TALES AND NOVELS
IN TEN VOLUMES.
WITH ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL.
"There is Helen in the lime-walk," said Mrs. Collingwood to her husband, as she looked out of the window. The slight figure of a young person in deep mourning appeared between the trees,—"How slowly she walks! She looks very unhappy!"
"Yes," said Mr. Collingwood, with a sigh, "she is young to know sorrow, and to struggle with difficulties to which she is quite unsuited both by nature and by education, difficulties which no one could ever have foreseen. How changed are all her prospects!"
"Changed indeed!" said Mrs. Collingwood, "pretty young creature!—Do you recollect how gay she was when first we came to Cecilhurst? and even last year, when she had hopes of her uncle's recovery, and when he talked of taking her to London, how she enjoyed the thoughts of going there! The world was bright before her then. How cruel of that uncle, with all his fondness for her, never to think what was to become of her the moment he was dead: to breed her up as an heiress, and leave her a beggar!"
"But what is to be done, my dear?" said her husband.
"I am sure I do not know; I can only feel for her, you must think for her."
"Then I think I must tell her directly of the state in which her uncle's affairs are left, and that there is no provision for her."
"Not yet, my dear," said Mrs, Collingwood: "I don't mean about there being no provision for herself, that would not strike her, but her uncle's debts,—there is the point: she would feel dreadfully the disgrace to his memory—she loved him so tenderly!"
"Yet it must be told," said Mr. Collingwood, resolutely "and perhaps it will be better now; she will feel it less, while her mind is absorbed by grief for him."
Helen was the only daughter of colonel and Lady Anne Stanley; her parents had both died when she was too young to know her loss, nor had she ever felt till now that she was an orphan, for she had been adopted and brought up with the greatest tenderness by her uncle, Dean Stanley, a man of genius, learning, and sincere piety, with the most affectionate heart, and a highly cultivated understanding. But on one subject he really had not common sense; in money matters he was inconceivably imprudent and extravagant; extravagant from charity, from taste, from habit. He possessed rich benefices in the church, and an ample private fortune, and it was expected that his niece would be a great heiress—he had often said so himself, and his fondness for her confirmed every one in this belief. But the dean's taste warred against his affection: his too hospitable, magnificent establishment had exceeded his income; he had too much indulged his passion for all the fine arts, of which he was a liberal patron: he had collected a magnificent library, and had lavished immense sums of money on architectural embellishments. Cursed with too fine a taste, and with too soft a heart—a heart too well knowing how to yield, never could he deny himself, much less any other human being, any gratification which money could command; and soon the necessary consequence was, that he had no money to command, his affairs fell into embarrassment—his estate was sold; but, as he continued to live with his accustomed hospitality and splendour, the world believed him to be as rich as ever.
Some rise superior from the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, but that was not the case with Dean Stanley, not from want of elasticity of mind; but perhaps because his ingenuity continually suggested resources, and his sanguine character led him to plunge into speculations—they failed, and in the anxiety and agitation which his embarrassments occasioned him, he fell into bad health, his physicians ordered him to Italy. Helen, his devoted nurse, the object upon which all his affections centered, accompanied him to Florence. There his health and spirits seemed at first, by the change of climate, to be renovated; but in Italy he found fresh temptations to extravagance, his learning and his fancy combined to lead him on from day to day to new expense, and he satisfied his conscience by saying to himself that all the purchases which he now made were only so much capital, which would, when sold in England, bring more than their original price, and would, he flattered himself, increase the fortune he intended for his niece. But one day, while he was actually bargaining for an antique, he was seized with a fit of apoplexy. From this fit he recovered, and was able to return to England with his niece. Here he found his debts and difficulties had been increasing; he was harassed with doubts as to the monied value of his last-chosen chef-d'oeuvres; his mind preyed upon his weakened frame, he was seized with another fit, lost his speech, and, after struggles the most melancholy for Helen to see, conscious as she was that she could do nothing for him—he expired—his eyes fixed on her face, and his powerless hand held between both hers.
All was desolation and dismay at the deanery; Helen was removed to the vicarage by the kindness of the good vicar and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood.
It was found that the dean, instead of leaving a large fortune, had nothing to leave. All he had laid out at the deanery was sunk and gone; his real property all sold; his imaginary wealth, his pictures, statues—his whole collection, even his books, his immense library, shrunk so much in value when estimated after his death, that the demands of the creditors could not be nearly answered: as to any provision for Miss Stanley, that was out of the question.
These were the circumstances which Mrs. Collingwood feared to reveal, and which Mr. Collingwood thought should be told immediately to Helen; but hitherto she had been so much absorbed in sorrow for the uncle she had loved, that no one had ventured on the task.
Though Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood had not known her long (for they had but lately come to the neighbourhood), they had the greatest sympathy for her orphan state; and they had seen enough of her during her uncle's illness to make them warmly attached to her. Every body loved her that knew her, rich or poor, for in her young prosperity, from her earliest childhood, she had been always sweet-tempered and kind-hearted; for though she had been bred up in the greatest luxury, educated as heiress to a large fortune, taught every accomplishment, used to every fashionable refinement, she was not spoiled—she was not in the least selfish. Indeed, her uncle's indulgence, excessive though it was, had been always joined with so much affection, that it had early touched her heart, and filled her whole soul with ardent gratitude.
It is said, that the ill men do, lives after them—the good is oft interred with their bones. It was not so with Dean Stanley: the good he had intended for Helen, his large fortune, was lost and gone; but the real good he had done for his niece remained in full force, and to the honour of his memory: the excellent education he had given her—it was excellent not merely in the worldly meaning of the word, as regards accomplishments and elegance of manners, but excellent in having given her a firm sense of duty, as the great principle of action, and as the guide of her naturally warm generous affections.
And now, when Helen returned from her walk, Mr. Collingwood, in the gentlest and kindest manner he was able, informed her of the confusion in her uncle's affairs, the debts, the impossibility of paying the creditors, the total loss of all fortune for herself.
Mrs. Collingwood had well foreseen the effect this intelligence would have on Helen. At first, with fixed incredulous eyes, she could not believe that her uncle could have been in any way to blame. Twice she asked—"Are you sure—are you certain—is there no mistake?" And when the conviction was forced upon her, still her mind did not take in any part of the facts, as they regarded herself. Astonished and, shocked, she could feel nothing but the disgrace that would fall upon the memory of her beloved uncle.
Then she exclaimed—"One part of it is not true, I am certain:" and hastily leaving the room, she returned immediately with a letter in her hand, which, without speaking, she laid before Mr. Collingwood, who wiped his spectacles quickly, and read.
It was addressed to the poor dean, and was from an old friend of his, Colonel Munro, stating that he had been suddenly ordered to India, and was obliged to return a sum of money which the dean had many years before placed in his hands, to secure a provision for his niece, Miss Stanley.
This letter had arrived when the dean was extremely ill. Helen had been afraid to give it to him, and yet thought it right to do so. The moment her uncle had read the letter, which he was still able to do, and to comprehend, though he was unable to speak, he wrote on the back with difficulty, in a sadly trembling hand, yet quite distinctly, these words:—"That money is yours, Helen Stanley: no one has any claim upon it. When I am gone consult Mr. Collingwood; consider him as your guardian."
Mr. Collingwood perceived that this provision had been made by the dean for his niece before he had contracted his present debts—many years before, when he had sold his paternal estate, and that knowing his own disposition to extravagance, he had put this sum out of his own power.
"Right—all right, my dear Miss Stanley," said the vicar; "I am very glad—it is all justly yours."
"No," said Helen, "I shall never touch it: take it, my dear Mr. Collingwood, take it, and pay all the debts before any one can complain."
Mr. Collingwood pressed her to him without speaking; but after a moment's recollection he replied:—"No, no, my dear child, I cannot let you do this: as your guardian, I cannot allow such a young creature as you are, in a moment of feeling, thus to give away your whole earthly fortune—it must not be."
"It must, indeed it must, my dear sir. Oh, pay everybody at once—directly."
"No, not directly, at all events," said Mr. Collingwood—certainly not directly: the law allows a year."
"But if the money is ready," said Helen, "I cannot understand why the debt should not be paid at once. Is there any law against paying people immediately?"
Mr. Collingwood half smiled, and on the strength of that half smile Helen concluded that he wholly yielded. "Yes, do," cried she, "send this money this instant to Mr. James, the solicitor: he knows all about it, you say, and he will see everybody paid."
"Stay, my dear Miss Stanley," said the vicar, "I cannot consent to this, and you should be thankful that I am steady. If I were at this minute to consent, and to do what you desire—pay away your whole fortune, you would repent, and reproach me with my folly before the end of the year—before six months were over."
"Never, never," said Helen.
Mrs. Collingwood strongly took her husband's side of the question. Helen could have no idea, she said, how necessary money would be to her. It was quite absurd to think of living upon air; could Miss Stanley think she was to go on in this world without money?
Helen said she was not so absurd; she reminded Mrs. Collingwood that she should still have what had been her mother's fortune. Before Helen had well got out the words, Mrs. Collingwood replied,
"That will never do, you will never be able to live upon that; the interest of Lady Anne Stanley's fortune, I know what it was, would just do for pocket-money for you in the style of life for which you have been educated. Some of your uncle's great friends will of course invite you presently, and then you will find what is requisite with that set of people."
