Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 19.

Dick Takes his Final Leave.

When Sir Francis received the reply which Miss Altifiorla sent to his letter, he was not altogether satisfied with it. He had expected that the lady would at once have flown into his arms. But the lady seemed to hesitate, and asked for a week to think about it. This showed so much ingratitude on her part,—was so poor an acknowledgment of the position which he had offered her, that he was inclined to be indignant. “D—— it; if she don’t care about it she sha’n’t have it.” It was thus that he expressed himself aloud in the hearing of Dick Ross; but without however explaining who the she was, or what the it was, or indeed in any way asking Dick’s opinion on the matter. Not the less had Miss Altifiorla been wise in the nature of the reply which she had given. Had she expressed her warm affection, and at once accepted all that had been proffered, the gentleman would probably have learnt at once to despise that which had been obtained so easily. As it was he was simply cross, and thought that he had determined to withdraw the proposal. But still the other letter was to come, and Miss Altifiorla’s chance was still open to her.

The immediate consequence of these doubts in the mind of Sir Francis was a postponement of the verdict of banishment which he had resolved to pronounce against Dick as soon as his marriage with Miss Altifiorla should have been settled. He did not wish to leave himself altogether alone in the world, and if this Dick were dismissed it would be necessary that he should provide himself with another,—unless he were minded to provide himself with a wife instead. He became therefore gradually more gracious after the little speech which has been above given. Dick had understood perfectly who the “she” had been, and what was the “it” intended. As no question had been asked he had made no reply, but he was quite quick enough to perceive the working of the Baronet’s mind. He despised the Baronet almost as thoroughly as did Mr. Western. But for certain purposes,—as to which he despised himself also,—the friendship of the Baronet suited him just at present.

One morning, for private reasons of his own, Dick went into Perth, which was twenty miles distant from the Baronet’s shooting lodge, and returned the same day bringing the postbag with him from a point in the road at which it was daily left by the postman. Sir Francis with unusual haste read his letters, and among them was one from Miss Altifiorla. But Dick had a budget of news which he was anxious to reveal, and which he did tell before Sir Francis had said anything as to his own letter. There was another friend, one Captain Fawkes, at the Lodge with them, and Dick had at first been restrained by this man’s presence. As soon as he found himself alone with Sir Francis he began. “Lady Grant has gone off to Dresden,” he said.

“Where did you hear that?” asked the Baronet.

“They told me so at the club. Everybody in Perth knows that she has gone;—and why.”

“What business is it of theirs? Since you know so much about it, why has she gone?”

“To persuade her brother to come home and take his wife once more. It was an infernal shame that they should ever have been separated. In fact she has gone to undo what you did. If she can only succeed in making the man know the whole truth about it, free from all lies, she’ll do what she’s gone to do.”

“What the devil do you mean by lies?” said Sir Francis, rising in wrath from his chair.

“Well; lies mean lies. As I haven’t applied the word to anyone I suppose I may be allowed to use it and to stand by it. I suppose you know what lies mean, and I suppose you are aware that Western has been made to believe lies about his wife.”

“Who told them?”

“I say nothing about that,” said Dick. “Lies are a sort of thing which are very commonly told, and are ordinarily ascribed to the world at large. The world never quarrels with the accusation. The world has told most infernal lies to this man about his wife. I don’t suppose the world means to call me out for saying as much as that.” Then the two remained silent for some moments and Dick proceeded with his eloquence. “Of course there have been lies,—damnable lies. Had a man, or a woman,—it’s all one,—gone to that poor creature with a pistol in his hand and blown her brains out he wouldn’t have done a more dastardly action.”

“What the devil do you mean by that?” said the other.

“I’m not talking about you,—specially. I say lies have been told; but I do not say who has told them. I rather suspect a woman to be at the bottom of it.” Sir Francis who had in his pocket a most tender and loving reply from Miss Altifiorla knew very well who was the lady to whom Dick referred. “That man has been made to believe certain things about his wife which are all lies,—lies from beginning to end.”

