Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 3.

The End of that Episode.

Cecilia during the following day told no one what had occurred, nor on the morning of the next. Indeed she did not open her mouth on the subject till Maude Hippesley came to her. She felt that she was doing wrong to her mother by keeping her in the dark, but she could not bring herself to tell it. She had, as she now declared to herself, settled the question of her future life. To live with her mother,—and then to live alone, must be her lot. She had been accustomed, before the coming of Sir Francis, to speak of this as a thing certain; but then it had not been certain, had not been probable, even to her own mind. Of course lovers would come till the acceptable lover should be accepted. The threats of a single life made by pretty girls with good fortunes never go for much in this world. Then in due time the acceptable lover had come, and had been accepted.

And to what purpose had she put him? She could not even now say of what she accused him, having rejected him. What excuse could she give? What answer could she allege? She was more sure than ever now that she could not live with him as his wife. He had said words about some former lover which were not the less painful, in that there had been no foundation for them. There had in truth been nothing for her to tell Sir Francis Geraldine. Out of her milk-white innocency no confession was to be made. But what there was had all been laid bare to him. There had been no lover,—but if there had, then there would have been a lie told. She had said that there had been none, and he had heard her assertion with those greedy ears which men sometimes have for such telling. It was a comfort to him that there had been none; and when something uncomfortable came in his way he immediately thought that she had deceived him. She must bear with all that now. It did not much matter, she assured herself, what he might think of her. But for the moment she could hardly endure to think of it, much less to talk of it. She did not know how to own to her mother that she was simply a jilt without offering anything in excuse. The truth must be told, but, oh, how bitter must the truth be! Even that accusation as to the lover had not been made till after she had resolved to reject him; and she could not bring herself to lie to her mother by pretending that the one had caused the other.

After lunch on the second day Maude Hippesley came down and found her amongst the trees in the shrubbery. It will be remembered that Maude was niece to Sir Francis, and was at the present time living in the same house with him. “Cecilia,” she said, “what is this that has happened?”

“He has told you then?”

“What is it? He has told us all that you have quarrelled, and now he has gone away.”

“Thank God for that!”

“Yes;—he has gone. But he told us only just as he went. And he has made a mystery of it,—so that I do not know how it has happened,—or why.”

“Did I not tell you?”

“Yes;—you told me something—something that made me think you mad. But it is he that has rejected you now!”

“Has he told you that?”

“He has told us all so, just as he was leaving us. After his things were packed up he told us.” Cecilia stood still and looked into her friend’s face. Maude she knew could say nothing to her that was not true. “He has made a mystery of it, but that has been the impression he has left upon us. At any rate there has been a quarrel.”

“Yes;—there has been a quarrel.”

“And now our only business is to make it up. It is impossible that two people who have loved each other as you have done should be allowed to part in so absurd a manner. It is like two children who think they are never to be friends again because of some momentary disagreement.” Maude Hippesley, who had not lived in the same town with her lover and therefore had never quarrelled with him, was awfully wise. “It is quite out of the question,” she continued, “that this thing should go on. I don’t think it matters in the least whether you quarrel with him or he with you. But of course you must make it up. And as you are the woman it is only proper that you should begin.”

How much had Cecilia to do before she could prove to her friend that no such beginning was possible. In the first place there was the falsehood, the base falsehood, which Sir Francis had told. In order to save himself he had declared that he had rejected her. It was very mean. At this moment its peculiar meanness made her feel doubly sure that the man was altogether unfitted to be her husband. But she would allow the false assertion to pass unnoticed. If he could find a comfort in that let him have it. Perhaps upon the whole it would be better that some such story should go forth in Exeter. It could not be told by her because it was untrue; but for the moment she thought that she might pass it by without notice. “There can be no fresh beginning,” she said. “We two have already come to the end of all that is likely to take place between us. Dear Maude, pray do not trouble me. No doubt as time goes by we shall talk of it all again. But just at present, circumstanced as you are with him, nothing but silence between you and me can be fitting. I hope that you and I at any rate will never quarrel.”

