Part 5 out of 10
"Why are you so anxious, Helen?"
Helen honestly told her, and Lady Cecilia only laughed at her for minding
what Lady Katrine said,--"When you know yourself, Helen, how it is, what
can it signify what mistakes others may make?"
But Helen grew more and more uneasy, for she was not clear that she did
know how it was, with herself at least. Her conscience faltered, and she
was not sure whether she was alarmed with or without reason. She began to
compare feelings that she had read of, and feelings that she had seen in
others, and feelings that were new to herself, and in this maze and mist
nothing was distinct--much was magnified--all alarming.
One day Beauclerc was within view of the windows on horseback, on a very
spirited horse, which he managed admirably; but a shot fired suddenly in an
adjoining preserve so startled the horse that it----oh! what it did Helen
did not see, she was so terrified: and why was she so much terrified? She
excused herself by saying it was natural to be frightened for any human
creature. But, on the other hand, Tom Isdall was a human creature, and she
had seen him last week actually thrown from his horse, and had not felt
much concern. But then he was not a friend; and he fell into a soft ditch:
and there was something ridiculous in it which prevented people from caring
about it. With such nice casuistry she went on pretty well; and besides,
she was so innocent--so ignorant, that it was easy for her to be deceived.
She went on, telling herself that she loved Beauclerc as a brother--as she
loved the general. But when she came to comparisons, she could not but
perceive a difference. Her heart never bounded on the general's appearance,
let him appear ever so suddenly, as it did one day when Beauclerc returned
unexpectedly from Old Forest. Her whole existence seemed so altered by his
approach, his presence, or his absence. Why was this? Was there any thing
wrong in it? She had nobody whose judgment she could consult--nobody to
whom she could venture to describe her feelings, or lay open her doubts
and scruples. Lady Cecilia would only laugh; and she could not quite trust
either her judgment or her sincerity, though she knew her affection.
Besides, after what Cecilia had said of her being safe; after all she had
told her of Beauclerc's engagement, how astonished and shocked Cecilia
Then Helen resolved that she would keep a strict watch over herself, and
repress all emotion, and be severe with her own mind to the utmost: and it
was upon this resolution that she had changed her manner, without knowing
how much, towards Beauclerc; she was certain he meant nothing but
friendship. It was her fault if she felt too much pleasure in his company;
the same things were, as she wisely argued, right or wrong according to the
intention with which they were said, done, looked, or felt. Rigidly she
inflicted on herself the penance of avoiding his delightful society, and to
make sure that she did not try to attract, she repelled him with all
her power--thought she never could make herself cold, and stiff, and
disagreeable enough to satisfy her conscience.
Then she grew frightened at Beauclerc's looks of astonishment--feared he
would ask explanation--avoided him more and more. Then, on the other hand,
she feared he might guess and interpret _wrong_, or rather _right_, this
change; and back she changed, tried in vain to keep the just medium--she
had lost the power of measuring--altogether she was very unhappy, and so
was Beauclerc; he found her incomprehensible, and thought her capricious.
His own mind was fluttered with love, so that he could not see or judge
distinctly, else he might have seen the truth; and sometimes, though free
from conceit, he did hope it might be all love. But why then so determined
to discourage him? he had advanced sufficiently to mark his intentions,
she could not doubt his sincerity. He would see farther before he ventured
farther. He thought a man was a fool who proposed before he had tolerable
reason to believe he should not be refused.
Lord Beltravers and his sisters were now expected at Old Forest
immediately, and Beauclerc went thither early every morning, to press
forward the preparations for the arrival of the family, and he seldom
returned till dinner-time; and every evening Lady Castlefort contrived to
take possession of him. It appeared to be indeed as much against his will
as it could be between a well-bred man and a high-bred belle; but to do her
bidding, seemed if not a moral, at least a polite necessity. She had been
spoiled, she owned, by foreign attentions, not French, for that is all gone
now at Paris, but Italian manners, which she so much preferred. She did not
know how she could live out of Italy, and she must convince Lord Castlefort
that the climate was necessary for her health. Meanwhile she adopted, she
acted, what she conceived to be foreign manners, and with an exaggeration
common with those who have very little sense and a vast desire to be
fashionable with a certain set. Those who knew her best (all but her sister
Katrine, who shook her head,) were convinced that there was really no harm
in Lady Castlefort, "only vanity and folly." How frequently folly leads
farther than fools ever, or wise people often foresee, we need not here
stop to record. On the present occasion, all at Clarendon Park, even those
most inclined to scandal, persons who, by the by, may be always known by
their invariable preface of, "I hate all scandal," agreed that "no one _so
far_ could behave better than Granville Beauclerc--so far,"--"as yet."
But all the elderly who had any experience of this world, all the young
who had any intuitive prescience in these matters, could not but fear that
things could not long go on as they were now going. It was sadly to be
feared that so young a man, and so very handsome a man, and such an admirer
of beauty, and grace, and music, and of such an enthusiastic temper, must
be in danger of being drawn on farther than he was aware, and before he
knew what he was about.
The general heard and saw all that went on without seeming to take heed,
only once he asked Cecilia how long she thought her cousins would stay. She
did not know, but she said "she saw he wished them to be what they were
not--cousins once removed--and quite agreed with him." He smiled, for a man
is always well pleased to find his wife agree with him in disliking her
One night--one fine moonlight night--Lady Castlefort, standing at the
conservatory door with Beauclerc, after talking an inconceivable quantity
of nonsense about her passion for the moon, and her notions about the
stars, and congenial souls born under the same planet, proposed to him a
The general was at the time playing at chess with Helen, and had the best
of the game, but at that moment he made a false move, was check-mated, rose
hastily, threw the men together on the board, and forgot to regret his
shameful defeat, or to compliment Helen upon her victory. Lady Castlefort,
having just discovered that the fatality nonsense about the stars would
not quite do for Beauclerc, had been the next instant seized with a sudden
passion for astronomy; she must see those charming rings of Saturn, which
she had heard so much of, which the general was showing Miss Stanley the
other night; she must beg him to lend his telescope; she came up with her
sweetest smile to trouble the general for his glass. Lord Castlefort,
following, objected strenuously to her going out at night; she had been
complaining of a bad cold when he wanted her to walk in the daytime, she
would only make it worse by going out in the night air. If she wanted to
see Saturn and his rings, the general, he was sure, would fix a telescope
at the window for her.
But that would not do, she must have a moonlight walk; she threw open the
conservatory door, beckoned to Mr. Beauclerc, and how it ended Helen did
not stay to see. She thought that she ought not even to think on the
subject, and she went away as fast as she could. It was late, and she went
to bed wishing to be up early, to go on with a drawing she was to finish
for Mrs. Collingwood--a view by the river side, that view which had struck
her fancy as so beautiful the day she went first to Old Forest. Early the
next morning--and a delightful morning it was--she was up and out, and
reached the spot from which her sketch was taken. She was surprised to find
her little camp-stool, which she had looked for in vain in the hall, in its
usual place, set here ready for her, and on it a pencil nicely cut.
Beauclerc must have done this. But he was not in general an early riser.
However, she concluded that he had gone over thus early to Old Forest, to
see his friend Lord Beltravers, who was to have arrived the day before,
with his sisters. She saw a boat rowing down the river, and she had no
doubt he was gone. But just as she had settled to her drawing, she heard
the joyful bark of Beauclerc's dog Nelson, who came bounding towards her,
and the next moment his master appeared, coming down the path from the
wood. With quick steps he came till he was nearly close to her, then
slackened his pace.
"Good morning!" said Helen; she tried to speak with composure, but her
heart beat--she could not help feeling surprise at seeing him--but it was
"I thought you were gone to Old Forest?" said she.
"Not yet," said he.
His voice sounded different from usual, and she saw in him some suppressed
agitation. She endeavoured to keep her own manner unembarrassed--she
thanked him for the nicely-cut pencil, and the exactly well-placed seat. He
advanced a step or two nearer, stooped, and looked close at her drawing,
but he did not seem to see or know what he was looking at.
At this moment Nelson, who had been too long unnoticed, put up one paw on
Miss Stanley's arm, unseen by his master, and encouraged by such gentle
reproof as Helen gave, his audacious paw was on the top of her drawing-book
the next moment, and the next was upon the drawing--and the paw was wet
with dew.--"Nelson!" exclaimed his master in an angry tone.
"O do not scold him," cried Helen, "do not punish him; the drawing is not
spoiled--only wet, and it will be as well as ever when it is dry."
Beauclerc ejaculated something about the temper of an angel while she
patted Nelson's penitent head.
"As the drawing must be left to dry," said Beauclerc, "perhaps Miss Stanley
would do me the favour to walk as far as the landing-place, where the boat
is to meet me--to take me--if--if I MUST go to Old Forest!" and he sighed.
She took his offered arm and walked on--surprised--confused;--wondering
what he meant by that sigh and that look--and that strong emphasis on
_must_. "If I _must_ go to Old Forest." Was not it a pleasure?--was it not
his own choice?--what could he mean?--What could be the matter?
A vague agitating idea rose in her mind, but she put it from her, and they
walked on for some minutes, both silent. They entered the wood, and feeling
the silence awkward, and afraid that he should perceive her embarrassment,
and that he should suspect her suspicion, she exerted herself to speak--to
say something, no matter what.
"It is a charming morning!"
After a pause of absence of mind, he answered,
Then stopping short, he fixed his eyes upon Helen with an expression that
she was afraid to understand. It could hardly bear any interpretation but
one--and yet that was impossible--ought to be impossible--from a man in
Beauclerc's circumstances--engaged--almost a married man, as she had been
told to consider him. She did not know at this moment what to think--still
she thought she must mistake him, and she should be excessively ashamed of
such a mistake, and now more strongly felt the dread that he should see and
misinterpret or interpret too rightly her emotion; she walked on quicker,
and her breath grew short, and her colour heightened. He saw her
agitation--a delightful hope arose in his mind. It was plain she was not
indifferent--he looked at her, but dared not look long enough--feared that
he was mistaken. But the embarrassment seemed to change its character even
as he looked, and now it was more like displeasure--decidedly, she appeared
displeased. And so she was; for she thought now that he must either be
trifling with her, or, if serious, must be acting most dishonourably;--her
good opinion of him must be destroyed for ever, if, as now it seemed, he
wished to make an impression upon her heart--yet still she tried not to
think, not to see it. She was sorry, she was very wrong to let such an idea
into her mind--and still her agitation increased.
Quick as she turned from him these thoughts passed in her mind, alternately
angry and ashamed, and at last, forcing herself to be composed, telling
herself she ought to see farther and at least to be certain before she
condemned him--condemned so kind, so honourable a friend, while the fault
might be all her own; she now, in a softened tone, as if begging pardon
for the pain she had given, and the injustice she had done him, said some
words, insignificant in themselves, but from the voice of kindness charming
to Beauclerc's ear and soul.
"Are not we walking very fast?" said she, breathless. He slackened his pace
instantly, and with a delighted look, while she, in a hurried voice,
added, "But do not let me delay you. There is the boat. You must be in
"In haste! impatient! to leave you, Helen!" She blushed deeper than he had
ever seen her blush before. Beauclerc in general knew--
Which blush was anger's, which was love's!"
--But now he was so much moved he could not decide at the first glance:
at the second, there was no doubt; it was anger--not love. Her arm was
withdrawn from his. He was afraid he had gone too far. He had called her
Helen! He begged pardon, half humbly, half proudly. "I beg pardon; Miss
Stanley, I should have said. I see I have offended. I fear I have been
presumptuous, but Lady Davenant taught me to trust to Miss Stanley's
sincerity, and I was encouraged by her expressions of confidence and
"Friendship! Oh, yes! Mr. Beauclerc," said Helen, in a hurried voice,
eagerly seizing on and repeating the word friendship; "yes, I have always
considered you as a friend. I am sure I shall always find you a sincere,
"Friend!" he repeated in a disappointed tone--all his hopes sunk. She took
his arm again, and he was displeased even with that. She was not the being
of real sensibility he had fancied--she was not capable of real love. So
vacillated his heart and his imagination, and so quarrelled he alternately
every instant with her and with himself. He could not understand her,
or decide what he should next do or say himself; and there was the boat
nearing the land, and they were going on, on, towards it in silence. He
It was a sigh that could not but be heard and noticed; it was not meant
to be noticed, and yet it was. What could she think of it? She could not
believe that Beauclerc meant to act treacherously. This time she was
determined not to take anything for granted, not to be so foolish as she
had been with Mr. Churchill.
