Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 22.

Mr. Western Yields.

The fact that Lady Grant had gone to Dresden was not long in reaching the ears of Mrs. Western. Dick Ross had heard at the club at Perth that she had gone, and had told Sir Francis. Sir Francis passed on the news to Miss Altifiorla, and from her it had reached the deserted wife. Miss Altifiorla had not told it direct, because at that time she and Cecilia were not supposed to be on friendly terms. But the tidings had got about and Mrs. Western had heard them.

“She’s a good woman,” said Cecilia to her mother. “I knew her to be that the first moment that she came to me. She is rough as he is, and stern, and has a will of her own. But her heart is tender and true;—as is his also at the core.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Mrs. Holt, with the angry tone which she allowed herself to use only when speaking of Mr. Western.

“Yes; he is, mamma. In your affection for me you will not allow yourself to be just to him. In truth you hardly know him.”

“I know that he has destroyed your happiness for ever, and made me very wretched.”

“No, mamma; not for ever. It may be that he will come for me, and that then we shall be as happy as the day is long.” As she said this a vision came before her eyes of the birth of her child and of her surroundings at the time;—the anxious solicitude of a loving husband, the care of attendants who would be happy because she was happy, the congratulations of friends, and the smiles of the world. But above all she pictured to herself her husband standing by her bedside with the child in his arms. The dream had been dreamed before, and was re-dreamed during every hour of the day. “Lady Grant is strong,” she continued, “and can plead for me better than I could plead myself.”

“Plead for you! Why should there be anyone wanted to plead for you? Will Lady Grant plead with you for her brother?”

“It is not necessary. My own heart pleads for him. It is because he has been in the wrong that an intercessor is necessary for me. It is they who commit the injury that have a difficulty in forgiving. If he came to me do you not know that I should throw myself into his arms and be the happiest woman in the world without a word spoken?” The conversation was not then carried further, but Mrs. Holt continued to shake her head as she sate at her knitting. In her estimation no husband could have behaved worse than had her son-in-law. And she was of opinion that he should be punished for his misconduct before things could be made smooth again.

Some days afterwards Miss Altifiorla called at the house, and sent in a note while she stood waiting in the hall. In the note she merely asked whether her “dear Cecilia” would be willing to receive her after what had passed. She had news to tell of much importance, and she hoped that her “dear Cecilia” would receive her. There had been no absolute quarrel, no quarrel known to the servants, and Cecilia did receive her. “Oh, my dear,” she said, bustling into the room with an air of affected importance, “you will be surprised,—I think that you must be surprised at what I have to tell you.”

“I will be surprised if you wish it,” said Cecilia.

“Let me first begin by assuring you, that you must not make light of my news. It is of the greatest importance, not only to me, but of some importance also to you.”

“It shall be of importance.”

“Because you begin with that little sneer which has become so common with you. You must be aware of it. Amidst the troubles of your own life, which we all admit to be very grievous, there has come upon you a way of thinking that no one else’s affairs can be of any importance.”

“I am not aware of it.”

“It is so a little. And pray believe me that I am not in the least angry about it. I knew that it would be so when I came to you this morning; and yet I could not help coming. Indeed as the thing has now been made known to the Dean’s family I could not bear that you should be left any longer in ignorance.”

“What is the thing?”

“There it is again;—that sneer. I cannot tell you unless you will interest yourself. Does nothing interest you now beyond your own misfortunes?”

“Alas, no. I fear not.”

“But this shall interest you. You must be awaked to the affairs of the world—especially such an affair as this. You must be shaken up. This I suppose will shake you up. If not, you must be past all hope.”

“What on earth is it?”

“Sir Francis Geraldine—! You have heard at any rate of Sir Francis Geraldine.”

“Well, yes; I have not as yet forgotten the name.”

“I should think not. Sir Francis Geraldine has—” And then she paused again.

“Cut his little finger,” said Cecilia. Had she dreamed of what was to come she would not have turned Sir Francis into ridicule. But she had been aware of Miss Altifiorla’s friendship with Sir Francis,—or rather what she had regarded as an affectation of friendship, and did not for a moment anticipate such a communication as was to be made to her.

“Cecilia Holt—”

“That at any rate is not my name.”

“I dare say you wish it were.”

“I would not change my real name for that of any woman under the sun.”

