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

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

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

"It shall be of importance."

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

"I am not aware of it."

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

"What is the thing?"

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

"Alas, no. I fear not."

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

"What on earth is it?"

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

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

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

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

"Cecilia Holt—"

"That at any rate is not my name."

"I dare say you wish it were."

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

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

"No!"

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

"A good many, first and last."

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

"Sir Francis Geraldine!"

"Do you see any just cause or impediment?"

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

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

"Certainly not for my sake."

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

"An alliance," suggested Mrs. Western.

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

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

"Not in the least."

"At any rate you do not congratulate me."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Should we not be more comfortable at Durton?"

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXIII.

SIR FRANCIS' ESCAPE.

When she had told the Dean's family, and Mrs. Green, and Cecilia, Miss Altifiorla began to feel that there was no longer a secret worth the keeping. And indeed it became necessary to her happiness to divulge this great step in life which she was about to take. She had written very freely, and very frequently to Sir Francis, and Sir Francis, to tell the truth, had not responded in the same spirit. She had received but two answers to six letters, and each answer had been conveyed in about three lines. There had been no expressions from him of confiding love, nor any pressing demands for an immediate marriage. They had all been commenced without even naming her, and had been finished by the simple signature of his initials. But to Miss Altifiorla they had been satisfactory. She knew how silly she would be to expect from such an one as her intended husband long epistles such as a school girl would require, and, in order to keep him true to her, had determined to let him know how little exacting she was inclined to be. She would willingly do all the preliminary writing if only she could secure her position as Lady Geraldine. She wrote such letters, letters so full of mingled wit and love and fun, that she was sure that he must take delight in reading them. "Easy reading requires hard writing," she said to herself as she copied for the third time one of her epistles, and copied it studiously in such handwriting that it should look to have been the very work of negligence. In all this she had been successful as she thought, and told herself over and over again how easy it was for a clever woman to make captive a man of mark, provided that she set herself assiduously to the task.

She soon descended from her friends to the shopkeepers, and found that her news was received very graciously by the mercantile interests of the city. The milliners, the haberdashers, the furriers and the bootmakers of Exeter received her communication and her orders with pleased alacrity. With each of them she held a little secret conference, telling each with a smiling whisper what fate was about to do for her. To even the upholsterers, the bankers, the hotel-keepers and the owners of post-horses she was communicative, making every one the gratified recipient of her tidings. Thus in a short time all Exeter knew that Sir Francis Geraldine was about to lead to the hymeneal altar Miss Altifiorla, and it must be acknowledged that all Exeter expressed various opinions on the subject. They who understood that Miss Altifiorla was to pay for the supplies ordered out of her own pocket declared for the most part how happy a man was Sir Francis. But those who could only look to Sir Francis for possible future custom were surprised that the Baronet should have allowed himself to be so easily caught. And then the aristocracy expressed its opinion which it must be acknowledged was for the most part hostile to Miss Altifiorla. It was well known through the city that the Dean had declared that he would never again see his brother-in-law at the deanery. And it was whispered that the Reverend Dr. Pigrum, one of the canons, had stated "that no one in the least knew where Miss Altifiorla had come from." This hit Miss Altifiorla very hard,—so much so, that she felt herself obliged to write an indignant letter to Dr. Pigrum, giving at length her entire pedigree. To this Dr. Pigrum made a reply as follows: "Dr. Pigrum's compliments to Miss Altifiorla, and is happy to learn the name of her great grandmother." Dr. Pigrum was supposed to be a wag, and the letter soon became the joint property of all the ladies in the Close.

This interfered much with Miss Altifiorla's happiness. She even went across to Cecilia, complaining of the great injustice done to her by the Cathedral clergymen generally. "Men from whom one should expect charity instead of scandal, but that their provincial ignorance is so narrow!" Then she went on to remind Cecilia how much older was the Roman branch of her family than even the blood of the Geraldines. "You oughtn't to have talked about it," said Cecilia, who in her present state of joy did not much mind Miss Altifiorla and her husband. "Do you suppose that I intend to be married under a bushel?" said Miss Altifiorla grandly. But this little episode only tended to renew the feeling of enmity between the ladies.