"Is not that your boat that I see, rowing close?"
"Yes, I believe--certainly. Yes," said he.
But now the vacillation of Beauclerc's mind suddenly ceased. Desperate, he
stopped her, as she would have turned down that path to the landing-place
where the boat was mooring. He stood full across the path. "Miss Stanley,
one word--by one word, one look decide. You must decide for me whether I
stay--or go--for ever!"
The look of astonishment--more than astonishment, almost of
indignation--silenced him completely, and he stood dismayed. She pressed
onwards, and he no longer stopped her path. For an instant he submitted in
despair. "Then I must not think of it. I must go--must I, Miss Stanley?
Will not you listen to me, Helen? Advise me; let me open my heart to you as
She stopped under the shady tree beneath which they were passing,
and, leaning against it, she repeated, "As a friend--but, no, no, Mr.
Beauclerc--no; I am not the friend you should consult--consult the general,
"I have consulted him, and he approves."
"You have! That is well, that is well at all events," cried she; "if he
approves, then all is right."
There was a ray of satisfaction on her countenance. He looked as if
considering what she exactly meant. He hoped again, and was again resolved
to hazard the decisive words. "If you knew all!" and he pressed her arm
closer to him--"if I might tell you all----?"
Helen withdrew her arm decidedly. "I know all," said she; "all I ought to
know, Mr. Beauclerc."
"You know all!" cried he, astonished at her manner.
"You know the circumstances in which I am placed?"
He alluded to the position in which he stood with Lady Castlefort; she
thought he meant with respect to Lady Blanche, and she answered--"Yes: I
know all!" and her eye turned towards the boat.
"I understand you," said he; "you think I ought to go?" "Certainly," said
she. It never entered into her mind to doubt the truth of what Lady Cecilia
had told her, and she had at first been so much embarrassed by the fear of
betraying what she felt she ought not to feel, and she was now so shocked
by what she thought his dishonourable conduct, that she repeated almost in
a tone of severity--"Certainly, Mr. Beauclerc, you ought to go."
The words, "since you are engaged,"--"you know you are engaged," she was on
the point of adding, but Lady Cecilia's injunctions not to tell him that
she had betrayed his secret stopped her.
He looked at her for an instant, and then abruptly, and in great agitation,
said; "May I ask, Miss Stanley, if your affections are engaged?"
"Is that a question, Mr. Beauclerc, which you have a right to ask me?"
"I have no right--no right, I acknowledge--I am answered."
He turned away from her, and ran down the bank towards the boat, but
returned instantly, and exclaimed, "If you say to me, go! I am gone for
"Go!" Helen firmly pronounced. "You never can be more than a friend to me!
Oh never be less!--go!"
"I am gone," said he, "you shall never see me more."
He went, and a few seconds afterwards she heard the splashing of his oars.
He was gone! Oh! how she wished that they had parted sooner--a few minutes
sooner, even before he had so looked--so spoken!
"Oh! that we had parted while I might have still perfectly esteemed him;
When Helen attempted to walk, she trembled so much that she could not move,
and leaning against the tree under which she was standing, she remained
fixed for some time almost without thought. Then she began to recollect
what had been before all this, and as soon as she could walk she went back
for her drawing-book, threw from her the pencil which Beauclerc had cut,
and made her way home as fast as she could, and up to her own room, without
meeting anybody; and as soon as she was there she bolted the door and threw
herself upon her bed. She had by this time a dreadful headache, and she
wanted to try and get rid of it in time for breakfast--that was her first
object; but her thoughts were so confused that they could not fix upon
anything rightly. She tried to compose herself, and to think the whole
affair over again; but she could not. There was something so strange in
what had passed! The sudden--the total change in her opinion--her total
loss of confidence! She tried to put all thoughts and feelings out of her
mind, and just to lie stupified if she could, that she might get rid of the
pain in her head. She had no idea whether it was late or early, and was
going to get up to look at her watch, when she heard the first bell, half
an hour before breakfast, and this was the time when Cecilia usually opened
the door between their rooms. She dreaded the sound, but when she had
expected it some minutes, she became impatient even for that which she
feared; she wanted to have it over, and she raised herself on her elbow,
and listened with acute impatience: at last the door was thrown wide open,
and bright and gay as ever, in came Cecilia, but at the first sight of
Helen on her bed, wan and miserable, she stopped short.
"My dearest Helen! what can be the matter?"
"Well! what of him?" cried Cecilia, and she smiled.
"Oh, Cecilia! do not smile; you cannot imagine--"
"Oh, yes! but I can," cried Cecilia. "I see how it is; I understand it all;
and miserable and amazed as you look at this moment, I will set all right
for you in one word. He is not going to be married--not engaged."
Helen started up. "Not engaged!"
"No more than you are, my dear! Oh! I am glad to see your colour come
"Thank Heaven!" cried Helen, "then he is not--"
"A villain!--not at all. He is all that's right; all that is charming, my
dear. So thank Heaven, and be as happy as you please."
"But I cannot understand it," said Helen, sinking back; "I really cannot
understand how it is, Cecilia." Cecilia gave her a glass of water in great
haste, and was very sorry, and very glad, and begged forgiveness, and all
in a breath: but as yet Helen did not know what she had to forgive, till it
was explained to her in direct words, that Cecilia had told her not only
what was not true, but what she at the time of telling knew to be false.
"For what purpose, oh! my dear Cecilia! All to save me from a little
foolish embarrassment at first, you have made us miserable at last."
"Miserable! my dear Helen; at worst miserable only for half an hour.
Nonsense! lie down again, and rest your poor head. I will go this minute to
Granville. Where is he?"
"Gone! Gone for ever! Those were his last words."
"Impossible! absurd! Only what a man says in a passion. But where is he
gone? Only to Old Forest! Gone for ever--gone till dinner-time! Probably
coming back at this moment in all haste, like a true lover, to beg your
pardon for your having used him abominably ill. Now, smile; do not shake
your head, and look so wretched; but tell me exactly, word for word and
look for look, all that passed between you, and then I shall know what is
best to be done."
Word for word Helen could not answer, for she had been so much confused,
but she told to the best of her recollection; and Cecilia still thought
no great harm was done. She only looked a little serious from the
apprehension, now the real, true apprehension, of what might happen about
Lady Blanche, who, as she believed, was at Old Forest. "Men are so foolish;
men in love, so rash. Beauclerc, in a fit of anger and despair on being so
refused by the woman he loved, might go and throw himself at the feet
of another for whom he did not care in the least, in a strange sort of
revenge. But I know how to settle it all, and I will do it this moment."
But Helen caught hold of her hand, and firmly detaining it, absolutely
objected to her doing anything without telling her exactly and truly what
she was going to do.
Lady Cecilia assured her that she was only going to inquire from the
general whether Lady Blanche was with her sister at Old Forest, or not.
"Listen to me, my dear Helen; what I am going to say can do no mischief.
If Lady Blanche is there, then the best thing to be done is, for me to go
immediately, this very morning, to pay the ladies a visit on their coming
to the country, and I will bring back Granville. A word will bring him
back. I will only tell him there was a little mistake, or if you think
it best, I will tell him the whole truth. Let me go--only let me go and
consult the general before the breakfast-bell rings, for I shall have no
Helen let her go, for as Beauclerc had told her that he had opened his mind
to the general, she thought it was best that he should hear all that had
The moment the general saw Lady Cecilia come in, he smiled, and said,
"Well! my dear Cecilia, you have seen Helen this morning, and she has seen
Beauclerc--what is the result? Does he stay, or go?"
"He is gone!" said Cecilia. The general looked surprised and sorry. "He did
not propose for her," continued Cecilia, "he did not declare himself--he
only began to sound her opinion of him, and she--she contrived to
misunderstand--to offend him, and he is gone, but only to Old Forest, and
we can have him back again directly."
"That is not likely," said the general, "because I know that Beauclerc had
determined, that if he went he would not return for some time. Your friend
Helen was to decide. If she gave him any hope, that is, permitted him to
appear as her declared admirer, he could, with propriety, happiness, and
honour, remain here; if not, my dear Cecilia, you must be sensible that he
is right to go."
"Gone for some time!" repeated Cecilia, "you mean as long as Lady
Castlefort is here."
"Yes," said the general.
"I wish she was gone, I am sure, with all my heart," said Cecilia; "but
in the mean time, tell me, my dear Clarendon, do you know whether Lord
Beltravers' sisters are at Old Forest?"
The general did not think that Lady Blanche had arrived; he was not
certain, but he knew that the Comtesse de St. Cymon had arrived yesterday.
"Then," said Cecilia, "it would be but civil to go to see the comtesse. I
will go this morning."
General Clarendon answered instantly, and with decision, that she must not
think of such a thing--that it could not be done. "Madame de St. Cymon is a
woman of doubtful reputation, not a person with whom Lady Cecilia Clarendon
ought to form any acquaintance."
"No, not form an acquaintance--I'm quite aware of that," and eagerly she
pleaded that she had no intention of doing anything; "but just one morning
visit paid and returned, you know, leads to nothing. Probably we shall
neither of us be at home, and never meet; and really it would be such a
marked thing not to pay this visit to the Beltravers family on their return
to the country. Formerly there was such a good understanding between the
Forresters and your father; and really hospitality requires it. Altogether
this one visit really must be paid, it cannot be helped, so I will order
"It must not be done!" the general said; "it is a question of right, not of
"Right, but there is nothing really wrong, surely; I believe all that has
been said of her is scandal. Nobody is safe against reports--the public
papers are so scandalous! While a woman lives with her husband, it is but
charitable to suppose all is right. That's the rule. Besides, we should not
throw the first stone." Then Lady Cecilia pleaded, lady this and lady that,
and the whole county, without the least scruple would visit Madame de St.
"Lady this and lady that may do as they please, or as their husbands think
proper or improper, that is no rule for Lady Cecilia Clarendon; and as
to the whole county, or the whole world, what is that to me, when I have
formed my own determination?"
The fact was, that at this very time Madame de St. Cymon was about to be
separated from her husband. A terrible discovery had just been made. Lord
Beltravers had brought his sister to Old Forest to bide her from London
disgrace; there he intended to leave her to rusticate, while he should
follow her husband to Paris immediately, to settle the terms of separation
"Beauclerc, no doubt, will go to Paris with him," said the general.
"To Paris! when will he set out?"
"To-day--directly, if Helen has decidedly rejected him; but you say he did
not declare himself. Pray tell me all at once."
And if she had done so, all might have been well; but she was afraid. Her
husband was as exact about _some things_ as her mother; he would certainly
be displeased at the deception she had practised on Helen; she could not
tell him that, not at this moment, for she had just fooled him to the top
of his bent about this visit; she would find a better time; she so dreaded
the instant change of his smile--the look of disapprobation; she was so
cowardly; in short, the present pain of displeasing--the consequences even
of her own folly, she never could endure, and to avoid it she had always
recourse to some new evasion; and now, when Helen--her dear Helen's
happiness, was at stake, she faltered--she paltered--she would not for the
world do her any wrong; but still she thought she could manage without
telling the whole--she would tell nothing _but_ the truth. So, after a
moment's hesitation, while all these thoughts went through her mind, when
the general repeated his question, and begged to know at once what was
passing in her little head; she smiled in return for that smile which
played on her husband's face while he fondly looked upon her, and she
answered, "I am thinking of poor Helen. She has made a sad mistake--and has
a horrid headache at this moment--in short she has offended Beauclerc past
endurance--past his endurance--and he went off in a passion before she
found out her mistake. In short, we must have him back again; could you go,
my dear love--or write directly?"
"First let me understand," said the general. "Miss Stanley has made a
"She thought Beauclerc was engaged to Lady Blanche."
"How could she think so? What reason had she?"
"She had been told so by somebody."
"Somebody!--that eternal scandal-monger Lady Katrine, I suppose."
