Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 18.

A Man’s Pride.

About a week after Lady Grant had gone, Mrs. Western received a letter from her husband. She had expected that he would write, and had daily looked for the letter. But when it did come she did not know whether to take it as a joy or a source of additional discomfort. There was in it hardly a word of declared affection. Nothing was said as to his future life or hers; but he did write, as she thought, in a familiar and loving strain as to the event which had yet to be expected for many months. “My sister has told me your news,” he said, “and I cannot but let you know how anxious I shall be both for your safety and for that of the stranger. If there be anything that I can do for your comfort, if you will ask me, you may be sure that it will be done. I am still at Dresden, and have no idea of immediately returning to England.” There was no commencement to this, nor any ending. He did not even sign his name, nor call her his wife, or his dear Cecilia. Upon the whole she felt that it rather confirmed her sentence of banishment than gave her reason for hope. He had felt when he wrote it that he could not remain altogether silent, but had yet determined to awaken no hopes by an assurance of his returning love. “In fact, the letter,” she said to her mother, “must be taken as meaning nothing. He did not choose to subject himself to the charge of having been indifferent to the coming of such an event. But beyond this he had nothing to say to me.” Poor Mrs. Holt remained altogether silent when her daughter discussed the subject. She knew that she could not speak without loud abuse, and she knew also that her daughter would not allow her to abuse him.

Cecilia, without asking the advice of anyone, resolved that she would not answer the letter. She could not write without using affectionate language, and such words should never come from her till she had first been addressed with full affection by him. “Never,” she had said to herself a score of times; “never!” The meaning of this had been that having been so cruelly ill-used she would do and say nothing that might be taken as evidence that she had thought herself in the wrong. She would bear it all rather than give him to understand that she did not appreciate his cruelty. She had told him of her love, and he had not vouchsafed to say a word to her in reply. It was of the injustice done to her that she complained in the words which she was constantly framing for herself; but it was the apparent want of affection which was deepest in her heart. Though he had been twice as cruel, twice as hard, she would have been less unhappy had she succeeded in drawing from him one word of affection. “What can he do for my comfort?” she said to herself again and again. “He means that if I want money I shall have it, so that he may avoid the disgrace of leaving his wife and his child unprovided for. I will not have his money, unless he also come himself.” She would not even write to Lady Grant, or let her know that she had received a letter from her husband. “Oh, yes; I have heard from him. There is his letter,” and she flung the document across the table to her mother. Having done so she at once left the room, so that there should be no discussion on the matter. “That there should be not a word of love in it; not a single word,” she went on saying to herself. “How hard must be a man’s heart, and how changeable! He certainly did love me, and now it has all gone, simply through an unworthy suspicion on his own part.”

But here she showed how little able she had been as yet to read the riddle of a man’s heart,—how ignorant she had been of the difficulty under which a man may labour to express his own feeling! That which we call reticence is more frequently an inability than an unwillingness to express itself. The man is silent, not because he would not have the words spoken, but because he does not know the fitting words with which to speak. His dignity and his so-called manliness are always near to him, and are guarded, so that he should not melt into open ruth. So it was with Mr. Western. Living there all alone at Dresden, seeing no society, passing much of his time in a vain attempt to satisfy himself with music and with pictures, he spent all his hours in thinking how necessary his wife had made herself to his comfort during the few months that they were married. He had already taught himself to endeavour to make excuses for her,—though in doing so he always fell back at last on the enormity of her offence. Though he loved her, though he might probably pardon her in his weakness, it was impossible that the sin should be washed out. His anger still burned very hotly, because he could not quite understand the manner in which the sin had been committed. There was a secret, and he did not know the nature of the secret. There had been an understanding, of which he did not even yet know the nature, between his wife and that base baronet. And then the terrible truth of his memory added to his wounds. He thought of all the words that had been spoken, and which he felt ought to have given her an opportunity of telling the truth,—and would have done so had she not purposely kept the secret. He had playfully asked her how it had been that she had loved no other man, and then she had remained silent in a manner which he now declared to himself to be equal to a falsehood. And when he had been perfectly free with his own story, she had still kept back hers. She had had her story, and had resolved that he should not know it, even though he had been so open with his. He no doubt had been open at a time when he had no right to expect her to be equally so; but when the time did come then, then she had been a traitor to him. When accepting his caresses, and returning them with all a young wife’s ardour, even at that moment she had been a traitor to him. Though in his arms she had thought,—she must have continued to think,—of some unholy compact which existed between her and Sir Francis Geraldine. And even now she had not told him the nature of that compact. Even now she might be corresponding with Sir Francis or seeing him for aught that he knew to the contrary. How was it possible that he should pardon a wife who had sinned against him as she had sinned?

