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Helen by Maria Edgeworth

Part 10 out of 10

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"Now tell me--tell me everything about yourself."

Helen could only repeat what the general had already written to her
sister--that he was now convinced that the reports concerning Miss
Stanley were false, his esteem restored, his public approbation to be
given, Beauclerc satisfied, and her rejection honourably retracted.

"I will ask you no more, Helen, by word or look," said Esther; "I
understand it all, my brother and Lady Cecilia are separated for life.
And now let us go to aunt Pennant: she will not annoy you by her
curiosity, but how she will be able to manage her sympathy amongst you
with these crossing demands I know not; Lady Cecilia's wretchedness will
almost spoil my aunt's joy for you--it cannot be pure joy."

Pure joy! how far from it Helen's sigh told; and Miss Clarendon had
scarcely patience enough with Lady Cecilia to look at her again; had
scarcely seconded, at least with good grace, a suggestion of Mrs.
Pennant's that they should prevail on Lady Cecilia to take a turn in the
park with them, she looked so much in want of fresh air.

"We can go now, my dear Esther, you know, before it is time for that
picture sale, at which you are to be before two o'clock." Lady Davenant
desired Cecilia to go. "Helen will be with me, do, my dear Cecilia, go."

She went, and before the awkwardness of Miss Clarendon's silence ceased,
and before Mrs. Pennant had settled which glass or which blind was best
up or down, Lady Cecilia burst into tears, thanked aunt Pennant for her
sympathy, and now, above the fear of Miss Clarendon--above all fear but
that of doing further wrong by concealment, she at once told the whole
truth, that they might, as well as the general, do full justice to
Helen, and that they might never, never blame Clarendon for the
separation which was to be.

That he should have mentioned nothing of her conduct even to his sister,
was not surprising. "I know his generous nature," said Cecilia.

"But I never knew yours till this moment, Cecilia," cried Miss
Clarendon, embracing her; "my sister, now,--separation or not." "But
there need be no separation," said kind aunt Pennant. Cecilia sighed,
and Miss Clarendon repeated, "You will find in me a sister at all

She now saw Cecilia as she really was--faults and virtues. Perhaps
indeed in this moment of revulsion of feeling, in the surprise of
gratified confidence, she overvalued Lady Cecilia's virtues, and was
inclined to do her more than justice, in her eagerness to make generous
reparation for unjust suspicion.


After setting down Lady Cecilia at her mother's, the aunt and niece
proceeded to the picture sale which Miss Clarendon was eager to attend,
as she was in search of a pendant to a famous Berghem she possessed; and
while she was considering the picture, she had the advantage of hearing
a story, which seemed, indeed, to be told for the amusement of the whole
room, by a party of fashionables who were standing near her:--a
wonderful story of a locket, which was going about; it was variously
told, but all agreed in one point--that a young married lady of high
rank had never dared to appear in the World since her husband had seen
this locket in her hands--it had brought out something--something which
had occurred before marriage;--and here mysterious nods were

Another version stated that the story had not yet been fully explained
to the husband, that he had found the locket on the table in a room that
he had suddenly entered, where he discovered her kneeling to the person
in question,--"the person in question" being sometimes a woman and
sometimes a man.

Then leaned forward, stretching her scraggy neck, one who had good
reason to believe that the husband would soon speak out--the public
would soon hear of a separation: and everybody must be satisfied that
there could not be a separation without good grounds.

Miss Clarendon inquired from a gentleman near them, who the lady was
with the outstretched scraggy neck--Lady Katrine Hawksby. Miss Clarendon
knew her only by reputation. She did not know Miss Clarendon either by
reputation or by sight; and she went on to say, she would "venture any
wager that the separation would take place within a month. In short,
there could be no doubt that before marriage,"--and she ended with a
look which gave a death-blow to the reputation.

