Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 16.

“It is Altogether Untrue.”

The month of September wore itself away at Exeter very sadly. An attempt was made to bid Mrs. Western welcome back to her old home; but from the nature of the circumstances there could hardly be much heartiness in the attempt. Mrs. Thorne came over from Honiton to see her, but even between Cecilia and Maude Hippesley, who was certainly the most cherished of her Exeter friends, there could be no free confidence, although there was much sympathy. Mrs. Western could bring herself to speak evil to no one of her husband. She had, with much passion, told the entire story to her mother, but when her mother had begun to say hard words respecting him Cecilia had found it impossible to bear them. Had her mother taken Mr. Western’s part, it may be doubted whether she could have endured that. There was no speech concerning him which was possible for her ears. She still looked forward to the chance of having him back again, and if he would come back, if he would take her back, then he should be entirely forgiven. He should be so forgiven that no mutual friend should have heard a word of reproach from her lips. She herself would know how hardly she had been used; but there should be no one to say that she had ever been heard to complain of her husband. Not the less was her heart full of wrath. Not the less did she during every hour of the day turn over in her thoughts the terrible injustice of which she had been the victim. But it can be understood that even to her old friend Maude Hippesley, who was now happy in her new home as Mrs. Thorne, she could not talk openly of the circumstances of her separation. But there was, alas, no other subject of such interest to her at the present moment as to give matter for free conversation.

The Dean’s family, and especially Mrs. Hippesley, attempted to be kind to her. The Dean himself came down and called with much decanal grandeur, conspicuous as he walked up to the Hall door with shovel hat and knee breeches. But even the Dean could not do much. He had intended to take Mrs. Western’s part as against his brother-in-law, having been no doubt prompted by some old feeling of favour towards Cecilia Holt; but now he was given to understand that this Mr. Western had also gone astray, and in such a way as to make it hardly possible that he should talk about it. He called therefore and took her by the hand, and expressed a hope that all things should be made to go straight, and then he left her, taking her by the hand again, and endeavouring to prove his esteem by his manner of doing so. That was the beginning and the end of the Dean’s comforting. Mrs. Hippesley could do but little more. She did make an attempt at confidential conversation, but was soon stopped by Cecilia’s cold manner. Mrs. Western, indeed, could speak to none. She could not utter a word either for or against her husband. Mrs. Green came, of course, more than once; but it was the same thing. Mrs. Western could endure to talk and to be talked to about nothing. And though there was friendship in it, it was but a subdued feeling of friendship,—of friendship which under the circumstances had to be made silent. Mrs. Green when she had taken her leave determined not to come again immediately, and Mrs. Western when Mrs. Green had gone felt that she did not wish her to come. She could live with her mother more easily than with her old friends, because her mother understood the tone of her mind. Each kept their thoughts to themselves on that subject of which each was thinking; but each sympathised with the other.

Lady Grant as soon as she understood the condition of things at once began to correspond with her brother. To her it was a matter of course that he should, sooner or later, take his wife back again. But to her thinking it was most important that he should do so before the fact of their quarrel had been flaunted before the world by an enduring separation. She wrote in the first instance without throwing blame upon either party, but calling upon her brother to show the honesty and honour of his purpose by coming back at once to Durton Lodge, and receiving Cecilia. “Of course it must be so sooner or later,” said Lady Grant, “and the quicker you do it so much easier will be the doing.” It should be told that Mrs. Holt had, without telling her daughter in her passion, herself written to Mr. Western. “You have sacrificed my daughter in your perversity, and that without the slightest cause for blame.” Such had been the nature of Mrs. Holt’s letter, which had reached him but a day before that of his sister. Lady Grant’s appeal had not been of the same nature. She had said nothing of the sin of either of them; but had written as though both had been in fault, misunderstanding each other, and neither having been willing to yield a little. Then she had appealed to her brother’s love and affectionate disposition. It was not till afterwards that she had been able to inform him of the baby that was expected.