After that she told her mother and her two other friends. Her mother was for a week or two in despair. She endeavoured by means of the family at the Deanery to bring about some reconciliation. The Dean, who did not in truth like his brother-in-law and was a little afraid of him, altogether refused to interfere in the matter. Mrs. Hippesley was of opinion that the lovers would be sure to “come round” if left to themselves. Maude who, though she had not liked her uncle, had thought much of his position, and had been proud of the idea that he should marry an Exeter girl and her own peculiar friend, was in despair. But the Deanery collectively refused to take active steps in the matter. Mrs. Green was of opinion that Cecilia must have behaved badly. There had been some affair of pride in which she had declined to give way. According to Mrs. Green’s ideas a woman could hardly yield too much to a man before marriage, so as to secure him, in order that her time for management might come afterwards. With Miss Altifiorla, Cecilia found for awhile more comfort; but even from this noted hater of the other sex the comfort was not exactly of the kind she wanted. Miss Altifiorla was of opinion that men on the whole are bad, but seemed to think that among men this baronet was not a bad specimen. He did not want a great deal of attention and was fairly able to get about by himself without calling upon his future wife to be always with him. Then he had a title and an income and a house; and was in short one of those who are in a measure compelled to marry. Miss Altifiorla thought it a pity that the match should be broken off, but was quite ready to console her friend as to the misfortune.

There was one point as to which Cecilia was quite decided, and in this Miss Altifiorla bore her out altogether. That question of marriage was now settled once and for ever. Cecilia, much in opposition to her friend’s wishes, had tried her hand at it and had failed. She had fallen grievously to the ground and had bruised herself dreadfully in making the attempt. It had perhaps been necessary, as Miss Altifiorla thought. It is not given to all to know their own strength as it had been given to her. They had often discussed these matters, and Miss Altifiorla had always been very firm. So had Cecilia been firm; but then she had given way, had broken down, had consented to regard herself as a mere woman and no stronger than other women. She had given herself to a man in order that she might be the mother of his children and the head servant in his household. She had shown herself to be false for the moment to her great principles. But Providence had intervened. It may be surmised that Miss Altifiorla in discussing the matter with herself did not use the word Providence. Nor was it Chance. And as the rejection had come from the gentleman’s hands,—so Miss Altifiorla was taught to believe,—she could not boast that Cecilia had accomplished it. But some mysterious agency had been at work which would not permit so exceptional a young lady as Miss Holt to fall into the common quagmire of marriage. She had escaped,—thanks to the mysterious agency, and must be doubly, trebly, armed with resolution lest she should stumble again. “I think,” she said one day to Cecilia, “I think that you have great cause to be thankful that he should have repented of his bargain before it was too late.”

Flesh is flesh after all and human nature no stronger than human nature. Cecilia had consented to bear in silence the idea that she had been jilted, and had endured her mother’s tender little sympathies on the subject. But there was a difficulty to her in suffering this direct statement from her friend. Why would not her friend let the matter be passed by in silence? “It is well,” she said, “that we both repented.”

Now the subject had been much discussed in Exeter—whether Sir Francis had jilted Miss Holt or Miss Holt Sir Francis. It had been always present to Miss Hippesley’s mind, that her friend had told her of her intention at a time when she was quite sure that Sir Francis had no such notion in his head. And when, on the day but one following, she had told Cecilia of the statement which Sir Francis had made at the Deanery, Cecilia had not contradicted it, but had expressed her surprise. She therefore had resolved to decide the question against her uncle, and had given rise to the party who were on that side. But the outside world were strongly of opinion that Sir Francis had been the first offender. It was so much the more probable. Miss Altifiorla had always taken that side, and had spoken everywhere of him as the great sinner. Still however there was a doubt in her own mind, as to which she was desirous of receiving such solution as Cecilia could give her. She was determined now to push the question. “But,” said she, “I suppose it originated with him? It is a great thing for us to feel that you have not been to blame at all in the matter.”

“I have been to blame,” said Cecilia.

“But how? The man comes here and proposes himself; and is accepted, and then breaks away from his engagement without reason and without excuse. It is a thing to be thankful for, that he should have done so; but we have also to be thankful that the fault has not been on our side.” Miss Altifiorla had almost brought herself to believe that the man had made love to her, and proposed to her, that she in a moment of weakness had accepted him, and that she now had been luckily saved by his inconstancy.