But there appeared a paragraph in the "Western Telegraph" which drove Miss Altifiorla nearly mad: "It is understood that one of the aristocracy in this county is soon about to be married to a lady who has long lived among us in Exeter. Sir Francis Geraldine is the happy man, and Miss Altifiorla is the lady about to become Lady Geraldine. Miss Altifiorla is descended from an Italian family of considerable note in its own country. Her great grandmother was a Fiasco, and her great great grandmother a Disgrazia. We are delighted to find that Sir Francis is to ally himself to a lady of such high birth." Now Miss Altifiorla was well aware that there was an old feud between Sir Francis and the "Western Telegraph," and she observed also that the paper made allusion to the very same relatives whom she had named in her unfortunate letter to Dr. Pigrum. "The vulgarity of the people of this town is quite unbearable," she exclaimed to Mrs. Green. But when she was left alone she at once wrote a funnier letter than ever to Sir Francis. It might be that Sir Francis should not see the paragraph. At any rate she did not mention it.

But unfortunately Sir Francis did see the paragraph; and, unfortunately also, he had not appreciated the wit of Miss Altifiorla's letters. "Oh, laws!" he had been heard to ejaculate on receipt of a former letter.

"It's the kind of thing a man has to put up with when he gets married," said Captain McCollop, a gentleman who had already in some sort succeeded Dick Ross.

"I don't suppose you think a man ever ought to be married."

"Quite the contrary. When a man has a property he must be married. I suppose I shall have the McCollop acres some of these days myself." The McCollop acres were said to lie somewhere in Caithness, but no one knew their exact locality. "But a man will naturally put off the evil day as long as he can. I should have thought that you might have allowed yourself to run another five years yet." The flattery did touch Sir Francis, and he began to ask himself whether he had gone too far with Miss Altifiorla. Then came the "Western Telegraph," and he told himself that he had gone too far.

"By G——, she has told everybody in that beastly hole," said he. The "beastly hole" was intended to represent Exeter.

"Of course she has. You didn't suppose but that she would begin to wear her honour and glory as soon as they were wearable."

"She pledged herself not to mention it to a single soul," said Sir Francis. Upon this Captain McCollop merely shrugged his shoulders. "I'm d——d if I put up with it. Look here! All her filthy progenitors put into the newspaper to show how grand she is."

"I shouldn't care so very much about that," said the cautious Captain, who began to perceive that he need not be specially bitter against the lady.

"You're not going to marry her."

"Well, no; that's true."

"Nor am I," said Sir Francis with an air of great decision. "She hasn't got a word of mine in writing to show,—not a word that would go for anything with a jury."

"Hasn't she indeed?"

"Not a word. I have taken precious good care of that. Between you and me, I don't mind acknowledging it. But it had never come to more than that."

"Then in fact you are not bound to her."

"No; I am not;—not what I call bound. She's a handsome woman you know,—very handsome."

"I suppose so."

"And she'd do the drawing-room well, and the sitting at the top of the table, and all that kind of thing."

"But it's such a deuced heavy price to pay," said Captain McCollop.

"I should not have minded the price," said Sir Francis, not quite understanding his friend's remark, "if she hadn't made me ridiculous in this way. The Fiascos and the Disgrazias! What the devil are they to our old English families? If she had let it remain as it was, I might have gone through with it. But as she has told all Exeter and got that stuff put into the newspapers, she must take the consequences. One is worse than another, as far as I can see." By this Sir Francis intended to express his opinion that Miss Altifiorla was at any rate quite as bad as Cecilia Holt.

But the next thing to be decided was the mode of escape. Though Sir Francis had declared that he was not what he called bound, yet he knew that he must take some steps in the matter to show that he considered himself to be free; and as the Captain was a clever man, and well conversant with such things, he was consulted. "I should say, take a run abroad for a short time," said the Captain.

"Is that necessary?"

"You'd avoid some of the disagreeables. People will talk, and your relatives at Exeter might kick up a row."

"Oh, d—— my relatives."

"With all my heart. But people have such a way of making themselves disgusting. What do you say to taking a run through the States?"

"Would you go with me?" asked the Baronet.

"If you wish it I shouldn't mind," said the Captain considerately. "Only to do any good we should be off quickly. But you must write to some one first."

"Before I start, you think?"

"Oh, yes;—certainly. If she didn't hear from you before you went, you'd be persecuted by her letters."

