Part 8 out of 10
"If I could! O if I could!" cried Helen.
"What can you mean? Pardon me, Miss Stanley, but surely you can tell the
plain fact; you can recollect what you have written--at least you can know
what you have not written. You have not yet even looked beyond a few of the
letters--pray be composed--be yourself. This business it was that
brought me to town. I was warned by that young lady, that poetess of Mr.
Churchill's, whom you made your friend by some kindness at Clarendon
Park--I was warned that there was a book to come out, these Memoirs
of Colonel D'Aubigny, which would contain letters said to be yours, a
publication that would be highly injurious to you. I need not enter into
details of the measures I consequently took; but I ascertained that Sir
Thomas D'Aubigny, the elder brother of the colonel, knows nothing more of
the matter than that he gave a manuscript of his brother's, which he had
never read, to be published: the rest is a miserable intrigue between
booksellers and literary manufacturers, I know not whom; I have not been
able to get to the bottom of it; sufficient for my present purpose I know,
and must tell you. You have enemies who evidently desire to destroy
your reputation, of course to break your marriage. For this purpose the
slanderous press has been set at work, the gossiping part of the public has
had its vile curiosity excited, the publication of this book is expected
in a few days: this is the only copy yet completed, I believe, and this I
could not get from the bookseller till this morning; I am now going to have
every other copy destroyed directly."
"Oh my dear, dear friend, how can I thank you?" Her tears gushed forth.
"Thank me not by words, Helen, but by actions; no tears, summon your
"O if I could but retrieve one false step!"--she suddenly checked herself.
He stood aghast for an instant, then recovering himself as he looked upon
her and marked the nature of her emotion, he said: "There can be no false
step that you could ever have taken that cannot be retrieved. There can
have been nothing that is irretrievable, except falsehood."
"Falsehood! No," cried she, "I will not say what is false--therefore I will
not say anything."
"Then since you cannot speak," continued the general, "will you trust me
with the letters themselves? Have you brought them to town with you?"
"The original letters?"
"Yes, those in the packet which I gave to you at Clarendon Park."
"They are burned."
"All?--one, this first letter I saw you tear; did you burn all the rest?"
"They are burned," repeated she, colouring all over. She could not say "I
He thought it a poor evasion. "They are burned," continued he, "that is,
you burned them: unfortunate. I must then recur to my first appeal. Take
this pencil, and mark, I pray you, the passages that are your's. I may be
called on to prove the forgery of these passages: if you do not show me,
and truly, which are yours, and which are not, how can I answer for you,
"One hour," said Helen,--"only leave me for one hour, and it shall be
"Why this cowardly delay?" "I ask only one hour--only leave me for one
"I obey, Miss Stanley, since it must be so. I am gone."
He went, and Helen felt how sunk she was in his opinion,--sunk for ever,
she feared! but she could not think distinctly, her mind was stunned;
she felt that she must wait for somebody, but did not at first recollect
clearly that it was for Cecilia. She leaned back on the sofa, and sank into
a sort of dreamy state. How long she remained thus unconscious she knew
not; but she was roused at last by the sound, as she fancied, of a carriage
stopping at the door: she started up, but it was gone, or it had not been.
She perceived that the breakfast things had been removed, and, turning her
eyes upon the clock, she was surprised to see how late it was. She snatched
up the pages which she hated to touch, and ran up-stairs to Cecilia's
room,--door bolted;--she gave a hasty tap--no answer; another louder, no
answer. She ran into the dressing-room for Felicie, who came with a face of
mystery, and the smile triumphant of one who knows what is not to be known.
But the smile vanished on seeing Miss Stanley's face.
"Bon Dieu! Miss Stanley--how pale! mais qu'est ce que c'est? Mon Dieu,
qu'est ce que c'est donc?"
"Is Lady Cecilia's door bolted within side?" said Helen.
"No, only lock by me," said Mademoiselle Felicie. "Miladi charge me not to
tell you she was not dere. And I had de presentiment you might go up to
look for her in her room. Her head is got better quite. She is all up and
dress; she is gone out in the carriage, and will soon be back no doubt.
I know not to where she go, but in my opinion to my Lady Katrine. If you
please, you not mention I say dat, as miladi charge me not to speak of dis
to you. _Apparemment quelque petit mystere_."
Poor Helen felt as if her last hope was gone, and now in a contrary extreme
from the dreamy torpor in which she had been before, she was seized with a
nervous impatience for the arrival of Cecilia, though whether to hope or
fear from it, she did not distinctly know. She went to the drawing-room,
and listened and listened, and watched and watched, and looked at the
clock, and felt a still increasing dread that the general might return
before Lady Cecilia, and that she should not have accomplished her promise.
She became more and more impatient. As it grew later, the rolling of
carriages increased, and their noise grew louder, and continually as they
came near she expected that one would stop at the door. She expected and
expected, and feared, and grew sick with fear long deferred. At last one
carriage did stop, and then came a thundering knock--louder, she thought,
than usual; but before she could decide whether it was Cecilia or not, the
room-door opened, and the servant had scarcely time to say, that two ladies
who did not give their names had insisted upon being let up--when the two
ladies entered. One in the extreme of foreign fashion, but an Englishwoman,
of assured and not prepossessing appearance; the other, half hid behind her
companion, and all timidity, struck Helen as the most beautiful creature
she had ever beheld.
"A thousand pardons for forcing your doors," said the foremost lady; "but
I bear my apology in my hand: a precious little box of Roman cameos from a
friend of Lady Cecilia Clarendon's, which I was desired to deliver myself."
Helen was, of course, sorry that Lady Cecilia was not at home.
"I presume I have the honour of speaking to Miss Stanley," continued
the assured lady, and she gave her card "Comtesse de St. Cymon." Then
half-turning to the beauty, who now became visible--"Allow me to
_mention_--Lady Blanche Forrester."
At that name Helen did not start, but she felt as if she had received an
electric shock. How she went through the necessary forms of civility she
knew not; but even in the agony of passion the little habits of life hold
their sway. The customary motions were made, and words pronounced; yet when
Helen looked at that beautiful Lady Blanche, and saw how beautiful! there
came a spasm at her heart.
The comtesse, in answer to her look towards a chair, did not "choose to sit
down--could not stay--would not intrude on Miss Stanley." So they stood,
Helen supporting herself as best she could, and preserving, apparently,
perfect composure, seeming to listen to what farther Madame de St. Cymon
was saying; but only the sounds reached her ear, and a general notion that
she spoke of the box in her hand. She gave Helen some message to Lady
Cecilia, explanatory of her waiting or not waiting upon her ladyship, to
all which Helen answered with proper signs of civility; and while the
comtesse was going on, she longed to look again at Lady Blanche, but dared
not. She saw a half curtsey and a receding motion; and she knew they were
going, and she curtsied mechanically. She felt inexpressible relief when
Madame de St. Cymon turned her back and moved towards the door. Then Helen
looked again at Lady Blanche, and saw again her surpassing beauty and
perfect tranquillity. The tranquillity gave her courage, it passed
instantaneously into herself, through her whole existence. The comtesse
stopped in her way out, to look at a china table. "Ha! beautiful!
Sevre!--enamel--by Jaquetot, is it not?"
Helen was able to go forward, and answer to all the questions asked. Not
one word from the Lady Blanche; but she wished to hear the sound of her
voice. She tried--she spoke to her; but to whatever Helen said, no answer
came, but the sweetest of smiles. The comtesse, with easy assurance and
impertinent ill-breeding, looked at all that lay in her way, and took up
and opened the miniature pictures that were on the table. "Lady Cecilia
Clarendon--charming!--Blanche, you never saw her yet. Quite charming, is it
Not a word from Lady Blanche, but a smile, a Guido smile. Another miniature
taken up by the curious comtesse. "Ah! very like indeed! not flattered
though. Do you know it, Blanche--eh?"
It was Beauclerc. Lady Blanche then murmured some few words indistinctly,
in a very sweet voice, but showed no indication of feeling, except, as
Helen gave one glance, she thought she saw a slight colour, like the inside
of a shell, delicately beautiful; but it might be only the reflection from
the crimson silk curtain near which she stood: it was gone, and the picture
put down; and in a lively tone from the comtesse "_Au revoir_," and exit, a
graceful bend from the silent beauty, and the vision vanished.
Helen stood for some moments fixed to the spot where they left her. She
questioned her inmost thoughts. "Why was I struck so much, so strangely,
with that beauty--so painfully? It cannot be envy; I never was envious
of any one, though so many I have seen so much handsomer than myself.
Jealousy? surely not; for there is no reason for it--no possibility of
danger. Yet now, alas! when he has so much cause to doubt me! perhaps he
might change. He seemed so displeased last night, and he has never been
here all the morning!" She recollected the look and accent of Madame de St.
Cymon, as she said the words "_au revoir_." Helen did not like the
words, or the look. She did not like anything about Madame de St. Cymon:
"Something so assured, so impertinent! And all that unintelligible message
about those cameos!--a mere excuse for making this unseasonable pushing
visit--just pushing for the acquaintance. The general will never permit
it, though--that is one comfort. But why do I say comfort?" Back went the
circle of her thoughts to the same point.--"What can I do?--the general
will return, he will find I have not obeyed him. But what can be done till
Cecilia returns? If she were but here, I could mark--we could settle. O
Cecilia! where are you? But," thought she, "I had better look at the whole.
I will, have courage to read these horrible letters." To prevent all hazard
of further interruption, she now went into an inner room, bolted the doors,
and sat down to her dreaded task. And there we leave her.
That Fortune is not nice in her morality, that she frequently favours
those who do not adhere to truth more than those who do, we have early had
occasion to observe. But whether Fortune may not be in this, as in all the
rest, treacherous and capricious; whether she may not by her first smiles
and favours lure her victims on to their cost, to their utter undoing at
last, remains to be seen.
It is time to inquire what has become of Lady Cecilia Clarendon. Before we
follow her on her very early morning visit to her cousin's, we must take
leave to pause one moment to remark, not in the way of moralising by any
means, but simply as a matter of history, that the first little fib in
which Lady Cecilia, as a customary licence of speech, indulged herself
the moment she awoke this morning, though it seemed to answer its purpose
exactly at the time, occasioned her ladyship a good deal of superfluous
toil and trouble during the course of the day. In reply to the first
question her husband had asked, or in evasion of that question, she had
answered, "My dear love, don't ask me any questions, for I have such a
horrid headache, that I really can hardly speak."