"Some of my uncle's friends perhaps will," said Helen; "but I am not obliged to go to great or fine people, and if I cannot afford it I will not, for I can live independently on what I have, be it ever so little."
Mrs. Collingwood allowed that if Helen were to live always in the country in retirement, she might do upon her mother's fortune.
"Wherever I live—whatever becomes of me, the debts must be paid—I will do it myself;" and she took up a pen as she spoke—"I will write to Mr. James by this day's post."
Surprised at her decision of manner and the firmness of one in general so gentle, yielding, and retired, and feeling that he had no legal power to resist, Mr. Collingwood at last gave way, so far as to agree that he would in due time use this money in satisfying her uncle's creditors; provided she lived for the next six months within her income.
Helen smiled, as if that were a needless proviso.
"I warn you," continued Mr. Collingwood, "that you will most probably find before six months are over, that you will want some of this money to pay debts of your own."
"No, no, no," cried she; "of that there is not the slightest chance."
"And now, my dear child," said Mrs. Collingwood, "now that Mr. Collingwood has promised to do what you wish, will you do what we wish? Will you promise to remain with us? to live here with us, for the present at least; we will resign you whenever better friends may claim you, but for the present will you try us?"
"Try!" in a transport of gratitude and affection she could only repeat the words "Try! oh, my dear friends, how happy I am, an orphan, without a relation, to have such a home."
But though Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood, childless as they were, felt real happiness in having such a companion—such an adopted daughter, yet they were sure that some of Dean Stanley's great friends and acquaintance in high life would ask his niece to spend the spring in town, or the summer in the country with them; and post after post came letters of condolence to Miss Stanley from all these personages of high degree, professing the greatest regard for their dear amiable friend's memory, and for Miss Stanley, his and their dear Helen; and these polite and kind expressions were probably sincere at the moment, but none of these dear friends seemed to think of taking any trouble on her account, or to be in the least disturbed by the idea of never seeing their dear Helen again in the course of their lives.
Helen, quite touched by what was said of her uncle, thought only of him; but when she showed the letters to Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood, they marked the oversight, and looked significantly as they read, folded the letters up and returned them to Helen in silence. Afterwards between themselves, they indulged in certain comments.
"Lady C—— does not invite her, for she has too many daughters, and they are too ugly, and Helen is too beautiful," said Mrs. Collingwood.
"Lady L—— has too many sons," said Mr. Collingwood, "and they are too poor, and Helen is not an heiress now."
"But old Lady Margaret Dawe, who has neither sons nor daughters, what stands in the way there? Oh! her delicate health—delicate health is a blessing to some people—excuses them always from doing anything for anybody."
Then came many, who hoped, in general, to see Miss Stanley as soon as possible; and some who were "very anxious indeed" to have their dear Helen with them; but when or where never specified—and a general invitation, as every body knows, means nothing but "Good morning to you."
Mrs. Coldstream ends with, "I forbear to say more at present," without giving any reason.
"And here is the dean's dear duchess, always in the greatest haste, with 'You know my heart,' in a parenthesis, 'ever and ever most sincerely and affec'—yours.'"
"And the Davenants," continued Mrs. Collingwood, "who were such near neighbours, and who were so kind to the dean at Florence; they have not even written!"
"But they are at Florence still," said Mr. Collingwood, "they can hardly have heard of the poor dean's death."
The Davenants were the great people of this part of the country; their place, Cecilhurst, was close to the deanery and to the vicarage, but they were not known to the Collingwoods, who had come to Cecilhurst during the dean's absence abroad.
"And here is Mrs. Wilmot too," continued Mrs. Collingwood, "wondering as usual, at everybody else, wondering that Lady Barker has not invited Miss Stanley to Castleport; and it never enters into Mrs. Wilmot's head that she might invite her to Wilmot's fort. And this is friendship, as the world goes!"
"And as it has been ever since the beginning of the world and will be to the end," replied Mr. Collingwood. "Only I thought in Dean Stanley's case—however, I am glad his niece does not see it as we do."
No—with all Helen's natural quickness of sensibility, she suspected nothing, saw nothing in each excuse but what was perfectly reasonable and kind; she was sure that her uncle's friends could not mean to neglect her. In short, she had an undoubting belief in those she loved, and she loved all those who she thought had loved her uncle, or who had ever shown her kindness. Helen had never yet experienced neglect or detected insincerity, and nothing in her own true and warm heart could suggest the possibility of double-dealing, or even of coldness in friendship. She had yet to learn that—
"No after-friendship e'er can raze Th' endearments of our early days, And ne'er the heart such fondness prove, As when it first began to love; Ere lovely nature is expelled, And friendship is romantic held. But prudence comes with hundred eyes, The veil is rent, the vision flies, The dear illusions will not last, The era of enchantment's past: The wild romance of life is done, The real history begun!"
Some time after this, Mr. Collingwood, rising from the breakfast-table, threw down the day's paper, saying there was nothing in it; Mrs. Collingwood glancing her eye over it exclaimed—
"Do you call this nothing? Helen, hear this!
"Marriage in high life—At the ambassador's chapel, Paris, on the 16th instant, General Clarendon to Lady Cecilia Davenant, only daughter of Earl and Countess Davenant."
"Married! absolutely married!" exclaimed Helen: "I knew it was to be, but so soon I did not expect. Ambassador's chapel—where did you say?—Paris? No, that must be a mistake, they are all at Florence—settled there, I thought their letters said."
Mrs. Collingwood pointed to the paragraph, and Helen saw it was certainly Paris—there could be no mistake. Here was a full account of the marriage, and a list of all "the fashionables who attended the fair bride to the hymeneal altar. Her father gave her away."
"Then certainly it is so," said Helen; and she came to the joyful conclusion that they must all be on their way home:—"Dear Lady Davenant coming to Cecilhurst again!"
Lady Cecilia, "the fair bride," had been Helen's most intimate friend; they had been when children much together, for the deanery was so close to Cecilhurst, that the shrubbery opened into the park. "But is it not rather extraordinary, my dear. Helen," said Mrs. Collingwood, "that you should see this account of your dear Lady Cecilia's marriage in the public papers only, without having heard of it from any of your friends themselves—not one letter, not one line from any of them?"
A cloud came over Helen's face, but it passed quickly, and she was sure they had written—something had delayed their letters. She was certain Lady Davenant or Lady Cecilia had written; or, if they had not, it was because they could not possibly, in such a hurry, such agitation as they must have been in. At all events, whether they had written or not, she was certain they could not mean anything unkind; she could not change her opinion of her friend for a letter more or less. "Indeed!" said Mrs. Collingwood, "how long is it since you have seen them?"
"About two years; just two years it is since I parted from them at Florence."
"And you have corresponded with Lady Cecilia constantly ever since?" asked Mrs. Collingwood.
"Not constantly—oh!" said Mrs. Collingwood, in a prolonged and somewhat sarcastic tone.
"Not constantly—so much the better," said her husband: "a constant correspondence is always a great burthen, and moreover, sometimes a great evil, between young ladies especially—I hate the sight of ladies' long cross-barred letters."
Helen said that Lady Cecilia's letters were never cross-barred, always short and far between.
"You seem wonderfully fond of Lady Cecilia," said Mrs. Collingwood.
"Not wonderfully," replied Helen, "but very fond, and no wonder, we were bred up together. And"—continued she, after a little pause, "and if Lady Cecilia had not been so generous as she is, she might have been—she must have been, jealous of the partiality, the fondness, which her mother always showed me."
"But was not Lady Davenant's heart large enough to hold two?" asked Mrs. Collingwood. "Was not she fond of her daughter?"
"Yes, as far as she knew her, but she did not know Lady Cecilia." "Not know her own daughter!" Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood both at once exclaimed, "How could that possibly be?"
"Very easily," Helen said, "because she saw so little of her."
"Was not Lady Cecilia educated at home?"
"Yes, but still Lady Cecilia, when a child, was all day long with her governess, and at Cecilhurst the governess's apartments were quite out of the way, in one of the wings at the end of a long corridor, with a separate staircase; she might as well have been in another house."
"Bad arrangement," said Mr. Collingwood, speaking to himself as he stood on the hearth. "Bad arrangement which separates mother and daughter."
"At that time," continued Helen, "there was always a great deal of company at Cecilhurst. Lord Davenant was one of the ministers then. I believe—I know he saw a great many political people, and Lady Davenant was forced to be always with them talking."
"Talking! yes, yes!" said Mr. Collingwood, "I understand it all—Lady Davenant is a great politician, and female politicians, with their heads full of the affairs of Europe, cannot have time to think of the affairs of their families."
"What is the matter, my dear Helen?" said Mrs. Collingwood, taking her hand. Helen had tears in her eyes and looked unhappy.
"I have done very wrong," said she; "I have said something that has given you a bad, a false opinion of one for whom I have the greatest admiration and love—of Lady Davenant. I am excessively sorry; I have done very wrong."
"Not the least, my dear child; you told us nothing but what everybody knows—that she is a great politician; you told us no more."
"But I should have told you more, and what nobody knows better than I do," cried Helen, "that Lady Davenant is a great deal more, and a great deal better than a politician. I was too young to judge, you may think, hut young as I was, I could see and feel, and children can and do often see a great deal into character, and I assure you Lady Davenant's is a sort of deep, high character, that you would admire."
