Part 7 out of 10
mother!--of me!--you save us all."
Believing this, Helen hastened to accomplish her purpose; resolved to go
through with it, whatever it might cost; her scruples vanished, and she
felt a sort of triumphant pleasure in the courage of sacrificing
General Clarendon was sitting in the music-room, within the library, the
door open, so that he could see Helen the moment she came in, and that
moment he threw down his book as he rose, and their eyes met: hers fell
beneath his penetrating glance; he came forward immediately to meet her,
with the utmost gentleness and kindness in his whole appearance and
manner, took her hand, and, drawing her arm within his, said, in the most
encouraging voice, "Consider me as your brother, Helen; you know you have
allowed me so to feel for you, and so, believe me, I do feel."
This kindness quite overcame her, and she burst into tears. He hurried her
across the library, into the inner room, seated her, and when he had closed
the door, stood beside her, and began, as if he had been to blame, to
apologise for himself.
"You must have been surprised at my having opened letters which did not
belong to me, but there was no direction, no indication that could stop me.
They were simply in a cover directed to me. The purpose of whoever sent
them must have been to make me read them; the ultimate purpose was, I doubt
not, to ruin Lady Cecilia Clarendon in my opinion."
"Or me," said Helen.
"No, Miss Stanley, no, that at all events cannot be," said the general.
"Supposing the letters to be acknowledged by you, still it would be quite
a different affair. But in the first place look at them, they may be
forgeries. You will tell me if they are forgeries?"
And he placed the packet in her hands. Scarcely looking at the writing, she
answered, "No, forgeries I am sure they are not." The general looked again
at the direction of the cover, and observed, "This is a feigned hand. Whose
can it be?"
Helen was on the brink of saying that Cecilia had told her it was like the
writing of Carlos. Now this cover had not, to the general's knowledge, been
seen by Cecilia, and that one answer might have betrayed all that she was
to conceal, for he would instantly have asked how and when did Cecilia see
it, and the cause of her fainting would have been then understood by him.
Such hazards in every, even the first, least, step in falsehood; such
hazard in this first moment! But she escaped this peril, and Helen
answered: "It is something like the writing of the page Carlos, but I do
not think all that direction is his. There seem to be two different hands.
I do not know, indeed, how it is?"
"Some time or other it will come out," said the general.
"I will keep this cover, it will lead to the direction of that boy, or of
whoever it was that employed him."
To give her further time the general went on looking at the miniature,
which he held in his hand. "This is a beautiful likeness," said he, "and
not ill painted--by Cecilia, was not it?"
Helen looked at it, and answered, "Yes, by Cecilia."
"I am glad it is safe," said the general, "restored--Cecilia told me the
history. I know that it was stolen, not given by you."
"Given!" said Helen. "Oh no! stolen."
"Base!" said the general.
"He was base," answered Helen.
General Clarendon held in his hand, along with the picture, one letter
separated from the rest, open; he looked at it as if embarrassed, while
Helen spoke the last words, and he repeated, "Base! yes, he certainly was,
or he would have destroyed these letters."
Again Helen was on the point of saying that Colonel D'Aubigny had told
Cecilia he had done so, but fortunately her agitation, in default of
presence of mind, kept her silent.
"This is the first letter I opened," said the general, "before I was aware
that they were not what I should read. I saw only the first words, I
thought then that I had a right to read them. When these letters met my
eyes, I conceived them to hare been written by my wife. I had a right to
satisfy myself respecting the nature of the correspondence; that done, I
looked no farther. I bore my suspense--I waited till she awoke."
"So she told me, Cecilia has told me all; but even if she had not, in any
circumstances who could doubt your honour, General Clarendon?"
"Then trust to it, Miss Stanley, for the past, for the future, trust to
it! You gratify me more than I can express--you do me justice. I wished to
return these letters to you with, my own hand," continued he, "to satisfy
myself, in the first place, that there was no mistake. Of that your
present candour, indeed, the first look of that ingenuous countenance, was
Helen felt that she blushed all over.
"Pardon me for distressing you, my dear Helen. It was a matter in which a
man MUST be selfish,_ must_ in point of honour, _must_ in point of feeling,
I owe to your candour not merely relief from what I could not endure and
live, but relief from suspicion,--suspicion of the truth of one dearer to
me than life."
Helen sat as if she had been transfixed.
"I owe to you," continued he, "the happiness of my whole future life."
"Then I am happy," cried Helen, "happy in this, at all events, whatever may
become of me."
She had not yet raised her eyes towards the general; she felt as if her
first look must betray Cecilia; but she now tried to fix her eyes upon him
as he looked anxiously at her, and she said, "thank you, thank you, General
Clarendon! Oh, thank you for all the kindness you have shown me; but I am
the more grieved, it makes me more sorry to sink quite in your esteem."
"To sink! You do not: your candour, your truth raises you----"
"Oh! do not say that----"
"I do," repeated the general, "and you may believe me. I am incapable of
deceiving you--this is no matter of compliment. Between friend and friend I
should count a word, a look of falsehood, treason."
Helen's tears stopped, and, without knowing what she did, she began hastily
to gather up the packet of letters which she had let fall; the general
assisted her in putting them into her bag, and she closed the strings,
thanked him, and was rising, when he went on--"I beg your indulgence while
I say a few words of myself."
She sat down again immediately. "Oh! as many as you please."
"I believe I may say I am not of a jealous temper."
"I am sure you are not," said Helen.
"I thank you," said the general. "May I ask on what your opinion is
"On what has now passed, and on all that I have heard from Lady Davenant."
He bowed. "You may have heard then, from Lady Davenant, of some unfortunate
circumstances in my own and in a friend's family which happened a short
time before my marriage?"
Helen said she had.
"And of the impression these circumstances made on my mind, my consequent
resolve never to marry a woman who had ever had any previous attachment?"
Helen was breathless at hearing all this repeated.
"Were you informed of these particulars?" said the general.
"Yes," said Helen, faintly.
"I am not asking, Miss Stanley, whether you approved of my resolution;
simply whether you heard of it?"
"That's well. It was on an understanding between Cecilia and myself on this
point, that I married. Did you know this?"
"Yes," said Helen.
"Some words," continued the general, "once fell from Lady Davenant
concerning this Colonel D'Aubigny which alarmed me. Cecilia satisfied me
that her mother was mistaken. Cecilia solemnly assured me that she had
never loved him." The general paused.
Helen, conceiving that he waited for and required her opinion, replied,
"So I always thought--so I often told Lady Davenant." But at this moment
recollecting the words at the beginning of that letter, "My dear, too
dear Henry," Helen's voice faltered. The general saw her confusion, but
attributed it to her own consciousness. "Had Lady Davenant not been
mistaken," resumed he, "that is to say had there ever been--as might have
happened not unnaturally--had there ever been an attachment; in short, had
Cecilia ever loved him, and told me so, I am convinced that such truth
and candour would have satisfied me, would have increased--as I now
feel--increased my esteem. I am at this moment convinced that, in spite of
my declared resolution, I should in perfect confidence, have married."
"Oh that Cecilia had but told him!" thought Helen.
"I should not, my dear Miss Stanley," continued the general, "have thus
taken up your time talking of myself, had I not an important purpose
in view. I was desirous to do away in your mind the idea of my great
strictness--not on my own account, but on yours, I wished to dispel this
notion. Now you will no longer, I trust, apprehend that my esteem for you
is diminished. I assure you I can make allowances."
She was shocked at the idea of allowances, yet thanked him for his
indulgence, and she could hardly refrain from again bursting into tears.
"Still by your agitation I see you are afraid of me," said he, smiling.
"No indeed; not afraid of you, but shocked at what you must think of me."
"I am not surprised, but sorry to see that the alarm I gave my poor Cecilia
this morning has passed from her mind into yours. To her I must have
appeared harsh: I _was_ severe; but when I thought I had been deceived,
duped, can you wonder?"
Helen turned her eyes away.
"My dear Miss Stanley, why will not you distinguish? the cases are
essentially different. Nine out of ten of the young ladies who marry in
these countries do not marry the first object of their fancy, and whenever
there is, as there will be, I am sure, in your case, perfect candour, I do
not apprehend the slightest danger to the happiness of either party. On the
contrary, I should foretell an increase of esteem and love. Beauclerc has
Beauclerc's voice was at this instant heard in the hall.
"Compose yourself, my dear Miss Stanley--this way," said the general,
opening a door into the conservatory, for he heard Beauclerc's step now in
the library. The general followed Helen as she left the room, and touching
the bag that contained the letters, said,
"Remember, whatever may be your hurry, lock this up first."
"Thank you," answered she; "I will, I will!" and she hastened on, and in a
moment she was safe across the hall and upstairs, without meeting any one,
and in her own room, and the bag locked up in her cabinet. Lady Davenant's
bell rang as she went to her apartment; she looked in at Cecilia, who
started up in her bed.
"All is over," said Helen, "all is well. I have the letters locked up; I
Helen disengaged herself almost forcibly from Cecilia's embrace, and she
was in Lady Davenant's room in another minute. She bade her good morning
as composedly as she could, she thought quite as usual. But that was
impossible: so much the better, for it would not have been natural this
last morning of Lady Davenant's stay, when nothing was as usual externally
or internally. All was preparation for departure--her maids packing--Lady
Davenant, making some last arrangements--in the midst of which she stopped
to notice Helen--pressed her in her arms, and after looking once in her
face, said, "My poor child! it must be so."
Elliott interrupted, asking some question, purposely to draw off her
attention; and while she turned about to give some orders to another
servant, Elliott said to Miss Stanley, "My Lady was not well last night;
she must be kept from all that can agitate her, as much as possible."
Helen at that instant rejoiced that she had done what she had. She agreed
with Elliott, she said, that all emotion which could be avoided should;
and upon this principle busied herself, and was glad to employ herself in
whatever she could to assist the preparations, avoiding all conversation
with Lady Davenant.
"You are right, my love--quite right," said Lady Davenant. "The best way is
always to employ one's self always to the last. Yes, put up those drawings
carefully, in this portfolio, Elliott; take silver paper, Helen."
They were Helen's own drawings, so all went on, and all was safe--even when
Cecilia was spoken of; while the silver paper went over the drawings, Helen
answered that she had seen her. "She was not well, but still not seriously
"Yes," said Lady Davenant; "only the general is too anxious about her--very
naturally. He sent me word just now," continued she, "that he has forbidden
her to get up before breakfast. I will go and see her now; dear Cecilia! I
hope she will do well--every way--I feel sure of it, Helen--sure as you do
yourself, my dear--But what is the matter?"
"Nothing!" said Helen. That was not quite true; but she could not help
it--"Nothing!" repeated she. "Only I am anxious, my dear Lady Davenant,"
continued poor Helen blundering, unaccustomed to evasions--"only I am very
anxious you should go soon to Cecilia; I know she is awake now, and you
will be hurried after breakfast."
Elliott looked reproachfully at Miss Stanley, for she thought it much
better for her lady to be engaged in more indifferent matters till after
breakfast, when she would have but a few minutes to spend with her
daughter; so Helen, correcting herself, added--"But, perhaps I'm wrong, so
do not let me interrupt you in whatever you are doing."
"My dear child," said Lady Davenant; "you do not know what you are saying
or doing yourself this morning."
