Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 1.

Cecilia Holt and her Three Friends.

There came an episode in the life of Cecilia Holt which it is essential should first be told. When she was twenty-two years old she was living with her mother at Exeter. Mrs. Holt was a widow with comfortable means,—ample that is for herself and her daughter to supply them with all required by provincial comfort and provincial fashion. They had a house without the city, with a garden and a gardener and two boys, and they kept a brougham, which was the joint care of the gardener and the boy inside and the boy outside. They saw their friends and were seen by them. Once in the year they left home for a couple of months and went,—wherever the daughter wished. Sometimes there was a week or two in London; sometimes in Paris or Switzerland. The mother seemed to be only there to obey the daughter’s behests, and Cecilia was the most affectionate of masters. Nothing could have been less disturbed or more happy than their lives. No doubt there was present in Cecilia’s manner a certain looking down upon her mother,—of which all the world was aware, unless it was her mother and herself. The mother was not blessed by literary tastes, whereas Cecilia was great among French and German poets. And Cecilia was æsthetic, whereas the mother thought more of the delicate providing of the table. Cecilia had two or three female friends, who were not quite her equals in literature but nearly so. There was Maude Hippesley, the Dean’s daughter, and Miss Altifiorla, the daughter of an Italian father who had settled in Exeter with her maternal aunt,—in poor circumstances, but with an exalted opinion as to her own blood. Francesca Altifiorla was older than her friend, and was, perhaps, the least loved of the three, but the most often seen. And there was Mrs. Green, the Minor Canon’s wife, who had the advantage of a husband, but was nevertheless humble and retiring. They formed the élite of Miss Holt’s society and were called by their Christian names. The Italian’s name was Francesca and the married lady was called Bessy.

Cecilia had no lovers till there came in an evil hour to Exeter one Sir Francis Geraldine. She had somewhat scoffed at love, or at the necessity of having a lover. She and Miss Altifiorla had been of one mind on that subject. Maude Hippesley had a lover and could not be supposed to give her accord. Mrs. Green had had one, but expressed an opinion that it was a trouble well over. A husband might be a comfort, but a lover was a “bother.” “It’s such a blessing to be able to wear my old gloves before him. He doesn’t mind it now as he knows he’ll have to pay for the new.” But at length there came the lover. Sir Francis Geraldine was a man who had property in the county but had not lately lived upon it. He was of an old family, of which he was very proud. He was an old baronet, a circumstance which he seemed to think was very much in his favour. Good heavens! From what a height did he affect to look down upon the peers of the last twenty years. His property was small, but so singular were his gifts that he was able to be proud of that also. It had all been in the possession of his family since the time of James I. And he was a man who knew everything though only forty, and by no means old in appearance. But, if you were to believe him, he had all that experience of the world which nothing but unlimited years could have given him. He knew all the Courts in Europe, and all the race courses,—and more especially all the Jacks and Toms who had grown into notoriety in those different worlds of fashion. He came to Exeter to stay with his brother-in-law, the Dean, and to look after his property for a while. There he fell in love with Cecilia Holt, and, after a fortnight of prosperous love-making, made her an offer. This the young lady accepted, averse as she was to lovers, and for a month was the happiest and proudest girl in all Exeter. The happiness and pride of a girl in her lover is something wonderful to behold. He is surely the only man, and she the only woman born worthy of such a man. She is to be the depository of all his secrets, and the recipient of all his thoughts. That other young ladies should accept her with submission in this period of her ecstasy would be surprising were it not that she is so truly exalted by her condition as to make her for a short period an object to them of genuine worship. In this way, for a month or six weeks, did Miss Holt’s friends submit to her and bear with her. They endured to be considered but as the outside personages of an indifferent outer world, whereas Cecilia herself with her lover were the only two inhabitants of the small celestial empire in which they lived. Then there gradually came to be a change. And it must be acknowledged here that the change commenced with Cecilia Holt herself.

The greater the adoration of the girl the deeper the abyss into which she falls,—if she be doomed to fall at all. A month of imperfection she can bear, even though the imperfections be very glaring. For a month, or perhaps for six weeks, the desire to subject herself to a newly-found superior being supports her spirit against all trials. Neglect when it first comes is not known to be neglect. The first bursts of ill-temper have about them something of the picturesque,—or at any rate of the grotesque. Even the selfishness is displayed on behalf of an object so exalted as to be excusable. So it was with Cecilia Holt. The period of absolute, unmistaken, unreasonable love lasted but for six weeks after her engagement. During those six weeks all Exeter knew of it. There was no reticence on the part of any one. Sir Francis Geraldine had fallen in love with Cecilia Holt and a great triumph had been won. Cecilia, in spite of her general well-known objection to lovers, had triumphed a little. It is not to be supposed that she had miscarried herself outrageously. He is cold-hearted, almost cruel, who does not like to see the little triumph of a girl in such circumstances, who will not sympathise with her, and join with her, if occasion come, in her exaltation. No fault was found with Cecilia among her friends in Exeter, but it was a fact that she did triumph. How it was that the time of her worship then came to an end it would be difficult to say. She was perhaps struck by neglect, or something which appeared to her to be almost scorn. And the man himself, she found, was ignorant. The ill-temper had lost its picturesqueness, and become worse than grotesque. And the selfishness seemed to be displayed on an object not so high as to render it justifiable. Then came a fortnight of vacillating misery, in which she did not dare to tell her discomfort to either of her friends. Her mother, who, though she could not read Schiller, was as anxious for her daughter’s happiness as any mother could be, saw something of this and at last ventured to ask a question. “Was not Francis to have been here this morning?”