Mr. Western answered his sister’s letter from Dresden. To Mrs. Holt he sent no reply: but he used her letter as the ground for that which he made to Lady Grant, writing as though Mrs. Holt’s words had come directly from his wife. “They say that I have sacrificed Cecilia without the slightest fault on her part. I have not sacrificed her, and there has been terrible fault on her part. Fault! A young woman marries a man while she is yet engaged to another, and tells the poor dupe whom she has got within her clutches nothing of her first engagement! Is there no fault in that? And she afterwards entertains the first man at her husband’s house, and corresponds with him, and prepares at last to receive him there as a friend, and that without a word on the subject spoken to her husband! Is there no fault in that? And at last the truth becomes known to him because the base man is discontented with the arrangements that have been made, and chooses to punish her by exposing her at last to the wrath of her husband! I say nothing of him. With his conduct in the world I have no concern. But can all that have taken place with no fault on her part? What in such a state of things should I have done? Should I have contented myself simply with forbidding my wife to receive the man at my house? Should I have asked her no question as to the past? Should I have passed over that engagement which had been in full existence during the last twelve months, and have said nothing of it? Or should I have expressed my anger and then have forgiven her, and attempted to live with her as though this man had never existed? Knowing me as you do, can you say that that would have been possible to me? How could I have lived with a wife of whom I knew so much as I had then learned of mine,—but had known so little before. Had I been a man of the world, living for the world, careless as to my own home except as to the excellence of my dinner and the comfort of my bed, it might have been possible. A man trusting for his happiness to such means might perhaps have continued to exist and not have been broken-hearted. But I think you will understand that such could not be the case with me. I looked for my happiness to my wife’s society, and I discovered when I had married that I could not find it there. I could never respect her!

“But she tells me that having married her I have no right to sacrifice her. As I had been fool enough to allow myself to be so quickly allured by her charms, and had made those charms my own, I was bound to stand by my bargain! That I take it is the argument which she uses. I grant the truth of it. It is I that should be sacrificed and not she. I have so acted that I am bound to submit myself to such a verdict. What the law would require from me I cannot say. The law might perhaps demand a third of my income. She shall have two-thirds if she wishes it. She shall have seven-eighths if she will ask for it. At present I have given instructions by which during her life she shall have one-half. I am aware that in the heat of her passion she has declined to accept this. It shall nevertheless be paid to her credit. And I must deny that one who has achieved her marriage after such a fashion has any right, when so treated, to regard herself as sacrificed. I am the victim. But as I am convinced that she and I cannot live happily together, I reserve to myself the right of living apart.”

Lady Grant, when she received this letter, immediately sat down to write to Cecilia, but she soon found it to be impossible to put into a letter all that there was to be said. She was living in the neighbourhood of Perth, whereas her sister-in-law was at Exeter. And yet the matter was of such moment that she perceived it to be essential that they should see each other. Perhaps it might be better that Mrs. Western should come to her; and therefore she wrote to her,—not explaining the cause of the proposed visit, to do which would be as difficult as to write the full letter, but simply saying that in the present condition of things she thought it would be well that Cecilia should visit her. This however Mrs. Western refused to do. She had come to her mother, she said, in her terrible difficulty, and in her present circumstances would not at once leave her. She considered herself bound to obey her husband, and would remain at Exeter until she received instructions from him to leave it.

There was in her letter a subdued tone of displeasure, which Lady Grant felt that she had not deserved. She at any rate was anxious to do her best. But she would not on that account abandon the task which she had undertaken. Her only doubt was whether she had better go to her brother at Berlin or to his wife at Exeter. She understood perfectly now the nature of those mistaken suspicions which filled her brother’s mind. And she was almost sure of the circumstances which had produced them. But she was not quite sure; and were she to make mistakes in discussing the matter with him, such mistakes might be fatal. She thought that with Cecilia she could not do other than good. She knew her brother’s mind better than did his wife, and she imagined that between them such a story might be told,—a story so true and so convincing that the husband might be brought back.

The following very short letter therefore was written. “My dear Cecilia, as you will not come to me at Perth, I must go to you at Exeter. I shall start this day week and will be with you on the following Wednesday. Do not mind as to a room for me, as I can stop at the hotel; but it is I think imperative that we should see each other. Yours affectionately, Bertha Grant.”

“Mamma, Lady Grant is coming here next week,” said Cecilia to her mother.

“To this house next week?”

“She says that she will come to the hotel; but of course we must receive her here.”

“But why is she coming?”

“I suppose it is because she thinks that something should be done on behalf of her brother. I can understand her feeling, and am sure that she sympathises with me. But I do not think that any good will come of it. Unless he can be made to see how wrong he is nothing will be able to change him. And until his very nature is changed he will not be made to understand his own fault.” It was thus for the first time for a fortnight that Mrs. Western spoke to her mother about her husband.

At the day appointed Lady Grant came and Mrs. Western met her at the station. “Of course you will not go to the hotel,” she said; “there is plenty of room at the house. I am greatly obliged to you for coming. It seems a dreadful thing to have to come on such a business all the way from Perth. I know that I ought to apologise to you for the trouble.”