But no suspicion was excited in her mind, as she accounted for Helen's
perturbation by the sorrow of their approaching separation, and by the
hurry of her spirits at Beauclerc's arrival the day before. And then came
the meeting the general at breakfast, which Helen dreaded; but so composed,
so impenetrable was he that she could hardly believe that anything could
have occurred that morning to agitate him.
Lady Davenant, after being with her daughter, came to take leave of Helen,
and said gravely, "Helen! remember what I said of Cecilia's truth, my trust
is in you. Remember, if I never see you again, by all the love and esteem
I bear you, and all which you feel for me, remember this my last
request--prayer--adjuration to you, support, save Cecilia!"
At that moment the general came to announce that the carriage was ready;
promptly he led her away, handed her in and the order to "drive on," was
given. Lady Davenant's last look, her last anxious smile, was upon Helen
and Beauclerc as they stood beside each other on the steps, and she was
Helen was so excessively agitated that Beauclerc did not attempt to detain
her from hurrying to her own room, where she sat down, and endeavoured to
compose herself. She repeated Lady Davenant's last words, "Support, save
Cecilia," and, unlocking the cabinet in which she had deposited the fatal
letters, she seized the bag that contained them, and went immediately to
Cecilia. She was in her dressing-room, and the general sitting beside her
on the sofa, upon which she was resting. He was sitting directly opposite
to Helen as she entered; she started at the sight of him: his eye instantly
fell upon the bag, and she felt her face suddenly flush. He took out his
watch, said he had an appointment, and was gone before Helen raised her
"My dearest friend, come to me, come close to me," cried Cecilia, and
throwing her arms round Helen, she said, "Oh, I am the happiest creature
"Are you?" said Helen.
"Yes, that I am, and I thank you for it; how much I thank you, Helen, it is
impossible to express, and better I love you than anything upon earth but
Clarendon himself, my best friend, my generous Helen. Oh, Clarendon has
been so kind, so very kind! so sorry for having alarmed me! He is a noble,
charming creature. I love him a thousand times better than I ever did, am
happier than I ever was! and all this I owe to you, dearest Helen. But I
cannot get your eyes from that bag,--what have you there?"
"The letters," said Helen.
"The letters!" exclaimed Cecilia, springing up, "give them to me," seizing
and opening the bag. "Oh that dreadful perfume! Helen open the window, and
bolt the door, my dear--both doors."
While Helen was doing so, Cecilia struck one little quick blow on a
taper-lighter; it flared, and when Helen turned, one of the letters was in
flames, and Cecilia continued feeding the flame with them as fast as ever
it could devour.
"Burn! burn! there, there!" cried she, "I would not look at any one of them
again for the world; I know no more what is in them than if I had never
written them, except those horrid, horrid words Clarendon saw and showed
me. I cannot bear to think of it. There now," continued she, as they
burned, "no one can ever know anything more about the matter: how glad I
am to see them burning!--burnt! safe! The smell will go off in a minute or
two. It is going,--yes, gone! is not it? Now we may breathe freely. But you
look as if you did not know whether you were glad or sorry, Helen."
"I believe it was right; the general advised me to lock, them up," said
Helen, "but then--"
"Did he? how thoughtful of him! But better to burn them at once; I am sure
it was not my fault that they were not long ago destroyed. I was assured by
that abominable man--but no matter, we will never think of him again. It
is done now--no, not completely yet," said she, looking close at the half
white, half black burnt paper, in which words, and whole lines still
appeared in shrunken but yet quite legible characters. "One cannot be too
careful," and she trampled on the burnt paper, and scattered the cinders.
Helen was anxious to speak, she had something important to say, but
hesitated; she saw that Cecilia's thoughts were so far from what she wanted
to speak of that she could not instantly say it; she could not bear to
overturn all Cecilia's present happiness, and yet, said to herself, I
must--I must--or what may happen hereafter? Then forcing herself to speak,
she began, "Your mother is safe now, Cecilia."
"Oh yes, and thank you, thank you for that--"
"Then now, Cecilia--your promise."
"My promise!" Lady Cecilia's eyes opened in unfeigned astonishment. "What
promise?--Oh, I recollect, I promised--did I?"
"My dear Cecilia, surely you cannot have forgotten."
"How was it?"
"You know the reason I consented was to prevent the danger of any shock to
"Well, I know, but what did I promise?"
The words had in reality passed Lady Cecilia's lips at the time without
her at all considering them as a promise, only as a means of persuasion to
bring Helen to her point.
"What did I promise?" repeated she. "You said, 'As soon as my mother is
safe, as soon as she is gone, I will tell my husband all,'--Cecilia, you
cannot forget what you promised."
"Oh, no, now I remember it perfectly, but I did not mean so soon. I never
imagined you would claim it so soon: but some time I certainly will tell
"Do not put it off, dearest Cecilia. It must be done--let it be done
"To-day!" Lady Cecilia almost screamed.
"I will tell you why," said Helen.
"To-day!" repeated Lady Cecilia.
"If we let the present _now_ pass," continued Helen, "we shall lose both
the power and the opportunity, believe me."
"I have not the power, Helen, and I do not know what you mean by the
opportunity," said Cecilia.
"We have a reason now to give General Clarendon--a true good reason, for
what we have done."
"Reason!" cried Lady Cecilia, "what can you mean?"
"That it was to prevent danger to your mother, and now she is safe; and if
you tell him directly, he will see this was, really so."
"That is true; but I cannot--wait till to-morrow, at least."
"Every day will make it more difficult. The deception will be greater, and
less pardonable. If we delay, it will become deliberate falsehood, a sort
of conspiracy between us," said Helen.
"Conspiracy! Oh, Helen, do not use such a shocking word, when it is really
nothing at all."
"Then why not tell it?" urged Helen.
"Because, though it is nothing at all in reality, yet Clarendon would think
it dreadful--though I have done nothing really wrong."
"So I say--so I know," cried Helen; therefore----"
"Therefore let me take my own time," said Cecilia. "How can you urge me so,
hurrying me so terribly, and when I am but just recovered from one misery,
and when you had made me so happy, and when I was thanking you with all my
Helen was much moved, but answered as steadily as she could. "It seems
cruel, but indeed I am not cruel."
"When you had raised me up," continued Cecilia, "to dash me down again,
and leave me worse than ever!" "Not worse--no, surely not worse, when your
mother in safe."
"Yes, safe, thank you--but oh, Helen, have you no feeling for your own
"The greatest," answered Helen; and her tears said the rest.
"You, Helen! I never could have thought you would have urged me so!"
"O Cecilia! if you knew the pain it was to me to make you unhappy
again,--but I assure you it is for your own sake. Dearest Cecilia, let me
tell you all that General Clarendon said about it, and then you will know
my reasons." She repeated as quickly as she could, all that had passed
between her and the general, and when she came to this declaration that, if
Cecilia had told him plainly the fact before, he would have married with
perfect confidence, and, as he believed, with increased esteem and love:
Cecilia started up from the sofa on which she had thrown herself, and
"O that I had but known this at the time, and I _would_ have told him."
"It is still time," said Helen.
"Time now?--impossible. His look this morning. Oh! that look!"
"But what is one look, my dear Cecilia, compared with a whole life of
confidence and happiness?"
"A life of happiness! never, never for me; in that way at least, never."
"In that way and no other, Cecilia, believe me. I am certain you never
could endure to go on concealing this, living with him you love so, yet
"Deceiving! do not call it deceiving, it is only suppressing a fact that
would give him pain; and when he can have no suspicion, why give him that
pain? I am afraid of nothing now but this timidity of yours--this going
back. Just before you came in, Clarendon was saying how much he admired
your truth and candour, how much he is obliged to you for saving him from
endless misery; he said so to me, that was what made me so completely
happy. I saw that it was all right for you as well as me, that you had not
sunk, that you had risen in his esteem."
"But I must sink, Cecilia, in his esteem, and now it hangs upon a single
point--upon my doing what I cannot do." Then she repeated what the general
had said about that perfect openness which he was sure there would be in
this case between her and Beauclerc. "You see what the general expects
that I should do."
"Yes," said Cecilia; and then indeed she looked much disturbed. "I am very
sorry that this notion of your telling Beauclerc came into Clarendon's
head--very, very sorry, for he will not forget it. And yet, after
all," continued she, he will never ask you point blank, 'Have you told
Beauclerc?'--and still more impossible that he should ask Beauclerc about
"Cecilia!" said Helen, "if it were only for myself I would say no more;
there is nothing I would not endure--that I would not sacrifice--even my
utmost happiness."--She stopped, and blushed deeply.
"Oh, my dearest Helen! do you think I could let you ever hazard that? If I
thought there was the least chance of injuring you with Granville!--I would
do any thing--I would throw myself at Clarendon's feet this instant."
"This instant--I wish he was here," cried Helen.
"Good Heavens! do you?" cried Lady Cecilia, looking at the door with
terror--she thought she heard his step.
"Yes, if you would but tell him--O let me call him!"
"Oh no, no! Spare me--spare me, I cannot speak now. I could not utter
the words; I should not know what words to use. Tell him if you will, I
"May I tell him?" said Helen, eagerly.
"No, no--that would be worse; if anybody tells him it must be myself."
"Then you will now--when he comes in?"
"He is coming!" cried Cecilia.
General Clarendon came to the door--it was bolted.
"In a few minutes," said Helen. Lady Cecilia did not speak, but listened,
as in agony, to his receding footsteps.
"In a few minutes, Helen, did you say?--then there is nothing for me now,
but to die--I wish I could die--I wish I was dead."
Helen felt she was cruel, she began to doubt her own motives; she thought
she had been selfish in urging Cecilia too strongly; and, going to her
kindly, she said, "Take your own time, my dear Cecilia: only tell him--tell
him soon." "I will, I will indeed, when I can--but now I am quite
"You are indeed," said Helen, "how cruel I have been!--how pale you are!"
Lady Cecilia lay down on the sofa, and Helen covered her with a soft India
shawl, trembling so much herself that she could hardly stand.
"Thank you, thank you, dear, kind Helen; tell him I am going to sleep, and
I am sure I hope I shall."
Helen closed the shutters--she had now done all she could; she feared she
had done too much; and as she left the room, she said to herself,--"Oh,
Lady Davenant! if you could see--if you knew--what it cost me!"
END OF VOLUME THE SECOND
VOLUME THE THIRD.
The overwrought state of Helen's feelings was relieved by a walk with
Beauclerc, not in the dressed part of the park, but in what was generally
undiscovered country: a dingle, a bosky dell, which he had found out in his
rambles, and which, though so little distant from the busy hum of men,
had a wonderful air of romantic seclusion and stillness--the stillness of
evening. The sun had not set; its rich, red light yet lingered on the still
remaining autumn tints upon the trees. The birds hopped fearlessly from
bough to bough, as if this sweet spot were all their own. The cattle were
quietly grazing below, or slowly winding their way to the watering-place.
By degrees, the sounds of evening faded away upon the ear; a faint chirrup
here and there from the few birds not yet gone to roost, and now only the
humming of the flies over the water were to be heard.