Mrs. Collingwood observed with surprise, that Helen spoke of her with even more enthusiasm than of her dear Lady Cecilia. "Yes, because she is a person more likely to excite enthusiasm."
"You did not feel afraid of her, then?"
"I do not say that," replied Helen; "yet it was not fear exactly, it was more a sort of awe, but still I liked it. It is so delightful to have something to look up to. I love Lady Davenant all the better, even for that awe I felt of her."
"And I like you all the better for everything you feel, think, and say about your friends," cried Mrs. Collingwood; "but let us see what they will do; when I see whether they can write, and what they write to you, I will tell you more of my mind—if any letters come."
"If!—" Helen repeated, but would say no more—and there it rested, or at least stopped. By common consent the subject was not recurred to for several days. Every morning at post-time Helen's colour rose with expectation, and then faded with disappointment; still, with the same confiding look, she said, "I am sure it is not their fault."
"Time will show," said Mrs. Collingwood.
At length, one morning when she came down to breakfast, "Triumph, my dear Helen!" cried Mrs. Collingwood, holding up two large letters, all scribbled over with "Try this place and try that, mis-sent to Cross-keys—Over moor, and heaven knows where—and—no matter."
Helen seized the packets and tore them open; one was from Paris, written immediately after the news of Dean Stanley's death; it contained two letters, one from Lady Davenant, the other from Lady Cecilia—"written, only think!" cried she, "how kind!—the very day before her marriage; signed 'Cecilia Davenant, for the last time,'—and Lady Davenant, too—to think of me in all their happiness."
She opened the other letters, written since their arrival in England, she read eagerly on,—then stopped, and her looks changed.
"Lady Davenant is not coming to Cecilhurst. Lord Davenant is to be sent ambassador to Petersburgh, and Lady Davenant will go along with him!—Oh! there is an end of everything, I shall never see her again!—Stay—she is to be first with Lady Cecilia at Clarendon Park, wherever that is, for some time—she does not know how long—she hopes to see me there—oh! how kind, how delightful!" Helen put Lady Davenant's letter proudly into Mrs. Collingwood's hand, and eagerly opened Lady Cecilia's.
"So like herself! so like Cecilia," cried she. Mrs. Collingwood read and acknowledged that nothing could be kinder, for here was an invitation, not vague or general, but particular, and pressing as heart could wish or heart could make it. "We shall be at Clarendon Park on Thursday, and shall expect you, dearest Helen, on Monday, just time, the general says, for an answer; so write and say where horses shall meet you," &c. &c.
"Upon my word, this is being in earnest, when it comes to horses meeting," cried Mr. Collingwood. "Of course you will go directly?"
Helen was in great agitation.
"Write—write—my dear, directly," said Mrs. Collingwood, "for the post-boy waits."
And before she had written many lines the Cross-post boy sent up word that he could wait no longer.
Helen wrote she scarcely knew what, but in short an acceptance, signed, sealed, delivered, and then she took breath. Off cantered the boy with the letters bagged, and scarcely was he out of sight, when Helen saw under the table the cover of the packet, in which were some lines that had not yet been read. They were in Lady Cecilia's handwriting—a postscript.
"I forgot, dear Helen, the thing that is most essential, (you remember our friend Dumont's definition of une betise: c'est d'oublier la chose essentielle;) I forgot to tell you that the general declares he will not hear of a mere visit from you. He bids me tell you that it must be 'till death or marriage.' So, my dear friend, you must make up your mind in short to live with us till you find a General Clarendon of your own. To this postscript no reply—silence gives consent."
"If I had seen this!" said Helen, as she laid it before Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood, "I ought to have answered, but, indeed, I never saw it;" she sprang forward instantly to ring the bell, exclaiming, "It is time yet—stop the boy—'silence gives consent.' I must write. I cannot leave you, my dear friends, in this way. I did not see that postscript, believe me I did not."
They believed her, they thanked her, but they would not let her ring the bell; they said she had better not bind herself in any way either to themselves or to Lady Cecilia. Accept of the present invitation she must—she must go to see her friend on her marriage; she must take leave of her dear Lady Davenant before her departure.
"They are older friends than we are," said Mr. Collingwood, "they have the first claim upon you; but let us think of it as only a visit now. As to a residence for life, that you can best judge of for yourself after you have been some time at Clarendon Park; if you do not like to remain there, you know how gladly we shall welcome you here again, my child; or, if you decide to live with those you have known so long and loved so much, we cannot be offended at your choice,"
This generous kindness, this freedom from jealous susceptibility, touched Helen's heart, and increased her agitation. She could not bear the thoughts of either the reality or appearance of neglecting these kind good people, the moment she had other prospects, and frequently in all the hurry of her preparations, she repeated, "It will only be a visit at Clarendon Park. I will return to you, I shall write to you, my dear Mrs. Collingwood, at all events, constantly."
When Mr. Collingwood gave her his parting blessing he reminded her of his warning about her fortune. Mrs. Collingwood reminded her of her promise to write. The carriage drove from the door. Helen's heart was full of the friends she was leaving, but by degrees the agitation of the parting subsided, her tears ceased, her heart grew lighter, and the hopes of seeing her friends at Clarendon Park arose bright in her mind, and her thoughts all turned upon Cecilia, and Lady Davenant.
Helen looked eagerly out of the carriage-window for the first view of Clarendon Park. It satisfied—it surpassed her expectations. It was a fine, aristocratic place:—ancestral trees, and a vast expanse of park; herds of deer, yellow and dark, or spotted, their heads appearing in the distance just above the fern, or grazing near, startled as the carriage passed. Through the long approach, she caught various views of the house, partly gothic, partly of modern architecture; it seemed of great extent and magnificence.
All delightful so far; but now for her own reception. Her breath grew quick and quicker as she came near and nearer to the house. Some one was standing on the steps. Was it General Clarendon? No; only a servant. The carriage stopped, more servants appeared, and as Helen got out, a very sublime-looking personage informed her, that "Lady Cecilia and the General were out riding—only in the park—would be in immediately."
And as she crossed the great hall, the same sublime person informed her that there would be still an hour before dinner-time, and inquired whether she would be pleased to be shown to her own apartment, or to the library? Helen felt chilled and disappointed, because this was not exactly the way she had expected things would be upon her arrival. She had pictured to herself Cecilia running to meet her in the hall.
Without answering the groom of the chambers, she asked, "Is Lady Davenant out too?"
"No; her ladyship is in the library."
"To the library then."
And through the antechamber she passed rapidly, impatient of a momentary stop of her conductor to open the folding-doors, while a man, with a letter-box in hand, equally impatient, begged that Lady Davenant might be told, "The General's express was waiting."
Lady Davenant was sealing letters in great haste for this express, but when the door opened, and she saw Helen, she threw wax and letter from her, and pushing aside the sofa-table, came forward to receive her with open arms.
All was in an instant happy in Helen's heart; but there was the man of the letter-box; he must be attended to. "Beg your pardon, Helen, my dear—one moment. Letters of consequence—must not be delayed."
By the time the letters were finished, before they were gone, Lady Cecilia came in. The same as ever, with affectionate delight in her eyes—her beautiful eyes. The same, yes, the same Cecilia as ever; yet different: less of a girl, less lively, but more happy. The moment she had embraced her, Lady Cecilia turned quick to present General Clarendon, thinking he had followed, but he had stopped in the hall.
"Send off the letters," were the first words of his which Helen heard. The tone commanding, the voice remarkably gentlemanlike. An instant afterwards he came in. A fine figure, a handsome man; in the prime of life; with a high-born, high-bred military air. English decidedly—proudly English. Something of the old school—composed self-possession, with voluntary deference to others—rather distant. Helen felt that his manner of welcoming her to Clarendon Park was perfectly polite, yet she would have liked it better had it been less polite—more cordial. Lady Cecilia, whose eyes were anxiously upon her, drew her arm within hers, and hurried her out of the room. She stopped at the foot of the stairs, gathered up the folds of her riding-dress, and turning suddenly to Helen, said,—
"Helen, my dear, you must not think that"——
"Think what?" said Helen.
"Think that—for which you are now blushing. Oh, you know what I mean! Helen, your thoughts are just as legible in your face, as they always were to me. His manner is reserved—cold, may be—but not his heart. Understand this, pray—once for all. Do you? will you, dearest Helen?"
"I do, I will," cried Helen; and every minute she felt that she better understood and was more perfectly pleased with her friend. Lady Cecilia showed her through the apartment destined for her, which she had taken the greatest pleasure in arranging; everything there was not only most comfortable, but particularly to her taste; and some little delicate proofs of affection, recollections of childhood, were there;—keepsakes, early drawings, nonsensical things, not worth preserving, but still preserved.
"Look how near we are together," said Cecilia, opening a door into her own dressing-room. "You may shut this up whenever you please, but I hope you will never please to do so. You see how I leave you your own free will, as friends usually do, with a proviso, a hope at least, that you are never to use it on any account—like the child's half guinea pocket-money, never to be changed." Her playful tone relieved, as she intended it should, Helen's too keen emotion; and this too was felt with the quickness with which every touch of kindness ever was felt by her. Helen pressed her friend's hand, and smiled without speaking.
They were to be some time alone before the commencement of bridal visits, and an expected succession of troops of friends. This was a time of peculiar enjoyment to Helen: she had leisure to grow happy in the feeling of reviving hopes from old associations.
