Kept in the Dark, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 6.

What All her Friends Said about it.

And “all went merry as a marriage bell.” George Western and Cecilia Holt were married in the cathedral by the Dean, who was thus supposed to show his great anger at his brother-in-law’s conduct. And this was more strongly evinced by the presence of all the Hippesleys;—for all were there to grace the ceremony except Maude, who was still absent with her young squire, and who wrote a letter full of the warmest affection and congratulations, which Cecilia received on that very morning. Miss Altifiorla also came to the cathedral, with pink bows in her bonnet, determined to show that though she were left alone in her theory of life she did not resent the desertion. And Mrs. Green was there, humble and sweet-tempered as ever, snubbing her husband a little who assisted at the altar, and whispering a word into her friend’s ears to assure her that she had done the proper thing.

It is hardly necessary to say that on the morning of her wedding it was in truth impossible for Cecilia to tell the story. It had now to be left untold, with what hope there might be for smoothing it over in some future stage of her married life. She had done the deed now, and had married the man with the untold secret in her heart. The sin surely could not be of a nature to weigh so deeply on her conscience! She endeavoured to comfort herself with that idea again and again. How many girls are married who have been engaged to, or at least in love with, half-a-dozen suitors before the man has come who is at last to be their lord! But Cecilia told herself, as she endeavoured thus to find comfort, that her nature was not such as theirs. This thing which she had done was a sin or not a sin, according as it might be regarded by the person who did it. It was a sin to her, a heavy, grievous sin, and one that weighed terribly on her conscience as she repeated the words after the Dean at the altar that morning. There was a moment in which she almost refused to repeat them,—in which she almost brought herself to demand that she might retire for a time with him who was not yet her husband, and give him another chance. Her mind entertained an exaggerated feeling of it, a feeling which she felt to be exaggerated but which she could not restrain. In the meantime the service went on; the irrevocable word was spoken; and when it was done she was led away into the cathedral vestry as sad a bride as might be.

And yet nobody had seen her trouble. With a capacity for struggling, infinitely greater than that possessed by any man, she had smiled and looked happy beneath her bridal finery, as though no grief had weighed heavily at her heart. And he was as jocund a bridegroom as ever put a ring upon a lady’s finger. All that gloom of his, which had seemed to be his nature till after she had accepted him, had vanished altogether. And he carried himself with no sheepish, shame-faced demeanour as though half ashamed of the thing which he had done. He seemed as proud to be a bridegroom as ever girl was to become a bride. And in truth he was proud of her and did think that he had chosen well. After the former troubles of his life he did feel that he had brought himself to a happy haven at last.

There was a modest breakfast at Mrs. Holt’s house, from which the guests departed quickly as soon as the bride and bridegroom had been taken away to the railway station. But when the others were gone Miss Altifiorla remained,—out of kindness. Mrs. Holt need make no stranger of her, and it would be so desolate for her to be alone. So surmised Miss Altifiorla. “I suppose,” said she, when she had fastened up the pink ribbons so that they might not be soiled by the trifle with which she prepared to regale herself while she asked the question, “I suppose that he knows all the story about that other man?”

“Why should he?” asked Mrs. Holt in a sharp tone that was quite uncommon to her.

“Well; I do not know much about such things, but I presume it is common to tell a gentleman when anything of that kind has occurred.”

“What business has he to know? And what can it matter? Perhaps he does know it.”

“But Cecilia has not told him?”

“Why should she tell him? I don’t think that it is a thing we need talk about. You may be quite sure that Cecilia has done what is proper.” In saying this Mrs. Holt belied her own thoughts. Cecilia had never said a word to her about it, nor had she dared to say a word to her own daughter on the subject. She had been intently anxious that her daughter should be married, and when she had seen Mr. Western in the act of falling in love, had studiously abstained from all subjects which might bring about a reference to Sir Francis Geraldine. But she had felt that her daughter would make that all straight. Her daughter was so much more wise, so much more certain to do what was right, so much more high-minded than was she, that she considered herself bound to leave all that to Cecilia. But as the days went on and the hour fixed for the marriage became nearer and nearer she had become anxious. Something seemed to tell her that a duty had been omitted. But the moment had never come in which she had been able to ask her daughter. And now she would not endure to be cross-examined on the subject by Miss Altifiorla.

