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Kept in the Dark
by Anthony Trollope
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The letter ran as follows:—

MY DEAR MR. WESTERN,—I think it is necessary that I should allude to a former little incident in my past life,—one that took place in the course of the last year only,—to account for the visit which I made to your house the other day, and which was not, I think, very well taken. I have no reason to doubt but that you are acquainted with all the circumstances. Indeed I look upon it as impossible that you should not be so. But, taking that for granted, I have to explain my own conduct.

It seems but the other day that Cecilia Holt and I were engaged to be married.

Mr. Western, when he came to this passage, felt for a moment as though he had received a bullet in his heart.

All Exeter knew of the engagement, and all Exeter seemed to be well pleased. I was staying with my brother-in-law, the Dean, and had found Miss Holt very intimate at the Deanery. It is not for me now to explain the way in which our engagement was broken through, but your wife, I do not doubt, in telling you of the affair, will have stated that she did not consider herself to have been ill-used. I am quite certain that she can never have said so even to yourself. I do not wish to go into the matter in all its details, but I am confident that she cannot have complained of me.

Under these circumstances, when I found myself living close to you, and to her also, I thought it better to call and to offer such courtesies as are generally held to be pleasant in a neighbourhood. It would, I thought, be much pleasanter to meet in that frank way than to go on cutting each other, especially as there was no ground for a quarrel on either side. I have, however, learned since that something has been taken amiss. What is it? If it be that I was before you, that is too late to be mended. You, at any rate, have won the prize, and ought to be contented. You also were engaged about the same time, and my cousin has got your young lady. It is I that am left out in the cold, and I really do not see that you have any reason to be angry. I have no wish to force myself upon you, and if you do not wish to be gracious down at Ascot, then let there be an end of it.

Yours truly,

FRANCIS GERALDINE.

He arose and went slowly up-stairs to his wife's bedroom. It was just the time when she would come down to breakfast, and as his hand was on the lock of the door she opened it to come out. The moment she saw him she knew that her secret had been divulged. She knew that he knew it, and yet he had endeavoured to eradicate all show of anger from his face, as all reality of it from his heart. He was sure,—was sure,—that the story was an infamous falsehood! His wife, his chosen one, his Cecilia to have been engaged, a year ago, to such a one as Sir Francis Geraldine,—to so base, so mean a creature,—and then to have married him without telling a word of it all! To have kept him wilfully, carefully, in the dark, with studied premeditation so as to be sure of effecting her own marriage before he should learn it, and that too when he had told her everything as to himself! It certainly could not be, and was not true!

She stood still holding the door open when she saw him there with the letter in his hand. There was an instant certainty that the blow had come and must be borne even should it kill her. It was as though she were already crushed by the weight of it. Her own conduct appeared to her black with all its enormity. Though there had been so little done by her which was really amiss, yet she felt that she had been guilty beyond the reach of pardon. Twelve months since she could have declared that she knew herself so well as to be sure that she could never tremble before anyone. But all that was changed with her. Her very nature was changed. She felt as though she were a guilty, discovered, and disgraced criminal. She stood perfectly still, looking him in the face, but without a word.

And he! His perceptions were not quick as hers, and he still was determined to disbelieve. "Cecilia!" he said, "I have got a letter." And he passed on into the room. She followed him and stood with her hand resting on the shoulder of the sofa. "I have got a letter from Sir Francis Geraldine."

"What does Sir Francis Geraldine say of me?" she replied.

Had he been a man possessed of quick wit, he would have perceived now that the letter was true. There was confession in the very tone of her voice. But he had come there determined that it was not true, determined at any rate to act as though it were not true; and it was necessary that he should go through the game as he had arranged to play it. "It is a base letter," he said. "A foul, lying letter. But there is some plot in it of which I know nothing. You can perhaps explain the plot."

"Maybe the letter is true," she said standing there, not submissive before him, but still utterly miserable in her guilt.

"It is untrue. It cannot possibly be true. It contains a damnable lie. He says that twelve months since you were engaged to him as his wife. Why does he lie like that?" She stood before him quite quiet without the change of a muscle of her face. "Do you understand the meaning of it all?"

"Oh, yes."

"What is the meaning? Speak to me and explain it."

"I was engaged to marry Sir Francis Geraldine just before I knew you. It was broken off and then we went upon the Continent. There I met you. Oh, George, I have loved you so well! I do love you so truly." As she spoke she endeavoured to take his hand in hers. She made that one effort to be tender in obedience to her conscience, but as she made it she knew that it would be in vain.

He rejected her hand, without violence indeed but still with an assured purpose, and walked away from her to the further side of the chamber. "It is true then?"

"Yes; it is true. Why should it not be true?"

"God in Heaven! And I to hear about it for the first time in such a fashion as this! He comes to see you, and because something does not go as he would have it, he turns round and tells me his story. But that he has quarrelled with you now, I should never have heard a syllable." He had come up to her room determined not to believe a word of it. And now, suddenly, there was no fault of which in his mind he was not ready to accuse her. He had been deceived, and she was to him a thing altogether different from that which he had believed her.

But she, too, was stung to wrath by the insinuation which his words contained. She knew herself to be absolutely innocent in every respect, except that of reticence to her husband. Though she was prepared to bear the weight of the punishment to which her silence had condemned her, yet she was sure of the purity of her own conduct. Knowing his disposition, she did not care to make light of her great fault, but now something was added, she hardly knew what, of which she knew herself to be innocent. Something was hinted as to the friendship remaining between her and this man, of which her husband, in his pride, should not have accused her. What! Did he think that she had willingly received her late lover as her friend in his house and without his knowledge? If he thought that, then, indeed, must all be over between them. "I do not know what it is that you suspect. You had better say it out at once."

"Is this letter true?" and he held the letter up in his hand.

"I suppose it to be true. I do not know what it contains, but I presume it to be true."

"You can read it," and he threw the letter on the table before her.

She took it up and slowly passed her eyes over the words, endeavouring, as she did so, to come to some determination as to what her conduct should be. The purport of the words she did not fully comprehend, so fully was her mind occupied with thinking of the condition of her husband's mind; but they left upon her an impression that in the main Sir Francis Geraldine had told his story truly. "Yes," she said, "it is true. Before I had met you I was engaged to marry this other man. Our engagement was broken off, and then mamma and I travelled abroad together. We there met you, and then you know the rest."

"And you thought it proper that I should be kept in the dark!" She remained silent. She could not apologise to him after hearing the accusation which rankled in his bosom. She could not go about to explain that the moment fittest for an explanation had never come. She could not endeavour even to make him understand that because her story was so like his own, hers had not been told. She knew the comparative insignificance of her own fault, and yet circumstances had brought it about that she must stand oppressed with this weight of guilt in his eyes. As he should be just or unjust, or rather merciful or unmerciful, so must she endure or be unable to endure her doom. "I do not understand it," he said, with affected calm. "It is the case, then, that you have brought me into this position with premeditated falsehood, and have wilfully deceived me as to your previous engagement?"

"No!"

"How then?"

"There has been no wilful deceit,—no cause for deceit whatsoever. You were engaged to marry the lady who is now Mrs. Geraldine. I was engaged to marry Sir Francis."

"But I told you all."

"You did."

"It would have been impossible that I should have asked you to be mine without telling you the whole story." She could not answer him. She knew it to be true,—that he had told her and must have told her. But for herself it had been so improbable that he had not known of her engagement! And then there had been no opportunity,—no fitting opportunity. She knew that she had been wrong, foolish, ill-judging; but there had been nothing of that premeditated secrecy,—that secrecy with a cause, of which he had hinted that she was guilty. "I suppose that I may take it as proved that I have been altogether mistaken?" This he said in the severest tone which he knew how to assume.

"How mistaken?"

"I have believed you to be sweet, and pure, and innocent, and true;—one in whom my spirit might refresh itself as a man bathes his heated limbs in the cool water. You were to have been to me the joy of my life,—my great treasure kept at home, open to no eyes but my own; a thing perfect in beauty, to think of when absent and to be conscious of when present, without even the need of expression. 'Let the wind come and the storm,' I said to myself, 'I cannot be unhappy, because my wife is my own.' There is an external grace about you which was to my thinking only the culture of the woman within."

"Well;—well."

"It was a dream. I had better have married that little girl. She was silly, and soon loved some one better. But she did not deceive me."

"And I,—have I deceived you?"

He paused before he answered her, and then spoke as though with much thought, "Yes," he said; "yes."

"Where? How?"

"I do not know. I cannot pretend even to guess. I shall probably never know. I shall not strive to know. But I do know that you have deceived me. There has been, nay, there is, a secret between you and one whom I regard as among the basest of men, of which I have been kept purposely in ignorance."