She did not forget her promise to write to Mrs. Collingwood; nor afterwards (to her credit be it here marked)—even when the house was full of company, and when, by amusement or by feeling, she was most pressed for time—did she ever omit to write to those excellent friends. Those who best know the difficulty will best appreciate this proof of the reality of her gratitude.
As Lady Cecilia was a great deal with her husband riding or walking, Helen had opportunities of being much alone with Lady Davenant, who now gave her a privilege that she had enjoyed in former times at Cecilhurst, that of entering her apartment in the morning at all hours without fear of being considered an intruder.
The first morning, however, on seeing her ladyship immersed in papers with a brow of care, deeply intent, Helen paused on the threshold, "I am afraid I interrupt—I am afraid I disturb you."
"Come in, Helen, come in," cried Lady Davenant, looking up, and the face of care was cleared, and there was a radiance of pleasure—"Interrupt—yes: disturb—no. Often in your little life, Helen, you have interrupted—never disturbed me. From the time you were a child till this moment, never did I see you come into my room without pleasure."
Then sweeping away heaps of papers, she made room for Helen on the sofa beside her.
"Now tell me how things are with you—somewhat I have heard reported of my friend the dean's affairs—tell me all."
Helen told all as briefly as possible; she hurried on through her uncle's affairs with a tremulous voice, and before she could come to a conclusion Lady Davenant exclaimed,
"I foresaw it long since: with all my friend's virtues, all his talents—but we will not go back upon the painful past. You, my dear Helen, have done just what I should have expected from you,—right;—right, too, the condition Mr. Collingwood has made—very right. And now to the next point:—where are you to live, Helen? or rather with whom?"
Helen was not quite sure yet, she said she had not quite determined.
"Am I to understand that your doubt lies between the Collingwoods and my daughter?"
"Yes; Cecilia most kindly invited me, but I do not know General Clarendon yet, and he does not know me yet. Cecilia might wish most sincerely that I should live with her, and I am convinced she does; but her husband must be considered."
"True," said Lady Davenant—"true; a husband is certainly a thing to be cared for—in Scottish phrase, and General Clarendon is no doubt a person to be considered,—but it seems that I am not a person to be considered in your arrangements."
Even the altered, dry, and almost acrid tone in which Lady Davenant spoke, and the expression of disappointment in her countenance—were, as marks of strong affection, deeply gratifying to Helen. Lady Davenant went on.
"Was not Cecilhurst always a home to you, Helen Stanley?"
"Yes, yes,—always a most happy home!"
"Then why is not Cecilhurst to be your home?"
"My dear Lady Davenant! how kind!—how very, very kind of you to wish it—but I never thought of——"
"And why did you not think of it, Helen?'"
"I mean—I thought you were going to Russia."
"And have you settled, my dear Helen," said Lady Davenant, smiling, "have you settled that I am never to come back from Russia? Do not you know that you are—that you ever were—you ever will be to me a daughter?" and drawing Helen fondly towards her, she added, "as my own very dear—I must not say dearest child,—must not, because as I well remember once—little creature as you were then—-you whispered to me, 'Never call me dearest,'—generous-hearted child!" And tears started into her eyes as she spoke; but at that moment came a knock at the door. "A packet from Lord Davenant, by Mr. Mapletofft, my lady." Helen rose to leave the room, but Lady Davenant laid a detaining hand upon her, saying, "You will not be in my way in the least;" and she opened her packet, adding, that while she read, Helen might amuse herself "with arranging the books on that table, or in looking over the letters in that portfolio."
Helen had hitherto seen Lady Davenant only with the eyes of very early youth; but now, after an absence of two years—a great space in her existence, it seemed as if she looked upon her with new eyes, and every hour made fresh discoveries in her character. Contrary to what too often happens when we again see and judge of those whom we have early known, Lady Davenant's character and abilities, instead of sinking and diminishing, appeared to rise and enlarge, to expand and be ennobled to Helen's view. Strong lights and shades there were, but these only excited and fixed her attention. Even her defects—those inequalities of temper of which she had already had some example, were interesting as evidences of the power and warmth of her affections.
The books on the table were those which Lady Davenant had had in her travelling carriage. They gave Helen an idea of the range and variety of the reader's mind. Some of them were presentation copies, as they are called, from several of the first authors of our own, and foreign countries; some with dedications to Lady Davenant; others with inscriptions expressing respect or propitiating favour, or anxious for judgment.
The portfolio contained letters whose very signatures would have driven the first of modern autograph collectors distracted with joy—whose meanest scrap would make a scrap-book the envy of the world.
But among the letters in this portfolio, there were none of those nauseous notes of compliment, none of those epistles adulatory, degrading to those who write, and equally degrading to those to whom they are written: letters which are, however cleverly turned, inexpressibly wearisome to all but the parties concerned.
After opening and looking at the signature of several of these letters, Helen sat in a delightful embarras de richesse. To read them all—all at once, was impossible; with which to begin, she could not determine. One after another was laid aside as too good to be read first, and after glancing at the contents of each, she began to deal them round alphabetically till she was struck by a passage in one of them—she looked to the signature, it was unknown to fame—she read the whole, it was striking and interesting. There were several letters in the same hand, and Helen was surprised to find them arranged according to their dates, in Lady Davenant's own writing—preserved with those of persons of illustrious reputation! These she read on without further hesitation. There was no sort of affectation in them—quite easy and natural, "real feeling, and genius," certainly genius, she thought!—and there seemed something romantic and uncommon in the character of the writer. They were signed Granville Beauclerc!
Who could he be, this Granville Beauclerc? She read on till Lady Davenant, having finished her packet, rang a silver handbell, as was her custom, to summon her page. At the first tingle of the bell Helen started, and Lady Davenant asked, "Whose letter, my dear, has so completely abstracted you?"
Carlos, the page, came in at this instant, and after a quick glance at the handwriting of the letters, Lady Davenant gave her orders in Portuguese to Carlos, and then returning to Helen, took no further notice of the letters, but went on just where she had left off. "Helen, I remember when you were about nine years old, timid as you usually were, your coming forward, bold as a little lion, to attack me in Cecilia's defence; I forget the particulars, but I recollect that you said I was unjust, and that I did not know Cecilia, and there you were right; so, to reward you, you shall see that now I do her perfect justice, and that I am as fond of her as your heart can wish. I really never did know Cecilia till I saw her heartily in love; I had imagined her incapable of real love; I thought the desire of pleasing universally had been her ruling passion—the ruling passion that, of a little mind and a cold heart; but I did her wrong. In another more material point, too, I was mistaken."
Lady Davenant paused and looked earnestly at Helen, whose eyes said, "I am glad," and yet she was not quite certain she knew to what she alluded.
"Cecilia righted herself, and won my good opinion, by the openness with which she treated me from the very commencement of her attachment to General Clarendon." Lady Davenant again paused to reflect, and played for some moments with the tablets in her hand.
"Some one says that we are apt to flatter ourselves that we leave our faults when our faults leave us, from change of situation, age, and so forth; and perhaps it does not signify much which it is, if the faults are fairly gone, and if there be no danger of their returning: all our former misunderstandings arose on Cecilia's part from cowardice of character; on mine from—no matter what—no matter which of us was most wrong."
"True, true," cried Helen eagerly; and anxious to prevent recurrence to painful recollections, she went on to ask rapidly several questions about Cecilia's marriage.
Lady Davenant smiled, and promised that she should have the whole history of the marriage in true gossip detail.
"When I wrote to you, I gave you some general ideas on the subject, but there are little things which could not well be written, even to so safe a young friend as you are, for what is written remains, and often for those by whom it was never intended to be seen; the dessouxdescartes can seldom be either safely or satisfactorily shown on paper, so give me my embroidery-frame, I never can tell well without having something to do with my hands."
And as Helen set the embroidery-frame, Lady Davenant searched for some skeins of silk and silk winders.
"Take these, my dear, and wind this silk for me, for I must have my hearer comfortably established, not like the agonised listener in the 'World' leaning against a table, with the corner running into him all the time."
"I must go back," continued Lady Davenant, "quite to the dark ages, the time when I knew nothing of my daughter's character but by the accidental lights which you afforded me. I will take up my story before the reformation, in the middle ages, when you and your dear uncle left us at Florence; about two years ago, when Cecilia was in the height of her conquests, about the time when a certain Colonel D'Aubiguy flourished, you remember him?"
Helen answered "Yes," in rather a constrained voice, which caused Lady Davenant to look up, and on seeing that look of inquiry, Helen coloured, though she would have given the world not to be so foolish. The affair was Cecilia's, and Helen only wished not to have it recurred to, and yet she had now, by colouring, done the very thing to fix Lady Davenant's attention, and as the look was prolonged, she coloured more and more.
"I see I was wrong," said Lady Davenant; "I had thought Colonel D'Aubigny's ecstasy about that miniature of you was only a feint; but I see he really was an admirer of yours, Helen?"
"Of mine! oh no, never!" Still from her fear of saying something that should implicate Cecilia, her tone, though she spoke exactly the truth, was not to Lady Davenant's discriminative ear quite natural—Helen seeing doubt, added,
"Impossible, my dear Lady Davenant! you know I was then so young, quite a child!"
"No, no, not quite; two from eighteen and sixteen remain, I think, and in our days sixteen is not absolutely a child."