“I think we will drop that part of the question,” said Miss Holt, showing by her manner that she did not choose to be cross-questioned. “In such cases there is generally fault on both sides.” Then there was nothing further said on the subject, but Miss Altifiorla pondered much over her friend’s weakness in not being able to confess that she had been jilted.

All this had happened in the summer. During the gala days of the projected wedding plans had been made, of course, for the honeymoon. Sir Francis with his bride were to go here and to go there, and poor Mrs. Holt had been fated to remain at home as though no arrangement had been necessary for her happiness. Indeed none had been necessary. She was quite content to remain at Exeter and expect such excitement as might come to her from letters from Lady Geraldine. To talk to everybody around her about Lady Geraldine would have sufficed for her. And when all these hopes were broken up and it had been really decided that there should be no wedding, when it became apparent that Cecilia Holt was to remain as Cecilia Holt, still there was no autumn tour. Cecilia had declared that in no place would life be so quiet for her as at home. “Mamma,” she had said, “let us prepare ourselves for what is to come. You and I mean to live together happily, and our life must be a home life!” Then she applied herself specially to the flowers and the shrubs, and began even to look after the vegetables in the fulness of her energy. In these days she did not see much of her three friends. In August Maude was married and became Mrs. Thorne. Mr. Thorne was the eldest son of a Squire from Honiton for whom things were to be made modestly comfortable during his father’s life. Maude’s coming marriage had not been counted as much during the days of her friend’s high hopes, but had risen in consideration since the fall which had taken place. Between Miss Altifiorla and Cecilia there had come, not a quarrel, but a coolness. The two ladies did continue to see each other occasionally, but there was but little between them to console misery. Miss Altifiorla had attempted to resume her position of equality,—unreasoned and imaginary equality,—with perhaps a slight step in advance to which in their present circumstances she was entitled by their age. Cecilia cared nothing for equality, but would not consent to be held to have lost anything. Though Miss Altifiorla declared that her friend had risen very highly in her sentiments, there was too evidently a depreciation in her manner; and this Cecilia could not endure. Consequently the two ladies were not, at this period, of much comfort one to the other. With Mrs. Green matters might have been different; but Mrs. Green too manifestly thought that Cecilia had been wrong, and still clung to the idea that with proper management the baronet might be made to come back again. With a lady holding such ideas as these there could be no sympathy.

In owning the truth it must be confessed that Cecilia at this period of her life was too self-conscious. She did not think, but felt, that the world all around her was suffused by a Holt-Geraldine aspect and flavour. She could not walk abroad without an idea that the people whom she saw were talking about her. She could not shut herself in her garden without a conviction that the passers-by were saying that the girl living there had been jilted by Sir Francis Geraldine. She had been well aware of the greatness of the position in which she was to have been placed; and though she had abandoned the situation without a doubt as soon as she had learned her mistake as to the man’s character, still she felt the fall, and inwardly grieved over it. She had not known herself at first,—how grievous would be her isolation when she found herself alone. Such was the case with her now, so that she fretted and made herself ill. By degrees she confined herself more and more to the house, till her mother seeing it, interfered. She became sick, captious, and querulous. The old family doctor interfered and advised that she should be taken away from Exeter. “For ever?” asked Mrs. Holt. The doctor did not say for ever. Mrs. Holt might probably be able to let the house for a year and go elsewhere for that period. Then there arose questions as to all the pretty furniture, and their household goods. Cecilia herself was most unwilling. But before Christmas came, arrangements had been made, and the house was let, and the first of January saw Mrs. Holt and her daughter comfortably established in a pension at Nice. Mrs. Holt at any rate declared that she was comfortable, though Cecilia on her mother’s behalf stated it to be impossible. She herself told herself,—though she had whispered no word on the subject to living ears,—she herself told herself that she had been driven abroad by the falsehood which Sir Francis had told. She could not bear to live in Exeter as the girl that had been jilted.

This is the episode in the life of Cecilia Holt which it is necessary should be first told.

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