"No--not Lady Katrine," said Cecilia; "but I am not at liberty to tell you
"No matter; but Miss Stanley is not a fool; she could not believe somebody
or anybody, contrary to common sense."
"No, but Beauclerc did not come quite to proposing--and you know she
had been blamed for refusing Mr. Churchill before she was asked--and in
short--in love, people do not always know what they are about."
"I do not understand one word of it," said the general; "nor I am sure do
you, my dear Cecilia." "Yes, I really do, but----"
"My dear Cecilia, I assure you it is always best to let people settle their
love affairs their own way."
"Yes, certainly--I would not interfere in the least--only to get Granville
back again--and then let them settle it their own way. Cannot you call at
"Could you not write?"
"No--not unless I know the whole. I will do nothing in the dark. Always
tell your confessor, your lawyer, your physician, your friend, your whole
case, or they are fools or rogues if they act for you; go back and repeat
this to Helen Stanley from me."
"But, my dear, she will think it so unkind."
"Let her show me how I can serve her, and I will do it."
"Only write a line to Beauclerc--say, 'Beauclerc come back,--here has been
a mistake.'" She would have put a pen into his hand, and held paper to him.
"Let me know the whole, and then, and not till then, can I judge whether I
should be doing right for her or not." The difficulty of telling the whole
had increased to Lady Cecilia, even from the hesitation and prevarication
she had now made. "Let me see Helen,--let me speak to her myself, and
learn what this strange nonsensical mystery is." He was getting impatient.
"Cannot I see Miss Stanley?"
"Why no, my dear love, not just now, she has such a headache! She is lying
down. There is the breakfast-bell--after breakfast, if you please. But I
am clear she would rather not speak to you herself on the subject."
"Then come down to breakfast, my dear, and let her settle it her own
way--that is much the best plan. Interference in love matters always does
mischief. Come to breakfast, my dear--I have no time to lose--I must be off
to a court-martial."
He looked at his watch, and Cecilia went half down stairs with him, and
then ran back to keep Helen quiet by the assurance that all would
be settled--all would be right, and that she would send her up some
breakfast--she must not think of coming down; and Cecilia lamented half
breakfast-time--how subject to headaches poor Helen was; and through this
and through all other conversation she settled what she would do for her.
As the last resource, she would tell the whole truth--not to her husband,
she loved him too well to face his displeasure for one moment--hut to
Beauclerc; and writing would be so much easier than speaking--without
being put to the blush she could explain it all to Beauclerc, and turn
it playfully; and he would be so happy that he would be only too glad to
forgive her, and to do anything she asked. She concocted and wrote a very
pretty letter, in which she took all the blame fully on herself--did
perfect justice to Helen; said she wrote without her knowledge, and
depended entirely upon his discretion, so he must come back of his own
accord, and keep her counsel. This letter, however, she could not despatch
so soon as she had expected; she could not send a servant with it till
the general should be off to his court-martial. Now had Cecilia gone the
straight-forward way to work, her husband could in that interval, and
would, have set all to rights; but this to Cecilia was impossible; she
could only wait in an agony of impatience till the general and his officers
were all out of the way, and then she despatched a groom with her letter to
Old Forest, and desired him to return as fast as possible, while she went
to Helen's room, to while away the time of anxious suspense as well as she
could; and she soon succeeded in talking herself into excellent spirits
again. "Now, my dear Helen, if that unlucky mistake had not been made,--if
you had not fancied that Granville was married already,--and if he had
actually proposed for you,--what would you have said?--in short--would you
have accepted him?"
"Oh! Cecilia, I do hope he will understand how it all was; I hope he will
believe that I esteem him as I always did: as to love--"
Helen paused, and Lady Cecilia went on: "As to love, nobody knows
anything about it till it comes--and here it is coming, I do believe!"
continued she, looking out of the window.--No! not Mr. Beauclerc, but
the man she had sent with her letter, galloping towards the house.
Disappointed not to see Beauclerc himself, she could only conclude that
as he had not his horse with him, he was returning in the boat. The
answer to her letter was brought in. At the first glance on the
direction, her countenance changed. "Not Granville's hand!--what can
have happened?" She tore open the note, "He is gone!--gone with Lord
Beltravers--set off!--gone to Paris!" Helen said not one word, and
Cecilia, in despair, repeated, "Gone!--gone!--absolutely gone! Nothing
more can he done. Oh, that I had done nothing about it! All has failed!
Heaven knows what may happen now! Oh! if I could but have let it all
alone! I never, never can forgive myself! My dear Helen, be angry with
me--reproach me: pray--pray reproach me as I deserve!" But Helen could
not blame one who so blamed herself--one who, however foolish and wrong
she had been, had done it all from the kindest motives. In the agony of
her penitence, she now told Helen all that had passed between her and
the general; that, to avoid the shame of confessing to him her first
deception, she had gone on another and another step in these foolish
evasions, contrivances, and mysteries; how, thinking she could manage
it, she had written without his knowledge; and now, to complete her
punishment, not only had every thing which she had attempted failed, but
a consequence which she could never have foreseen had happened.--"Here I
am, with a note actually in my hand from this horrid Madame de St.
Cymon, whom Clarendon absolutely would not hear of my even calling upon!
Look what she writes to me. She just took advantage of this opportunity
to begin a correspondence before an acquaintance: but I will never
answer her. Here is what she says:--
"'The Comtesse de St. Cymon exceedingly regrets that Lady Cecilia
Clarendon's servant did not arrive in time to deliver her ladyship's letter
into Mr. Beauclerc's own hand. Mr. B. left Old Forest with Lord Beltravers
early to-day for Paris. The Comtesse de St. Cymon, understanding that
Lady Cecilia Clarendon is anxious that there should be as little delay as
possible in forwarding her letter, and calculating that if returned by her
ladyship's servant it must be too late for this day's post from Clarendon
Park, has forwarded it immediately with her own letters to Paris, which
cannot fail to meet Mr. Beauclerc directly on his arrival there.'
"Oh!" cried Lady Cecilia, "how angry the general would be if he knew of
this!" She tore the note to the smallest bits as she spoke, and threw them
away; and next she begged that Helen would never say a word about it. There
was no use in telling the general what would only vex him, and what could
not be helped; and what could lead to nothing, for she should never answer
this note, nor have any further communication of any kind with Madame de
Helen, nevertheless, thought it would be much better to tell the general of
it, and she wondered how Cecilia could think of doing otherwise, and just
when she had so strongly reproached herself, and repented of these foolish
mysteries; and this was going on another step. "Indeed, Cecilia," said
Helen, "I wish--on my own account I wish you would not conceal anything. It
is hard to let the general suspect me of extreme folly and absurdity, or
of some sort of double dealing in this business, in which I have done my
utmost to do right and to go straightforward." Poor Helen, with her nervous
headache beating worse and worse, remonstrated and entreated, and came to
tears; and Lady Cecilia promised that it should be all done as she desired;
but again she charged and besought Helen to say nothing herself about the
matter to the general: and this acceded to, Lady Cecilia's feelings being
as transient as they were vehement, all her self-reproaches, penitence, and
fears passed away, and, taking her bright view of the whole affair, she
ended with the certainty that Beauclerc, would return the moment he
received her letter; that he would have it in a very few days, and all
would end well, and quite as well as if she had not been a fool.
THE first tidings of Beauclerc came in a letter from him to the general,
written immediately after his arrival at Paris. But it was plain that it
must have been written before Lady Cecilia's letter, forwarded by Madame de
St. Cymon, could have reached him. It was evident that matters were as yet
unexplained, from his manner of writing about "the death-blow to all his
hopes," and now he was setting off with Lord Beltravers for Naples, to
follow M. de St. Cymon, and settle the business of the sister's divorce.
Lady Cecilia could only hope that her letter would follow him thither,
enclosed in this Madame de St. Cymon's despatches to her brother; and now
they could know nothing more till they could hear from Naples.
Meanwhile, Helen perceived that, though the general continued to be as
attentive and kind to her as usual, yet that there was something more
careful and reserved in his manner than formerly, less of spontaneous
regard, and cordial confidence. It was not that he was displeased by her
having discouraged the addresses of his ward, fond as he was of Beauclerc,
and well as he would have been pleased by the match. This he distinctly
expressed the only time that he touched upon the subject. He said, that
Miss Stanley was the best and the only judge of what would make her happy;
but he could not comprehend the nature of the mistake she had made;
Cecilia's explanations, whatever they were, had not made the matter clear.
There was either some caprice, or some mystery, which he determined not to
inquire into, upon his own principle of leaving people to settle their love
affairs in their own way. Helen's spirits were lowered: naturally of great
sensibility, she depended more for her happiness on her inward feelings
than upon any external circumstances. A great deal of gaiety was now going
on constantly among the young people at Clarendon Park, and this made
her want of spirits more disagreeable to herself, more obvious, and more
observed by others. Lady Katrine rallied her unmercifully. Not suspecting
the truth, her ladyship presumed that Miss Stanley repented of having,
before she was asked, said No instead of Yes, to Mr. Churchill. Ever since
his departure she had evidently worn the willow.
Lady Cecilia was excessively vexed by this ill-natured raillery: conscious
that she had been the cause of all this annoyance to Helen, and of much
more serious evil to her, the zeal and tenderness of her affection now
increased, and was shown upon every little occasion involuntarily, in a
manner that continually irritated her cousin Katrine's jealousy. Helen had
been used to live only with those by whom she was beloved, and she was not
at all prepared for the sort of warfare which Lady Katrine carried on; her
perpetual sneers, innuendoes, and bitter sarcasms, Helen did not resent,
but she felt them. The arrows, ill-aimed and weak, could not penetrate far;
it was not with their point they wounded, but by their venom--wherever
that touched it worked inward mischief. Often to escape from one false
imputation she exposed herself to another more grievous. One night, when
the young people wished to dance, and the usual music was not to be
had, Helen played quadrilles, and waltzes, for hours with indefatigable
good-nature, and when some of the party returned their cordial thanks, Lady
Katrine whispered, "our musician has been well paid by Lord Estridge's
admiration of her white hands." His lordship had not danced, and had been
standing all the evening beside Helen, much to the discomfiture of Lady
Katrine, who intended to have had him for her own partner. The next night,
Helen did not play, but joined the dance, and with a boy partner, whom
nobody could envy her. The general, who saw wonderfully quickly the by-play
of society, marked all this, and now his eye followed Helen through the
quadrille, and he said to some one standing by, that Miss Stanley danced
charmingly, to his taste, and in such a lady-like manner. He was glad to
see her in good spirits again; her colour was raised, and he observed that
she looked remarkably well. "Yes," Lady Katrine answered, "remarkably well;
and black is so becoming to that sort of complexion, no doubt this is the
reason Miss Stanley wears it so much longer than is customary for an uncle.
Short or long mournings are, to be sure, just according to fashion,
or feeling, as some say. For my part, I hate long mournings--so like
ostentation of sentiment; whatever I did, at any rate I would be
consistent. I never would dance in black. Pope, you know, has such a good
cut at that sort of thing. Do you recollect the lines?"
"'And bear about the mockery of woe
To midnight dances and the public show.'"
Lady Castlefort took Miss Stanley aside, after the dance was over, to
whisper to her so good-naturedly, how shockingly severe Katrine had been;
faithfully repeating every word that her sister had said. "And so cruel,
to talk of your bearing about the _mockery_ of woe!--But, my sweet little
lamb, do not let me distress you so." Helen, withdrawing from the false
caresses of Lady Castlefort, assured her that she should not be hurt by
any thing Lady Katrine could say, as she so little understood her real
feelings; and at the moment her spirit rose against the injustice, and felt
as much superior to such petty malice as even Lady Davenant could have
desired. She had resolved to continue in mourning for the longest period
in which it is worn for a parent, because, in truth, her uncle had been a
parent to her; but the morning after Lady Katrine's cruel remarks, Cecilia
begged that Helen would oblige her by laying aside black. "Let it be on my
birthday." Lady Cecilia's birth-day was to be celebrated the ensuing week.
"Well, for that day certainly I will," Helen said; "but only for that day."