It was perfect repose, and Beauclerc and Helen sat down on the bank to
enjoy it together. The sympathy of the woman he loved, especially in his
enjoyment of the beauties of nature, was to Beauclerc an absolute necessary
of life. Nor would he have been contented with that show taste for the
picturesque, which is, as he knew, merely one of a modern young lady's many
accomplishments. Helen's taste was natural, and he was glad to feel it
so true, and for him here alone expressed with such peculiar heightened
feeling, as if she had in all nature now a new sense of delight. He had
brought her here, in hopes that she would be struck with this spot, not
only because it was beautiful in itself, and his discovery, but because it
was like another bushy dell and bosky bourne, of which he had been from
childhood fond, in another place, of which he hoped she would soon be
mistress. "Soon! very soon, Helen!" he repeated, in a tone which could not
be heard by her with indifference. He said that some of his friends in
London told him that the report of their intended union had been spread
everywhere--(by Lady Katrine Hawksby probably, as Cecilia, when Lady
Castlefort departed, had confided to her, to settle her mind about
Beauclerc, that he was coming over as Miss Stanley's acknowledged lover).
And since the report had been so spread, the sooner the marriage took place
the better; at least, it was a plea which Beauclerc failed not to urge, and
Helen's delicacy failed not to feel.
She sighed--she smiled. The day was named--and the moment she consented to
be his, nothing could be thought of but him. Yet, even while he poured
out all his soul--while he enjoyed the satisfaction there is in perfect
unreservedness of confidence, Helen felt a pang mix with her pleasure. She
felt there was one thing _she_ could _not_ tell him: he who had told her
every thing--all his faults, and follies. "Oh! why," thought she, "why
cannot I tell him every thing? I, who have no secrets of my own--why
should I be forced to keep the secrets of another?" In confusion, scarcely
finished, these ideas came across her mind, and she sighed deeply.
Beauclerc asked why, and she could not tell him! She was silent; and he
did not reiterate the indiscreet question. He was sure she thought of Lady
Davenant; and he now spoke of the regret he felt that she could not be
present at their marriage, and Lord Davenant too! Beauclerc said he had
hoped that Lord Davenant, who loved Helen as if she were his own daughter,
would have been the person to act as her father at the ceremony. But the
general, his friend and her's, would now, Beauclerc said, give her to
him; and would, he was sure, take pleasure in thus publicly marking his
approbation of his ward's choice.
They rose, and going on down the path to the river's side, they reached
a little cove where he had moored his boat, and they returned home
by water--the moon just visible, the air so still; all so placid, so
delightful, and Beauclerc so happy, that she could not but be happy;
yes--quite happy too. They reached the shore just as the lamps were
lighting in the house. As they went in, they met the general, who said, "In
good time;" and he smiled on Helen as she passed.
"It is all settled," whispered Beauclerc to him; "and you are to give her
"With pleasure," said the general.
As Helen went up-stairs, she said to herself, "I understand the general's
smile; he thinks I have followed his advice; he thinks I have told all--and
I--I can only be silent."
There was a great dinner party, but the general, not thinking Cecilia quite
equal to it, had engaged Mrs. Holdernesse, a relation of his own, to do the
honours of the day.
Lady Cecilia came into the drawing-room in the evening; but, after paying
her compliments to the company, she gladly followed the general's advice,
and retired to the music-room: Helen went with her, and Beauclerc followed.
Lady Cecilia sat down to play at ecarte with him, and Helen tuned her harp.
The general came in for a few minutes, he said, to escape from two young
ladies, who had talked him half dead about craniology. He stood leaning on
the mantelpiece, and looking over the game. Lady Cecilia wanted counters,
and she begged Beauclerc to look for some which she believed he would find
in the drawer of a table that was behind him. Beauclerc opened the
drawer, but no sooner had he done so, than, in admiration of something he
discovered there, he exclaimed, "Beautiful! beautiful! and how like!" It
was the miniature of Helen, and besides the miniature, further back in the
drawer, Lady Cecilia saw--how quick is the eye of guilty fear!--could it
be?--yes--one of the fatal letters--_the_ letter! Nothing but the picture
had yet been seen by the general or by Beauclerc: Lady Cecilia stretched
behind her husband, whose eyes were upon the miniature, and closed the
drawer. It was all she could do, it was impossible for her to reach the
Beauclerc, holding the picture to the light, repeated, "Beautiful! who did
it? whom is it for? General, look! do you know it?"
"Yes, to be sure," replied the general; "Miss Stanley."
"You have seen it before?"
"Yes," said the general, coldly. "It is very like. Who did it?"
"I did it," cried Lady Cecilia, who now recovered her voice.
"You, my dear Lady Cecilia! Whom for? for me? is it for me?"
"For you? It may be, hereafter, perhaps."
"Oh thank you, my dear Lady Cecilia!" cried Beauclerc.
"If you behave well, perhaps," added she.
The general heard in his wife's tremulous tone, and saw in her half
confusion, half attempt at playfulness, only an amiable anxiety to save
her friend, and to give her time to recover from her dismay. He at once
perceived that Helen had not followed the course he had suggested; that she
had not told Beauclerc, and did not intend that he should be told the whole
truth. The general looked extremely grave; Beauclerc gave a glance round
the room. "Here is some mystery," said he, now first seeing Helen's
disconcerted countenance. Then he turned on the general a look of eager
inquiry. "Some mystery, certainly," said he, "with which I am not to be
"If there be any mystery," said the general, "with which you are not to be
made acquainted, I am neither the adviser nor abettor. Neither in jest nor
earnest am I ever an adviser of mystery."
While her husband thus spoke, Lady Cecilia made another attempt to possess
herself of the letter. This time she rose decidedly, and, putting aside the
little ecarte table which was in her way, pressed forward to the drawer,
saying something about "counters." Her Cachemere caught on Helen's harp,
and, in her eager spring forward, it would have been overset, but that the
general felt, turned, and caught it.
"What are you about, my dear Cecilia?--what do you want?"
"Nothing, nothing, thank you, my dear; nothing now."
Then she did not dare to open the drawer, or to let him open it, and
anxiously drew away his attention by pointing to a footstool which she
seemed to want.
"Could not you ask me for it, my dear, without disturbing yourself? What
are men made for?"
Beauclerc, after a sort of absent effort to join in quest of the footstool,
had returned eagerly to the picture, and looking at it more closely, he saw
the letters C.D. written in small characters in one corner; and, just
as his eye turned to the other corner, Lady Cecilia, recollecting what
initials were there, started up and snatched it from his hand. "Oh,
Granville!" cried she, "you must not look at this picture any more till I
have done something to it." Beauclerc was trying to catch another look at
it, when Cecilia cried out, "Take it, Helen! take it!" and she held it
up on high, but as she held it, though she turned the face from him, she
forgot, quite forgot that Colonel D'Aubigny had written his name on the
back of the picture; and there it was in distinct characters such as could
be plainly read at that height, "_For_ Henry D'Aubigny." Beauclerc saw, and
gave one glance at Helen. He made no further attempt to reach the picture.
Lady Cecilia, not aware of what he had seen, repeated, "Helen! Helen! why
don't you take it?--now! now!"
Helen could not stir. The general took the picture from his wife's hand,
gave it to Miss Stanley, without looking at her, and said to Lady Cecilia,
"Pray keep yourself quiet, Cecilia. You have done enough, too much to-day;
sit down," said he, rolling her arm-chair close, and seating her. "Keep
yourself quiet, I beg."--"I beg," in the tone of "I insist."
She sat down, but catching a view of Beauclerc was alarmed by his
aspect--and Helen! her head was bent down behind the harp. Lady Cecilia did
not know yet distinctly what had happened. The general pressed her to lean
back on the cushions which he was piling up behind her. Beauclerc made a
step towards Helen, but checking himself, he turned to the ecarte table.
"Those counters, after all, that we were looking for--" As he spoke he
pulled open the drawer. The general with his back to him was standing
before Lady Cecilia, she could not see what Beauclerc was doing, but she
heard the drawer open, and cried out. "Not there, Beauclerc; no counters
there--you need not look there." But before she spoke, he had given a
sudden pull to the drawer, which brought it quite out, and all the contents
fell upon the floor, and there was the fatal letter, open, and the words
"_My dear, too dear Henry_" instantly met his eyes; he looked no farther,
but in that single glance the writing seemed to him to be Lady Cecilia's,
and quick his eye turned upon her. She kept perfectly quiet, and appeared
to him perfectly composed. His eye then darted in search of Helen; she had
sunk upon a seat behind the harp. Through the harp-strings he caught a
glimpse of her face, all pale--crimsoned it grew as he advanced: she rose
instantly, took up the letter, and, without speaking or looking at any
one, tore it to pieces. Beauclerc in motionless astonishment. Lady Cecilia
breathed again. The general's countenance expressed "I interfere no
farther." He left the room; and Beauclerc, without another look at Helen,
For some moments after Lady Cecilia and Helen were left alone, there was a
dead silence. Lady Cecilia sat with her eyes fixed upon the door through
which her husband and Beauclerc had passed. She thought that Beauclerc
might return; but when she found that he did not, she went to Helen, who
had covered her face with her hands.
"My dearest friend," said Lady Cecilia, "thank you! thank you!--you did the
best that was possible!"
"O Cecilia!" exclaimed Helen, "to what have you exposed me?"
"How did it all happen?" continued Cecilia. "Why was not that letter burnt
with the rest? How came it there? Can you tell me?"
"I do not know," said Helen, "I cannot recollect." But after some effort,
she remembered that in the morning, while the general had been talking to
her, she had in her confusion, when she took the packet, laid the picture
and that letter beside her on the arm of the chair. She had, in her hurry
of putting the other letters into her bag, forgotten this and the picture,
and she supposed that they had fallen between the, chair and the wall,
and that they had been found and put into the table-drawer by one of the
Helen was hastening out of the room, Cecilia detained her. "Do not go,
my dear, for that would look as if you were guilty, and you know you are
innocent. At the first sound of your harp Beauclerc will return--only
command yourself for one hour or two."
"Yes, it will only be for an hour or two," said Helen, brightening with
hope. "You will tell the general to-night Do you think Granville will come
back? Where is the harp key?--I dropped it--here it is." She began to tune
the harp. Crack went one string--then another. "That is lucky," said Lady
Cecilia, "it will give you something to do, my love, if the people come
The aide-de-camp entered. "I thought I heard harp-strings going," said he.
"Several!--yes," said Lady Cecilia, standing full in his way.
"Inauspicious sounds for us! had omens for my embassy.--Mrs. Holdernesse
"I know," said Lady Cecilia, "and you will have the goodness to tell her
that Miss Stanley's harp is unstrung."
"Can I be of any use, Miss Stanley?" said he, moving towards the harp.
"No, no," cried Lady Cecilia, "you are in my service,--attend to me."
"Dear me, Lady Cecilia! I did not hear what you said."
"That is what I complain of--hear me now."
"I am all attention, I am sure. What are your commands?"
She gave him as many as his head could hold. A long message to Mrs.
Holdernesse, and to Miss Holdernesse and Miss Anna about their music-books,
which had been left in the carriage, and were to be sent for, and duets to
be played, and glees, for the major and Lady Anne Ruthven,
"Good Heavens! I cannot remember any more," cried the aide-de-camp.
"Then go off, and say and do all that before you come back again," said
"What amazing presence of mind you have!" said Helen. "How can you say so
much, and think of every thing!"