“Perhaps not; but there are other women in a position of less grandeur. I am going to change mine.”

“No!”

“I thought you would be surprised because it would look as though I were about to abandon my great doctrine. It is not so. My opinions on that great subject are not in the least changed. But of course there must be some women whom the exigencies of the world will require to marry.”

“A good many, first and last.”

“About the good many I do not at this moment concern myself. My duty is clearly before me and I mean to perform it. I have been asked to ally myself—;” then there was a pause, and the speaker discovered when it was too late that she was verging on the ridiculous in declaring her purpose of forming an alliance;—“that is to say, I am going to marry Sir Francis Geraldine.”

“Sir Francis Geraldine!”

“Do you see any just cause or impediment?”

“None in the least. And yet how am I to answer such a question? I saw cause or impediment why I should not marry him.”

“You both saw it, I suppose?” said Miss Altifiorla, with an air of grandeur. “You both supposed that you were not made for each other, and wisely determined to give up the idea. You did not remain single, and I suppose we need not either.”

“Certainly not for my sake.”

“Our intimacy since that time has been increased by circumstances, and we have now discovered that we can both of us best suit our own interests by an—”

“An alliance,” suggested Mrs. Western.

“If you please,—though I am quite aware that you use the term as a sneer.” As to this Mrs. Western was too honest to deny the truth, and remained silent.

“I thought it proper,” continued Miss Altifiorla, “as we had been so long friends, to inform you that it will be so. You had your chance, and as you let it slip I trust that you will not envy me mine.”

“Not in the least.”

“At any rate you do not congratulate me.”

“I have been very remiss. I acknowledge it. But upon my word the news has so startled me that I have been unable to remember the common courtesies of the world. I thought when I heard of your travelling up to London together that you were becoming very intimate.”

“Oh, it had been ever so much before that,—the intimacy at least. Of course I did not know him before he came to this house. But a great many things have happened since that; have there not? Well, good-bye, dear. I have no doubt we shall continue as friends, especially as we shall be living almost in the neighbourhood. Castle Gerald is to be at once fitted up for me, and I hope you will forget all our little tiffs, and often come and stay with me.” So saying, Miss Altifiorla, having told her grand news, made her adieus and went away.

“A great many things have happened since that,” said Cecilia, repeating to herself her friend’s words. It seemed to her to be so many that a lifetime had been wasted since Sir Francis had first come to that house. She had won the love of the best man she had ever known, and married him, and had then lost his love! And now she had been left as a widowed wife, with all the coming troubles of maternity on her head. She had understood well the ill-natured sarcasm of Miss Altifiorla. “We shall be living almost in the same neighbourhood!” Yes; if her separation from her husband was to be continued, then undoubtedly she would live at Exeter, and, as far as the limits of the county were concerned, she would be the neighbour of the future Lady Geraldine. That she should ever willingly be found under the same roof with Sir Francis was, as she knew well, as impossible to Miss Altifiorla as to herself. The invitation contained the sneer, and was intended to contain it. But it created no anger. She, too, had sneered at Miss Altifiorla quite as bitterly. They had each learned to despise the other, and not to sneer was impossible. Miss Altifiorla had come to tell of her triumph, and to sneer in return. But it mattered nothing. What did matter was whether that threat should come true. Should she always be left living at Exeter with her mother? Then she dreamed her dream again, that he had come back to her, and was sitting by her bedside with his hand in hers and whispering sweet words to her, while a baby was lying in her arms—his child. As she thought of the bliss of the fancied moment, the still possible bliss, her anger seemed to fade away. What would she not do to bring him back, what would she not say? She had done amiss in keeping that secret so long, and though the punishment had been severe, it was not altogether undeserved. It had come to him as a terrible blow, and he had been unable to suppress his agony. He should not have treated her so; no, he should not have sent her away. But she could make excuses now, which but a few weeks since seemed to her to be impossible. And she understood, she told herself that she understood, the difference between herself as a woman and him as a man. He had a right to command, a right to be obeyed, a right to be master. He had a right to know all the secrets of her heart, and to be offended when one so important had been kept from him. He had lifted his hand in great wrath, and the blow he had struck had been awful. But she would bear it without a word of complaint if only he would come back to her. As she thought of it, she declared to herself that she must die if he did not come back. To live as she was living now would be impossible to her. But if he would come back, how absolutely would she disregard all that the world might say as to their short quarrel. It would indeed be known to all the world, but what could the world do to her if she once again had her husband by her side? When the blow first fell on her she had thought much of the ignominy which had befallen her, and which must ever rest with her. Even though she should be taken back again, people would know that she had been discarded. But now she told herself that for that she cared not at all. Then she again dreamed her dream. Her child was born, and her husband was standing by her with that sweet manly smile upon his face. She put out her hand as though he would touch it, and was conscious of an involuntary movement as though she were bending her face towards him for a kiss.