But Miss Altifiorla was not at all afraid of Mrs. Holt, and was determined to push the question a little further. “He ought to know, you know. I am sure Cecilia will have thought that.”

“If he ought to know then he does know,” said Mrs. Holt with great certainty. “I am sure we may leave all that to Cecilia herself. If he is satisfied with her, it does not matter much who else may be dissatisfied.”

“Oh, if he is satisfied, that is enough,” said Miss Altifiorla as she took her leave. But she felt sure that the secret had not been told, and that it ought to have been told, and she felt proud to think that she had spotted the fault. Cecilia Holt would have done very well in the world had she confined herself,—as she had solemnly promised,—to those high but solitary feminine duties to which Miss Altifiorla had devoted herself. But she had chosen to make herself the slave of a man who,—as Miss Altifiorla expressed it to herself,—“would turn upon her and rend her.” And she, Miss Altifiorla, had seen and did see it all. The time might come when the wounded dove would return to her care. Of course she hoped that the time would not come;—but it might.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Mrs. Green to her husband as they walked home from the breakfast. “That girl has not yet said a word to that man about Sir Francis Geraldine.”

“What makes you think that, my dear?”

“Think it! I know it. It was not likely that there should be much talk about Sir Francis either in the cathedral or at the breakfast; but one can tell from other things whether a subject has been avoided. These are plain when little things would have been said but are not said. There has been no allusion made to their reason for leaving the house.”

“I don’t see that it signifies much, my dear.”

“Oh; doesn’t it? What would you have thought if after I had become engaged to you you had found that a month or two before I had been engaged to another man?”

“It is more than twelve months, my dear.”

“No, it is not more than twelve months since first they met in Italy. I know what I am talking about, and you need not contradict me. You’ll find that he’ll learn it of a sudden, and then all the fat will be in the fire. I know what men are.” It was thus that the gentle Mrs. Green expressed herself on the subject to her husband.

At the Deanery the matter was spoken of in a different tone but still with similar feelings. “I don’t think Cecilia has ever yet said a word to that poor man as to her engagement with Francis. I cannot tell what has put it into my mind, but I think that it is so.” It was thus that Mrs. Hippesley spoke to the Dean.

“Your brother behaved very badly;—very badly,” said the Dean.

“That has got nothing to do with it. Mr. Western won’t care a straw whether Francis behaved well or ill. And for the matter of that I don’t think that as yet we quite know the truth of it. Nor would he care if his wife had behaved ill to the other man, so long as she behaved well to him. But if he has heard nothing of it and now finds it out, he’s not the man I take him to be if he don’t let her hear of it.”

“It’s nothing to us,” said the Dean.

“Oh, no; it’s nothing to us. But you’ll see that what I say comes true.”

In this way all the world of Cecilia’s friends were talking on the matter which she had mentioned to no one. She still hoped that her husband might have heard the story, and that he kept it buried in his bosom. But it never occurred to her that it would become matter of discussion among her friends at Exeter.

There was one other person who also discussed it very much at his ease. Sir Francis Geraldine among his friends in London had been congratulated on his safe but miraculous escape. With a certain number of men he had been wont to discuss the chances of matrimony. Should he die, without having an heir, his title and property would go to his cousin, Captain Geraldine, who was a man some fifteen years younger than himself and already in possession of a large fortune. There were many people in the world whom Sir Francis hated, but none whom he hated so cordially as his cousin. Three or four years since he had been ill, nearly to dying, and had declared that he never would have recovered but for the necessity that he was under to keep his cousin out of the baronetage. It had therefore become imperative on him to marry in order that there might be an heir to the property. And though he had for a few weeks been perfectly contented with his Cecilia, there could be no doubt that he had experienced keenly the sense of relief when she had told him that the engagement must be at an end. Another marriage must be arranged, but there would be time for that; and he would take care, that on this occasion he would not put himself into the hands of one who was exigeante and had a will of her own. “By Gad,” he said to his particular friend, Dick Ross, “I would almost sooner that my cousin Walter had the property than put it and myself into the hands of such a virago.”