The aide-de-camp performed all her behests to admiration, and was rewarded
by promotion to the high office of turner-over general of the leaves of
the music books, an office requiring, as her ladyship remarked to Miss
Holdernesse, prompt eye and ear, and all his distinguished gallantry. By
such compliments she fixed him to the piano-forte, while his curiosity and
all his feelings, being subordinate to his vanity, were prevented from
straying to Miss Stanley and her harp-stringing, a work still doing--still
All the arrangement succeeded as Lady Cecilia's arrangements usually did.
Helen heard the eternal buzz of conversation and the clang of instruments,
and then the harmony of music, all as in a dream, or as at the theatre,
when the thoughts are absent or the feelings preoccupied; and in this
dreamy state she performed the operation of putting in the harp-strings
quite well: and when she was at last called upon by Cecilia, who gave her
due notice and time, she sat and played automatically, without soul or
spirit--but so do so many others. It passed "charmingly," till a door
softly opened behind her, and she saw the shadow on the wall, and some
one stood, and passed from behind her. There was an end of her playing;
however, from her just dread of making a scene, she commanded herself so
powerfully, that, except her timidity, nothing was observed by the company,
and that timidity was pitied by the good-natured Mrs. Holdernesse, who said
to her daughter, "Anne, we must not press Miss Stanley any more; she, who
is always so obliging, is tired now." She then made way for Helen to pass,
who, thanking her with such a look as might be given for a life saved,
quitted the harp, and the crowd, closing behind her, happily thought of her
no more. She retreated to the darkest part of the room, and sat down. She
did not dare to look towards what she most wished to see. Her eyes were
fixed upon the face of the young lady singing, and yet she saw not one
feature of that face, while she knew, without looking, or seeming to look,
exactly where Beauclerc stood. He had stationed himself in a doorway into
the drawing-room; there, leaning back against the wall, he stood, and never
stirred. Helen was so anxious to get one clear view of the expression of
his countenance, that at last she ventured to move a little, and from
behind the broad back of a great man she looked: Beauclerc's eyes met hers.
How different from their expression when they were sitting on the bank
together but a few short hours before! He left the doorway instantly, and
placed himself where Helen could see him no more.
Of all the rest of what passed this evening she knew nothing; she felt only
a sort of astonishment at everybody's gaiety, and a sense of the time
being intolerably long. She thought that all these people never would go
away--that their carriages never would be announced. But before it came
to that time, General Clarendon insisted upon Lady Cecilia's retiring.
"I must," said he, "play the tyrant, Cecilia; you have done too much
to-day--Mrs. Holdernesse shall hold your place." He carried Cecilia off,
and Helen thought, or fancied, that he looked about for her. Glad to
escape, she followed close behind. The general did not offer his arm or
appear to notice her. When she came to the door leading to the staircase,
there was Beauclerc, standing with folded arms, as in the music-room; he
just bowed his head, and wished Lady Cecilia a good night, and waited,
without a word, for Helen to pass, or not to pass, as she thought fit.
She saw by his look that he expected explanation; but till she knew what
Cecilia meant to do, how could she explain? To say nothing--to bear to be
suspected,--was all she could do, without betraying her friend. That word
_betray_--that thought ruled her. She passed him: "Good night" she could
not then say. He bowed as she passed, and she heard no "Good night"--no
sound. And there was the general in the hall to be passed also, before she
could reach the staircase up which Cecilia was going. When he saw Helen
with a look of surprise--as it seemed to her, of disapproving surprise--he
said, "Are you gone, Miss Stanley?" The look, the tone, struck cold to her
heart. He continued--"Though I drove Cecilia away, I did not mean to drive
you away too. It is early."
"Is it? I thought it was very late."
"No--and if you _can_, I hope you will return." There was a meaning in his
eye, which she well understood.
"Thank you," said she; "if I can certainly----"
"I hope you can and will."
"Oh! thank you; but I must first----" see Cecilia, she was going to say,
but, afraid of implicating her, she changed the sentence to--"I must first
"Consider! what the devil!" thought he, and his countenance was
instantly angrily suited to the thought. Helen hesitated. "Do not let me
detain--distress you farther, Miss Stanley, unavailingly; and since I shall
not have the pleasure of seeing you again this evening," concluded he, in
a constrained voice, "I have the honour to wish you a good night." He
returned to the music-room.
Helen instantly went to Cecilia's room; Felicie was with her. Helen
expected Lady Cecilia would dismiss her instantly; but mademoiselle was
chattering. Helen had sometimes thought Cecilia let her talk too much, but
to-night it was insufferable. Helen was too impatient, too anxious to bear
it. "Cecilia, my dear, I want to speak to you alone, as soon as you can, in
my own room."
"As soon as possible," Cecilia answered in a voice not natural. And she
came, but not as soon as possible--shut the door behind her, showing that
she had not dismissed Felicie, and, with hair dishevelled, as if hastening
back to her room, said, "I am in a hurry; the general ordered me to make
haste, and not to be an hour undressing.
"I will not keep you a moment," said Helen. "I am in as great a hurry as
you can be. Beauclerc is waiting for me."
"Waiting for you at this time of night! Oh! my dear, he cannot be standing
there with his arms folded all this time."
Helen repeated what the general had said, and ended with, "I am determined
"No no," Lady Cecilia said. The general could not advise her going back
at this time of night. And with rapidity and confusion, she poured out a
multitude of dissuasive arguments, some contradicting the others. "At this
time of night! The world is not gone, and Beauclerc is in the midst of them
by this time, you may be sure. You don't think he is standing alone there
all this time. You could not speak to him before all the world--don't
attempt it. You would only expose yourself. You would make a scene at
last--undo all, and come to disgrace, and ruin me and yourself. I know you
would, Helen. And if you were to send for him--into the library--alone! the
servants would know it--and the company gone! And after all, for you, my
dear, to make the first advance to reconciliation! If he is angry--I don't
think that would be quite--dignified; quite like you, Helen."
"The general thinks it right, and I am sure he would not advise any thing
improper--undignified. It does not signify, Cecilia, I am determined--I
will go." Trembling, she grew absolutely desperate from fear. "I am afraid
you have forgot your promise, Cecilia; you said that if I could bear it for
one hour, it would be over. Did you not promise me that if any difficulty
came between me and----" She stopped short. She had felt indignant; but
when she looked at Cecilia, and saw her tears, she could not go on. "Oh
Helen!" cried Cecilia, "I do not ask you to pity me. You cannot know what I
suffer--you are innocent--and I have done so wrong! You cannot pity me."
"I do, I do," cried Helen, "from the bottom of my heart. Only trust me,
dear Cecilia; let me go down----"
Lady Cecilia sprang between her and the door. "Hear Me! hear me, Helen! Do
not go to-night, and, cost what it will--cost me what it may, since it has
come to this between you, I will confess all this night--I will tell all to
the general, and clear you with him and with Granville. What more can you
ask?--what more can I do, Helen? And will you go?"
"No no, my dear Cecilia. Since you promise me this, I will not go now."
"Be satisfied then, and rest--for me there is no rest;" so saying Cecilia
slowly left the room.
Helen could not sleep: this was the second wretched night she had passed in
that most miserable of all uncertainty--whether she was right or wrong.
In the morning, to Helen's astonishment, Cecilia's first words were about a
dream--"Oh, my dear Helen, I have had such a dream! I do not usually
mind dreams in the least, but I must own to you that this has made an
impression! My dear, I can hardly tell it; I can scarcely bear to think of
it. I thought that Clarendon and I were sitting together, and my hand was
on his shoulder; and I had worked myself up--I was just going to speak. He
was winding up his watch, and I leaned forward to see his face better. He
looked up-and it was not him: it was Colonel D'Aubigny come to life. The
door opened, Clarendon appeared--his eyes were upon me; but I do not know
what came afterwards; all was confusion and fighting. And then I was with
that nurse my mother recommended, and an infant in her arms. I was going to
take the child, when Clarendon snatched it, and threw it into the flames.
Oh! I awoke with a scream!"
"How glad you must have been," said Helen, "to awake and find it was only a
"But when I screamed," continued Cecilia, "Clarendon started up, and asked
if I was in pain. 'Not of body,' I said;--and then--oh, Helen! then I
thought I would begin. 'Not of body,' I said, 'but of mind;' then I added,
'I was thinking of Helen and Beauclerc,' Clarendon said, 'So was I; but
there is no use in thinking of it; we can do no good.'--'Then,' I said,
'suppose, Clarendon--only suppose that Helen, without saying any thing,
were to let this matter pass off with Beauclerc?'--Clarendon answered, 'It
would not pass off with Beauclerc.'--'But,' said I, 'I do not mean without
any explanation at all. Only suppose that Helen did not enter into any
particulars, do not you think, Clarendon, that things would go on well
enough?'--'No,' he said decidedly, 'no.'--'Do you mean,' said I, 'that
things would not go on at all?'--'I do not say, not at all,' he answered;
'but _well_ they would not go on.'"
"I am sure the general is right," said Helen.
"Then," continued Lady Cecilia, "then I put the question differently. I
wanted to feel my way, to try whether I could possibly venture upon my own
confession. 'Consider it this way, Clarendon,' I said. 'Take it for granted
that Helen did somehow arrange that Beauclerc were to be satisfied without
any formal explanation.'--'Formal!' said he,--'I will not say formal,' said
I; 'but without a _full_ explanation: in short, suppose that from mere
timidity, Helen could not, did not, exactly tell him the whole before
marriage--put it off till afterwards--then told him all candidly; do you
think, Clarendon, that if you were in Beauclerc's place (I quite stammered
when I came to this)--do you think you could pardon, or forgive, or esteem,
or love,' I intended to end with, but he interrupted me with--'I do not
know,' very shortly; and added, 'I hope this is not what Miss Stanley
intends to do?'"
"Oh! what did you answer?" cried Helen.
"I said I did not know. My dear Helen, it was the only thing I could say.
What would Clarendon have thought, after all my _supposes_, if I had said
any thing else? he must have seen the truth." "And that he is not to see,"
said Helen: "and how false he must think me!"
"No, no; for I told him," continued Lady Cecilia, "that I was sure you
wished always to tell the whole truth about everything, but that there
might be circumstances where you really could not; and where I, knowing all
the circumstances, could not advise it. He said, 'Cecilia, I desire you
will not advise or interfere any farther in this matter. Promise me,
Cecilia!' He spoke sternly, and I promised as fast as I could. 'Do nothing,
say nothing more about it,' he repeated; and now, after that, could I go
"No, indeed; I do not think you could. My dear Cecilia, I really think you
could not," said Helen, much moved.
"And do you forgive me, my dear, good----." But seeing Helen change colour,
Lady Cecilia, following her eye, and looking out of the window, started up,
exclaiming, "There is Beauclerc; I see him in my mother's walk. I will go
to him this minute; yes, I will trust him--I will tell him all instantly."
Helen caught hold of her, and stopped her. Surprised, Cecilia said, "Do not
stop me. I may never have the courage again if stopped now. Do not stop me,
"I must, Cecilia. General Clarendon desired you not to interfere in the
"But this is not interfering, only interposing to prevent mischief."
"But, Cecilia," continued Helen eagerly, "another reason has just struck
"I wish reasons would not strike you. Let me go. Oh, Helen; it is for you."
