The Small House at Allington/Chapter 56

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It has been told in the last chapter how Lady De Courcy gave a great party in London in the latter days of April, and it may therefore be thought that things were going well with the De Courcys; but I fear the inference would be untrue. At any rate, things were not going well with Lady Alexandrina, for she, on her mother's first arrival in town, had rushed to Portman-square with a long tale of her sufferings.

"Oh, mamma! you would not believe it; but he hardly ever speaks to me."

"My dear, there are worse faults in a man than that."

"I am alone there all the day. I never get out. He never offers to get me a carriage. He asked me to walk with him once last week, when it was raining. I saw that he waited till the rain began. Only think, I have not been out three evenings this month,—except to Amelia's; and now he says he won't go there any more, because a fly is so expensive. You can't believe how uncomfortable the house is."

"I thought you chose it, my dear."

"I looked at it, but, of course, I didn't know what a house ought to be. Amelia said it wasn't nice, but he would have it. He hates Amelia. I'm sure of that, for he says everything he can to snub her and Mr. Gazebee. Mr. Gazebee is as good as he, at any rate. What do you think? He has given Richard warning to go. You never saw him, but he was a very good servant. He has given him warning, and he is not talking of getting another man. I won't live with him without somebody to wait upon me."

"My dearest girl, do not think of such a thing as leaving him."

"But I will think of it, mamma. You do not know what my life is in that house. He never speaks to me,—never. He comes home before dinner at half-past six, and when he has just shown himself he goes to his dressing-room. He is always silent at dinner-time, and after dinner he goes to sleep. He breakfasts always at nine, and goes away at half-past nine, though I know he does not get to his office till eleven. If I want anything, he says that it cannot be afforded. I never thought before that he was stingy, but I am sure now that he must be a miser at heart."

"It is better so than a spendthrift, Alexandrina."

"I don't know that it is better. He could not make me more unhappy than I am. Unhappy is no word for it. What can I do, shut up in such a house as that by myself from nine o'clock in the morning till six in the evening? Everybody knows what he is, so that nobody will come to see me. I tell you fairly, mamma, I will not stand it. If you cannot help me, I will look for help elsewhere."

It may, at any rate, be said that things were not going well with that branch of the De Courcy family. Nor, indeed, was it going well with some other branches. Lord Porlock had married, not having selected his partner for life from the choicest cream of the aristocratic circles, and his mother, while endeavouring to say a word in his favour, had been so abused by the earl that she had been driven to declare that she could no longer endure such usage. She had come up to London in direct opposition to his commands, while he was fastened to his room by gout; and had given her party in defiance of him, so that people should not say, when her back was turned, that she had slunk away in despair.

"I have borne it," she said to Margaretta, "longer than any other woman in England would have done. While I thought that any of you would marry——"

"Oh, don't talk of that, mamma," said Margaretta, putting a little scorn into her voice. She had not been quite pleased that even her mother should intimate that all her chance was over, and yet she herself had often told her mother that she had given up all thought of marrying.

"Rosina will go to Amelia's," the countess continued; "Mr. Gazebee is quite satisfied that it should be so, and he will take care that she shall have enough to cover her own expenses. I propose that you and I, dear, shall go to Baden-Baden."

"And about money, mamma?"

"Mr. Gazebee must manage it. In spite of all that your father says, I know that there must be money. The expense will be much less so than in our present way."

"And what will papa do himself?"

"I cannot help it, my dear. No one knows what I have had to bear. Another year of it would kill me. His language has become worse and worse, and I fear every day that he is going to strike me with his crutch."

Under all these circumstances it cannot be said that the De Courcy interests were prospering.

But Lady De Courcy, when she had made up her mind to go to Baden-Baden, had by no means intended to take her youngest daughter with her. She had endured for years, and now Alexandrina was unable to endure for six months. Her chief grievance, moreover, was this,—that her husband was silent. The mother felt that no woman had a right to complain much of any such sorrow as that. If her earl had sinned only in that way, she would have been content to have remained by him till the last!

And yet I do not know whether Alexandrina's life was not quite as hard as that of her mother. She barely exceeded the truth when she said that he never spoke to her. The hours with her in her new comfortless house were very long,—very long and very tedious. Marriage with her had by no means been the thing that she had expected. At home, with her mother, there had always been people around her, but they had not always been such as she herself would have chosen for her companions. She had thought that, when married, she could choose and have those about her who were congenial to her; but she found that none came to her. Her sister, who was a wiser woman than she, had begun her married life with a definite idea, and had carried it out; but this poor creature found herself, as it were, stranded. When once she had conceived it in her heart to feel anger against her husband,—and she had done so before they had been a week together,—there was no love to bring her back to him again. She did not know that it behoved her to look pleased when he entered the room, and to make him at any rate think that his presence gave her happiness. She became gloomy before she reached her new house, and never laid her gloom aside. He would have made a struggle for some domestic comfort, had any seemed to be within his reach. As it was, he struggled for domestic propriety, believing that he might so best bolster up his present lot in life. But the task became harder and harder to him, and the gloom became denser and more dense. He did not think of her unhappiness, but of his own; as she did not think of his tedium, but of hers. "If this be domestic felicity!" he would say to himself, as he sat in his arm-chair, striving to fix his attention upon a book.