Cecilia was at that moment thinking of her lover, thinking that he had been untrue to his tryst now for the third time; and thinking also that she knew him to be untrue not with any valid excuse, not with the slightest cause for an excuse, but with a pre-determination to show the girl to whom he was engaged that it did not suit him any longer to be at the trouble of serving her. “Oh, mamma, how foolish you are! How can I tell what Sir Francis Geraldine may be doing?”

“But I thought he was to have been here.”

“Mamma, please understand that I do not carry him about tied to my apron-strings. When it pleases him to come he will come.” Then she went on with her book and was silent for a minute or two. Then she broke out again. “I am sure there ought to be a rule in life that people when they are engaged should never see each other again till they meet in the church.”

“I don’t think that would do at all, my dear.”

“Perhaps things were different when you were young. The world becomes less simple every day. However, mamma, we must put up with Sir Francis whether he come or whether he remain away.”

“The world may be less simple,” said Mrs. Holt after a pause, “but I don’t think it half so nice. Young men used to think that there was nothing so pleasant as a young lady’s company when,—when,—when they were engaged, you know.” Then the conversation ended, and the morning passed without the coming of Sir Francis.

After that a week passed,—with great forbearance on the part of Cecilia. She thought herself at least to be forbearing. She thought much of her lover, and had no doubt tried to interest herself in the usual conversation of her friends. But they, by the end of the week, perceived that Sir Francis was never first spoken of by herself. To Maude Hippesley it was very difficult to avoid an expression of her doubts, because Maude was niece to Sir Francis. And Sir Francis was much talked about at the Deanery. “My uncle was not down here this morning,” Maude would say:—and then she would go on to excuse the defalcation. He had had business requiring his immediate attention,—probably something as to the marriage settlements. “But of course he will tell you all that.” Cecilia saw through the little attempts. Maude was quite aware that Sir Francis was becoming weary of his lover’s cares, and made the best excuse she could for them. But Maude Hippesley never had liked her uncle.

“Oh, my dear Maude,” said Cecilia, “pray let him do what he pleases with himself in these the last days of his liberty. When he has got a wife he must attend to her,—more or less. Now he is as free as air. Pray let him do as he pleases, and for heaven’s sake do not bother him!” Maude who had her own lover, and was perfectly satisfied with him though she had been engaged to him for nearly twelve months, knew that things were not going well, and was unhappy. But at the moment she said nothing further.

“Where is this recreant knight?” said Francesca. There was something in the tone of Miss Altifiorla’s voice which grated against Cecilia’s ears, and almost made her angry. But she knew that in her present condition it behoved her to be especially careful. Had she resolved to break with her betrothed she would have been quite open on the subject to all her friends. She would have been open to all Exeter. But in her present condition of mind she was resolved,—she thought she was resolved,—to go on with her marriage.

“Why you should call him a recreant knight, I cannot for the life of me understand,” she said. “But it seems that Sir Francis, who is not exactly in his first youth, is supposed to be as attentive as a young turtle dove.”

“I always used to think,” said Miss Altifiorla gravely, “that a gentleman was bound to keep his promise.”

“Oh heavens, how grave you all are! A gentleman and his promise! Do you mean to assert that Sir Francis is no gentleman, and does not keep his promises? Because if so I shall be angry.” Then there was an end of that conversation.

But she was stirred to absolute anger by what took place with Mrs. Green, though she was unable to express her anger. Mrs. Green’s manner to her had always been that of a somewhat humble friend,—of one who lived in lodgings in the High Street, and who accepted dinners without returning them. And since this engagement with Sir Francis had become a fact, her manner had become perhaps a little more humble. She used to say of herself that of course she was poor; of course she had nothing to give. Her husband was only a Minor Canon, and had married her, alas, without a fortune. It is not to be supposed that on this account Cecilia was inclined to ill-treat her friend; but the way of the world is such. People are taken and must be taken in the position they frame for themselves. Mrs. Green was Cecilia Holt’s humble friend, and as such was expected to be humble. When, therefore, she volunteered a little advice to Cecilia about her lover, it was not taken altogether in good part. “My dear Cecilia,” she said, “I do really think that you ought to say something to Sir Francis.”