“He has been made to believe that she was engaged to me first. Is that a lie?”

“That depends on the way in which it was told. He didn’t send her home merely for that. I am not saying what the lies were, but they were damnable lies. You sometimes tell me that I ain’t any better than another,—or generally a great deal worse. But I’d rather have blown my brains out than have told such lies about a woman as have been told here by somebody. You ask me what they were saying at the club in Perth. Now you know it pretty well all.”

It must be supposed that what had passed at the club had induced Dick to determine that it would no longer become him to remain with Sir Francis as his humble friend. Very evil things had in truth been said of Sir Francis, and they were more than Dick could endure. The natural indignation of the man was aroused, so that by degrees it had come to pass that he hated the Baronet. He had before said very sharp words to him, but had now gone home resolved in his righteous mind to bring things to a conclusion. It matters little in the telling of our story to know what lies Dick did in truth impute to his friend; but they were of a nature to fill his mind with righteous wrath and to produce from him the eloquence above described.

Sir Francis, whose vanity had been charmed by the letter which he kept in his pocket, had already made up his mind to part with Dick. But Dick’s words as now spoken left him no alternative. It was a question with him whether he could not so part with him as to inflict some further punishment. “Why, Dick,” he said smiling, “you have broken out quite in a new place.”

“I know nothing about that.”

“You must have been with the Bishop and taken a lesson in preaching. I never heard you come out so strong before.”

“I wish you’d heard what some of those men at Perth said about you.”

“And how you answered them as my friend.”

“As far as I remember I didn’t say much myself. What I did say certainly was not in your favour. But I was hardest on that sweet young lady with the Italian name. You won’t mind that because you and she are two, now.”

“Can you tell me, Ross, how long you have been eating my bread?”

“I suppose I could.”

“Or how much you have drank of my wine?”

“I haven’t made a calculation of that nature. It isn’t usual.”

“For shooting here, how much have you ever contributed?”

“When I shoot I contribute nothing. All the world understands that.”

“How much money do you owe me?”

“I owe you nothing that I’ve ever promised to pay.”

“And now you think it a sign of a fine gentleman to go and talk openly at a club about matters which you have heard from me in confidence! I don’t. I think it a very—”

“A very what, Sir Francis? I have not done as you allege. But you were going to observe a very—; what was it?” It must be here explained that Dick Ross was not a man who feared many things; but that Sir Francis feared much. Dick had little to lose by a row, whereas the Baronet would be injured. The Baronet therefore declined to fill in the epithet which he had omitted. He knew from former experience what Dick would and what he would not bear.

“I don’t choose to descend to Billingsgate,” said Sir Francis. “I have my own ideas as to your conduct.”

“Very gentlemanlike, isn’t it?” said Dick, with a smile, meaning thereby to impute it to Sir Francis as cowardice that he was unwilling to say the reverse.

“But, under all the circumstances, it will be quite as well that you should leave the Lodge. You must feel that yourself.”

“Oh; quite so. I am delighted to think that I shall be able to leave without having had any unpleasant words. Perhaps to-morrow will do?”

“Just as you please.”

“Then I shall be able to add a few drops to all those buckets of claret which you threw in my teeth just now. I wonder whether any gentleman was ever before asked by another gentleman how much wine he had drank in his house, or how many dinners he had eaten. When you asked me did you expect me to pay for my dinners and wine?” Sir Francis refused to make any reply to this question. “And when you delicately hinted at my poverty, had you found my finances to be lower than you’d always known them? It is disagreeable to be a penniless younger brother. I have found it so all my life. And I admit that I ought to have earned my bread. It would have been much better for me had I done so. People may declare that I am good for nothing, and may hold me up as an example to be shunned. But I flatter myself that nobody has called me a blackguard. I have told no lies to injure men behind their backs;—much less have I done so to injure a woman. I have sacrificed no girl to my revenge, simply because she has thrown me over. In the little transactions I have had I have always run straight. Now I think that upon the whole I had better go before dinner, and not add anything to the bucket of claret.”