"If this be the happiness of married life!" she thought, as she remained listless, without even the pretence of a book, behind her teacups. In truth she would not walk with him, not caring for such exercise round the pavement of a London square; and he had resolutely determined that she should not run into debt for carriage hire. He was not a curmudgeon with his money; he was no miser. But he had found that in marrying an earl's daughter he had made himself a poor man, and he was resolved that he would not also be an embarrassed man.

When the bride heard that her mother and sister were about to escape to Baden-Baden, there rushed upon her a sudden hope that she might be able to accompany the flight. She would not be parted from her husband, or at least not so parted that the world should suppose that they had quarrelled. She would simply go away and make a long visit,—a very long visit. Two years ago a sojourn with her mother and Margaretta at Baden-Baden would not have offered to her much that was attractive; but now, in her eyes, such a life seemed to be a life in Paradise. In truth, the tedium of those hours in Princess Royal Crescent had been very heavy.

But how could she contrive that it should be so? That conversation with her mother had taken place on the day preceding the party, and Lady De Courcy had repeated it with dismay to Margaretta.

"Of course he would allow her an income," Margaretta had coolly said.

"But, my dear, they have been married only ten weeks."

"I don't see why anybody is to be made absolutely wretched because they are married," Margaretta answered. "I don't want to persuade her to leave him, but if what she says is true, it must be very uncomfortable."

Crosbie had consented to go to the party in Portman-square, but had not greatly enjoyed himself on that festive occasion. He had stood about moodily, speaking hardly a word to any one. His whole aspect of life seemed to have been altered during the last few months. It was here, in such spots as this that he had been used to find his glory. On such occasions he had shone with peculiar light, making envious the hearts of many who watched the brilliance of his career as they stood around in dull quiescence. But now no one in those rooms had been more dull, more silent, or less courted than he; and yet he was established there as the son-in-law of that noble house. "Rather slow work; isn't it?" Gazebee had said to him, having, after many efforts, succeeded in reaching his brother-in-law in a corner. In answer to this Crosbie had only grunted. "As for myself," continued Gazebee, "I would a deal sooner be at home with my paper and slippers. It seems to me these sort of gatherings don't suit married men." Crosbie had again grunted, and had then escaped into another corner.

Crosbie and his wife went home together in a cab,—speechless both of them. Alexandrina hated cabs,—but she had been plainly told that in such vehicles, and in such vehicles only, could she be allowed to travel. On the following morning he was at the breakfast-table punctually by nine, but she did not make her appearance till after he had gone to his office. Soon after that, however, she was away to her mother and her sister; but she was seated grimly in her drawing-room when he came in to see her, on his return to his house. Having said some word which might be taken for a greeting, he was about to retire; but she stopped him with a request that he would speak to her.

"Certainly," said he. "I was only going to dress. It is nearly the half-hour."

"I won't keep you very long, and if dinner is a few minutes late it won't signify. Mamma and Margaretta are going to Baden-Baden."

"To Baden-Baden, are they?"

"Yes; and they intend to remain there—for a considerable time." There was a little pause, and Alexandrina found it necessary to clear her voice and to prepare herself for further speech by a little cough. She was determined to make her proposition, but was rather afraid of the manner in which it might be first received.

"Has anything happened at Courcy Castle?" Crosbie asked.

"No; that is, yes; there may have been some words between papa and mamma; but I don't quite know. That, however, does not matter now. Mamma is going, and purposes to remain there for the rest of the year."

"And the house in town will be given up."

"I suppose so, but that will be as papa chooses. Have you any objection to my going with mamma?"

What a question to be asked by a bride of ten weeks' standing! She had hardly been a month with her husband in her new house, and she was now asking permission to leave it, and to leave him also, for an indefinite number of months,—perhaps for ever. But she showed no excitement as she made her request. There was neither sorrow, nor regret, nor hope in her face. She had not put on half the animation which she had once assumed in asking for the use, twice a week, of a carriage done up to look as though it were her own private possession. Crosbie had then answered her with great sternness, and she had wept when his refusal was made certain to her. But there was to be no weeping now. She meant to go,—with his permission if he would accord it, and without if he should refuse it. The question of money was no doubt important, but Gazebee should manage that,—as he managed all those things.

"Going with them to Baden-Baden?" said Crosbie. "For how long?"

"Well; it would be no use unless it were for some time."

"For how long a time do you mean, Alexandrina? Speak out what you really have to say. For a month?"

"Oh, more than that."