"There is no such secret."

"You were engaged to be his wife. That at any rate has been kept from me. He has been here as your friend, and when he came,—into my house,—the purport of his visit was kept from me. He asked for something, which was refused, and consequently he has written to me. For what did he ask?"

"Ask! For nothing! What was there for him to ask?"

"I do not know. I cannot even pretend to guess. As I read his letter there must have been something. But it does not matter. While you have seemed to me to be one thing, you have been another. You have been acting a part from the first moment in which we met, and have kept it up all through with admirable consistency. You are not that sweetly innocent creature which I have believed you to be."

She knew that she was all that he had fancied her, but she could not say so. She had understood him thoroughly when he had told her that she had been to him the cool water in which the heated man might bathe his limbs; that she was the treasure to be kept at home. Even in her misery, something of delight had come to her senses as she heard him say that. The position described to her had been exactly that which it had been her ambition to fill. She knew that in spite of all that had come and gone she was still fit to fill it. There had been nothing,—not a thought to mar her innocence, her purity, her woman's tenderness. She was all his, and he was certain to know every thought of her mind and every throb of her heart. She did believe that if he could read them all, he would be perfectly satisfied. But she could not tell him that it was so. Words so spoken will be the sweetest that can fall into a man's ear,—if they be believed. But let there come but the shadow of a doubt over the man's mind, let him question the sincerity of a tone, and the words will become untrue, mawkish and distasteful. A thing perfect in beauty! How was she to say that she would be that to him? And yet, understanding her error as she had done with a full intelligence, she could have sworn that it should be so. The beauty he had spoken of was not simply the sheen of her loveliness, nor the grace of her form. It was the entirety of her feminine attraction, including the purity of her soul, which was in truth still there in all its perfection. But she could not tell him that he was mistaken in doubting her. Now he had told her that she was not that innocent creature which he had believed her to be. What was she to do? How was she to restore herself to his favour? But through it all there was present to her an idea that she would not humble herself too far. To the extent of the sin which she had committed she would humble herself if she knew how to do that without going beyond it. But further than that in justice both to him and to herself she would not go. "If you have condemned me," she said, "there must be an end of it,—for the present."

"Condemned you! Do you not condemn yourself? Have you attempted any word of excuse? Have you given any reason why I should have been kept in the dark? Your friend Miss Altifiorla knew it all I presume?"

"Yes, she knew it all."

"And you would not have had her here if you could have avoided it lest she should tell me?"

"That is true. I wished to be the first to tell you myself."

"And yet you had never whispered a word of it. Miss Altifiorla and Sir Francis it seems are friends." Cecilia only shook her head. "I heard yesterday at the station that they had gone to London together. I presume they are friends."

Quickly the idea passed through Mrs. Western's mind that Miss Altifiorla had been untrue to her. She had kept her word to the letter in not having told the secret to her husband but she had discussed the whole matter with Sir Francis, and the letter which Sir Francis had written was the result. "I do not know," she said. "If they be more to each other than chance acquaintance I do not know it. From week to week and from day to day before our marriage the thing went on and the opportunity never came. Something would always fall from you which made me afraid to speak at that moment. Then we were married, and I found how wrong I had been. I still resolved to tell you, but put it off like a coward from day to day. Your sister had heard of my first engagement."

"Did Bertha know it?"

"Yes; and like myself she was surprised that you should be so ignorant."

"She might well be surprised."

"Then I resolved to tell you. I would not do it till that other woman had left the house. I would not have her by to see your anger."

"And now this is the way in which the history of your former life has reached my ears!" As he said this he held out in his hand the fatal letter. "This is the manner in which you have left me to be informed of a subject so interesting! I first hear from Sir Francis Geraldine that he and you a twelvemonth since were engaged together as man and wife." Here she stood quite silent. She did not care to tell him that it was more than twelve months since. "That you think to be becoming."

"I do not think so."

"That you feel to be compatible with my happiness!" Here, again, there was a pause, during which she looked full into his face. "Such is not my idea. My happiness is wrecked. It is gone." Here he made a motion with his hand, as though to show that all his bliss had flown away from him.

"Oh, George, if you love me, do not speak like that!"

"Love you! Yes I love you. I do not suppose that love can be made to go at once, as I find that esteem may do, and respect, and veneration."

"Oh, George, those are hard words!"

"Is it not so? This morning you were to me of all God's creatures the brightest and the best. When I entered your room just now it was so that I regarded you. Can you now be the brightest and the best? Has not all that romance been changed at a moment's notice? But, alas! love does not go after the same fashion." Then he turned shortly round and left the room.

She remained confounded and awe-stricken. There had been that about him which seemed to declare a settled purpose—as though he had intended to leave her for ever. She sat perfectly still, thinking of it, thinking of the injustice of the sentence that had been pronounced upon her. Though she had deserved much, she had not deserved this. Though she had expected punishment, she had not expected punishment so severe. In about twenty minutes her maid came up to her, and with a grave face asked whether she would wish that breakfast should be sent to her in her own room. Mr. Western had sent to ask the question. "Yes," said she,—"if he pleases." There could be no good in attempting to conceal from the servants a misery so deep and so lasting as this.



CHAPTER XII.

MR. WESTERN'S DECISION.

What should she do with herself? Her breakfast was brought to her. At noon she was told that Mr. Western had gone out for the day and would not return till the evening. She was asked whether she would have her pony carriage, and, on refusing it, was persuaded by her maid to walk in the grounds. "I think I will go out," she said, and went and walked for an hour. Her maid had been peculiarly her own and had come to her from Exeter; but she would not talk to her maid about her quarrel with her husband, though she was sure that the girl knew of the quarrel. Those messages had certainly come direct from her husband, and could not, she thought, have been sent without some explanation of the facts. She could see on the faces of all the household that everyone knew that there was a quarrel. Twenty times during the day would she have had her husband's name on her tongue had there been no quarrel. It had been with her as though she had had a pride in declaring herself to be his wife. But now she was silent respecting him altogether. She could not bring herself to ask the gardener whether Mr. Western wished this thing or the other. The answer had always been that the master wished the paths and the shrubs and the flowers to be just as she wished them. But now not a word was spoken. For an hour she walked among the paths, and then returned to her own room. Would she have her dinner in the dining-room? If so, the master would have his in the library. Then she could restrain herself no longer, but burst into tears. No; she would have no dinner. Let them bring her a cup of tea in her own room.

There she sat thinking of her condition, wondering from hour to hour what was to be the end of it. From hour to hour she sat, and can hardly have been said to think. She lost herself in pondering first over her own folly and then upon his gross injustice. She could not but marvel at her own folly. She had in truth known from the first moment in which she had resolved to accept his offer, that it was her duty to tell him the story of her adventure with Sir Francis Geraldine. It should have been told indeed before she had accepted his offer, and she could not now forgive herself in that she had been silent. "You must know my story," she should have said, "before there can be a word more spoken between us." And then with a clear brow and without a tremor in her voice she could have told it. But she had allowed herself to be silent, simply because he had told the same story, and then the moment had never come. She could not forgive herself. She could never entirely forgive herself, even though the day should come in which he might pardon her.

But would he ever pardon her? Then her mind would fly away to the injustice of his condemnation. He had spoken to her darkly, as though he had intended to accuse her of some secret understanding with Sir Francis. He had believed her to be guilty of some underhand plot against his happiness, carried on with the man to whom she had been engaged! Of what was it that he had imagined her to be guilty? What was the plot of which in his heart he accused her? Then her imagination looked out and seemed to tell her that there could be but one. Her husband suspected her of having married him while her heart was still the property of that other man! And as she thought of this, indignation for the time almost choked her grief. Could it be possible that he, to whom she had given everything with such utter unreserve, whom she had made the god of her idolatry, to whom she had been exactly that which he had known so well how to describe,—could it be that he should have had every thought concerning her changed in a moment, and that from believing her to be all pure and all innocent, he should have come to regard her as a thing so vile as that? She almost tore her hair in her agony as she said that it must be so. He had told her that his respect, his esteem, and his veneration, had all passed away. She could never consent to live with him trusting solely to his love without esteem.

But as the evening passed away and the night came, and as the duration of the long hours of the day seemed to grow upon her, and as no tidings came to her from her lord, she began to tell herself that it was unbecoming that she should remain without knowing her fate. The whole length of the tedious day had passed since he had left her and had condemned her to breakfast in solitude. Then she accused herself of having been hard with him during that interview, of having failed to submit herself in repentance, and she told herself that if she could see him once more, she might still whisper to him the truth and soften his wrath. But something she must do. She had dismissed her maid for the last time, and sat miserably in her room till midnight. But still she could not go to bed till she had made some effort. She would at any rate write to him one word. She got up therefore and seated herself at the table with pen and ink before her. She would write the whole story, she thought, simply the whole story, and would send it to him, leaving it to him to believe or to disbelieve it as he pleased. But as she bent over the table she felt that she could not write such a letter as that without devoting an entire day to it. Then she rapidly scrawled a few words:—

DEAREST GEORGE,—Come to me and let me tell you everything.—Your own CECILIA.

