Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 13.

Mrs. Western Prepares to Leave.

Cecilia, when she first read her husband’s letter, did not clearly understand it. It could not be that he intended to leave her for ever! They had been married but a few months,—a few months of inexpressible love and confidence; and it was impossible that he should intend that they should be thus parted. But when she had read it again and again, she began to perceive that it was so; “Pray believe it. We have now parted for ever.” Had he stopped there her belief would have only been half-hearted. She would not in truth have thought that he had been in earnest in dooming her to eternal separation. But he had gone on with shocking coolness to tell her how he had arranged his plans for the future. “Half my income you shall have.” “You shall live here in this house, if it be thought well for you.” “Your lawyer had better see my lawyers.” It was, in truth, his intention that it should be so. And she had already begun to have some knowledge of the persistency of his character. She was already aware that he was a man not likely to be moved from his word. He had gone, and it was his intention to go. And he had declared with a magnanimity which she now felt to be odious, and almost mean, what liberal arrangements he had made for her maintenance. She was in no want of income. She told herself that she would rather starve in the street than eat his bread, unless she might eat it from the same loaf with him; that she would rather perish in the cold than enjoy the shelter of his roof, unless she might enjoy it with him.

There she remained the whole day by herself, thinking that something must occur to mitigate the severity of the sentence which he had pronounced against her. It could not be that he should leave her thus,—he whose every word, whose every tone, whose every look, whose every touch had hitherto been so full of tenderness. If he had loved as she had loved how could he live without her? He had explained his idea of a wife, and though he had spoken the words in his anger, still she had been proud. But now it seemed as though he would have her believe that she was wholly unnecessary to him. It could not be so. He could not so have deceived her. It must be that he would want her as she wanted him, and that he must return to her to satisfy the cravings of his own heart.

But as time went on her tenderness gradually turned to anger. He had pronounced the sentence, the heaviest sentence which his mind could invent against her whom he had made his own. Was that sentence just? She told herself again and again that it was most unjust. The fault which she had committed deserved no such punishment. She confessed to herself that she had promised to become the wife of a man unworthy of her; but when she had done so she had not known her present husband. He at least had no cause of anger with her in regard to that. And she, as soon as she had found out her mistake and the man’s character had become in part revealed to her, had with a terrible courage taken the bull by the horns and broken away from the engagement which outward circumstances at any rate made attractive. Then with her mother she had gone abroad, and there she had met with Mr. Western. At the moment of their meeting she had been at any rate innocent in regard to him. From that moment she had performed her duty to him, and had been sincere in her love, even as such a man as Mr. Western could desire,—with the one exception of her silence. It was true that she should have told him of Sir Francis Geraldine; of her folly in accepting him and her courage in repudiating him. Day by day the days had gone by, and there had been some cause for fresh delay, that cause having ever reference to his immediate comfort. Did she not know that had she told him, his offer, his love, his marriage would have been the same? And now, was she to be turned adrift and thrown aside, rejected and got rid of at an instant’s notice, because, for his comfort, the telling of her story had been delayed? The injustice, the cruelty, the inhumanity of such a punishment were very plain to her.

Could he do it? As her husband had he a right so to dismiss her from his bosom? And his money? Perish his money! And his house! The remembrance of the offers which he made to her aggravated her wrath bitterly. As his wife she had a right to his care, to his presence, and to his tenderness. She had not married him simply to be maintained and housed. Nor was that the meaning of their marriage contract. Before God he had no right to send her away from him, and to bid her live and die alone.

But though he had no right he had the power. She could not force him to be her companion. The law would give her only those things which she did not care to claim. He already offered more than the law would exact, and she despised his generosity. As long as he supported her the law could not bring him back and force him to give her to eat of his own loaf, and to drink of his own cup. The law would not oblige him to encircle her in his arms. The law would not compel him to let her rest upon his bosom. None of those privileges which were undoubtedly her own could the law obtain for her. He had said that he had gone, and would not return, and the law could not bring him back again. Then she sat and wept, and told herself how much better for her would have been that single life of which Miss Altifiorla had preached to her the advantages.