"There is no end to her letters. I've quite made up my mind what I'll do about them. I won't open one of them. After all, why should she write to me when the affair is over? You've heard of Mrs. Western, I suppose?"

"Yes; I've heard of her."

"I didn't write to her when that affair was over. I didn't pester her with long-winded scrawls. She changed her mind, and I've changed mine; and so we're equal. I've paid her, and she can pay me if she knows how."

"I hope Miss Altifiorla will look at it in the same light," said the Captain.

"Why shouldn't she? She knew all about it when that other affair came to an end. I wasn't treated with any particular ceremony. The truth is, people don't look at these things now as they used to do. Men and women mostly do as they like till they've absolutely fixed themselves. There used to be duels and all that kind of nonsense. There is none of that now."

"No; you won't get shot."

"I don't mind being shot any more than another man; but you must take the world as you find it. One young woman treated me awfully rough, to tell the truth. And why am I not to treat another just as roughly? If you look at it all round, you'll see that I have used them just as they have used me."

"At any rate," said Captain McCollop, after a pause, "if you have made up your mind, you'd better write the letter."

Sir Francis did not see the expediency of writing the letter immediately, but at last he gave way to his friend's arguments. And he did so the more readily as his friend was there to write the letter for him. After some attempts on his own part, he put the writing of the letter into the hands of the Captain, and left him alone for an entire morning to perform the task. The letter when it was sent, after many corrections and revises, ran as follows:—

MY DEAR MISS ALTIFIORLA,—I think that I am bound in honour without a moment's delay to make you aware of the condition of my mind in regard to marriage. I ain't quite sure but what I shall be better without it altogether.—

"I'd rather marry her twice over than let my cousin have the title and the property," said the Baronet with energy. "You needn't tell her that," said McCollop. "Of course when you've cleared the ground in this quarter you can begin again with another lady."

—I think that perhaps I may have expressed myself badly so as to warrant you in understanding more than I have meant. If so, I am sure the fault has been mine, and I am very sorry for it. Things have turned up with which I need not perhaps trouble you, and compel me to go for a while to a very distant country. I shall be off almost before I can receive a reply to this letter. Indeed, I may be gone before an answer can reach me. But I have thought it right not to let a post go by without informing you of my decision.

I have seen that article in the Exeter newspaper respecting your family in Italy, and think that it must be very gratifying to you. I did understand, however, that not a word was to have been spoken as to the matter. Nothing had escaped from me, at any rate. I fear that some of your intimate friends at Exeter must have been indiscreet.

Believe me yours, With the most sincere admiration,

FRANCIS GERALDINE.

He was not able to start for America immediately after writing this, but he quitted his Lodge in Scotland, leaving no immediate address, and hid himself for a while among his London clubs, where he trusted that the lady might not find him. In a week's time he would be off to the United States.

Who shall picture the rage of Miss Altifiorla when she received this letter? This was the very danger which she had feared, but had hardly thought it worth her while to fear. It was the one possible break-down in her triumph; but had been, she thought, so unlikely as to be hardly possible. But now on reading the letter she felt that no redress was within her reach. To whom should she go for succour? Though her ancestors had been so noble, she had no one near her to take up the cudgels on her behalf. With her friends in Exeter she had become a little proud of late, so that she had turned from her those who might have assisted her. "The coward!" she said to herself, "the base coward! He dares to treat me in this way because he knows that I am alone." Then she became angry in her heart against Cecilia, who she felt had set a dangerous example in this practice of jilting. Had Cecilia not treated Sir Francis so unceremoniously he certainly would not have dared so to treat her. There was truth in this, as in that case Sir Francis would at this moment have been the husband of Mrs. Western.

But what should she do? She took out every scrap of letter that she had received from the man, and read each scrap with the greatest care. In the one letter there certainly was an offer very plainly made, as he had intended it; but she doubted whether she could depend upon it in a court of law. "Don't you think that you and I know each other well enough to make a match of it?" It was certainly written as an offer, and her two answers to him would make it plain that it was so. But she had an idea that she would not be allowed to use her own letters against him. And then to have her gushing words read as a reply to so cold a proposition would be death to her. There was not another syllable in the whole correspondence written by him to signify that he had in truth intended to become her husband. She felt sure that he had been wickedly crafty in the whole matter, and had lured her on to expose herself in her innocence.