Then she addressed it to him and put it under her pillow that she might send it to him as soon as she should wake in the morning. Having done so she got into her bed and wept herself asleep.

When the girl came into the room in the morning she at once asked after her husband. "Is Mr. Western up yet?" The maid informed her with an air of grave distress that Mr. Western had risen early and had been driven away from the house to catch a morning train. More than that the girl could not say. But she believed that a letter had been left on the library table. She had heard John say that there was such a letter. But John had gone with his master to the station. Then she sent down for the letter, and within a few minutes held it in her hand.

We will now go back to Mr. Western. He, as soon as he had left his wife's room in the morning went down-stairs, and began to consider within himself what was the cause of this evil thing which had been done to him. A very evil thing had been done. He did feel that the absolute happiness which had been his for the last few days had perished and gone from him. He was a man undemonstrative, and silent in expressing his own feelings, but one who revelled inwardly in his own feelings of contentment when he was content. His wife had been to him all that he had dreamt that a woman should be. She had filled up his cup with infinite bliss, though he had never told even to her how full his cup had been. But in everything he had striven to gratify her, and had been altogether successful. To go on from day to day with his books, with his garden, with his exercise, and above all with his wife, had been enough to secure absolute happiness. He had suspected no misfortune, and had anticipated no drawback. Then on a sudden there had come this damnable letter, which had made him wretched for the time, even though he were sure that it was not true. But he had known that it was only for the time, for he had been sure that it was untrue. Then the blow had fallen, and all his contentment was banished. There was some terrible mystery,—some mystery of which he could not gauge the depth. Though he was gracious and confiding and honest when left at peace, still he was painfully suspicious when something arose of which the circumstances were kept back from him. There was a secret here,—there was certainly a secret; and it was shared between his wife, whom of all human beings he had loved the best, and the man whom he most thoroughly despised. As long as it was possible that the whole tale might be an invention he would not believe a word against his wife; but, when it appeared that there was certainly some truth in it, then it seemed that there was nothing too monstrous for him to believe.

After his solitary breakfast he walked abroad, and turned it all in his mind. He had given her the opportunity of telling him everything, and she had told him nothing. So he declared to himself. That one damning fact was there,—clear as daylight, that she had willingly bestowed herself upon this baronet, this creature who to his thinking was vile as a man could be. As to that there was no doubt. That was declared. How different must she have been from that creature whom he had fancied that he had loved, when she would have willingly consented to be the wife of such a man? And this had been done within a year,—as he said. And then she had married him, telling him nothing of it, though she must have known that he would discover it as soon as she was his wife. It suited her to be his wife,—for some reason which he could not perceive. She had achieved her object;—but not on that account need he live with her. It had been an affair of money, and his money she might have.

He came back and got his horse, as the motion of walking was not fast enough for him in his passion. It was grievous to be borne,—the fact that he had been so mistaken in choosing for himself a special woman as a companion of his life. He had desired her to be all honour, all truth, all simplicity, and all innocence. And instead of these things he had encountered fraud and premeditated deceit. She was his wife indeed;—but not on that account need he live with her.

And then his curiosity was raised. What was the secret between them? There must have been some question of money, as to which at the last moment they had disagreed. To his thinking it was vile that a young woman should soil her mind with such thoughts and marry or reject a man at the last moment because of his money. All that should be arranged for her by her friends, so that she might go to her husband without having been mixed in any question of a sordid matter. But these two had probably found at the last moment that their income was insufficient for their wants, and therefore his purse had been thought convenient. As all these things, with a thousand others, passed through his mind he came to the determination that at any rate they must part.

He came home, and before he ate his dinner he wrote to her that letter, of which the contents shall now be given. It was a most unreasonable letter. But to him in his sorrow, in his passion, it seemed that every word was based upon reason.

DEAR CECILIA, [the letter ran]

I need hardly tell you that I was surprised by the facts which you at last told me this morning. I should have been less pained, perhaps, had they come to me in the first instance from yourself instead of from Sir Francis Geraldine. But I do not know that the conclusion to which I have been forced would have been in any way altered had such been the case. I can hardly, I fear, make you understand the shock with which I have received the intelligence, that a month or two before I proposed to you you had been the promised wife of that man. I need hardly tell you that had I known that it was so I should not have offered you my hand. To say the least of it, I was led into my marriage by mistake. But a marriage commenced with such a mistake as that cannot be happy.

As to your object I cannot surmise. But I suppose that you were satisfied, thinking me to be of a nature especially soft and gentle. But I fear I am not so. After what has passed I cannot bring myself to live with you again. Pray believe it. We have now parted for ever.

As to your future welfare, and as to the honour which will be due to my name, which you must continue to bear, I am quite willing to make any arrangements which friends of yours shall think to be due to you. Half my income you shall have, and you shall live here in this house if it be thought well for you. In reference to these things your lawyers had better see my lawyers. In the meantime my bankers will cash your cheques. But believe me that I am gone, not to return.

Your affectionate husband,

GEORGE WESTERN.

These words he wrote, struggling to be cool and rational while he wrote them, and then he departed, leaving the letter upon the table.

END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.



VOLUME II.

CHAPTER XIII.

MRS. WESTERN PREPARES TO LEAVE.

Cecilia, when she first read her husband's letter, did not clearly understand it. It could not be that he intended to leave her for ever! They had been married but a few months,—a few months of inexpressible love and confidence; and it was impossible that he should intend that they should be thus parted. But when she had read it again and again, she began to perceive that it was so; "Pray believe it. We have now parted for ever." Had he stopped there her belief would have only been half-hearted. She would not in truth have thought that he had been in earnest in dooming her to eternal separation. But he had gone on with shocking coolness to tell her how he had arranged his plans for the future. "Half my income you shall have." "You shall live here in this house, if it be thought well for you." "Your lawyer had better see my lawyers." It was, in truth, his intention that it should be so. And she had already begun to have some knowledge of the persistency of his character. She was already aware that he was a man not likely to be moved from his word. He had gone, and it was his intention to go. And he had declared with a magnanimity which she now felt to be odious, and almost mean, what liberal arrangements he had made for her maintenance. She was in no want of income. She told herself that she would rather starve in the street than eat his bread, unless she might eat it from the same loaf with him; that she would rather perish in the cold than enjoy the shelter of his roof, unless she might enjoy it with him.

There she remained the whole day by herself, thinking that something must occur to mitigate the severity of the sentence which he had pronounced against her. It could not be that he should leave her thus,—he whose every word, whose every tone, whose every look, whose every touch had hitherto been so full of tenderness. If he had loved as she had loved how could he live without her? He had explained his idea of a wife, and though he had spoken the words in his anger, still she had been proud. But now it seemed as though he would have her believe that she was wholly unnecessary to him. It could not be so. He could not so have deceived her. It must be that he would want her as she wanted him, and that he must return to her to satisfy the cravings of his own heart.

But as time went on her tenderness gradually turned to anger. He had pronounced the sentence, the heaviest sentence which his mind could invent against her whom he had made his own. Was that sentence just? She told herself again and again that it was most unjust. The fault which she had committed deserved no such punishment. She confessed to herself that she had promised to become the wife of a man unworthy of her; but when she had done so she had not known her present husband. He at least had no cause of anger with her in regard to that. And she, as soon as she had found out her mistake and the man's character had become in part revealed to her, had with a terrible courage taken the bull by the horns and broken away from the engagement which outward circumstances at any rate made attractive. Then with her mother she had gone abroad, and there she had met with Mr. Western. At the moment of their meeting she had been at any rate innocent in regard to him. From that moment she had performed her duty to him, and had been sincere in her love, even as such a man as Mr. Western could desire,—with the one exception of her silence. It was true that she should have told him of Sir Francis Geraldine; of her folly in accepting him and her courage in repudiating him. Day by day the days had gone by, and there had been some cause for fresh delay, that cause having ever reference to his immediate comfort. Did she not know that had she told him, his offer, his love, his marriage would have been the same? And now, was she to be turned adrift and thrown aside, rejected and got rid of at an instant's notice, because, for his comfort, the telling of her story had been delayed? The injustice, the cruelty, the inhumanity of such a punishment were very plain to her.