The second day since his departure had passed and she had taken no step. Alone she had given way to sorrow and to indignation, but as yet had decided on nothing. She had waited, still thinking that something would be done to soften her sorrow; but nothing had been done. The servants around her moved slowly, solemnly, and as though struck with awe. Her own maid had tried to say a word once and again, but had been silenced by the manner of her mistress. Cecilia, though she felt the weight of the silence, could not bring herself to tell the girl that her husband had left her for ever. The servants no doubt knew it all, but she could not bring herself to tell them that it was so. He had told her that her cheques on his bankers would be paid, but she had declared that on no account should such cheque be drawn by her. If he had made up his mind to desert her, and had already left her without intending further communication, she must provide for herself. She must go back to her mother, where the eyes of all Exeter would see her. But she must in the first instance write to her mother; and how could she explain to her mother all that had happened? Would even her own mother believe her when she said that she was already deserted by her husband for ever and ever because she had not told him the story respecting Sir Francis Geraldine?

On the third morning she resolved that she would write to her husband. It was not fit, so she told herself, that she should leave his house without some further word of instruction from him. But how to address him she was ignorant. He was gone, but she did not know whither. The servants, no doubt, knew where, but she could not bring herself to ask them. On the third day she wrote as follows. The reader will remember that that short scrawl which she addressed to him from her bedroom had not been sent.

Dear George,—This is the first letter I have written to you as your wife, and it will be very sad. I do not think that you can have remembered that yours would be the first which I had ever received from my husband.

Your order has crushed me altogether. It shall, nevertheless, be obeyed as far as I am able to obey it. You say something as to your means, and something also as to your house. In that you cannot be obeyed. It is not possible that I should take your money or live in your house unless I am allowed to do so as your wife. The law, I think, says that I may do so. But the law, of course, cannot compel a man to be a loving, tender husband, or even to accept the tenderness of a loving wife. I know what you owe me, but I know also that I cannot exact it unless you can give it with all your heart. Your money and your house I will not have unless I can have them together with yourself. Your bread would choke me. Your roof would not shelter me. Your good things would be poison to me,—unless you were here to make me feel that they were yours also as well as mine. If you mean to insist on the severity of your order, you will have to get rid of me altogether. I shall then have come across two men of which I do not know whether to wonder most at the baseness of the one or the cruelty of the other. In that case I can only return to my mother. In that case you will not, I think, care much what may become of me; but as I shall still bear your name, it is, I suppose, proper that you should know where I purpose living.

But, dear George, dearest George,—I wish you could know how much dearer to me in spite of your cruelty than all the world besides,—I cannot even yet bring myself to believe that we can for ever be separated. Dear George, endeavour to think how small has been my offence and how tremendous is the punishment which you propose. The offence is so small that I will not let myself down by asking your pardon. Had you said a word sitting beside me, even a word of anger, then I could have done so. I think I could have made you believe how altogether accidental it had been. But I will not do so now. I should aggravate my own fault till it would appear to you that I had done something of which I ought to be ashamed, and which perhaps you ought not to forgive. I have done nothing of which I am ashamed, and nothing certainly which you ought even to think it necessary to pardon.

When she had got so far she sat for a while thinking whether she would or would not tell him of the cause and the manner of her silence. Should she refer him to his sister, who understood so well how that silence had been produced? Should she explain to him that she had in the first case hesitated to tell him her story because her story had been so like to his own? But as she thought of it all, she declared to herself that were she to do so she would in truth condescend to ask his pardon. What she required of him was that he should acknowledge her nature, her character, her truth to be such that he had made a grievous mistake in attributing to her aught that was a just cause of anger. “You stupid girl, you foolish girl, to have given yourself and me such cause for discomfort!” That he should have said to her, with his arm round her waist; that and nothing more. Thinking of all this she resolved not to go into that subject. Should she ever do so it must be when he had come back to her, and was sitting there with his arm around her waist. She ended her letter, therefore, very shortly.

As I must wait here till I hear from you, and cannot even write to my mother till I do so, I must beg you to answer my letter quickly. I shall endeavour to go on without drawing any cheques. If I find it necessary I shall have to write to my mother for money.

Your most affectionate wife,

Cecilia Western.

Oh, George, if you knew how I love you!

Then, as she did not like to send the letter out among the servants without any address, and thus to confess to them that she did not know where her husband had gone, she directed the letter to him at his club in London.

