Part 6 out of 10
got him appointed to his present station; and though Lord Davenant was the
ostensible person, I considered her as the prime mover behind the curtain.
Accordingly, I sat me down, and wrote as pretty a note as I could pen, and
Sir Ben approved of the whole thing; but I don't say that I'm positive he
was as oft-handed and clean-hearted in the matter as I was, for between you
and I his gratitude, as they say of some people's, is apt to squint with
one eye to the future as well as one to the past--you comprehend?"
Helen was not clear that she comprehended all that had been said; still
less had she any idea what she could have to do in this matter; she waited
for further explanation.
"Now all I want from you then, Miss Hanley--Stanley I would say, I beg
pardon, I'm the worst at proper names that lives--but all I want of
you, Miss Hanley, is--first, your opinion as to the validity of the
handwriting,--well, you are positive, then, that this _mis-sent_ is her
hand. Now then, I want to know, do you think Lady Davenant knew what she
was about when she wrote it?"
Helen's eyes opened to their utmost power of distension, at the idea of
anybody's questioning that Lady Davenant knew what she was about.
"La! my dear," said Lady Bearcroft; "spare the whites of your eyes,
I didn't mean she didn't know what she was about in _that_ sense."
"What sense?" said Helen.
"Not in any particular sense," replied Lady Bearcroft. "But let me go on,
or we shall never come to an understanding; I only meant that her ladyship
might have just sat down to answer my note, as I often do myself, without
having read the whole through, or before I have taken it in quite." Helen
thought this very unlikely to have happened with Lady Davenant.
"But still it might have happened," continued Lady Bearcroft, "that her
ladyship did not notice the delicacy of the way in which the thing was
_put_--for it really was put so that nobody could take hold of it against
any of us--you understand; and after all, such a curiosity of a Sevigne as
this, and such fine 'di'monds,' was too pretty, and too good a thing to be
refused hand-over-head, in that way. Besides, my note was so respectable,
and respectful, it surely required and demanded something more of an
answer, methinks, from a person of birth or education, than the single bald
word 'mis-sent,' like the postman! Surely, Miss Hanley, now, putting your
friendship apart, candidly you must think as I do? And, whether or no, at
least you will be so obliging to do me the favour to find out from Lady
Davenant if she really made the reply with her eyes open or not, and really
meant what she said."
Helen being quite clear that Lady Davenant always meant what she said, and
had written with her eyes open, declined, as perfectly useless, making the
proposed inquiry. It was plain that Lady Davenant had not thought proper
to accept of this present, and to avoid any unpleasant explanations, had
presumed it was not intended for her, but had been sent by mistake. Helen
advised her to let the matter rest.
"Well, well!" said Lady Bearcroft, "thank you, Miss Hanley, at all events
for your good advice. But, neck or nothing, I am apt to go through with
whatever I once take into my head, and, since you cannot aid and abet,
I will trouble you no further, only not to say a word of what I have
mentioned. But all the time I thank you, my dear young lady, as much as
if I took your dictum. So, my dear Miss Hanley--Stanley--do not let me
interrupt you longer in your book-hunt. Take care of that step-ladder,
though; it is _coggledy_, as I observed when you came down--Good night,
"My dear Helen, there is an end of every thing!" cried Lady Cecilia, the
next day, bursting into Helen's room, and standing before her with an air
of consternation. "What has brought things to this sad pass, I know not,"
continued she, "for, but an hour before, I left every body in good-humour
with themselves--all in good train. But now----"
"What?" said Helen, "for you have not given me the least idea of what has
"Because I have not the least idea myself, my dear. All I know is, that
something has gone wrong, dreadfully! between my mother and Lady Bearcroft.
Mamma would not tell me what it is; but her indignation is at such a height
she declares she will not see that _woman,_ again:--positively will not
come forth from her chamber as long as Lady Bearcroft remains in the house.
So there is a total break up--and I wish I had never meddled with any
thing. O that I had never brought together these unsuitabilities, these
incompatibilities! Oh, Helen! what shall I do?"
Quite pale, Lady Cecilia stood, really in despair; and Helen did not know
what to advise.
"Do you know any thing about it, Helen, for you look as if you did?"
An abrupt knock at the door interrupted them, and, without waiting for
permission, in came Lady Bearcroft, as if blown by a high wind, looking
very red: half angry, half frightened, and then laughing, she exclaimed--"
A fine _boggle-de-botch,_ I have made of it!" But seeing Lady Cecilia, she
stopped short--"Beg pardon--thought you were by yourself, Miss Hanley."
Lady Cecilia instantly offered to retire, yet intimated, as she moved
towards the door, a wish to stay, and, if it were not too much, to ask what
was meant by----
"By _boggle-de-botch_, do you mean?" said Lady Bearcroft. "I am aware it is
not a canonical word--classical, I mean; nor in nor out of any dictionary,
perhaps--but when people are warm, they cannot stand picking terms."
"Certainly not," said Lady Cecilia; "but what is the matter? I am sorry
any thing unpleasant has occurred."
"Unpleasant indeed!" cried Lady Bearcroft; "I have been treated actually
like a dog, while paying a compliment too, and a very handsome compliment,
beyond contradiction. Judge for yourself, Lady Cecilia, if this Sevigne is
to be _sneezed at_?"
She opened the case; Lady Cecilia said the diamonds were certainly very
"But!" repeated Lady Bearcroft, "I grant you there may be a but to
everything in life; still it might be said civilly, as you say it, Lady
Cecilia, or looked civilly, as you look it, Miss Hanley: and if that had
been done, instead of being affronted, I might after all have been well
enough pleased to pocket my diamonds; but nobody can without compunction
pocket an affront."
Lady Cecilia was sure her mother could not mean any affront.
"Oh, I do not know what she could or could not mean; but I will tell you
what she did--all but threw the diamonds in my face."
"Impossible!" cried Helen.
"Possible--and I will show you how, Miss Hanley. This way: just shut down
the case--snap!--and across the table she threw it, just as you would deal
a card in a passion, only with a Mrs. Siddons' air to boot. I beg your
pardons, both ladies, for mimicking your friend and your parent, but flesh
and blood could not stand that sort of style, you know, and a little
wholesome mimicry breaks no bones, and is not very offensive, I hope?"
The mimicry could not indeed be very offensive, for the imitation was so
utterly unlike the reality, that Lady Cecilia and Helen with difficulty
repressed their smiles. "Ladies may smile, but they would smile on the
wrong sides of their pretty little mouths if they had been treated as I
have been--so ignominiously. I am sure I wish I had taken your advice, Miss
Hanley; but the fact was, last night I did not quite believe you: I thought
you were only saying the best you could to set off a friend; for, since I
have been among the great, and indeed even when I lived with the little, I
have met with so many fair copies of false countenances, that I could
not help suspecting there might he something of that sort with your Lady
Davenant, but I am entirely convinced all you told me is true, for I peeped
quite close at her, lifted up the hood, and found there were not two faces
under it--only one very angry one for my pains. But I declare I would
rather see that than a double one, like my Lady Masham's, with her
spermaceti smile. And after all, do you know," continued Lady Bearcroft in
a right vulgarly-cordial tone--"Do you know now, really, the first anger
over, I like Lady Davenant--I protest and vow, even her pride I like--it
well became her--birth and all, for I hear she is straight from
Charlemagne! But I was going to mention, now my recollection is coming to
me, that when I began talking to her ladyship of Sir Ben's gratitude about
that place she got for him, she cut me short with her queer look, and said
she was sure that Lord Davenant (and if he had been the king himself,
instead of only her husband, and your father, Lady Cecilia, she could not
have pronounced his name with more distinction)--she was sure, she said,
that Lord Davenant would not have been instrumental in obtaining that place
for Sir Benjamin Bearcroft if he had known any man more worthy of it, which
indeed I did not think at the time over and above civil--for where, then,
was the particular compliment to Sir Ben?"
But when Lady Bearcroft saw Lady Cecilia's anxiety and real distress at her
mother's indignant resolution, she, with surprising good-humour said,--"I
wish I could settle it for you, my dear. I cannot go away directly, which
would be the best move, because Sir Benjamin has business here to-day with
Lord Davenant--some job of his own, which must take place of any movements
of mine, he being the more worthy gender.. But I will tell you what I can
do, and will, and welcome. I will keep my room instead of your mother
keeping hers; so you may run and tell Lady Davenant that she is a prisoner
at large, with the range of the whole house, without any danger of meeting
me, for I shall not stir till the carriage is at the door to-morrow
morning, when she will not be up, for we will have it at six. I will tell
Sir Benjamin, he is in a hurry back to town, and he always is. So all is
right on my part. And go you to your mother, my dear Lady Cecilia, and
settle her. I am glad to see you smile again; it is a pity you should ever
do any thing else." It was not long before Cecilia returned, proclaiming,
"Peace, peace!" She had made such an amusing report to her mother of all
that Lady Bearcroft had said and done, and purposed to do, that Lady
Davenant could not help seeing the whole in a ludicrous light, felt at once
that it was beneath her serious notice, and that it would be unbecoming to
waste indignation upon such a person. The result was, that she commissioned
Helen to release Lady Bearcroft as soon as convenient, and to inform her
that an act of oblivion was passed over the whole transaction.
There had been a shower, and it had cleared up. Lady Cecilia thought the
sky looked bluer, and birds sang sweeter, and the air felt pleasanter than
before the storm. "Nothing like a storm," said she, "for clearing the air;
nothing like a little honest hurricane. But with Lady Masham there never is
anything like a little honest hurricane. It is all still and close with an
indescribable volcano-like feeling; one is not sure of what one is standing
upon. Do you know, Helen," continued she, "I am quite afraid of some
explosion between mamma and Lady Masham. If we came to any difficulty with
her, we could not get out of it quite so well as with Lady Bearcroft, for
there is no resource of heart or frankness of feeling with her. Before we
all meet at dinner, I must sound mamma, and see if all is tolerably safe."
And when she went this day at dressing-time with a bouquet, as was her
custom, for her mother, she took Helen with her.
At the first hint of Lady Cecilia's fears, that Lady Masham could do her
any mischief, Lady Davenant smiled in scorn. "The will she may have, my
dear, but she has not the power."
"She is very foolish, to be sure," said Lady Cecilia; "still she might do
mischief, and there is something monstrously treacherous in that smile of
"Monstrously!" repeated Lady Davenant. "No, no, my dear Cecilia; nothing
monstrous. Leave to Lady Bearcroft the vulgar belief in court-bred
monsters; we know there are no such things. Men and women there, as
everywhere else, are what nature, education, and circumstances have
made them. Once an age, once in half-a-dozen ages, nature may make a
Brinvilliers, or art allow of a Zeluco; but, in general, monsters are mere
fabulous creatures--mistakes often, from bad drawings, like the unicorn."
"Yes, mamma, yes; now I feel much more comfortable. The unicorn has
convinced me," said Lady Cecilia, laughing and singing
''Tis all a mere fable; there's nothing to fear.'
"And I shall think of her henceforth as nothing but what she appears to be,
a well-dressed, well-bred, fine lady. Ay--every inch a fine lady; every
word, look, motion, thought, suited to that _metier_."
"That vocation," said Lady Davenant; it is above a trade; with her it
really is a sacred duty, not merely a pleasure, to be fine. She is a fine
lady of the first order; nothing too professional in her manner--no obvious
affectation, for affectation in her was so early wrought into habit as to
have become second nature, scarcely distinguishable from real--all easy."
"Just so, mamma; one gets on so easy with her."
"A curious illusion," continued Lady Davenant, "occurs with every one
making acquaintance with such persons as Lady Masham, I have observed;
perhaps it is that some sensation of the tread-mill life she leads,
communicates itself to those she is talking to; which makes you fancy you
are always getting on, but you never do get beyond a certain point."
"That is exactly what I feel," said Helen, "while Lady Masham speaks, or
while she listens, I almost wonder how she ever existed without me."