Could he do it? As her husband had he a right so to dismiss her from his bosom? And his money? Perish his money! And his house! The remembrance of the offers which he made to her aggravated her wrath bitterly. As his wife she had a right to his care, to his presence, and to his tenderness. She had not married him simply to be maintained and housed. Nor was that the meaning of their marriage contract. Before God he had no right to send her away from him, and to bid her live and die alone.

But though he had no right he had the power. She could not force him to be her companion. The law would give her only those things which she did not care to claim. He already offered more than the law would exact, and she despised his generosity. As long as he supported her the law could not bring him back and force him to give her to eat of his own loaf, and to drink of his own cup. The law would not oblige him to encircle her in his arms. The law would not compel him to let her rest upon his bosom. None of those privileges which were undoubtedly her own could the law obtain for her. He had said that he had gone, and would not return, and the law could not bring him back again. Then she sat and wept, and told herself how much better for her would have been that single life of which Miss Altifiorla had preached to her the advantages.

The second day since his departure had passed and she had taken no step. Alone she had given way to sorrow and to indignation, but as yet had decided on nothing. She had waited, still thinking that something would be done to soften her sorrow; but nothing had been done. The servants around her moved slowly, solemnly, and as though struck with awe. Her own maid had tried to say a word once and again, but had been silenced by the manner of her mistress. Cecilia, though she felt the weight of the silence, could not bring herself to tell the girl that her husband had left her for ever. The servants no doubt knew it all, but she could not bring herself to tell them that it was so. He had told her that her cheques on his bankers would be paid, but she had declared that on no account should such cheque be drawn by her. If he had made up his mind to desert her, and had already left her without intending further communication, she must provide for herself. She must go back to her mother, where the eyes of all Exeter would see her. But she must in the first instance write to her mother; and how could she explain to her mother all that had happened? Would even her own mother believe her when she said that she was already deserted by her husband for ever and ever because she had not told him the story respecting Sir Francis Geraldine?

On the third morning she resolved that she would write to her husband. It was not fit, so she told herself, that she should leave his house without some further word of instruction from him. But how to address him she was ignorant. He was gone, but she did not know whither. The servants, no doubt, knew where, but she could not bring herself to ask them. On the third day she wrote as follows. The reader will remember that that short scrawl which she addressed to him from her bedroom had not been sent.

DEAR GEORGE,—This is the first letter I have written to you as your wife, and it will be very sad. I do not think that you can have remembered that yours would be the first which I had ever received from my husband.

Your order has crushed me altogether. It shall, nevertheless, be obeyed as far as I am able to obey it. You say something as to your means, and something also as to your house. In that you cannot be obeyed. It is not possible that I should take your money or live in your house unless I am allowed to do so as your wife. The law, I think, says that I may do so. But the law, of course, cannot compel a man to be a loving, tender husband, or even to accept the tenderness of a loving wife. I know what you owe me, but I know also that I cannot exact it unless you can give it with all your heart. Your money and your house I will not have unless I can have them together with yourself. Your bread would choke me. Your roof would not shelter me. Your good things would be poison to me,—unless you were here to make me feel that they were yours also as well as mine. If you mean to insist on the severity of your order, you will have to get rid of me altogether. I shall then have come across two men of which I do not know whether to wonder most at the baseness of the one or the cruelty of the other. In that case I can only return to my mother. In that case you will not, I think, care much what may become of me; but as I shall still bear your name, it is, I suppose, proper that you should know where I purpose living.

But, dear George, dearest George,—I wish you could know how much dearer to me in spite of your cruelty than all the world besides,—I cannot even yet bring myself to believe that we can for ever be separated. Dear George, endeavour to think how small has been my offence and how tremendous is the punishment which you propose. The offence is so small that I will not let myself down by asking your pardon. Had you said a word sitting beside me, even a word of anger, then I could have done so. I think I could have made you believe how altogether accidental it had been. But I will not do so now. I should aggravate my own fault till it would appear to you that I had done something of which I ought to be ashamed, and which perhaps you ought not to forgive. I have done nothing of which I am ashamed, and nothing certainly which you ought even to think it necessary to pardon.

When she had got so far she sat for a while thinking whether she would or would not tell him of the cause and the manner of her silence. Should she refer him to his sister, who understood so well how that silence had been produced? Should she explain to him that she had in the first case hesitated to tell him her story because her story had been so like to his own? But as she thought of it all, she declared to herself that were she to do so she would in truth condescend to ask his pardon. What she required of him was that he should acknowledge her nature, her character, her truth to be such that he had made a grievous mistake in attributing to her aught that was a just cause of anger. "You stupid girl, you foolish girl, to have given yourself and me such cause for discomfort!" That he should have said to her, with his arm round her waist; that and nothing more. Thinking of all this she resolved not to go into that subject. Should she ever do so it must be when he had come back to her, and was sitting there with his arm around her waist. She ended her letter, therefore, very shortly.

As I must wait here till I hear from you, and cannot even write to my mother till I do so, I must beg you to answer my letter quickly. I shall endeavour to go on without drawing any cheques. If I find it necessary I shall have to write to my mother for money.

Your most affectionate wife,

CECILIA WESTERN.

Oh, George, if you knew how I love you!

Then, as she did not like to send the letter out among the servants without any address, and thus to confess to them that she did not know where her husband had gone, she directed the letter to him at his club in London.

During the next day or two the pity of her servants, the silent, unexpressed pity, was very hard to bear. As each morning came her punishment seemed to become more and more intolerable to her. She could not read. There were none among her friends, not even her mother, to whom she could write. It was still her hope,—her faintest hope, that she need confess to none of them the fact that her husband had quarrelled with her. She could only sit and ponder over the tyranny of the man who by his mere suspicions could subject a woman to so cruel a fate. But on the evening of the third day she was told that a gentleman had called to see her. Mr. Gray sent his card in to her, and she at once recognised Mr. Gray as her husband's attorney. She was sitting at the open window of her own bedroom, looking into the garden, and she was aware that she had been weeping. "I will be down at once," she said to the maid, "if Mr. Gray will wait."

"Oh, ma'am, you do take on so dreadfully!" said the girl.

"Never mind, Mary. I will come down and see Mr. Gray if you will leave me."

"Oh, ma'am, oh, Miss Holt, I have known you so long, may I not say a word to you?"

"I am not Miss Holt. I am still entitled to bear my husband's name." Then the girl, feeling herself to have been rebuked, was leaving the room, when her mistress jumped up from her seat, took her in her arms, and kissed her. "Oh, Mary," she said, "I am unhappy, so unhappy! But pray do not tell them. It is true that you have known me long, and I can trust you." Then the girl, crying much more bitterly than her mistress, left the room.

In a few minutes Cecilia followed her, and entered the parlour into which Mr. Gray had been shown, without a sign of tears upon her cheeks. She had been able to assume a look of injured feminine dignity, of almost magnificent innocence, by which the lawyer was much startled. She was resolved at any rate to confess no injury done by herself to her husband, and to say nothing to Mr. Gray of any injury done by him to her. Mr. Gray, too, was a gentleman, a man over fifty years of age, who had been solicitor to Mr. Western's father. He knew the husband in this case well, but he had as yet known nothing of the wife. He had been simply told by Mr. Western to understand that he, Mr. Western, had no fault to find with the lady; that he had not a word to say against her; but that unfortunately circumstances had so turned out that all married happiness was impossible for him. Mr. Gray had endeavoured to learn the facts; but he had been aware that Mr. Western was a man who would not bear pumping. A question or two he had asked, and had represented to his client how dreadful was the condition to which he was condemning both the lady and himself. But his observations were received with that peculiar cold civility which the man's manner assumed when he felt that interference was taken in matters which were essentially private to himself. "It is so, Mr. Gray, that in this case it cannot be avoided. I wish you to understand, that all pecuniary arrangements are to be made for Mrs. Western which she herself may desire. Were she to ask for everything I possess she must have it,—down to the barest pittance." But at this moment he had not received his wife's letter.

There was a majesty of beauty about Mrs. Western by which Mr. Gray was startled, but which he came to recognise before the interview was over. I cannot say that he understood the cause of the quarrel, but he had become aware that there was much in the lady very much on a par with her husband's character. And she, when she found out, as she did instinctively, that she had to deal with a gentleman, dropped something of the hauteur of her silence. But she said not a word as to the cause of their disagreement. Mr. Gray asked the question in the simplest language. "Can you not tell me why you two have quarrelled so quickly after your marriage?" But she simply referred him to her husband. "I think you must ask Mr. Western about that." Mr. Gray renewed the question, feeling how important it was that he should know. But she only smiled, and again referred him to her husband. But when he came to speak to her about money arrangements she smiled no longer. "It will not be necessary," she said.

"But it is Mr. Western's wish."