“You’ll only get another,” said Dick, “that will not let on, but will turn out to be twice as bad in the washing.”

“That I hardly think probable. There are many things which go to the choice of a wife, and the worst of it is that they are not compatible one with another. A woman should be handsome; but then she is proud. A woman should have a certain air of dignity; but when she has got it she knows that herself, and shows it off in the wrong place. She should be young; but if she is too young she is silly: wait a little and she becomes strong-minded and headstrong. If she don’t read anything she becomes an ass and a bore; but if she do she despises a man because he is not always doing the same thing. If she is a nobody the world thinks nothing of her. If she come of high birth she thinks a deal too much of herself. It is difficult.”

“I’d have nothing to do with any of them,” said Dick Ross.

“And let that puppy come in! He wrote to me to congratulate me on my marriage, just when he knew it was off.”

“I’ll tell you what I’d do,” said Dick. “I’d marry some milk-maid and keep her down on the property. I’d see that it was all done legally, and I’d take the kid away when he was three or four years old.”

“Everybody would talk about it.”

“Let ’em talk,” said Dick heroically. “They couldn’t talk you out of your ease or your pleasure or your money. I never could find out the harm of people talking about you. They might say whatever they pleased of me for five hundred a year.”

Then there came the news that Cecilia Holt was going to marry Mr. Western. The tidings reached Sir Francis while the lovers were still at Rome. Of Mr. Western Sir Francis knew something. In the first place his cousin Walter Geraldine had taken away the girl to whom Mr. Western had in the first instance been engaged. And then they were in some degree neighbours, each possessing a small property in Berkshire. Sir Francis had bought his now some years since for racing purposes. It was adjacent to Ascot, and had been let or used by himself during the racing week, as he had or had not been short of money. Mr. Western’s small property had come to him from his uncle. But he had held it always in his own hands, and intended now to take his bride there as soon as their short honeymoon trip should be over. In this way Sir Francis had come to know something of Cecilia’s husband, and did not especially love him. “That young lady of mine has picked up old Western on her travels.” This Sir Francis said to his friend Ross up in London. The reader however must remember that “old Western” was in fact a younger man than Sir Francis himself.

“I suppose he’s welcome to her?” said Ross.

“I’m not so sure of that. Of course he is welcome in one way. She’ll make him miserable and he’ll do as much for her. You may let them alone for that.”

“Why should you care about it?”

“Well; I don’t know. A fellow has a sort of feeling about a girl when he has been spooning on her himself. He doesn’t want to think that another fellow is to pick her up immediately.”

“Dog in the manger, you mean.”

“You may call it that if you like. You never cared for any young woman, I suppose?”

“Oh, haven’t I! Lots of ’em. But if I couldn’t get a girl myself I never cared who had her. What’s the good of being selfish?”

“What’s the good of lying?” said Sir Francis, propounding a great doctrine in sociology. “If I feel cut up what’s the use of saying I don’t,—unless I want to deceive the man I’m talking to? If I feel that I’d like a girl to be punished for her impertinence, what’s the use of my pretending to myself that I don’t want it? If I wish a person to be injured, what’s the use of saying I wish them all the good in the world,—unless there’s something to be gained by my saying it? Now I don’t care to tell you lies. I am quite willing that you should know all the truth about me. Therefore I tell you that I’m not best pleased that this minx should have already picked up another man.”

“He has the devil of a temper,” said Dick Ross, wishing to make the matter as pleasant as possible to his friend.

“So your Miss Holt is married,” Ross said to his friend on the day after the ceremony.

“Yes; she is married, and her troubles have now to begin. I wonder whether she has told him the little episode of our loves.”

“You may be sure of that,” said Dick.

“I am not at all so sure of it. She may have told him when they first became acquainted, but I cannot imagine her telling him afterwards. He is as proud as she, and is just the man not to like it.”

“It doesn’t much signify to you at any rate,” said the indifferent Dick.

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Sir Francis. “I like the truth to be told. It may become my duty to take care that poor Mr. Western shall know all about it.”

“What a beast that fellow is for mischief!” said Dick Ross as he walked home from his club that evening.

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