Exceedingly shocked, Miss Clarendon, not only from a sense of justice to
Lady Cecilia, but from feeling for her brother's honour, longed to reply
in defence; but she constrained herself for once, and having been
assured by Lady Cecilia that all had been confessed to her mother, she
thought that Lady Davenant must be the best person to decide what should
be done. She went to her house immediately, sent in word that she begged
to see Lady Davenant for two or three minutes alone, was admitted;
Cecilia immediately vacated the chair beside her mother's bed, and left
the room. Miss Clarendon felt some difficulty in beginning, but she
forced herself to repeat all she had heard. Then Lady Davenant started
up in her bed, and the colour of life spread over her face--

"Thank you, thank you, Miss Clarendon! a second time I have to thank you
for an inestimable service. It is well for Cecilia that she made the
whole truth known to us both--made you her friend; now we _can_ act for
her. I will have that locket from Madame de St. Cymon before the sun
goes down."

Now Lady Davenant had Madame de St. Cymon completely in her power, from
her acquaintance with a disgraceful transaction which had come to her
knowledge at Florence. The locket was surrendered, returned with humble
assurances that Madame de St. Cymon now perfectly understood the thing
in its true light, and was quite convinced it had been stolen, not
given. Lady Davenant glanced over her note with scorn, and was going to
throw it from her into the fire, but did not. When Miss Clarendon called
upon her again that evening as she had appointed, she showed it to her,
and desired that she would, when her brother arrived next day, tell him
what she had heard, what Lady Davenant had done, and how the locket was
now in her possession.

Some people who pretend to know, maintain that the passion of love is of
such an all-engrossing nature that it swallows up every other feeling;
but we who judge more justly of our kind, hold differently, and rather
believe that love in generous natures imparts a strengthening power, a
magnetic touch, to every good feeling. Helen was incapable of being
perfectly happy while her friend was miserable; and even Beauclerc, in
spite of all the suffering she had caused, could not help pitying Lady
Cecilia, and he heartily wished the general could be reconciled to her;
yet it was a matter in which he could not properly interfere; he did not
attempt it.

Lady Davenant determined to give a breakfast to all the bridal party
after the marriage. In her state of health, Helen and Cecilia
remonstrated, but Lady Davenant had resolved upon it, and at last they
agreed it would be better than parting at the church-door--better that
she should at her own house take leave of Helen and Beauclerc, who would
set out immediately after the breakfast for Thorndale.

And now equipages were finished, and wedding paraphernalia sent home--
the second time that wedding-dresses had been furnished for Miss
Stanley;--and never once were these looked at by the bride elect, nor
even by Cecilia, but to see that all was as it should be--that seen, she
sighed, and passed on.

Felicie's ecstasies were no more to be heard: we forgot to mention that
she had, before Helen's return from Llansillen, departed, dismissed in
disgrace; and happy was it for Lady Cecilia and Helen to be relieved
from her jabbering, and not exposed to her spying and reporting.
Nevertheless, the gloom that hung over the world above could not but be
observed by the world below; it was, however, naturally accounted for by
Lady Davenant's state of health, and by the anxiety which Lady Cecilia
must feel for the general, who, as it had been officially announced by
Mr. Cockburn, was to set out on foreign service the day after the

Lady Cecilia, notwithstanding the bright hopefulness of her temper, and
her habits of sanguine belief that all would end well in which she and
her good fortune had any concern, seemed now, in this respect, to have
changed her nature; and ever since her husband's denunciations, had
continued quite resigned to misery, and submissive to the fate which she
thought she had deserved. She was much employed in attendance upon her
mother, and thankful that she was so permitted to be. She never
mentioned her husband's name, and if she alluded to him, or to what had
been decreed by him, it was with an emotion that scarcely dared to touch
the point. She spoke most of her child, and seemed to look to the care
of him as her only consolation. The boy had been brought from Kensington
for Lady Davenant to see, and was now at her house. Cecilia once said
she thought he was very like his father, and hoped that he would at
least take leave of his boy at the last. To that last hour--that hour
when she was to see her husband once more, when they were to meet but to
part, to meet first at the wedding ceremony, and at a breakfast in a
public company,--altogether painful as it must be, yet she looked
forward to it with a sort of longing ardent impatience. "True, it will
be dreadful, yet still--still I shall see him again, see him once again,
and he cannot part with his once so dear Cecilia without some word--some
look, different from his last."