Now a headache, such as she had at that moment, certainly never silenced any
woman. Slighter could not be--scarce enough to swear by. There seemed no
great temptation to prevarication either, for the general's question was
not of a formidable nature, not what the lawyers call a leading question,
rather one that led to nothing. It was only, "Had you a pleasant party at
Lady Castlefort's last night, my dear Cecilia?" But with that prescience
with which some nicely foresee how the truth, seemingly most innocent,
may do harm, her ladyship foreboded that, if she answered straight
forward--"no"--that might lead to--why? how? or wherefore?--and this
might bring out the history of the strange rude manner in which _la belle
fiancee_ had been received. That need not necessarily have followed, but,
even if it had, it would have done her no harm,--rather would have served
at once her purpose in the best manner possible, as time will show. Her
husband, unsuspicious man, asked no more questions, and only gave her
the very advice she wished him to give, that she should not get up to
breakfast--that she should rest as long as she could. Farther, as if to
forward her schemes, even without knowing them, he left the house
early, and her headache conveniently going off, she was dressed with all
despatch--carriage at the door as soon as husband out of sight, and away
she went, as we have seen, without Helen's hearing, seeing, or suspecting
her so well contrived and executed project.
She was now in good spirits. The infection of fear which she had caught,
perhaps from the too sensitive Helen, last night, she had thrown off this
morning. It was a sunny day, and the bright sunshine dispelled, as ever
with her, any black notions of the night, all melancholy ideas whatsoever.
She had all the constitutional hopefulness of good animal spirits. But
though no fears remained, curiosity was as strong as ever. She was
exceedingly eager to know what had been the cause of all these strange
appearances. She guessed it must be some pitiful jealousy of Lady
Katrine's--some poor spite against Helen. Anything that should really give
Beauclerc uneasiness, she now sincerely believed to be out of the question.
Nonsense--only Helen and Beauclerc's love of tormenting themselves--quite
nonsense! And nonsense! three times ejaculated, quite settled the matter,
and assured her in the belief that there could be nothing serious to be
apprehended. In five minutes she should be at the bottom of all things,
and in half an hour return triumphant to Helen, and make her laugh at her
cowardly self. The carriage rolled on, Lady Cecilia's spirits rising as she
moved rapidly onwards, so that by the time she arrived at Lady Castlefort's
she was not only in good but in high spirits. To her askings, "Not at home"
never echoed. Even at hours undue, such as the present, she, privileged,
penetrated. Accordingly, unquestioned, unquestioning, the alert step was
let down, opened wide was the hall-door, and lightly tripped she up the
steps; but the first look into the hall told her that company was in the
house already--yes--a breakfast--all were in the breakfast-room, except
Lady Castlefort, not yet come down--above, the footman believed, in her
boudoir. To the boudoir Cecilia went, but Lady Castlefort was not there,
and Cecilia was surprised to hear the sound of music in the drawing-room,
Lady Castlefort's voice singing. While she waited in the next room for the
song to be finished, Cecilia turned over the books on the table, richly
gilt and beautifully bound, except one in a brown paper parcel, which
seemed unsuited to the table, yet excited more attention than all the
others, because it was directed _"Private--for Lady Katherine Hawksby--to
be returned before two o'clock."_ What could it be? thought Lady Cecilia.
But her attention was now attracted by the song which Lady Castlefort
seemed to be practising; the words were distinctly pronounced, uncommonly
distinctly, so as to be plainly heard--
"Had we never loved so kindly,
Hail we never loved so blindly,
Never met, or never parted.
We had ne'er been broken-hearted."
As Cecilia listened, she cast her eyes upon a card which lay on the
table--"Lord Beltravers," and a new light flashed upon her, a light
favourable to her present purpose; for since the object was altered with
Lady Castlefort, since it was not Beauclerc any longer, there would be no
further ill-will towards Helen. Lady Castlefort was not of the violent
vindictive sort, with her there was no long-lasting _depit amoureux_.
She was not that fury, a woman scorned, but that blessed spirit, a woman
believing herself always admired. "Soft, silly, sooth--not one of the hard,
wicked, is Louisa," thought Cecilia. And as Lady Castlefort, slowly opening
the door, entered, timid, as if she knew some particular person was in the
room, Cecilia could not help suspecting that Louisa had intended her
song for other ears than those of her dear cousin, and that the superb
negligence of her dress was not unstudied; but that well-prepared,
well-according sentimental air, changed instantly on seeing--not the person
expected, and with a start, she exclaimed, "Cecilia Clarendon!"
"Louisa Castlefort!" cried Lady Cecilia, answering that involuntary start
of confusion with a well-acted start of admiration. "Louisa Castlefort, _si
belle, si belle_, so beautifully dressed!"
"Beautifully dressed--nothing extraordinary!" said Lady Castlefort,
advancing with a half embarrassed, half _non-chalant_ air,--"One must
make something of a _toilette de matin_, you know, when one has people to
"So elegant, so negligent!" continued Lady Cecilia.
"There is the point," said Lady Castlefort. "I cannot bear any thing
that is studied in costume, for dress is really a matter of so little
consequence! I never bestow a thought upon it. Angelique rules my toilette
as she pleases."
"Angelique has the taste of an angel fresh from Paris," cried Lady Cecilia.
"And now tell me, Cecilia," pursued Lady Castlefort, quite in good humour,
"tell me, my dear, to what do I owe this pleasure? what makes you so
_matinale?_ It must be something very extraordinary."
"Not at all, only a little matter of curiosity."
Then, from Lady Castlefort, who had hitherto, as if in absence of mind,
stood, there was a slight "Won't you sit?" motion.
"No, no, I can't sit, can't stay," said Lady Cecilia.
A look quickly visible, and quickly suppressed, showed Lady Castlefort's
sense of relief; then came immediately greater pressing to sit down, "Pray
do not be in such a hurry.
"But I am keeping you; have you breakfasted?"
"Taken coffee in my own room," said Lady Castlefort "But you have people to
breakfast; must not you go down?"
"No, no, I shall not go down for this is Katrine's affair, as I will
explain to you."
Lady Cecilia was quite content, without any explanation; and sitting down,
she drew her chair close to Lady Castlefort, and said, "Now, my dear, my
little matter of curiosity."
"Stay, my dear, first I must tell you about Katrine--now
Lady Cecilia ought to have been aware that when once her dear cousin
Louisa's little heart opened, and she became confidential, very, it was
always of her own domestic grievances she began to talk, and that, once the
sluice opened, out poured from the deep reservoir the long-collected minute
drops of months and years.
"You have no idea what a life I lead with Katrine--now she is grown blue."
"Is she?" said Lady Cecilia, quite indifferent.
"Deep blue! shocking: and this is a blue breakfast, and all the people at
it are true bores, and a blue bore is, as Horace Churchill says, one of
the most mischievous creatures breathing; and he tells me the only way of
hindering them from doing mischief is by _ringing_ them; but first you must
get rings. Now, in this case, for Katrine not a ring to be had for love or
money. So there is no hope for me."
"No hope for me," thought Lady Cecilia, throwing herself back in her chair,
submissive, but not resigned.
"If it had but pleased Heaven," continued Lady Castlefort, "in its mercy,
to have sent Katrine a husband of any kind, what a blessing it would have
been! If she could but have been married to any body--now any body--"
"Any body is infinitely obliged to you," said Cecilia, "but since that is
out of the question, let us say no more about it--no use."
"No use! that is the very thing of which I complain; the very thing which
must ever--ever make me miserable."
"Well, well, my dear," cried Lady Cecilia, no longer capable of patience;
"do not be miserable any more just now; never mind Katrine just now."
"Never mind her! Easy for you to say, Cecilia, who do not live with Katrine
Hawksby, and do not know what it is to have such a plague of a sister,
watching one,--watching every turn, every look one gives--worse than a
jealous husband. Can I say more?"
"No," cried Cecilia; "therefore say no more about it. I understand it all
perfectly, and I pity you from the bottom of my heart, so now, my dear
"I tell you, my dear Cecilia," pursued Lady Castlefort, continuing her own
thoughts, "I tell you, Katrine is envious of me. Envy has been her fault
from a child. Envy of poor me! Envy, in the first place, of whatever good
looks it pleased Providence to give me." A glance at the glass.--"And now
Katrine envies me for being Lady Castlefort, Heaven knows! now, Cecilia,
and you know, she need not envy me so when she looks at Lord Castlefort;
that is, what she sometimes says herself, which you know is very wrong of
her to say to me--unnecessary too, when she knows I had no more hand in my
"Than heart!" Cecilia could not forbear saying.
"Than heart!" readily responded Lady Castlefort; "never was a truer word
said. Never was there a more complete sacrifice than my mother made of me;
you know, Cecilia, a poor, young, innocent, helpless sacrifice, if ever
there was one upon earth."
"To a coronet," said Lady Cecilia.
"Absolutely dragged to the altar," continued Lady Castlefort.
"In Mechlin lace, that was some comfort," said Cecilia laughing, and she
laughed on in hope of cutting short this sad chapter of sacrifices. But
Lady Castlefort did not understand raillery upon this too tender point. "I
don't know what you mean by Mechlin lace," cried she pettishly. "Is this
your friendship for me, Cecilia?"
Cecilia, justly in fear of losing the reward of all her large lay-out of
flattery, fell to protesting the tenderest sympathy. "But only now it was
all over, why make her heart bleed about what could not be helped?"
"Cannot be helped! Oh! there is the very thing I must ever, ever mourn."
