Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 10.

Sir Francis Travels with Miss Altifiorla.

Miss Altifiorla was at the station of course before her time. It is the privilege of unmarried ladies when they travel alone to spend a good deal of time at stations. But as she walked up and down the platform she had an opportunity for settling her thoughts. She was angry with three persons—with Mrs. Western, Mr. Western, and with herself. She was very angry with Cecilia. Had Cecilia trusted to her properly she could have sympathised with her thoroughly in all her troubles. She was not angry with her friend in that her friend was afraid of her husband. Would she have reposed herself and her fears on her friend’s bosom it might have been very well. But it was because her friend had not been afraid of her that she was wrath. Mrs. Western had misbehaved egregiously, and had come to her in her trouble solely because it was necessary. So far she had done naturally. But though she had come, she had not come in any of the spirit of humility. She had been bold as brass to her in the midst of her cowardice towards her husband,—imperious to herself and unbending. She had declined her advice with scorn. And yet one word spoken by herself would have been destructive. Seeing that she had been so treated had she not been wrong to abstain from the word?

Her anger against Mr. Western was less hot in its nature but was still constant. He had not liked her, and though he had been formally civil, his dislike had been apparent. He was a man proud of himself, who ought to be punished for his pride. It was quite proper that he should learn that his wife had been engaged to the man whom he had so violently despised. It would be no more than a fitting reverse of fortune. Mr. Western was, she thought, no better than other men, and ought to be made so to understand. She had not quite arranged in her mind what she could now do in the matter, but for “dear Cecilia’s” sake she was sure that something must be done.

And she was angry with herself at allowing herself to be turned out of the house before the crisis had come. She felt that she ought to have been present at the crisis, and that by the exercise of her own powers she might have hurried on the crisis. In this respect she was by no means satisfied with herself.

She was walking up and down the platform of the little country station thinking of all this when on a sudden she saw Sir Francis Geraldine get out of a brougham. It cannot be explained why her heart throbbed when she saw Sir Francis get out of his brougham. It was not that she thought that she could ask his advice on the matters which filled her mind, but there probably did come to her vague ideas of the possibility of some joint action. At any rate she received him when he came upon the platform with her blandest smile, and immediately entered into conversation with him respecting the household of the Westerns. What a stiff man he was, so learned, so proper, and so distant! It was impossible to get on with him. No doubt he was very good and all that. But what was their poor dear Cecilia to do with a man so silent, and one who hated all amusements? Before the train came up she and Sir Francis were quite on good terms together; and as they were both going to London they got into the same carriage.

“Of course he’s a prig,” said Sir Francis, as they seated themselves opposite to one another. “But then his wife is a prig too, and I do not see why they should not suit each other.”

“You did not use to think her a prig, Sir Francis.”

“No; like other men I made a mistake and was nearly having to pay for it. But I discovered in time,—luckily for both of us.”

“You know,” said Miss Altifiorla, “that Cecilia Holt was my dearest friend, and I cannot endure to hear her abused.”

“Abused! You do not think I wish to abuse her. I am awfully fond of her still. But I do not see why she and Western should not get on very well together. I suppose they’ve no secrets from each other,” he added after a pause. Upon this Miss Altifiorla remained silent. “They tell each other everything I should think.” Still Miss Altifiorla said nothing. “I should imagine that she would tell him everything.”

“Upon my word I can’t say.”

“I suppose she does. About her former engagement, for instance. He knows the whole story, eh?”

“I declare you put it to me in such a way that one doesn’t know how to answer you.”

“Different people have such different opinions about these kind of things. Some people think that because a girl has been engaged to a man she never ought to speak to him again when the engagement is broken. For my part I do not see why they should not be as intimate as any other people. She looked at me the other day as though she thought that I ought not to put myself into the same room with her again. I suppose she did it in obedience to him.”

What was Miss Altifiorla to say in answer to such a question? She did remember her promise, and her promise was in a way binding upon her. She wished so to keep it as to be able to boast that she had kept it. But still she was most anxious to break it in the spirit. She did understand that she had bound herself not to divulge aught about Mrs. Western’s secret, and that were she to do so now to Sir Francis she would be untrue to her friend. But the provocation was strong; and she felt that Sir Francis was a man with whom it would be pleasant to form an alliance.

“You must know,” said Sir Francis.

“I don’t see that I need know at all. Of course Cecilia does tell me everything; but I do not see that for that reason I am bound to tell anyone else.”

“Then you do know.”

“Know what?”

“Has she told him that she was engaged to me? Or does he not know it without her telling him?” By this time they had become very intimate, and were whispering backwards and forwards with each other at their end of the carriage. All this was very pleasant to Miss Altifiorla. She felt that she was becoming the recipient of an amount of confidential friendship which had altogether been refused to her during the last two weeks. Sir Francis was a baronet, and a man of fashion, and a gentleman very well thought of in Devonshire, let Mr. Western say what he might about his conduct. Mr. Western was evidently a stiff stern man who did not like the amusements of other gentlemen. Miss Altifiorla felt that she liked being the friend of a man of fashion, and she despised Mr. Western. She threw herself back on the seat and closed her eyes and laughed. But he pressed her with the same question in another form. “Does he know that she was engaged to me?”