But what should she do? Should she write to him an epistle full of tenderness? She felt sure that it would be altogether ineffectual. Should she fill sheets with indignation? It would be of no use unless she could follow up her indignation by strong measures. Should she let the thing pass by in silence, as though she and Sir Francis had never known each other? She would certainly do so, but that she had allowed her matrimonial prospects to become common through all Exeter. She must also let Exeter know how badly Sir Francis intended to treat her. To her, too, the idea of a prolonged sojourn in the United States presented itself. In former days there had come upon her a great longing to lecture at Chicago, at Saint Paul's, and Omaha, on the distinctive duties of the female sex. Now again the idea returned to her. She thought that in one of those large Western halls, full of gas and intelligence, she could rise to the height of her subject with a tremendous eloquence. But then would not the name of Sir Francis travel with her and crush her?

She did resolve upon informing Mrs. Green. She took three days to think of it, and then she sent for Mrs. Green. "Of all human beings," she said, "you, I think, are the truest to me." Mrs. Green of course expressed herself as much flattered. "And therefore I will tell you. No false pride shall operate with me to make me hold my tongue. Of all the false deceivers that have ever broken a woman's heart, that man is the basest and the falsest."

In this way she let all Exeter know that she was not to be married to Sir Francis Geraldine; and another paragraph appeared in the "Western Telegraph," declaring that after all Sir Francis Geraldine was not to be allied to the Fiascos and Disgrazias of Rome.



CHAPTER XXIV.

CONCLUSION.

Though the news of Miss Altifiorla's broken engagement did reach Mrs. Western at St. David's, she was in a state of mind which prevented her almost from recognising the fact. It was the very day on which her husband was to come to her. And her joy was so extreme as almost to have become painful. "Mamma," she said, "I shall not know what to say to him."

"Just let him come and receive him quietly."

"Receive him quietly! How can I be quiet when he will have come back to me? I think you do not realise the condition I have been in during the last three months."

"Yes, my dear, I do. You have been deserted, and it has been very bad."

But Mrs. Western did not approve of the word used, as it carried a strong reproach against her husband. She was anxious now to take upon herself the whole weight of the fault which had produced their separation, and to hold him to have been altogether sinless. And as yet she was not quite sure that he would again take her to his home. All she knew was that he would be that day in Exeter, and that then so much might depend on her own conduct. Of this she was quite sure,—that were he to reject her she must die. In her present condition, and with the memory present to her of the dreams she had dreamed, she could not live alone at Exeter, divided from him, and there give birth to her child. But he must surely intend to take her into his arms when he should arrive. It could not be possible that he should again reject her when he had once seen her.

Then she became fidgety about her personal appearance,—a female frailty which had never much prevailed with her,—and was anxious even about her ribbons and her dress. "He does think so much about a woman being neat," she said to her mother.

"I never perceived it in him, my dear."

"Because you have not known him as I have done. He does not say much, but no one's eye is so accurate and so severe." All this arose from a certain passage which dwelt in her remembrance, when he had praised the fit of her gown, and had told her with a kiss that no woman ever dressed so well as she did.

"I think, my dear," continued Mrs. Holt, "that if you wear your black silk just simply, it will do very well."

Simply! Yes; she must certainly be simple. But it is so hard to be simple in such a way as to please a man's eye. And yet, even when the time came near, she did not dare to remain long in her bedroom lest her own maid should know the source of her anxiety. At one time she had declared that she would go down to the station to meet him, but that idea had been soon abandoned. The first kiss she would give him should not be seen by strangers.

But if she were perplexed as to how she would bear herself on the coming occasion he was much more so. It may be said of him, that through his whole journey home from Dresden he was disturbed, unhappy, and silent. And that when his sister left him in London, and that he had nothing immediately before him but the journey down to Exeter, he was almost overwhelmed by the difficulties of the situation. His case as a man was so much worse than hers as a woman. The speaking must all be done by him, and what was there that he could say? There was still present to him a keen sense of the wrong that he had endured; though he owned to himself that the punishment which at the spur of the moment he had resolved upon inflicting was too severe,—both upon her and upon himself. And though he felt that he had been injured, he did gradually acknowledge that he had believed something worse than the truth. How to read the riddle he did not know, but there was a riddle which he had not read aright. If Cecilia should still be silent, he must still be left in the dark. But he did understand that he was to expect no confession of a fault, and that he was to exact no show of repentance.