The embroidered cambric handkerchief was taken out of the bag; no tears,
indeed, came, but there were sobs, and Cecilia not knowing how far it
might go, apprehending that her ladyship meditated hysterics, seized a
smelling-bottle, threw out the stopper, and presented it close under the
nostrils. The good "_Sels poignans d'Angleterre,_" of which Felicie always
acknowledged the unrivalled potency, did their business effectually. Back
went the head, with an exclamation of "That's enough! Oh, oh! too much! too
"Are you better, my dear?" inquired Cecilia; "but indeed you must not
give way to low spirits; indeed, you must not: so now to change the
"Not so fast, Lady Cecilia; not yet;" and now Louisa went on with a medical
maundering. "As to low spirits, my dear Cecilia, I must say I agree with
Sir Sib Pennyfeather, who tells me it is not mere common low spirits, but
really all mind, too much mind; mind preying upon my nerves. Oh! I knew it
myself. At first he thought it was rather constitutional; poor clear Sir
Sib! he is very clever, Sir Sib; and I convinced him he was wrong; and so
we agreed that it was all upon my mind--all; all----"
At that instant a green parrot, who had been half asleep in the corner,
awoke on Lady Castlefort's pronouncing, in an elevated tone, "All, all!"
and conceiving himself in some way called upon, answered, "Poll! Poll!
bit o'sugar Poll!" No small difficulty had Lady Cecilia at that moment in
keeping her risible muscles in order; but she did, for Helen's sake,
and she was rewarded, for after Lady Castlefort had, all unconscious of
ridicule, fed Poll from her amber bonbonniere, and sighed out once more
"Mind! too much mind!" she turned to Cecilia, and said, "But, my dear, you
wanted something; you had something to ask me."
At once, and as fast as she could speak, Lady Cecilia poured out her
business about Helen Stanley. She told of the ill-bred manner in which
Helen had been received last night; inquired why the words _promessi sposi_
and _belle fiancee_ were so oddly repeated, as if they had been watchwords,
and asked what was meant by all those strange whisperings in the sanctum
"Katrine's set," observed Lady Castlefort coolly. "Just like them; just
"I should not care about it in the least," said Lady Cecilia, "if it were
only Katrine's ill-nature, or their ill-breeding. Ill-breeding always
recoils on the ill-bred, and does nobody else any harm. But I should be
glad to be quite clear that there is nothing more at the bottom."
Lady Castlefort made no reply, but took up a bunch of seals, and looked at
each of them one after another. Lady Cecilia more afraid now than she had
yet been that there was something at the bottom, still bravely went on,
"What is it? If you know, tell me at once."
"Nay, ask Katrine," said Lady Castlefort.
"No, I ask you, I would rather ask you, for you are good-natured,
Louisa--so tell me."
"But I dare say it is only slander," said the good-natured Louisa.
"Slander!" repeated Lady Cecilia, "slander did you say?"
"Yes; what is there to surprise you so much in that word? did you never
hear of such a thing? I am sure I hear too much of it; Katrine lives and
breathes and fattens upon it; as Churchill says, she eats slander, drinks
slander, sleeps upon slander."
"But tell me, what of Helen? that is all I want to hear," cried Lady
Cecilia: "Slander! of Helen Stanley! what is it that Katrine says about
poor Helen? what spite, what vengeance, can she have against her, tell me,
"If you would ask one question at a time, I might be able to answer you,"
said Lady Castlefort. "Do not hurry me so; you fidget my nerves. First as
to the spite, you know yourself that Katrine, from the beginning, never
could endure Helen Stanley; for my part, I always rather liked her than
otherwise, and shall defend her to the last."
"But Katrine was always jealous of her, and lately worse than ever, for
getting into her place, as she says, with you; that made her hate her all
"Let her hate on, that will never make me love Helen the less."
"So I told her; and besides, Miss Stanley is going to be married."
"To be sure;--well?"
"And Katrine naturally hates every body that is going to be married. If
you were to see the state she is in always reading the announcements
of Marriages in High Life! Churchill, I do believe, had Miss Stanley's
intended match put into every paper continually, on purpose for the
pleasure of plaguing Katrine; and if you could have seen her long face,
when she saw it announced in the Court Gazette--good authority, you
know--really it was pitiable."
"I don't care, I don't care about that--Oh pray go on to the facts about
"Well, but the fact is as I tell you; you wanted to know what sufficient
cause for vengeance, and am not I telling you? If you would not get into
such a state of excitement!--as Sir Sib says excitements should be avoided.
La! my dear," continued Lady Castlefort, looking up at her with unfeigned
astonishment, "what agitation! why, if it were a matter that concerned
"It concerns my friend, and that is the same thing."
"So one says; but--you look really, such a colour."
"No matter what colour I look," cried Cecilia; "go on."
"Do you never read the papers?" said Lady Castlefort.
"Sometimes," said Lady Cecilia; "but I have not looked at a paper these
three days; was there any thing particular? tell me."
"My dear! tell you! as if I could remember by heart all the scandalous
paragraphs I read." She looked round the room, and not seeing the papers,
said, "I do not know what has become of those papers; but you can find them
when you go home."
She mentioned the names of two papers, noted for being personal,
scandalous, and scurrilous.
"Are those the papers you mean?" cried Lady Cecilia; "the general never
lets them into the house."
"That is a pity--that's hard upon you, for then you never are, as you see,
_au courant du jour_, and all your friends might be abused to death without
your knowing it, if some kind person did not tell you."
"Do tell me, then, the substance; I don't want the words."
"But the words are all. Somehow it is nothing without the words."
In her now excited state of communicativeness, Lady Castlefort rose and
looked all about the room for the papers, saying, "They were here, they
were there, all yesterday; Katrine had them showing them to Lady Masham in
the morning, and to all her blue set afterwards--Lord knows what she has
done with them. So tiresome looking for things! how I hate it."
She rang the bell and inquired from the footman if he knew what had become
of the papers. Of course he did not know, could not imagine--servants never
know, nor can imagine what have become of newspapers--but he would inquire.
While he went to inquire, Lady Castlefort sank down again into her
_bergere_, and again fell into admiration of Cecilia's state of impatience.
"How curious you are! Now I am never really curious about any thing that
does not come home to myself; I have so little interest about other
This was said in all the simplicity of selfishness, not from candour, but
from mere absence of shame, and utter ignorance of what others think--what
others feel, which always characterises, and often betrays the selfish,
even where the head is best capable of supplying the deficiencies of the
heart. But Louisa Castlefort had no head to hide her want of heart; while
Cecilia, who had both head and heart, looked down upon her cousin with
surprise, pity, and contempt, quick succeeding each other, in a sort of
parenthesis of feeling, as she moved her eyes for a moment from the door
on which they had been fixed, and to which they recurred, while she stood
waiting for the appearance of those newspapers. The footman entered with
them. "In Mr. Landrum's room they were, my lady."
Lady Cecilia did not hear a word that was said, nor did she see that the
servant laid a note on the table. It was well that Louisa had that note
to read, and to answer, while Cecilia looked at the paragraphs in these
papers; else her start must have been seen, her exclamation must have been
heard: it must have been marked, that the whole character of her emotion
changed from generous sympathy with her friend, to agony of fear for
herself. The instant she cast her eyes on that much-read paper, she saw
the name of Colonel D'Aubigny; all the rest swam before her eyes. Lady
Castlefort, without looking up from her writing, asked--What day of the
month? Cecilia could not answer, but recalled to herself by the sound of
the voice, she now tried to read--she scarcely read the words, but some way
took the sense into her mind at a glance.
The first of these paragraphs caught the eye by its title in capital
"LA BELLE FIANCEE.
"Though quite unknown in the London world, this young lady cannot fail to
excite some curiosity among our fashionables as the successful rival of one
whom the greatest painter of the age has pronounced to be _the fairest of
the fair_--the Lady B. F. This new _Helen_ is, we understand, of
a respectable family, niece to a late dean, distinguished for piety much
and virtu more. It was reported that the niece was a great heiress, but
after the proposal had been made, it was discovered that Virtu had made
away with every shilling of her fortune. This made no difference in the
eyes of her inamorato, who is as rich as he is generous, and who saw with
the eyes of a youth 'Of Age to-morrow.' His guardian, a wary general,
demurred--but _nursery tactics_ prevailed. The young lady, though she had
never been out, bore the victory from him of many campaigns. The day for
the marriage was fixed as announced by us--But we are concerned to
state that a _postponement_ of this marriage for _mysterious reasons_ has
taken place. Delicacy forbids us to say more at present."
Delicacy, however, did not prevent their saying in the next paper in a
paragraph headed, "MYSTERY SOLVED," "We understand that in the course of
a few days will appear the 'Memoirs of the late Colonel D----y; or,
_Reminiscences of a Roue_, well known in the Fashionable World.' This
little volume bids fair to engross the attention of the higher circles, as
it contains, besides innumerable curious, personal, and secret anecdotes,
the original love letters of a certain _belle fiancee_, now residing with a
noble family in Grosvenor Square."
Lady Cecilia saw at once the whole dreadful danger--her own letters to
Colonel D'Aubigny they must he! How could they have got them? They would be
seen by her husband--published to the whole world--if the general found
out they were hers, he would cast her off for ever. If they were believed
to be Helen's--Helen was undone, sacrificed to her folly, her cowardice.
"Oh! if I had but told Clarendon, he would have stopped this dreadful,
dreadful publication." And what falsehoods it might contain, she did not
even dare to think. All was remorse, terror, confusion--fixed to the spot
like one stupified, she stood. Lady Castlefort did not see it--she had
been completely engrossed with what she had been writing, she was now
looking for her most sentimental seal, and not till she had pressed
that seal down and examined the impression, did she look up or notice
Cecilia--Then struck indeed with a sense of something unusual--"My dear,"
said she, "you have no idea how odd you look--so strange, Cecilia--quite
_ebahie!_" Giving two pulls to the bell as she spoke, and her eyes on the
door, impatient for the servant, she added--"After all, Cecilia, Helen
Stanley is no relation even--only a friend. Take this note--" to the
footman who answered the bell; and the moment he left the room, continuing,
in the same tone, to Lady Cecilia, she said--"You will have to give her up
at last--that's all; so you had better make your mind up to it."
When Lady Cecilia tried to speak, she felt her tongue cleave to the roof of
her mouth; and when she did articulate, it was in a sort of hoarse sound.
"Is the book published?" She held the paper before Lady Castlefort's eyes,
and pointed to the name she could not utter.
"D'Aubigny's book--is it published, do you mean?" said Lady Castlefort.
"Absolutely published, I cannot say, but it is all in print, I know. I
do not understand about publishing. There's something about presentation
copies: I know Katrine was wild to have one before any body else, so she
is to have the first copy, I know, and, I believe, is to have it this very
morning for the people at this breakfast: it is to be the _bonne bouche_ of
"What has Katrine to do with it?--Oh, tell me, quick!"
"Dear me, Cecilia, what a fuss you are in!--you make me quite nervous to
look at you. You had better go down to the breakfast-room, and you will
hear all about it from the fountain-head." "Has Katrine the book or not?"
cried Lady Cecilia.
