Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 14.

To what A Punishment!

Mr. Western, when he received his wife’s letter, after having given his instructions to the lawyer, was miserable enough. But not on that account did he think of changing his purpose. He had made up his mind,—as men say, and having made it up he assured himself that he had done it with ample cause. He could not quite explain to himself the reasons for his anger. He did not quite know what were the faults of which he accused his wife. But he was sure that his wrath was just, and had come from sins on her part which it would be unbecoming that he as a man and a husband should condone. And his anger was the hotter because he did not know what those sins were. There had been some understanding,—so he thought,—between his wife and Sir Francis Geraldine which was derogatory to his honour. There had been an understanding and a subsequent quarrel, and Sir Francis Geraldine had been base enough to inform him of the understanding because of the quarrel. Sir Francis no doubt had been very base, but not on that account had his wife been less a sinner. What was it to him that Sir Francis should be base? No vice, no lies, no cruelty on the part of Sir Francis were anything to him. But his wife;—that she whom he had taken to his bosom as his own, that she in whom he had believed, she who was to be the future depository of all his secrets, his very second self, that she, in the very moment in which he had exposed to her the tenderness of his heart, that she should then have entertained a confidential intercourse with such a one as Sir Francis Geraldine, an intercourse of which she had intended that he should know nothing,—that, that was more than he could endure. It was this,—this feeling that he was to know nothing of it, which was too much for him. It seemed to him that he had been selected to be a stalking-horse for them in their intercourse. It was not that he ever accused his wife of illicit love. He was not base enough to think her so base as that. But there had been some cause for a mysterious alliance as to which he had been kept in the dark. To be kept in the dark, and by his own wife, was the one thing that was unendurable. And then the light had been let in upon him by that letter from Sir Francis, in which Sir Francis had offered “such courtesies as are generally held to be pleasant in a neighbourhood!” The intention had been that this old friendship should be renewed under his roof, and be renewed without any information being given to him that it had ever previously existed. This was the feeling that had made it incumbent on him to repudiate a wife who had so treated him. This was the feeling which forbad him to retreat from his suicidal purpose. His wife had had a secret, a secret which it was not intended that he should share, and her partner in the secret had been that man whom of all men he had despised the most, and who, as he now learnt, had been only the other day engaged to marry her. In fostering his wrath he had declared to himself that it was but only the other day; and he had come to think that at the very moment in which he had told Cecilia Holt of all his own troubles she had then, even then, been engaged to this abominable baronet. “I have got another man to offer to marry me, and therefore our engagement, which is a trouble to us both, may now be over.” Some such communication as this had been made, and he had been the victim of it.

And yet as he thought of all this, and nursed his rage, and told himself how impossible it was that he should even pretend to live with such a woman with continued confidence, even then he was at moments almost overcome by the tenderness of his recollections. He had loved her so entirely; and she to his outward eyes and outward ears had been so fit to be loved! He had thanked his stars that after running into so great a peril with that other lady it had at last been given to him to settle his heart where it might dwell securely. She had required from him no compliments, none of the little weaknesses of love-making, no pretences, had demanded from him the taking of no trouble which would have grated against his feeling. She had been everything that his very soul desired. Even on the day after their wedding he had been able to sit down with her in a quiet and assured conviction that she was all that he wanted to make him happy. And she had played her part so well! She had been to him as though it had been a fresh thing to her to love a man with all her heart, and to be able to talk to him of her love. And yet she, the while, was in secret and most intimate communication with a man to whom he had been in the habit of applying within his own breast all the vilest epithets which the language could afford. “Swindler, thief, scoundrel,” were the terms he had thought of. In his dislike to the ways of the world in general he had declared to himself that the world admitted such as Sir Francis within its high places without disgust. This was the man who had coolly demanded to be intimate with him, and had done so in order that he might maintain his acquaintance with his wife!

We know how wrong he was in these thoughts;—how grievously he wronged her of whom he was thinking. Of the worst of all these sins she was absolutely innocent;—of so much the worst that the fault of which she had not been innocent was not worth regarding when thought of in reference to that other crime. But still it was thus that he believed, and though he was aware that he was about to submit himself to absolute misery in decreeing their separation, yet there was to his thinking no other remedy. He had been kept in the dark. To the secrets of others around him he was he declared to himself absolutely indifferent. They might have their mysteries and it would be nothing to him. He had desired to have one whose mysteries should be his mysteries; who should share every thought of his heart, and of whose secret thoughts he desired to keep the only key. He had flattered himself that it was so, and this had been the result! It may be doubted whether his misery were not altogether as bitter as hers.