"And it is for you I speak, Cecilia," said Helen, as fast as she could. "If
you told Beauclerc, you never could afterwards tell the general; it would
be a new difficulty. You know the general could never endure your having
confessed this to any man but himself--trusted Beauclerc rather than your
Cecilia stopped, and stood silent.
"My dear Cecilia," continued Helen, "you must leave me to my own judgment
now;" and, breaking from Cecilia, she left the room. She hurried out to
meet Beauclerc. He stopped on seeing her, and then came forward with an air
of evident deliberation.
"Do you wish to speak to me, Miss Stanley!"
"Miss Stanley!" cried Helen; "is it come to this, and without hearing me!"
"Without hearing you, Helen! Was not I ready last night to hear you?
Without hearing you! Have not you kept me in torture, the worst of
tortures--suspense? Why did not you speak to me last night?"
"I could not."
"I cannot tell you," said she.
"Then I can tell you, Helen."
"And will. Helen, you could not speak to me till you had
consulted--arranged--settled what was to be said--what not to be said--what
told--what left untold."
Between each half sentence he darted looks at her, defying hers to
contradict--and she could not contradict by word or look. "You could not
speak," continued he passionately, "till you had well determined what was
to be told--what left untold to me! To me, Helen, your confiding--devoted
--accepted lover! for I protest before Heaven, had I knelt at the altar
with you, Helen Stanley, not more yours, not more mine could I have deemed
you--not more secure of your love and truth--your truth, for what is love
without it!--not more secure of perfect felicity could I have been on earth
than I was when we two sat together but yesterday evening on that
bank. Your words--your looks--and still your looks--But what signify
tears!--Tears, women's tears! Oh! what is woman!--and what is man that
believes in her?--weaker still?"
"Hear me!--hear me!"
"Hear you?--No, Helen, do not now ask me to hear you.--Do not force me to
hear you.--Do not debase, do not sully, that perfect image of truth.--Do
not sink yourself, Helen, from that height at which it was my entranced
felicity to see you. Leave me one blessed, one sacred illusion. No," cried
he, with increasing vehemence, "say nothing of all you have prepared--not
one arranged word conned over in your midnight and your morning
consultations," pointing back to the window of her dressing-room, where he
had seen her and Lady Cecilia.
"You saw," Helen began----
"Yes.--Am I blind, think you?--I wish I were. Oh! that I could be again the
believing, fond, happy dupe I was but yesterday evening!"
"Dupe!" repeated Helen. "But pour out all--all, dear Granville.
Think--say--what you will--reproach-abuse me as you please. It is a
relief--take it--for I have none to give."
"None!" cried he, his tone suddenly changing, "no relief to give!--What!
have you nothing to say?--No explanation?--Why speak to me then at all?"
"To tell you so at once--to end your suspense--to tell you that I cannot
explain. The midnight consultation and the morning, were not to prepare for
you excuse or apology, but to decide whether I could tell you the whole;
and since that cannot be, I determined not to enter into any explanation. I
am glad that you do not wish to hear any."
"Answer me one question," said he:--"that picture-did you give it to
"No. That is a question I can answer. No--he stole it from Cecilia's
portfolio. Ask me no more."
"One question more--"
"No, not one more--I cannot tell you anything more."
She was silent for a moment, he withdrew his eyes, and she went on.
"Granville! I must now put your love and esteem for me to the test. If that
love be what I believe it to be; if your confidence in me is what I think
it ought to be, I am now going to try it. There is a mystery which I
cannot explain. I tell you this, and yet I expect you to believe that I am
innocent of anything wrong but the concealment. There are circumstances
which I cannot tell you."
"But why?" interrupted Beauclerc.--"Ought there to be any circumstances
which cannot be told to the man to whom you have plighted your faith? Away
with this 'cannot--this mystery!' Did not I tell you every folly of my
life--every fault? And what is this?--in itself, nothing!--concealment
She was going to say, "If it concerned only myself,"--but that would at
once betray Cecilia, and she went on.--"If it were in my opinion right to
tell it to you, I would. On this point, Granville, leave me to judge and
act for myself. This is the test to which I put your love--put mine to any
test you will, but if your confidence in me is not sufficient to endure
this trial, we can never be happy together." She spoke very low: but
Beauclerc listened with such intensity that he could not only distinguish
every syllable she said, but could distinctly hear the beating of her
heart, which throbbed violently, in spite of all her efforts to be calm.
"Can you trust me?" concluded she.
"I can," cried he. "I can--I do! By Heaven I do! I think you an angel,
and legions of devils could not convince me of the contrary. I trust your
word--I trust that heavenly countenance--I trust entirely----" He offered,
and she took his offered hand. "I trust entirely. Not one question more
shall I ask--not a suspicion shall I have: you put me to the test, you
shall find me stand it."
"Can you?" said she; "you know how much I ask. I acknowledge a mystery, and
yet I ask you to believe that I am not wrong."
"I know," said she; "you shall see." And both in happiness once more, they
returned to the house.
"I love her a thousand times better than ever," thought Beauclerc, "for the
independence of mind she shows in thus braving my opinion, daring to set
all upon the cast--something noble in this! I am to form my own judgment
of her, and I will, independently of what any other human being may say or
think. The general, with his strict, narrow, conventional notions, has not
an idea of the kind of woman I like, or of what Helen really is. He sees
in Helen only the discreet proper-behaved young lady, adapted, so nicely
adapted to her place in society, to nitch and notch in, and to be of no
sort of value out of it. Give me a being able to stand alone, to think and
feel, decide and act, for herself. Were Helen only what the general thinks
her, she would not be for me; while she is what I think her, I love--I
adore!" And when he saw his guardian, Beauclerc declared that, though Helen
had entered into no explanations, he was perfectly satisfied.
The general answered, "I am glad you _are_ satisfied." Beauclerc perceived
that the general was not; and in spite of all that he had just been saying
to himself, this provoked and disgusted him. His theory of his own mind,
if not quite false, was still a little at variance with his practice. His
guardian's opinion swayed him powerfully, whenever he believed that it was
not designed to influence him; when the opinion was repressed, he could not
rest without drawing it out. "Then, you think, general," said he, "that
some explanation ought to have been made?"
"No matter what I think, Granville, the affair is yours. If you are
satisfied, that is all that is necessary."
Then even, because left on their own point of suspension to vibrate freely,
the diamond-scales of Beauclerc's mind began to move, from some nice,
unseen cause of variation. "But," said he, "General Clarendon, no one can
judge without knowing facts."
"So I apprehend," said the general.
"I may be of too easy faith," replied Beauclerc.--[No reply.] "This is a
point of honour."--[No denial.] "My dear general, if there be anything
which weighs with you, and which you know and I do not, I think, as my
friend and my guardian, you ought to tell it to me."
"Pardon me," said the general, turning away from Beauclerc as he spoke, and
striking first one heel of his boot against the scraper at the hall-door,
then the other--"pardon me, Granville, I cannot admit you to be a better
judge than I am myself of what I ought to do or not to do."
The tone was dry and proud, but Beauclerc's provoked imagination conceived
it to be also mysterious; the scales of his mind vibrated again, but he had
said he would trust--trust entirely, and he would: yet he could not succeed
in banishing all doubt, till an idea started into his head--"That writing
was Lady Cecilia's! I thought so at the first moment, and I let it go
again. It is hers, and Helen is keeping her secret:--but could Lady Cecilia
be so ungenerous--so treacherous?" However, he had declared he would ask
no questions; he was a man of honour, and he would ask none--none even of
himself--a resolution which he found it surprisingly easy to keep when the
doubt concerned only Lady Cecilia. Whenever the thought crossed his mind,
he said to himself, "I will ask nothing--suspect nobody; but if it is Lady
Cecilia's affair, it is all the more generous in Helen." And so, secure in
this explanation, though he never allowed to himself that he admitted it,
his trust in Helen was easy and complete, and his passion for her increased
But Lady Cecilia was disturbed even by the perfect confidence and happiness
of Beauclerc's manner towards Helen. She could not but fear that he had
guessed the truth; and it seemed as if everything which happened tended
to confirm him in his suspicions; for, whenever the mind is strongly
interested on any subject, something alluding to it seems wonderfully,
yet accidentally, to occur in everything that we read, or hear in common
conversation, and so it now happened; things were continually said by
persons wholly unconcerned, which seemed to bear upon her secret. Lady
Cecilia frequently felt this with pangs of confusion, shame, and remorse;
and, though Beauclerc did not watch, or play the spy upon her countenance,
he could not help sometimes observing the flitting colour--the guilty
changes of countenance--the assumed composure: that mind, once so artless,
began to be degraded--her spirits sank; she felt that she "had lost the
sunshine of a soul without a mystery!"
The day fixed for the marriage approached; Lady Cecilia had undertaken the
superintendence of the _trousseau_, and Felicie was in anxious expectation
of its arrival. Helen had written to the Collingwoods to announce the
intended event, asking for the good bishop's sanction, as her guardian, and
regretting that he could not perform the ceremony. She had received from
Lady Davenant a few lines, written just before she sailed, warm with all
the enthusiasm of her ardent heart, and full of expectation that Helen's
lot would be one of the happiest this world could afford. All seemed indeed
to smile upon her prospects, and the only clouds which dimmed the sunshine
were Cecilia's insincerity, and her feeling that the general thought her
acting unhandsomely and unwisely towards his ward; but she consoled herself
with the thought that he could not judge of what he did not know, that she
did not deserve his displeasure, that Granville was satisfied, and if
he was, why should not General Clarendon be so too? Much more serious,
however, was the pain she felt on Cecilia's account. She reproached herself
with betraying the trust Lady Davenant had reposed in her. That dreadful
prophecy seemed now accomplishing: Cecilia's natural generosity, that for
which Helen had ever most loved and admired her, the brightest, fairest
parts of her character, seemed failing now; what could be more selfish than
Cecilia's present conduct towards herself, more treacherous to her noble
minded, her confiding husband! The openness, the perfect unreserve between
the two friends, was no longer what it had been. Helen, however, felt
the constraint between them the less as she was almost constantly with
Beauclerc, and in her young happiness she hoped all would be right. Cecilia
would tell the general, and they would be as intimate, as affectionate, as
they had ever been.
One morning General Clarendon, stopping Cecilia as she was coming down to
breakfast, announced that he was obliged to set off instantly for London,
on business which could not be delayed, and that she must settle with Miss
Stanley whether they would accompany him or remain at Clarendon Park. He
did not know, he said, how long he might be detained.
Cecilia was astonished, and excessively curious; she tried her utmost
address to discover what was the nature of his business, in vain. All that
remained was to do as he required without more words. He left the room, and
Cecilia decided at once that they had better accompany him. She dreaded
some delay; she thought that, if the general went alone to town, he
might be detained Heaven knows how long; and though the marriage must be
postponed at all events, yet if they went with the general, the ceremony
might be performed in town as well as at Clarendon Park; and she with some
difficulty convinced Helen of this. Beauclerc feared nothing but delay.
They were to go. Lady Cecilia announced their decision to the general, who
immediately set off, and the others in a few hours followed him.