Helen made no answer; her thoughts had gone back to the time when Colonel D'Aubigny was first introduced to her, which was just before her uncle's illness, and when her mind had been so engrossed by him, that she had but a confused recollection of all the rest.
"Now you are right, my dear," said Lady Davenant; "right to be absolutely silent. In difficult cases say nothing; but still you are wrong in sitting so uneasily under it, for that seems as if there was something."
"Nothing upon earth!" cried Helen, "if you would not look at me so, my clear Lady Davenant."
"Then, my dear Helen, do not break my embroidery silk; that jerk was imprudent, and trust me, my dear, the screw of that silk winder is not so much to blame as you would have me think; take patience with yourself and with me. There is no great harm done, no unbearable imputation, you are not accused of loving or liking, only of having been admired." "Never!" cried Helen.
"Well, well! it does not signify in the least now; the man is either dying or dead."
"I am glad of it," cried Helen.
"How barbarous!" said Lady Davenant, "but let it pass, I am neither glad nor sorry; contempt is more dignified and safer than hatred, my dear.
"Now to return to Cecilia; soon after, I will not say the D'Aubigny era, but soon after you left us, I fell sick, Cecilia was excessively kind to me. In kindness her affectionate heart never failed, and I felt this the more, from a consciousness that I had been a little harsh to her. I recovered but slowly; I could not bear to have her confined so long in a sick room, and yet I did not much like either of the chaperons with whom she went out, though they were both of rank, and of unimpeachable character—the one English, one of the best women in the world, but the most stupid; the other a foreigner, one of the most agreeable women in the world, but the most false. I prevailed on Cecilia to break off that—I do not know what to call it, friendship it was not, and my daughter and I drew nearer together. Better times began to dawn, but still there was little sympathy between us; my mind was intent on Lord Davenant's interests, hers on amusement and admiration. Her conquests were numerous, and she gloried in their number, for, between you and me, Cecilia was, before the reformation, not a little of a coquette. You will not allow it, you did not see it, you did not go out with her, and being three or four years younger, you could not be a very good critic of Cecilia's conduct; and depend upon it I am right, she was not a little of a coquette. She did not know, and I am sure I did not know, that she had a heart, till she became acquainted with General Clarendon.
"The first time we met him,"—observing a quickening of attention in Helen's eyes, Lady Davenant smiled, and said, "Young ladies always like to hear of 'the first time we saw him.'—The first time we saw General Clarendon was—forgive me the day of the month—in the gallery at Florence. I forget how it happened that he had not been presented to me—to Lord Davenant he must have been. But so it was and it was new to Cecilia to see a man of his appearance who had not on his first arrival shown himself ambitious to be made known to her. He was admiring a beautiful Magdalene, and he was standing with his back towards us. I recollect that his appearance when I saw him as a stranger—the time when one can best judge of appearance—struck me as that of a distinguished person; but little did I think that there stood Cecilia's husband! so little did my maternal instinct guide me.
"As we approached, he turned and gave one look at Cecilia; she gave one look at him. He passed on, she stopped me to examine the picture which he had been admiring.
"Every English mother at Florence, except myself, had their eyes fixed upon General Clarendon from the moment of his arrival. But whatever I may have been, or may have been supposed to be, on the great squares of politics, I believe I never have been accused or even suspected of being a manoeuvrer on the small domestic scale.
"My reputation for imbecility in these matters was perhaps advantageous. He did not shun me as he did the tribe of knowing ones; a hundred reports flew about concerning him, settling in one, that he was resolved never to marry. Yet he was a passionate admirer of beauty and grace, and it was said that he had never been unsuccessful where he had wished to please. The secret of his resolution against marriage was accounted for by the gossiping public in many ways variously absurd. The fact was, that in his own family, and in that of a particular friend, there had been about this time two or three scandalous intrigues, followed by 'the public brand of shameful life.' One of these 'sad affairs,' as they are styled, was marked with premeditated treachery and turpitude. The lady had been, or had seemed to be, for years a pattern wife, the mother of several children; yet she had long betrayed, and at last abandoned, a most amiable and confiding husband, and went off with a man who did not love her, who cared for nought but himself, a disgusting monster of selfishness, vanity, and vice! This woman was said to have been once good, but to have been corrupted and depraved by residence abroad—by the contagion of foreign profligacy. In the other instance, the seduced wife had been originally most amiable, pure-minded, uncommonly beautiful, loved to idolatry by her husband, Clarendon's particular friend, a man high in public estimation. The husband shot himself. The seducer was, it's said, the lady's first love. That these circumstances should have made a deep impression on Clarendon, is natural; the more feeling—the stronger the mind, the more deep and lasting it was likely to be. Besides his resolution against marriage in general, we heard that he had specially resolved against marrying any travelled lady, and most especially against any woman with whom there was danger of a first love. How this danger was to be avoided or ascertained, mothers and daughters looked at one another, and did not ask, or at least did not answer.
"Cecilia, apparently unconcerned, heard and laughed at these high resolves, after her gay fashion with her young companions, and marvelled how long the resolution would be kept. General Clarendon of course could not but be introduced to us, could not but attend our assemblies, nor could he avoid meeting us in all the good English and foreign society at Florence; but whenever he met us, he always kept at a safe distance: this caution marked his sense of danger. To avoid its being so construed, perhaps, he made approaches to me, politely cold; we talked very wisely on the state of the Continent and the affairs of Europe; I did not, however, confine myself or him to politics, I gave him many unconscious opportunities of showing in conversation, not his abilities, for they are nothing extraordinary; but his character, which is first-rate. Gleams came out, of a character born to subjugate, to captivate, to attach for life. It worked first on Cecilia's curiosity; she thought she was only curious, and she listened at first, humming an opera air between times, with the least concerned look conceivable. But, her imagination was caught, and it thenceforward through every thing that every body else might be saying, and through all she said herself, she heard every word that fell from our general, and even all that was repeated of his saying at second or third hand. So she learned in due season that he had seen women as handsome, handsomer than Lady Cecilia Davenant; but that there was something in her manner peculiarly suited to his taste—his fastidious taste! so free from coquetry, he said she was. And true, perfectly true, from the time he became acquainted with her; no hypocrisy on her part, no mistake on his; at the first touch of a real love, there was an end of vanity and coquetry. Then her deference—her affection for her mother, was so charming, he thought; such perfect confidence—such quick intelligence between us. No deceit here either, only a little self-deception on Cecilia's part. She had really grown suddenly fonder of me; what had become of her fear, she did not know. But I knew full well my new charm and my real merit; I was a good and safe conductor of the electric shock.
"It chanced one day, when I was listening only as one listens to a man who is talking at another through oneself, I did not immediately catch the meaning, or I believe hear what the general said. Cecilia, unawares, answered for me, and showed that she perfectly understood:—he bowed—she blushed.
"Man is usually quicksighted to woman's blushes. But our general was not vain, only proud; the blush he did not set down to his own account, but very much to hers. It was a proof, he thought, of so much simplicity of heart, so unspoiled by the world, so unlike—in short, so like the very woman he had painted in his fancy, before he knew too much——. Lady Cecilia was now a perfect angel. Not one word of all this did he say, but it was understood quite as well as if it had been spoken: his lips were firm compressed, and the whole outer man composed—frigidly cold;—yet through all this Cecilia saw—such is woman's penetration in certain cases—Cecilia saw what must sooner or later happen. He, still proud of his prudence, refrained from word, look, or sigh, resolved to be impassive till his judgment should be perfectly satisfied. At last this judgment was perfectly satisfied; that is, he was passionately in love—fairly 'caught,' my dear, 'in the strong toils of grace,' and he threw himself at Cecilia's feet. She was not quite so much surprised as he expected, but more pleased than he had ventured to hope. There was that, however, in his proud humility, which told Cecilia there must be no trifling.
'He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, Who fears to put it to the touch, To win or lose it all.'
"He put it to the test, and won it all. General Clarendon, indeed, is a man likely to win and keep the love of woman, for this, among other good reasons, that love and honour being with him inseparable, the idol he adores must keep herself at the height to which he has raised her, or cease to receive his adoration. She must be no common vulgar idol for every passing worshipper." As Lady Davenant paused, Helen looked up, hesitated, and said: "I hope that General Clarendon is not disposed to jealousy."
"No: he's too proud to be jealous," replied Lady Davenant.
Are proud men never jealous? thought Helen.
"I mean," continued Lady Davenant, "that General Clarendon is too proud to be jealous of his wife. For aught I know, he might have felt jealousy of Cecilia before she was his, for then she was but a woman, like another; but once HIS—once having set his judgment on the cast, both the virtues and the defects of his character join in security for his perfect confidence in the wife 'his choice and passion both approve.' From temper and principle he is unchangeable. I acknowledge that I think the general is a little inclined perhaps to obstinacy; but, as Burke says, though obstinacy is certainly a vice, it happens that the whole line of the great and masculine virtues, constancy, fidelity, fortitude, magnanimity, are closely allied to this disagreeable quality, of which we have so just an abhorrence.
