Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 2.

Sir Francis Geraldine.

On that same afternoon, at about tea time, Sir Francis came up to the house. He had said that he would be there if he could get there,—and he got there. He was shown into the drawing-room, where was sitting Mrs. Holt with her daughter, and began to tell them that he was to leave the Deanery on the following morning and not be back till a day or two before his marriage. “Where are you going?” Cecilia asked, meaning nothing, only gaining time till she should have determined how she should carry out her purpose.

“Well;—if you must know, I am going to Goodwood. I had not thought of it. But some friends have reminded me that as these are to be the last days of my liberty I may as well enjoy them.”

“Your friends are very complaisant to me,” said Cecilia in a tone of voice which seemed to imply that she took it all in earnest.

“One’s friends never do care a straw for the young lady on such an occasion,” said Sir Francis. “They regard her as the conquering enemy, and him as the conquered victim.”

“And you desire a little relaxation from your fetters.”

“Well; just a last flutter.” All this had been said with such a mixture of indifferent badinage on his part, and of serious anger on hers, that Mrs. Holt, who saw it all and understood it, sat very uneasy in her chair. “To tell the truth,” continued he, “all the instructions have been given to the lawyers, and I really do think that I had better be away during the making of the dresses and the baking of the cake. It has come to pass by this accident of my living at the Deanery that we have already become almost tired of each other’s company.”

“You might speak for yourself, Sir Francis Geraldine.”

“So I do. For to tell the truth, a man does get tired of this kind of thing quicker than a woman, and a man of forty much quicker than a woman of twenty. At any rate I’m off to-morrow.”

There was something in the tone of all this which thoroughly confirmed her in her purpose. There should come an end to him of his thraldom. This should not be, by many, the last of his visits to Goodwood. He should never again have to complain of the trouble given to him by her company. She sat silent, turning it all over in her mind, and struggling to think how she might best get her mother out of the room. She must do it instantly;—now at once. She was perfectly resolved that he should not leave that house an engaged man. But she did not see her direct way to the commencement of the difficult conversation. “Mrs. Holt,” said Sir Francis, “don’t you think a little absence will be best for both of us, before we begin the perilous voyage of matrimony together?”

“I am sure I don’t know,” said poor Mrs. Holt.

“There can’t be a doubt about it,” continued the lover. “I have become so stupid, that I hardly know how to put one foot before the other, and Cecilia is so majestical that her dignity is growing to be almost tedious.”

“Mamma,” said Cecilia after a pause, “as Sir Francis is going to-morrow, would you mind leaving us alone for a few minutes? There is something which I have to say to him.”

“Oh, certainly, my dear,” said Mrs. Holt, as she got up and left the room.

Now had come the moment, the difficult moment in which Cecilia Holt had to remodel for herself the course of her future life. For the last month or two she had been the affianced bride of a baronet, and of a man of fashion. All Exeter had known her as the future Lady Geraldine. And, more than that, she had learned to regard herself as the owner of the man, and of his future home. Her imagination had been active in drawing pictures for herself of the life she was to live,—pictures which for a time had been rosy-hued. But whatever the tints may have been, and how far the bright colours may have become dimmed, it had been as Lady Geraldine, and not as Cecilia Holt that she had looked in the glass which had shown to herself her future career. Now, within the last four-and-twenty hours,—for the last crowning purpose of her resolution was hardly of longer date,—she had determined to alter it all. But he as yet did not know it. He still regarded her as his affianced bride. Now had come the moment in which the truth must be told to him.

As soon as her mother left the room, she got up from her seat, as did also her lover. He, as soon as the door was closed, at once attempted to put his arm round the girl’s waist, as was his undoubted privilege. She with the gentlest possible motion rejected his embrace, and contrived to stand at a little distance from him. But she said nothing. The subject to be discussed was so difficult that words would not come to her assistance. Then he lent her his aid. “You do not mean that you’re in a tiff because of what I said just now. Of course it is better that we should not be together for the few days before our marriage.”

“I do not think that I am in a tiff, Sir Francis. I hope I am not, because what I have to say is too serious for ill-humour.” Then she paused. “What I have got to say is of some importance;—of very great importance. Sir Francis Geraldine, I feel that I have to ask you to forgive me.”

“What on earth is the matter?”

“You may well ask. And, indeed, I do not know how to excuse myself. Your friends will say that I am frivolous, and vain, and discontented.”

“What the mischief is it all about?” he demanded with an angry voice.