The evening before the day on which the wedding was to be, Lady Cecilia
was in Lady Davenant's room, sitting beside the bed while her mother
slept. Suddenly she was startled from her still and ever the same
recurring train of melancholy thoughts, by a sound which had often made
her heart beat with joy--her husband's knock; she ran to the window,
opened it, and was out on the balcony in an instant. His horse was at
the door, he had alighted, and was going up the steps; she leaned over
the rails of the balcony, and as she leaned, a flower she wore broke
off--it fell at the general's feet: he looked up, and their eyes met.
There he stood, waiting on those steps, some minutes, for an answer to
his inquiry how Lady Davenant was: and when the answer was brought out
by Elliott, whom, as it seemed, he had desired to see, he remounted his
horse, and rode away without ever again looking up to the balcony.

Lady Davenant had awakened, and when Cecilia returned on hearing her
voice, her mother, as the light from the half-open shutters shone upon
her face, saw that she was in tears; she kneeled down by the side of the
bed, and wept bitterly; she made her mother understand how it had been.

"Not that I hoped more, but still--still to feel it so! Oh! mother, I am
bitterly punished."

Then Lady Davenant seizing those clasped hands, and raising herself in
her bed, fixed her eyes earnestly upon Cecilia, and asked,--"Would
you, Cecilia--tell me, would you if it were now, this moment, in your
power--would you retract your confession?"

"Retract! impossible!"

"Do you repent--regret having made it, Cecilia?"

"Repent--regret having made it. No, mother, no!" replied Cecilia firmly.
"I only regret that it was not sooner made. Retract!--impossible I could
wish to retract the only right thing I have done, the only thing that
redeems me in my inmost soul from uttermost contempt. No! rather would I
be as I am, and lose that noble heart, than hold it as I did,
unworthily. There is, mother, as you said--as I feel, a sustaining--a
redeeming power in truth."

Her mother threw her arms round her.

"Come to my heart, my child, close--close to my heart Heaven bless you!
You have my blessing--my thanks, Cecilia. Yes, my thanks,--for now I
know--I feel, my dear daughter, that my neglect of you in childhood has
been repaired. You make me forgive myself, you make me happy, you have
my thanks--my blessing--my warmest blessing!"

A smile of delight was on her pale face, and tears ran down as Cecilia
answered--"Oh, mother, mother! blind that I have been. Why did not I
sooner know this tenderness of your heart?"

"And why, my child, did I not sooner know you? The fault was mine, the
suffering has been yours,--not yours alone, though."

"Suffer no more for me, mother, for now, after this, come what may, I
can bear it. I can be happy, even if----" There she paused, and then
eagerly looking into her mother's eyes she asked,--

"What do you say, mother, about him? do you think I may hope?"

"I dare not bid you hope," replied her mother.

"Do you bid me despair?"

"No, despair in this world is only for those who have lost their own
esteem, who have no confidence in themselves, for those who cannot
repent, reform, and trust. My child, you must not despair. Now leave me
to myself," continued she "Open a little more of the shutter, and put
that book within my reach."

As soon as Miss Clarendon heard that her brother had arrived in town she
hastened to him, and, as Lady Davenant had desired, told him of all the
reports that were in circulation, and of all that Lady Cecilia had
spontaneously confided to her. Esther watched his countenance as she
spoke, and observed that he listened with eager attention to the proofs
of exactness in Cecilia; but he said nothing, and whatever his feelings
were, his determination, she could not doubt, was still unshaken; even
she did not dare to press his confidence.

Miss Clarendon reported to Lady Davenant that she had obeyed her
command, and she described as nearly as she could all that she thought
her brother's countenance expressed. Lady Davenant seemed satisfied, and
this night she slept, as she told Cecilia in the morning, better than
she had done since she returned to England. And this was the day of

The hour came, and Lady Davenant was in the church with her daughter.
This marriage was to be, as described in olden times, "celebrated with
all the lustre and pomp imaginable;" and so it was, for Helen's sake,
Helen, the pale bride---

"Beautiful!" the whispers ran as she appeared, "but too pale." Leaning
on General Clarendon's arm she was led up the aisle to the altar. He
felt the tremor of her arm on his, but she looked composed and almost
firm. She saw no one individual of the assembled numbers, not even
Cecilia or Lady Davenant. She knelt at the altar beside him to whom she
was to give her faith, and General Clarendon, in the face of all the
world, proudly gave her to his ward, and she, without fear, low and
distinctly pronounced the sacred vow. And as Helen rose from her knees,
the sun shone out, and a ray of light was on her face, and it was
lovely. Every heart said so--every heart but Lady Katrine Hawksby's--And
why do we think of her at such a moment? and why does Lady Davenant
think of her at such a moment? Yet she did; she looked to see if she
were present, and she bade her to the breakfast.