"Yes, and though one knows it is all an illusion," said Lady Cecilia,
"still one is pleased, knowing all the time that she cannot possibly care
for one in the least; but then one does not expect every body to care for
one really; at least I know I cannot like all my acquaintance as much as my
friends, much less can I love all my neighbours as myself--"
"Come, come! Cecilia!" said her mother.
"By 'come, come!' mamma means, don't go any further, Cecilia," said she,
turning to Helen. "But now, mamma, I am not clear whether you really think
her your friend or your enemy, inclined to do you mischief or not. Just as
it may be for her interest or not, I suppose."
"And just as it may be the fashion or not," said Lady Davenant. "I remember
hearing old Lady -----, one of the cleverest women of the last century, and
one who had seen much of the world, say, 'If it was the fashion to burn me,
and I at the stake, I hardly know ten persons of my acquaintance who would
refuse to throw on a faggot.'"
"Oh mamma!--Oh Lady Davenant!" exclaimed Helen and Cecilia.
"It was a strong way of putting the matter," said Lady Davenant,
laughing:--"but fashion has, I assure you, more influence over weak minds,
such as Lady Masham's, than either party or interest. And since you do not
like my illustration by fire, take one by water--She is just a person to go
out with, on a party of pleasure, on the smooth surface of a summer sea,
and if a slight shower comes on would pity your bonnet sincerely, but if a
serious squall arose and all should be in danger----"
"Then, of course, every body would take care of themselves," interrupted
Lady Cecilia, "excepting such a simpleton as Helen, who would take care of
you first, mamma, of me next and of herself last."
"I believe it--I do believe it," cried Lady Davenant, and, her eyes and
thoughts fixing upon Helen, she quite forgot what further she was going to
say of Lady Masham.
The perfectly unimpassioned tone, in which her mother had discussed this
lady's character, even the candour, convinced Lady Cecilia as well as
Helen, that nothing further could be done as to drawing them together.
No condescension of manner, no conciliation, could be expected from Lady
Davenant towards Lady Masham, but at the same time there was no fear of any
rupture. And to this humble consolation was Lady Cecilia brought. She told
Helen that she gave up all hope of doing any good, she would now be quite
content if she avoided doing harm, and if this visit ended without coming
to any further outrage on the part of Lady Bearcroft, and without her
mother's being _guilty of contempt_ to Lady Masham. She had done some
little service, however, with respect to the ambassadress, and her mother
knew it. It was well known that the ambassadress governed the ambassador,
and Lady Cecilia had quite won her heart, "so that he will be assuredly
a friend to papa. Indeed, this has been almost promised. Madame
l'Ambassadrice assured me that her husband looks upon Lord Davenant as one
of the first sages of England, that is to say, of Europe; and she says he
is well acquainted with all Lord Davenant's works--and it is my belief,"
concluded Lady Cecilia, "that all Sir William Davenant's works go with her
to papa's credit, for as she spoke she gave a polite glance towards the
bookcase where she saw their gilded backs, and I found the ambassador
himself, afterwards, with 'Davenant on Trade' in his hand! Be it so: it is
not, after all, you know, robbing the dead, only inheriting by mistake
from a namesake, which with foreigners is allowable, because impossible to
avoid, from the time of _'Monsieur Robinson parent apparemment de Monsieur
Crusoe?'_ to the present day."
By dint of keeping well asunder those who would not draw well together,
Lady Cecilia did contrive to get through the remaining morning of this
operose visit; some she sent out to drive with gallant military outriders
to see places in the neighbourhood famed for this or that; others walked or
boated, or went through the customary course of conservatories, pheasantry,
flower-garden, pleasure-grounds, and best views of Clarendon Park--and
billiards always. The political conferences were held in Lord Davenant's
apartment: to what these conferences tended we never knew and never shall;
we consider them as matters of history, and leave them with due deference
to the historian; we have to do only with biography. Far be it from us to
meddle with politics--we have quite enough to do with manners and morality.
The next day, as Helen was going across the hall, she saw the members
of the last political conclave coming out of Lord Davenant's room, each
looking as if the pope had not been chosen according to his wish--dark and
disappointed; even Mr. Harley's radiant countenance was dimmed, and the
dry symptomatic cough which he gave after taking leave of Lady Davenant,
convinced Helen that all was not well within. He departed, and there seemed
to be among those who remained a greater constraint than ever. There
appeared to be in each an awakened sense that there were points on which
they could never agree; all seemed to feel how different it would have been
if Mr. Harley had remained. True, the absence or presence of a person of
genius makes as much difference in the whole appearance of things, as
sunshine or no sunshine on the landscape.
Dinner, however, was got through, for time and the hour, two hours, or
three, will get through the roughest dinner or the smoothest. "Never saw a
difficult dinner-party better, bothered!" was Lady Bearcroft's compliment,
whispered to Cecilia as they went into the drawing-room; and Helen,
notwithstanding Lady Bearcroft's vulgarity, could not help beginning
absolutely to like her for her good nature and amazingly prompt sympathy;
but, after all, good nature without good manners is but a blundering ally,
dangerous to its best friend.
This evening, Lady Cecilia felt that every one was uncomfortable, and,
flitting about the room, she touched here and there to see how things were
going on. They were not going on well, and she could not make them better;
even her efforts at conciliation were ineffectual; she had stepped in
between her mother, some of the gentlemen, and the general, in an argument
in which she heard indications of strife, and she set about to explain away
contradictions, and to convince every body that they were really all of the
same opinion. With her sweet voice and pretty persuasive look, this might
have done for the general, as a relaxing smile seemed to promise; but it
would not do at all with Lady Davenant, who, from feelings foreign to
the present matter, was irritated, and spoke, as Helen thought, too
harshly:--"Cecilia, you would act Harmony in the comedy to perfection; but,
unfortunately, I am not one of those persons who can be persuaded that
when I say one thing I mean quite another--probably because it is not
my practice so to do. That old epigram, Sir Benjamin, do you know it,"
continued she, "which begins with a bankrupt's roguish 'Whereas?'
"Whereas the religion and fate of three nations
Depend on th' importance of our conversations:
Whereas some objections are thrown in our way,
And words have been construed to mean what they say,--
Be it known from henceforth to each friend and each brother,
When'er we say one thing we mean quite another."
Sir Benjamin gravely remarked that it was good law practice. The courts
themselves would be shut up if some such doctrine were not understood
in the practice there, _subaudito,_ if not publicly proclaimed with an
absolute "Whereas be it known from henceforth." Whether this was dry humour
of Sir Benjamin's, or plain matter of fact and serious opinion, the gravity
with which it was delivered indicated not; but it produced the good effect
of a smile, a laugh, at him or with him. Lady Cecilia did not care which,
the laugh was good at all events; her invincible goodnature and sweetness
of temper had not been soured or conquered even by her mother's severity;
and Lady Davenant, observing this, forgave and wished to be forgiven.
"My dearest Cecilia," said she, "clasp this bracelet for me, will you? It
would really be a national blessing, if, in the present times, all women
were as amiable as you,'Fond to spread friendships, but to cover heat
Then, turning to a French gentleman, she spoke of the change she had
observed when she was last at Paris, from the overwhelming violence of
party spirit on all sides.
"Dreadfully true," the French gentleman replied--"party spirit, taking
every Proteus form, calling itself by a hundred names and with a thousand
devices and watchwords, which would be too ridiculous, if they were not
too terrible--domestic happiness destroyed, all society disordered,
disorganised--literature not able to support herself, scarcely appearing in
company--all precluded, superseded by the politics of the day."
Lady Davenant joined with him in his regrets, and added, that she feared
society in England would soon be brought to the same condition.
"No," said the French gentleman, "English ladies will never be so vehement
as my countrywomen; they will never become, I hope, like some of our lady
politicians, '_qui heurlent comme des demons_.'"
Lady Cecilia said that, from what she had seen at Paris, she was persuaded
that if the ladies did bawl too loud it was because the gentlemen did
not listen to them; that above half the party-violence which appeared in
Parisian belles was merely dramatic, to produce a sensation, and draw the
gentlemen, from the black _pelotons_ in which they gathered, back to their
proper positions round the _fauteuils_ of the fair ladies.
The foreigner, speaking to what he saw passing in Lady Davenant's mind,
went on;--"Ladies can do much, however, in this as in all other dilemmas
where their power is, and ought to be, omnipotent."
"Female _influence_ is and ought to be _potent,_" said the general, with an
emphasis on influence, contradistinguishing it from power, and reducing
the exaggeration of omnipotent by the short process of lopping off two
"So long as ladies keep in their own proper character," said Lady Davenant,
"all is well; but, if once they cease to act as women, that instant they
lose their privilege--their charm: they forfeit their exorcising power;
they can no longer command the demon of party nor themselves, and he
transforms them directly, as you say," said she to the French gentleman,
"into actual furies."
"And, when so transformed, sometimes unconscious of their state," said the
general, drily, his eye glancing towards the other end of the room, and
lighting upon Lady Bearcroft, who was at the instant very red and very
loud; and Lady Cecilia was standing, as if watchful for a moment's pause,
in which to interpose her word of peace. She waited for some time in vain,
for when she hastened from the other end of the room to this--the scene
of action, things had come to such a pass between the ladies Masham and
Bearcroft, that mischief, serious mischief, must have ensued, had not
Lady Cecilia, at utmost need, summoned to her aid the happy genius of
Nonsense--the genius of Nonsense, in whose elfin power even Love delights;
on whom Reason herself condescends often to smile, even when Logic frowns,
and chops him on his block: but cut in twain, the ethereal spirit soon
unites again, and lives, and laughs. But mark him well--this little happy
genius of Nonsense; see that he be the true thing--the genuine spirit. You
will know him by his well-bred air and tone, which none can counterfeit;
and by his smile; for while most he makes others laugh, the arch little
rogue seldom goes beyond a smile himself! Graceful in the midst of all
his pranks, he never goes too far--though far enough he has been known to
go--he has crept into the armour of the great hero, convulsed the senate in
the wig of a chancellor, and becomingly, decorously, put on now and then
the mitre of an archbishop. "If good people," said Archbishop Usher, "would
but make goodness agreeable, and smile, instead of frowning in their
virtue, how many they would win to the good cause!" Lady Cecilia in this
was good at need, and at her utmost need, obedient to her call, came this
happy little genius, and brought with him song and dance, riddle and
charade, and comic prints; and on a half-opened parcel of books Cecilia
darted, and produced a Comic Annual, illustrated by him whom no risible
muscles can resist. All smiled who understood, and mirth admitted of her
crew all who smiled, and party-spirit fled. But there were foreigners
present. Foreigners cannot well understand our local allusions; our
Cruikshank is to them unintelligible, and Hood's "Sorrows of Number One"
quite lost upon them. Then Lady Bearcroft thought she would do as much as
Lady Cecilia, and more--that she would produce what these poor foreigners
could comprehend. But not at her call came the genius of lively nonsense,
he heard her not. In his stead came that counterfeit, who thinks it witty
to be rude:
"And placing raillery in railing,
Will tell aloud your greatest failing--"
that vulgar imp yclept Fun--known by his broad grin, by his loud tone, and
by his rude banter. Head foremost forcing himself in, came he, and brought
with him a heap of coarse caricatures, and they were party caricatures.
"Capital!" Lady Bearcroft, however, pronounced them, as she spread all upon
the table for applause--but no applause ensued.
Not such, these, as real good English humour produces and enjoys,
independently of party--these were all too broad, too coarse. Lady Davenant
despised, the general detested. Helen turned away, and Lady Cecilia threw
them under the table, that they might not be seen by the foreigners.
"For the honour of England, do not let them be spread abroad, pray, Lady
"The world is grown mighty nice!" said Lady Bearcroft; "for my part, give
me a good laugh when it is to be had."