"It will not be necessary. Mr. Western has decided that we must—part. On that matter I have nothing to say. But there will be nothing for any lawyer to do on my behalf. If Mr. Western has made up his mind, I will return to my mother. I can assure you that no steps need be taken as to money." "No steps will be possible," she added with all that feminine majesty which was peculiar to her. "I understand from you that Mr. Western's mind is made up. You can tell him that I shall be ready to leave this house for my mother's, in—let me say a week." Mr. Gray went back to town having been able to make no other arrangement. He might pay the servants' wages,—when they were due; and the tradesmen's bills; but for herself and her own peculiar wants Mrs. Western would take no money. "You may tell Mr. Western," she said, "that I shall not have to encroach on his liberality." So Mr. Gray went back to town; and Mrs. Western carried herself through the interview without the shedding of a tear, without the utterance of a word of tenderness,—so that the lawyer on leaving her hardly knew what her wishes were.

"Nevertheless I think it is his doing," he said to himself. "I think she loves him."



CHAPTER XIV.

TO WHAT A PUNISHMENT!

Mr. Western, when he received his wife's letter, after having given his instructions to the lawyer, was miserable enough. But not on that account did he think of changing his purpose. He had made up his mind,—as men say, and having made it up he assured himself that he had done it with ample cause. He could not quite explain to himself the reasons for his anger. He did not quite know what were the faults of which he accused his wife. But he was sure that his wrath was just, and had come from sins on her part which it would be unbecoming that he as a man and a husband should condone. And his anger was the hotter because he did not know what those sins were. There had been some understanding,—so he thought,—between his wife and Sir Francis Geraldine which was derogatory to his honour. There had been an understanding and a subsequent quarrel, and Sir Francis Geraldine had been base enough to inform him of the understanding because of the quarrel. Sir Francis no doubt had been very base, but not on that account had his wife been less a sinner. What was it to him that Sir Francis should be base? No vice, no lies, no cruelty on the part of Sir Francis were anything to him. But his wife;—that she whom he had taken to his bosom as his own, that she in whom he had believed, she who was to be the future depository of all his secrets, his very second self, that she, in the very moment in which he had exposed to her the tenderness of his heart, that she should then have entertained a confidential intercourse with such a one as Sir Francis Geraldine, an intercourse of which she had intended that he should know nothing,—that, that was more than he could endure. It was this,—this feeling that he was to know nothing of it, which was too much for him. It seemed to him that he had been selected to be a stalking-horse for them in their intercourse. It was not that he ever accused his wife of illicit love. He was not base enough to think her so base as that. But there had been some cause for a mysterious alliance as to which he had been kept in the dark. To be kept in the dark, and by his own wife, was the one thing that was unendurable. And then the light had been let in upon him by that letter from Sir Francis, in which Sir Francis had offered "such courtesies as are generally held to be pleasant in a neighbourhood!" The intention had been that this old friendship should be renewed under his roof, and be renewed without any information being given to him that it had ever previously existed. This was the feeling that had made it incumbent on him to repudiate a wife who had so treated him. This was the feeling which forbad him to retreat from his suicidal purpose. His wife had had a secret, a secret which it was not intended that he should share, and her partner in the secret had been that man whom of all men he had despised the most, and who, as he now learnt, had been only the other day engaged to marry her. In fostering his wrath he had declared to himself that it was but only the other day; and he had come to think that at the very moment in which he had told Cecilia Holt of all his own troubles she had then, even then, been engaged to this abominable baronet. "I have got another man to offer to marry me, and therefore our engagement, which is a trouble to us both, may now be over." Some such communication as this had been made, and he had been the victim of it.

And yet as he thought of all this, and nursed his rage, and told himself how impossible it was that he should even pretend to live with such a woman with continued confidence, even then he was at moments almost overcome by the tenderness of his recollections. He had loved her so entirely; and she to his outward eyes and outward ears had been so fit to be loved! He had thanked his stars that after running into so great a peril with that other lady it had at last been given to him to settle his heart where it might dwell securely. She had required from him no compliments, none of the little weaknesses of love-making, no pretences, had demanded from him the taking of no trouble which would have grated against his feeling. She had been everything that his very soul desired. Even on the day after their wedding he had been able to sit down with her in a quiet and assured conviction that she was all that he wanted to make him happy. And she had played her part so well! She had been to him as though it had been a fresh thing to her to love a man with all her heart, and to be able to talk to him of her love. And yet she, the while, was in secret and most intimate communication with a man to whom he had been in the habit of applying within his own breast all the vilest epithets which the language could afford. "Swindler, thief, scoundrel," were the terms he had thought of. In his dislike to the ways of the world in general he had declared to himself that the world admitted such as Sir Francis within its high places without disgust. This was the man who had coolly demanded to be intimate with him, and had done so in order that he might maintain his acquaintance with his wife!

We know how wrong he was in these thoughts;—how grievously he wronged her of whom he was thinking. Of the worst of all these sins she was absolutely innocent;—of so much the worst that the fault of which she had not been innocent was not worth regarding when thought of in reference to that other crime. But still it was thus that he believed, and though he was aware that he was about to submit himself to absolute misery in decreeing their separation, yet there was to his thinking no other remedy. He had been kept in the dark. To the secrets of others around him he was he declared to himself absolutely indifferent. They might have their mysteries and it would be nothing to him. He had desired to have one whose mysteries should be his mysteries; who should share every thought of his heart, and of whose secret thoughts he desired to keep the only key. He had flattered himself that it was so, and this had been the result! It may be doubted whether his misery were not altogether as bitter as hers.

"Of course she shall live with her mother if she pleases it," he said to Mr. Gray on the following morning. "As to money, if she will name no sum that she requires I must leave it to you to say what in justice ought to be allowed to her. You know all the circumstances of my property."

"But I know none of the circumstances of your marriage," replied Mr. Gray.

"They were altogether of the usual kind."

"None of the circumstances of your separation, I should have said."

"It is unnecessary," replied Mr. Western, gloomily.

"It will be very difficult to give her any advice."

"You may take it if you will that the fault is all mine. I would provide for her as I should be bound to do if by my own cruelty or my own misconduct I had driven her from me!" He had no idea as he said this that by his own cruelty and his own misconduct he was driving her from him.

"My conviction is that she will take nothing," said Mr. Gray.

"In a matter of business she must take it. The money must be paid to her, let her do what she will with it. Even though it should be thrown into the sea, I must pay it."

"I think you will find that she has a will of her own."

"And she will find that I have," said Mr. Western with a frown. It was exactly on this point that the husband and wife were being separated. He had thought that she had calculated that when once they were married she had carried her purpose in spite of his will. But he would let her understand that it was not so. She had so far succeeded that she was entitled to bear his name, but she had not mastered him in the matter, and should not do so.

"It is a thousand pities, Mr. Western, you will allow me to say so, but it is a thousand pities. A most handsome lady:—with a fine lady-like air! One in a thousand!"

Mr. Western could not endure to hear the catalogue of his wife's charms set forth to him. He did not want to be told by his lawyer that she was "handsome" and "one in a thousand"! In that respect their quarrel made no difference. No gentleman wishes another to assure him that his wife is one in a thousand. An old mother might say so, or an old aunt; hardly any one less near and less intimate could be allowed to do so. Mr. Western was aware that no man in the ordinary course of events would be less likely to offend in that way than Mr. Gray. But in this case Mr. Gray should not, he thought, have done it. He had come to Mr. Gray about money and not about his wife's beauty. "I hardly think we need discuss that," he said, still with a heavy frown on his brow. "Perhaps you will think over what I have said to you, and name a sum to-morrow."

"At the risk of making you angry I have to speak," continued Mr. Gray. "I knew your father, and have known you all your life. If this is to make her miserable, and if, as I gather, she has committed no great fault, will it not be—wicked?" Mr. Gray sat silent for a few moments, looking him in the face. "Have you consulted your own conscience, and what it will say to you after a time? She has given all that she has to you, though there has not been a shilling,—and no money can repay her. One fault is not pardonable,—one only fault."

"No, no. I do not accuse her."

"Nor dream that she is guilty,—if I understand the matter rightly."

"No, I do not. But I do not come here to be interrogated about her after this fashion,—nor to be told that I am wicked. For what sins I commit I must be myself responsible. I am unable,—at any rate unwilling,—to tell you the circumstances, and must leave you to draw your own conclusions. If you will think over the matter, and will name a sum, I shall be obliged to you." Then he was about to leave the chamber, but Mr. Gray interposed himself between his client and the door.

"Pray excuse me, Mr. Western. I know that you are angry, but pray excuse me. I should ill do my duty to an old client whom I respect did I not dare, as being older than he is, to give the advice which as a bystander I think that he requires." Mr. Western stood perfectly silent before him, but clearly showing his wrath by the frown upon his brow. "I venture to say that you are taking upon yourself as a husband to do that which the world will not pardon."