This would not satisfy Cecilia. Helen saw that Lady Katrine's observations
had made a serious impression, and, dreading to become the subject of daily
observation, perhaps altercation, she yielded. The mourning was thrown
aside. Then every thing she wore must be new. Lady Cecilia and Mademoiselle
Felicie, her waiting-maid, insisted upon taking the matter into their
own hands. Helen really intended only to let one dress for her friend's
birth-day be bespoken for her; but from one thing she was led on to
another. Lady Cecilia's taste in dress was exquisite. Her first general
principle was admirable--"Whatever you buy, let it be the best of its kind,
which is always the cheapest in the end." Her second maxim was--"Never have
anything but from such and such people, or from such and such places,"
naming those who were at the moment accredited by fashion. "These, of
course, make you pay high for the name of the thing; but that must be. The
name is all," said Lady Cecilia. "Does your hat, your bonnet, whatever it
be, come from the reigning fashionable authority? then it is right, and you
are quite right. You can put down all objections and objectors with the
magic of a name. You need think no more about your dress; you have no
trouble; while the poor creatures who go toiling and rummaging in cheap
shops--what comes of it? but total exhaustion and disgrace! Yesterday, now,
my dear Helen, recollect. When Lady Katrine, after dinner, asked little
Miss Isdall where she bought that pretty hat, the poor girl was quite out
of countenance. 'Really she did not know; she only knew it was very cheap.'
You saw that nobody could endure the hat afterwards; so that, cheap as it
might be, it was money to all intents and purposes absolutely thrown away,
for it did not answer its purpose."
Helen, laughing, observed, that if its purpose had been to look well, and
to make the wearer look well, it had fully succeeded. "Sophistry, my dear
Helen. The purpose was not to look well, but to have a distinguished air.
Dress, and what we call fashion and taste altogether, you know, are mere
matters of opinion, association of ideas, and so forth. When will you learn
to reason, as mamma says? Do not make me despair of you."
Thus, half in jest, half in earnest, with truth and falsehood, sense and
nonsense, prettily blended together, Lady Cecilia prevailed in overpowering
Helen's better judgment, and obtained a hasty submission. In economy, as in
morals, false principles are far more dangerous than any one single error.
One false principle as to laying out money is worse than any bad bargain
that can be made, because it leads to bad bargains innumerable. It was
settled that all Helen wanted should be purchased, not only from those who
sold the best goods, but from certain very expensive houses of fashionably
high name in London. And the next point Lady Cecilia insisted upon was,
that Helen's dress should always be the same as her own. "You know it used
to be so, my dear Helen, when we were children; let it be so now."
"But there is such a difference _now_" said Helen; "and I cannot
"Difference! Oh! don't talk of differences--let there be none ever between
us. Not afford!--nonsense, my dear--the expense will be nothing. In
these days you get the materials of dress absolutely for nothing--the
fashion--the making-up is all, us Felicie and I, and everybody who knows
anything of the matter, can tell you. Now all that sort of thing we can
save you--here is my wedding paraphernalia all at your service--patterns
ready cut--and here is Felicie, whose whole French soul is in the
toilette--and there is your own little maid, who has hands, and head, and
heart, all devoted to you--so leave it to us--leave it to us, my dear--take
no thought what you shall put on--and you will put it on all the better."
Felicie was summoned. "Felicie, remember Miss Stanley's dress is always
to be the same as my own. It must be so, my dear. It will be the greatest
pleasure to me," and with her most persuasive caressing manner, she added,
"My own dear Helen, if you love me, let it be so."
This was an appeal which Helen could not resist. She thought that she could
not refuse without vexing Cecilia; and, from a sort of sentimental belief
that she was doing Cecilia "a real kindness,"--that it was what Cecilia
called "a sisterly act," she yielded to what she knew was unsuited to her
circumstances--to what was quite contrary to her better judgment. It often
so happens, that our friends doubly guard one obvious point of weakness,
while another exists undiscovered by them, and unknown to ourselves. Lady
Davenant had warned Helen against the dangers of indecision and coquetry
with her lovers, but this danger of extravagance in dress she had not
foreseen--and into how much expense this one weak compliance would lead
her, Helen could not calculate. She had fancied that, at least, till she
went to town, she should not want anything expensive--this was a great
mistake. Formerly in England, as still in every other country but England,
a marked difference was made in the style of dress in the country and in
town. Formerly, overdressing in the country was reprobated as quite vulgar;
but now, even persons of birth and fashion are guilty of this want of taste
and sense. They display almost as much expensive dress in the country as in
It happened that, among the succession of company at Clarendon Park
this summer, there came, self-invited, from the royal party in the
neighbourhood, a certain wealthy lady, by some called "Golconda," by others
"the Duchess of Baubleshire." She was passionately fond of dress, and she
eclipsed all rivals in magnificence and variety of ornaments. At imminent
peril of being robbed, she brought to the country, and carried about
everywhere with her, an amazing number of jewels, wearing two or three
different sets at different times of the day--displaying them on the most
absurdly improper occasions--at a fete champetre, or a boat race.
Once, after a riding-party, at a pic-nic under the trees, when it had been
resolved unanimously that nobody should change their dress at dinner-time,
Golconda appeared in a splendid necklace, displayed over her riding-dress,
and when she was reproached with having broken through the general
agreement not to dress she replied, that, "Really she had put the thing on
in the greatest hurry, without knowing well what it was, just to oblige her
little page who had brought three sets of jewels for her choice--she had
chosen the _most undressed_ of the three, merely because she could not
disappoint the poor little fellow."
Every one saw the affectation and folly, and above all, the vulgarity of
this display, and those who were most envious were most eager to comfort
themselves by ridicule. Never was the "Golconda" out of hearing, but Lady
Katrine was ready with some instance of her "absurd vanity." "If fortune
had but blessed her with such jewels," Lady Katrine said, "she trusted she
should have worn them with better grace;" but it did not appear that the
taste for baubles was diminished by the ridicule thrown upon them--quite
the contrary, it was plain that the laughers were only envious, and envious
because they could not be envied.
Lady Cecilia, who had no envy in her nature--who was really
generous--entered not into this vain competition; on the contrary, she
refrained from wearing any of her jewels, because Helen had none; besides,
simplicity was really the best taste, the general said so--this was well
thought and well done for some time, but there was a little lurking love
of ornaments in Cecilia's mind, nor was Helen entirely without sympathy in
that taste. Her uncle had early excited it in her mind by frequent fond
presents of the prettiest trinkets imaginable; the taste had been matured
along with her love for one for whom she had such strong affection, and it
had seemed to die with its origin. Before she left Cecilhurst, Helen had
given away every ornament she possessed; she thought she could never want
them again, and she left them as remembrances with those who had loved her
and her uncle.
Cecilia on her birthday brought her a set of forget-me-nots to match those
which she intended to wear herself, and which had been long ago given to
Lady Cecilia by the dear good dean himself. This was irresistible to Helen,
and they were accepted. But this was only the prelude to presents of more
value, which Helen scrupled to receive; yet--
"Oft to refuse and never once offend"
was not so easily done as said, especially with Lady Cecilia; she was so
urgent, so caressing, and had so many plausible reasons, suitable to all
occasions. On the general's birthday, Lady Cecilia naturally wished to wear
his first gift to her--a pair of beautiful pearl bracelets, but then Helen
must have the same. Helen thought that Roman pearl would do quite as well
for her. She had seen some such excellent imitations that no eye could
detect the difference. "No eye! very likely; but still your own conscience,
my dear!" replied Lady Cecilia. "And if people ask whether they are real,
what could you say? You know there are everywhere impertinent people;
malicious Lady Katrines, who will ask questions. Oh! positively I cannot
bear to think of your being detected in passing off counterfeits. In all
ornaments, it should be genuine or none--none or genuine."
"None, then, let it be for me this time, dear Cecilia."
Cecilia seemed to submit, and Helen thought she had well settled it. But
on the day of the general's _fete_, the pearl bracelets were on her
dressing-table. They were from the general, and could not be refused.
Cecilia declared she had nothing to do with the matter.
"Upon my word!" cried Lady Cecilia; "and if you doubt me, the general shall
have the honour of presenting, and you the agony of refusing or accepting
them in full salon."
Helen sighed, hesitated, and submitted. The general, on her appearing with
the bracelets, bowed, smiled, and thanked her with his kindest look; and
she was glad to see him look kindly upon her again.
Having gained her point so pleasantly this time, Lady Cecilia did not stop
there; and Helen found there was no resource but to bespeak beforehand for
herself whatever she apprehended would be pressed upon her acceptance.
Fresh occasions for display, and new necessities for expense, continually
occurred. Reviews, and races, and race-balls, and archery meetings, and
archery balls, had been, and a regatta was to be. At some of these the
ladies had appeared in certain uniforms, new, of course, for the day; and
now preparations for the regatta had commenced, and were going on. It was
to last several days: and after the boat-races in the morning, there were
to be balls at night. The first of these was to be at Clarendon Park, and
Mademoiselle Felicie considered her lady's dress upon this occasion as one
of the objects of first importance in the universe. She had often sighed
over the long unopened jewel-box. Her lady might as well be nobody.
Mademoiselle Felicie could no ways understand a lady well born not wearing
that which distinguished her above the common; and if she was ever to
wear jewels, the ball-room was surely the proper place. And the sapphire
necklace would look _a ravir_ with her lady's dress, which, indeed, without
it, would have no effect; would be quite _mesquine_ and _manquee_.
Now Lady Cecilia had a great inclination to wear that sapphire necklace,
which probably Felicie saw when she commenced her remonstrances, for it is
part of the business of the well-trained waiting-woman, to give utterance
to those thoughts which her lady wishes should be divined and pressed into
accomplishment. Cecilia considered whether it would not be possible to
divide the double rows of her sapphires, to make out a set for Helen as
well as for herself; she hesitated only because they had been given to her
by her mother, and she did not like to run the hazard of spoiling the set;
but still she could manage it, and she would do it. Mademoiselle Felicie
protested the attempt would be something very like sacrilege; to prevent
which, she gave a hint to Helen of what was in contemplation.
Helen knew that with Cecilia, when once she had set her heart upon a
generous feat of this kind, remonstrance would be in vain; she dreaded
that she would, if prevented from the meditated division of the sapphires,
purchase for her a new set: she had not the least idea what the expense
was, but, at the moment, she thought anything would be better than letting
Cecilia spoil her mother's present, or put her under fresh obligations of
this sort. She knew that the sapphires had been got from the jewellers with
whom her uncle had dealt, and who were no strangers to her name; she wrote,
and bespoke a similar set to Lady Cecilia's.
"_Charmante!_ the very thing," Mademoiselle Felicie foresaw, "a young lady
so well born would determine on doing. And if she might add a little word,
it would be good at the same opportunity to order a ruby brooch, the same
as her lady's, as that would be the next object in question for the second
day's regatta ball, when it would be indispensable for that night's
appearance; _positivement_, she knew her lady would do it for Miss Stanley
if Miss Stanley did not do it of her own head."
Helen did not think that a brooch could be very expensive; there was not
time to consider about it--the post was going--she was afraid that Lady
Cecilia would come in and find her writing, and prevent her sending the
letter. She hastily added an order for the brooch, finished the letter, and
despatched it. And when it was gone she told Cecilia what she had done.
Cecilia looked startled; she was well aware that Helen did not know the
high price of what she had bespoken. But, determining that she would settle
it her own way, she took care not to give any alarm, and shaking her head,
she only reproached Helen playfully with having thus stolen a march upon
"You think you have out-generaled me, but we shall see. Remember, I am the
wife of a general, and not without resources."
Of the regatta, of the fineness of the weather, the beauty of the
spectacle, and the dresses of the ladies, a full account appeared in the
papers of the day, of which it would be useless here to give a repetition,
and shameful to steal or seem to steal a description. We shall record only
what concerns Helen.
With the freshness of youth and of her naturally happy temper, she was
delighted with the whole, to her a perfectly new spectacle, and every body
was pleased except Lady Katrine, who, in the midst of every amusement,
always found something that annoyed her, something that "should not have
been so." She was upon this occasion more cross than usual, because this
morning's uniform was not becoming to her, and was most particularly so to
Miss Stanley, as all the gentlemen observed.
