Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 12.

Mr. Western’s Decision.

What should she do with herself? Her breakfast was brought to her. At noon she was told that Mr. Western had gone out for the day and would not return till the evening. She was asked whether she would have her pony carriage, and, on refusing it, was persuaded by her maid to walk in the grounds. “I think I will go out,” she said, and went and walked for an hour. Her maid had been peculiarly her own and had come to her from Exeter; but she would not talk to her maid about her quarrel with her husband, though she was sure that the girl knew of the quarrel. Those messages had certainly come direct from her husband, and could not, she thought, have been sent without some explanation of the facts. She could see on the faces of all the household that everyone knew that there was a quarrel. Twenty times during the day would she have had her husband’s name on her tongue had there been no quarrel. It had been with her as though she had had a pride in declaring herself to be his wife. But now she was silent respecting him altogether. She could not bring herself to ask the gardener whether Mr. Western wished this thing or the other. The answer had always been that the master wished the paths and the shrubs and the flowers to be just as she wished them. But now not a word was spoken. For an hour she walked among the paths, and then returned to her own room. Would she have her dinner in the dining-room? If so, the master would have his in the library. Then she could restrain herself no longer, but burst into tears. No; she would have no dinner. Let them bring her a cup of tea in her own room.

There she sat thinking of her condition, wondering from hour to hour what was to be the end of it. From hour to hour she sat, and can hardly have been said to think. She lost herself in pondering first over her own folly and then upon his gross injustice. She could not but marvel at her own folly. She had in truth known from the first moment in which she had resolved to accept his offer, that it was her duty to tell him the story of her adventure with Sir Francis Geraldine. It should have been told indeed before she had accepted his offer, and she could not now forgive herself in that she had been silent. “You must know my story,” she should have said, “before there can be a word more spoken between us.” And then with a clear brow and without a tremor in her voice she could have told it. But she had allowed herself to be silent, simply because he had told the same story, and then the moment had never come. She could not forgive herself. She could never entirely forgive herself, even though the day should come in which he might pardon her.

But would he ever pardon her? Then her mind would fly away to the injustice of his condemnation. He had spoken to her darkly, as though he had intended to accuse her of some secret understanding with Sir Francis. He had believed her to be guilty of some underhand plot against his happiness, carried on with the man to whom she had been engaged! Of what was it that he had imagined her to be guilty? What was the plot of which in his heart he accused her? Then her imagination looked out and seemed to tell her that there could be but one. Her husband suspected her of having married him while her heart was still the property of that other man! And as she thought of this, indignation for the time almost choked her grief. Could it be possible that he, to whom she had given everything with such utter unreserve, whom she had made the god of her idolatry, to whom she had been exactly that which he had known so well how to describe,—could it be that he should have had every thought concerning her changed in a moment, and that from believing her to be all pure and all innocent, he should have come to regard her as a thing so vile as that? She almost tore her hair in her agony as she said that it must be so. He had told her that his respect, his esteem, and his veneration, had all passed away. She could never consent to live with him trusting solely to his love without esteem.

But as the evening passed away and the night came, and as the duration of the long hours of the day seemed to grow upon her, and as no tidings came to her from her lord, she began to tell herself that it was unbecoming that she should remain without knowing her fate. The whole length of the tedious day had passed since he had left her and had condemned her to breakfast in solitude. Then she accused herself of having been hard with him during that interview, of having failed to submit herself in repentance, and she told herself that if she could see him once more, she might still whisper to him the truth and soften his wrath. But something she must do. She had dismissed her maid for the last time, and sat miserably in her room till midnight. But still she could not go to bed till she had made some effort. She would at any rate write to him one word. She got up therefore and seated herself at the table with pen and ink before her. She would write the whole story, she thought, simply the whole story, and would send it to him, leaving it to him to believe or to disbelieve it as he pleased. But as she bent over the table she felt that she could not write such a letter as that without devoting an entire day to it. Then she rapidly scrawled a few words:—

Dearest George,—Come to me and let me tell you everything.—Your own Cecilia.

Then she addressed it to him and put it under her pillow that she might send it to him as soon as she should wake in the morning. Having done so she got into her bed and wept herself asleep.

When the girl came into the room in the morning she at once asked after her husband. “Is Mr. Western up yet?” The maid informed her with an air of grave distress that Mr. Western had risen early and had been driven away from the house to catch a morning train. More than that the girl could not say. But she believed that a letter had been left on the library table. She had heard John say that there was such a letter. But John had gone with his master to the station. Then she sent down for the letter, and within a few minutes held it in her hand.