"Bless me! I will inquire, my dear, if you will not look so dreadful." She
rang and coolly asked--"Did that man, that bookseller, Stone, send any
parcel or book this morning, do you know, for Lady Katrine?"
"Yes, my lady; Landrum had a parcel for Lady Katrine--it is on the table, I
"Very well." The man left the room. Lady Cecilia darted on the brown paper
parcel she had seen directed to Lady Katrine, and seized it before the
amazed Louisa could prevent her. "Stop, stop!" cried she, springing
forward, "stop, Cecilia; Katrine will never forgive me!"
But Lady Cecilia seizing a penknife, cut the first knot. "Oh, Cecilia, I am
undone if Katrine comes in! Make haste, make haste! I can only let you have
a peep or two. We must do it up again as well as ever," continued Lady
Castlefort, while Lady Cecilia, fast as possible, went on cut, cut, cutting
the packthread to bits, and she tore off the brown paper cover, then one of
silver paper, that protected the silk binding. Lady Castlefort took up the
outer cover and read, "To be returned before two o'clock."--"What can
that mean? Then it is only lent; not her own. Katrine will not understand
this--will be outrageously disappointed. I'm sure I don't care. But here
is a note from Stone, however, which may explain it." She opened and
read--"Stone's respects--existing circumstances make it necessary her
ladyship's copy should be returned. Will be called for at two o'clock."
"Cecilia, Cecilia, make haste! But Katrine does not know yet--Still she may
come up." Lady Castlefort rang and inquired,--
"Have they done breakfast?"
"Breakfast is over, my lady," said the servant who answered the bell, but
Landrum thinks the gentlemen and ladies will not be up immediately, on
account of one of the ladies being _performing_ a poem."
"Very well, very good," added her ladyship, as the man left the room.
"Then, Cecilia, you will have time enough, for when once they begin
performing, as Sylvester calls it, there is no end of it."
"Oh Heavens!" cried Cecilia, as she turned over the pages, "Oh Heavens!
what is here? Such absolute falsehood! Shocking, shocking!" she
exclaimed, as she looked on, terrified at what she saw: "Absolutely
"Whereabouts are you?" said Lady Castlefort, approaching to read along with
"Oh, do not read it," cried Cecilia, and she hastily closed the book.
"What signifies shutting the book, my dear," said Louisa, "as if you could
shut people's eyes? I know what it is; I have read it."
"Read it! I really can read, though it seems to astonish you."
"But it is not published?"
"One can read in manuscript."
"And did you see the manuscript?"
"I had a glimpse. Yes--I know more than Katrine thinks I know."
"O tell me, Louisa; tell me all," cried Cecilia.
"I will, but you must never tell that I told it to you."
"Speak, speak," cried Cecilia.
"It is a long story," said Lady Castlefort.
"Make it short then. O tell me quick, Louisa.'"
"There is a literary _dessous des cartes_," said Lady Castlefort, a little
vain of knowing a literary _dessous des cartes_; "Churchill being at the
head of every thing of that sort, you know, the bookseller brought him the
manuscript which Sir Thomas D'Aubigny had offered him, and wanted to know
whether it would do or not. Mr. Churchill's answer was, that it would never
do without more pepper and salt, meaning gossip and scandal, and all that.
But you are reading on, Cecilia, not listening to me."
"I am listening, indeed."
"Then never tell how I came to know every thing. Katrine's maid has a
lover, who is, as she phrases it, one of the gentlemen connected with the
press. Now, my Angelique, who cannot endure Katrine's maid, tells me that
this man is only a _wonder-maker_, a half-crown paragraph writer. So,
through Angelique, and indeed from another person--" she stopped; and then
went on--"through Angelique it all came up to me."
"All what?" cried Cecilia; "go on, go on to the facts."
"I will, if you will not hurry me so. The letters were not in Miss
"No! I am sure of that," said Cecilia.
"Copies were all that they pretended to be; so they may be forgeries after
all, you see."
"But how did Katrine or Mr. Churchill come by the copies?"
"I have a notion, but of this I am not quite sure--I have a notion, from
something I was told by--in short I suspect that Carlos, Lady Davenant's
page, somehow got at them, and gave them, or had them given to the man
who was to publish the book. Lady Katrine and Churchill laid their heads
together; here, in this very _sanctum sanctorum_. They thought I knew
nothing, but I knew every thing. I do not believe Horace had anything to do
with it, except saying that the love-letters would be just the thing for
the public if they were bad enough. I remember, too, that it was he who
added the second title, 'Reminiscences of a Roue,' and said something about
alliteration's artful aid. And now," concluded Lady Castlefort, "it is
coming to the grand catastrophe, as Katrine calls it. She has already told
the story, and to-day she was to give all her set what she calls ocular
demonstration. Cecilia, now, quick, finish; they will be here this instant.
Give me the book; let me do it up this minute."
"No, no; let me put it up," cried Lady Cecilia, keeping possession of the
book and the brown paper. "I am a famous hand at doing up a parcel, as
famous as any Bond Street shopman: your hands are not made for such work."
Any body but Lady Castlefort would have discerned that Lady Cecilia had
some further design, and she was herself afraid it would be perceived; but
taking courage from seeing what a fool she had to deal with, Lady Cecilia
went on more boldly: "Louisa, I must have more packthread; this is all cut
"I will ring and ask for some."
"No, no; do not ring for the footman; he might observe that we had opened
the parcel. Cannot you get a string without ringing? Look in that basket."
"None there, I know," said Lady Castlefort without stirring.
"In your own room then; Angelique has some."
"How do you know?"
"I know! never mind how. Go, and she will give you packthread. I must have
it before Katrine comes up. So go, Louisa, go."
"Go," in the imperative mood, operated, and she went; she did not know why.
That instant Lady Cecilia drew the book out of the half-folded paper, and
quick, quick, tore out page after page--every page of those letters that
concerned herself or Helen, and into the fire thrust them, and as they
blazed held them down bravely--had the boldness to wait till all was black:
all the while she trembled, but stood it, and they were burnt, and the book
in its brown paper cover was left on the table, and she down stairs, before
Lady Castlefort's dressing-room door opened, and she crossed the hall
without meeting a soul except the man in waiting there. The breakfast-room
was at the back of the house looking into the gardens, and her carriage at
the front-door had never been seen by Lady Katrine, or any of her blue set.
She cleared out of the house into her carriage--and off--"To the Park,"
said she.--She was off but just in time. The whole tribe came out of the
breakfast room before she had turned the corner of the street. She threw
herself back in the carriage and took breath, congratulating herself upon
this hairbreadth 'scape. For this hour, this minute, she had escaped!--she
And now what was next to be done? This was but a momentary reprieve.
Another copy would be had--no, not till to-morrow though. The sound of the
words that had been read from the bookseller's note by Lady Castlefort,
though scarcely noticed at the time, recurred to her now; and there was
hope something might to-day be done to prevent the publication. It might
still be kept for ever from her husband's and from Beauclerc's knowledge.
One stratagem had succeeded--others might.
She took a drive round the Park to compose the excessive flurry of her
spirits. Letting down all the glasses, she had the fresh air blowing upon
her, and ere she was half round, she was able to think of what yet remained
to do. Money! Oh! any money she could command she would give to prevent
this publication. She was not known to the bookseller--no matter. Money is
money from whatever hand. She would trust the matter to no one but herself,
and she would go immediately--not a moment to be lost.--"To Stone's, the
Arrived. "Do not give my name; only say, a lady wants to speak to Mr.
The people at Mr. Stone's did not know the livery or the carriage, but such
a carriage and such a lady commanded the deference of the shopman. "Please
to walk in, madam," and by the time she had walked in, the man changed
madam into your ladyship--"Mr. Stone will be with your ladyship in a
moment--only in the warehouse. If your ladyship will please to walk up into
the back drawing-room--there's a fire." The maid followed to blow it; and
while the bellows wheezed and the fire did not burn, Lady Cecilia looked
out of the window in eager expectation of seeing Mr. Stone returning from
the warehouse with all due celerity. No Mr. Stone, however, appeared; but
there was a good fire in the middle of the court-yard, as she observed to
the maid who was plying the wheezing bellows; and who answered that they
had had a great fire there this hour past "burning of papers." And at that
moment a man came out with his arms full of a huge pile--sheets of a book,
Lady Cecilia saw--it was thrown on the fire. Then came out and stood before
the fire--could she he mistaken?--impossible--it was like a dream--the
Cecilia's first thought was to run away before she should be seen; but the
next moment that thought was abandoned, for the time to execute it was now
past. The messenger sent across the yard had announced that a lady in the
back drawing-room wanted Mr. Stone. Eyes had looked up--the general had
seen and recognised her, and all she could now do was, to recognise him in
return, which she did as eagerly and gracefully as possible. The general
came up to her directly, not a little astonished that she, whom he fancied
at home in her bed, incapacitated by a headache that had prevented her from
speaking to him, should be here, so far out of her usual haunts, and, as it
seemed, out of her element--"What can bring you here, my dear Cecilia?"
"The same purpose which, if I rightly spell, brought you here, my dear
general," and her eye intelligently glanced at the burning papers in the
yard. "Do you know then, Cecilia, what those papers are? How did you know?"
Lady Cecilia told her history, keeping as strictly to facts as the nature
of the case admitted. Her headache, of course, she had found much better
for the sleep she had taken. She had set off, she told him, as soon as she
was able, for Lady Castlefort's, to inquire into the meaning of the strange
whispers of the preceding night. Then she told of the scandalous paragraphs
she had seen; how she had looked over the book; and how successfully she
had torn out and destroyed the whole chapter; and then how, hoping to be
able to prevent the publication, she had driven directly to Mr. Stone's.
Her husband, with confiding, admiring eyes, looked at her and listened to
her, and thought all she said so natural, so kind, that he could not but
love her the more for her zeal of friendship, though he blamed her for
interfering, in defiance of his caution, "Had you consulted me, or listened
to me, my dear Cecilia, this morning, I could have saved you all this
trouble; I should have told you that I would settle with Stone, and stop
the publication, as I have done."
"But that copy which had been sent to Lady Katrine, surely I did some good
there by burning those pages; for if once it had got among her set, it
would have spread like wildfire, you know, Clarendon."
He acknowledged this, and said, smiling--"Be satisfied with yourself, my
love; I acknowledge that you made there a capital _coup de main_."