Just in time before the ladies went to dress for the ball at night, the
precious box arrived, containing the set of sapphires. Cecilia opened it
eagerly, to see that all was right. Helen was not in the room. Lady Katrine
stood by, and when she found that these were for Helen, her envious
indignation broke forth. "The poor daughters of peers cannot indulge
in such things," cried she; "they are fit only for rich heiresses! I
understood," continued she, "that Miss Stanley had given away her fortune
to pay her uncle's debts, but I presume she has thought better of that, as
I always prophesied she would----generosity is charming, but, after all,
sapphires are so becoming!"
Helen came into the room just as this speech was ended. Lady Katrine had
one of the bracelets in her hand. She looked miserably cross, for she
had been disappointed about some ornaments she had expected by the same
conveyance that brought Miss Stanley's. She protested that she had nothing
fit to wear to-night. Helen looked at Cecilia; and though Cecilia's look
gave no encouragement, she begged that Lady Katrine would do her the honour
to wear these sapphires this night, since she had not received what her
ladyship had ordered. Lady Katrine suffered herself to be prevailed on, but
accepted with as ill a grace as possible. The ball went on, and Helen at
least was happier than if she had worn the bracelets. She had no pleasure
in being the object of envy, and now, when she found that Cecilia could be
and was satisfied, though their ornaments were not exactly alike, it
came full upon her mind that she had done foolishly in bespeaking these
sapphires: it was at that moment only a transient self-reproach for
extravagance, but before she went to rest this night it became more
Lady Davenant had been expected all day, but she did not arrive till late
in the midst of the ball, and she just looked in at the dancers for a few
minutes before she retired to her own apartment. Helen would have followed
her, but that was not allowed. After the dancing was over, however, as she
was going to her room, she heard Lady Davenant's voice, calling to her as
she passed by; and, opening the door softly, she found her still awake, and
desiring to see her for a few minutes, if she was not too much tired.
"Oh no, not in the least tired; quite the contrary," said Helen.
After affectionately embracing her, Lady Davenant held her at arms' length,
and looked at her as the light of the lamp shone full upon her face and
figure. Pleased with her whole appearance, Lady Davenant smiled, and said,
as she looked at her--"You seem, Helen, to have shared the grateful old
fairy's gift to Lady Georgiana B. of the never-fading rose in the cheek.
But what particularly pleases me, Helen, is the perfect simplicity of your
dress. In the few minutes that I was in the ball-room to-night, I was
struck with that over-dressed duchess: her figure has been before my eyes
ever since, hung round with jewellery, and with that _aureole_ a foot and
a-half high on her head: like the Russian bride's headgear, which Heber
so well called 'the most costly deformity he ever beheld.' Really, this
passion for baubles," continued Lady Davenant, "is the universal passion of
our sex. I will give you an instance to what extravagance it goes. I know a
lady of high rank, who hires a certain pair of emerald earrings at fifteen
hundred pounds per annum. She rents them in this way from some German
countess in whose family they are an heir-loom, and cannot be sold." Helen
expressed her astonishment. "This is only one instance, my dear; I could
give you hundreds. Over the whole world, women of all ages, all ranks, all
conditions, have been seized with this bauble insanity--from the counter to
the throne. Think of Marie Antoinette and the story of her necklace; and
Josephine and her Cisalpine pearls, and all the falsehoods she told about
them to the emperor she reverenced, the husband she loved--and all for
what?--a string of beads! But I forget," cried Lady Davenant, interrupting
herself, "I must not forget how late it is: and I am keeping you up, and
you have been dancing: forgive me! When once my mind is moved, I forget all
hours. Good night--or good morning, my dear child; go, and rest." But just
as Helen was withdrawing her hand, Lady Davenant's eye fixed on her pearl
bracelets--"Roman pearls, or real? Real, I see, and very valuable!--given
to you, I suppose, by your poor dear extravagant uncle?"
Helen cleared her uncle's memory from this imputation, and explained that
the bracelets were a present from General Clarendon. She did not know they
were so "very valuable," but she hoped she had not done wrong to accept of
them in the circumstances; and she told how she had been induced to take
Lady Davenant said she had done quite right. The general was no
present-maker, and this exception in his favour could I not lead to any
future inconvenience. "But Cecilia," continued she, "is too much addicted
to trinket giving, which ends often disagreeably even between friends, or
at all events fosters a foolish taste, and moreover associates it with
feelings of affection in a way particularly deceitful and dangerous to such
a little, tender-hearted person as I am speaking to, whose common sense
would too easily give way to the pleasure of pleasing or fear of offending
a friend. Kiss me, and don't contradict me, for your conscience tells you
that what I say is true."
The sapphires, the ruby brooch, and all her unsettled accounts, came across
Helen's mind; and if the light had shone upon her face at that moment, her
embarrassment must have been seen; but Lady Davenant, as she finished the
last words, laid her head upon the pillow, and she turned and settled
herself comfortably to go to sleep. Helen retired with a disordered
conscience; and the first thing she did in the morning was to look in the
red case in which the sapphires came, to see if there was any note of their
price; she recollected having seen some little bit of card--it was found
on the dressing-table. When she beheld the price, fear took away her
breath--it was nearly half her whole year's income; still she _could_ pay
it. But the ruby brooch that had not yet arrived--what would that cost? She
hurried to her accounts; she had let them run on for months unlooked at,
but she thought she must know the principal articles of expense in dress by
her actual possessions. There was a heap of little crumpled bills which,
with Felicie's griffonage, Helen had thrown into her table-drawer. In vain
did she attempt to decipher the figures, like apothecaries' marks, linked
to quarters and three-quarters, and yards, of gauzes, silks, and muslins,
altogether inextricably puzzling. They might have been at any other moment
laughable, but now they were quite terrible to Helen; the only thing she
could make clearly out was the total; she was astonished when she saw to
how much little nothings can amount, an astonishment felt often by the
most experienced--how much more by Helen, all unused to the arithmetic of
economy! At this instant her maid came in smiling with a packet, as if sure
of being the bearer of the very thing her young lady most wished for; it
was the brooch--the very last thing in the world she desired to see. With
a trembling hand she opened the parcel, looked at the note of the price,
and sank upon her chair half stupified, with her eyes fixed upon the sum.
She sat she knew not how long, till, roused by the opening of Cecilia's
door, she hastened to put away the papers. "Let me see them, my dear, don't
put away those papers," cried Cecilia; "Felicie tells me that you have been
at these horrid accounts these two hours, and--you look--my dear Helen, you
must let me see how much it is!" She drew the total from beneath Helen's
hand. It was astounding even to Cecilia, as appeared by her first unguarded
look of surprise. But, recovering herself immediately, she in a playfully
scolding tone told Helen that all this evil came upon her in consequence of
her secret machinations. "You set about to counteract me, wrote for things
that I might not get them for you, you see what has come of it! As to these
bills, they are all from tradespeople who cannot be in a hurry to be paid;
and as to the things Felicie has got for you, she can wait, is not she a
waiting-woman by profession? Now, where is the ruby-brooch? Have you never
looked at it?--I hope it is pretty--I am sure it is handsome," cried she as
she opened the case. "Yes; I like it prodigiously, I will take it off your
hands, my dear; will that do?"
"No, Cecilia, I cannot let you do that, for you have one the same, I know,
and you cannot want another--no, no."
"You speak like an angel, my dear, but you do not look like one," said
Cecilia. "So woe-begone, so pale a creature, never did I see! do look at
yourself in the glass; but you are too wretched to plague. Seriously, I
want this brooch, and mine it must be--it is mine: I have a use for it, I
"Well, if you have a use for it, really," said Helen, "I should indeed be
"Be glad then, it is mine," said Cecilia; "and now it is yours, my dear
Helen, now, not a word! pray, if you love me!"
Helen could not accept of it; she thanked Cecilia with all her heart, she
felt her kindness--her generosity, but even the hitherto irresistible
words, "If you love me," were urged in vain. If she had not been in actual
need of money, she might have been over-persuaded, but now her spirit of
independence strengthened her resolution, and she persisted in her refusal.
Lady Davenant's bell rang, and Helen, slowly rising, took up the miserable
accounts, and said, "Now I must go----"
"Where!" said Cecilia; "you look as if you had heard a knell that summoned
you--what are you going to do?" "To tell all my follies to Lady Davenant."
"Tell your follies to nobody but me," cried Lady Cecilia. "I have enough of
my own to sympathise with you, but do not go and tell them to my mother, of
all people; she, who has none of her own, how can you expect any mercy?"
"I do not; I am content to bear all the blame I so richly deserve, but I
know that after she has heard me, she will tell me what I ought to do, she
will find out some way of settling it all rightly, and if that can but be,
I do not care how much I suffer. So the sooner I go to her the better,"
"But you need not be in such a hurry; do not be like the man who said,
'Je veux etre l'enfant prodigue, je veux etre l'enfant perdu.' L'enfant
prodigue, well and good, but why l'enfant perdu?"
"My dear Cecilia, do not play with me now--do not stop me," said Helen
anxiously. "It is serious with me now, and it is as much as I can do----"
Cecilia let her go, but trembled for her, as she looked after her, and saw
her stop at her mother's door.
Helen's first knock was too low, it was unheard, she was obliged to wait;
another, louder, was answered by, "Come in." And in the presence she stood,
and into the middle of things she rushed at once; the accounts, the total,
lay before Lady Davenant. There it was: and the culprit, having made her
confession, stood waiting for the sentence.
The first astonished change of look, was certainly difficult to sustain.
"I ought to have foreseen this," said Lady Davenant; "my affection has
deceived my judgment. Helen, I am sorry for your sake, and for my own."
"Oh do not speak in that dreadful calm voice, as if--do not give me up at
once," cried Helen.
"What can I do for you? what can be done for one who has no strength of
mind?" I have some, thought Helen, or I should not be here at this moment.
"Of what avail, Helen, is your good heart--your good intentions, without
the power to abide by them? When you can be drawn aside from the right by
the first paltry temptation--by that most contemptible of passions--the
passion for baubles! You tell me it was not that, what then? a few words of
persuasion from any one who can smile, and fondle, and tell you that they
love you;--the fear of offending Cecilia! how absurd! Is this what you both
call friendship? But weaker still, Helen, I perceive that you have been led
blindfold in extravagance by a prating French waiting-maid--to the brink of
ruin, the very verge of dishonesty."
"Ask yourself, Helen: is a person honest, who orders and takes from the
owner that for which he cannot pay? Answer me, honest or dishonest."
"Dishonest! if I had intended not to pay. But I did intend to pay, and I
"You will! The weak have no will--never dare to say I will. Tell me how you
will pay that which you owe. You have no means--no choice, except to take
from the fund you have already willed to another purpose. See what good
intentions, come to, Helen, when you cannot abide by them!"
"But I can," cried Helen; "whatever else I do, I will not touch that fund,
destined for my dear uncle--I have not touched it. I could pay it in two
years, and I will--I will give up my whole allowance."
"And what will you live upon in the mean time?"
"I should not have said my whole allowance, but I can do with very little,
I will buy nothing new."
"Buy nothing--live upon nothing!" repeated Lady Davenant; "how often have
I heard these words said by the most improvident, in the moment of
repentance, even then as blind and uncalculating as ever! And you, Helen,
talk to me of your powers of forbearance,--you, who, with the strongest
motive your heart could feel, have not been able for a few short months to
resist the most foolish--the most useless fancies."
Helen burst into tears. But Lady Davenant, unmoved, at least to all outward
appearance, coldly said, "It is not feeling that you want, or that I
require from you; I am not to be satisfied by words or tears."
"I deserve it all," said Helen; "and I know you are not cruel. In the midst
of all this, I know you are my best friend."
Lady Davenant was now obliged to be silent, lest her voice should betray
more tenderness than her countenance chose to show.
"Only tell me what I can do now," continued Helen; "what can I do?"
"What you CAN do, I will tell you, Helen. Who was the man you were dancing
with last night?" "I danced with several; which do you mean?"
"Your partner in the quadrille you were dancing when I came in."
"Lord Estridge: but you know him--he has been often here."
"Is he rich?" said Lady Davenant.
"Oh yes, very rich, and very self-sufficient: he is the man Cecilia used to
call '_Le prince de mon merite._'"
"Did she? I do not remember. He made no impression on me, nor on you, I
"Not the least, indeed."