When the train arrived at Exeter he determined to be driven at once to the Hotel. It made him unhappy to think that everyone around him should be aware that he was occupying rooms at an inn while his wife was living in the town; but he did not dare to take his portmanteau to Mrs. Holt's house and hang up his hat in her hall as though nothing had been the matter. "Put it into a cab," he said to a porter as the door was opened, "and bid him drive to the Clarence."

But a man whose face he remembered had laid his hand upon his valise before it was well out of the railway carriage. "Please, Sir," said the man, "you are to go up to the house, and I'm to carry your things. I am Sam Barnet, the gardener."

"Very well, Sam," said Mr. Western. "Go on and I'll follow you." Now, as he well knew, the house at St. David's was less than half a mile from the railway station.

He felt that his misery would be over in ten minutes, and yet for ten minutes how miserable a man he was! Whilst she was trembling with joy, a joy that was only dashed by a vague fear of his possible sternness, he was blaming his fate as it shortened by every step the distance between him and his wife. At last he had entered the path of the little garden, and the door of the house was open before him. He ventured to look, but did not see her. He was in the hall, but yet he did not see her. "Cecilia is in the breakfast parlour," said the voice of Mrs. Holt, whom in his confusion he did not notice. The breakfast parlour was in the back part of the house, looking out into the garden, and thither he went. The door was just ajar and he passed in. In a second the whole trouble was over. She was in his arms at once, kissing his face, stroking his hair, leaning on his bosom, holding his arm round her own waist as though to make sure that he should not leave her; crying and laughing at the same moment. "Oh, George, my own George! It has all been my doing; but you will forgive me! Say that one word that I am 'forgiven.'" Then there came another storm of kisses which frustrated the possibility of his speaking to her.

What a wife she was to possess! How graceful, how gracious, how precious were her charms,—charms in which no other woman surely ever approached her! How warm and yet how cool was the touch of her lips; how absolutely symmetrical was the sweet curve of her bust; what a fragrance came from her breath! And the light of her eyes, made more bright by her tears, shone into his with a heavenly brightness. Her soft hair as he touched it filled him with joy. And once more she was all his own. Let the secret be what it might, he was quite sure that she was his own. As he bent down over her she pressed her cheek against his and again drew his arm tighter round her waist. "George, if you wished to know how I love you, you have taken the right step. I have been sick for you, but now I shall be sick no longer. Oh, George, it was my fault; but say that you have forgiven me."

He could not bring himself to speak so much of an accusation as would be contained in that word "forgive." How was he to pardon one whose present treatment to him was so perfect, so loving, and so lovely? "Sit down, George, and let me tell you how it was. Of course I was wrong, but I did not mean to be wrong."

"No, no," he said. "There shall be no wrong." And yet why had not his sister told him that it would be like this? Why had she so stoutly maintained that Cecilia would confess nothing. Here she was acknowledging everything with most profuse confession. What could any man desire more? "Do not speak of it;—at any rate now. Let me be happy as I have got you."

Then there was another storm of kisses, but she was not to be put off from her purpose. "You must know it all. Sit down;—there, like that." And she seated herself, leaning back upon him on the sofa. "Before we had been abroad I had been engaged to that man."

"Yes;—I understand that."

"I had been engaged to him,—without knowing him. Then when I found that he was not what I thought him, I made up my mind that it would be better to throw him over than make us both miserable for life."

"Certainly."

"And I did so. I made a struggle and did it. From that time to this I have had nothing to say to him,—nor he to me. You may say that I treated him badly."

"I don't say so. I, at any rate, do not say so."

"My own, own man. Then we went abroad, and as good fortune would have it you came in our way. It was not long before you made me love you. That was not my fault, George. I loved you so dearly when you were telling me that story about the other girl;—but, somehow, I could not tell you then a similar story about myself. It seemed at first so odd that my story should be the same, and then it looked almost as though I were mocking you. Had you had no story to tell, you would have known all my own before I had allowed myself to be made happy by your love. Do you not perceive that it was so?"

"Yes," he said, slowly, "I can understand what you mean."