"Perhaps we shall find one here," said Lady Cecilia, opening a portfolio
of caricatures in a different style, but they were old, and Lady Bearcroft
would have thrown them aside; but Lord Davenant observed that, if they have
lasted so long,--they must be good, because their humour only can ensure
their permanence; the personality dies with the person: for instance,
in the famous old print of the minister rat-catcher, in the Westminster
election, the likeness to each rat of the day is lost to us, but the
ridicule on placemen ratters remains. The whole, however, is perfectly
incomprehensible to foreigners. "Rats! rat!" repeated one of the
foreigners, as he looked at and studied the print. It was amusing to see
the gravity with which this foreign diplomatist, quite new to England,
listened to Lady Bearcroft's explanation of what is meant in English by a
_rat political_. She was at first rather good on this topic, professing
a supernatural acuteness of the senses, arising from an unconquerable
antipathy, born with her, to the whole race of _rats_. She declared that
she could see a rat a mile off in any man--could, from the moment a man
opened his mouth in parliament, or on the hustings, prophesy whether he
would turn into a rat at last, or not. She, moreover, understood the
language of rats of every degree, and knew even when they said "No," that
they meant "Yes,"--two monosyllables, the test of rats, which betray them
all sooner or later, and transform the biped into the quadruped, who then
turns tail, and runs always to the other side, from whatever side he may be
The _charge-d'affaires_ stood in half bow, lending deferential ear and
serious attention the whole time of this lecture upon rats, without being
able from beginning to end to compass its meaning, and at the close, with a
disconsolate shrug, he exclaimed, "_Ah! Je renonce a ca_--"
Lady Bearcroft went on--"Since I cannot make your excellency understand
by description what I mean by an English rat-political, I must give you
an example or two, dead and living--living best, and I have more than one
noted and branded rat in my eye."
But Lady Cecilia, anxious to interrupt this perilous business, hastily rang
for wine and water; and as the gentlemen went to help themselves she gave
them a general toast, as sitting down to the piano-forte, to the tune of--
"Here's to the maiden of blushing fifteen"--
"Here's to rats and ratcatchers of every degree,
The rat that is trapped, and the rat that is free,
The rat that is shy, sir, the rat that is bold, sir,
The rat upon sale, sir, the rat that is sold, sir.
Let the rats rat! Success to them all,
And well off to the old ones before the house fall!"
Sir Benjamin and Lady Bearcroft departed at six o'clock the next morning,
and all the rest of the political and diplomatic corps _left_ immediately
Lady Davenant looked relieved, the general satisfied, and Lady Cecilia
consoled herself with the hope that, if she had done no good, she had not
done any harm. This was a bad slide, perhaps, in the magic lantern, but
would leave no trace behind. She began now to be very impatient for
Beauclerc's appearance; always sanguine, and as rapid in her conclusions as
she was precipitate in her actions, she felt no doubt, no anxiety, as to
the future; for, though she refrained from questioning Helen as to her
sentiments for Beauclerc, she was pretty well satisfied on that subject.
Helen was particularly grateful to Lady Cecilia for this forbearance, being
almost ashamed to own, even to herself, how exceedingly happy she felt; and
now that it was no longer wrong in her to love, or dishonourable in him
to wish to be loved, she was surprised to find how completely the idea
of Beauclerc was connected with and interwoven through all her thoughts,
pursuits, and sentiments. He had certainly been constantly in her company
for several months, a whole summer, but she could scarcely believe that
during this time he could have become so necessary to her happiness. While,
with still increasing agitation, she looked forward to his arrival, she
felt as if Lady Davenant's presence was a sort of protection, a something
to rely on, in the new circumstances in which she was to be placed. Lord
Davenant had returned to town, but Lady Davenant remained. The Russian
embassy seemed still in abeyance.
One morning as Helen was sitting in Lady Davenant's room alone with her,
she said suddenly: "At your age, Helen, I had as little taste for what are
called politics as you have, yet you see what I am come to, and by the same
road you may, you will, arrive at the same point."
"I! oh, I hope not!" cried Helen, almost before she felt the whole
inference that might he drawn from this exclamation.
"You hope not?" repeated her ladyship calmly. "Let us consider this matter
rationally, and put our hopes, and our fears, and our prejudices out of the
question, if possible. Let me observe to you, that the position of women in
society is somewhat different from what it was a hundred years ago, or as
it was sixty, or I will say thirty years since. Women are now so highly
cultivated, and political subjects are at present of so much importance, of
such high interest, to all human creatures who live together in society,
you can hardly expect, Helen, that you, as a rational being, can go through
the world as it now is, without forming any opinion on points of public
importance. You cannot, I conceive, satisfy yourself with the common
namby-pamby little missy phrase, 'ladies have nothing to do with
Helen blushed, for she was conscious that, wrong or right, namby-pamby,
little missy, or not, she had hitherto satisfied herself very comfortably
with some such thought.
"Depend upon it, Helen," resumed Lady Davenant, "that when you are married,
your love for a man of superior abilities, and of superior character, must
elevate your mind to sympathy with all his pursuits, with all the subjects
which claim his attention."
Helen felt that she must become strongly interested in every subject in
which the man she loved was interested; but still she observed that she had
not abilities or information, like Lady Davenant's, that could justify her
in attempting to follow her example. Besides, Helen was sure that, even if
she had, it would not suit her taste; and besides, in truth, she did not
think it well suited to a woman--she stopped when she came to that last
thought. But what kindness and respect suppressed was clearly understood by
her penetrating friend. Fixing her eyes upon Helen, she said with a
smile, the candour and nobleness of her character rising above all little
irritation of temper.
"I agree with you, my dear Helen, in all you do _not_ say, and were I to
begin life over again, my conduct should in some respects be different. Of
the public dangers and private personal inconveniences that may result
from women becoming politicians, or, as you better express our meaning
interfering, with public affairs, no one can be more aware than I am.
_Interfering_, observe I say, for I would mark and keep the line between
influence and interference. Female influence must, will, and ought to exist
on political subjects as on all others; but this influence should always
be domestic, not public--the customs of society have so ruled it. Of the
thorns in the path of ambitious men all moralists talk, but there are
little, scarcely visible, thorns of a peculiar sort that beset the path
of an ambitious woman, the venomous prickles of the _domestic bramble_, a
plant not perhaps mentioned in Withering's Botany, or the Hortus Kewensis,
but it is too well known to many, and to me it has been sorely known."
At this instant General Clarendon came in with some letters, which had been
forwarded to him express. One, for Lady Davenant, he had been desired
to put into her hands himself: he retired, and Lady Davenant opened the
letter. By the first glance at her countenance, Helen saw that there was
something in it which had surprised and given her great concern. Helen
withdrew her eyes, and waited till she should speak. But Lady Davenant was
quite silent, and Helen, looking at her again, saw her put her hand to her
heart, as if from some sudden sense of violent bodily pain, and she sank
on the sofa, fell back, and became as pale as death and motionless.
Excessively frightened, Helen threw open the window, rang the bell for Lady
Davenant's own woman, and sent the page for Lady Cecilia. In a few moments
Lady Cecilia and Elliott came. Neither was as much alarmed as Helen
had expected they would be. They had seen Lady Davenant, under similar
attacks--they knew what remedies to apply. Elliott was a remarkably
composed, steady person. She now went on doing all that was necessary
without speaking a word. The paroxysm lasted longer than usual, as Lady
Cecilia observed; and, though she continued her assurances to Helen that
"It was all nervous--only nerves," she began evidently to be herself
alarmed. At length symptoms of returning animation appeared, and then
Cecilia retired, beckoning to Helen to follow her into the next room. "We
had better leave mamma to Elliott, she will be happier if she thinks we
know nothing of the matter." Then, recollecting that Helen had been in the
room when this attack came on, she added--"But no, you must go back, for
mamma will remember that you were present--take as little notice, however,
as possible of what has happened."
Cecilia said that her mother, when they were abroad, had been subject to
such seizures at intervals, "and in former times, before I was born, I
believe," said Lady Cecilia, "she had some kind of extraordinary disease
in the heart; but she has a particular aversion to being thought nervous.
Every physician who has ever pronounced her nervous has always displeased
her, and has been dismissed. She was once quite vexed with me for barely
suggesting the idea. There," cried Cecilia, "I hear her voice, go to her."
Helen followed Lady Cecilia's suggestion, and took as little notice as
possible of what had happened. Elliott disappeared as she entered--the page
was waiting at the door, but to Helen's satisfaction Lady Davenant did not
admit him. "Not yet; tell him I will ring when I want him," said she. The
door closed: and Lady Davenant, turning to Helen, said, "Whether I live or
die is a point of some consequence to the friends who love me; but there
is another question, Helen, of far more importance to me, and, I trust,
to them. That question is, whether I continue to live as I have lived,
honoured and respected, or live and die dishonoured and despised,"--her eye
glanced towards the letter she had been reading. "My poor child," continued
Lady Davenant, looking at Helen's agitated countenance,--"My poor child, I
will not keep you in suspense." She then told Helen that she was suspected
of having revealed a secret of state that had been confided to her husband,
and which it was supposed, and truly supposed, that Lord Davenant had told
to her. Beyond its political importance, the disclosure involved a charge
of baseness, in her having betrayed confidence, having suffered a copy of a
letter from an illustrious personage to be handed about and read by several
people. "Lord Davenant as yet knows nothing of this, the effect upon him is
what I most dread. I cannot show you this," continued she, opening again
the letter she had just received, "because it concerns others as well as
myself. I am, at all events, under obligations that can never be forgotten
to the person who gave me this timely notice, which could no otherwise have
reached me, and the person to whom I am thus obliged is one, Helen, whom
neither you nor I like, and whom Cecilia particularly dislikes--Miss
Clarendon! Her manner of doing me this service is characteristic: she
"'Miss Clarendon is aware that Lady Davenant has no liking for her, but
that shall not prevent Miss Clarendon from doing what she thinks an act of
justice towards a noble character falsely attacked.'"--Lady Davenant read
"Had not you better wait till you are stronger, my dear Lady Davenant!"
said Helen, seeing her prepare to write.
"It was once said, gloriously well," replied Lady Davenant, "that the
duties of life are more than life itself--so I think."
While she wrote, Helen thought of what she had just heard, and she ventured
to interrupt Lady Davenant to ask if she had formed any idea of the means
by which the secret could have been betrayed--or the copy of the letter
Yes, she had a suspicion of one person, the diplomatist to whom Mr. Harley
had shown such a mortal antipathy. She recollected that the last morning
the _Congress_ had sat in Lord Davenant's cabinet, she had left her
writing-desk there, and this letter was in it; she thought that she had
locked the desk when she had left the room, it certainly was fast when she
returned, but it had a spring Bramah lock, and its being shut down would
have fastened it. She had no proof one way or other, her suspicion rested
where was her instinctive dislike. It was remarkable, however, that she at
once did justice to another person whom she did not like, Mr. Mapletofft,
Lord Davenant's secretary. "His manners do not please me," she said, "but I
have perfect confidence in his integrity."
Helen felt and admired this generous candour, but her suspicions were not
of the diplomatist alone: she thought of one who might perhaps have been
employed by him--Carlos the page. And many circumstances, which she
recollected and put together, now strengthened this suspicion. She wondered
it had not occurred to Lady Davenant; she thought it must, but that she did
not choose to mention it. Helen had often heard Lady Davenant's particular
friends complain that it was extremely disagreeable to them to have this
boy constantly in the room, whatever might be the conversation. There was
the page, either before or behind a screen, always within hearing.
Lady Davenant said that, as Carlos was a Portuguese, and had never been in
England till she had brought him over, a few months before, he could not
understand English well enough to comprehend what was going on. This was
doubted, especially by Helen, who had watched his countenance, and had
represented her doubts and her reasons for them to Lady Davenant, but she
was not convinced. It was one of the few points on which she could justly
be reproached with adhering to her fancy instead of listening to reason.