"No matter, he will do as well as another, since he is rich. You can marry
him, and pay your present debts, and contract new, for thousands instead of
hundreds:--this is what you CAN do, Helen."
"Do you think I can?" said Helen.
"You can, I suppose, as well as others. You know that young ladies often
marry to pay their debts?"
"So I once heard," said Helen, "but is it possible?"
"Quite. You might have been told more--that they enter into regular
partnerships, joint-stock companies with dress-makers and jewellers, who
make their ventures and bargains on the more or less reputation of the
young ladies for beauty or for fashion, supply them with finery, speculate
on their probabilities of matrimonial success, and trust to being repaid
after marriage. Why not pursue this plan next season in town? You must come
to it like others, whose example you follow--why not begin it immediately?"
There is nothing so reassuring to the conscience as to hear, in the midst
of blame that we do deserve, suppositions of faults, imputations which we
know to be unmerited--impossible. Instead of being hurt or alarmed by what
Lady Davenant had said, the whole idea appeared to Helen so utterly beneath
her notice, that the words made scarcely any impression on her mind, and
her thoughts went earnestly back to the pressing main question--"What can
I do, honestly to pay this money that I owe?" She abruptly asked Lady
Davenant if she thought the jeweller could be prevailed upon to take back
the sapphires and the brooch?
"Certainly not, without a considerable loss to you," replied Lady Davenant;
but with an obvious change for the better in her countenance, she added,
"Still the determination to give up the bauble is good; the means, at
whatever loss, we will contrive for you, if you are determined."
"Determined!--oh yes." She ran for the bracelets and brooch, and eagerly
put them into Lady Davenant's hand. And now another bright idea came into
her mind: she had a carriage of her own--a very handsome carriage, almost
new; she could part with it--yes, she would, though it was a present from
her dear uncle--his last gift; and he had taken such pleasure in having it
made perfect for her. She was very, very fond of it, but she would part
with it; she saw no other means of abiding by her promise, and paying his
debts and her own. This passed rapidly through her mind; and when she had
expressed her determination, Lady Davenant's manner instantly returned to
all its usual kindness, and she exclaimed as she embraced her, drew her
to her, and kissed her again and again--"You are my own Helen! These are
deeds, Helen, not words: I am satisfied--I may be satisfied with you now!
"And about that carriage, my dear, it shall not go to a stranger, it shall
be mine. I want a travelling chaise--I will purchase it from you: I shall
value it for my poor friend's sake, and for yours, Helen. So now it is
settled, and you are clear in the world again. I will never spoil you,
but I will always serve you, and a greater pleasure I cannot have in this
After this happy termination of the dreaded confession, how much did Helen
rejoice that she had had the courage to tell all to her friend. The pain
was transient--the confidence permanent.
As Helen was going into her own room, she saw Cecilia flying up stairs
towards her, with an open letter in her hand, her face radiant with joy. "I
always knew it would all end well! Churchill might well say that all the
sand in my hour-glass was diamond sand. There, my dear Helen--there," cried
Cecilia, embracing her as she put the letter into her hand. It was from
Beauclerc, his answer to Lady Cecilia's letter, which had followed him to
Naples. It was written the very instant he had read her explanation, and,
warm from his heart, he poured out all the joy he felt on hearing the
truth, and, in his transport of delight, he declared that he quite forgave
Lady Cecilia, and would forget, as she desired, all the misery she had made
him feel. Some confounded quarantine he feared might detain him, but he
would certainly be at Clarendon Park in as short a time as possible.
Helen's first smile, he said, would console him for all he had suffered,
and make him forget everything.
Helen's first smile he did not see, nor the blush which spread and rose as
she read. Cecilia was delighted. "Generous, affectionate Cecilia!" thought
Helen; "if she has faults, and she really has but one, who could help
loving her?" Not Helen, certainly, or she would have been the most
ungrateful of human beings. Besides her sympathy in Helen's happiness,
Cecilia was especially rejoiced at this letter, coming, as it did, the very
day after her mother's return; for though she had written to Lady Davenant
on Beauclerc's departure, and told her that he was gone only on Lord
Beltravers' account, yet she dreaded that, when it came to speaking, her
mother's penetration would discover that something extraordinary had
happened. Now all was easy. Beauclerc was coming back: he had finished his
friend's business, and, before he returned to Clarendon Park he wished
to know if he might appear there as the acknowledged admirer of Miss
Stanley--if he might with any chance of success pay his addresses to her.
Secure that her mother would never ask to see the letter, considering it
either as a private communication to his guardian, or as a love letter
to Helen, Cecilia gave this version of it to Lady Davenant; and how she
settled it with the general, Helen never knew, but it seemed all smooth and
And now, the regatta being at an end, the archery meetings over, and no
hope of further gaiety for this season at Clarendon Park, the Castleforts
and Lady Katrine departed. Lady Katrine's last satisfaction was the hard
haughty look with which she took leave of Miss Stanley--a look expressing,
as well as the bitter smile and cold form of good breeding could express
it, unconquered, unconquerable hate.
There is no better test of the strength of affection than the ready turning
of the mind to the little concerns of a friend, when preoccupied with
important interests of our own. This was a proof of friendship, which Lady
Davenant had lately given to Helen, for, at the time when she had entered
with so much readiness and zeal into Helen's little difficulties and debts,
great political affairs and important interests of Lord Davenant's were in
suspense, and pressed heavily upon her mind. What might be the nature of
these political embarrassments had not been explained. Lady Davenant had
only hinted at them. She said, "she knew from the terror exhibited by
the inferior creatures in office that some change in administration
was expected, as beasts are said to howl and tremble before storm, or
earthquake, or any great convulsion of nature takes place."
Since Lady Davenant's return from town, where Lord Davenant still remained,
nothing had been said of the embassy to Russia but that it was delayed.
Lady Cecilia, who was quick, and, where she was not herself concerned,
usually right, in interpreting the signs of her mother's discomfiture,
guessed that Lord Davenant had been circumvented by some diplomatist of
inferior talents, and she said to Helen, "When an ass kicks you never tell
it, is a maxim which mamma heard from some friend, and she always acts
upon it; but a kick, whether given by ass or not, leaves a bruise, which
sometimes tells in spite of ourselves, and my mother should remember
another maxim of that friend's, that the faults and follies of the great
are the delight and comfort of the little. Now, my mother, though she is
so well suited, from her superior abilities and strength of mind, and all
that, to be the wife of a great political leader, yet in some respects she
is the most unfit person upon earth for _the situation_; for, though she
feels the necessity of conciliating, she cannot unbend with her inferiors,
that is, with half the world. As Catalani said of singing, it is much more
difficult to descend than to ascend well. Shockingly mamma shows in her
manner sometimes how tired she is of the stupid, and how she despises the
mean; and all the underlings think she can undo them with papa, for it has
gone abroad that she _governs_, while in fact, though papa asks her advice,
to be sure, because she is so wise, she never does interfere in the least;
but, now it has once got into the world's obstinate head that she does, it
cannot be put out again, and mamma is the last person upon earth to take
her own part, or condescend to explain and set things right. She is always
thinking of papa's glory and the good of the public, but the public will
never thank him and much less her; so there she is a martyr, without her
crown; now, if I were to make a martyr of myself, which, Heaven forbid! I
would at least take right good care to secure my crown, and to have my full
glory round my head, and set on becomingly. But seriously, my dear Helen,"
continued Lady Cecilia, "I am unhappy about papa and mamma, I assure you.
I have seen little clouds of discontent long gathering, lowering, and
blackening, and I know they will burst over their heads in some tremendous
storm at last."
Helen hoped not, but looked frightened.
"Oh, you may hope not, my dear, but I know it will be--we may not hear the
thunder, but we shall see the lightning all the more dangerous. We shall be
struck down, unless--" she paused.
"Unless what?" said Helen.
"Unless the storm be dispersed in time."
"The lightning drawn off by some good conductor--such as myself; I am quite
serious, and though you were angry with me for laughing just now, as if I
was not the best of daughters, even though I laugh, I can tell you I am
meditating an act of self-devotion for my mother's sake--a grand _coup
d'etat_." "_Coup d'etat_? you, Cecilia! my dear--"
"I, Helen, little as you think of me."
"Of your political talents you don't expect me to think much, do you?"
"My political talents! you shall see what they are. I am capable of a
grand _coup d'etat_. I will have next week a three days' congress,
anti-political, at Clarendon Park, where not a word of politics shall be
heard, nor any thing but nonsense if I can help it, and the result shall
be, as you shall see, goodwill between all men and all women--women?
yes, there's the grand point. Mamma has so affronted two ladies, very
influential as they call it, each--Lady Masham, a favourite at court, and
Lady Bearcroft, risen from the ranks, on her husband's shoulders; he, 'a
man of law,' Sir Benjamin Bearcroft, and very clever she is I hear, but
loud and coarse; absolutely inadmissible she was thought till lately, and
now, only tolerated for her husband's sake, but still have her here I
"I think you had better not," remonstrated Helen; "if she is so very
vulgar, Lady Davenant and the general will never endure her." "Oh, he will!
the general will bear a great deal for mamma's sake, and more for papa's. I
must have her, my dear, for the husband is of consequence and, though he is
ashamed of her, for that very reason he cannot bear that any body should
neglect her, and terribly mamma has neglected her! Now, my dear Helen, do
not say a word more against it." Very few words had Helen said. "I must
ponder well," continued Cecilia, "and make out my list of worthies, my
Helen much advised the consulting Lady Davenant first; but Lady Cecilia
feared her mother might be too proud to consent to any advance on her own
part. Helen still feared that the bringing together such discordant people
would never succeed, but Lady Cecilia, always happy in paying herself with
words answerable to her wishes, replied, "that discords well managed often
produced the finest harmony." The only point she feared was, that she
should not gain the first step, that she should not be able to prevail upon
the general to let her give the invitations. In truth, it required all her
persuasive words, and more persuasive looks to accomplish this preliminary,
and to bring General Clarendon to invite, or permit to be invited, to
Clarendon Park, persons whom he knew but little, and liked not at all. But
as Lady Cecilia pleaded and urged that it would soon be over, "the whole
will be over in three days--only a three days' visit; and for mamma!--I am
sure, Clarendon--you will do anything for her, and for papa, and your
own Cecilia? "--the general smiled, and the notes were written, and the
invitations were accepted, and when once General Clarendon had consented,
he was resolutely polite in his reception of these to him unwelcome guests.
His manner was not false; it was only properly polite, not tending to
deceive any one who understood the tokens of conventional good breeding.
It however required considerable power over himself to keep the line of
demarcation correctly, with one person in particular to whom he had a
strong political aversion: Mr. Harley.--His very name was abhorrent
to General Clarendon, who usually designated him as "That Genius,
Cecilia--that favourite of your mother's! "--while to Lady Davenant
Mr. Harley was the only person from whose presence she anticipated any
pleasure, or who could make the rest of the party to her endurable. Helen,
though apprehensive of what might be the ultimate result of this congress,
yet could not help rejoicing that she should now have an opportunity of
seeing some of those who are usually considered "high as human veneration
can look." It is easy, after one knows who is who, to determine that we
should have found out the characteristic qualities and talents in each
countenance. Lady Cecilia, however, would not tell Helen the names of the
celebrated unknown who were assembled when they went into the drawing-room
before dinner, and she endeavoured to guess from their conversation the
different characters of the speakers; but only a few sentences were
uttered, signifying nothing; snuff-boxes were presented, pinches taken
and inclinations made with becoming reciprocity, but the physiognomy of
a snuff-box Helen could not interpret, though Lavater asserts that every
thing in nature, even a cup of tea, has a physiognomy.
Dinner was announced, and the company paired off, seemingly not standing
on the order of their going; yet all, especially as some were strangers,
secretly mindful of their honours, and they moved on in precedence just,
and found themselves in places due at the dinner-table.