Just then in came Mr. Stone with an account in his hand, which the general
stepped forward to receive, and, after one glance at the amount, he took
up a pen, wrote, and signed his name to a cheque on his banker. Mr. Stone
received it, bowed obsequiously, and assured the general that every copy
of the offensive chapter had been withdrawn from the book and burnt--"that
copy excepted which you have yourself, general, and that which was sent to
Lady Katrine Hawksby, which we expect in every minute, and it shall he sent
to Grosvenor Square immediately. I will bring it myself, to prevent all
The general, who knew there was no danger there, smiled at Cecilia, and
told the bookseller that he need take no further trouble about Lady
Katrine's copy; the man bowed, and looking again at the amount of the
cheque, retired well satisfied.
"You come home with me, my dear Clarendon, do not you?" said Lady Cecilia.
They drove off. On their way, the general said--"It is always difficult to
decide whether to contradict or to let such publications take their course:
but in the present case, to stop the scandal instantly and completely
was the only thing to be done. There are cases of honour, when women
are concerned, where law is too slow: it must not be remedy, it must be
prevention. If the finger of scorn dares to point, it must be--cut off."
After a pause of grave thought, he added--"Upon the manner in which Helen
now acts will depend her happiness--her character--her whole future life."
Lady Cecilia summoned all her power to prevent her from betraying herself:
the danger was great, for she could not command her fears so completely as
to hide the look of alarm with which she listened to the general; but in
his eyes her agitation appeared no more than was natural for her to feel
about her friend.
"My love," continued he, "if Helen is worthy of your affection, she
will show it now. Her only resource is in perfect truth: tell her so,
Cecilia--impress it upon her mind. Would to Heaven I had been able to
convince her of this at first! Speak to her strongly, Cecilia; as you love
her, impress upon her that my esteem, Beauclerc's love, the happiness of
her life, depend upon her truth!" As he repeated these words, the carriage
stopped at their own door.
We left Helen in the back drawing-room, the door bolted, and beginning to
read her dreaded task. The paragraphs in the newspapers, we have seen,
were sufficiently painful, but when she came to the book itself--to the
letters--she was in consternation, greater even than what she had felt in
the general's presence under the immediate urgency of his eye and voice.
Her conviction was that in each of these letters, there were some passages,
some expressions, which certainly were Cecilia's, but mixed with others,
which as certainly were not hers. The internal evidence appeared to her
irresistibly strong: and even in those passages which she knew to be
Cecilia's writing, it too plainly appeared that, however playfully, however
delicately expressed, there was more of real attachment for Colonel
D'Aubigny than Cecilia had ever allowed Helen to believe; and she felt that
Cecilia must shrink from General Clarendon's seeing these as her letters,
after she had herself assured him that he was her first love. The falsehood
was here so indubitable, so proved, that Helen herself trembled at the
thought of Cecilia's acknowledging the plain facts to her husband. The time
for it was past. Now that they were in print, published perhaps, how must
he feel! If even candid confession were made to him, and made for the best
motives, it would to him appear only forced by necessity--forced, as he
would say to himself, because her friend would not submit to be sacrificed.
Such were Helen's thoughts on reading the two or three first letters, but,
as she went on, her alarm increased to horror. She saw things which she
felt certain Cecilia could never have written; yet truth and falsehood
were so mixed up in every paragraph, circumstances which she herself had
witnessed so misrepresented, that it was all to her inextricable confusion.
The passages which were to be marked could not now depend upon her opinion,
her belief; they must rest upon Cecilia s integrity--and could she depend
upon it? The impatience which she had felt for Lady Cecilia's return now
faded away, and merged in the more painful thought that, when she did come,
the suspense would not end--the doubts would never be satisfied.
She lay down upon the sofa and tried to rest, kept herself perfectly still,
and resolved to think no more; and, as far as the power of the mind over
itself can stay the ever-rising thoughts, she controlled hers, and waited
with a sort of forced, desperate composure for the event. Suddenly she
heard that knock, that ring, which she knew announced Lady Cecilia's
return. But not Cecilia alone; she heard the general also coming upstairs,
but Cecilia first, who did not stop for more than an instant at the
drawing-room door:--she looked in, as Helen guessed, and seeing that no one
was there, ran very quickly up the next flight of stairs. Next came the
general:--on hearing his step, Helen's anxiety became so intense, that she
could not, at the moment he came near, catch the sound or distinguish which
way he went. Strained beyond its power, the faculty of hearing seemed
suddenly to fail--all was confusion, an indistinct buzz of sounds. The
next moment, however, recovering, she plainly heard his step in the front
drawing-room, and she knew that he twice walked up and down the whole
length of the room, as if in deep thought. Each time as he approached the
folding doors she was breathless. At last he stopped, his hand was on the
lock--she recollected that the door was bolted, and as he turned the handle
she, in a powerless voice, called to tell him, but not hearing her, he
tried again, and as the door shook she again tried to speak, but could not.
Still she heard, though she could not articulate. She heard him say, "Miss
Stanley, are you there? Can I see you?"
But the words--the voice seemed to come from afar--sounded dull and
strange. She tried to rise from her seat--found a difficulty--made an
effort--stood up--she summoned resolution--struggled--hurried across the
room--drew back the bolt--threw open the door--and that was all she could
do. In that effort strength and consciousness failed--she fell forward and
fainted at the general's feet. He raised her up, and laid her on the sofa
in the inner room. He rang for her maid, and went up-stairs to prevent
Cecilia's being alarmed. He took the matter coolly: he had seen many
fainting young ladies, he did not like them--his own Cecilia excepted--in
his mind always excepted from every unfavourable suspicion regarding the
sex. Helen, on the contrary, was at present subject to them all, and, under
the cloud of distrust, he saw in a bad light every thing that occurred;
the same appearances which, in his wife, he would have attributed to the
sensibility of true feeling, he interpreted in Helen as the consciousness
of falsehood, the proof of cowardly duplicity. He went back at once to his
original prejudice against her, when, as he first thought, she had been
forced upon him in preference to his own sister. He had been afterwards
convinced that she had been perfectly free from all double dealing; yet now
he slid back again, as people of his character often do, to their first
opinion. "I thought so at first, and I find, as I usually do, that my first
thought was right."
What had been but an adverse feeling was now considered as a prescient
judgment. And he did not go upstairs the quicker for these thoughts, but
calmly and coolly, when he reached Lady Cecilia's dressing-room, knocked at
the door, and, with all the precautions necessary to prevent her from being
alarmed, told her what had happened. "You had better not go down, my
dear Cecilia, I beg you will not. Miss Stanley has her own maid, all the
assistance that can be wanted. My dear, it is not fit for you. I desire you
will not go down."
But Lady Cecilia would not listen, could not be detained; she escaped from
her husband, and ran down to Helen. Excessively alarmed she was, and well
she might be, knowing herself to be the cause, and not certain in any way
how it might end. She found Helen a little recovered, but still pale as
white marble; and when Lady Cecilia took her hand, it was still quite cold.
She came to herself but very slowly. For some minutes she did not recover
perfect consciousness, or clear recollection. She saw figures of persons
moving about her, she felt them as if too near, and wished them away;
wanted air, but could not say what she wished. She would have moved, but
her limbs would not obey her will. At last, when she had with effort half
raised her head, it sunk back again before she could distinguish all the
persons in the room. The shock of cold water on her forehead revived her;
then coming clearly to power of perception, she saw Cecilia bending over
her. But still she could not speak, and yet she understood distinctly, saw
the affectionate anxiety, too, in her little maid Rose's countenance; she
felt that she loved Rose, and that she could not endure Felicie, who had
now come in, and was making exclamations, and advising various remedies,
all of which, when offered, Helen declined. It was not merely that
Felicie's talking, and tone of voice, and superabundant action, were
too much for her; but that Helen had at this moment a sort of intuitive
perception of insincerity, and of exaggeration. In that dreamy state,
hovering between life and death, in which people are on coming out of a
swoon, it seems as if there was need for a firm hold of reality; the senses
and the understanding join in the struggle, and become most acute in their
perception of what is natural or what is unnatural, true or false, in the
expressions and feelings of the by-standers. Lady Cecilia understood her
look, and dismissed Felicie, with all her smelling-bottles. Rose, though
not ordered away, judiciously retired as soon as she saw that her services
were of no further use, and that there was something upon her young lady's
mind, for which, hartshorn and sal volatile could be of no avail.
Cecilia would have kissed her forehead, but Helen made a slight withdrawing
motion, and turned away her face: the next instant, however, she looked up,
and taking Cecilia's hand, pressed it kindly, and said, "You are more to be
pitied than I am; sit down, sit down beside me, my poor Cecilia; how you
tremble! and yet you do not know what is coming upon you."
"Yes, yes, I do--I do," cried Lady Cecilia, and she eagerly told Helen all
that had passed, ending with the assurance that the publication had been
completely stopped by her dear Clarendon; that the whole chapter containing
the letters had been destroyed, that not a single copy had got abroad. "The
only one in existence is this," said she, taking it up as she spoke, and
she made a movement as if going to tear out the leaves, but Helen checked
her hand, "That must not be, the general desired----"
And almost breathless, yet distinctly, she repeated what the general had
said, that he might be called upon to prove which parts were forged, and
which true, and that she had promised to mark the passages. "So now,
Cecilia, here is a pencil, and mark what is and what is not yours."
Lady Cecilia instantly took the pencil, and in great agitation obeyed. "Oh,
my dear Helen, some of these the general could not think yours. Very wicked
these people have been!--so the general said; he was sure, he knew, all
could not be yours."
"Finish! my dear Cecilia," interrupted Helen; "finish what you have to
do, and in this last trial, give me this one proof of your sincerity. Be
careful in what you are now doing, mark truly--oh, Cecilia! every word you
recollect--as your conscience tells you. Will you, Cecilia? this is all I
ask, as I am to answer for it--will you?"
Most fervently she protested she would. She had no difficulty in
recollecting, in distinguishing her own; and at first she marked truly, and
was glad to separate what was at worst only foolish girlish nonsense from
things which had been interpolated to make out the romance; things which
never could have come from her mind.
There is some comfort in having our own faults overshadowed, outdone by
the greater faults of others. And here it was flagrant wickedness in the
editor, and only weakness and imprudence in the writer of the real letters.