The more Carlos was attacked, the more she adhered to him. In fact, it was
not so much because he was a favourite, as because he was a _protege_;
he was completely dependent upon her protection: she had brought him to
England, had saved him from his mother, a profligate camp-follower, had
freed him from the most miserable condition possible, and had raised him
to easy, happy, confidential life. To the generous the having conferred
an obligation is in itself a tie hard to sever. All noble-minded people
believe in fidelity, and never doubt of gratitude; they throw their own
souls into those they oblige, and think and feel for them, as they, in
their situation, would think and feel. Lady Davenant considered it an
injustice to doubt the attachment of this boy, and a cruelty she deemed it
to suspect him causelessly of being the most base of human creatures--he, a
young defenceless orphan. Helen had more than once offended, by attempting
to stop Lady Davenant from speaking imprudently before Carlos; she was
afraid, even at this moment, to irritate her by giving utterance to her
doubts; she determined, therefore, to keep them to herself till she had
some positive grounds for her suspicions. She resolved to watch the boy
very carefully. Presently, having finished her letters, Lady Davenant rang
for him. Helen's eyes were upon Carlos the moment he entered, and her
thoughts did not escape observation.
"You are wrong, Helen," said Lady Davenant, as she lighted the taper to
seal her letters.
"If I am not right," said Helen, keeping her eyes upon the boy's changing
countenance, "I am too suspicious--but observe, am I not right, at this
instant, in thinking that his countenance is _bad?_"
Lady Davenant could not but see that countenance change in an extraordinary
manner, in spite of his efforts to keep it steady.
"You cause that of which you complain," said she, going on sealing her
letters deliberately. "In courts of public justice, and in private equity,"
the word _equity_ she pronounced with an austere emphasis, "how often is
the change of countenance misinterpreted. The sensibility of innocence,
that cannot bear to be suspected, is often mistaken for the confusion worse
confounded of guilt."
Helen observed, that, as Lady Davenant spoke, and spoke in his favour, the
boy's countenance cleared up; that vacillating expression of fear, and
consciousness of having something within him unwhipt of justice, completely
disappeared, and his whole air was now bold and open--towards Helen, almost
an air of defiance.
"What do you think is the cause of this change in his countenance--you
observe it, do you not?" asked Helen.
"Yes, and the cause is as plain as the change. He sees I do not suspect
him, though you do; and seeing, Helen, that he has at least one friend in
the world, who will do him justice, the orphan boy takes courage."
"I wish I could be as good as you are, my dearest Lady Davenant," said
Helen; "but I cannot help still feeling, and saying,--I doubt. Now observe
him, while I speak; I will turn my eyes away, that my terrible looks may
not confound him. You say he knows that you do not suspect him, and that I
do. How does he know it?"
"How!" said Lady Davenant. "By the universal language of the eyes."
"Not only by that universal language, I think," said Helen; "but I suspect
he understands every word we say."
Helen, without ever looking up from a bunch of seals which she was rubbing
bright, slowly and very distinctly added,
"I think that he can speak, read, and write English."
A change in the countenance of Carlos appeared, notwithstanding all his
efforts to hold his features in the same position; instead of placid
composure there was now grim rigidity.
"Give me the great seal with the coat of arms on it," said Lady Davenant,
dropping the wax on her letter, and watching the boy's eye as she spoke,
without herself looking towards the seal she had described. He never
stirred, and Helen began to fear she was unjust and suspicious. But again
her doubts, at least of his disposition, occurred: as she was passing
through Lady Davenant's dressing-room with her, when they were going down
to dinner, the page following them, Helen caught his figure in a mirror,
and saw that he was making a horrible grimace at her behind her back, his
dark countenance expressing extreme hatred and revenge. Helen touched Lady
Davenant's arm, but, before her eye could be directed to the glass, Carlos,
perceiving that he was observed, pretended to be suddenly seized with the
cramp in his foot, which obliged him to make these frightful contortions.
Helen was shocked by his artfulness, but it succeeded with Lady Davenant:
it was in vain to say more about it to her, so Helen let it pass. When she
mentioned it afterwards to Lady Cecilia, she said--"I am sorry, for your
sake, Helen, that this happened; depend upon it, that revengeful little
Portuguese gnome will work you mischief some time or other." Helen did not
think of herself--indeed she could not imagine any means by which he could
possibly work her woe; but the face was so horrible, that it came again and
again before her eyes, and she was more and more determined to watch Carlos
This was one of the public days at Clarendon Park, on which there was a
good deal of company; many of the neighbouring gentry were to be at
dinner. When Lady Davenant appeared, no inquiries concerning her health
were made by her daughter or by the general--no allusion to her having
been unwell. She seemed quite recovered, and Helen observed that she
particularly exerted herself, and that her manner was more gracious than
usual to commonplace people--more present to everything that was passing.
She retired however early, and took Helen with her. The depression of her
spirits, or rather the weight upon her mind, appeared again as soon as
they were alone together. She took her writing-desk, and looked over some
letters which she said ought to be burned. She could not sleep in peace,
she said--she ought not to sleep, till this was done. Several of these, as
she looked over them, seemed to give her pain, and excited her indignation
or contempt as she from time to time exclaimed--"Meanness!--corruption!--
ingratitude too!--all favours forgotten! To see--to feel this--is the
common fate of all who have lived the life I have lived; of this I am not
so inconsistent as to complain. But it is hard that my own character--the
integrity of a whole life--should avail me nothing! And yet," added she,
after a moment's pause of reflection, "to how few can my character be
really known! Women cannot, like men, make their characters known by
public actions. I have no right to complain; but if Lord Davenant's honour
is to be--" She paused; her thoughts seeming too painful for utterance.
She completed the arrangement of the papers, and, as she pressed down the
lid of her writing-box, and heard the closing sound of the lock, she
said,--"Now I may sleep in peace." She put out the lamp, and went to her
bed-room, carrying with her two or three books which she intended to read
after she should be in bed; for, though she talked of sleeping, it was
plain she thought she should not. Helen prevailed upon her to let her
remain with her, and read to her.
She opened first a volume of Shakspeare, in which was Lady Davenant's
mark. "Yes," said she, "read that speech of Wolsey's; read that whole
scene, the finest picture of ambition ever drawn." And, after she had
heard the scene, she observed that there is no proof more certain of the
truth of poetic description, than its recurring to us at the time we
strongly feel. "Those who tell us," continued she, "that it is unnatural
to recollect poetry or eloquence at times of powerful emotion, are much
mistaken; they have not strong feelings or strong imaginations. I can
affirm from my own experience, that it is perfectly natural." Lady
Davenant rapidly mentioned some instances of this sort which she
recollected, but seeing the anxiety of Helen's look, she added, "You are
afraid that I am feverish; you wish me to rest; then, go on reading to
Helen read on, till Lady Davenant declared she would not let her sit up any
longer. "Only, before you go, my dear child, look here at what I have been
looking at while you have been reading." She made Helen place herself so as
to see exactly in the same direction and light in which she was looking,
and she pointed out to her, in the lining of the bed, a place where, from
the falling of the folds and the crinkles in the material, a figure with
the head, head-dress, and perfect profile of an old woman with a turned-up
chin, appeared. At first Helen could not see it; but at last she caught
it, and was struck with it. "The same sort of curious effect of chance
resemblance and coincidence which painters, Leonardo da Vinci in
particular, have observed in the moss and stains on old stones," observed
Lady Davenant. "But it struck me to-night, Helen, perhaps because I am
a little feverish--it struck me in a new point of view--moral, not
picturesque. If such be the effects of chance, or of coincidence, how
cautious we should be in deciding from appearances, or pronouncing from
circumstantial evidence upon the guilt of evil design in any human
"You mean this to apply to me about Carlos?" said Helen.
"I do. But not only of him and you was I thinking, but of myself and those
who judge of me falsely from coincidences, attributing to me designs which
I never had, and actions of which I am incapable." She suddenly raised
herself in her bed, and was going to say more, but the pendule striking at
that instant two o'clock, she stopped abruptly, kissed Helen, and sent her
Helen gathered together and carried away with her all the books, that Lady
Davenant might not be tempted to look at them more. As she had several
piled on one arm, and had a taper in her hand, she was somewhat encumbered,
and, though she managed to open the bed-room door, and to shut it again
without letting any of the books fall, and crossed the little ante-room
between the bed-chamber and dressing-room safely, yet, as she was opening
the dressing-room door, and taking too much or too little care of some part
of her pyramid of books, down came the whole pile with a noise which, in
the stillness of the night, sounded tremendous. She was afraid it would
disturb Lady Davenant, and was going back to tell her what it was, when she
was startled by hearing, as she thought, the moving of a chair or table in
the dressing-room: she stopped short to listen--all was silent; she thought
she had mistaken the direction in which the noise came.
She softly opened the dressing-room door, and looked in--all was silent--no
chair, or stool, or table overturned, every thing was in its place exactly
as they had left it, but there was a strong smell of a half extinguished
lamp: she thought it had been put out when they had left the room, she now
supposed it had not been sufficiently lowered, she turned the screw, and
took care now to see it completely extinguished; then went back for the
books, and as people sometimes will, when most tired and most late, be most
orderly, she would not go to bed without putting every volume in its place
in the book-case. After reaching to put one book upon the highest shelf,
as she was getting down she laid her hand on the top of Lady Davenant's
writing-box, and, as she leaned on it, was surprised to hear the click of
its lock closing. The sound was so peculiar she could not be mistaken;
besides, she thought she had felt the lid give way under her pressure.
There was no key left in the lock--she perfectly recollected the very sound
of that click when Lady Davenant shut the lid down before leaving the room
this night. She stood looking at the lock, and considering how this could
be, and as she remained perfectly still, she heard, or thought she heard
some one breathing near her. Holding in her own breath, she listened
and cautiously looked round without stirring from the place where she
stood--one of the window curtains moved, so at least she thought--yes,
certainly there was some living thing behind it. It might be Lady
Davenant's great dog; but looking again at the bottom of the curtain she
saw a human foot. The page, Carlos! was her instant suspicion, and his
vengeful face came before her, and a vision of a stiletto! or she did not
well know what. She trembled all over; yet she had presence of mind enough
to recollect that she should not seem to take notice. And, while she moved
about the books on the table, she gave another look, and saw that the foot
was not withdrawn. She knew she was safe still, it had not been perceived
that she had seen it; now what was she to do? "Go up to that curtain and
draw it back and face the boy"--but she did not dare; yet he was only
a boy--But it might be a man and not the page. Better go and call
somebody--tell Lady Davenant. She MUST go through the antechamber, and pass
close to that curtain to open the door. All this was the thought of one
moment, end she went on holding up the light to the book-shelves as if
in quest of some book, and kept coasting along to gain the door; she was
afraid when she was to pass the window-curtain, either of touching it,
or of stumbling over that foot. But she got past without touching or
stumbling, opened the door, whisked through--that was done too quickly,
but she could not help it,--she shut, bolted the door, and ran across the
ante-chamber to Lady Davenant's bed-room. She entered softly, aware of the
danger to her of sudden alarm. But Lady Davenant was not asleep, was not
alarmed, but was _effective_ in a moment. First she asked:--"Did you lock
the door after you?" "Yes, bolted it,"--"That is well." Neither of them
said. "Who do you think it is?" But each knew what the other thought. They
returned through the ante-chamber to the dressing-room. But when they
opened the door, all was quiet--no one behind the curtain, no one in the
room--they searched under the sofas, everywhere; there was no closet or
hiding-place in which any one could be concealed. The window fastenings
were unstirred. But the door into the gallery was unlocked, and the simple
thing appeared--that Helen, in her confusion, had thought only of fastening
the door into the ante-chamber, which also opened on the gallery, but had
totally forgotten to lock that from the dressing-room into the gallery, by
which whoever had been in the room had escaped without any difficulty. Lady
Davenant rather inclined to believe that no one had been there, and that it
was all Helen's imagination. But Helen persisted that she had seen what she
had seen, and heard what she had heard. They went into the gallery--all
silence, no creature visible, and the doors at the ends of the gallery
After a fruitless search they retired, Lady Davenant to her own room, and
Helen to hers, full of shame and regret that she had not had the courage
to open the curtain at the right moment. Nothing could stir her belief,
however, in the evidence of her senses; the boy must have been there, and
must be still concealed somewhere in the gallery, or in some of the rooms
opening into it. Some of these were unoccupied, but they were all locked
up, as Lady Davenant had told her when she had proposed searching them;
one or two they tried and found fastened. She stood at her own door, after
having put down the candle on her table, still giving a lingering look-out,
when, through the darkness in the gallery at the further end, she saw a ray
of light on the floor, which seemed to come from under the door of a room
unoccupied--Mr. Mapletofft's room; he had gone to town with Lord Davenant.