But Helen did not seem likely to obtain more insight into the characters
of these great personages in the dining-room than she had done in the
drawing-room. For it often happens that, when the most celebrated, and
even the most intellectual persons are brought together expressly for the
purpose of conversation, then it does not flow, but sinks to silence, and
ends at last in the stagnation of utter stupidity. Each seems oppressed
with the weight of his own reputation, and, in the pride of high celebrity,
and the shyness, real or affected, of high rank, each fears to commit
himself by a single word. People of opposite parties, when thrown together,
cannot at once change the whole habit of their minds, nor without some
effort refrain from that abuse of their opposites in which they are
accustomed to indulge when they have it all to themselves. Now every
subject seems laboured--for in the pedantry of party spirit no partisan
will speak but in the slang or cant of his own craft. Knowledge is not only
at one entrance, but at every entrance quite shut out, and even literature
itself grows perilous, so that to be safe they must all be dumb.
Lady Cecilia Clarendon was little aware of what she undertook when she
called together this heterogeneous assembly of uncongenials and dissimilars
round her dinner-table. After she had in vain made what efforts she could,
and, well skilled in throwing the ball of conversation, had thrown it again
and again without rebound from either side, she felt that all was flat, and
that the silence and the stupidity were absolutely invincible. Helen could
scarcely believe, when she tried afterwards to recollect, that she had
literally this day, during the whole of the first course, heard only the
following sentences, which came out at long intervals between each couple
of questions and answers--or observations and acquiescences:--"We had a
shower."--"Yes, I think so." "But very fine weather we have had."--"Only
too hot."--"Quite." "The new buildings at Marblemore--are they getting on,
my Lord?"--"Do not know; did not come that way." "Whom have they now at
Dunstanbury?" was the next question. Then in reply came slowly a list of
fashionable names. "Sir John died worth a million, they say."--"Yes, a
martyr to the gout." "Has Lady Rachel done any thing for her eyes?"--"Gone
to Brighton, I believe." "Has any thing been heard of the North Pole
expedition?"--"Not a word." "Crockly has got a capital cook, and English
too."--"English! eh?"--"English--yes." Lord Davenant hoped this English
cook would, with the assistance of several of his brother _artistes_ of
the present day, redeem our country from one-half of the Abbe Gregoire's
reproach. The abbe has said that England would be the finest country in the
world, but that it wants too essentials, _sunshine_ and _cooks_. "Good!
Good! Very!" voices from different sides of the table pronounced; and there
was silence again.
At the dessert, however, after the servants had withdrawn, most people
began to talk a little to their next neighbours; but by this Helen profited
not, for each pair spoke low, and those who were beside her on either hand,
were not disposed to talk; she was seated between Sir Benjamin Bearcroft
and Mr. Harley--Sir Benjamin the man of law, and Mr. Harley the man of
genius, each eminent in his kind; but he of law seemed to have nothing in
him but law, of which he was very full. In Sir Benjamin's economy of human
life it was a wholesome rule, which he practised invariably, to let his
understanding sleep in company, that it might waken in the courts, and for
his repose he needed not what some great men have professed so much to
like--"the pillow of a woman's mind." Helen did not much regret the silence
of this great legal authority, but she was very sorry that the man of
genius did not talk; she did not expect him to speak to her, but she wished
to hear him converse with others. But something was the matter with him;
from the moment he sat down to dinner Helen saw he seemed discomfited. He
first put his hand across his eyes, then pressed his forehead: she feared
he had a bad headache. The hand went next to his ear, with a shrinking,
excruciating gesture; it must be the earache thought Helen. Presently his
jaws were pinched together; toothache perhaps. At last she detected the
disturbing cause. Opposite to Mr. Harley, and beside Lady Davenant, sat a
person whom he could not endure; one, in the first place, of an opposite
party, but that was nothing; a man who was, in Mr. Harley's opinion, a
disgrace to any party, and what could bring him here? They had had several
battles in public, but had never before met in private society, and the
aversion of Mr. Harley seemed to increase inversely as the squares of
the distance. Helen could not see in the object adequate cause for this
antipathy: the gentleman looked civil, smiling, rather mean, and quite
insignificant, and he really was as insignificant as he appeared--not
of consequence in any point of view. He was not high in office, nor
ambassador, nor _charge-d'affaires_; not certain that he was an _attache_
even, but he was said to have the ear of _somebody_, and was reputed to
be secretly employed in diplomatic transactions of equivocal character;
disclaimed, but used, by his superiors, and courted by his timid inferiors,
whom he had persuaded of his great influence _somewhere_. Lady Cecilia
had been assured, from good authority, that he was one who ought to be
propitiated on her father's account, but now, when she perceived what sort
of creature he was, sorely did she repent that he had been invited; and her
mother, by whom he sat, seemed quite oppressed and nauseated.
So ended the dinner. And, as Lady Cecilia passed the general in going out
of the room, she looked her contrition, her acknowledgment that he was
perfectly right in his prophecy that it would never do.
It was rather worse when the ladies were by themselves. Some of the
party were personally strangers to Lady Davenant; all had heard of her
sufficiently; most had formed a formidable and false opinion of her. Helen
was quite astonished at the awe her ladyship inspired in strangers.
Lady Davenant's appearance and manner at this moment were not, indeed,
calculated to dispel this dread. She was unusually distant and haughty,
from a mistaken sort of moral pride. Aware that some of the persons now
before her had, in various ways, by their own or their husbands' means,
power to serve or to injure Lord Davenant, she disdained to propitiate them
by the slightest condescension.
But how any persons in England--in London--could be strangers to Lady
Davenant, was to a foreign lady who was present, matter of inexpressible
surprise. She could not understand how the wives of persons high in
political life, some of opposite, but some of the same parties, should
often be personally strangers to each other. Foreigners are, on first
coming to England, apt to imagine that all who act together in public life
must be of the same private society; while, on the contrary, it often
happens that the ladies especially of the same party are in different
grades of fashion--moving in different orbits. The number of different
circles and orbits in London is, indeed, astonishing to strangers, and the
manner in which, though touching at tangents, these keep each their own
path, attracted and repelled, or mutually influential, is to those who have
not seen and studied the planisphere, absolutely incomprehensible. And, as
she pondered on this difficulty, the ambassadress, all foreigner as she
was, and all unused to silence, spoke not, and no one spoke: and nought was
heard but the cup on the saucer, or the spoon in the cup, or the buzzing of
a fly in the window.
In the midst of this awful calm it was that Lady Bearcroft blurted out
with loud voice--"Amazing entertaining we are! so many clever people got
together, too, for what?" It was worth while to have seen Lady Masham's
face at that moment! Lady Bearcroft saw it, and, fearing no mortal,
struck with the comic of that look of Lady Masham's, burst into laughter
uncontrolled, and the contrast of dignity and gravity in Lady Davenant only
made her laugh the more, till out of the room at last she ran. Lady Masham
all the while, of course, never betrayed the slightest idea that she could
by any possibility have been the object of Lady Bearcroft's mirth. But Lady
Davenant--how did she take it? To her daughter's infinite relief, quite
quietly; she looked rather amused than displeased. She bore with Lady
Bearcroft, altogether, better than could have been expected; because she
considered her only as a person unfortunately out of her place in society,
and, without any fault of her own, dragged up from below to a height
of situation for which nature had never intended, and neither art nor
education had ever prepared her; whose faults and deficiencies were thus
brought into the flash of day at once, before the malice of party and the
fastidiousness of fashion, which knows not to distinguish between _manque
d'esprit_, and _manque d'usage_.
Not so Lady Davenant: she made liberal and philosophic allowance for even
those faults of manner which were most glaring, and she further suspected
that Lady Bearcroft purposely exaggerated her own vulgarity, partly for
diversion, partly to make people stare, and partly to prevent their seeing
what was habitual, and what involuntary, by hiding the bounds of reality.
Of this Lady Masham had not the most distant conception; on the contrary,
she was now prepared to tell a variety of odd anecdotes of Lady Bearcroft.
She had seen, she said, this extraordinary person before, but had never met
her in society, and delighted she was unexpectedly to find her here--"quite
a treat." Such characters are indeed seldom met with at a certain height
in the atmosphere of society, and such were peculiarly and justly Lady
Masham's delight, for they relieved and at the same time fed a sense of
superiority insufficient to itself. Such a person is fair, privileged, safe
game, and Lady Masham began, as does a reviewer determined to be especially
severe, with a bit of praise.
"Really very handsome, Lady Bearcroft must have been! Yes, as you say, Lady
Cecilia, she is not out of blow yet certainly, only too full blown rather
for some tastes--fortunately not for Sir Benjamin; he married her, you
know, long ago, for her beauty; she is a very correct person--always was;
but they do repeat the strangest things she says--so very odd! and they
tell such curious stories, too, of the things she does." Lady Masham then
detailed a variety of anecdotes, which related chiefly to Lady Bearcroft's
household cares, which never could she with haste despatch; then came
stories of her cheap magnificence and extraordinary toilette expedients.
"I own," continued Lady Masham, "that I always thought the descriptions I
heard must be exaggerated; but one is compelled to acknowledge that there
is here in reality a terrible want of tact. Poor Sir Benjamin! I quite pity
him, he must so see it! Though not of the first water himself, yet still he
must feel, when he sees Lady Bearcroft with other people! He has feeling,
though nobody would guess it from his look, and he shows it too, I am told;
sadly annoyed he is sometimes by her _malapropoisms_. One day, she at
one end of the table and he at the other, her ladyship, in her loud voice
called out to him, 'Sir Benjamin! Sir Benjamin! this is our wedding-day!'
He, poor man, did not hear; she called out again louder, 'Sir Benjamin, my
dear, this day fifteen years ago you and I were married!' 'Well, my dear,'
he answered, 'well, my dear, how can I possibly help that now!'"
Pleased with the success of this anecdote, which raised a general smile,
Lady Masham vouched for its perfect correctness, "she had it from one, who
heard it from a person who was actually present at the time it happened."
Lady Davenant had not the least doubt of the correctness of the story, but
she believed the names of the parties were different; she had heard it
years ago of another person. It often happens, as she observed, to those
who make themselves notoriously ridiculous, as to those who become famous
for wit, that all good things in their kinds are attributed to them; though
the one may have no claim to half the witticisms, and the other may not be
responsible for half the absurdities for which they have the reputation. It
required all Lady Masham's politeness to look pleased, and all her candour
to be quite happy to be set right as to that last anecdote. But many she
had heard of Lady Bearcroft were really incredible. "Yet one would almost
believe anything of her." While she was yet speaking, Lady Bearcroft
returned, and her malicious enemy, leaning back in her chair as if in
expectation of the piece beginning, waited for her puppet to play or be
All this time Lady Cecilia was not at ease; she, well aware what her
mother would feel, and had felt, while Lady Masham was going on with this
gossip-talk, had stood between her ladyship and Lady Davenant, and, as
Lady Masham did not speak much above her breath, Cecilia had for some time
flattered herself that her laudable endeavours to intercept the sound,
or to prevent the sense from reaching her mother's ear, had succeeded,
especially as she had made as many exclamations as she could of "Really!"
"Indeed!" "How extraordinary!" "You do not say so?" which, as she
pronounced them, might have excited the curiosity of commonplace people,
but which she knew would in her mother's mind deaden all desire to listen.
However, Lady Masham had raised her voice, and from time to time had
stretched her neck of snow beyond Lady Cecilia's intercepting drapery,
so as actually to claim Lady Davenant's attention. The consequences
her daughter heard and felt. She heard the tap, tap, tap of the ivory
folding-knife upon the table; and well interpreting, she knew, even before
she saw her mother's countenance, that Lady Masham had undone herself,
and, what was of much more consequence, had destroyed all chance of
accomplishing that reconciliation with "mamma," that projected coalition
which was to have been of such ultimate advantage to "papa."
Notwithstanding Lady Bearcroft's want of knowledge of the great world, she
had considerable knowledge of human nature, which stood her wonderfully in
stead. She had no notion of being made sport of for the _elegantes_, and,
with all Lady Masham's plausibility of persiflage, she never obtained her
end, and never elicited anything really absurd by all attempts to draw her
out--out she would not be drawn. After an unconquerable silence and all the
semblance of dead stupidity, Lady Bearcroft suddenly showed signs of life,
however, and she, all at once, began to talk--to Helen of all people!--And
why?--because she had taken, in her own phrase, a monstrous fancy to Miss
Stanley; she was not sure of her name, but she knew she liked her nature,
and it would be a pity that her reason should not be known and in the words
in which she told it to Lady Cecilia, "Now I will just tell you why I have
taken such a monstrous fancy to your friend here, Miss Hanley--"
"Miss Stanley--give me leave to mention," said Lady Cecilia. "Let me
introduce you regularly."