"For two months, or six, or as long as they may stay there?"

"We could settle that afterwards, when I am there." During all this time she did not once look into his face, though he was looking hard at her throughout.

"You mean," said he, "that you wish to go away from me."

"In one sense it would be going away, certainly."

"But in the ordinary sense? is it not so? When you talk of going to Baden-Baden for an unlimited number of months, have you any idea of coming back again?"

"Back to London, you mean?"

"Back to me,—to my house,—to your duties as a wife! Why cannot you say at once what it is you want? You wish to be separated from me?"

"I am not happy here,—in this house."

"And who chose the house? Did I want to come here? But it is not that. If you are not happy here, what could you have in any other house to make you happy?"

"If you were left alone in this room for seven or eight hours at a time, without a soul to come to you, you would know what I mean. And even after that, it is not much better. You never speak to me when you are here."

"Is it my fault that nobody comes to you? The fact is, Alexandrina, that you will not reconcile yourself to the manner of life which is suitable to my income. You are wretched because you cannot have yourself driven round the Park. I cannot find you a carriage, and will not attempt to do so. You may go to Baden-Baden, if you please;—that is, if your mother is willing to take you."

"Of course I must pay my own expenses," said Alexandrina. But to this he made no answer on the moment. As soon as he had given his permission he had risen from his seat and was going, and her last words only caught him in the doorway. After all, would not this be the cheapest arrangement that he could make? As he went through his calculations he stood up with his elbow on the mantelpiece in his dressing-room. He had scolded his wife because she had been unhappy with him; but had he not been quite as unhappy with her? Would it not be better that they should part in this quiet, half-unnoticed way;—that they should part and never again come together? He was lucky in this, that hitherto had come upon them no prospect of any little Crosbie to mar the advantages of such an arrangement. If he gave her four hundred a year, and allowed Gazebee two more towards the paying off encumbrances, he would still have six on which to enjoy himself in London. Of course he could not live as he had lived in those happy days before his marriage, nor, independently of the cost, would such a mode of life be within his reach. But he might go to his club for his dinners; he might smoke his cigar in luxury; he would not be bound to that wooden home which, in spite of all his resolutions, had become almost unendurable to him. So he made his calculations, and found that it would be well that his bride should go. He would give over his house and his furniture to Gazebee, allowing Gazebee to do as he would about that. To be once more a bachelor, in lodgings, with six hundred a year to spend on himself, seemed to him now such a prospect of happiness that he almost became light-hearted as he dressed himself. He would let her go to Baden-Baden.

There was nothing said about it at dinner, nor did he mention the subject again till the servant had left the tea-things on the drawing-room table. "You can go with your mother if you like it," he then said.

"I think it will be best," she answered.

"Perhaps it will. At any rate you shall suit yourself."

"And about money?"

"You had better leave me to speak to Gazebee about that."

"Very well. Will you have some tea?" And then the whole thing was finished.

On the next day she went after lunch to her mother's house, and never came back again to Princess Royal Crescent. During that morning she packed up those things which she cared to pack herself, and sent her sisters there, with an old family servant, to bring away whatever else might be supposed to belong to her. "Dear, dear," said Amelia, "what trouble I had in getting these things together for them, and only the other day. I can't but think she's wrong to go away."

"I don't know," said Margaretta. "She has not been so lucky as you have in the man she has married. I always felt that she would find it difficult to manage him."

"But, my dear, she has not tried. She has given up at once. It isn't management that was wanting. The fact is that when Alexandrina began she didn't make up her mind to the kind of thing she was coming to. I did. I knew it wasn't to be all party-going and that sort of thing. But I must own that Crosbie isn't the same sort of man as Mortimer. I don't think I could have gone on with him. You might as well have those small books put up; he won't care about them." And in this way Crosbie's house was dismantled.

She saw him no more, for he made no farewell visit to the house in Portman Square. A note had been brought to him at his office: "I am here with mamma, and may as well say good-by now. We start on Tuesday. If you wish to write, you can send your letters to the housekeeper here. I hope you will make yourself comfortable, and that you will be well. Yours affectionately, A. C." He made no answer to it, but went that day and dined at his club.

"I haven't seen you this age," said Montgomerie Dobbs.

"No. My wife is going abroad with her mother, and while she is away I shall come back here again."

There was nothing more said to him, and no one ever made any inquiry about his domestic affairs. It seemed to him now as though he had no friend sufficiently intimate with him to ask him after his wife or family. She was gone, and in a month's time he found himself again in Mount Street,—beginning the world with five hundred a year, not six. For Mr. Gazebee, when the reckoning came, showed him that a larger income, at the present moment was not possible for him. The countess had for a long time refused to let Lady Alexandrina go with her on so small a pittance as four hundred and fifty;—and then were there not the insurances to be maintained?

But I think he would have consented to accept his liberty with three hundred a year,—so great to him was the relief.