We will now go back to Mr. Western. He, as soon as he had left his wife’s room in the morning went down-stairs, and began to consider within himself what was the cause of this evil thing which had been done to him. A very evil thing had been done. He did feel that the absolute happiness which had been his for the last few days had perished and gone from him. He was a man undemonstrative, and silent in expressing his own feelings, but one who revelled inwardly in his own feelings of contentment when he was content. His wife had been to him all that he had dreamt that a woman should be. She had filled up his cup with infinite bliss, though he had never told even to her how full his cup had been. But in everything he had striven to gratify her, and had been altogether successful. To go on from day to day with his books, with his garden, with his exercise, and above all with his wife, had been enough to secure absolute happiness. He had suspected no misfortune, and had anticipated no drawback. Then on a sudden there had come this damnable letter, which had made him wretched for the time, even though he were sure that it was not true. But he had known that it was only for the time, for he had been sure that it was untrue. Then the blow had fallen, and all his contentment was banished. There was some terrible mystery,—some mystery of which he could not gauge the depth. Though he was gracious and confiding and honest when left at peace, still he was painfully suspicious when something arose of which the circumstances were kept back from him. There was a secret here,—there was certainly a secret; and it was shared between his wife, whom of all human beings he had loved the best, and the man whom he most thoroughly despised. As long as it was possible that the whole tale might be an invention he would not believe a word against his wife; but, when it appeared that there was certainly some truth in it, then it seemed that there was nothing too monstrous for him to believe.

After his solitary breakfast he walked abroad, and turned it all in his mind. He had given her the opportunity of telling him everything, and she had told him nothing. So he declared to himself. That one damning fact was there,—clear as daylight, that she had willingly bestowed herself upon this baronet, this creature who to his thinking was vile as a man could be. As to that there was no doubt. That was declared. How different must she have been from that creature whom he had fancied that he had loved, when she would have willingly consented to be the wife of such a man? And this had been done within a year,—as he said. And then she had married him, telling him nothing of it, though she must have known that he would discover it as soon as she was his wife. It suited her to be his wife,—for some reason which he could not perceive. She had achieved her object;—but not on that account need he live with her. It had been an affair of money, and his money she might have.

He came back and got his horse, as the motion of walking was not fast enough for him in his passion. It was grievous to be borne,—the fact that he had been so mistaken in choosing for himself a special woman as a companion of his life. He had desired her to be all honour, all truth, all simplicity, and all innocence. And instead of these things he had encountered fraud and premeditated deceit. She was his wife indeed;—but not on that account need he live with her.

And then his curiosity was raised. What was the secret between them? There must have been some question of money, as to which at the last moment they had disagreed. To his thinking it was vile that a young woman should soil her mind with such thoughts and marry or reject a man at the last moment because of his money. All that should be arranged for her by her friends, so that she might go to her husband without having been mixed in any question of a sordid matter. But these two had probably found at the last moment that their income was insufficient for their wants, and therefore his purse had been thought convenient. As all these things, with a thousand others, passed through his mind he came to the determination that at any rate they must part.

He came home, and before he ate his dinner he wrote to her that letter, of which the contents shall now be given. It was a most unreasonable letter. But to him in his sorrow, in his passion, it seemed that every word was based upon reason.

Dear Cecilia, [the letter ran]

I need hardly tell you that I was surprised by the facts which you at last told me this morning. I should have been less pained, perhaps, had they come to me in the first instance from yourself instead of from Sir Francis Geraldine. But I do not know that the conclusion to which I have been forced would have been in any way altered had such been the case. I can hardly, I fear, make you understand the shock with which I have received the intelligence, that a month or two before I proposed to you you had been the promised wife of that man. I need hardly tell you that had I known that it was so I should not have offered you my hand. To say the least of it, I was led into my marriage by mistake. But a marriage commenced with such a mistake as that cannot be happy.

As to your object I cannot surmise. But I suppose that you were satisfied, thinking me to be of a nature especially soft and gentle. But I fear I am not so. After what has passed I cannot bring myself to live with you again. Pray believe it. We have now parted for ever.

As to your future welfare, and as to the honour which will be due to my name, which you must continue to bear, I am quite willing to make any arrangements which friends of yours shall think to be due to you. Half my income you shall have, and you shall live here in this house if it be thought well for you. In reference to these things your lawyers had better see my lawyers. In the meantime my bankers will cash your cheques. But believe me that I am gone, not to return.

Your affectionate husband,

George Western.

These words he wrote, struggling to be cool and rational while he wrote them, and then he departed, leaving the letter upon the table.

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