“If you will ask me, I do not think that he does.”

“You really mean to say that he had never heard of it before his marriage?”

“What am I to do when you press me in this way? Remember that I do not tell you anything of my own knowledge. It is only what I think.”

“You just now said that she told you everything.”

“But perhaps she doesn’t know herself.”

“At any rate there is a mystery about it.”

“I think there is, Sir Francis.” After that it was not very long before Miss Altifiorla was induced to talk with great openness of the whole affair, and before they had reached London she had divulged to Sir Francis the fact that Mrs. Western had as yet told her husband nothing of her previous engagement, and lived at the present moment in awe at the idea of having to do so. “I had no conception that Cecilia would have been such a coward,” she said, as Sir Francis was putting her into a cab, “but such is the sad fact. She has never mentioned your name.”

“And was therefore dreadfully frightened when I called.”

“Oh, dreadfully! But I shouldn’t wonder if she has not told him all about it now.”

“Already, you think.” He was standing at the door of the cab, detaining it, and thereby showing in a very pleasant manner the importance of the interview.

“Well;—I cannot say. Perhaps not yet. She had certainly not made the communication when I left this morning, but was only waiting for my departure to do so. So she said at least. But she is terribly afraid of him and perhaps has not plucked up her courage. But I must be off now.”

“When do you leave town?”

“This afternoon. You are delaying me terribly at this moment. Don’t, Sir Francis!” This she said in a whisper because he had got hold of her hand through the window, as though to say good-bye to her, and did not at once let it go.

“When do you go? I’ll see you off by the other train. When do you go, and from where?”

“Will you though? That will be very kind. Waterloo;—at 4.30. Remember the 4.30.”

“Sans adieu!” Then she kissed her hand to him and was driven off.

This to her was all very pleasant. It gave an instant rose colour to her life. She had achieved such a character down at Exeter for maidenly reserve, and had lived so sternly, that it was hardly in her memory that a man had squeezed her hand before. She did remember one young clergyman who had sinned in this direction, twelve years since, but he was now a Bishop. When she heard the other day that he had been made a Bishop some misgivings as to her great philosophy touched her mind. Had she done right in repudiating mankind? Would it not have been better now to have been driving about the streets of the episcopal city, or perhaps even those of the metropolis, in an episcopal carriage? But, as she had then said, she had chosen her line and must now abide by it. But the pressing of her hand by Sir Francis had opened up new ideas to her. And they were the pleasanter because a special arrangement had been made for their meeting once again before they left London. As to one point she was quite determined. Mrs. Western and her secret must be altogether discarded. As for her promise she had not really broken it. He had been clever enough to extract from her all that she knew without, as she thought, any positive statement on her own part. At any rate he did know the truth, and no concealment could any longer be of service to Cecilia. It was evident that the way was open to her now, and that she could tell all that she knew without any breach of confidence.

Sir Francis, when he left her, was quite determined to carry his project through. Cecilia had thrown him over with most abominable unconcern and self-sufficiency. He had intended to honour her and she had monstrously dishonoured him. He had endeavoured to escape this by taking upon himself falsely the fault of having been the first to break their engagement. But there was a doubt as to this point, and people said that he had been jilted—much to his disgust. He was determined to be revenged,—or, as he said to himself, “he had made up his mind that the broad truth should be known.” It certainly would be the “broad truth” if he could make Mr. Western understand the relations on which he, Sir Francis, had but a few months before stood in regard to his wife. “Honesty,” he said to himself, “demanded it.”

Miss Altifiorla, he thought, was by no means an unpleasant young woman with whom to have an intrigue. She had good looks of her own, though they were thin and a little pinched. She was in truth thirty-five years old, but she did not quite look it. She had a certain brightness of eye when she was awakened to enthusiasm, and she knew how to make the best of herself. She could whisper and be—or pretend to be—secret. She had about her, at her command, a great air of special friendship. She had not practised it much with men as yet, but there was no reason why she should not do so with advantage. She felt herself already quite on intimate terms with Sir Francis; and of Sir Francis it may be said, that he was sufficiently charmed with Miss Altifiorla to find it expedient to go and see her off from the Waterloo Station.

He found Dick Ross at his club and lunched with him. “You’re just up from the Criterion,” said Dick.

“Yes; I went down for the sake of renewing an old acquaintance, and I renewed it.”

“You’ve been persecuting that unfortunate young woman.”

“Why a young woman should be thought unfortunate because she marries such a pink of perfection as Mr. Western, and avoids such a scapegrace as I am, I cannot conceive.”