And now all the salutations were given and received, and all the murmur
of congratulations rising, the living tide poured out of the church; and
then the noise of carriages, and all drove off to Lady Davenant's; and
Lady Davenant had gone through it all so far, well. And Lady Cecilia
knew that it had been; and her eyes had been upon her husband, and her
heart had been full of another day when she had knelt beside him at the
altar. And did he, too, think of that day? She could not tell, his
countenance discovered no emotion, his eyes never once turned to the
place where she stood. And she was now to see him for one hour, but one
hour longer, and at a public breakfast! but still she was to see him.

And now they are all at breakfast. The attention of some was upon the
bride and bridegroom; of others, on Lady Cecilia and on the general; of
others, on Lady Davenant; and of many, on themselves. Lady Davenant had
Beauclerc on one side, General Clarendon on the other, and her daughter
opposite to him. Lady Katrine was there, with her "_tristeful_ visage,"
as Churchill justly called it, and more _tristeful_ it presently became.

When breakfast was over, seizing her moment when conversation flagged,
and when there was a pause, implying "What is to be said or done next?"
Lady Davenant rose from her seat with an air of preparation, and
somewhat of solemnity.--All eyes were instantly upon her. She drew out a
locket, which she held up to public view; then, turning to Lady Katrine
Hawksby, she said--"This bauble has been much talked of, I understand,
by your ladyship, but I question whether you have ever yet seen it, or
know the truth concerning it. This locket was _stolen_ by a worthless
man, given by him to a worthless woman, from whom I have obtained it;
and now I give it to the person for whom it was originally destined."

She advanced towards Helen and put it round her neck. This done, her
colour flitted--her hand was suddenly pressed to her heart; yet she
commanded--absolutely commanded, the paroxysm of pain. The general was
at her side; her daughter, Helen, and Beauclerc, were close to her
instantly. She was just able to walk: she slowly left the room--and was
no more seen by the world!

She suffered herself to be carried up the steps into her own apartment
by the general, who laid her on the sofa in her dressing-room. She
looked round on them, and saw that all were there whom she loved; but
there was an alteration in her appearance which struck them all, and
most the general, who had least expected it. She held out her hand to
him, and fixing her eyes upon him with deathful expression, calmly
smiled, and said--"You would not believe this could be; but now you see
it must be, and soon. We have no time to lose," continued she, and
moving very cautiously and feebly, she half-raised herself--"Yes," said
she, "a moment is granted to me, thank Heaven!" She rose with sudden
power and threw herself on her knees at the general's feet: it was done
before he could stop her.

"For God's sake!" cried he, "Lady Davenant!--I conjure you---"

She would not be raised. "No," said she, "here I die if I appeal to you
in vain--to your justice, General Clarendon, to which, as far as I know
none ever appealed in vain--and shall I be the first?--a mother for her
child--a dying mother for your wife--for my dear Cecilia, once dear to

His face was instantly covered with his hands.

"Not to your love," continued she--"if that be gone--to your justice I
appeal, and MUST be heard, if you are what I think you: if you are not,
why, go--go, instantly--go, and leave your wife, innocent as she is, to
be deemed guilty--Part from her, at the moment when the only fault she
committed has been repaired--Throw her from you when, by the sacrifice
of all that was dear to her, she has proved her truth--Yes, you know
that she has spoken the whole, the perfect truth---"

"I know it," exclaimed he.

"Give her up to the whole world of slanderers!--destroy her character!
If now her husband separate from her, her good name is lost for ever! If
now her husband protect her not---"

Her husband turned, and clasped her in his arms. Lady Davenant rose and
blessed him--blessed them both: they knelt beside her, and she joined
their hands.

"Now," said she, "I give my daughter to a husband worthy of her, and she
more worthy of that noble heart than when first his. Her only fault was
mine--my early neglect: it is repaired--I die in peace! You make my last
moments the happiest! Helen, my dearest Helen, now, and not till now,
happy--perfectly happy in Love and Truth!"

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