"It is most peculiarly happy for Cecilia that she has a husband of this firm character, one on whom she can rely—one to whom she may, she must, look up, if not always, yet upon all important occasions where decision is necessary, or integrity required. It is between her and her general as it should be in marriage, each has the compensating qualities to those which the other possesses: General Clarendon is inferior to Cecilia in wit, but superior in judgment; inferior in literature, superior in knowledge of the world; inferior to my daughter altogether in abilities, in what is called genius, but far superior in that ruling power, strength of mind. Strength of mind is an attaching as well as a ruling power: all human creatures, women especially, become attached to those who have power over their minds. Yes, Helen, I am satisfied with their marriage, and with your congratulations: yours are the sort I like. Vulgar people—by vulgar people I mean all who think vulgarly—very great vulgar people have congratulated me upon this establishment of my daughter's fortune and future rank (a dukedom in view), all that could be wished in worldly estimation. But I rejoice in it as the security for my daughter's character and happiness. Thank you again, my dear young friend, for your sympathy; you can understand me, you can feel with me."
Sympathy, intelligent, quick, warm, unwearied, unweariable, such as Helen's, is really a charming accomplishment in a friend; the only obligation a proud person, is never too proud to receive; and it was most gratifying to Helen to be allowed to sympathise with Lady Davenant—one who, in general, never spoke of herself, or unveiled her private feelings, even to those who lived with her on terms of intimacy. Helen felt responsible for the confidence granted to her thus upon credit, and a strong ambition was excited in her mind to justify the high opinion her superior friend had formed of her. She determined to become all that she was believed to be; as the flame of a taper suddenly rises towards what is held over it, her spirit mounted to the point to which her friend pointed.
Helen's perfect happiness at Clarendon Park was not of long duration. People who have not been by nature blessed or cursed with nice feelings, or who have well rubbed off their delicacy in roughing through the world, can be quite happy, or at least happy enough without ascertaining whether they are really esteemed or liked by those with whom they live. Many, and some of high degree, when well sheltered and fed, and provided with all the necessaries, and surrounded by all the luxuries of life, and with appearances tolerably well kept up by outward manner, care little or nought about the inside sentiments.
But Helen was neither of the case-hardened philosophic, or the naturally obtuse-feeling class; she belonged to the over-anxious. Surrounded at Clarendon Park with all the splendour of life, and with the immediate expectation of seeing and being seen by the first society in England; with the certainty also of being tenderly loved and highly esteemed by two of the persons she was living with, yet a doubt about the third began to make her miserable. Whether General Clarendon really liked her or not, was a question that hung upon her mind sometimes as a dead weight—then vibrating backwards and forwards, she often called to mind, and endeavoured to believe, what Cecilia the first day told her, that this reserved manner was natural to him with strangers, and would wear off. But to her the icy coldness did not thaw. So she felt, or so she fancied, and which it was she could not decide. She had never before lived with any one about whose liking for her she could doubt, therefore, as she said to herself, "I know I am a bad judge." She feared to open her mind to Cecilia. Lady Davenant would be the safest person to consult; yet Helen, with all her young delicacy fresh about her, scrupled, and could not screw her courage to the sticking-place. Every morning going to Lady Davenant's room, she half resolved and yet came away without speaking. At last, one morning, she began:—
You said something the other day, my dear Lady Davenant, about a visit from Miss Clarendon. Perhaps—I am afraid—in short I think,—I fear, the general does not like my being here; and I thought, perhaps, he was displeased at his sister's not being here,—that he thought Cecilia's having asked me prevented his sister's coming; but then you told me he was not of a jealous temper, did not you?"
"Distinguez," said Lady Davenant; "distinguons, as the old French metaphysicians used to say, distinguons, there be various kinds of jealousy, as of love. The old romancers make a distinction between amour and amour par amours. Whatever that mean, I beg leave to take a distinction full as intelligible, I trust, between jalousie par amour and jalousie par amitie. Now, to apply; when I told you that our general was not subject to jealousy, I should have distinguished, and said, jalousie par amour—jealousy in love, but I will not ensure him against jalousie par amitie—jealousy in friendship—of friends and relations, I mean. Me-thinks I have seen symptoms of this in the general, he does not like my influence over Cecilia, nor yours, my dear."
"I understand it all," exclaimed Helen, "and I was right from the very first; I saw he disliked me, and he ever will and must dislike and detest me—I see it in every look, hear it in every word, in every tone." "Now, my dear Helen, if you are riding off on your imagination, I wish you a pleasant ride, and till you come back again I will write my letter," said Lady Davenant, taking up a pen.
Helen begged pardon, and protested she was not going to ride off upon any imagination,—she had no imagination now—she entreated Lady Davenant to go on, for she was very anxious to know the whole truth, whatever it might be. Lady Davenant laid down her pen, and told her all she knew. In the first place, that Cecilia did not like Miss Clarendon, who, though a very estimable person, had a sort of uncompromising sincerity, joined with a brusquerie of manner which Cecilia could not endure. How her daughter had managed matters to refuse the sister without offending the brother, Lady Davenant said she did not know; that was Cecilia's secret, and probably it lay in her own charming manner of doing things, aided by the whole affair having occurred a few days before marriage, when nothing could be taken ill of the bride elect. "The general, as Cecilia told me, desired that she would write to invite you, Helen; she did so, and I am very glad of it. This is all I know of this mighty matter."
But Helen could not endure the idea of being there, contrary to the general's wishes, in the place of the sister he loved. Oh, how very, very unfortunate she was to have all her hopes blighted, destroyed—and Cecilia's kindness all in vain. Dear, dear Cecilia!—but for the whole world Helen would not be so selfish—she would not run the hazard of making mischief. She would never use her influence over Cecilia in opposition to the general. Oh, how little he knew of her character, if he thought it possible.
Helen had now come to tears. Then the keen sense of injustice turned to indignation; and the tears wiped away, and pride prevailing, colouring she exclaimed, "That she knew what she ought to do, she knew what she would do—she would not stay where the master of the house did not wish for her. Orphan though she was, she could not accept of protection or obligation from any human being who neither liked or esteemed her. She would shorten her visit at Clarendon Park—make it as short as his heart could desire,—she would never be the cause of any disagreement—poor, dear, kind Cecilia! She would write directly to Mrs. Collingwood." At the close of these last incoherent sentences, Helen was awe-struck by the absolute composed immovability and silence of Lady Davenant. Helen stood rebuked before her.
"Instead of writing to Mrs. Collingwood, had not you better go at once?" said her ladyship, speaking in a voice so calm, and in a tone so slightly ironical, that it might have passed for earnest on any but an acutely feeling ear—"Shall I ring, and order your carriage?" putting her hand on the bell as she spoke, and resting it there, she continued—"It would be so spirited to be off instantly; so wise, so polite, so considerate towards dear Cecilia—so dignified towards the general, and so kind towards me, who am going to a far country, Helen, and may perhaps not see you ever again."
"Forgive me!" cried Helen; "I never could go while you were here."
"I did not know what you might think proper when you seemed to have lost your senses."
"I have recovered them," said Helen; "I will do whatever you please—whatever you think best."
"It must not be what I please, my dear child, nor what I think best, but what you judge for yourself to be best; else what will become of you when I am in Russia? It must be some higher and more stable principle of action that must govern you. It must not be the mere wish to please this or that friend;—the defect of your character, Helen, remember I tell you, is this—inordinate desire to be loved, this impatience of not being loved—that which but a moment ago made you ready to abandon two of the best friends you have upon earth, because you imagine, or you suspect, or you fear, that a third person, almost a stranger, does not like before he has had time to know you."
"I was very foolish," said Helen; "but now I will be wise, I will do whatever is—right. Surely you would not have me live here if I were convinced that the master of the house did not wish it?"
"Certainly not—certainly not," repeated Lady Davenant; "but let us see our way before us; never gallop, my dear, much less leap; never move, till you see your way;—once it is ascertained that General Clarendon does not wish you to be here, nor approve of you for the chosen companion of his wife, I, as your best friend, would say, begone, and speed you on your way; then as much pride, as much spirit as you will; but those who are conscious of possessing real spirit, should never be—seldom are—in a hurry to show it; that kind of ostentatious haste is undignified in man, and ungraceful in woman."
Helen promised that she would be patience itself: "But tell me exactly," said she, "what you would have me do."
"Nothing," said Lady Davenant.
"Nothing! that is easy at least," said Helen, smiling.
"No, not so easy as you imagine; it requires sometimes no small share of strength of mind."
"Strength of mind!" said Helen, "I am afraid I have not any."
"Acquire it then, my dear," said her friend.
"But can I?"
"Certainly; strength of mind, like strength of body, is improved by exercise."
"If I had any to begin with—" said Helen.
"You have some, Helen, a great deal in one particular, else why should I have any more regard for you, or more hope of you, than of any other well-dressed, well-taught beauty, any of the tribe of young ladies who pass before me without ever fixing my mind's eye for one moment?"
"But in what particular, my dear Lady Davenant, do you mean?" said Helen, anxiously; "I am afraid you are mistaken; in what do you think I ever showed strength of mind? Tell me, and I will tell you the truth."
"That you will, and there is the point that I mean. Ever since I have known you, you have always, as at this moment, coward as you are, been brave enough to speak the truth; and truth I believe to be the only real lasting foundation for friendship; in all but truth there is a principle of decay and dissolution. Now good bye, my dear;—stay, one word more—there is a line in some classic poet, which says 'the suspicion of ill-will never fails to produce it'—Remember this in your intercourse with General Clarendon; show no suspicion of his bearing you ill-will, and to show none, you must feel none. Put absolutely out of your head all that you may have heard or imagined about Miss Clarendon, or her brother's prejudices on her account."