"I care nothing for the world."

"Pardon me. You will care for it when you come to consider that its decision has been just. When you have to reflect that you have ruined for ever the happiness of a woman whom you have sworn to love and protect, and that you have cast her from you for some reason which you cannot declare and which is not held to justify such usage, then you will regard what the world says. You will regard it because your own conscience will say the same. If I mistake not you still love her."

"I am not here to discuss such points," said Mr. Western angrily.

"Think of the severity of the punishment which you are inflicting upon one whom you love; and of the effect it must have on her feelings. I tell you that you have no right to do this,—unless she has been guilty as you confess she has not." Then he seated himself in his arm-chair, and Mr. Western left the chamber without saying another word.

He went out into Lincoln's Inn, and walked westward towards his Club, hardly knowing in his confusion whither he was going. At first his breast was hot with anger against Mr. Gray. The man had called him wicked and cruel, and had known nothing of the circumstances. Could it be wicked, could it be cruel for him to resent such treachery as that of which he had been the victim? All his holiest hopes had been used against him for the vilest purposes and with the most fell effect! He at any rate had been ruined for ever. And the man had told him about the world! What did he in his misery care for the world's judgment? Cecilia had married him,—and in marrying him had torn his heart asunder. This man had accused him of cruelty in leaving her. But how could he have continued to live with her without hypocrisy? Cruel indeed! What were her sufferings to his,—hers, who had condescended to the level of Sir Francis Geraldine, and had trafficked with such a one as that as to the affairs of their joint happiness! To such a woman it was not given to suffer. Yes; she was beautiful and she looked as a lady should look. Mr. Gray had been right enough in that. But he had not known how looks may deceive, how noble to the eye may be the face of a woman while her heart within is ignoble, paltry, and mean. But as he went on with his walk by degrees he came to forget Mr. Gray, and to think of the misery which was in store for himself. And though at the moment he despised Mr. Gray, his thoughts did occupy themselves exactly with those perils of which Mr. Gray had spoken. The woman had trusted herself to his care and had given him her beauty and her solicitude. He did in his heart believe that she loved him. He remembered the last words of her letter—"Oh, George, if you knew how I love you!" He did not doubt but that those words were true. He did not suppose that she had given her heart to Sir Francis Geraldine,—that she had truly and sincerely devoted herself to one so mean as that! Such heart as she had to give had been given to himself. But there had been traffic of marriage with this man, and even continued correspondence and an understanding as to things which had put her with all her loveliness on a level with him rather than with her existing husband. What this understanding was he did not, he said, care to inquire. It had existed and still did exist. That was enough to make him know that she was untrue to him as his wife,—untrue in spirit if not in body. But in truth he did care to know. It was, indeed, because he had not known, because he had been allowed only to guess and search and think about it, that all this misery had come. He had been kept in the dark, and to be kept in the dark was to him, of all troubles, the most grievous. When he had first received the letter from Sir Francis he had not believed it to be true;—from first to last it had been a fiction. But when once his wife had told him that the engagement had existed, he believed all. It was as though she had owned to him the circumstance of a still existing intimate friendship. He had been kept in the dark, but he did not know how far.

But still there loomed to him as to the future, vaguely, the idea that by the deed he was doing now, at this present moment, he was sacrificing her happiness and his own for ever,—as regarded this world. And the people would say that he had done so, the people whose voices he could not but regard. She would say so, and her mother,—and he must acknowledge it. And Lady Grant would know that it had been so, and Mr. Gray would always think so to the end. And his heart became tender even towards her. What would be her fate,—as his wife and therefore debarred from the prospects of any other future? She would live with her mother as any widow would live,—with much less of hope, with less chance of enjoying her life, than would any other widow. And when her mother should die she would be all alone. To what a punishment was he not dooming her!

If he could die himself it would be well for all parties. He had taken his great step in life and had failed. Why should he doom her, who was differently constituted, to similar failure? It had been a great mistake. He had made it and now there was no escape. But then again his pity for himself welled up in his heart. Why had he been so allured, so deceived, so cozened? He had intended to have given all good things. The very essence of his own being he had bestowed upon her,—while she, the moment that his back was turned, was corresponding with Sir Francis Geraldine! That thought he could not stand. She, in truth, had been greatly in error in her first view of the character of Sir Francis Geraldine; but it must be a question whether he was not so also. The baronet was a poor creature, but not probably so utterly vile as he thought him. As he turned it all over in his mind, while wandering to and fro, he came to the conclusion that Mr. Gray was wrong, and that it was impossible that she who had been the sharer of the thoughts of Sir Francis Geraldine, should now remain to share his.



CHAPTER XV.

ONCE MORE AT EXETER.

Three weeks had passed and much had been done for Mrs. Western to fix her fate in life. It was now August, and she was already living at Exeter as a wife separated from her husband. Of much she had had to think and much to determine before she had found that haven of rest. Twice during the time she had received letters from her husband, but each letter had been short, and, though not absolutely without affection in its language, each letter had been absolutely obdurate. He had been made quite sure that it was not for the benefit of either of them that they should attempt to live together. Having come to that decision, which he represented as unchangeable, he was willing, he said, to do anything which she might demand for her future satisfaction and comfort. "There is nothing you can do," she had said when she had written last, "as you have refused to do your duty." This had made him again angry. "What right had she to talk to me of my duty seeing that she has so grossly neglected her own?" he said to himself. Then he had suddenly gone from England, leaving no address even with his sister or with his lawyer. But during this time his mind was not quiet for one instant. How could she have treated him so, him, who had been so absolutely devoted to her, who had so entirely given himself up to her happiness?

Lady Grant, when she had heard what was to be done, had hurried up to London but had not found them. She had gone to Exeter and there she had in vain endeavoured to comfort Cecilia. She had declared that her brother would in time forgive. But Cecilia's whole nature had by this time apparently been changed. "Forgive!" she had said. "What will he forgive? There is nothing that he can forgive; nothing that can be spoken of in the same breath with his perfidy and cruelty. Can I forgive? Ask yourself that, Lady Grant. Is it possible that I should forgive?" After two days spent in conversations such as these, Lady Grant went back to town and discussed the matter with Mr. Gray. They did not at present know her brother's address; but still there was a hope that she might induce him to hear reason and again to consent to live with his wife. "Of all men," she said to the lawyer, "he is the most honest and the most affectionate; but of all men the most self-willed and obstinate. An injustice is with him like a running sore; and, alas, it is not always an injustice, but a something that he has believed to be unjust."

Cecilia had written at great length to her mother, telling her with all details the story as it was to be told, and sparing herself in nothing. "That wicked man has contrived it all. But, oh, that such a one as my husband should have been weak enough to have fallen into a pit so prepared!" Then Mrs. Holt had come up to town and taken her daughter back with her to Exeter. Now, at last, on this occasion, the old lady was both energetic and passionate. There had been much discussion before they had both decided that they would again venture to live together among their old friends in their old home. But here Cecilia had shown herself to be once again stronger than her mother. "Why not?" she said. "What have I done to make it necessary that you should be torn away from your house? I am not at all ashamed of what I have done." In this she had blazoned forth her courage with almost a false conviction. She knew that she had done wrong;—that she had done that of which among wives she ought to be ashamed. But her sin had been so small in comparison with the punishment inflicted upon her that it sunk to nothing even in her own eyes. She felt that she had been barbarously used. The people of Exeter, or the people of the world at large, might sympathise with her or not as they pleased. But under such a mountain of wrong as she had endured, she would not show by any conduct of her own that she could have in the least deserved it. "No, mamma," she said; "let them stay away or let them come, I shall be ready for either. I am a poor, wretched woman, whom to crush utterly has been within the power of the man she has loved. He has chosen to exercise it, and I must suffer. But he shall not make me ashamed. I have done nothing to deserve his cruelty."

And then when she had been at Exeter but a few days there came another source of trouble,—though not of unmitigated trouble. She told her mother that in due course of time her cruel husband would become the father of a child. She would not write to him. He had not chosen to let her know his address; nor was it fitting to her feelings to communicate such a fact in a letter which she must address secretly to his banker or to his club. Yet the fact was of such a nature that it was imperative that he should know it. At last it was told by Mrs. Holt to Lady Grant. Cecilia had herself attempted it, but had found that she could not do it. She could not write the letter without some word of tenderness, and she was resolved that no word of tenderness should go from her to him. It would seem as though she were asking for money, and were putting forward the coming of the little stranger as a plea for it. She would ask for no money. She had appealed to his love, and had appealed in vain. If he were hard, she would be so too. In her heart of hearts she probably entertained the idea of some possible future in which she might yet put the child into its father's arms;—but it should be done not at her request. It should be at his prayer. At least there was this comfort to her,—that she no longer dreaded his power. He had so contrived that to her thinking the fault was altogether on his side. Forgive! Oh yes; she would forgive! Oh yes; she would forgive, so readily, so sweetly, with the full determination that it should all be like a blank nightmare that had come between them and troubled their joys. But in the bottom of the heart of each it must be understood that it had been hers to pardon and his to be pardoned. Or if not so, then she must continue to live her widowed life at Exeter.