"Oh! by no means; don't trouble yourself now, Lady Cecilia, for I hate
regular introductions. But, as I was going to tell you how, before dinner
to-day, as I came down the great staircase, I had an uncommon large, big,
and, for aught I know, yellow corking-pin, which that most careless of all
careless maids of mine--a good girl, too--had left sticking point foremost
out of some part of me. Miss Hanley--Stanley (beg pardon) was behind, and
luckily saw and stopped. Out she pulled it, begging my pardon; so kindly
too, I only felt the twitch on my sleeve, and turned, and loved the first
sight I had of that pretty face, which need never blush, I am sure, though
it's very becoming the blush too. So good-natured, you know, Lady Cecilia,
it was, when nobody was looking, and before any body was the wiser. Not
like some young ladies, or old even, that would have _showed one up_,
rather than help one out in any pin's point of a difficulty."
Lady Cecilia herself was included in Lady Bearcroft's good graces, for she
liked that winning way, and saw there was a real good-nature there, too.
She opened to both friends cordially, _a propos_ to some _love_ of a lace
trimming. Of lace she was a famous judge, and she went into details of her
own good bargains, with histories of her expeditions into the extremity of
the city in search of cheap goods and unheard of wonders at prime cost, in
regions unknown. She told how it was her clever way to leave her carriage
and her _people_, and go herself down narrow streets and alleys, where only
wheel-barrows and herself could go; she boasted of her feats in diving into
dark dens in search of run goods, charming things--French warranted--that
could be had for next to nothing, and, in exemplification, showed the
fineness of her embroidered cambric handkerchiefs, and told their price to
Lady Masham's "Wonderful!" was worthy of any Jesuit male or female, that
From her amazing bargains, the lady of the law-knight wen on to smuggling;
and, as she got into spirits, talking loudly, she told of some amber satin,
a whole piece capitally got over in an old gentleman's "Last Will and
Testament," tied up with red tape so nicely, and sealed and superscribed
and all, got through untouched! "But a better thing I did myself,"
continued she; "the last trip I made to Paris--coming back, I set at
defiance all the searchers and _stabbers_, and custom-house officers of
both nations. I had hundreds of pounds worth of Valenciennes and Brussels
lace hid--you would never guess where. I never told a servant--not a mortal
maid even; that's the only way; had only a confidante of a coachmaker.
But when it came to packing-up time, my own maid smelt out the lace was
missing; and gave notice, I am, confident, to the custom-house people to
search me. So much the more glory to me. I got off clear; and, when they
had stabbed the cushions, and torn the inside of my carriage all to pieces,
I very coolly made them repair the mischief at their own cost. Oh, I love
to do things bravely! and away I drove triumphant with the lace, well
stuffed, packed, and covered within the pole leather of the carriage they
had been searching all the time."
At this period of her narrative the gentlemen came into the drawing-room.
"But here comes Sir Benjamin! mum, mum! not a word more for my life! You
understand, Lady Cecilia! husbands must be minded. And let me whisper a
favour--a whist-party I must beg; nothing keeps Sir Ben in good-humour so
certainly as whist--when he wins, I mean."
The whist-party was made, and Lady Cecilia took care that Sir Benjamin
should win, while she lost with the best grace possible. By her
conciliating manners and good management in dividing to govern, all
parties were arranged to general satisfaction. Mr. Harley's antipathy, the
_attache_, she settled at ecarte with Lady Masham, who found him "quite a
well-mannered, pleasant person." Lady Cecilia explained to Mr. Harley, that
it was her fault--her mistake entirely--that this person had been invited.
Mr. Harley was now himself again, and happy in conversation with Lady
Davenant, beside whom he found his place on the sofa.
After Helen had done her duty at harp and piano-forte, Cecilia relieved
her, and whispered that she might now go to her mother's sofa, and rest and
be happy. "Mamma's work is in some puzzle, Helen; you must go and set it to
rights, my dear." Lady Davenant welcomed her with a smile, made room for
her on the sofa, and made over to her the tambour-frame; and now that Helen
saw and heard Mr. Harley in his natural state, she could scarcely believe
that he was the same person who had sat beside her at dinner. Animated and
delightful he was now, and, what she particularly liked in him, there was
no display--nothing in the Churchill style. Whenever any one came near, and
seemed to wish to hear or speak, Mr. Harley not only gave them fair play,
but helped them in their play. Helen observed that he possessed the art
which she had often remarked in Lord Davenant, peculiar to good-natured
genius--the art of drawing something good out of every body; sometimes more
than they knew they had in them till it was brought out. Even from Lord
Masham, insipid and soulless though he was, as any courtier-lord in waiting
could be, something was extracted: Lord Masham, universally believed to
have nothing in him, was this evening surprisingly entertaining. He gave
Lady Davenant a description of what he had been so fortunate as to see--the
first public dinner of the king of France on his restoration, served
according to all the _ci-devant_ ceremonials, and in the etiquette of Louis
the Fourteenth's time. Lord Masham represented in a lively manner the
Marquis de Dreux, in all his antiquarian glory, going through the whole
form prescribed: first, knocking with his cane at the door; then followed
by three guards with shouldered carbines, marching to buttery and hall,
each and every officer of the household making reverential obeisance as
they passed to the _Nef_--the _Nef_ being, as Lord Masham explained to Miss
Stanley, a piece of gilt plate in the shape of the hull of a ship, in which
the napkins for the king's table are kept. "But why the hull of a ship
should be appropriated to the royal napkins?" was asked. Lord
Masham confessed that this was beyond him, but he looked amazingly
considerate--delicately rubbed his polished forehead with the second finger
of the right hand, then regarded his ring, and turned it thrice slowly
round, but the talismanic action produced nothing, and he received timely
relief by a new turn given to the conversation, in which he was not, he
thought, called upon to take any share--the question indeed appeared to him
irrelevant, and retiring to the card-table, he "left the discussion to
The question was, why bow to the Nef at all?--This led to a discussion upon
the advantages of ceremonials in preserving respect for order and reverence
for authority, and then came an inquiry into the abuses of this real good.
It was observed that the signs of the times should always be consulted, and
should guide us in these things.--How far? was next to be considered. All
agreed on the principle that 'order is Heaven's first law,' yet there were
in the application strong shades of difference between those who took part
in the conversation. On one side, it was thought that overturning the
_tabouret_ at the court of France had been the signal for the overthrow
of the throne; while, on the other hand, it was suggested that a rigid
adherence to forms unsuited to the temper of the times only exasperates,
and that, wherever reliance on forms is implicit, it is apt to lead princes
and their counsellors to depend too much on the strength of that fence
which, existing only in the imagination, is powerless when the fashion
changes. Ins a court quite surrounded and enveloped by old forms, the light
of day cannot penetrate to the interior of the palace, the eyes long kept
in obscurity are weakened, so that light cannot be borne: when suddenly
it breaks in, the royal captive is bewildered, and if obliged to act, he
gropes, blunders, injures himself, and becomes incapable of decision in
extremity of danger, reduced to the helplessness which marks the condition
of the Eastern despot, or _les rois faineans_ of any time or country.
As Helen sat by, listening to this conversation, what struck and interested
her most was, the manner in which it went on and went off without leading
to any unpleasant consequences, notwithstanding the various shades of
opinion between the parties. This she saw depended much on the good sense
and talents, but far more on the good breeding and temper of those who
spoke and those who listened. Time in the first place was allowed and
taken for each to be understood, and no one was urged by exclamation,
or misconception, or contradiction, to say more than just the thing he
Lady Cecilia, who had now joined the party, was a little in pain when she
heard Louis the Fourteenth's love for punctuality alluded to. She dreaded,
when the general quoted "Punctuality is the virtue of princes," that Mr.
Harley, with the usual impatience of genius, would have ridiculed so
antiquated a notion; but, to Lady Cecilia's surprise, he even took the part
of punctuality: in a very edifying manner he distinguished it from mere
ceremonial etiquette--the ceremonial of the German courts, where "they lose
time at breakfast, at dinner, at supper; at court, in the antechamber, on
the stairs, everywhere:"--punctuality was, he thought, a habit worthy to be
ranked with the virtues, by its effects upon the mind, the power it demands
and gives of self-control, raising in us a daily, hourly sense of duty,
of something that ought, that must be done, one of the best habits human
creatures can have, either for their own sake or the sake of those with
whom they live. And to kings and courtiers more particularly, because it
gives the idea of stability--of duration; and to the aged, because it
gives a sort of belief that life will last for ever. The general had
often thought this, but said he had never heard it so well expressed; he
afterwards acknowledged to Cecilia that he found Mr. Harley was quite a
different person from what he had expected--"He has good sense, as well as
genius and good breeding. I am glad, my dear Cecilia, that you asked him
here." This was a great triumph.
Towards the close of the evening, when mortals are beginning to think of
bed-chamber candles, Lady Cecilia looked at the _ecarte_ table, and said to
her mother, "How happy they are, and how comfortable we are! A card-table
is really a necessary of life--not even music is more universally useful."
Mr. Harley said, "I doubt," and then arose between Lady Davenant and him an
argument upon the comparative power in modern society of music and cards.
Mr. Harley took the side of music, but Lady Davenant inclined to think that
cards, in their day, and their day is not over yet, have had a wider range
of influence. "Nothing like that happy board of green cloth; it brings all
intellects to one level," she said. Mr. Harley pleaded the cause of music,
which, he said, hushes all passions, calms even despair. Lady Davenant
urged the silent superiority of cards, which rests the weary talker, and
relieves the perplexed courtier, and, in support of her opinion, she
mentioned an old ingenious essay on cards and tea, by Pinto, she thought;
and she begged that Helen would some time look for it in the library. Helen
went that instant. She searched, but could not find; where it ought to have
been, there it of course was not. While she was still on the book-ladder,
the door opened, and enter Lady Bearcroft.
"Miss Hanley!" cried she, "I have a word to say to you, for, though you are
a stranger to me, I see you are a dear good creature, and I think I may
take the liberty of asking your advice in a little matter."
Helen, who had by this time descended from the steps, stood and looked a
little surprised, but said all that was properly civil, "gratified by Lady
Bearcroft's good opinion-happy to be of any service,"--&c. &c.
"Well, then--sit ye down one instant, Miss Hanley."
Helen suggested that her name was Stanley.
"Stanley!--eh?--Yes, I remember. But I want to consult you, since you are
so kind to allow me, on a little matter--but do sit down, I never can talk
of business standing. Now I just want you, my dear Miss Hanley, to do a
little job for me with Lady Davenant, who, with half an eye can see, is a
great friend of yours.--Arn't I right?"
Helen said Lady Davenant was indeed a very kind friend of hers, but still
what it could be in which Lady Bearcroft expected her assistance she could
"You need not be frightened at the word job; if that is what alarms you,"
continued Lady Bearcroft, "put your heart at ease, there is nothing of that
sort here. It is only a compliment that I want to make, and nothing in the
world expected in return for it--as it is a return in itself. But in the
first place look at this cover." She produced the envelope of a letter.
"Is this Lady Davenant's handwriting, think you?" She pointed to the word
"_Mis-sent_," written on the corner of the cover. Helen said it was Lady
Davenant's writing. "You are certain?--Well, that is odd!--Mis-sent! when
it was directed to herself, and nobody else on earth, as you see as plain
as possible--Countess Davenant, surely that is right enough?" Then opening
a red morocco case she showed a magnificent diamond Sevigne. "Observe now,"
she continued, "these diamonds are so big, my dear Miss Hanley--Stanley,
they would have been quite out of my reach, only for that late French
invention, which maybe you may not have heard of, nor should I, but for the
hint of a friend at Paris, who is in the jewellery line. The French, you
must know, have got the art of sticking small diamonds together so as to
make little worthless ones into large, so that, as you see, you would never
tell the difference; and as it was a new discovery, and something ingenious
and scientific, and Lady Davenant being reported to be a scientific lady,
as well as political and influential, and all that, I thought it a good
opportunity, and a fine excuse for paying her a compliment, which I had
long wished to pay, for she was once on a time very kind to Sir Ben, and