Helen went on tiptoe very softly along the gallery, almost to this door,
when it suddenly opened, and the page stood before her, the lamp in his
hand shining full on his face and on hers. Both started--then both were
motionless for one second--but he, recovering instantly, shot back again
into the room, flung to the door, and locked it.
"Seen him!" cried Lady Davenant, when Helen flew to her room and told her;
"seen him! do you say?" and then ringing her bell, she bade Helen run and
knock at the general's door, while she went herself to Mr. Mapletofft's
room, commanding Carlos to open the door immediately. But he would not open
it, nor make any answer; the servants came, and the general ordered one to
go round to the windows of the room lest the boy should escape that way. It
was too late, he had escaped; when the door was forced, one of the windows
was found open; Carlos was not in the room; he must have swung himself down
from the height by means of a tree which was near the window. The lamp was
still burning, and papers half burnt smouldering on the table. There were
sufficient remains to tell what they had been. Lady Davenant saw, in the
handwriting of Carlos, copies of letters taken from her desk. One half
unburnt cover of the packet he had been making up, showed by its direction
to whom it was to have been sent, and there were a few lines in the boy's
own writing within--side-addressed to his employer, which revealed the whole.
His employer was, as Lady Davenant had suspected--the diplomatist!
A duplicate Bramah key was found under the table, and she recollected that
she had some months ago missed this duplicate key of her desk, and supposed
she had dropped it from her watch-ring while out walking; she recollected,
further, that Carlos had with great zeal assisted her in the search for
it all through the shrubbery walks. The proofs of this boy's artifice and
long-premeditated treachery, accumulating upon Lady Davenant, shocked her
so much that she could not think of anything else. "Is it possible? is
it in human nature?" she exclaimed. "Such falsehood, such art, such
ingratitude!" As she fixed her eyes upon the writing, scarcely yet dry, she
repeated. "It _is_ his writing--I see it, yet can scarcely believe it! I,
who taught him to write myself--guided that little hand to make the first
letters that he ever formed! And this is in human nature! I could not have
conceived it--it is dreadful to be so convinced, it lowers one's confidence
in one's fellow-creatures. That is the worst of all!" She sighed deeply,
and then, turning to Helen, said, "But let us think no more of it to-night,
we can do no more, they are in pursuit of him; I hope I may never, never,
see him more."
Some people value their friends most for active service, some for passive
kindness. Some are won by tender expressions, some convinced by solid
proofs of regard; others of a yet nobler kind, and of this sort was Lady
Davenant, are apt to be best pleased, most touched, by proofs that their
own character has been thoroughly understood, and that they have justly
appreciated the good qualities of their friend. More than by all the
kindness and sympathy Helen had ever before shown her was she now pleased
and touched by the respect for her feelings in this affair of the page.
Helen never having at the moment of his detection nor afterwards, by word
or look, indulged in the self-triumph of "You see how right I was!" which
implies, "You see how wrong you were!" On the contrary, she gave what
comfort she honestly could by showing that she knew from what humane
motives and generous feelings Lady Davenant had persisted in supporting
this boy to the last.
As to the little wretch himself, he appeared no more. Search was made for
him in every direction, but he was not to be found, and Helen thought it
was well that Lady Davenant should be spared the pain of seeing or hearing
more about him.
The whole mystery was now solved, the difficulty for Lady Davenant in a
fair way to be ended. She had felt an instinctive aversion to the fawning
tone of the diplomatist, whom she had suspected of caballing against Lord
Davenant secretly, and it was now proved that he had been base beyond what
she could have conceived possible; had been in confederacy with this boy,
whom he had corrupted, purchasing from him copies of private letters, and
bribing him to betray his benefactress. The copy of that letter from an
illustrious personage had been thus obtained. The proofs now brought home
to the guilty person, deprived him at once of all future means of injuring
Lord Davenant. Completely in their power, he would be ready to ensure
silence at any price, and, instead of caballing further, this low intriguer
would now be compelled to return from whence he came, too happy to be
permitted to retreat from his situation, and quit England without being
brought to public disgrace. No notice of the report that had been in
private circulation against Lady Davenant having yet appeared in the public
prints, it was possible to prevent the mischief that even the mention of
her name in such an affair must have occasioned. It was necessary, however,
that letters should be written immediately to the different persons whom
the private reports had reached; and Helen and her daughter trembled for
her health in consequence of this extreme hurry and fatigue, but she
repeated her favourite maxim--"Better to wear out, than to rust out"--and
she accomplished all that was to be done. Lord Davenant wrote in triumph
that all was settled, all difficulties removed, and they were to set out
for Russia immediately.
And now Lady Davenant breathed freely. Relieved from the intolerable
thought that the base finger of suspicion could point at her or at Lord
Davenant, her spirits rose, her whole appearance renovated, and all the
fears that Helen and her daughter had felt, lest she should not be able
to sustain the hardships of a long voyage and the rigour of a northern
climate, were now completely dispelled.
The day of departure was fixed--Lady Davenant remained, however, as long
as she possibly could with her daughter; and she was anxious, too, to see
Granville Beauclerc before she left Clarendon Park.
The number of the days of quarantine were gone over every morning at
breakfast by Lady Cecilia and the general; they looked in the papers
carefully for the arrivals at the hotel which Beauclerc usually frequented.
This morning, in reading the list aloud, the general came to the name of
Sir Thomas D'Aubigny, brother to the colonel. The paragraph stated that
Colonel D'Aubigny had left some manuscripts to his brother, which would
soon be published, and then followed some puff in the usual style, which
the general did not think it necessary to read. But one of the officers,
who knew some of the D'Aubignys, went on talking of the colonel, and
relating various anecdotes to prove that his souvenirs would be amusing.
Helen, who was conscious that she always blushed when Colonel D'Aubigny's
name was mentioned, and that the general had observed it, was glad that he
never looked up from what he was reading, and when she had courage to turn
towards her, she admired Cecilia's perfect self-possession. Beauclerc's
name was not among the arrivals, and it was settled consequently that they
should not see him this day.
Some time after they had left the breakfast-room, Helen found Lady Davenant
in her own apartment, sitting, as it was very unusual with her, perfectly
unemployed--her head leaning on her hand, and an expression of pain in her
countenance. "Are not you well, my dear Lady Davenant?" Helen asked.
"My mind is not well," she replied, "and that always affects my body, and
I suppose my looks." After a moment's silence she fixed her eyes on Helen,
and said, "You tell me that Colonel D'Aubigny never was a lover--never was
an admirer of yours?"
"Never!" said Helen, low, but very decidedly. Lady Davenant sighed, but did
After a longer continuance of silence than had almost ever occurred when
they two were alone together, Lady Davenant looked up, and said, "I hope in
God that I am mistaken. I pray that I may never live to see it!"
"To see what?" cried Helen.
"To see that one little black spot, invisible to you, Helen, the speck of
evil in that heart--my daughter's heart--spread and taint, and destroy all
that is good. It must be cut out--at any pain it must be cut away; if any
part be unsound, the corruption will spread."
"Corruption in Cecilia!" exclaimed Helen. "Oh! I know her--I know her from
dear childhood! there is nothing corrupt in her, no, not a thought!"
"My dear Helen, you see her as she has been--as she is. I see her as she
may become--very--frightfully different. Helen! if truth fail, if the
principle of truth fail in her character, all will fail! All that charming
nature, all that fair semblance, all that fair reality, all this bright
summer's dream of happiness, even love--the supreme felicity of her
warm heart--even love will fail her. Cecilia will lose her husband's
Helen uttered a faint cry.
"Worse!" continued Lady Davenant. "Worse! she will lose her own esteem, she
will sink, but I shall be gone," cried she, and pressing her hand upon
her heart, she faintly repeated, "Gone!" And then abruptly added, "Call
Cecilia! I must see Cecilia, I must speak to her. But first I will tell
you, from a few words that dropped this morning from General Clarendon, I
suspect--I fear that Cecilia has deceived him!"
"Impossible!--about what--about whom?"
"That Colonel D'Aubigny," said Lady Davenant.
"I know all about it, and it was all nothing but nonsense. Did you look at
her when the general read that paragraph this morning--did you see that
"I saw it, Helen, and thought as you did, but I have been so deceived--so
lately in countenance!"
"Not by hers--never."
"Not by yours, Helen, never. And yet, why should I say so? This very
morning, yours, had I not known you, yours would have misled me."
"Oh, my foolish absurd habit of blushing, how I wish I could prevent it!"
said Helen; "I know it will make me betray somebody some time or other."
"Betray! What have you to betray?" cried Lady Davenant, leaning forward
with an eagerness of eye and voice that startled Helen from all power of
immediate reply. After an instant's pause, however, she answered firmly,
"Nothing, Lady Davenant, and that there is nothing wrong to be known about
Cecilia, I as firmly believe as that I stand here at this moment. Can you
suspect anything really wrong?"
"Suspect!--wrong!" cried Lady Davenant, starting up, with a look in her
eyes which made Helen recoil. "Helen, what can you conceive that I suspect
wrong?--Cecilia?--Captain D'Aubigny?--What did you mean? Wrong did you
say?--of Cecilia? Could you mean--could you conceive, Helen, that I, having
such a suspicion could be here--living with her--or--living anywhere--" And
she sank down on the sofa again, seized with sudden spasm--in a convulsion
of agonising pain. But she held Helen's hand fast grasped, detaining
her--preventing her from pulling the bell; and by degrees the pain passed
off, the livid hue cleared away, the colour of life once more returned, but
more tardily than before, and Helen was excessively alarmed.
"Poor child! my poor, dear child, I feel--I hear your heart beating. You
are a coward, Helen, but a sweet creature; and I love you--and I love my
daughter. What were we saying?"
"Oh, say no more! say no more now, for Heaven's sake," said Helen, kneeling
beside her; and, yielding to that imploring look, Lady Davenant, with a
fond smile, parted the hair on her forehead, kissed her, and remained
perfectly quiet and silent for some time.
"I am quite well again now," said she, "and quite composed. If Cecilia has
told her husband the whole truth, she will continue to be, as she is, a
happy wife; but if she have deceived him in the estimation of a single
word--she is undone. With him, of all men, never will confidence, once
broken, unite again. Now General Clarendon told me this morning--would
I had known it before the marriage!--that he had made one point with my
daughter, and only one, on the faith of which he married: the point was,
that she should tell him, if she had ever loved any other man. And she told
him--I fear from some words which he said afterwards--I am sure he is in
the belief--the certainty, that his wife never loved any man breathing but
"Nor did she," said Helen. "I can answer for it--she has told him the
truth--and she has nothing to fear, nor have you."
"You give me new life!" cried Lady Davenant, her face becoming suddenly
radiant with hope; "but how can you answer for this, Helen? You had no part
in any deceit, I am sure, but there was something about a miniature of
you, which I found in Colonel D'Aubigny's hands one day. That was done, I
thought at the time, to deceive me, to make me believe that you were his
object.--Deceit there was."