Mrs. Holt was energetic and passionate rather than discreet. She would not admit that her child had done any wrong, and could not be got to understand but that the law should make a husband live with his wife in the proper way. It was monstrous to her thinking that her daughter should be married and taken away, and then sent back, without any offence on her part. In the resentment which she felt against Mr. Western she filled quite a new part among the people of Exeter. "Oh, mamma; you are so loving, so good," said her daughter; "but do not let us talk about it! Cannot you understand that, angry as I am, I cannot endure to have him abused?" "Abused!" said Mrs. Holt, kindling in her wrath. "I cannot hold myself without abusing him." But it very soon did come to pass that Mr. Western's name was not mentioned between them. Mrs. Holt would now and again clench her fist and shake her head, and Cecilia knew that in her thoughts she was executing some vengeance against Mr. Western; but there was a truce to spoken words. Cecilia indeed often executed her vengeance against her husband after some fashion of her own, but her mother did not perceive it.

Among their Exeter friends there soon came to be an actual breach with Miss Altifiorla. Miss Altifiorla, as soon as it was known that Mrs. Western had reappeared in Exeter, had rushed down to greet her friend. There she had been received coldly by Cecilia, and more than coldly by Cecilia's mother. "My dear Cecilia," she had said, attempting to take hold of her friend's hand, "I told you what would come of it."

"There need be nothing said about it," said Mrs. Western.

"Not after the first occasion," said Miss Altifiorla. "A few words between us to show that each understands the other will be expedient."

"I do not see that any words can be of service," said Mrs. Western.

"Not in the least," said Mrs. Holt. "Why need anything be said? You know that she has been cruelly ill-used, and that is all you need know."

"I do know the whole history of it," said Miss Altifiorla, who had taken great pride to herself among the people of Exeter in being the best-informed person there as to Mrs. Western's sad affairs. "I was present up to the moment, and I must say that if Cecilia had then taken my advice things would have been very different. I am not blaming her."

"I should hope not," said Mrs. Holt.

"But things would have been very different. Cecilia was a little timid at telling her husband the truth. And Mr. Western was like other gentlemen. He did not like to be kept in the dark by his wife. You see that Cecilia has given mortal cause for offence to two gentlemen."

This was not to be endured. Cecilia did not exactly know all the facts as they had occurred,—between Miss Altifiorla and Sir Francis,—and certainly knew none of those which were now in process of occurring; but she strongly suspected that something had taken place, that some conversation had been held, between her friend and Sir Francis Geraldine. She had been allowed to read the letter from Sir Francis to her husband, and she remembered well the meaning of it. But she could not remember the terms which he had used. She had, however, thought that something which had passed between himself and Miss Altifiorla had been the immediate cause of the writing of that letter. She did think that Miss Altifiorla had, as it were, gone over to the enemy. That she had been prepared to pardon. The enemy had in fact told no falsehood in his letter. It had been her misfortune that the story which he had told had been true;—and her further misfortune that her husband should have believed so much more than the truth. For all that she did not hold Miss Altifiorla to be responsible. But when she was told that she had given cause for mortal offence to two gentlemen, there was something in the phrase which greatly aggravated her anger. It was as though this would-be friend was turning against her for her conduct towards Sir Francis. And she was just as angry that the friend should turn against her for her conduct to her husband. "Miss Altifiorla," she said, "I must request that there be no further conversation between us in reference to the difference between me and my husband."

"Miss Altifiorla!" said the lady. "Is it to come to that, Cecilia;—between you and me who have enjoyed so much sweet friendship?"

"Certainly, if you make yourself so offensive," said Mrs. Holt.

"It is the only mode by which I can show that I am in earnest," said Cecilia. "If it does not succeed, I must declare that I shall be unwilling to meet you at all. I told you to be silent, and you would not."

"Oh, very well! If you like to quarrel it will quite suit me. But in your present condition I hardly think that you are wise in throwing off your old friends. It is just the time when you ought to cling to those who would be true to you."

This was more than Cecilia could bear. "I shall cling to those who are true to me," she said, leaving the room.

"Oh, very well! Then I shall know how to conduct myself." This was addressed to Mrs. Holt.

"I hope you will conduct yourself, as you call it, somewhere away from here. You're very fond of meddling, that's the truth; and Cecilia in her present condition does not want to be meddled with. Oh, yes; you can go away as soon as ever you please." Thereupon Miss Altifiorla left the room and withdrew.

It must be explained that this lady, since she was last upon the scene, had learned to entertain new hopes, very exalted in their nature. It had first occurred to her during those ten minutes at the Paddington railway station, that it might possibly be so if she played her cards well. And then how glorious would be the result! Sir Francis Geraldine had squeezed her hand. If he might be made to go on squeezing her hand sufficiently, how great might be the effect produced! Lady Geraldine! How beautiful was the sound! She thought that within all the bounds of the English peerage,—and she believed that she knew that those bounds included the Baronets,—there was no sweeter, no more glorious, no more aristocratic appellation. Lady Geraldine! What a change, what a blissful change would that be!

When she thought of the chill of her present life, of its want of interest, of its insipid loneliness, and then told herself what might be in store for her should she live to become Lady Geraldine, she declared to herself that even though the chance might be very small, the greatness of the reward if gained would justify the effort. Lady Geraldine! And she saw no reason why her chance should be so very small. She had a cousin with a pedigree longer than even that of Sir Francis,—Count Altifiorla, who, indeed, had no money, but was a genuine Count. She herself had a nice little sum of money, quite enough to be agreeable to a gentleman who might be somewhat out at elbows from the effects of Newmarket. And she did not think too little of her own personal appearance. She knew that she had a good wearing complexion, and that her features were of that sort which did not yield very readily to the hand of time. There were none of the endearing dimples of early youth, none of the special brightness of English feminine loveliness, none of the fresh tints of sweet girlhood; but Miss Altifiorla boasted to herself that she would look the British aristocratic matron very well. She certainly had not that Juno beauty which Cecilia Holt could boast, that beauty which could be so severe to all chance comers, but which could melt at once and become soft and sweet and easy to one favoured individual. Miss Altifiorla acknowledged to herself that it was her nature always to remain outwardly the same to all men. But then dress and diamonds, and all the applied paraphernalia of aristocracy would, she felt, go far with her.

If Sir Francis could be once got to admire her, she was sure that Sir Francis would never be driven to repent of his bargain from any falling off on her part. She thought that she would know how to be the master; but this would be an after consideration, and one as to which she need not at present pay especial attention. Sir Francis had squeezed her hand most affectionately, and there had been a subsequent meeting at Exeter, where he had stayed a couple of hours as he went through to his own property. And she was sure that he had stayed for the purpose of meeting her. Since that affair with Cecilia Holt he had not been made warmly welcome at the Deanery. Yet he had stayed and had absolutely called upon Miss Altifiorla. He had found her and had discussed Mr. and Mrs. Western with much sarcastic humour. "Now you haven't!" Miss Altifiorla had said, when he told her of the letter he had written. "How could you be so hard upon the poor man?" "Perhaps the lady may think that I have been hard upon her," Sir Francis had replied. "Perhaps she will know the meaning of tit for tat. Perhaps she will understand now that one good turn deserves another. It was not that I cared so much for her," he said. "I'd got to feel that she was far too virtuous for me, too stuck up, you'll understand. I wasn't at all disappointed when she played me that trick. She didn't turn out the sort of girl that I had taken her for. I knew that I had had an escape. But, nevertheless, tit for tat is fair on both sides. She played me a trick, and now I've played her one and we are even. We can each go to work again. She began a little too soon, perhaps, for her own comfort; but that's her affair and not mine."

In answer to all this, Miss Altifiorla had only laughed and smiled and declared that Cecilia had been served right, though she thought,—she said that she thought,—that Sir Francis had been almost too hard. "That's my way of doing business," he had added. "If anyone wants me to run straight, they must begin by running straight themselves. I can be as sweet as new milk if I'm well treated." Then there had been a moment in which Miss Altifiorla had almost expected that he was going to do something preparatory to declaring himself. She was convinced that he was about to kiss her; but at the very moment at which the event had been expected, Mrs. Green had been announced and the kiss did not, alas, come off. She could hardly bring herself to be civil to Mrs. Green when Sir Francis declared that he must go to the station.



