Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21.

Lady Grant at Dresden.

“You have first to believe the story as I tell it you, and get out of your head altogether the story as you have conceived it.” This was said by Lady Grant to her brother when she had travelled all the way to Dresden with the purpose of inducing him to take his wife back. She had come there solely with that object, and it must be said of her that she had well done her duty as a sister. But she found it by no means easy to induce her brother to look at the matter with her eyes. In fact, it was evident to her that he did not believe the story as she had told it. She must go on and din it into his ears till by perseverance she should change his belief. He still thought that credit should be given to that letter from Sir Francis, although he was aware that to Sir Francis himself as a man he would have given no credit whatsoever. It had suited his suspicions to believe that there had been something in common between Sir Francis and his wife up to the moment in which the terrible fact of her engagement had been made known to him; and from that belief he could not free his mind. He had already been persuaded to say that she should come back to him; but she should come as a sinner confessing her sin. He would take her back, but as one whom he had been justified in expelling, and to whom he should be held as extending great mercy.

But Lady Grant would not accept of his mercy, nor would she encourage her coming back with such a purpose. It would not be good in the first place for him that he should think that his wife had been an offender. His future happiness must depend on his fixed belief in her purity and truth. And, as for her,—Lady Grant was sure that no entreaties would induce her to own that she had been in the wrong. She desired to have no pardon asked, but would certainly ask for no pardon on her own behalf.

“Why was it that he came, then, to my house?” asked Mr. Western.

“Am I, or rather is she, to account for the conduct of such a man as that? Are you to make her responsible for his behaviour?”

“She was engaged to him.”

“Undoubtedly. It should have been told to you,—though I can understand the reasons which kept her silent from day to day. The time will come when you will understand it also, and know, as I do, how gracious and how feminine has been her silence.” Then there came across her brother’s face a look of doubt as indicating his feeling that nothing could have justified her silence. “Yes, George; the time will come that you will understand her altogether although you are far from doing so now.”

“I believe you think her to be perfect,” said he.

“Hardly perfect, because she is a human being. But although I know her virtues I have not known her faults. It may be that she is too proud,—a little unwilling, perhaps, to bend. Most women will bend whether they be in fault or not. But would you wish your wife to do so?”

“I, at any rate, have not asked her.”

“You, at any rate, have not given her the opportunity. My accusation against you is, that you sent her away from you on an accusation made solely by that man, and without waiting to hear from herself whether she would plead guilty to it.”

“I deny it.”

“Yes; I hear your denial. But you will have to acknowledge it, at any rate to yourself, before you can ever hope to be a happy man.”

“When he wrote to me, I believed the whole story to be a lie from first to last.”

“And when you found that it was not all a lie, then it became to you a gospel throughout. You could not understand that the very faults which had induced her to break her engagement were of a nature to make him tell his story untruly.”

“When she acknowledged herself to have been engaged to him it nearly broke my heart.”

“Just so. And, with your heart broken, you would not sift the truth. She had committed no offence against you in engaging herself.”

“She should have told me as soon as we knew each other.”

“She should have told you before she accepted your offer. But she had been deterred from doing so by your own revelation to her. You cannot believe that she intended you always to be in the dark. You cannot imagine that she had expected that you should never hear of her adventure with Sir Francis Geraldine.”

“I do not know.”

“I had heard it, and she knew that I had heard it.”

“Why did you not tell me, then?”

“Do you suppose that I wished to interfere between you and your wife? Of course I told her that you ought to know. Of course I told her that you ought to have known it already. But she excused herself,—with great sorrow. Things had presented themselves in such a way that the desired opportunity of telling you had never come.” He shook his head. “I tell you that it was so, and you are bound to believe it of one of whom in all other respects you had thought well;—of one who loved you with the fondest devotion. Instead of that there came this man with his insidious falsehoods, with his implied lies; this man, of whom you have always thought so badly;—and him you believed instead! I tell you that you can justify yourself before no human being. You were not entitled to repudiate your wife for such offence as she had committed, you are not entitled even had there been no mutual affection to bind you together. How much less so in your present condition,—and in hers. People will only excuse you by saying that you were mad. And now in order to put yourself right, you expect that she shall come forward, and own herself to have been the cause of this misfortune. I tell you that she will not do it. I would not even ask her to do it;—not for her sake, nor for your own.”