"On his part," said Helen, "much and always; but on Cecilia's there was
only, from her over-awe of you, some little concealment; but the whole was
broken off and repented of, whatever little there was, long since. And as
to loving him, she never did; she told me so then, and often and often she
has told me so since."
"Convince me of that," said Lady Davenant; "convince me that she thought
what she said. I believe, indeed, that till she met General Clarendon
she never felt any enthusiastic attachment, but I thought she liked that
man--it was all coquetry, flirting nonsense perhaps. Be it so--I am willing
to believe it. Convince me but that she is true--there is the only point of
consequence. The man is dead and gone, the whole in oblivion, and all that
is of importance is her truth; convince me but of that, and I am a happy
Helen brought recollections, and proofs from conversations at the time and
letters since, confirming at least Cecilia's own belief that she had never
loved the man, that it was all vanity on her part and deception on his:
Lady Davenant listened, willing to be convinced.
"And now," said she, "let us put this matter out of our minds entirely--I
want to talk to you of yourself."
She took Helen out with her in her pony-phaeton, and spoke of Granville
Beauclerc, and of his and Helen's prospects of happiness.
Lady Cecilia, who was riding with her husband in some fields adjoining the
park, caught a glimpse of the phaeton as it went along the avenue, and,
while the general was giving some orders to the wood-ranger about a new
plantation, she, telling him that she would be back in two minutes,
cantered off to overtake her mother, and, making a short cut across the
fields, she leaped a wide ha-ha which came in her way. She was an excellent
horse-woman, and Fairy carried her lightly over; and when she heard the
general's voice in dismay and indignation at what she had done, she turned
and laughed, and cantered on till she overtook the phaeton. The breeze had
blown her hair most becomingly, and raised her colour, and her eyes were
joyously bright, and her light figure, always well on horseback, now looked
so graceful as she bent to speak to her mother, that her husband could not
find it in his heart to scold her, and he who came to chide remained to
admire. Her mother, looking up at her, could not help exclaiming,
"Well! certainly, you are an excessively pretty creature!"
"Bearers of good news always look well, I believe," said she, smiling; "so
there is now some goodness in my face."
"That there certainly is," said her mother, fondly.
"But you certainly don't know what it is--you cannot know till I tell
you, my dearest Helen--my dear mother, I mean. Granville Beauclerc will
be here to-day--I am sure of it. So pray do not go far from home--do not
go out of the grounds: this was what I was in such a hurry to say to
"But how do you know, Cecilia?"
"Just because I can read," replied she, "because I can read a newspaper
through, which none of you newspaper-readers by profession could do this
morning. After you all of you laid them down I took them up, and found
in that evening paper which your stupid aide-de-camp had been poring and
boring over, a fresh list of arrivals, and Mr. Granville Beauclerc among
them at full length. Now he would not stay a moment longer in town than was
absolutely necessary, you know, or else he ought to be excommunicated. But
it is not in his nature to delay; he will be here directly--I should not be
"You are right, Cecilia," interrupted the general. "I see a caleche on that
road.--It is he."
The caleche turned into the park, and in a few minutes they
met.--Carriages, horses, and servants, were sent off to the house, while
the whole party walked, and talked, and looked. Lady Cecilia was in
delightful spirits, and so affectionately, so delicately joyful--so kind,
that if Helen and Beauclerc had ever blamed, or had reason to blame her, it
must now be for ever forgotten. As, in their walk, they came near that
seat by the water's side where the lovers had parted, Cecilia whispered
something to her mother, and instantly it was "done as desired." Beauclerc
and Helen were left to their own explanations, and the rest of the party
pursued their walk home. Of what passed in this explanatory scene no note
has been transmitted to the biographer, and we must be satisfied with the
"All is right!" cried Lady Cecilia. "O my dear mother, I am the happiest
creature in the world, if you were not going away; could not you stay--a
little, a very little longer--just till--"
"No, no, my dear, do not urge me to stay," said Lady Davenant; "I
cannot--your father expects me to-morrow."
All her preparations were made--in short, it must be so, and Lady Davenant
begged her daughter would not spend the short remaining time they were to
have together in entreaties, distressing and irritating to the feelings of
those who ask and of those who must refuse. "Let us enjoy in peace," said
she, "all that is to be enjoyed this day before I go."
When Helen entered the drawing-room before dinner, knowing that she was
very late, she found assembled Lady Davenant, Beauclerc, and the officers,
but Cecilia was not there, nor did the punctual general make his
appearance; the dinner-hour was passed, a servant had twice looked in to
announce it, and, seeing neither my lady nor the general, had in surprise
retired. Silence prevailed--what could be the matter? So unusual for the
general to be late. The general came in, hurried--very uncommon in him,
and, after saying a few words in a low voice to Lady Davenant, who
immediately went up stairs, he begged pardon, was very sorry he had kept
dinner waiting, but Lady Cecilia had been taken ill--had fainted--she was
better--he hoped it was nothing that would signify--she was lying down--he
begged they would go to dinner. And to dinner they went, and when Lady
Davenant returned she put Helen's mind at ease by saying it was only a
little faintishness from over-fatigue. She had prescribed rest, and Cecilia
had herself desired to be left quite alone. After dinner Lady Davenant went
up again to see her, found her not so well--feverish; she would not let
Helen go to her--they would talk if they were together, and she thought it
necessary to keep Cecilia very quiet. If she would but submit to this, she
would be well again probably in the morning. At tea-time, and in the course
of the evening twice, Cecilia sent to beg to speak to Helen; but Lady
Davenant and the general joined in requesting her not to go. The general
went himself to Lady Cecilia to enforce obedience, and he reported that she
had submitted with a good grace.
Helen was happily engaged by Beauclerc's conversation during the rest of
the evening. It was late before they retired, and when she went up-stairs,
Felicie said that her lady was asleep, and had been asleep for the last two
hours, and she was sure that after such good rest her ladyship would be
perfectly well in the morning. Without further anxiety about her friend,
therefore, Helen went to her own room. It was a fine moonlight night, and
she threw open the shutters, and stood for a long time looking out upon the
moonlight, which she loved; and even after she had retired to bed it was
long before she could sleep. The only painful thought in her mind was of
Lady Davenant's approaching departure; without her, all happiness would
be incomplete; but still, hope and love had much that was delightful to
whisper, and, as she at last sank to sleep, Beauclerc's voice seemed still
speaking to her in soft sounds. Yet the dream which followed was uneasy;
she thought that they were standing together in the library, at the open
door of the conservatory, by moonlight, and he asked her to walk out,
and when she did not comply, all changed, and she saw him walking with
another--with Lady Castlefort; but then the figure changed to one
younger--more beautiful--it must be, as the beating of Helen's heart in
the dream told her--it must be Lady Blanche. Without seeing Helen, however,
they seemed to come on, smiling and talking low to each other along the
matted alley of the conservatory, almost to the very door where she was
still, as she thought, standing with her hand upon the lock, and then they
stopped, and Beauclerc pulled from an orange-tree a blossom which seemed
the very same which Helen had given to him that evening, he offered it to
Lady Blanche, and something he whispered; but at this moment the handle of
the lock seemed to slip, and Helen awoke with a start; and when she was
awake, the noise of her dream seemed to continue; she heard the real sound
of a lock turning--her door slowly opened, and a white figure appeared.
Helen started up in her bed, and awaking thoroughly, saw that it was only
Cecilia in her dressing-gown.
"Cecilia! What's the matter, my dear? are you worse?"
Lady Cecilia put her finger on her lips, closed the door behind her,
and said, "Hush! hush! or you'll waken Felicie; she is sleeping in the
dressing-room to-night. Mamma ordered it, in case I should want her."
"And how are you now? What can I do for you?"
"My dear Helen, you can do something for me indeed. But don't get up. Lie
down and listen to me. I want to speak to you."
"Sit down, then, my dear Cecilia, sit down here beside me."
"No, no, I need not sit down, I am very well, standing. Only let me say
what I have to say. I am quite well."
"Quite well! indeed you are not. I feel you all trembling. You must sit
down, indeed, my dear," said Helen, pressing her.
She sat down. "Now listen to me--do not waste time, for I can't stay. Oh!
if the general should awake and find me gone."
"What is the matter, my dear Cecilia? Only tell me what I can do for you."
"That is the thing; but I am afraid, now it is come to the point." Lady
Cecilia breathed quick and short. "I am almost afraid to ask you to do this
"Afraid! my dear Cecilia, to ask me to do anything in this world for you!
How can you be afraid? Tell me only what it is at once."
"I am very foolish--I am very weak. I know you love me--would do anything
for me, Helen. And this is the simplest thing in the world, but the
greatest favour--the greatest service. It is only just to receive a packet,
which the general will give you in the morning. He will ask if it is for
you. And you will just accept of it. I don't ask you to say it is yours, or
to say a word about it--only receive it for me."
"Yes, I will, to be sure. But why should he give it to me, and not to
"Oh, he thinks, and you must let him think, it is for you, that's all. Will
you promise me?"--But Helen made no answer. "Oh, promise me, promise me,
speak, for I can't stay. I will explain it all to you in the morning." She
rose to go.
"Stay, stay! Cecilia," cried Helen, stopping her; "stay!--you must, indeed,
explain it all to me now--you must indeed!"
Lady Cecilia hesitated--said she had not time. "You said, Helen, that you
would take the packet, and you know you must; but I will explain it all as
fast as I can. You know I fainted, but you do not know why? I will tell
you exactly how it all happened:--you recollect my coming into the library
after I was dressed, before you went up-stairs, and giving you a sprig of
"Oh yes, I was dreaming of it just now when you came in," said Helen.
"Well, what of that?"
"Nothing, only you must have been surprised to hear so soon afterwards that
I had fainted."
"Yes," Helen said, she had been very much surprised and alarmed; and again
Lady Cecilia paused.
"Well, I went from you directly to Clarendon, to give him a rose, which you
may remember I had in my hand for him. I found him in the study, talking to
corporal somebody. He just smiled as I came in, took the rose, and said, 'I
shall be ready this moment:' and looking to a table on which were heaps of
letters and parcels which Granville had brought from town, he added, 'I do
not know whether there is anything there for you, Cecilia?' I went to look,
and he went on talking to his corporal. He was standing with his back to
Helen felt that Lady Cecilia told all these minute details as if there was
some fact to which she feared to come. Cecilia went on very quickly. "I did
not find anything for myself; but in tossing over the papers I saw a packet
directed to General Clarendon. I thought it was a feigned hand--and yet
that I knew it--that I had seen it somewhere lately. There was one little
flourish that I recollected; it was like the writing of that wretched
"Carlos!" cried Helen: "well!"
"The more I looked at it," continued Lady Cecilia, "the more like I thought
it; and I was going to say so to the general, only I waited till he had
done his business: but as I was examining it through the outer cover, of
very thin foreign paper, I could distinguish the writing of some of the
inside, and it was like your hand or like mine. You know, between our hands
there is such a great resemblance, there is no telling one from the other."
Helen did not think so, but she remained silent.
"At least," said Cecilia, answering her look of doubt, "at least the
general says so; he never knows our hands asunder. Well! I perceived that
there was something hard inside--more than papers; and as I felt it, there
came from it an uncommon perfume--a particular perfume, like what I used to
have once, at the time--that time that I can never bear to think of, you
"I know," said Helen, and in a low voice she added, "you mean about Colonel
"The perfume, and altogether I do not know what, quite overcame me. I
had just sense enough to throw the packet from me: I made an effort, and
reached the window, and I was trying to open the sash, I remember; but what
happened immediately after that, I cannot tell you. When I came to myself,
I was in my husband's arms; he was carrying me up-stairs--and so much
alarmed about me he was! Oh, Helen, I do so love him! He laid me on the
bed, and he spoke so kindly, reproaching me for not taking more care of
myself--but so fondly! Somehow I could not bear it just then, and I closed
my eyes as his met mine. He, I knew, could suspect nothing--but still! He
stayed beside me, holding my hand: then dinner was ready; he had been twice
summoned. It was a relief to me when he left me. Next, I believe, my mother
came up, and felt my pulse, and scolded me for over-fatiguing myself, and
for that leap; and I pleaded guilty, and it was all very well. I saw she
had not an idea there was anything else. Mamma really is not suspicious,
with all her penetration--she is not suspicious."