"In my youth, and through the prime of manhood, I never entered London
without feelings of hope and pleasure. It was to me the grand theatre of
intellectual activity, the field for every species of enterprise and
exertion, the metropolis of the world, of business, thought, and action.
There, I was sure to find friends and companions, to hear the voice of
encouragement and praise. There, society of the most refined sort offered
daily its banquets to the mind, and new objects of interest and ambition
were constantly exciting attention either in politics, literature, or
These feelings, so well described by a man of genius, have probably been
felt more or less by most young men who have within them any consciousness
of talent, or any of that enthusiasm, that eager desire to have or to give
sympathy, which, especially in youth, characterises noble natures. But
after even one or two seasons in a great metropolis these feelings often
change long before they are altered by age. Granville Beauclerc had already
persuaded himself that he now detested, as much as he had at first been
delighted with, a London life. From his metaphysical habits of mind, and
from the sensibility of his temper, he had been too soon disgusted by that
sort of general politeness which, as he said, takes up the time and place
of real friendship; and as for the intellectual pleasures, they were, he
said, too superficial for him; and his notions of independence, too, were
at this time quite incompatible with the conventional life of a great
capital. His present wish was to live all the year round in the country,
with the woman he loved, and in the society of a few chosen friends. Helen
quite agreed with him in his taste for the country; she had scarcely ever
known any other life, and yet had always been happy; and whatever youthful
curiosity had been awakened in her mind as to the pleasures of London, had
been now absorbed by stronger and more tender feelings. Her fate in life,
she felt, was fixed, and wherever the man she loved wished to reside, that,
she felt, must be her choice. With these feelings they arrived at General
Clarendon's delightful house in town.
Helen's apartment, and Cecilia's, were on different floors, and had no
communication with each other. It was of little consequence, as their
stay in town was to be but short, yet Helen could not help observing that
Cecilia did not express any regret at it, as formerly she would have done;
it seemed a symptom of declining affection, of which, every the slightest
indication was marked and keenly felt by Helen, the more so because she
had anticipated that such must be the consequence of all that had passed
between them, and there was now no remedy.
Among the first morning visitors admitted were Lady Castlefort and Lady
Katrine Hawksby. They did not, as it struck Cecilia, seem surprised to see
that Miss Stanley was Miss Stanley still, though the day for the marriage
had been announced in all the papers as fixed; but they did seem now full
of curiosity to know how it had come to pass, and there was rather too
apparent a hope that something was going wrong. Their first inquisitive
look was met by Lady Cecilia's careless glance in reply, which said better
than words could express, "Nothing the matter, do not flatter yourselves."
Then her expertness at general answers which give no information,
completely baffled the two curious impertinents. They could only learn that
the day for the marriage was not fixed, that it could not be definitively
named till some business should be settled by the general. Law business
they supposed, of course. Lady Cecilia "knew nothing about it. Lawyers
are such provoking wretches, with their fast bind fast find. Such an
unconscionable length of time as they do take for their parchment doings,
heeding nought of that little impatient flapper Cupid."
Certain that Lady Cecilia was only playing with their curiosity, yet
unable to circumvent her, Lady Katrine changed the conversation, and Lady
Castlefort preferred a prayer, which was, she said, the chief object of her
visit, that Lady Cecilia and Miss Stanley would come to her on Monday; she
was to have a few friends--a very small party, and independently of the
pleasure she should have in seeing them, it would be advantageous perhaps
to Miss Stanley, as Lady Castlefort, in her softest voice, added, "For from
the marriage being postponed even for a few days, people might talk, and
Mr. Beauclerc and Miss Stanley appearing together would prevent anybody's
thinking there was any little--Nothing so proper now as for a young lady to
appear with her _futur_; so I shall expect you, my dear Cecilia, and Miss
Stanley,"--and so saying, she departed. Helen's objections were all
overruled, and when the engagement was made known to Beauclerc, he
shrugged, and shrank, and submitted; observing, "that all men, and all
women, must from the moment they come within the precincts of London life,
give up their time and their will to an imaginary necessity of going when
we do not like it, where we do not wish, to see those whom we have no
desire to see, and who do not care if they were never to see us again,
except for the sake of their own reputation of playing well their own parts
in the grand farce of mock civility" Helen was sorry to have joined in
making an engagement for him which he seemed so much to dislike. But Lady
Cecilia, laughing, maintained that half his reluctance was affectation, and
the other half a lover-like spirit of monopoly, in which he should not be
indulged, and instead of pretending to be indifferent to what the world
might think, he ought to be proud to show Helen as a proof of his taste.
In dressing Helen this night, Felicie, excited by her lady's exhortations,
displayed her utmost skill. Mademoiselle Felicie had a certain _petite
metaphysique de toilette_, of which she was justly vain. She could talk,
and as much to the purpose as most people of "le genre classique," and "le
genre romantique," of the different styles of dress that suit different
styles of face; and while "she worked and wondered at the work she made,"
she threw out from time to time her ideas on the subject to form the taste
of Helen's little maid. Rose, who, in mute attention, held the light and
assiduously presented pins. "Not your pin so fast one after de other Miss
Rose--Tenez! tenez!" cried mademoiselle. "You tink in England alway too
much of your pin in your dress, too little of our taste--too little of our
elegance, too much of your what you call _tidiness_, or God know what! But
never you mind dat so much, Miss Rose; and you not prim up your little
mouth, but listen to me. Never you put in one pin before you ask yourself,
Miss Rose, what for I do it? In every toilette that has taste there is
above all--tenez--a character--a sentiment to be support; suppose your
lady is to be superbe, or she will rather be elegante, or charmante, or
interessante, or distinguee--well, dat is all ver' well, and you dress to
that idee, one or oder--well, very well--but none of your wat you call
_odd_. No, no, never, Miss Rose--dat is not style noble; 'twill only become
de petit minois of your English originale. I wash my hand of dat always."
The toilette superbe mademoiselle held to be the easiest of all those which
she had named with favour, it may be accomplished by any common hands; but
_head_ is requisite to reach the toilette distinguee. The toilette superbe
requires only cost--a toilette distinguee demands care. There was a
happiness as well as care in Felicie's genius for dress, which, ever
keeping the height of fashion in view, never lost sight of nature,
adapting, selecting, combining to form a perfect whole, in which art itself
concealed appeared only, as she expressed it, in the sublime of simplicity.
In the midst of all her talking, however, she went on with the essential
business, and as she finished, pronounced "Precepte commence, exemple
When they arrived at Lady Castlefort's, Lady Cecilia was surprised to find
a line of carriages, and noise, and crowds of footmen. How was this? She
had understood that it was to be one of those really small parties, those
select reunions of some few of the high and mighty families who chance to
be in town before Christmas.--"But how is this?" Lady Cecilia repeated to
herself as she entered the hall, amazed to find it blazing with light, a
crowd on the stairs, and in the anteroom a crowd, as she soon felt, of an
unusual sort. It was not the soft crush of aristocracy, they found hard
unaccustomed citizen elbows,--strange round-shouldered, square-backed men
and women, so over-dressed, so bejewelled, so coarse--shocking to see,
impossible to avoid; not one figure, one face, Lady Cecilia had ever seen
before; till at last, from the midst of the throng emerged a fair form--a
being as it seemed of other mould, certainly of different caste. It was one
of Cecilia's former intimates--Lady Emily Greville, whom she had not seen
since her return from abroad. Joyfully they met, and stopped and talked;
she was hastening away, Lady Emily said, "after having been an hour on
duty; Lady Castlefort had made it a point with her to stay after dinner,
she had dined there, and had stayed, and now guard was relieved."
"But who are all these people? What is all this, my dear Lady Emily?" asked
"Do not you know? Louisa has trapped you into coming then, to-night without
telling you how it is?" "Not a word did she tell me, I expected to meet
only our own world."
"A very different world you perceive this! A sort of farce this is to the
'Double Distress,' a comedy;--in short, one of Lord Castlefort's brothers
is going to stand for the City, and citizens and citoyennes must be
propitiated. When an election is in the case all other things give place:
and, besides, he has just married the daughter of some amazing merchant,
worth I don't know how many plums; so _le petit Bossu_, who is proud of his
brother, for he is reckoned the genius of the family! made it a point with
Louisa to do this. She put up her eyebrows, and stood out as long as
she could, but Lord Castlefort had his way, for he holds the purse you
know,--and so she was forced to make a party for these Goths and Vandals,
and of course she thought it best to do it directly, out of season, you
know, when nobody will see it--and she consulted me whether it should
be large or small; I advised a large party, by all means, as crowded as
"Yes, yes, I understand," said Cecilia; "to hide the shame in the
multitude; vastly well, very fair all this, except the trapping us into it,
who have nothing to do with it."
"Nothing to do with it! pardon me," cried Lady Emily. "It could not have
been done without us. Entrapping us!--do not you understand that we are the
baits to the traps? Bringing those animals here, wild beasts or tame, only
to meet one another, would have been 'doing business no how.' We are what
they are 'come for to see,' or to have it to say that they have seen the
Exclusives, Exquisites, or Transcendentals, or whatever else they call us."
"Lady Emily Greville's carriage!" was now called in the anteroom.
"I must go, but first make me known to your friend Miss Stanley, you see I
know her by instinct;" but "Lady Emily Greville's carriage!" now resounded
reiteratedly, and gentlemen with cloaks stood waiting, and as she put hers
on, Lady Emily stooped forward and whispered,
"I do not believe one word of what they say of her," and she was off, and
Lady Cecilia stood for an instant looking after her, and considering what
she could mean by those last words. Concluding, however, that she had not
heard aright, or had missed some intervening name, and that these words, in
short, could not possibly apply to Helen, Lady Cecilia turned to her,
they resumed their way onward, and at length they reached the grand
In the middle of that brilliantly lighted saloon, immediately under the
centre chandelier, was ample verge and space enough reserved for the
_elite_ of the world; circle it was not, nor square, nor form regularly
defined, yet the bounds were guarded. There was no way of getting to the
further end of the saloon, or to the apartments open in the distance beyond
it, except by passing through this enclosed space, in which one fair
entrance was practicable, and one ample exit full in view on the opposite
side. Several gentlemen of fashionable bearing held the outposts of this
privileged place, at back of sofa, or side of fauteuil, stationary, or
wandering near. Some chosen few were within; two caryatides gentlemen
leaned one on each side of the fireplace, and in the centre of the rug
stood a remarkably handsome man, of fine figure, perfectly dressed, his
whole air exquisitely scornful, excruciatingly miserable, and loftily
abstract. 'Twas wonderful, 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange! how one
so lost to all sublunary concerns, so far above the follies of inferior
mortals, as he looked, came here--so extremely well-dressed too! How
happened it? so nauseating the whole, as he seemed, so wishing that the
business of the world were done! With half-closed dreamy eyelids he looked
silent down upon two ladies who sat opposite to him, rallying, abusing, and
admiring him to his vanity's content. They gave him his choice of three
names, l'Ennuye, le Frondeur, or le Blase. L'Ennuye? he shook his head; too
common; he would have none of it. Le Frondeur? no; too much trouble; he
shrugged his abhorrence. Le Blase? he allowed, might be too true. But would
they hazard a substantive verb? He would give them four-and-twenty hours to
consider, and he would take twenty-four himself to decide. They should have
his definitive to-morrow, and he was sliding away, but Lady Castlefort, as
he passed her, cried, "Going, Lord Beltravers, going are you?" in an accent
of surprise and disappointment; and she whispered, "I am hard at work
here, acting receiver general to these city worthies; and you do not pity
me--cruel!" and she looked up with languishing eyes, that so begged for
sympathy. He threw upon her one look of commiseration, reproachful. "Pity
you, yes! But why will you do these things? and why did you bring me here
to do this horrid sort of work?" and he vanished.