During the next day or two the pity of her servants, the silent, unexpressed pity, was very hard to bear. As each morning came her punishment seemed to become more and more intolerable to her. She could not read. There were none among her friends, not even her mother, to whom she could write. It was still her hope,—her faintest hope, that she need confess to none of them the fact that her husband had quarrelled with her. She could only sit and ponder over the tyranny of the man who by his mere suspicions could subject a woman to so cruel a fate. But on the evening of the third day she was told that a gentleman had called to see her. Mr. Gray sent his card in to her, and she at once recognised Mr. Gray as her husband’s attorney. She was sitting at the open window of her own bedroom, looking into the garden, and she was aware that she had been weeping. “I will be down at once,” she said to the maid, “if Mr. Gray will wait.”

“Oh, ma’am, you do take on so dreadfully!” said the girl.

“Never mind, Mary. I will come down and see Mr. Gray if you will leave me.”

“Oh, ma’am, oh, Miss Holt, I have known you so long, may I not say a word to you?”

“I am not Miss Holt. I am still entitled to bear my husband’s name.” Then the girl, feeling herself to have been rebuked, was leaving the room, when her mistress jumped up from her seat, took her in her arms, and kissed her. “Oh, Mary,” she said, “I am unhappy, so unhappy! But pray do not tell them. It is true that you have known me long, and I can trust you.” Then the girl, crying much more bitterly than her mistress, left the room.

In a few minutes Cecilia followed her, and entered the parlour into which Mr. Gray had been shown, without a sign of tears upon her cheeks. She had been able to assume a look of injured feminine dignity, of almost magnificent innocence, by which the lawyer was much startled. She was resolved at any rate to confess no injury done by herself to her husband, and to say nothing to Mr. Gray of any injury done by him to her. Mr. Gray, too, was a gentleman, a man over fifty years of age, who had been solicitor to Mr. Western’s father. He knew the husband in this case well, but he had as yet known nothing of the wife. He had been simply told by Mr. Western to understand that he, Mr. Western, had no fault to find with the lady; that he had not a word to say against her; but that unfortunately circumstances had so turned out that all married happiness was impossible for him. Mr. Gray had endeavoured to learn the facts; but he had been aware that Mr. Western was a man who would not bear pumping. A question or two he had asked, and had represented to his client how dreadful was the condition to which he was condemning both the lady and himself. But his observations were received with that peculiar cold civility which the man’s manner assumed when he felt that interference was taken in matters which were essentially private to himself. “It is so, Mr. Gray, that in this case it cannot be avoided. I wish you to understand, that all pecuniary arrangements are to be made for Mrs. Western which she herself may desire. Were she to ask for everything I possess she must have it,—down to the barest pittance.” But at this moment he had not received his wife’s letter.

There was a majesty of beauty about Mrs. Western by which Mr. Gray was startled, but which he came to recognise before the interview was over. I cannot say that he understood the cause of the quarrel, but he had become aware that there was much in the lady very much on a par with her husband’s character. And she, when she found out, as she did instinctively, that she had to deal with a gentleman, dropped something of the hauteur of her silence. But she said not a word as to the cause of their disagreement. Mr. Gray asked the question in the simplest language. “Can you not tell me why you two have quarrelled so quickly after your marriage?” But she simply referred him to her husband. “I think you must ask Mr. Western about that.” Mr. Gray renewed the question, feeling how important it was that he should know. But she only smiled, and again referred him to her husband. But when he came to speak to her about money arrangements she smiled no longer. “It will not be necessary,” she said.

“But it is Mr. Western’s wish.”

“It will not be necessary. Mr. Western has decided that we must—part. On that matter I have nothing to say. But there will be nothing for any lawyer to do on my behalf. If Mr. Western has made up his mind, I will return to my mother. I can assure you that no steps need be taken as to money.” “No steps will be possible,” she added with all that feminine majesty which was peculiar to her. “I understand from you that Mr. Western’s mind is made up. You can tell him that I shall be ready to leave this house for my mother’s, in—let me say a week.” Mr. Gray went back to town having been able to make no other arrangement. He might pay the servants’ wages,—when they were due; and the tradesmen’s bills; but for herself and her own peculiar wants Mrs. Western would take no money. “You may tell Mr. Western,” she said, “that I shall not have to encroach on his liberality.” So Mr. Gray went back to town; and Mrs. Western carried herself through the interview without the shedding of a tear, without the utterance of a word of tenderness,—so that the lawyer on leaving her hardly knew what her wishes were.

“Nevertheless I think it is his doing,” he said to himself. “I think she loves him.”

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