“Of course she shall live with her mother if she pleases it,” he said to Mr. Gray on the following morning. “As to money, if she will name no sum that she requires I must leave it to you to say what in justice ought to be allowed to her. You know all the circumstances of my property.”

“But I know none of the circumstances of your marriage,” replied Mr. Gray.

“They were altogether of the usual kind.”

“None of the circumstances of your separation, I should have said.”

“It is unnecessary,” replied Mr. Western, gloomily.

“It will be very difficult to give her any advice.”

“You may take it if you will that the fault is all mine. I would provide for her as I should be bound to do if by my own cruelty or my own misconduct I had driven her from me!” He had no idea as he said this that by his own cruelty and his own misconduct he was driving her from him.

“My conviction is that she will take nothing,” said Mr. Gray.

“In a matter of business she must take it. The money must be paid to her, let her do what she will with it. Even though it should be thrown into the sea, I must pay it.”

“I think you will find that she has a will of her own.”

“And she will find that I have,” said Mr. Western with a frown. It was exactly on this point that the husband and wife were being separated. He had thought that she had calculated that when once they were married she had carried her purpose in spite of his will. But he would let her understand that it was not so. She had so far succeeded that she was entitled to bear his name, but she had not mastered him in the matter, and should not do so.

“It is a thousand pities, Mr. Western, you will allow me to say so, but it is a thousand pities. A most handsome lady:—with a fine lady-like air! One in a thousand!”

Mr. Western could not endure to hear the catalogue of his wife’s charms set forth to him. He did not want to be told by his lawyer that she was “handsome” and “one in a thousand”! In that respect their quarrel made no difference. No gentleman wishes another to assure him that his wife is one in a thousand. An old mother might say so, or an old aunt; hardly any one less near and less intimate could be allowed to do so. Mr. Western was aware that no man in the ordinary course of events would be less likely to offend in that way than Mr. Gray. But in this case Mr. Gray should not, he thought, have done it. He had come to Mr. Gray about money and not about his wife’s beauty. “I hardly think we need discuss that,” he said, still with a heavy frown on his brow. “Perhaps you will think over what I have said to you, and name a sum to-morrow.”

“At the risk of making you angry I have to speak,” continued Mr. Gray. “I knew your father, and have known you all your life. If this is to make her miserable, and if, as I gather, she has committed no great fault, will it not be—wicked?” Mr. Gray sat silent for a few moments, looking him in the face. “Have you consulted your own conscience, and what it will say to you after a time? She has given all that she has to you, though there has not been a shilling,—and no money can repay her. One fault is not pardonable,—one only fault.”

“No, no. I do not accuse her.”

“Nor dream that she is guilty,—if I understand the matter rightly.”

“No, I do not. But I do not come here to be interrogated about her after this fashion,—nor to be told that I am wicked. For what sins I commit I must be myself responsible. I am unable,—at any rate unwilling,—to tell you the circumstances, and must leave you to draw your own conclusions. If you will think over the matter, and will name a sum, I shall be obliged to you.” Then he was about to leave the chamber, but Mr. Gray interposed himself between his client and the door.

“Pray excuse me, Mr. Western. I know that you are angry, but pray excuse me. I should ill do my duty to an old client whom I respect did I not dare, as being older than he is, to give the advice which as a bystander I think that he requires.” Mr. Western stood perfectly silent before him, but clearly showing his wrath by the frown upon his brow. “I venture to say that you are taking upon yourself as a husband to do that which the world will not pardon.”

“I care nothing for the world.”

“Pardon me. You will care for it when you come to consider that its decision has been just. When you have to reflect that you have ruined for ever the happiness of a woman whom you have sworn to love and protect, and that you have cast her from you for some reason which you cannot declare and which is not held to justify such usage, then you will regard what the world says. You will regard it because your own conscience will say the same. If I mistake not you still love her.”

“I am not here to discuss such points,” said Mr. Western angrily.