“Just as you please,” said Sir Francis. Then Dick Ross left the room and went away to make such arrangements for his departure as were possible to him, and the readers of this story shall see him and hear him no more.

Sir Francis when he was left alone took out Miss Altifiorla’s letter and read it again. He was a man who could assume grand manners in his personal intercourse with women, but was peculiarly apt to receive impression from them. He loved to be flattered, and was prone to believe anything good of himself that was said to him by one of them. He therefore took the following letter for more than it was worth.

My dear Sir Francis,—I know that you will have been quite quick enough to have understood when you received my former little scrawl what my answer would be. When a woman attempts to deceive a man in such a matter she knows beforehand that the attempt will be vain; and I certainly did not think that I could succeed with you. But yet a feeling of shamefacedness,—what some ladies consider as modesty, though it might more properly be called mauvaise honte,—forced me into temporary silence. What could I wish better than to be loved by such a one as you? In the first place there is the rank which goes for much with me. Then there is the money, which I admit counts for something. I would never have allowed myself to marry even if I had chanced to love a poor man. Then there are the manners, and the peculiar station before the world, which is quite separate from the rank. To me these alone are irresistible. Shall I say too that personal appearance does count for much. I can fancy myself marrying an ugly man, but I can fancy also that I could not do it without something of disgust.

Miss Altifiorla when she wrote this had understood well that vanity and love of flattery were conspicuous traits in the character of her admirer.

Having owned so much, what is there more to say than that I am the happiest woman between the seas?

The reader must be here told that this letter had been copied out a second time because in the first copy she had allowed the word girl to pass in the above sentence. Something told her that she had better write woman instead, and she had written it.

What more is there for me to add to the above except to tell you that I love you with all my heart. Months ago,—it seems to be years now,—when Cecilia Holt had caught your fancy, I did regard her as the most fortunate girl. But I did not regard you as the happiest of men, because I felt sure that there was a something between you which would not suit. There is an asperity, rather than strictness, about her which I knew your spirit would not brook. She would have borne the battlings which would have arisen with an equal temper. She can indeed bear all things with equanimity—as she does her present position. But you, though you would have battled and have conquered, would still have suffered. I do not think that the wife you now desire is one with whom you will have to wage war. Shall I say that if you marry her whom you have now asked to join her lot with yours, there will be no such fighting? I think that I shall know how to hold my own against the world as your wife. But with you I shall only attempt to hold my own by making myself one with you in all your desires and aspirations.

I am yours with all my heart, with all my body and soul.

Francesca.

I say nothing now about the immediate future, but I hope it will please your highness to visit your most worthy clerical relations in this cathedral city before long. I shall say nothing to any of your clerical relations as to my prospects in life until I shall have received your sanction for doing so. But the sooner I do receive it the better for my peace of mind.

Sir Francis was upon the whole delighted with the letter, and the more delighted as he now read it for the third time. “There is such an air of truth in every word of it.” It was thus that he spoke to himself about the letter as he sucked in the flattery. It was thus that Miss Altifiorla had intended that he should receive it. She knew herself too well to suspect that her flattery should fail. Not a word of it failed. In nothing was he more gratified than in her allusions to his matrimonial efforts with Miss Holt. She had assured him that he would have finally conquered that strong-minded young woman. But she had at the same time told him of the extreme tenderness of his heart. He absolutely believed her when she whispered to him her secret,—that she had envied Cecilia her lot when Cecilia was supposed to be the happy bride. He quite understood those allusions to his own pleasures and her assurance that she would never interfere with him. There was just a doubt whether a thing so easily got could be worth the keeping. But then he remembered his cousin and determined to be a man of his word.

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/kept-in-the-dark/chapter19.html

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