Lady Cecilia continually solaced her conscience by pointing out to Helen,
as she went on, the folly, literally the folly, of the deception she had
practised on her husband; and her exclamations against herself were so
vehement that Helen would not add to her pain by a single reproach, since
she had decided that the time was past for urging her confession to the
general. She now only said, "Look to the future, Cecilia, the past we
cannot recall. This will be a lesson you can never forget."
"Oh, never, never can I forget it. You have saved me, Helen."
Tears and protestations followed these words, and at the moment they were
all sincere; and yet, can it be believed? even in this last trial, when it
came to this last proof, Lady Cecilia was not perfectly true. She purposely
avoided putting her mark of acknowledgment to any of those expressions
which most clearly proved her love for Colonel D'Aubigny; for she still
said to herself that the time might come, though at present it could not
be, when she might make a confession to her husband,--in his joy at the
birth of a son, she thought she might venture; she still looked forward
to doing justice to her friend at some future period, and to make this
easier--to make this possible--as she said to herself, she must now leave
out certain expressions, which might, if acknowledged, remain for ever
fixed in Clarendon's mind, and for which she could never be forgiven.
Helen, when she looked over the pages, observed among the unmarked passages
some of those expressions which she had thought were Cecilia's, but she
concluded she was mistaken: she could not believe that her friend could at
such a moment deceive her, and she was even ashamed of having doubted her
sincerity; and her words, look, and manner, now gave assurance of perfect
This delicacy in Helen struck Lady Cecilia to the quick. Ever apt to be
more touched by her refined feelings than by any strong appeal to her
reason or her principles, she was now shocked by the contrast between her
own paltering meanness and her friend's confiding generosity. As this
thought crossed her mind, she stretched out her hand again for the book,
took up the pencil, and was going to mark the truth; but, the impulse past,
cowardice prevailed, and cowardice whispered, "Helen is looking at me,
Helen sees at this moment what I am doing, and, after having marked them
as not mine, how can I now acknowledge them?--it is too late--it is
"I have done as you desired," continued she, "Helen, to the best of my
ability. I have marked all this, but what can it signify now my dear,
Helen interrupted her. "Take the book to the general this moment, will you,
and tell him that all the passages are marked as he desired; stay, I had
She wrote upon a slip of paper a message to the same effect, having well
considered the words by which she might, without further step in deception,
save her friend, and take upon herself the whole blame--the whole hazardous
When Cecilia gave the marked book to General Clarendon, he said, as he took
it, "I am glad she has done this, though it is unnecessary now, as I was
going to tell her if she had not fainted: unnecessary, because I have now
in my possession the actual copies of the original letters; I found them
here on my return. That good little poetess found them for me at the
printer's--but she could not discover--I have not yet been able to trace
where they came from, or by whom they were copied."
"O let me see them," cried Lady Cecilia."
"Not yet, my love," said he; "you would know nothing more by seeing them;
they are in a feigned hand evidently."
"But," interrupted Cecilia, "you cannot want the book now, when you have
the letters themselves;" and she attempted to draw it from his hand, for
she instantly perceived the danger of the discrepancies between her marks
and the letters being detected. She made a stronger effort to withdraw the
book but he held it fast. "Leave it with me now, my dear; I want it; it
will settle my opinion as to Helen's truth."
Slowly, and absolutely sickened with apprehension, Lady Cecilia withdrew.
When she returned to Helen, and found how pale she was and how exhausted
she seemed, she entreated her to lie down again and try to rest.
"Yes, I believe I had better rest before I see Granville," said Helen:
"where can he have been all day?"
"With some friend of his, I suppose," said Cecilia, and she insisted on
Helen's saying no more, and keeping herself perfectly quiet. She farther
suggested that she had better not appear at dinner.
"It will be only a family party, some of the general's relations. Miss
Clarendon is to be here, and she is one, you know, trying to the spirits;
and she is not likely to be in her most _suave_ humour this evening, as
she has been under a course of the tooth-ache, and has been all day at the
Helen readily consented to remain in her own room, though she had not
so great a dread of Miss Clarendon as Lady Cecilia seemed to feel. Lady
Cecilia was indeed in the greatest terror lest Miss Clarendon should have
heard some of these reports about Helen and Beauclerc, and would in
her blunt way ask directly what they meant, and go on with some of her
point-blank questions, which Cecilia feared might be found unanswerable.
However, as Miss Clarendon had only just come to town from Wales, and come
only about her teeth, she hoped that no reports could have reached her; and
Cecilia trusted much to her own address and presence of mind in moments of
danger, in turning the conversation the way it should go.
But things were now come to a point where none of the little skilful
interruptions or lucky hits, by which she had so frequently profited, could
avail her farther than to delay what must be. Passion and character pursue
their course unalterably, unimpeded by small external circumstances;
interrupted they may be in their progress, but as the stream opposed bears
against the obstacle, sweeps it away, or foams and passes by.
Before Lady Cecilia's toilette was finished her husband was in her
dressing-room; came in without knocking,--a circumstance so unusual with
him, that Mademoiselle Felicie's eyes opened to their utmost orbit, and,
without waiting for word or look, she vanished, leaving the bracelet half
clasped on her lady's arm.
"Cecilia!" said the general.
He spoke in so stern a tone that she trembled from head to foot; her last
falsehood about the letters--all her falsehoods, all her concealments,
were, she thought, discovered; unable to support herself, she sank into his
arms. He seated her, and went on in a cool, inexorable tone, "Cecilia, I
am determined not to sanction by any token of my public approbation this
marriage, which I no longer in my private conscience desire or approve; I
will not be the person to give Miss Stanley to my ward."
Lady Cecilia almost screamed: her selfish fears forgotten, she felt only
terror for her friend. She exclaimed, "Clarendon, will you break off the
marriage? Oh! Helen, what will become of her! Clarendon, what can you
"I mean that I have compared the passages that Helen marked in the book,
with those copies of the letters which were given to the bookseller before
the interpolations were made--the letters as Miss Stanley wrote them. The
passages in the letters and the passages marked in the book do not agree."
"Oh, but she might have forgotten, it might be accident," cried Cecilia,
overwhelmed with confusion.
"No, Cecilia," pursued the General, in a tone which made her heart die
within her--"no, Cecilia, it is not accident, it is design. I perceive
that every strong expression, every word, in short, which could show her
attachment to that man, has been purposely marked as not her own, and the
letters themselves prove that they were her own. The truth is not in her."
In an agitation, which prevented all power of thought, Cecilia exclaimed,
"She mistook--she mistook; I could not, I am sure, recollect; she asked me
if I remembered any."
"She consulted you, then?"
"She asked my advice,--told me that----"
"I particularly requested her," interrupted the general, "not to ask your
advice; I desired her not to speak to you on the subject--not to consult
you. Deceit--double-dealing in every thing she does, I find."
"No, no, it is my fault; every thing I say and do is wrong," cried Lady
Cecilia. "I recollect now--it was just after her fainting, when I brought
the book, and when she took it to mark she really was not able. It was not
that she consulted me, but I forced my counsel upon her. I looked over the
letters, and said what I thought--if anybody is wrong, it is I, Clarendon.
Oh, do not visit my sins upon Helen so cruelly!--do not make me the cause
of her ruin, innocent creature! I assure you, if you do this, I never could
The general looked at her in silence: she did not dare to meet his eyes,
desperately anxious as she was to judge by his countenance what was passing
within. He clasped for her that bracelet which her trembling hands were in
vain attempting to close.
"Poor thing, how its heart beats!" said her husband, pressing her to him as
he sat down beside her. Cecilia thought she might venture to speak.--"You
know, my dear Clarendon, I never oppose--interfere with--any determination
of yours when once it is fixed--"
"This is fixed," interrupted the general.
"But after all you have done for her this very day, for which I am sure
she--I am sure I thank you from my soul, would you now undo it all?"
"She is saved from public shame," said the general; "from private
contempt I cannot save her: who can save those who have not truth? But my
determination is fixed; it is useless to waste words on the subject. Esther
is come; I must go to her. And now, Cecilia, I conjure you, when you see
Beauclerc--I have not seen him all day--I do not know where he has been--I
conjure you---I command you not to interfere between him and Helen."
"But you would not have me give her up! I should be the basest of human
"I do not know what you mean, Cecilia; you have done for her all that an
honourable friend could do."
"I am not an honourable friend," was Cecilia's bitter consciousness, as she
pressed her hand upon her heart, which throbbed violently with contending
"You have done all that an honourable friend could do; more must not be
done," continued the general. "And now recollect, Cecilia, that you are my
wife as well as Miss Stanley's friend;" and, as he said these words, he
left the room.
That knowing French minister, Louvois, whose power is said to have been
maintained by his surpassing skill in collecting and spreading secret and
swift intelligence, had in his pay various classes of unsuspected agents,
dancing-masters, fencing-masters, language-masters, milliners, hairdressers
and barbers--dentists, he would have added, had he lived to our times; and
not all Paris could have furnished him with a person better suited to his
purpose than the most fashionable London dentist of the day, St. Leger
Swift. Never did Frenchman exceed him in volubility of utterance, or in
gesture significant, supplying all that words might fear or fail to tell;
never was he surpassed by prattling barber or privileged hunchback in
ancient or modern story, Arabian or Persian; but he was not a malicious,
only a coxcomb scandal-monger, triumphing in his _scavoir dire_. St. Leger
Swift was known to everybody--knew everybody in London that was to be or
was not to be known, every creature dead or alive that ever had been, or
was about to be celebrated, fashionable, or rich, or clever, or notorious,
_roue_ or murderer, about to be married or about to be hanged--for
that last class of persons enjoys in our days a strange kind of heroic
celebrity, of which Voltaire might well have been jealous. St, Leger was,
of course, hand and glove with all the royal family; every illustrious
personage--every most illustrious personage--had in turn sat in his chair;
he had had all their heads, in their turns, in his hands, and he had
capital anecdotes and sayings of each, with which he charmed away the sense
of pain in loyal subjects. But with scandal for the fair was he specially
provided. Never did man or woman skim the surface tittle-tattle of society,
or dive better, breathless, into family mysteries; none, with more careless
air, could at the same time talk and listen--extract your news and give you
his _on dit_, or tell the secret which you first reveal. There was in him
and about him such an air of reckless, cordial coxcombry, it warmed the
coldest, threw the most cautious off their guard, brought out family
secrets as if he had been one of your family--your secret purpose as
though lie had been a secular father confessor; as safe every thing told to
St. Leger Swift, he would swear to you, as if known only to yourself: he
would swear, and you would believe, unless peculiarly constituted, as was
the lady who, this morning, took her seat in his chair--
Miss Clarendon. She was accompanied by her aunt, Mrs. Pennant.