Surely he would come to her! His sister had gone to him, and would have told him the absolute truth. She had never sinned against him, even by intentional silence. There had been no thought of hers since she had been his wife which he had not been welcome to share. It had in truth been for his sake rather than for her own that she had been silent. She was aware that from cowardice her silence had been prolonged. But surely now at last he would forgive her that offence. Then she thought of the words she would use as she owned her fault. He was a man, and as a man had a right to expect that she would confess it. If he would come to her, and stand once again with his arm round her waist, she would confess it.

“My dear, here is a letter. The postman has just brought it.” She took the letter from her mother’s hand and hardly knew whether to be pleased or disappointed when she found that the address was in the handwriting of Lady Grant. Lady Grant would of course write whether with good news or with bad. The address told her nothing, but yet she could not tear the envelope. “Well, my dear; what is it?” said her mother. “Why don’t you open it?”

She turned a soft supplicating painful look up to her mother’s face as she begged for grace. “I will go up-stairs, mamma, and will tell you by-and-by.” Then she left the room with the letter unopened in her hand. It was with difficulty that she could examine its contents, so apprehensive was she and yet so hopeful, so confident at one moment of her coming happiness, and yet so fearful at another that she should be again enveloped in the darkness of her misery. But she did at last persuade herself to read the words which Lady Grant had written. They were very short, and ran as follows: “My dear Cecilia, my brother returns with me, and will at once go down to Exeter.” The shock of her joy was so great that she could hardly see what followed. “He will hope to reach that place on the fifteenth by the train which leaves London at nine in the morning.”

That was all, but that was enough. She was sure that he would not come with the purpose of telling her that he must again leave her. And she was sure also that if he would once put himself within the sphere of her personal influence it should be so used that he would never leave her again.

“Of course he is coming. I knew he would come. Why should he not come?” This she exclaimed to her mother, and then went on to speak of him with a wild rhapsody of joy, as though there had hardly been any breach in her happiness. And she continued to sing the praises of her husband till Mrs. Holt hardly knew how to bear her enthusiasm in a fitting mood. For she, who was not in love, still thought that this man’s conduct had been scandalous, wicked, and cruel; and, if to be forgiven, only to be forgiven because of the general wickedness and cruelty of man.

It had not been without great difficulty that Lady Grant induced her brother to assent to her writing the letter which has been given above. When he had agreed to return with her to England he had no doubt assented to her assertion that he was bound to take his wife back again, even without any confession. And this had been so much to gain, had been so felt to be the one only material point necessary, that he was not pressed as to his manner of doing it. But before they reached London it was essential that some arrangement should be made for bringing them together. “Could not I go down to Durton,” he had said, “and could not she come to me there?” No doubt he might have gone to Durton, and no doubt she would have gone to him if asked. She would have flown to him at Dresden, or to Jerusalem, at a word spoken by him. Absence had made him so precious to her, that she would have obeyed the slightest behest with joy as long as the order given were to bring them once more together. But of this Lady Grant was not aware, and, had she been so, the sense of what was becoming would have restrained her.

“I think, George, that you had better go to Exeter,” she said.

“Should we not be more comfortable at Durton?”

“I think that when at Durton you will be more happy if you shall yourself have fetched her from her mother’s home. I think you owe it to your wife to go to her, and make the journey with her. What is your objection?”

“I do not wish to be seen in Exeter,” he replied.

“Nor did she, you may be sure, when she returned there alone. But what does it matter? If you can be happy in once more possessing her, it cannot signify who shall see you. There can be nothing to be ashamed of in going for your wife; nor can any evil happen to you. As this thing is to be done, let it be done in a noble spirit.”

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