“She’s unfortunate because you mean to bully her. Why can’t you leave her alone? She has had her chance of war, and you have had yours, and he has had his. As far as I can see you have had the best of it. She is married to a stiff prig of a fellow, who no doubt will make her miserable. Surely that ought to be enough for you.”

“Not quite,” said Sir Francis. “There is nothing recommends itself to my mind so much as even-handed justice. He played me a trick once, and I’ll play him another. She too played me a trick, and now I can play her one. My good fortune consists in this, that I can kill the two birds with one stone.”

“You mean to kill them?”

“Certainly I do. Why on earth should I let them off? He did not let me off. Nor did she. They think because I carry things in an easy manner that I take them easily. I suffer as much as they do. But they shall suffer as well as I.”

“The most pernicious doctrine I ever heard in my life,” said Dick Ross as he filled his mouth with cold chicken pie.

“When you say pernicious, have you any idea what you mean?”

“Well, yes; awfully savage, and all that kind of thing. Just utter cruelty, and a bad spirit.”

“Those are your ideas because you don’t take the trouble to return evil for evil. But then you never take the trouble to return good for good. In fact, you have no idea of duty, only you don’t like to burden your conscience with doing what seems to be ill-natured. Now, if a man does me good, I return it,—which I deem to be a great duty, and if he does me evil, I generally return that sooner or later. There is some idea of justice in my conduct, but there is none in yours.”

“Do you mean to punish them both?”

“Well, yes; as far as it is in my power, both.”

“Don’t,” said Dick Ross, looking up with something like real sorrow depicted on his face. But still he called for some greengage tart.

“I like to get the better of my enemies,” said the Baronet. “You like fruit pie. I doubt if you’d even give up fruit pie to save this woman.”

“I will,” said Dick, pushing the pie away from him.

“The sacrifice would be all in vain. I must write the letter to-day, and as it has to be thought about I must begin it at once. Whatever happens, do not let your good nature quarrel with your appetite.”

“He’s a fiend, a perfect fiend,” said Dick Ross, as he sate dawdling over his cheese. “I wouldn’t have his ill-nature for all his money.” But he turned that sentiment over in his mind, endeavouring to ascertain what he would do if the offer of the exchange were made to him. For Dick was very poor, and at this moment was in great want of money. Sir Francis went into the smoking-room, and sitting there alone with a cigar in his mouth, meditated the letter which he would have to write. The letter should be addressed to Mr. Western, and was one which could not be written without much forethought. He not only must tell his story, but must give some reason more or less plausible for the telling of it. He did not think that he could at once make his idea of justice plain to Mr. Western. He could not put forth his case so clearly as to make the husband understand that all was done in fair honour and honesty. But as he thought of it, he came to the conclusion that he did not much care what impression he might leave on the mind of Mr. Western;—and still less what impression he might leave on hers. He might probably succeed in creating a quarrel, and he was of opinion that Mr. Western was a man who would not quarrel lightly, but, when he did, would quarrel very earnestly. Having thought it all over with great deliberation, he went up-stairs, and in twenty minutes had his letter written. At a quarter past four he was at the Waterloo Station to see the departure of Miss Altifiorla. Even he could perceive that she was somewhat brighter in her attire than when he had met her early in the morning. He could not say what had been done, but something had been added to please his eyes. The gloves were not the same, nor the ribbons; and he thought that he perceived that even the bonnet had been altered. Her manner too was changed. There was a careless ease and freedom about her which he rather liked; and he took it in good part that Miss Altifiorla had prepared herself for the interview, though he were to be with her but for a few minutes, and that she should be different from the Miss Altifiorla as she had come away from the Western breakfast table. “Now there is one thing I want you to promise me,” she said as she gave him her hand.

“Anything on earth.”

“Don’t let Mr. Western or Cecilia know that you know about that.” He laughed and merely shook his head. “Pray don’t. What’s the good? You’ll only create a disturbance and misery. Poor dear Cecilia has been uncommonly silly. But I don’t think that she deserves to be punished quite so severely.”

“I’m afraid I must differ from you there,” he said, shaking his head.

“Is it absolutely necessary?”

“Absolutely.”

“Poor Cecilia! How can she have been so foolish! He is of such a singular temperament that I do not know what the effect may be. I wish you would think better of it, Sir Francis.”

“And leave myself to stand in my present very uncomfortable position! And that after such treatment as hers. I have thought it all over, and have found myself bound in honour to inform him. And it is for the sake of letting you know that I have come here. Perhaps you may be called upon to say or do something in the matter.”

“I suppose it cannot be helped,” said Miss Altifiorla with a sigh.

“It cannot,” he replied.

“Poor dear Cecilia. She has brought it on her own head. I must get into my train now, as we are just off. I am so much obliged to you for coming to see me start.”

“We shall meet each other before long,” he said, as she again kissed her hand and took her departure. Miss Altifiorla could not but think what a happy chance it was that prevented his marriage with Cecilia Holt.

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