Lady Cecilia Clarendon and Miss Stanley now appeared in the _offing_, and
now reached the straits: Lady Castlefort rose with vivacity extraordinary,
and went forward several steps. "Dear Cecilia! Miss Stanley, so good! Mr.
Beauclerc, so happy! the general could not? so sorry!" Then with hand
pressed on hers, "Miss Stanley, so kind of you to come. Lady Grace, give me
leave--Miss Stanley--Lady Grace Bland," and in a whisper, "Lord Beltravers'
Lady Grace, with a haughty drawback motion, and a supercilious arching of
her brows, was "happy to have the honour." Honour nasally prolonged, and
some guttural sounds followed, but further words, if words they were, which
she syllabled between snuffling and mumbling, were utterly unintelligible;
and Helen, without being "very happy," or happy at all, only returned bend
Lady Cecilia then presented her to a group of sister graces standing near
the sofas of mammas and chaperons--not each a different grace, but similar
each, indeed upon the very same identical pattern air of young-lady
fashion--well-bred, and apparently well-natured. No sooner was Miss Stanley
made known to them by Lady Cecilia, than, smiling just enough, not a muscle
too much, they moved; the ranks opened softly, but sufficiently, and Helen
was in the group; amongst them, but not _of_ them--and of this she became
immediately sensible, though without knowing how or why. One of these
daughters had had expectations last season from having been frequently Mr.
Beauclerc's partner, and the mother was now fanning herself opposite to
him. But Helen knew nought of this: to her all was apparently soft, smooth,
and smiling. While, whenever any of the unprivileged multitude, the city
monsters, passed near this high-born, high-bred group, they looked as
though the rights of pride were infringed, and, smiling scorn, they dropped
from half-closed lips such syllables of withering contempt, as they thought
these vulgar victims merited: careless if they heard or not, rather
rejoicing to see the sufferers wince beneath the wounds which they
inflicted in their pride and pomp of sway. "Pride!" thought Helen, "was it
pride?" If pride it was, how unlike what she had been taught to consider
the proper pride of aristocracy; how unlike that noble sort which she had
seen, admired, and loved! Helen fancied what Lady Davenant would have
thought, how ignoble; how mean, how vulgar she would have considered these
sneers and scoffs from the nobly to the lowly born. How unworthy of their
rank and station in society! They who ought to be the first in courtesy,
because the first in place.
As these thoughts passed rapidly in Helen's mind, she involuntarily looked
towards Beauclerc; but she was so encompassed by her present companions
that she could not discover him. Had she been able to see his countenance,
she would have read in it at once how exactly he was at that instant
feeling with her. More indignant than herself, for his high chivalrous
devotion to the fair could ill endure the readiness with which the
gentlemen, attendants at ottoman or sofa, lent their aid to mock and to
embarrass every passing party of the city tribe, mothers and their hapless
At this instant Lady Bearcroft, who, if she had not good breeding,
certainly had good-nature, came up to Beauclerc, and whispered earnestly,
and with an expression of strong interest in her countenance, "As you love
her, do not heed one word you hear anybody say this night, for it's all on
purpose to vex you; and I am certain as you are it's all false--all envy.
And there she goes, Envy herself in the black jaundice," continued she,
looking at Lady Katrine Hawksby, who passed at that instant.
"Good Heavens!" cried Beauclerc, "what can----"
"No, no," interrupted Lady Bearcroft, "no, no, do not ask--better not; best
you should know no more--only keep your temper whatever happens. Go you
up the hill, like the man in the tale, and let the black stones bawl
themselves hoarse--dumb. Go you on, and seize your pretty singing thinking
bird--the sooner the better. So fare you well."
And she disappeared in the crowd. Beauclerc, to whom she was perfectly
unknown, (though she had made him out,) totally at a loss to imagine what
interest she could take in Helen or in him, or what she could possibly
mean, rather inclined to suppose she was a mad women, and he forgot
everything else as he saw Helen with Lady Cecilia emerging from the bevy
of young ladies and approaching him. They stopped to speak to some
acquaintance, and he tried to look at Helen as if he were an indifferent
spectator, and to fancy what he should think of her if he saw her now for
the first time. He thought that he should be struck not only with her
beauty, but with her graceful air--her ingenuous countenance, so expressive
of the freshness of natural sensibility. She was exquisitely well dressed
too, and that, as Felicie observed, goes for much, even with your most
sensible men. Altogether he was charmed, whether considering her as with
the eyes of an unbiased stranger or with his own. And all he heard
confirmed, and, although he would not have allowed it, strengthened his
feelings. He heard it said that, though there were some as handsome women
in the room, there were none so interesting; and some of the young men
added, "As lovely as Lady Blanche, but with more expression." A citizen,
with whom Beauclerc could have shaken hands on the spot, said, "There's one
of the highbreds, now, that's well-bred too." In the height of the rapture
of his feelings he overtook Lady Cecilia, who telling him that they were
going on to another room, delivered Helen to his care, and herself taking
the arm of some ready gentleman, they proceeded as fast as they could
through the crowd to the, other end of the room.
This was the first time Helen had ever seen Lady Cecilia in public, where
certainly she appeared to great advantage. Not thinking about herself,
but ever willing to be pleased; so bright, so gay, she was sunshine which
seemed to spread its beams wherever she turned. And she had something to
say to everybody, or to answer quick to whatever they said or looked, happy
always in the _apropos_ of the moment. Little there might be, perhaps, in
what she said, but there was all that was wanted, just what did for the
occasion. In others there often appeared a distress for something to say,
or a dead dullness of countenance opposite to you. From others, a too
fast hazarded broadside of questions and answers--glads and sorrys
in chain-shots that did no execution, because there was no good
aim--congratulations and condolences playing at cross purposes--These were
mistakes, misfortunes, which could never occur in Lady Cecilia's natural
grace and acquired tact of manner. Helen was amused, as she followed her,
in watching the readiness with which she knew how to exchange the necessary
counters in the commerce of society: she was amused, till her attention
was distracted by hearing, as she and Beauclerc passed, the whispered
words--"_I promessi sposi_--look--_La belle fiancee_." These words were
repeated as they went on, and Lady Cecilia heard some one say, "I thought
it was broken off; that was all slander then?" She recollected Lady Emily's
words, and, terrified lest Helen should hear more of--she knew not what,
she began to talk to her as fast as she could, while they were stopped in
the door-way by a crowd. She succeeded for the moment with Helen; she had
not heard the last speech, and she could not, as long as Lady Cecilia
spoke, hear more; but Beauclerc again distinguished the words "_Belle
fiancee_;" and as he turned to discover the speaker, a fat matron near him
asked, "Who is it?" and the daughter answered, "It is that handsome girl,
with the white rose in her hair."--"Hush!" said the brother, on whose arm
she leaned; "Handsome is that handsome does."
Handsome does! thought Beauclerc: and the mysterious warning of his unknown
friend recurred to him. He was astonished, alarmed, furious; but the
whispering party had passed on, and just then Lady Cecilia descrying Mr.
Churchill in the distance, she made towards him. Conversation sure to be
had in abundance from him. He discerned them from afar, and was happily
prepared both with a ready bit of wit and with a proper greeting. His
meeting with Lady Cecilia was, of course, just the same as ever. He took it
up where he left off at Clarendon Park; no difference, no hiatus. His bow
to Beauclerc and Helen, to Helen and Beauclerc, joined in one little sweep
of a congratulatory motion, was incomparable: it said everything that a bow
could say, and more. It implied such a happy freedom from envy or jealousy;
such a polite acquiescence in the decrees of fate; such a philosophic
indifference; such a cool sarcastic superiority to the event; and he began
to Lady Cecilia with one of his prepared impromptus: "At the instant
your ladyship came up, I am afraid I started, actually in a trance, I do
believe. Methought I was--where do you think? In the temple of Jaggernaut."
"Why?" said Lady Cecilia smiling.
"Methought," continued Horace, "that I was in the temple of
Jaggernaut--that one strange day in the year, when ill castes meet, when
all distinction of castes and ranks is forgotten--the abomination of mixing
them all together permitted, for their sins no doubt--high caste and low,
from the abandoned Paria to the Brahmin prince, from their Billingsgate
and Farringilon Without, suppose, up to their St. James's, Street and
Grosvenor Square, mingle, mingle, ye who mingle may, white spirits and
grey, black spirits and blue. Now, pray look around: is not this Jaggernaut
night with Lady Castlefort?"
"And you," said Lady Cecilia; "are not you the great Jaggernaut himself,
driving over all in your triumphant chariot of sarcasm, and crushing all
the victims in your way?"
This took place with Horace; it put him in spirits, in train, and he fired
away at Lady Castlefort, whom he had been flattering _a loutrance_ five
"I so admire that acting of sacrifice in your _belle cousine_ to-night!
Pasta herself could not do it better. There is a look of 'Oh, ye just gods!
what a victim am I!' and with those upturned eyes so charming! Well, and
seriously it is a sad sacrifice. Fathers have flinty hearts by parental
prescription; but husbands--_petit Bossus_ especially--should have mercy
for their own sakes; they should not strain their marital power too far."
"But," said Lady Cecilia, "it is curious, that one born and bred such an
ultra exclusive as Louisa Castlefort, should be obliged after her marriage
immediately to open her doors and turn ultra liberale, or an universal
suffragist--all in consequence of these _mesalliances_."
"True, true," said Churchill, with a solemn, pathetic shake of the head.
"Gentlemen and noblemen should consider before they make these low matches
to save their studs, or their souls, or their entailed estates. Whatever
be the necessity, there can be no apology for outraging all _bienseance_.
Necessity has no law, but it should have some decency. Think of, bringing
upon a foolish elder brother--But we won't be personal."
"No, don't pray, Horace," said Lady Cecilia, moving on. "But think, only
think, my dear Lady Cecilia; think what it must be to be '_How-d'ye-doed_,'
and to be 'dear sistered' by such bodies as these in public."
"Sad! sad!" said Lady Cecilia.
"The old French nobility," continued Churchill, "used to call these low
money-matches, 'mettre du fumier sur nos terres.'" "Dirty work at best,"
said Lady Cecilia.
"But still," said Horace, "it might be done with decency if not with
"But in the midst of all this," said Lady Cecilia, "I want some ice very
much for myself, and for Helen more."
"I have a notion we shall find some here," replied he, "if you will come on
this way--in this _sanctum sanctorum_ of Lady Katrine's."
He led them on to a little inner apartment, where, as he said, Lady Katrine
Hawksby and her set do always scandal take, and sometimes tea.--"Tea and
ponch," continued he, "you know, in London now is quite _a la Francaise_,
and it is astonishing to me, who am but a man, what strong punch ladies can
"Only when it is iced," said Lady Cecilia, smiling.