"And why did you not tell her all the little you had to tell, dear Cecilia?
If you had, long ago, when I begged of you to do so--if you had told your
mother all about--"
"Told her!" interrupted Cecilia; "told my mother!--oh no, Helen!"
Helen sighed, and feebly said, "Go on."
"Well! when you were at dinner, it came into my poor head that the general
would open that parcel before I could see you again, and before I could ask
your advice and settle with you--before I could know what was to be done. I
was so anxious, I sent for you twice."
"But Lady Davenant and the general forbade me to go to you."
"Yes,"--Lady Cecilia said she understood that, and she had seen the danger
of showing too much impatience to speak to Helen; she thought it might
excite suspicion of her having something particular to say, she had
therefore refrained from asking again. She was not asleep when Helen came
to bed, though Felicie thought she was; she was much too anxious to sleep
till she had seen her husband again; she was awake when he came into his
room; she saw him come in with some letters and packets in his hand; by
his look she knew all was still safe--he had not opened _that_ particular
packet--he held it among a parcel of military returns in his hand as he
came to the side of the bed on tiptoe to see if she was asleep--to ask how
she did; "He touched my pulse," said Lady Cecilia,--"and I am sure he
might well say it was terribly quick.
"Every instant I thought he would open that packet. He threw it, however,
and all the rest, down on the table, to be read in the morning, as usual,
as soon as he awoke. After feeling my pulse again, the last thing, and
satisfying himself that it was better--'Quieter now,' said he, he fell fast
asleep, and slept so soundly, and I--"
Helen looked at her with astonishment, and was silent.
"Oh speak to me!" said Lady Cecilia, "what do you say, Helen?"
"I say that I cannot imagine why you are so much alarmed about this
"Because I am a fool, I believe," said Lady Cecilia, trying to laugh. "I am
so afraid of his opening it."
"But why?" said Helen, "what do you think there is in it?"
"I have told you, surely! Letters--foolish letters of mine to that
D'Aubigny. Oh how I repent I ever wrote a line to him! And he told me, he
absolutely swore, he had destroyed every note and letter I ever wrote to
him. He was the most false of human beings!"
"He was a very bad man--I always thought so," said Helen; "but, Cecilia, I
never knew that he had any letters of yours."
"Oh yes, you did, my dear, at the time; do not you recollect I showed you a
letter, and it was you who made me break off the correspondence?"
"I remember your showing me several letters of his," said Helen, "but not
of yours--only one or two notes--asking for that picture back again which
he had stolen from your portfolio."
"Yes, and about the verses; surely you recollect my showing you another
letter of mine, Helen!"
"Yes, but these were all of no consequence; there must be more, or you
could not be so much afraid, Cecilia, of the general's seeing these,
surely." At this moment Lady Davenant's prophecy, all she had said about
her daughter, flashed across Helen's mind, and with increasing eagerness
she went on. "What is there in those letters that can alarm you so much?"
"I declare I do not know," said Cecilia, "that is the plain truth; I cannot
recollect--I cannot be certain what there is in them." "But it is not so
long ago, Cecilia,--only two years?"
"That is true, but so many great events have happened since, and such new
feelings, all that early nonsense was swept out of my mind. I never really
loved that wretch--"
A gleam of joy came across Helen's face.
"Never, never," repeated Lady Cecilia.
"Oh, I am happy still," cried Helen. "I told your mother I was sure of
"Good heavens!--Does she know about this packet?"
"No, no!--how could she? But what frightens you, my dear Cecilia? you say
there is nothing wrong in the letters?"
"Then make no wrong out of nothing," cried Helen. "If you break confidence
with your husband, that confidence will never, never unite again--your
mother says so."
"My mother!" cried Cecilia: "Good heavens!--so she does suspect?--tell me,
Helen, tell me what she suspects."
"That you did not at first--before you were married, tell the general the
whole truth about Colonel D'Aubigny."
Cecilia was silent.
"But it is not yet too late," said Helen, earnestly; "you can set it all
right now--this is the moment, my dearest Cecilia. Do, do," cried Helen,
"do tell him all--bid him look at the letters."
"Look at them! Impossible! Impossible!" said Lady Cecilia. "Bid me die
She turned quite away.
"Listen to me, Cecilia;" she held her fast. "You must do it, Cecilia."
"Helen, I cannot."
"You can, indeed you can," said Helen; "only have courage _now_, and you
will be happier all your life afterwards."
"Do not ask it--do not ask it--it is all in vain, you are wasting time."
"No, no--not wasting time; and in short, Cecilia, you must do what I ask
of you, for it is right; and I will not do what you ask of me, for it is
"You will not!--You will not!" cried Lady Cecilia, breathless. "After
all! You will not receive the packet for me! you will not let the general
believe the letters to be yours! Then I am undone! You will not do
it!--Then do not talk to me--do not talk to me--you do not know General
Clarendon. If his jealousy were once roused, you have no idea what it would
"If the man were alive," said Helen, "but since he is dead--"
"But Clarendon would never forgive me for having loved another--"
"You said you did not love him."
"Nor did I ever _really_ love that man; but still Clarendon, from even
seeing those letters, might think I did. The very fact of having written
such letters would be destruction to me with Clarendon. You do not know
Clarendon. How can I convince you it is impossible for me to tell him? At
the time he first proposed for me--oh! how I loved him, and feared to lose
him. One day my mother, when I was not by, said something--I do not know
what, about a first love, let fall something about that hateful D'Aubigny,
and the general came to me in such a state! Oh, Helen, in such a state! I
thought it was all at an end. He told me he never would marry any woman
on earth who had ever loved another. I told him I never had, and that was
true, you know; but then I went a little beyond perhaps. I said I had never
THOUGHT of anybody else, for he made such a point of that. In short, I was
a coward--a fool; I little foresaw--I laughed it off, and told him that
what mamma had said was all a mistake, all nonsense; that Colonel D'Aubigny
was a sort of universal flirt--and that was very true, I am sure: that he
had admired us both, both you and me, but you last, you most, Helen, I
"Oh, Cecilia, how could you say so, when you knew he never cared for me in
"Forgive me, my dear, for there was no other way; and what harm did it do
you, or what harm can it ever do you? It only makes it the easier for
you to help me--to save me now. And Granville," continued Lady Cecilia,
thinking that was the obstacle in Helen's mind, "and Granville need never
Helen's countenance suddenly changed--"Granville! I never thought of
that!" and now that she did think of it, she reproached herself with the
selfishness of that fear. Till this moment, she knew her motives had been
all singly for Cecilia's happiness; now the fear she felt of this some way
hurting her with Beauclerc made her less resolute. Lady Cecilia saw her
giving way and hurried on----
"Oh, my dear Helen! I know I have been very wrong, but you would not quite
give me up, would you?--Oh! for my mother's sake! Consider how it would be
with my mother, so ill as you saw her! I am sure if anything broke out now
in my mother's state of health it would be fatal."
Helen became excessively agitated.
"Oh, Helen! would you make me the death of that mother?--Oh, Helen, save
her! and do what you will with me afterwards. It will be only for a few
hours--only a few hours!" repeated Lady Cecilia, seeing that these words
made a great impression upon Helen,--"Save me, Helen! save my mother."
She sank upon her knees, clasping her hands in an agony of supplication.
Helen bent down her head and was silent--she could no longer refuse. "Then
I must," said she.
"Oh thank you! bless you!" cried Lady Cecilia in an ecstasy--"you will take
"Yes," Helen feebly said; "yes, since it must be so."
Cecilia embraced her, thanked her, blessed her, and hastily left the room,
but in an instant afterward she returned, and said, "One thing I forgot,
and I must tell you. Think of my forgetting it! The letters are not signed
with my real name, they are signed Emma--Henry and Emma!--Oh folly, folly!
My dear, dear friend! save me but now, and I never will be guilty of the
least deception again during my whole life; believe me, believe me! When
once my mother is safely gone I will tell Clarendon all. Look at me, dear
Helen, look at me and believe me."
And Helen looked at her, and Helen believed her.
Helen slept no more this night. When alone in the stillness of the long
hours, she went over and over again all that had passed, what Cecilia
had said, what she had at first thought and afterwards felt, all the
persuasions by which she had been wrought upon, and, on the contrary, all
the reasons by which she ought to be decided; backward and forward her mind
vibrated, and its painful vacillation could not he stilled.
"What am I going to do? To tell a falsehood! That cannot be right; but in
the circumstances--yet this is Cecilia's own way of palliating the fault
that her mother so fears in her--that her mother trusted to me to guard
her against; and now, already, even before Lady Davenant has left us, I
am going to assist Cecilia in deceiving her husband, and on that very
dangerous point--Colonel D'Aubigny." Lady Davenant's foreboding having
already been so far accomplished struck Helen fearfully, and her warning
voice in the dead silence of that night sounded, and her look was upon her,
so strongly, that she for an instant hid her head to get rid of her image.
"But what _can_ I do? her own life is at stake! No less a motive could move
me, but this ought--must--shall decide me. Yet, if Lady Davenant were to
know it!--and I, in the last hours I have to pass with her--the last I
ever may have with her, shall I deceive her? But it is not deceit, only
prudence--necessary prudence; what a physician would order, what even
humanity requires. I am satisfied it is quite right, quite, and I will go
to sleep that I may be strong, and calm, and do it all well in the morning.
After all, I have been too cowardly; frightening myself about nothing; too
scrupulous--for what is it I have promised? only to receive the letters as
if they were mine. Not to _say_ that they are mine; he will not ask me,
Cecilia thinks he will not ask me. But how can she tell? if he should, what
_can_ I do? I must then answer that they are mine. Indeed it is the same
thing, for I should lead him to believe it as much by my receiving them in
silence; it will be telling or acting an absolute falsehood, and can that
ever be right?" Back it came to the same point, and in vain her cheek
settled on the pillow and she thought she could sleep. Then with closed
eyes she considered how the general would look, and speak, or not speak.
"What will he think of me when he sees the picture--the letters? for he
must open the packet. But he will not read them, no, he is too honourable.
I do not know what is in them. There can be nothing, however, but nonsense,
Cecilia says; yet even so, love-letters he must know they are, and a
clandestine correspondence. I heard him once express such contempt for any
clandestine affair. He, who is so nice, so strict, about women's conduct,
how I shall sink in his esteem! Well, be it so, that concerns only myself;
and it is for his own sake too, to save his happiness; and Cecilia, my dear
Cecilia, oh I can bear it, and it will be a pride to me to bear it, for I
am grateful; my gratitude shall not be only in words; now, when I am put
to the trial, I can do something for my friends. Yes, and I will, let the
consequences be what they may." Yet Beauclerc! that thought was at the
bottom of her heart; the fear, the almost certainty, that some way
or other--every way in which she could think of it, it would lead to
difficulty with Beauclerc. But this fear was mere selfishness, she thought,
and to counteract it came all her generous, all her grateful, all her
long-cherished, romantic love of sacrifice--a belief that she was capable
of self-devotion for the friends she loved; and upon the strength of this
idea she fixed at last. Quieted, she soothed herself to repose, and, worn
out with reasoning or trying to reason in vain, she at last, in spite of
the morning light dawning upon her through the unclosed shutters, in a soft
sort of enthusiastic vision fading away, fell asleep.
She slept long; when she awoke it was with that indescribable feeling that
something painful had happened--that something dreadful was to be this day.