And yet he was so far aware of his own weakness, as to admit to himself that he would have taken her back to him if she had answered his last letter in a contrite spirit and with affectionate words. He would have endeavoured to forgive if not to forget, and would have allowed himself to fall into the loving intimacy of domestic life,—but that she was cold and indifferent, as well as treacherous. So he told himself, keeping his wrath hot, though at the same time his love nearly mastered him. But in truth he knew nothing of things as they really were. He had made the mistake of drawing a false conclusion from some words written by Sir Francis, and then of looking upon those words as containing the whole truth. Sir Francis had no doubt intended him to think that he and Cecilia Holt had come to some rupture in their engagement from other than the real cause. He had intended Mr. Western to believe that they had both agreed, and that they had merely resolved between them that they had better not be husband and wife. He had intended to convey the idea that he had been more active in so arranging it than Cecilia herself. Cecilia though she had read the letter had done so in such a frame of mind as hardly to catch the truth. But he, Mr. Western, had caught it altogether, and had believed it. Though he knew that the man was a dishonest liar yet he had believed the letter. He was tortured at the thought that his wife should have made herself a party to such a compact, and that the compact should still have remained in existence without his knowledge. Although there were hours during which he was most anxious to return to her,—in which he told himself that it was more difficult to stay away from her than even to endure her faithlessness; though from day to day he became convinced that he could never return to the haunts of men or even to the easy endurance of life without her, yet his pride would ever come back to him and assure him that as a reasonable man he was unable to put up with such treachery. He had unfortunately been taught to think, by the correspondence which had come from the matter of his cousin’s racing bet, that Sir Francis Geraldine was the very basest of mankind. It was unfortunate because he had no doubt been induced to think worse of his wife because she had submitted herself and continued to submit herself to a man who was in his eyes so contemptible. He could not endure the idea that a woman for whom such a partnership had had charms should be the chosen companion of all his hours. He had already lived with her for weeks which should have been enough to teach him her character. During those weeks he had been satisfied to the very full. He had assured himself frequently that he had at last met a woman that suited him and made her his own. Had he known nothing of Sir Francis Geraldine he would have been thoroughly contented. Then had come the blow, and all his joys were “sicklied over” with the unhealthy tone which his image of her former lover gave him. She became at once to him a different creature. Though he told himself that she was still the same Cecilia as had been his delight, yet he told himself also that she was not the same as he had fancied her when he at first knew her.

There is in a man a pride of which a woman knows nothing. Or rather a woman is often subject to pride the very opposite. The man delights to think that he has been the first to reach the woman’s heart. The woman is rejoiced to feel that she owns permanently that which has been often reached before. The man may know that in his own case it is not so with him. But as there has been no concealment, or perhaps only a little to conceal, he takes it as it comes and makes the best of it. His Mary may have liked some other one, but it has not gone farther. Or if she has been engaged as a bride there has been no secret about it. Or it has been a thing long ago so that there has been time for new ideas to form themselves. The husband when he does come knows at any rate that he has no ground of complaint, and is not kept specially in the dark when he takes his wife. But Mr. Western had been kept specially in the dark, and was of all men the least able to endure such treatment. To have been kept in the dark as to the man with whom the girl was engaged, as he thought, at the very moment in which she had accepted him! To have been made use of as a step, on which a disadvantageous marriage might be avoided without detriment to her own interest! It was this feeling which made him utterly prostrate,—which told him that death itself would be the one desirable way out of his difficulties if death were within his reach.