"Ha! old lady and young lady, fresh from the country. Both, I see, persons
of family--of condition," said St. Leger to himself. On that point his
practised eye could not mistake, even at first glance; and accordingly it
was really doing himself a pleasure, and these ladies, as he conceived it,
a pleasure, a service, and an honour, to put them, immediately on their
arrival in town, _au courant du jour_. Whether to pull or not to pull a
tooth that had offended, was the professional question before him.
Miss Clarendon threw back her head, and opened her mouth.
"Fine teeth, fine! Nothing to complain of here surely," said St. Leger. "As
fine a show of ivory as ever I beheld. 'Pon my reputation, I know many a
fine lady who would give--all but her eyes for such a set."
"I must have this tooth out," said Miss Clarendon, pointing to the
"I see; certainly, ma'am, as you say."
"I hope, sir, you don't think it necessary," said her tender-hearted aunt:
"if it could be any way avoided----"
"By all means, madam, as you say. We must do nothing without
"I have considered, my dear aunt," said Miss Clarendon. "I have not slept
these three nights.
"But you do not consider that you caught cold getting up one night for me;
and it may be only an accidental cold, my dear Esther. I should be so sorry
if you were to lose a tooth. Don't be in a hurry; once gone, you cannot get
it back again."
"Never was a truer, wiser word spoken, madam," said St. Leger, swiftly
whisking himself round, and as if looking for some essential implement.
"May be a mere twinge, accidental cold, rheumatism; or may be----My dear
madam" (to the aunt), "I will trouble you; let me pass. I beg pardon--one
word with you," and with his back to the patient in the chair, while he
rumaged among ivory-handled instruments on the table, he went on in a low
voice to the aunt--"Is she nervous? is she nervous, eh, eh, eh?"
Mrs. Pennant looked, but did not hear, for she was a little deaf.
"Yes, yes, yes; I see how it is. A word to the wise," replied he, with a
nod of intelligence. "Every lady's nervous now-a-days, more or less. Where
the deuce did I put this thing? Yes, yes--nerves;--all the same to me;
know how to manage. Make it a principle--professional, to begin always by
talking away nerves. You shall see, you shall see, my dearest madam; you
shall soon see--you shall hear, you shall hear how I'll talk this young
lady--your niece--out of her nerves fairly. Beg pardon, Miss----, one
instant. I am searching for--where have I put it?"
"I beg your pardon, sir: I am a little deaf," said Mrs. Pennant.
"Deaf--hey? Ha! a little deaf. So everybody is now-a-days; even the
most illustrious personages, more or less. Death and deafness common to
all--_mors omnibus_. I have it. Now, my dear young lady, let us have
another look and touch at these beautiful teeth. Your head will do
very--vastly well, my dear ma'am--Miss----um, um, um!" hoping the name
would be supplied. But that Miss Clarendon did not tell.
So raising his voice to the aunt as he went on looking, or seeming to look,
at the niece's tooth, he continued rapidly--"From Wales you are, ma'am? a
beautiful country Wales, ma'am. Very near being born there myself, like,
ha, ha, ha! that Prince of Wales--first Prince--Caernarvon Castle--you know
the historical anecdote. Never saw finer teeth, upon my reputation. Are you
ladies, may I ask, for I've friends in both divisions--are you North or
South Wales, eh, eh?"
"South, sir. Llansillen."
"Ay, South. The most picturesque certainly. Llansillen, Llansillen; know
it; know everybody ten miles round. Respectable people--all--very; most
respectable people come up from Wales continually. Some of our best blood
from Wales, as a great personage observed lately to me,--Thick, thick! not
thicker blood than the Welsh. His late Majesty, _a-propos_, was pleased to
say to me once--"
"But," interrupted Miss Clarendon, "what do you say to my tooth?"
"Sound as a roach, my dear ma'am; I will insure it for a thousand pounds."
"But that, the tooth you touch, is not the tooth I mean: pray look at this,
"Excuse me, my dear madam, a little in my light," said he to the aunt. "May
I beg the favour of your name?"
"Pennant! ah! ah! ah!" with his hands in uplifted admiration--"I thought
so--Pennant. I said so to myself, for I know so many Pennants--great family
resemblance--Great naturalist of that name--any relation? Oh yes--No--I
thought so from the first. Yes--and can assure you, to my private certain
knowledge, that man stood high on the pinnacle of favour with a certain
royal personage,--for, often sitting in this very chair--
"Keep your mouth open--a little longer--little wider, my good Miss Pennant.
Here's a little something for me to do, nothing of any consequence--only
touch and go--nothing to be taken away, no, no, must not lose one of these
fine teeth. That most illustrious personage said one day to me, sitting
in this very chair--'Swift,' said he, 'St. Leger Swift,' familiarly,
condescendingly, colloquially--'St. Leger Swift, my good fellow,' said he--
"But positively, my dear Miss--um, um, if you have not patience--you must
sit still--pardon me, professionally I must be peremptory. Impossible
I could hurt--can't conceive--did not touch--only making a
perquisition--inquisition--say what you please, but you are nervous, ma'am;
I am only taking a general survey.
"A-propos--general survey--General--a friend of mine, General Clarendon is
just come to town. My ears must have played me false, but I thought my man
said something like Clarendon when he showed you up."
No answer from Miss Clarendon, who held her mouth open wide, as desired,
resolved not to satisfy his curiosity, but to let him blunder on. "Be that
as it may, General Clarendon's come to town--fine teeth he has too--and a
fine kettle of fish--not very elegant, but expressive still--he and his
ward have made, of that marriage announced. Fine young man, though, that
Beauclerc--finest young man, almost, I ever saw!"
But here Mr. St. Leger Swift, starting suddenly, withdrawing his hand from
Miss Clarendon's mouth, exclaimed,--
"My finger, ma'am! but never mind, never mind, all in the day's work.
Casualty--contingencies--no consequence. But as I was saying, Mr. Granville
Then poured out, on the encouragement of one look of curiosity from Mrs.
Pennant, all the _on dits_ of Lady Katrine Hawksby, and all her chorus, and
all the best authorities; and St. Leger Swift was ready to pledge himself
to the truth of every word. He positively knew that the marriage was off,
and thought, as everybody did, that the young gentleman was well off too;
for besides the young lady's great fortune turning out not a _sous_--and
here he supplied the half-told tale by a drawn-up ugly face and shrugging
"Shocking! shocking! all came to an _eclat--esclandre_; a scene quite, last
night, I am told, at my friend Lady Castlefort's. Sad--sad--so young a
lady! But to give you a general idea, love letters to come out in the
Memoirs of that fashionable Roue--friend of mine too--fine fellow as
ever breathed--only a little--you understand; Colonel D'Aubigny--Poor
D'Atibigny, heigho!--only if the book comes out--Miss Stanley--"
Mrs. Pennant looked at her niece in benevolent anxiety; Miss Clarendon was
firmly silent; but St. Leger, catching from the expression of both ladies'
countenances, that they were interested in the contrary direction to what
he had anticipated, turned to the right about, and observed,--
"This may be all scandal, one of the innumerable daily false reports that
are always flying about town; scandal all, I have no doubt--Your head a
little to the right, if you please--And the publication will be stopped,
of course, and the young lady's friends--you are interested for her, I see;
so am I--always am for the young and fair, that's my foible; and indeed,
confidentially I can inform you--If you could keep your head still, my dear
But Miss Clarendon could bear it no longer; starting from under his hand,
she exclaimed, "No more, thank you--no more at present, sir: we can call
another day--no more:" and added as she hastily left the room, "Better
bear the toothache," and ran down stairs. Mrs. Pennant slipped into the
dentist's hand, as he pulled the bell, a double fee; for though she did not
quite think he deserved it much, yet she felt it necessary to make amends
for her niece's way of running off, which might not be thought quite civil.
"Thank you, ma'am--thank ye, ma'am--not the least occasion--don't say
a word about it--Young lady's nervous, said so from the first. Nerves!
nerves! all--open the door there--Nerves all," were the last words, at the
top of the stairs, St. Leger Swift was heard to say.
And the first words of kind Mrs. Pennant, as soon as she was in the
carriage and had drawn up the glass, were, "Do you know, Esther, my dear, I
am quite sorry for this poor Miss Stanley. Though I don't know her, yet,
as you described her to me, she was such a pretty, young, interesting
creature! I am quite sorry."
"I don't believe a word of it," said Miss Clarendon.
"But even to have such things said must be so distressing to her and to her
lover, your friend Mr. Beauclerc--so very distressing!"
"I hope they are not such fools as to be distressed about such stuff. All
this insufferable talking man's invention, I dare say."
"Why do people tell such things?" said Mrs. Pennant. "But, my dear Esther,
even supposing it to be all false, it is shocking to have such things
spoken of. I pity the poor young lady and her lover. Do you not think, my
dear, we shall be able to inquire into the truth of the matter from your
brother this evening? He must know, he ought to know about it: whether
the report be true or false, he should hear of it. He can best judge what
should be done, if any thing should be done, my dear."
Miss Clarendon quite agreed with all this; indeed she almost always agreed
with this aunt of hers, who, perhaps from the peculiar gentleness of her
manner, joined to a simplicity and sincerity of character she could never
doubt, had an ascendency over her, which no one, at first view, could have
imagined. They had many country commissions to execute this morning,
which naturally took up a good deal of aunt Pennant's attention. But
between each return from shop to carriage, in the intervals between one
commission off her hands and another on her mind, she returned regularly
to "that poor Miss Stanley, and those love-letters!" and she sighed. Dear
kind-hearted old lady! she had always a heart, as well as a hand, open as
day to melting charity--charity in the most enlarged sense of the word:
charity in judging as well as charity in giving. She was all indulgence for
human nature, for youth and love especially.
"We must take care, my dear Esther," said she, "to be at General
Clarendon's early, as you will like to have some little time with him to
yourself before any one else arrives--shall you not, my dear?"
"Certainly," replied Miss Clarendon; "I shall learn the truth from my
brother in five minutes, if Lady Cecilia does not come between us."