“Think of the severity of the punishment which you are inflicting upon one whom you love; and of the effect it must have on her feelings. I tell you that you have no right to do this,—unless she has been guilty as you confess she has not.” Then he seated himself in his arm-chair, and Mr. Western left the chamber without saying another word.

He went out into Lincoln’s Inn, and walked westward towards his Club, hardly knowing in his confusion whither he was going. At first his breast was hot with anger against Mr. Gray. The man had called him wicked and cruel, and had known nothing of the circumstances. Could it be wicked, could it be cruel for him to resent such treachery as that of which he had been the victim? All his holiest hopes had been used against him for the vilest purposes and with the most fell effect! He at any rate had been ruined for ever. And the man had told him about the world! What did he in his misery care for the world’s judgment? Cecilia had married him,—and in marrying him had torn his heart asunder. This man had accused him of cruelty in leaving her. But how could he have continued to live with her without hypocrisy? Cruel indeed! What were her sufferings to his,—hers, who had condescended to the level of Sir Francis Geraldine, and had trafficked with such a one as that as to the affairs of their joint happiness! To such a woman it was not given to suffer. Yes; she was beautiful and she looked as a lady should look. Mr. Gray had been right enough in that. But he had not known how looks may deceive, how noble to the eye may be the face of a woman while her heart within is ignoble, paltry, and mean. But as he went on with his walk by degrees he came to forget Mr. Gray, and to think of the misery which was in store for himself. And though at the moment he despised Mr. Gray, his thoughts did occupy themselves exactly with those perils of which Mr. Gray had spoken. The woman had trusted herself to his care and had given him her beauty and her solicitude. He did in his heart believe that she loved him. He remembered the last words of her letter—“Oh, George, if you knew how I love you!” He did not doubt but that those words were true. He did not suppose that she had given her heart to Sir Francis Geraldine,—that she had truly and sincerely devoted herself to one so mean as that! Such heart as she had to give had been given to himself. But there had been traffic of marriage with this man, and even continued correspondence and an understanding as to things which had put her with all her loveliness on a level with him rather than with her existing husband. What this understanding was he did not, he said, care to inquire. It had existed and still did exist. That was enough to make him know that she was untrue to him as his wife,—untrue in spirit if not in body. But in truth he did care to know. It was, indeed, because he had not known, because he had been allowed only to guess and search and think about it, that all this misery had come. He had been kept in the dark, and to be kept in the dark was to him, of all troubles, the most grievous. When he had first received the letter from Sir Francis he had not believed it to be true;—from first to last it had been a fiction. But when once his wife had told him that the engagement had existed, he believed all. It was as though she had owned to him the circumstance of a still existing intimate friendship. He had been kept in the dark, but he did not know how far.

But still there loomed to him as to the future, vaguely, the idea that by the deed he was doing now, at this present moment, he was sacrificing her happiness and his own for ever,—as regarded this world. And the people would say that he had done so, the people whose voices he could not but regard. She would say so, and her mother,—and he must acknowledge it. And Lady Grant would know that it had been so, and Mr. Gray would always think so to the end. And his heart became tender even towards her. What would be her fate,—as his wife and therefore debarred from the prospects of any other future? She would live with her mother as any widow would live,—with much less of hope, with less chance of enjoying her life, than would any other widow. And when her mother should die she would be all alone. To what a punishment was he not dooming her!

If he could die himself it would be well for all parties. He had taken his great step in life and had failed. Why should he doom her, who was differently constituted, to similar failure? It had been a great mistake. He had made it and now there was no escape. But then again his pity for himself welled up in his heart. Why had he been so allured, so deceived, so cozened? He had intended to have given all good things. The very essence of his own being he had bestowed upon her,—while she, the moment that his back was turned, was corresponding with Sir Francis Geraldine! That thought he could not stand. She, in truth, had been greatly in error in her first view of the character of Sir Francis Geraldine; but it must be a question whether he was not so also. The baronet was a poor creature, but not probably so utterly vile as he thought him. As he turned it all over in his mind, while wandering to and fro, he came to the conclusion that Mr. Gray was wrong, and that it was impossible that she who had been the sharer of the thoughts of Sir Francis Geraldine, should now remain to share his.

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