"But it was a mistake; for from day to day the difficulty grew upon me, and when once there was a difficulty, I was not strong enough to overcome it. There never came the moment in which I was willing to mar my own happiness by telling you that which I thought would wound yours. I had not dreamed beforehand how much more difficult it would become when I should once be absolutely your wife. Then your sister came and she told me. She is better than anybody in the world except yourself."

"All women are better than I am," he said. "It is their nature to be so."

Some half-ludicrous idea of Miss Altifiorla and her present difficulties came across her mind, as she contradicted his assertion with another shower of kisses. "She told me," continued Cecilia, "that I was bound to let you know all the truth. Of course I knew that; of course I intended it. But that odious woman was in the house, and I could not tell you till she was gone. Then he came."

"Why did he come?"

"He had no right to come. No man with the smallest spirit would have shown himself at your door. I have thought about it again and again, and I can only imagine that it has been his intention to revenge himself. But what matter his intentions so long as they do not come between you and me? I want you to know all the truth, but not to imagine more than the truth. Since the day on which I had told him that he and I must part, there has been no communication between us but what you know. He came to Durton and made his way into the house, and Miss Altifiorla was there and saw it all; and then you were told."

"He is a mean brute."

"But I am not a brute. Am I a brute? Say that I am nice once more. You know everything now,—everything, everything. I do own that I have been wrong to conceal it. My very soul should be laid bare to you."

"Cecilia, I will never be hard to you again."

"I do not say that you have been hard. I do not accuse you. I know that I have been wrong, and I am quite content that we should again be friends. Oh, George, just at this moment I think it is sweeter than if you had never sent me away."

And so the reconciliation was made, and Mr. Western and Cecilia were once more together. But no doubt to her mind, as she thought of it all, there was present the happy conviction that she had been more sinned against than sinning. She had forgiven, whereas she might have exacted forgiveness. She had been gracious, whereas she might have followed her mother's advice and have been repellent till she had brought him to her feet. As it was, her strong desire to have him once again had softened her, and now she had the double reward. She had what she wanted, and was able to congratulate herself at the same time on her virtue. But he, though he had too what he wanted, became gradually aware that he had been cruel, stiff-necked, and obdurate. She was everything that he desired, but he was hardly happy because he was conscious that he had been unjust. And he was a man that loved justice even against himself, and could not be quite happy till he had made restitution.

He stayed a week with her at Exeter, during which time he so far recovered himself as to be able to dine at the deanery, and return Dr. Pigrum's call. Then he was to start for his own house in Berkshire, having asked Mrs. Holt to come to them a fortnight before Christmas. He would have called on Miss Altifiorla had he not understood that Miss Altifiorla in her present state of mind received no visitors. She gave it out that since men had been men and women had been women, no woman had been so basely injured as herself. But she intended to redress the wrongs of her sex by a great movement, and was devoting herself at present to hard study with that object. She used to be seen daily walking two miles and back on the Crediton Road, it being necessary to preserve her health for the sake of the great work she had in hand. But it was understood that no one was to accost her, or speak to her on these occasions, and at other times it was well known that she was engaged upon the labours of her task.

"And to-morrow we will go back to Durton," said Mr. Western to his wife.

"Dear Durton, how happy I shall be to see it once again!"

"And how happy I shall be to take you again to see it! But before we go it is necessary that I should say one thing."

This he spoke in so stern a voice that he almost frightened her. Was it possible that after all he should find it necessary to refer again to the little fault which she had so cordially avowed?

"What is it, George?"

"I have made a mistake."

"No, George, no, don't say so. There has been no mistake. A man should own nothing. I have thought about it and am sure of it."

"Let a man commit no fault, and then what you say will be true. I made a mistake, and allowed myself to be so governed by it as to commit a great injustice. I am aware of it, and I trust I may never repeat it. Such a mistake as that I think that I shall never commit again. But I did it, and I ask you to forgive me." In answer to this she could only embrace him and hang upon him, and implore him in silence to spare her. "So it has been, and I ask your pardon."

"No, George, no; no."

"Will you not pardon me when I ask you?"

"I cannot bring myself to say such a word. You know that it is all right between us. I cannot speak the word which you shall never be made to hear. I am the happiest woman now in all England, and you must not force me to say that which shall in any way lessen my glory."

THE END

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