When he received the letter from his sister telling him that he might probably become the father of a child, he was at the first prepared to say that thus would they two be reconciled. He could hardly live apart, not only from the mother of his child, but from the child itself. He went away into solitude and wept hot tears as he thought of it all. But ever as he thought of it the cause of his anger came back to him and made him declare to himself that in the indulgence of no feeling of personal tenderness ought he to disgrace himself. At any rate it could not be till she should have told him the whole truth,—till she should have so told her story as to enable him to ascertain whether that story were in all respects true. At present, as he said to himself, he was altogether in the dark. But in fact had he now learned the very story as it had existed, and had Cecilia told it as far as she was able to tell it all, she would even in his estimation have been completely white-washed. In her perfect absolution from the terrible sin of which he now accused her he would have forgiven and forgotten altogether the small, the trifling fault, which she had in truth committed.

There was something of nobility in all these feelings;—but then that something was alloyed by much that was ignoble. He had resolved that were she to come back to him she must come acknowledging the depth of her sin. He would endeavour to forgive though he could not forget; but he never thought to himself in these hours that it would be well for him to be gracious in his manner of forgiveness. To go to her and fetch her home to him, and say to her that all that was past should be as a dream, a sad and ugly dream, but one to which no reality was attached, never occurred to him. He must still be the master, and, in order that his masterdom might be assured, full and abject confession must be made. Yet he had such an idea of his wife, that he felt that no such confession would be forthcoming, and therefore to him it appeared ever more and more impossible that they two should again come together.

With Cecilia the matter was regarded with very different eyes. To her, too, it was apparent that she had been treated with extremest cruelty. She, too, was very hot in her anger. In discussing the matter with herself, she allowed herself thoughts in which indignation against her husband was maintained at a boiling heat. But nevertheless she had quite resolved to forgive him altogether if he would once come to her. And to insure her forgiveness no word even of apology should be necessary. She knew that she would have to deal with a man to whom the speaking of such words would be painful, and none should be expected, none asked for. If he would but show her that he still loved her, that should suffice. The world around them would of course know that she had been sent away from him, and then taken back. There was in this much that was painful,—a feeling full of dismay as she reflected that all her friends, that her acquaintance, that the very servants should know that she had been so disgraced. But of all that she would take no notice,—no notice as far as the outside world was concerned. Let them think, let them talk as they would, she would then have her one great treasure with which to console herself, and that treasure, if once more her own, would suffice for her happiness. In her hottest anger she told herself from time to time that her anger would all depart from her,—that it would be made to vanish from her as by a magician’s wand,—if she could only once more be allowed to feel his arm round her waist.

In all this she had no friend with whom to discuss either her anger or her hopes. Her mother she knew shared her anger to the full, but entertained hopes altogether different. Her desires were so different that they hardly amounted to hopes. Yes, he might be allowed to return, but with words of absolute contrition, with words which should always be remembered against him. Such would have been Mrs. Holt’s expression as to the state of things had she ventured to express herself. But she understood enough of her daughter’s feelings to repress them.

The only person who sympathised with Cecilia and her present condition was the girl who had once before evoked from her so strong a feeling of tenderness. She did know that the man had to be forgiven, terrible as had been his sin, and that nothing more was to be said about it. “Oh, ma’am,” she said, “he’ll come back now! I’m sure he’ll come back now, and never more have any of them silly vagaries.”

“Who can say what vagaries a man may choose to indulge?”

“That’s true too, ma’am. That any man should have had such a vagary as this! But he’s dying to come back. I’m sure of it. And when he does come and finds that he’s let to come quiet, and that he’s asked to say nothing as he don’t like, and that you are all smiles to him and kindness,—and then with the baby coming and all,—my belief is that he’ll be happier then than he was even the first day when he had you.” This, though spoken in rough language, so exactly expressed Cecilia’s wishes, that she did feel that her maid at least entirely sympathised with her.

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