She knew she had not as yet told him. She could perceive that he had not gathered from her first words any inkling of the truth; and yet she did not know how to tell him. If it were once told she could, she thought, defend herself. But the difficulty was to find the words by which she could let him know what was her intention. “Sir Francis, I fear that we have misunderstood each other.”

“How misunderstood? Why Sir Francis? Am I to understand that you want to quarrel with me because I am going away? If so speak it out. I shall go just the same.”

“Your going has no bearing upon my present purpose. I had made up my mind before I had heard of your going;—only when I did hear of it it became necessary that I should tell you at once.”

“But you have told me nothing. I hate mysteries, and secrets, and scenes. There is nothing goes against the grain so much with me as tragedy airs. If you have done anything amiss that it is necessary that I should know let me know it at once.” As he said this there came across his brow a look of anger and of hot ill-humour, such as she had never seen there before. The effect was to induce her to respect him rather than to be afraid of him. It was well that a man should have the power and the courage to show his anger.

But it encouraged her to proceed with her task. She certainly was not afraid of him personally, though she did dread what the world might say of her, and especially what might be said by his friends. “I do not know that I have done anything amiss of which I need tell you,” she said with quiet dignity. “It is rather that which I intend to do. I fear, Sir Francis, that you and I have made a mistake in this.”

“What mistake?” he shouted. “While you beat about the bush I shall never understand you.”

“In our proposed marriage.”

“What?”

“I fear that I should not make you happy.”

“What on earth do you mean?” Then he paused a moment before he continued, which he did as though he had discovered suddenly the whole secret. “You have got another lover.”

There was something in the idea so shocking to Cecilia, so revolting,—so vulgar in the mode of expression, that the feeling at once gave her the strength necessary to go on with her task. She would not condescend to answer the accusation, but at once told her story in plain language. “I think, Sir Francis Geraldine, that you do not feel for me the regard that would make me happy as your wife. Do not interrupt me just at present,” she said, stopping him, as some exclamation was escaping from his lips. “Hear me to the end, and, if you have ought to say, I will then hear you. Of my own regard for you I will say nothing. But I think that I have been mistaken as to your nature. In fact, I feel sure that we are neither of us that which the other supposed. It is lamentable that we should have fallen into such an error, but it is well that even yet we can escape from it before it is too late. As my mind is altogether made up, I can only ask your pardon for what I have done to you, expressing myself sure at the same time that I am now best consulting your future happiness.”

During this last speech of Cecilia’s, Sir Francis had sat down, while she still stood in her old place. He had seated himself on the sofa, assuming as it were a look of profound ease, and arranging the nails of one hand with the fingers of the other, as though he were completely indifferent to the words spoken to him. “Have you done yet?” he said as soon as she was silent.

“Yes, I have done.”

“And you are sure that if I begin you will not interrupt me till I have done?”

“I think not,—if there be ought that you have to say.”

“Well, considering that ten minutes since I was engaged to make you Lady Geraldine, and that I am now supposed to be absolved from any such necessity, I presume you will think it expedient that I should say something. I suppose that I have not been told the whole truth.” Then he stopped, as though in spite of his injunction as to her silence he expected an answer from her. But she made none, though there came a cloud of anger upon her face. “I suppose, I say, that there is something of which it is not considered necessary that I should be informed. There must be something of the kind, or you would hardly abandon prospects which a few days since appeared to you to be so desirable.”

“I have not thought it necessary to speak of your temper,” she said.

“Nor of your own.”

“Nor of my own,” she added.

“But there is, I take it, something beyond that. I do not think that my temper, bad as it may be,—nor your own,—would have sufficed to estrange you. There must be something more palpable than temper to have occasioned it. And though you have not thought fit to tell me, you must feel that my position justifies me in asking. Have you another lover?”

“No,” she exclaimed, burning with wrath but with head so turned from him that he should not see her.

“Nor have ever had one? I am entitled to ask the question, though perhaps I should have asked it before.”

“You are at any rate not entitled to ask it now. Sir Francis Geraldine, between you and me all is over. I can only beg you to understand most positively that all is over.”

“My dear Miss Holt, you need not insist upon that, as it is perfectly understood.”

“Then there need be no further words. If I have done you any wrong I ask your pardon. You have wronged me only in your thoughts. I must take what consolation I can from the feeling that the injury will fall chiefly upon my head and not upon yours.” Then without a further word of farewell she marched out of the room.