CHAPTER XVI.

"IT IS ALTOGETHER UNTRUE."

The month of September wore itself away at Exeter very sadly. An attempt was made to bid Mrs. Western welcome back to her old home; but from the nature of the circumstances there could hardly be much heartiness in the attempt. Mrs. Thorne came over from Honiton to see her, but even between Cecilia and Maude Hippesley, who was certainly the most cherished of her Exeter friends, there could be no free confidence, although there was much sympathy. Mrs. Western could bring herself to speak evil to no one of her husband. She had, with much passion, told the entire story to her mother, but when her mother had begun to say hard words respecting him Cecilia had found it impossible to bear them. Had her mother taken Mr. Western's part, it may be doubted whether she could have endured that. There was no speech concerning him which was possible for her ears. She still looked forward to the chance of having him back again, and if he would come back, if he would take her back, then he should be entirely forgiven. He should be so forgiven that no mutual friend should have heard a word of reproach from her lips. She herself would know how hardly she had been used; but there should be no one to say that she had ever been heard to complain of her husband. Not the less was her heart full of wrath. Not the less did she during every hour of the day turn over in her thoughts the terrible injustice of which she had been the victim. But it can be understood that even to her old friend Maude Hippesley, who was now happy in her new home as Mrs. Thorne, she could not talk openly of the circumstances of her separation. But there was, alas, no other subject of such interest to her at the present moment as to give matter for free conversation.

The Dean's family, and especially Mrs. Hippesley, attempted to be kind to her. The Dean himself came down and called with much decanal grandeur, conspicuous as he walked up to the Hall door with shovel hat and knee breeches. But even the Dean could not do much. He had intended to take Mrs. Western's part as against his brother-in-law, having been no doubt prompted by some old feeling of favour towards Cecilia Holt; but now he was given to understand that this Mr. Western had also gone astray, and in such a way as to make it hardly possible that he should talk about it. He called therefore and took her by the hand, and expressed a hope that all things should be made to go straight, and then he left her, taking her by the hand again, and endeavouring to prove his esteem by his manner of doing so. That was the beginning and the end of the Dean's comforting. Mrs. Hippesley could do but little more. She did make an attempt at confidential conversation, but was soon stopped by Cecilia's cold manner. Mrs. Western, indeed, could speak to none. She could not utter a word either for or against her husband. Mrs. Green came, of course, more than once; but it was the same thing. Mrs. Western could endure to talk and to be talked to about nothing. And though there was friendship in it, it was but a subdued feeling of friendship,—of friendship which under the circumstances had to be made silent. Mrs. Green when she had taken her leave determined not to come again immediately, and Mrs. Western when Mrs. Green had gone felt that she did not wish her to come. She could live with her mother more easily than with her old friends, because her mother understood the tone of her mind. Each kept their thoughts to themselves on that subject of which each was thinking; but each sympathised with the other.

Lady Grant as soon as she understood the condition of things at once began to correspond with her brother. To her it was a matter of course that he should, sooner or later, take his wife back again. But to her thinking it was most important that he should do so before the fact of their quarrel had been flaunted before the world by an enduring separation. She wrote in the first instance without throwing blame upon either party, but calling upon her brother to show the honesty and honour of his purpose by coming back at once to Durton Lodge, and receiving Cecilia. "Of course it must be so sooner or later," said Lady Grant, "and the quicker you do it so much easier will be the doing." It should be told that Mrs. Holt had, without telling her daughter in her passion, herself written to Mr. Western. "You have sacrificed my daughter in your perversity, and that without the slightest cause for blame." Such had been the nature of Mrs. Holt's letter, which had reached him but a day before that of his sister. Lady Grant's appeal had not been of the same nature. She had said nothing of the sin of either of them; but had written as though both had been in fault, misunderstanding each other, and neither having been willing to yield a little. Then she had appealed to her brother's love and affectionate disposition. It was not till afterwards that she had been able to inform him of the baby that was expected.

Mr. Western answered his sister's letter from Dresden. To Mrs. Holt he sent no reply: but he used her letter as the ground for that which he made to Lady Grant, writing as though Mrs. Holt's words had come directly from his wife. "They say that I have sacrificed Cecilia without the slightest fault on her part. I have not sacrificed her, and there has been terrible fault on her part. Fault! A young woman marries a man while she is yet engaged to another, and tells the poor dupe whom she has got within her clutches nothing of her first engagement! Is there no fault in that? And she afterwards entertains the first man at her husband's house, and corresponds with him, and prepares at last to receive him there as a friend, and that without a word on the subject spoken to her husband! Is there no fault in that? And at last the truth becomes known to him because the base man is discontented with the arrangements that have been made, and chooses to punish her by exposing her at last to the wrath of her husband! I say nothing of him. With his conduct in the world I have no concern. But can all that have taken place with no fault on her part? What in such a state of things should I have done? Should I have contented myself simply with forbidding my wife to receive the man at my house? Should I have asked her no question as to the past? Should I have passed over that engagement which had been in full existence during the last twelve months, and have said nothing of it? Or should I have expressed my anger and then have forgiven her, and attempted to live with her as though this man had never existed? Knowing me as you do, can you say that that would have been possible to me? How could I have lived with a wife of whom I knew so much as I had then learned of mine,—but had known so little before. Had I been a man of the world, living for the world, careless as to my own home except as to the excellence of my dinner and the comfort of my bed, it might have been possible. A man trusting for his happiness to such means might perhaps have continued to exist and not have been broken-hearted. But I think you will understand that such could not be the case with me. I looked for my happiness to my wife's society, and I discovered when I had married that I could not find it there. I could never respect her!

"But she tells me that having married her I have no right to sacrifice her. As I had been fool enough to allow myself to be so quickly allured by her charms, and had made those charms my own, I was bound to stand by my bargain! That I take it is the argument which she uses. I grant the truth of it. It is I that should be sacrificed and not she. I have so acted that I am bound to submit myself to such a verdict. What the law would require from me I cannot say. The law might perhaps demand a third of my income. She shall have two-thirds if she wishes it. She shall have seven-eighths if she will ask for it. At present I have given instructions by which during her life she shall have one-half. I am aware that in the heat of her passion she has declined to accept this. It shall nevertheless be paid to her credit. And I must deny that one who has achieved her marriage after such a fashion has any right, when so treated, to regard herself as sacrificed. I am the victim. But as I am convinced that she and I cannot live happily together, I reserve to myself the right of living apart."

Lady Grant, when she received this letter, immediately sat down to write to Cecilia, but she soon found it to be impossible to put into a letter all that there was to be said. She was living in the neighbourhood of Perth, whereas her sister-in-law was at Exeter. And yet the matter was of such moment that she perceived it to be essential that they should see each other. Perhaps it might be better that Mrs. Western should come to her; and therefore she wrote to her,—not explaining the cause of the proposed visit, to do which would be as difficult as to write the full letter, but simply saying that in the present condition of things she thought it would be well that Cecilia should visit her. This however Mrs. Western refused to do. She had come to her mother, she said, in her terrible difficulty, and in her present circumstances would not at once leave her. She considered herself bound to obey her husband, and would remain at Exeter until she received instructions from him to leave it.

There was in her letter a subdued tone of displeasure, which Lady Grant felt that she had not deserved. She at any rate was anxious to do her best. But she would not on that account abandon the task which she had undertaken. Her only doubt was whether she had better go to her brother at Berlin or to his wife at Exeter. She understood perfectly now the nature of those mistaken suspicions which filled her brother's mind. And she was almost sure of the circumstances which had produced them. But she was not quite sure; and were she to make mistakes in discussing the matter with him, such mistakes might be fatal. She thought that with Cecilia she could not do other than good. She knew her brother's mind better than did his wife, and she imagined that between them such a story might be told,—a story so true and so convincing that the husband might be brought back.

The following very short letter therefore was written. "My dear Cecilia, as you will not come to me at Perth, I must go to you at Exeter. I shall start this day week and will be with you on the following Wednesday. Do not mind as to a room for me, as I can stop at the hotel; but it is I think imperative that we should see each other. Yours affectionately, Bertha Grant."

"Mamma, Lady Grant is coming here next week," said Cecilia to her mother.

"To this house next week?"

"She says that she will come to the hotel; but of course we must receive her here."

"But why is she coming?"

"I suppose it is because she thinks that something should be done on behalf of her brother. I can understand her feeling, and am sure that she sympathises with me. But I do not think that any good will come of it. Unless he can be made to see how wrong he is nothing will be able to change him. And until his very nature is changed he will not be made to understand his own fault." It was thus for the first time for a fortnight that Mrs. Western spoke to her mother about her husband.

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