“I am then to go,” said he, “and grovel in the dust before her feet.”

“There need be no grovelling. There need be no confessions.”

“How then?”

“Go to Exeter, and simply take her. Disregard what all the world may say, for the sake of her happiness and for your own. She will make no stipulation. She will simply throw herself into your arms with unaffected love. Do not let her have to undergo the suffering of bringing forth your child without the comfort of knowing that you are near to her.” Then she left him to think in solitude over the words she had spoken to him.

He did think of them. But he found it to be impossible to put absolute faith in them. It was not that he thought that his sister was deceiving him, that he distrusted her who had taken this long journey at great personal trouble altogether on his behalf; but that he could not bring himself to believe that he himself had been so cruel as to reject his young wife without adequate cause. It had gradually come across his mind that he had been most cruel, most unjust,—if he had done so; and to this judgment, passed by himself on himself, he would not submit. In concealing her engagement she had been very wrong, but it must be that she had concealed more than her engagement. And to have been engaged to such a man added much to the fault in his estimation. He would not acknowledge that she had been deceived as to the man’s character and had set herself right before it was too late. Why had the man come to his house and asked for him,—after what had passed between them,—if not in compliance with some understanding between him and her? But yet he would take her back if she would confess her fault and beg his pardon,—for then he would be saved the disgrace of having to acknowledge that he had been in fault from the first.

His sister left him alone without saying a word on the subject for twenty-four hours, and then again attacked him. “George,” she said, “I must go back to-morrow. I have left my children all alone and cannot stay longer away from them.”

“Must you go to-morrow?” he asked.

“Indeed, yes. Had not the matter been one of almost more than life and death I should not have come. Am I to return and feel that my journey has been for nothing?”

“What would you have me do?”

“Return with me, and go at once to Exeter.”

He almost tore his hair in his agony as he walked about the room before he replied to her. But she remained silent, watching him. “You must leave me here till I think about it.”

“Then I might as well not have come at all,” she said.

He moved about the room in an agony of spirit. He knew it to be essential to his future happiness in life that he should be the master in his own house. And he felt that he could not be so unless he should be known to have been right in this terrible misfortune with which their married life had been commenced. There was no obliterating it, no forgetting it, no ignoring it. He had in his passion sent her away from him, and, passionately, she had withdrawn. Let them not say a word about it, there would still have been this terrible event in both their memories. And for himself he knew that unless it could be settled from the first that he had acted with justice, his life would be intolerable to him. He was a man, and it behoved him to have been just. She was a woman, and the feeling of having had to be forgiven would not be so severe with her. She, when taken a second time into grace and pardoned, might still rejoice and be happy. But for himself, he reminded himself over and over again that he was a man, and assured himself that he could never lift up his head were he by his silence to admit that he had been in the wrong.

But still his mind was changed,—was altogether changed by the coming of his sister. Till she had come all had been a blank with him, in which no light had been possible. He could see no life before him but one in which he should be constantly condemned by his fellow-men because of his cruelty to his young wife. Men would not stop to ask whether he had been right or wrong, but would declare him at any rate to have been stern and cruel. And then he had been torn to the heart by his memory of those passages of love which had been so sweet to him. He had married her to be the joy of his life, and she had become so to his entire satisfaction when in his passion he had sent her away. He already knew that he had made a great mistake. Angry as he had been, he should not have thus sought to avenge himself. He should have known himself better than to think that because she had been in fault he could therefore live without her. He had owned to himself when his sister had come to him that he must use her services in getting his wife once again. Was she not the one human being that suited him at all points? But still,—but still his honour must be saved. If she in truth desired to come back to him, she would not hesitate to own that she had been in fault.