"Be it so," said he,--"very refreshing ice, and more refreshing scandal,
and here we have both in perfection. Scandal, hot and hot, and ice, cold
By this time they had reached the entrance to what he called Lady Katrine's
_sanctum sanctorum_, where she had gathered round the iced punch and
tea-table a select party, whom she had drawn together with the promise of
the other half of a half-published report,--a report in which "_I promessi
Sposi_" and "_La belle fiancee_" were implicated!
"Stop here one moment," cried Churchill, "one moment longer. Let us see
before we are seen. Look in, look in pray, at this group. Lady Katrine
herself on the sofa, finger up--holding forth; and the deaf old woman
stretching forward to hear, while the other, with the untasted punch, sits
suspended in curiosity. 'What can it be?' she says, or seems to say. Now,
now, see the pretty one's hands and eyes uplifted, and the ugly one,
with that look of horror, is exclaiming, 'You don't say so, my dear Lady
Katrine!' Admirable creatures! Cant and scandal personified! I wish Wilkie
were here--worth any money to him."
"And he should call it 'The scandal party,'" said Lady Cecilia. "He told me
he never could venture upon a subject unless he could give it a good name."
At this moment Lady Katrine, having finished her story, rose, and awaking
from the abstraction of malice, she looked up and saw Helen and Lady
Cecilia, and, as she came forward, Churchill whispered between them,
"Now--now we are going comfortably to enjoy, no doubt, Madame de Sevigne's
pleasure 'de mal dire du prochain,' at the right hour too."
Churchill left them there. Lady Katrine welcoming her victims--her
unsuspicious victims--he slid off to the friends round the tea-table to
learn from "Cant" what "Scandal" had been telling. Beauclerc was gone to
inquire for the carriage. The instant Helen appeared, all eyes were fixed
upon her, and "Belle fiancee" was murmured round, and, Cecilia heard--"He's
much to be pitied."
At this moment Lord Castlefort went up to Helen; she had always been a
favourite of his; he was grateful to her for her constant kindness to him,
and, peevish though the little man might be, he had a good heart, and he
showed it now by instantly taking Helen out of the midst of the starers,
and begging her opinion upon a favourite picture of his, a Madonna.--Was it
a Raffaelle, or was it not? He and Mr. Churchill, he said, were at issue
about it. In short, no matter what he said, it engrossed Helen's attention,
so that she could not hear any thing that passed, and could not be seen by
the starers; and he detained her in conversation till Beauclerc came to
say--"The carriage is ready, Lady Cecilia is impatient." Lord Castlefort
opened a door that led at once to the staircase, so that they had not to
recross all the rooms, but got out immediately. The smallest service merits
thanks, and Helen thanked Lord Castlefort by a look which he appreciated.
Even in the few words which Beauclerc had said as he announced the
carriage, she had perceived that he was agitated, and, as he attended her
in silence down the stairs, his look was grave and pre-occupied; she saw he
was displeased, and she thought he was displeased with her. When he had put
them into the carriage, he wished them good night.
"Are not you coming with us?" cried Lady Cecilia.
"No, he thanked her, he had rather walk, and," he added--"I shall not see
you at breakfast--I am engaged."
"Home!" said Lady Cecilia, drawing up the glass with a jerk.
Helen looked out anxiously. Beauclerc had turned away, but she caught one
more glance of his face as the lamp flared upon it--she saw, and she was
sure that----"Something is very much the matter--I am certain of it."
"Nonsense, my dear Helen," said Lady Cecilia; "the matter is, that he is
tired to death, as I am sure I am."
"There's more than that," said Helen, "he is angry,"--and she sighed.
"Now, Helen, do not torment yourself about nothing," said Cecilia, who,
not being sure whether Beauclerc had heard anything, had not looked at
his countenance or remarked his tone; her mind was occupied with what had
passed while Helen was looking at the Madonna. Lady Cecilia had tried to
make out the meaning of these extraordinary starings and whisperings--Lady
Katrine would not tell her any thing distinctly, but said, "Strange
reports--so sorry it had got into the papers, those vile libellous papers;
of course she did not believe--of Miss Stanley. After all, nothing very
bad--a little awkward only--might be hushed up. Better not talk of it
to-night; but I will try, Cecilia, in the morning, to find those paragraphs
for you." Lady Cecilia determined to go as early as possible in the
morning, and make out the whole; and, had she plainly told this to Helen,
it would have been better for all parties: but she continued to talk of the
people they had seen, to hide her thoughts from Helen, who all the time
felt as in a feverish dream, watching the lights of the carriage flit by
like fiery eyes, while she thought only of the strange words she had heard
and why they should have made Beauclerc angry with her.
At last they were at home. As they went in, Lady Cecilia inquired if the
general had come in?--Yes, he had been at home for some time, and was in
bed. This was a relief. Helen was glad not to see any one, or to be obliged
to say anything more that night. Lady Cecilia bade her "be a good child,
and go to sleep." How much Helen slept may be left to the judgment of those
who have any imagination.
"_Miladi a une migranie affreuse_ this morning," said Felicie, addressing
herself on the stairs to Rose. "_Mille amities de sa part_ to your young
lady, Miss Rose, and _miladi_ recommend to her to follow a good example,
and to take her breakfast in her bed, and then to take one good sleep till
you shall hear _midi sonne_."
Miss Stanley, however, was up and dressed at the time when this message was
brought to her, and a few minutes afterwards a footman came to the door,
to give notice that the general was in the breakfast-room, waiting to know
whether Miss Stanley was coming down or not. The idea of a _tete-a-tete_
breakfast with him was not now quite so agreeable as it would have been to
her formerly, but she went down. The general was standing with his back to
the fire, newspapers hanging from his hand, his look ominously grave. After
"Good mornings" had been exchanged with awful solemnity, Helen ventured to
hope that there was no bad public news.
"No public news whatever," said the general.
Next, she was sorry to hear that Cecilia had "such a bad headache."
"Tired last night," said the general.
"It was, indeed, a tiresome, disagreeable party," said Helen, hoping this
would lead to how so? or why? but the general drily answered, "Not the
London season," and went on eating his breakfast in silence.
Such a constraint and awe came upon her, that she felt it would be taking
too great a liberty, in his present mood, to put sugar and cream into his
tea, as she was wont in happier times. She set sugar-bowl and cream before
him, and whether he understood, or noticed not her feelings, she could not
guess. He sugared, and creamed, and drank, and thought, and spoke not.
Helen put out of his way a supernumerary cup, to which he had already given
a push, and she said, "Mr. Beauclerc does not breakfast with us."
"So I suppose," said the general, "as he is not here."
"He said he was engaged to breakfast."
"With some of his friends, I suppose," said the general.
There the dialogue came to a full stop, and breakfast, uncomfortably on her
part, and with a preoccupied air on his, went on in absolute silence. At
length the general signified to the servant who was in waiting, by a nod,
and a look towards the door, that his further attendance was dispensed
with. At another time Helen would have felt such a dismissal as a relief,
for she disliked, and recollected that her uncle particularly disliked, the
fashion of having servants waiting at a family breakfast, which he justly
deemed unsuited to our good old English domestic habits; but somehow it
happened that at this moment she was rather sorry when the servant left the
room. He returned however in a moment, with something which he fancied to
be yet wanting; the general, after glancing at whatever he had brought,
said, "That will do, Cockburn; we want nothing more."
Cockburn placed a screen between him and the fire; the general put it
aside, and, looking at him, said sternly--"Cockburn, no intelligence must
ever go from my house to any newspapers."
Cockburn bowed--"None shall, Sir, if I can prevent it; none ever did from
"None must ever go from anyone in my family--look to it."
Cockburn bowed again respectfully, but with a look of reservation of right
of remonstrance, answered by a look from his master, of "No more must be
said." Yet Cockburn was a favourite; he had lived in the family from the
time he was a boy. He moved hastily towards the door, and having turned the
handle, rested upon it and said, "general, I cannot answer for others."
"Then, Cockburn, I must find somebody who can."
Cockburn disappeared, but after closing the door the veteran opened it
again, stood, and said stoutly, though seemingly with some impediment in
his throat--"General Clarendon, do me the justice to give me full powers."
"Whatever you require: say, such are your orders from me, and that you
have full power to dismiss whoever disobeys." Cockburn bowed, and withdrew
Another silence, when the general hastily finishing his breakfast, took up
the newspaper, and said, "I wished to have spared you the pain of seeing
these, Miss Stanley, but it must be done now. There have appeared in
certain papers, paragraphs alluding to Beauclerc and to you; these
scandalous papers I never allow to enter my house, but I was informed that
there were such paragraphs, and I was obliged to examine into them. I
am sorry to find that they have some of them been copied into my paper
He laid the newspaper before her. The first words which struck her eye were
the dreaded whispers of last night; the paragraph was as follows:
"In a few days will be published the Memoirs of the late Colonel D'----,
comprising anecdotes, and original love-letters; which will explain the
mysterious allusions lately made in certain papers to '_La belle Fiancee_,'
and '_I promessi sposi_."
"What!" exclaimed Helen; "the letters! published!"
The general had turned from her as she read, and had gone to his
writing-desk, which was at the furthest end of the room; he unlocked it,
and took from it a small volume, and turning over the leaves as he slowly
approached Helen, he folded down some pages, laid the volume on the table
before her, and then said, "Before you look into these scandalous memoirs,
Miss Stanley, let me assure you, that nothing but the necessity of being
empowered by you to say what is truth and what is falsehood, could
determine me to give you this shock."
She was scarcely able to put forward her hand; yet took the book, opened
it, looked at it, saw letters which she knew could not be Cecilia's, but
turning another leaf, she pushed it from her with horror. It was the
letter--beginning with "My dear--too dear Henry."
"In print!" cried she; "In print! published!"
"Not published yet, that I hope to be able to prevent," said the general.
Whether she heard, whether she could hear him, he was not certain, her head
was bent down, her hands clasping her forehead. He waited some minutes,
then sitting down beside her, with a voice of gentleness and of
commiseration, yet of steady determination, he went on:--"I _must_ speak,
and you _must_ hear me, Helen, for your own sake, and for Beauclerc's
"Speak," cried she, "I hear."
"Hear then the words of a friend, who will be true to you through
life--through life and death, if you will be but true to yourself, Helen
Stanley--a friend who loves you as he loves Beauclerc; but he must do more,
he must esteem you as he esteems Beauclerc, incapable of any thing that is
Helen listened with her breath suspended, not a word in reply.
"Then I ask----" She put her hand upon his arm, as if to stop him; she had
a foreboding that he was going to ask something that she could not, without
betraying Cecilia, answer.
"If you are not yet sufficiently collected, I will wait; take your own
time--My question is simple--I ask you to tell me whether _all_ these
letters are your's or not?"
"No," cried Helen, "these letters are not mine."
"Not all," said the general: "this first one I know to be yours, because I
saw it in your handwriting; but I am certain all cannot be yours: now will
you show me which are and which are not."
"I will take them to my own room, and consider and examine."
"Why not look at them here, Miss Stanley?"
She wanted to see Cecilia, she knew she could never answer the question
without consulting her, but that she could not say; still she had no other
resource, so, conquering her trembling, she rose and said, "I would rather
"Not to Cecilia," said he; "to that I object: what can Cecilia do for you?
what can she advise, but what I advise, that the plain truth should be