“Apologise! There can be no apologising between you and me. If I can make each of you understand the truth there is not I think any doubt but that you will be brought together.”

“If he can be made to see the truth, it may be so. I do not know that there is any seeing of the truth necessary on the other side. I have complained of nothing. He has taken upon himself to leave me for some cause as to which I am perfectly in the dark. However we will not talk about it now.” Then she put Lady Grant into the fly and took her home.

There was nothing more said about it on that day. Mrs. Western, in whose bosom something of her feeling of anger against her husband was most unjustly extended towards Lady Grant, took care that they two should not be at once left together again. Mrs. Holt was studiously civil, but always with a feeling that Mr. Western and Lady Grant were brother and sister. It was probable that the sister would take her brother’s part and consequently be at any moment converted into an enemy. The first evening at Exeter was passed very uncomfortably by the three ladies. But on the following morning a conference was demanded. “My dear,” said Lady Grant, “we have got to discuss all this and we may as well do it at once. What does your husband mean when he says that you were still engaged to Sir Francis when you became engaged to him?”

“Has he said so?”

“Yes; indeed.”

“Then he has said what is altogether untrue. Nor is there the slightest ground for such an untruth. Everything between me and Sir Francis Geraldine was over before we had gone to the Continent. Why; I left England in consequence of the shock it gave me to have to abandon him. Does he know,—does your brother know what I told you?”

“He did not know it when he wrote to me.”

“I suppose not. I should think he would send some message. As a rule he is soft-hearted, although to me he has become suddenly so inexpressibly cruel.”

“But you understand now the cause of his displeasure?”

“Not in the least,” said the angry wife. “I know of no cause for his displeasure. Displeasure! I know of no cause to justify a step so terrible as this.”

“Though the statement may be untrue as you say—”

“It is untrue. It is altogether untrue.”

“But he has believed it!”

“Why has he believed it? Why; why?”

“Ah indeed; why?” said Lady Grant. “I suppose that no lie becomes prevalent in the world for evil without some fault on the part of somebody. Even though it may not have been expressed in exact terms, some false person has intentionally spread it abroad. And then a man in his wrath, when he hears the lie will distort it, and twist it, and aggravate it,—to his own wrong and to that of others.”

“But my own husband! Him whom I so passionately loved!”

“And who so passionately loved you! It was because of that that the lie has so rankled! And, Cecilia, dear, let us be altogether open to each other.”

“I have concealed nothing from you,” said Mrs. Western proudly.

“Nor wilfully from him. But you had kept from him a detail of your past life,—of your life not long since past, which, as you yourself felt, ought to have been made known to him.”

“It would have been made known to him.”

“Just so. But unfortunately he was first allowed to hear it from another quarter. How it was told from thence you and I do not know.”

“I saw the letter to him from Sir Francis Geraldine. There was no such statement in it as that you have now made. The tone of the letter was ungentlemanlike and abominable; but the facts as declared were true.”

“Do you believe then that he has invented this falsehood against you, to excuse himself?”

“No,” said the deserted wife; “I do not think he invented it.”

“Nor I. How was it then that the idea has made its way into his brain?”

“He is suspicious,” said Mrs. Western, speaking very slowly.

“Yes; he is suspicious. It is the fault of his character. But he is true and honest, and affectionate, and is by no means exacting or self-seeking. You have no right to expect that your husband should be perfect;—nor has he a right to expect it of you. He had no idea of this engagement till it was told by him who of all men was bound not to tell him.”

The conversation was carried on after this for a considerable time, but was left chiefly in the hands of Lady Grant. Two or three times Mrs. Western put in a word, but it was always to ask what might be the effect upon him when he should have learned the tidings which she had sent him. Lady Grant seemed to think that he would of course come back and again take his wife to his bosom, as soon as he should be made to understand all the exact facts as to her intercourse with Sir Francis Geraldine and as to her quarrel with him. But poor Cecilia seemed to believe more in the coming of the little stranger. “He can reject me,” she once said, with mingled bitterness and hope, “but I cannot believe that such as he should reject his own child.”

But neither then nor on the following day, which was the last that Lady Grant allowed herself at Exeter, could she be induced to send to her husband a single word asking his pardon. “No,” she said, holding her head aloft as she spoke; “it is for me to pardon him. If he wants my pardon he shall have it. He need not ask for it, but if he comes he shall have it.”

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