Sir Francis, when he found himself alone, shook himself, as it were, as he rose from the sofa, and looked about the room in amazement. It was quite true that she was gone—gone, as far as he was concerned, for ever. It did not occur to him for a moment that there could be any reconciliation between them, and his first feeling undoubtedly was one of amazed disappointment. Then, standing there in Mrs. Holt’s drawing-room, he began to bethink himself what could have been the cause of it. Since the first week of his engagement he had begun and had continued to tell himself what great things he was about to do for Cecilia Holt. With her beauty, her grace, her dignity, and her accomplishments he was quite satisfied. It was expedient that he should marry, and he did not know that he could marry much better. Cecilia, when her mother died, would have twenty thousand pounds, and that in his eyes had been sufficient. But he was about to make her Lady Geraldine, and the more that he thought of this, the more grateful it had appeared to him that she should be to him. Then by degrees, while he had expected from her expressions of gratitude, she had rebelled against him! Of the meaning of this he had not been quite conscious, but had nevertheless felt it necessary that he should dominate her spirit. Up to the moment in which this interview had begun he had thought that he was learning to do so. She had not dared to ask him questions which would have been so natural, or to demand from him services to which she was entitled. It was thus that he had regarded her conduct. But he had never feared for a moment but that he was on the road to success. Up to the moment at which he had entered the room he had thought that he was progressing favourably. His Cecilia was becoming tame in his hands, as was necessary. He had then been altogether taken aback and surprised by her statement to him, and could not for some moments get over his feeling of amazement. At last he uttered a low whistle, and then walked slowly out of the house. At the front door he found his horse, and, mounting it, rode back into Exeter. As he did so he began to inquire of himself whether this step which the girl had determined to take was really a misfortune to him or the reverse. He had hardly as yet asked himself any such question since the day on which he had first become engaged to her. He had long thought of marrying, and one girl after another had been rejected by him as he had passed them in review through his thoughts. Then had come Cecilia’s turn, and she had seemed to answer the purpose. There had been about her an especial dignity which had suited his views of matrimonial life. She was a young woman as to whom all his friends would say that he had done well in marrying her. But by degrees there had come upon him a feeling of the general encumbrance of a wife. Would she not interfere with him? Would she not wish to hinder him when he chose to lead a bachelor’s life? Newmarket for instance, and his London clubs, and his fishing in Norway,—would she not endeavour to set her foot upon them? Would it not be well that he should teach her that she would not be allowed to interfere? He had therefore begun to teach her,—and this had come of it! It had been quite unexpected, but still he felt as though he were released from a burden.

He had accused her of having had another lover. At the moment an idea had passed through his mind that she was suddenly prompted by her conscience to tell him something that she had hitherto concealed. There had been some lover, probably, as to whom everyone had been silent to him. He was a jealous man, and for a moment he had been hurt. He would have said that his heart had been hurt. There was but little of heart in it, for it may be doubted whether he had ever loved her. But there was something pricked him which filled him for the instant with serious thoughts. When he had asked the question he wished to see her at his feet. There had come no answer, and he told himself that he was justified in thinking the surmise to be true. He was justified to himself, but only for the moment, for at the next had come her declaration that all was to be over between them. The idea of the lover became buried under the ruins which were thus made.

So she intended to escape from him! But he also would escape from her. After all, what an infinite trouble would a wife be to him,—especially a wife of whose docility in harness he was not quite assured. But there came upon him as he rode home an idea that the world would say that he had been jilted. Of course he would have been jilted, but there would be nothing in that except as the world might speak of it. It was gall to him to have to think that the world of Exeter should believe that Cecilia Holt had changed her mind, and had sent him about his business. If the world of Exeter would say that he had ill-used the girl, and had broken off the engagement for mere fancy,—as she had done,—that would be much more endurable. He could not say that such was the case. To so palpable a lie the contradiction would be easy and disgraceful. But could he not so tell the story as to leave a doubt on the minds of the people? That question of another lover had not been contradicted. Thinking of it again as he rode home he began to feel that the lover must be true, and that her conduct in breaking off the engagement had been the consequence. There had been some complication in the way of which she had been unable to rid herself. At any rate it was quite out of the question that he should have held himself to such an engagement, complicated as it would have been with such a lover. There would be some truth, therefore, in so telling the story as to leave the matter in doubt, and in doubt he resolved that he would leave it. Before he got back to the Deanery he was, he thought, thoroughly glad that he should have been enabled so easily to slip his neck out of the collar.

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