She recollected, first, that Lady Davenant was to go. Then came all that
had passed with Cecilia. It was late, she saw that her maid had been in the
room, but had refrained from awakening her; she rose, and dressed as fast
as she could. She was to go to Lady Davenant, when her bell rang twice. How
to appear before one who knew her countenance so well, without showing that
any thing had happened, was her first difficulty. She looked in her glass
to see whether there was any alteration in her face; none that she could
see, but she was no judge. "How foolish to think so much about it all!" She
dressed, and between times inquired from her maid if she had heard of any
change in Lady Davenant's intentions of going. Had any counter-orders about
the carriage been given? None; it was ordered to be at the door by twelve
o'clock. "That was well," Helen said to herself. It would all soon be over.
Lady Davenant would be safe, then she could bear all the rest; next she
hoped, that any perturbation or extraordinary emotion in herself would
not be observed in the hurry of departure, or would be thought natural at
parting with Lady Davenant. "So then, I come at every turn to some little
deceit," thought she, "and I must, I must!" and she sighed.
"It is a sad thing for you, ma'am, Lady Davenant's going away," said her
Helen sighed again. "Very sad indeed." Suddenly a thought darted into her
mind, that the whole danger might be avoided. A hope came that the general
might not open the packet before Lady Davenant's departure, in which case
Cecilia could not expect that she should abide by her promise, as it was
only conditional. It had been made really on her mother's account; Cecilia
had said that if once her mother was safe out of the house, she could then,
and she would the very next day tell the whole to her husband. Helen sprang
from under the hands of her maid as she was putting up her hair behind, and
ran to Cecilia's dressing-room, but she was not there. It was now her usual
time for coming, and Helen left open the door between them, that she might
go to her before Felicie should be rung for. She waited impatiently, but no
Cecilia came. The time, to her impatience, seemed dreadfully long. But her
maid observed, that as her ladyship had not been well yesterday, it was no
wonder she was later this morning than usual.
"Very true, but there is somebody coming along the gallery now, see if that
is Lady Cecilia."
"No, ma'am, Mademoiselle Felicie."
Mademoiselle Felicie said ditto to Helen's own maid, and, moreover,
supposed her lady might not have slept well. Just then, one little
peremptory knock at the door was heard.
"Bon Dieu! C'est Monsieur le General!" exclaimed Felicie.
It was so--Felicie went to the door and returned with the general's
compliments to Miss Stanley, and he begged to see her as soon as it
might suit her convenience in the library, before she went into the
breakfast-room, and after she should have seen Lady Cecilia, who wished to
see her immediately.
Helen found Lady Cecilia in bed, looking as if she had been much agitated,
two spots of carnation colour high up in her cheeks, a well-known sign in
her of great emotion. "Helen!" she cried, starting up the moment Helen came
in, "he has opened the packet, and you see me alive. But I do believe I
should have died, when it came to the point, but for you--dearest Helen,
I should have been, and still but for you I must be, undone--and my
mother--oh! if he had gone to her!"
"What has happened, tell me clearly, my dear Cecilia, and quickly, for I
must go to General Clarendon; he has desired to see me as soon as I can
after seeing you."
"I know, I know," said Cecilia, "but he will allow time, and you had better
be some time with me, for he thinks I have all to explain to you this
morning--and so I have, a great deal to say to you; sit down--quietly--Oh
if you knew how I have been agitated, I am hardly able yet tell anything
rightly." She threw herself back on the pillows, and drew a long breath, as
if to relieve the oppression of mind and body. "Now I think I can tell it."
"Then do, my dear Cecilia--all--pray do! and exactly--oh, Cecilia, tell me
"Every word, every look, to the utmost, as far as I can recollect, as
if you had been present. Give me your hand, Helen, how cool you
are--delightful! but how you tremble!"
"Never mind," said Helen; "but how burning hot your hand is!"
"No matter. If ever I am well or happy again in this world, Helen, I shall
owe it to you. After I left you I found the general fast asleep, I do not
believe he had ever awoke--I lay awake for hours, till past five o'clock
in the morning, I was wide awake--feverish. But can you conceive it? just
then, when I was most anxious to be awake, when I knew there was but one
hour--not so much, till he would awake and read that packet, I felt an
irresistible sleepiness come over me; I turned and turned, and tried to
keep my eyes open, and pulled and pinched my fingers. But all would not do,
and I fell asleep, dreaming that I was awake, and how long I slept I cannot
tell you, so deep, so dead asleep I must have been; but the instant I did
awake, I started up and drew back the curtain, and I saw--oh, Helen! there
was Clarendon dressed--standing with his arms folded--a letter open hanging
from his hand. His eyes were fixed upon me, waiting, watching for my first
look: he saw me glance at the letter in his hand, and then at the packet on
the table near the bed. For an instant neither of us spoke: I could not,
nor exclaim even; but surprised, terrified, he must have seen I was. As I
leaned forward, holding by the curtains, he pulled one of them suddenly
back, threw open the shutters, and the full glare was upon my face. I shut
my eyes--I could not help it--and shrank; but, gathering strength from
absolute terror of his silence, I spoke: I asked, 'For Heaven's sake!
Clarendon, what is the matter? Why do you look so?'
"Oh, that look of his! still fixed on me--the same as I once saw before we
were married--once, and but once, when he came from my mother to me about
this man. Well! I put my hands before my eyes; he stepped forward, drew
them down, and placed the open letter before me, and then asked me, in a
terrible sort of suppressed voice, 'Cecilia, whose writing is this?'
"The writing was before my eyes, but I literally could not see it--it was
all a sort of maze. He saw I could not read it, and calmly bade me 'Take
time--examine--is it a forgery?'
"A forgery!--that had never crossed my mind, and for an instant I was
tempted to say it was; but quickly I saw that would not do: there was the
miniature, and that could not be a forgery. 'No,' I answered, 'I do not
think it is a forgery.'
"'What then?' said he, so hastily that I could hardly hear; and before I
could think what to answer, he said, 'I must see Lady Davenant.' He stepped
towards the bell; I threw myself upon his arm--'Good Heavens! do not,
Clarendon, if you are not out of your senses.' 'I am not out of my senses,
Cecilia, I am perfectly calm; answer me, one word only--is this your
writing? Oh! my dear Helen, then it was that you saved me.'"
"Yes, forgive me, Helen, I answered, 'There is a handwriting so like, that
you never can tell it from mine. Ask me no more, Clarendon,' I said.
"I saw a flash of light, as it were, come across his face--it was hope--but
still it was not certainty. I saw this: oh! how quick one sees. He pointed
to the first words of the letter, held his finger under them, and his hand
trembled--think of his hand trembling! 'Read,' he said, and I read. How I
brought myself to pronounce the words, I cannot imagine. I read what, as I
hope for mercy, I had no recollection of ever having written--'My dear, too
dear Henry.' 'Colonel D'Aubigny?' said the general. I answered, 'Yes.' He
looked astonished at my self-possession--and so was I. For another instant
his finger rested, pressing down there under the words, and his eyes on my
face, as if he would have read into my soul. 'Ask me no more,' I repeated,
scarcely able to speak; and something I said, I believe, about honour and
not betraying you. He turned to the signature, and, putting his hand down
upon it, asked, 'What name is signed to this letter?' I answered, I have
seen--I know--I believe it is 'Emma.'
"'You knew then of this correspondence?' was his next question. I confessed
I did. He said that was wrong, 'but quite a different affair' from having
been engaged in it myself, or some such word. His countenance cleared; that
pale look of the forehead, the fixed purpose of the eye, changed. Oh! I
could see--I understood it all with half a glance--saw the natural colour
coming back, and tenderness for me returning--yet some doubt lingering
still. He stood, and I heard some half-finished sentences. He said that you
must have been very young at that time; I said, 'Yes, very young:'--'And
the man was a most artful man,' he observed; I said. 'Yes, very artful.'
That was true, I am sure. Clarendon then recollected that you showed some
emotion one day when Colonel D'Aubigny was first mentioned--at that time,
you know, when we heard of his death. I said nothing. The general went
on: 'I could hardly have believed all this of Helen Stanley,' he said. He
questioned no farther:--and oh! Helen, what do you think I did next? but it
was the only thing left me to put an end to doubts, which, to _me_, must
have been fatal--forgive me, Helen!"
"Tell me what you did," said Helen.
"Cannot you guess?"
"You told him positively that I wrote the letters?"
"No, not so bad, I never said that downright falsehood--no, I could not;
but I did almost as bad."
"Pray tell me at once, my dear Cecilia."
"Then, in the first place, I stretched out my hand for the whole packet of
letters which lay on the table untouched."
"Well, he put them into my hands and said, 'There is no direction on these
but to myself, I have not looked at any of them except this, which in
ignorance I first opened; I have not read one word of any of the others.'"
"Well," said Helen; "and what did you do?"
"I said I was not going to read any of the letters, that I was only looking
for--now, Helen, you know--I told you there was something hard in the
parcel, something more than papers, I was sure what it must be--the
miniature--the miniature of you, which I painted, you know, that I might
have it when you were gone, and which _he_ stole, and pretended before my
mother to be admiring as your likeness, but he kept it only because it was
my painting. I opened the paper in which it was folded; Clarendon darted
upon it--'It is Helen!' and then he said. 'How like! how beautiful! how
unworthy of that man!'
"But, oh, Helen, think of what an escape I had next. There was my name--my
initials C. D. at the bottom of the picture, as the painter; and that
horrible man, not content with his initials opposite to mine, had on the
back written at full length, 'For Henry D'Aubigny.'--Clarendon looked at
it, and said between his teeth. 'He is dead.'--'Thank God!' said I.
"Then he asked me, how I came to paint this picture for that man; I
answered--oh how happy then it was for me that I could tell the whole truth
about that at least!--I answered that I did not do the picture for Colonel
D'Aubigny; that it never was given to him; that he stole it from my
portfolio, and that we both did what we could to get it back again from
him, but could not. And that you even wanted me to tell my mother, but
of that I was afraid; and Clarendon said, 'You were wrong there, my dear
"I was so touched when I heard him call me his dear Cecilia again, and in
his own dear voice, that I burst into tears. That was a great relief to me,
and I kept saying over and over again, that I was wrong--very wrong indeed!
and then he kneeled down beside me, and I so felt his tenderness, his
confiding love for me--for me, unworthy as I am." The tears streamed from
Lady Cecilia's eyes as she spoke--"Quite unworthy!"
"No, no, not quite unworthy," said Helen; "my poor dear Cecilia, what you
must have felt!"
"Once!" continued Cecilia--"once! Helen, as my head was lying on his
shoulder, my face hid, I felt so much love, so much remorse, and knowing
I had done nothing really bad, I was tempted to whisper all in his ear. I
felt I should be so much happier for ever--ever--if I could!"
"Oh that you had! my dear Cecilia, I would give anything upon earth for
your sake, that you had."
"Helen, I could not--I could not. It was too late, I should have been
undone if I had breathed but a word. When he even suspected the truth!
that look--that voice was so terrible. To see it--hear it again! I could
not--oh, Helen, it would have been utter ruin--madness. I grant you, my
dear Helen, it might have been done at first, before I was married; oh
would to heaven it had! but it is useless thinking of that now. Helen, my
whole earthly happiness is in your hands, this is all I have to say, may
I--may I depend on you?"
"Yes, yes, depend upon me, my dearest Cecilia," said Helen; "now let me
Lady Cecilia held her one instant longer, to say that she had asked
Clarendon to leave it to her to return the letters, "to save you the
embarrassment, my dearest Helen; but he answered he must do this himself,
and I did not dare to press the matter; but you need not be alarmed, he
will be all gentleness to you, he said, 'it is so different.' Do not be
"Afraid for myself?" said Helen; "oh no--rest, dear Cecilia, and let me
"Go then, go," cried Cecilia; "but for you what would become of my