"I will—I will indeed," said Helen, and so they parted. A few words have sometimes a material influence on events in human life. Perhaps even among those who hold in general that advice never does good, there is no individual who cannot recollect some few words—some conversation which has altered the future colour of their lives.
Helen's over-anxiety concerning General Clarendon's opinion of her, being now balanced by the higher interest Lady Davenant had excited, she met him with new-born courage; and Lady Cecilia, not that she suspected it was necessary, but merely by way of prevention, threw in little douceurs of flattery, on the general's part, repeated sundry pretty compliments, and really kind things which he had said to her of Helen. These always pleased Helen at the moment, but she could never make what she was told he said of her quite agree with what he said to her: indeed, he said so very little, that no absolute discrepancy could be detected between the words spoken and the words reported to have been said; but still the looks did not agree with the opinions, or the cordiality implied.
One morning Lady Cecilia told her that the general wished that she would ride out with them, "and you must come, indeed you must, and try his pretty Zelica; he wishes it of all things, he told me so last night."
The general chancing to come in as she spoke, Lady Cecilia appealed to him with a look that almost called upon him to enforce her request; but he only said that if Miss Stanley would do him the honour, he should certainly be happy, if Zelica would not be too much for her; but he could not take it upon him to advise. Then looking for some paper of which he came in search, and passing her with the most polite and deferential manner possible, he left the room.
Half vexed, half smiling, Helen looked at Cecilia, and asked whether all she had told her was not a little—"plus belle que la verite."
Lady Cecilia, blushing slightly, poured out rapid protestations that all she had ever repeated to Helen of the general's sayings was perfect truth—"I will not swear to the words—because in the first place it is not pretty to swear, and next, because I can never recollect anybody's words, or my own, five minutes after they have been said."
Partly by playfulness, and partly by protestations, Lady Cecilia half convinced Helen; but from this time she refrained from repeating compliments which, true or false, did no good, and things went on better; observing this, she left them to their natural course, upon all such occasions the best way.
And now visitors began to appear, and some officers of the general's staff arrived. Clarendon Park happened to be in the district which General Clarendon commanded, so that he was able usually to reside there. It was in what is called a good neighbourhood, and there was much visiting, and many entertainments.
One day at dinner, Helen was seated between the general and a fine young guardsman, who, as far as his deep sense of his own merit, and his fashionable indifference to young ladies would permit, had made some demonstrations of a desire to attract her notice. He was piqued when, in the midst of something he had wonderfully exerted himself to say, he observed that her attention was distracted by a gentleman opposite, who had just returned from the Continent, and who, among other pieces of news, marriages and deaths of English abroad, mentioned that "poor D'Aubigny" was at last dead.
Helen looked first at Cecilia, who, as she saw, heard what was said with perfect composure; and then at Lady Davenant, who had meantime glanced imperceptibly at her daughter, and then upon Helen, whose eyes she met—and Helen coloured merely from association, because she had coloured before-provoking! yet impossible to help it. All passed in less time than it can be told, and Helen had left the guardsman in the midst of his sentence, discomfited, and his eyes were now upon her; and in confusion she turned from him, and there were the general's eyes but he was only inviting her to taste some particular wine, which he thought she would like, and which she willingly accepted, and praised, though she assuredly did not know in the least what manner of taste it had. The general now exerted himself to occupy the guardsman in a conversation about promotion, and drew all observation from Helen. Yet not the slightest indication of having seen, heard, or understood, appeared in his countenance, not the least curiosity or interest about Colonel D'Aubigny. Of one point Helen was however intuitively certain, that he had noticed that confusion which he had so ably, so coolly covered. One ingenuous look from her thanked him, and his look in return was most gratifying; she could not tell how it was, but it appeared more as if he understood and liked her than any look she had ever seen from him before. They were both more at their ease. Next day, he certainly justified all Cecilia's former assurances, by the urgency with which he desired to have her of the riding party. He put her on horseback himself, bade the aide-de-camp ride on with Lady Cecilia—three several times set the bridle right in Miss Stanley's hand, assuring her that she need not be afraid, that Zelica was the gentlest creature possible, and he kept his fiery horse, Fleetfoot, to a pace that suited her during the whole time they were out. Helen took courage, and her ride did her a vast deal of good.
The rides were repeated, the general evidently became more and more interested about Miss Stanley; he appealed continually to her taste, and marked that he considered her as part of his family; but, as Helen told Lady Davenant, it was difficult, with a person of his high-bred manners and reserved temper, to ascertain what was to be attributed to general deference to her sex, what to particular regard for the individual, how much to hospitality to his guest, or attention to his wife's friend, and what might be considered as proof of his own desire to share that friendship, and of a real wish that she should continue to live with them.
While she was in this uncertainty, Lord Davenant arrived from London; he had always been fond of Helen, and now the first sight of her youthful figure in deep mourning, the recollection of the great changes that had taken place since they had last met, touched him to the heart—he folded her in his arms, and was unable to speak. He! a great bulky man, with a face of constitutional joy—but so it was; he had a tender heart, deep feelings of all kinds under an appearance of insouciance which deceived the world. He was distinguished as a political leader—but, as he said of himself, he had been three times inoculated with ambition—once by his mother, once by his brother, and once by his wife; but it had never taken well; the last the best, however,—it had shown at least sufficiently to satisfy his friends, and he was happy to be no more tormented. With talents of the first order, and integrity unblenching, his character was not of that stern stuff—no, not of that corrupt stuff—of which modern ambition should be made.
He had now something to tell Helen, which he would say even before he opened his London budget of news. He told her, with a congratulatory smile, that he had had an opportunity of showing his sense of Mr. Collingwood's merits; and as he spoke he put a letter into her hand.
The letter was from her good friend Mr. Collingwood, accepting a bishopric in the West Indies, which had been offered to him by Lord Davenant. It enclosed a letter for Helen, desiring in the most kind manner that she would let him know immediately and decidedly where and with whom she intended to live; and there was a postscript from Mrs. Collingwood full of affection, and doubts, and hopes, and fears.
The moment Helen had finished this letter, without seeming to regard the inquiring looks of all present, and without once looking towards any one else, she walked deliberately up to General Clarendon, and begged to speak to him alone. Never was general more surprised, but of course he was too much of a general to let that appear. Without a word, he offered his arm, and led her to his study; he drew a chair towards her—
"No misfortune, I hope, Miss Stanley? If I can in any way be of service——"
"The only service, General Clarendon," said Helen, her manner becoming composed, and her voice steadying as she went on—"the only service you can do me now is to tell me the plain truth, and this will prevent what would certainly be a misfortune to me—perhaps to all of us. Will you read this letter?"
He received it with an air of great interest, and again moved the chair to her. Before she sat down, she added,—
"I am unused to the world, you see, General Clarendon. I have been accustomed to live with one who always told me his mind sincerely, so that I could judge always what I ought to do. Will you do so now? It is the greatest service, as well as favour, you can do me."
"Depend upon it, I will," said General Clarendon.
"I should not ask you to tell me in words—that might be painful to your politeness; only let me see it," said Helen, and she sat down.
The general read on without speaking, till he came to the mention of Helen's original promise of living with the Collingwoods. He did not comprehend that passage, he said, showing it to her. He had always, on the contrary, understood that it had been a long settled thing, a promise between Miss Stanley and Lady Cecilia, that Helen should live with Lady Cecilia when she married.
"No such thing!" Helen said. "No such agreement had ever been made."
So the general now perceived; but this was a mistake of his which he hoped would make no difference in her arrangements, he said: "Why should it?—unless Miss Stanley felt unhappy at Clarendon Park?"
He paused, and Helen was silent: then, taking desperate resolution, she answered,—
"I should be perfectly happy here, if I were sure of your wishes, your feelings about me—about it."
"Is it possible that there has been any thing in my manner," said he, "that could give Miss Stanley pain? What could have put a doubt into her mind?"
"There might be some other person nearer, and naturally dearer to you," said Helen, looking up in his face ingenuously—"one whom you might have desired to have in my place:—your sister, Miss Clarendon, in short."
"Did Cecilia tell you of this?"
"No, Lady Davenant did; and since I heard it I never could be happy—I never can be happy till I know your feeling."
His manner instantly changed.
"You shall know my feelings, then," said he. "Till I knew you, Helen, my wish was, that my sister should live with my wife; now I know you, my wish is, that you should live with us. You will suit Cecilia better than my sister could—will suit us both better, having the same truth of character, and more gentleness of manner. I have answered you with frankness equal to your own. And now," said he, taking her hand, "you know Cecilia has always considered you as her sister—allow me to do the same: consider me as a brother—such you shall find me. Thank you. This is settled for life," added he, drawing her arm through his, and taking up her letters, he led her back towards the library.
But her emotion, the stronger for being suppressed, was too great for re-appearing in company: she withdrew her arm from his when they were passing through the hall, and turning her face away, she had just voice enough to beg he would show her letters to——
He understood. She ran up-stairs to her own room, glad to be alone; a flood of joy came over her.
"A brother in Cecilia's husband!—a brother!"
