make his task easy would yet take from it some of its difficulty. Emily would be, not exactly cowed, by the prospect of Lady Milborough's dinner, but perhaps a little reduced from her usual self-assertion. He would say a word to her when he was dressing, assuring her that he had not intended to animadvert in the slightest degree upon her own conduct.
Luncheon was served, and the two ladies went down into the dining-room. Mr Trevelyan did not appear. There was nothing in itself singular in that, as he was accustomed to declare that luncheon was a meal too much in the day, and that a man should eat nothing beyond a biscuit between breakfast and dinner. But he would sometimes come in and eat his biscuit standing on the hearth-rug, and drink what he would call half a quarter of a glass of sherry. It would probably have been well that he should have done so now; but he remained in his library behind the dining-room, and when his wife and his sister-in-law had gone upstairs, he became anxious to learn whether, Colonel Osborne would come on that day, and, if so, whether he would be admitted. He had been told that Nora Rowley was to be called for by another lady, a Mrs Fairfax, to go out and look at pictures. His wife had declined to join Mrs Fairfax's party, having declared that, as she was going to dine out, she would not leave her baby all the afternoon. Louis Trevelyan, though he strove to apply his mind to an article which he was writing for a scientific quarterly review, could not keep himself from anxiety as to this expected visit from Colonel Osborne. He was not in the least jealous. He swore to himself fifty times over that any such feeling on his part would be a monstrous injury to his wife. Nevertheless he knew that he would be gratified if on that special day Colonel Osborne should be informed that his wife was not at home. Whether the man were admitted or not, he would beg his wife's pardon; but he could, he thought, do so with more thorough efficacy and affection if she should have shown a disposition to comply with his wishes on this day.
'Do say a word to Richard,' said Nora to her sister in a whisper as they were going upstairs after luncheon.
'I will not,' said Mrs Trevelyan.
'May I do it?'
'Certainly not, Nora. I should feel that I were demeaning myself were I to allow what was said to me in such a manner to have any effect upon me.'
'I think you are so wrong, Emily. I do indeed.'
'You must allow me to be the best judge what to do in my own house, and with my own husband.'
'Oh, yes; certainly.'
'If he gives me any command I will obey it. Or if he had expressed his wish in any other words I would have complied. But to be told that he would rather not have Colonel Osborne here! If you had seen his manner and heard his words, you would not have been surprised that I should feel it as I do. It was a gross insult and it was not the first.'
As she spoke the fire flashed from her eye, and the bright red colour of her cheek told a tale of her anger which her sister well knew how to read. Then there was a knock at the door, and they both knew that Colonel Osborne was there. Louis Trevelyan, sitting in his library, also knew of whose coming that knock gave notice.