“What am I to say to her? What message will you send to her? You will hardly let me go back without some word.” This was said to him by his sister as he walked about the room in his misery. What message could he send? He desired to return himself, and was willing to do so at a moment’s notice if only he could be assured that if he did so she would as a wife do her duty by owning that she had been in the wrong. How should he live with a wife who would always be asserting to herself, and able to assert to him, that in this extremity of their trouble he had been the cause of it;—not that she would so assert it aloud, but that the power of doing so would be always present to her and to him? And yet he was resolved to return, and if he allowed his sister to go back without him never would there come so fair an opportunity again. “I have done my duty by you,” said his sister.

“Yes, yes. I need hardly tell you that I am grateful to you.”

“And now do your duty by her.”

“If she will write to me one line to beg me to come I will do so.”

“You have absolutely driven her away from you, and left her abruptly, so that she should have no opportunity of imploring you to spare her. And now you expect that she should do so?”

“Yes;—if she were wrong. By your own showing she was the first to sin against me.”

“You do not know the nature of a woman, and especially you do not know hers. I have nothing further to say. I shall leave this by the early train to-morrow morning, and you can go with me or let me go alone as you please. I have said what I came to say, and if I have said it without effect it will only show me how hard a man’s heart may become by living in the world.” Then she left him alone and went her way.

He took his hat and escaped from the Hotel and walked along the Elbe all alone. He went far down the river, and did not return for many hours. At first his thoughts were full of anger against his sister, though he acknowledged that she had taken great trouble in coming there on a mission intended to be beneficent to them both. With the view solely of doing her duty to her brother and to her sister-in-law, she had taken infinite trouble; yet he was very angry with her. Being a woman she had most unjustly taken the part of another woman against him. Cecilia would have suffered but little in having been forced to acknowledge her great sin. But he would suffer greatly,—he who had sinned not at all,—by the tacit confession which he would be thus compelled to make. It was true that it was necessary that he should return. The happiness of them all, including that unborn child, required it. His sister knowing this demanded that he should sacrifice himself in order that his wife might be indulged in her pride. And yet he knew that he must do it. Though he might go to her in silence, and in silence renew his married life, he would by so doing confess that he had been wrong. To such confession he should not be driven. In the very gall of bitterness, and with the sense of injustice strong upon him, he did resolve that he would return to England with his sister. But having so resolved, with his wrath hot against Lady Grant, his mind was gradually turned to Cecilia and her condition. How sweet would it be to have her once again sitting at his table, once again leaning on his arm, once again looking up into his face with almost comical doubt, seeking to find in his eyes what answer he would best like her to make when referring to her for some decision. “It is your opinion that I want,” he would say. “Ah! but if I only knew yours I should be so much better able to have one of my own.” Then there would come a look over her face which almost maddened him when he thought that he should never see it again. It was the idea that she who could so look at him should have looked with the same smile into the face of that other man which had driven him to fury;—that she should have so looked in those very days in which she had gazed into his own.

Could it be that though she had been engaged to the man she had never taken delight in so gazing at him? That girl whom he had thought to make his wife, and who had so openly jilted him, had never understood him as Cecilia had done,—had never looked at him as Cecilia had looked. But he, after he had been so treated,—happily so treated,—had certainly never desired ever to see the girl. But this wife of his, who was possessed of all the charms which a woman could own, of whom he acknowledged to himself day after day that she was, as regarded his taste, peerless and unequalled, she after breaking from that man, that man unworthy to be called a gentleman, still continued to hold intercourse with him! Was it not clear that she had still remained on terms of intimacy with him?

His walk along the Elbe was very bitter, but yet he determined to return to England with his sister.

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