The word had a magical charm, and she could not help repeating it aloud—she wept like a child. Lady Cecilia soon came flying in, all delight and affection, reproaches and wonder alternately, in the quickest conceivable succession. "Delighted, it is settled and for ever! my dear, dear Helen! But how could you ever think of leaving us, you wicked Helen! Well! now you see what Clarendon really is! But, my dear, I was so terrified when I heard it all. You are, and ever were, the oddest mixture of cowardice and courage. I—do you know I, brave I—never should have advised—never should have ventured as you have? But he is delighted at it all, and so am I now it has all ended so charmingly, now I have you safe. I will write to the Collingwoods; you shall not have a moment's pain; I will settle it all, and invite them here before they leave England; Clarendon desired I would—oh, he is!—now you will believe me! The Collingwoods, too, will be glad to be asked here to take leave of you, and all will be right; I love, as you do, dear Helen, that everybody should be pleased when I am happy."
When Lady Davenant heard all that had passed, she did not express that prompt unmixed delight which Helen expected; a cloud came over her brow, something painful regarding her daughter seemed to strike her, for her eyes fixed on Cecilia, and her emotion was visible in her countenance; but pleasure unmixed appealed as she turned to Helen, and to her she gave, what was unusual, unqualified approbation.
"My dear Helen, I admire your plain straightforward truth; I am satisfied with this first essay of your strength of mind and courage."
"Courage!" said Helen, smiling.
"Not such as is required to take a lion by the beard, or a bull by the horns," replied Lady Davenant; "but there are many persons in this world who, brave though they be, would rather beard a lion, sooner seize a bull by the horns, than, when they get into a dilemma, dare to ask a direct question, and tell plainly what passes in their own minds. Moral courage is, believe me, uncommon in both sexes, and yet in going through the world it is equally necessary to the virtue of both men and women."
"But do you really think," said Helen, "that strength of mind, or what you call moral courage, is as necessary to women as it is to men?"
"Certainly, show me a virtue, male or female—if virtues admit of grammatical distinctions, if virtues acknowledge the more worthy gender and the less worthy of the grammar, show me a virtue male or female that can long exist without truth. Even that emphatically termed the virtue of our sex, Helen, on which social happiness rests, society depends, on what is it based? is it not on that single-hearted virtue truth?—and truth on what? on courage of the mind. They who dare to speak the truth, will not ever dare to go irretrievably wrong. Then what is falsehood but cowardice?—and a false woman!—does not that say all in one word?"
"But whence arose all this? you wonder, perhaps," said Lady Davenant; "and I have not inclination to explain. Here comes Lord Davenant. Now for politics—farewell morality, a long farewell. Now for the London budget, and 'what news from Constantinople? Grand vizier certainly strangled, or not?'"
The London budget of news was now opened, and gone through by Lord Davenant, including quarrels in the cabinet and all that with fear of change perplexes politicians. But the fears and hopes of different ages are attached to such different subjects, that Helen heard all this as though she heard it not, and went on with her drawing, touching, and retouching it, without ever looking up, till her attention was wakened by the name of Granville Beauclerc; this was the name of the person who had written those interesting letters which she had met with in Lady Davenant's portfolio. "What is he doing in town?" asked the general.
"Amusing himself, I suppose," replied Lord Davenant.
"I believe he forgets that I am his guardian," said the general.
"I am sure he cannot forget that you are his friend," said Lady Cecilia; "for he has the best heart in the world."
"And the worst head for any thing useful," said the general.
"He is a man of genius," said Lady Davenant.
"Did you speak to him, my lord," pursued the general, "about standing for the county?"
"And he said what?"
"That he would have nothing to do with it."
"Something about not being tied to party, and somewhat he said about patriotism," replied Lord Davenant.
"Nonsense!" said the general, "he is a fool."
"Only young," said Lady Davenant,
"Men are not so very young in these days at two-and-twenty," said the general.
"In some," said Lady Davenant, "the classical touch, the romance of political virtue, lasts for months, if not years, after they leave college; even those who, like Granville, go into high life in London, do not sometimes, for a season or two, lose their first enthusiasm of patriotism."
The general's lips became compressed. Lord Davenant, throwing himself back in his easy chair, repeated, "Patriotism! yes, every young man of talent is apt to begin with a fit of that sort."
"My dear lord," cried Lady Davenant, "you, of all men, to speak of patriotism as a disease!"
"And a disease that can be had but once in life, I am afraid," replied her lord laughing; "and yet," as if believing in that at which he laughed, "it evaporates in most men in words, written or spoken, lasts till the first pamphlet is published, or till the maiden-speech in parliament is fairly made, and fairly paid for—in all honour—all honourable men."
Lady Davenant passed over these satirical observations, and somewhat abruptly asked Lord Davenant if he recollected the late Mr. Windham.
"Certainly he was not a man to be easily forgotten: but what in particular?" "The scales of his mind were too fine," said Lady Davenant, "too nicely adjusted for common purposes; diamond scales will not do for weighing wool. Very refined, very ingenious, very philosophical minds, such as Windham, Burke, Bacon, were all too scrupulous weighers; their scales turned with the millionth of a grain, and all from the same cause, subject to the same defect, indecision. They saw too well how much can be said on both sides of the question. There is a sort of philosophical doubt, arising from enlargement of understanding, quite different from that irresolution of character which is caused by infirmity of will; and I have observed," continued Lady Davenant, "in some of these over scrupulous weighers, that when once they come to a balance, that instant they become most wilful; so it will be, you will see, with Beauclerc. After excessive indecision, you will see him start perhaps at once to rash action."
"Rash of wrong, resolute of right," said Lord Davenant.
"He is constitutionally wilful, and metaphysically vacillating," said Lady Davenant.
The general waited till the metaphysics were over, and then said to Lord Davenant that he suspected there was something more than mere want of ambition in Beauclerc's refusal to go into parliament. Some words were here inaudible to Helen, and the general began to walk up and down the room with so strong a tread, that at every step the china shook on the table near which Helen sat, so that she lost most part of what followed, and yet it seemed interesting, about some Lord Beltravers, and a Comtesse de Saint —— something, or a Lady Blanche —— somebody.
Lady Davenant looked anxious, the general's steps became more deliberately, more ominously firm; till lady Cecilia came up to him, and playfully linking her arm in his, the steps were moderated, and when a soothing hand came upon his shoulder, the compressed lips were relaxed—she spoke in a low voice—he answered aloud.
"By all means! write to him yourself, my love; get him down here and he will be safe; he cannot refuse you."
"Tuesday, then?" she would name the earliest day if the general approved.
He approved of every thing she said; "Tuesday let it be." Following him to the door, Lady Cecilia added something which seemed to fill the measure of his contentment. "Always good and kind," said he; "so let it be.
"Then shall I write to your sister, or will you?"
"You," said the general, "let the kindness come from you, as it always does."
Lady Cecilia, in a moment at the writing-table, ran off, as fast as pen could go, two notes, which she put into her mother's hand, who gave an approving nod; and, leaving them with her to seal and have franked, Cecilia darted out on the terrace, carrying Helen along with her, to see some Italian garden she was projecting.
And as she went, and as she stood directing the workmen, at every close of her directions she spoke to Helen. She said she was very glad that she had settled that Beauclerc was to come to them immediately. He was a great favourite of hers.
"Not for any of those grandissimo qualities which my mother sees in him, and which I am not quite clear exist; but just because he is the most agreeable person in nature; and really natural; though he is a man of the world, yet not the least affected. Quite fashionable, of course, but with true feeling. Oh! he is delightful, just—" then she interrupted herself to give directions to the workmen about her Italian garden——
"Oleander in the middle of that bed; vases nearer to the balustrade——-"
"Beauclerc has a very good taste, and a beautiful place he has, Thorndale. He will be very rich. Few very rich young men are agreeable now, women spoil them so.—['Border that bed with something pretty.']—Still he is, and I long to know what you will think of him; I know what I think he will think, but, however, I will say no more; people are always sure to get into scrapes in this world, when they say what they think.—['That fountain looks beautiful.']—I forgot to tell you he is very handsome. The general is very fond of him, and he of the general, except when he considers him as his guardian, for Granville Beauclerc does not particularly like to be controlled—who does? It is a curious story.—['Unpack those vases, and by the time that is done I will be back.']—Take a turn with me, Helen, this way. It is a curious story: Granville Beauclerc's father—but I don't know it perfectly, I only know that he was a very odd man, and left the general, though he was so much younger than himself, guardian to Granville, and settled that he was not to be of age, I mean not to come into possession of his large estates, till he is five-and-twenty: shockingly hard on poor Granville, and enough to make him hate Clarendon, but he does not, and that is charming, that is one reason I like him! So amazingly respectful to his guardian always, considering how impetuous he is, amazingly respectful, though I cannot say I think he is what the gardening books call patient of the knife, I don't think he likes his fancies to be lopped; but then he is so clever. Much more what you would call a reading man than the general, distinguished at college, and all that which usually makes a young man conceited, but Beauclerc is only a little headstrong—all the more agreeable, it keeps one in agitation; one never knows how it will end, but I am sure it will all go on well now. It is curious, too, that mamma knew him also when he was at Eton, I believe—I don't know how, but long before we ever heard of Clarendon, and she corresponded with him, but I never knew him till he came to Florence, just after it was all settled with me and the general; and he was with us there and at Paris, and travelled home with us, and I like him. Now you know all, except what I do not choose to tell you, so come back to the workmen—'That vase will not do there, move it in front of these evergreens; that will do.'"