“Say something!” answered Cecilia sharply. “What am I to say? I say everything to him that comes in my way.”

“I think, my dear, he is just a little inattentive. I have gone through it all, and of course know what it means. It is not that he is deficient in love, but that he allows a hundred little things to stand in his way.”

“What nonsense you do talk!”

“But, my dear, you see I have gone through it all myself, and I do know what I am talking about.”

“Mr. Green—! Do you mean to liken Mr. Green to Sir Francis?”

“They are both gentlemen,” said Mrs. Green with a slight tone of anger. “And though Sir Francis is a baronet, Mr. Green is a clergyman.”

“My dear Bessie, you know that is not what I meant. In that respect they are both alike. But you, when you were engaged, were about three years younger than the man, and I am nearly twenty years younger than Sir Francis. You don’t suppose that I can put myself altogether on the same platform with him as you did with your lover. It is absurd to suppose it. Do you let him go his way, and me go mine. You may be sure that not a word of reproach will ever fall from my lips.”—“Till we are married,” Cecilia had intended to say, but she did not complete the sentence.

But the words of her comforters had their effect, as no doubt was the case with Job. She had complained to no one, but everybody had seen her condition. Her poor dear old mother, who would have put up with a very moderate amount of good usage on the part of such a lover as Sir Francis, had been aware that things were not as they should be. Her three friends, to whom she had not opened her mouth in the way of expressing her grievance, had all seen her trouble. That Maude Hippesley and Miss Altifiorla had noticed it did not strike her with much surprise, but that Mrs. Green should have expressed herself so boldly was startling. She could not but turn the matter over in her own mind and ask herself whether she were ill-treated. And it was not only those differences which the ladies noticed which struck her as ominous, but a certain way which Sir Francis had when talking to herself which troubled her. That light tone of contempt if begun now would certainly not be dropped after their marriage. He had assumed an easy way of almost laughing at her, of quizzing her pursuits, and, worse still, of only half listening to her, which she felt to promise very badly for her future happiness. If he wanted his liberty he should have it,—now and then. She would never be a drag on her husband’s happiness. She had resolved from the very first not to be an exigeant wife. She would care for all his cares, but she would never be a troublesome wife. All that had been matter of deep thought to her. And if he were not given to literary tastes in earnest,—for in the first days of their love-making there had been, as was natural, a little pretence,—she would not harass him by her pursuits. And she would sympathise with his racing and his shooting. And she would interest herself, if possible, about Newmarket,—as to which place she found he had a taste. And, joined to all the rest, there came a conviction that his real tastes did take that direction. She had never before heard that he had a passion for the turf; but if it should turn out that he was a gambler! Had any of her friends mentioned such an idea to her a week ago, how she would have rebuked that friend! But now she added this to her other grievances, and began to tell herself that she had become engaged to a man whom she did not know and whom she already doubted.

Then there came a week of very troubled existence,—of existence the more troubled because she had no one to whom to tell her trouble. As to putting confidence in her mother,—that idea never occurred to her. Her mother among her friends was the humblest of all. To tell her mother that she was going to be married was a matter of course, but she had never consulted her mother on the subject. And now, at the end of the week, she had almost resolved to break with the man without having intimated to any one that such was her intention. And what excuse had she? There was excuse enough to her own mind, to her own heart. But what excuse could she give to him or to the world? He was confident enough,—so confident as to vex her by his confidence. Though he had come to treat her with indifference, like a plaything, she was quite sure that he did not dream of having his marriage broken off. He was secured,—she was sure that this was his feeling,—by her love, by her ambition, by his position in the world. He could make her Lady Geraldine! Was it to be supposed that she should not wish to be Lady Geraldine? He could take what liberties he pleased without any danger of losing her! It was her conviction that such was the condition of his mind that operated the strongest in bringing her to her resolution.

But she must tell some one. She must have a confidante. “Maude,” she said one day, “I have made up my mind not to marry your uncle.”

“Cecilia!”

“I have. No one as yet has been told, but I have resolved. Should I see him to-morrow, or next day, or the next, I shall tell him.”

“You are not in earnest?”

“Is it likely that I should jest on such a subject;—or that if I had a mind to do so I should tell you? You must keep my secret. You must not tell your uncle. It must come to him from myself. At the present moment he does not in the least know me,—but he will.”

“And why? Why is there to be this break;—why to be these broken promises?”

“I put it to yourself whether you do not know the why. How often have you made excuses for him? Why have the excuses been necessary? I am prepared to bear all the blame. I must bear it. But I am not prepared to make myself miserable for ever because I have made a mistake as to a man’s character. Of course I shall suffer,—because I love him. He will not suffer much,—because he does not love me.”

“Oh, yes!”

“You know that he does not,” said Cecilia, shaking her head. “You know it. You know it. At any rate I know it. And as the thing has to be done, it shall be done quickly.” There was much more said between the two girls on the subject, but Maude when she left her friend was sure that her friend was in earnest.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01