"Nay, my dear Esther, I cannot think so ill of Lady Cecilia; I cannot
"No, my dear aunt, I know you cannot think ill of any body. Stay till you
know Lady Cecilia Clarendon as I do. If there is any thing wrong in this
business, you will find that some falsehood of hers is at the bottom of
"Oh, my dear, do not say so before you know; perhaps, as you thought at
first, we shall find that it is all only a mistake of that giddy dentist's;
for your brother's sake try to think as well as you can of his wife; she is
a charming agreeable creature, I am sure."
"You've only seen her once, my dear aunt," said Miss Clarendon. "For my
brother's sake I would give up half her agreeableness for one ounce--for
one scruple--of truth."
"Well, well, take it with some grains of allowance, my dear niece; and, at
any rate, do not suffer yourself to be so prejudiced as to conceive she can
be in fault in this business."
"We shall see to-day," said Miss Clarendon; "I will not he prejudiced; but
I remember hearing at Florence that this Colonel D'Aubigny had been an
admirer of Lady Cecilia's. I will get at the truth."
With this determination, and in pursuance of the resolve to be early, they
were at General Clarendon's full a quarter of an hour before the arrival
of any other company; but Lady Cecilia entered so immediately after the
general, that Miss Clarendon had no time to speak with her brother alone.
Determined, however, as she was, to get at the truth, without preface, or
even smoothing her way to her object, she rushed into the middle of things
at once. "Have you heard any reports about Miss Stanley, brother?"
"And you, Lady Cecilia?"
"What have you heard?"
Lady Cecilia was silent, looked at the general, and left it to him to speak
as much or as little as he pleased. She trusted to his laconic mode of
answering, which, without departing from truth, defied curiosity. Her trust
in him upon the present occasion was, however, a little disturbed by her
knowledge of his being at this moment particularly displeased with Helen.
But, had she known the depths as well as she knew the surface of his
character, her confidence in his caution would have been increased, instead
of being diminished by this circumstance: Helen was lost in his esteem, but
she was still under his protection; her secrets were not only sacred, but,
as far as truth and honour could admit, he would still serve and save her.
Impenetrable, therefore, was his look, and brief was his statement to his
sister. A rascally bookseller had been about to publish a book, in which
were some letters which paragraphs in certain papers had led the public
to believe were Miss Stanley's; the publication had been stopped, the
offensive chapter suppressed, and the whole impression destroyed."
"But, brother," pursued Miss Clarendon, "were the letters Miss Stanley's,
or not? You know I do not ask from idle curiosity, but from regard for Miss
Stanley;" and she turned her inquiring eyes full upon Lady Cecilia.
"I believe, my dear Esther," said Lady Cecilia, "I believe we had better
say no more; you had better inquire no further."
"That must be a bad case which can bear no inquiry," said Miss Clarendon;
"which cannot admit any further question, even from one most disposed to
think well of the person concerned--a desperately bad case."
"Bad! no, Esther. It would be cruel of you so to conclude: and falsely it
would be--might be; indeed, Esther! my dear Esther!----" Her husband's eyes
were upon Lady Cecilia, and she did not dare to justify Helen decidedly;
her imploring look and tone, and her confusion, touched the kind aunt, hut
did not stop the impenetrable niece.
"Falsely, do you say? Do you say, Lady Cecilia, that it would be to
conclude falsely? Perhaps not falsely though, upon the data given to me.
The data may be false."
"Data! I do not know what you mean exactly, Esther," said Lady Cecilia, in
"I mean exactly what I say," pursued Miss Clarendon; "that if I reason
wrong, and come to a false conclusion, or what you call a cruel conclusion,
it is not my fault, but the fault of those who do not plainly tell me the
She looked from Lady Cecilia to her brother, and from her brother to Lady
Cecilia. On her brother no effect was produced: calm, unalterable, looked
he; as though his face had been turned to stone. Lady Cecilia struggled
in vain to be composed. "I wish I could tell you, Esther," said she; "but
facts cannot always--all facts--even the most innocent--that is, even with
the best intentions--cannot always be all told, even in the defence of
one's best friend."
"If this be the best defence you can make for your best friend, I am glad
you will never have to defend me, and I am sorry for Helen Stanley."
"Oh, my dear Esther!" said her aunt, with a remonstrating look; for, though
she had not distinctly heard all that was said, she saw that things were
going wrong, and that Esther was making them worse. "Indeed, Esther, my
dear, we had better let this matter rest."
"Let this matter rest!" repeated Miss Clarendon; "that is not what you
would say, my dear aunt, if you were to hear any evil report of me. If any
suspicion fell like a blast on my character you would never say 'let it
Fire lighted in her brother's eyes, and the stone face was all animated,
and he looked sudden sympathy, and he cried, "You are right, sister, in
principle, but wrong in--fact."
"Set me right where only I am wrong then," cried she.
He turned to stone again, and her aunt in a low voice, said, "Not now."
"Now or never," said the sturdy champion; "it is for Miss Stanley's
character. You are interested for her, are not you, aunt?" "Certainly, I am
indeed; but we do not know all the circumstances--we cannot--"
"But we must. You do not know, brother, how public these reports are. Mr.
St. Leger Swift, the dentist, has been chattering to us all morning about
them. So, to go to the bottom of the business at once, will you, Lady
Cecilia, answer me one straight-forward question?"
Straight-forward question! what is coming? thought Lady Cecilia: her face
flushed, and taking up a hand-screen, she turned away, as if from the
scorching fire; but it was not a scorching fire, as everybody, or at least
as Miss Clarendon, could see. The face turned away from Miss Clarendon was
full in view of aunt Pennant, who was on her other side; and she, seeing
the distressed state of the countenance, pitied, and gently laying her hand
upon Lady Cecilia's arm, said, in her soft low voice, "This must be a very
painful subject to you, Lady Cecilia. I am sorry for you."
"Thank you," said Lady Cecilia, pressing her hand with quick gratitude for
her sympathy. "It is indeed to me a painful subject, for Helen has been my
friend from childhood, and I have so much reason for loving her!"
Many contending emotions struggled in Cecilia's countenance, and she could
say no more: but what she had said, what she had looked, had been quite
enough to interest tenderly in her favour that kind heart to which it was
addressed; and Cecilia's feeling was true at the instant; she forgot
all but Helen; the screen was laid down; tears stood in her eyes--those
beautiful eyes! "If I could but tell you the whole--oh if I could! without
Miss Clarendon at this moment placed herself close opposite to Cecilia,
and, speaking so low that neither her brother nor her aunt could hear her,
said, "Without destroying yourself, or your friend--which?"
Lady Cecilia could not speak.
"You need not--I am answered," said Miss Clarendon; and returning to her
place, she remained silent for some minutes.
The general rang, and inquired if Mr. Beauclerc had come in.
The general made no observation and then began some indifferent
conversation with Mrs. Pennant, in which Lady Cecilia forced herself to
join; she dreaded even Miss Clarendon's silence--that grim repose,--and
well she might.
"D'Aubigny's Memoirs, I think, was the title of the book, aunt, that the
dentist talked of? That is the book you burnt, is not it, brother?--a
chapter in that book?"
"Yes," said the general.
And again Miss Clarendon was silent; for though she well recollected what
she had heard at Florence, and however strong were her suspicions, she
might well pause; for she loved her brother before every thing but truth
and justice,--she loved her brother too much to disturb his confidence.
"I have no proof," thought she; "I might destroy his happiness by another
word, and I may be wrong."
"But shall not we see Miss Stanley?" said Mrs. Pennant.
Lady Cecilia was forced to explain that Helen was not very well, would not
appear till after dinner--nothing very much the matter--a little faintish.
"Fainted," said the general.
"Yes, quite worn out--she was at Lady Castlefort's last night--such a
crowd!" She went on to describe its city horrors.
"But where is Mr. Beauclerc all this time?" said Miss Clarendon: "has he
fainted too? or is he faintish?"
"Not likely," said Lady Cecilia; "faint heart never won fair lady. He is
not of the faintish sort."
At this moment a thundering knock at the door announced the rest of the
company, and never was company more welcome. But Beauclerc did not appear.
Before dinner was served, however, a note came from him to the general.
Lady Cecilia stretched out her hand for it, and read,
"MY DEAR FRIENDS,--I am obliged to dine out of town. I shall not return
to-night, but you will see me at breakfast-time to-morrow. Yours ever,
Cockburn now entered with a beautiful bouquet of hot-house flowers, which,
he said, Mr. Beauclerc's man had brought with the note, and which were, he
said, for Miss Stanley. Lady Cecilia's countenance grew radiant with joy,
and she exclaimed, "Give them to me,--I must have the pleasure of taking
them to her myself."
And she flew off with them. Aunt Pennant smiled on her as she passed, and,
turning to her niece as Lady Cecilia left the room, said, "What a bright
creature! so warm, so affectionate!" Miss Clarendon was indeed struck with
the indisputably natural sincere satisfaction and affection in Cecilia's
countenance; and, herself of such a different nature, could not comprehend
the possibility of such contradiction in any character: she could not
imagine the existence of such variable, transitory feelings--she could not
believe any human being capable of sacrificing her friend to save herself,
while she still so loved her victim, could still feel such generous
sympathy for her. She determined at least to suspend her judgment; she
granted Lady Cecilia a reprieve from her terrific questions and her as
terrific looks. Cecilia recovered her presence of mind, and dinner went
off delightfully, to her at least, with the sense of escape in recovered
self-possession, and "spirits light, to every joy in tune."
From the good-breeding of the company there was no danger that the topic
she dreaded should be touched upon. Whatever reports might have gone forth,
whatever any one present might have heard, nothing would assuredly be
said of her friend Miss Stanley, to her, or before her, unless she or
the general introduced the subject; and she was still more secure of his
discretion than of her own. The conversation kept safe on London-dinner
generalities and frivolities. Yet often things that were undesignedly said
touched upon the _taboo'd_ matter; and those who knew when, where, and how
it touched, looked at or from one another, and almost equally dangerous was
either way of looking. Such perfect neutrality of expression is not given
to all men in these emergencies as to General Clarendon.
The dessert over, out of the dinner-room and in the drawing-room, the
ladies alone together, things were not so pleasant to Lady Cecilia.
Curiosity peeped out more and more in great concern about Miss Stanley's
health; and when ladies trifled over their coffee, and saw through all
things with their half-shut eyes, they asked, and Lady Cecilia answered,
and parried, and explained, and her conscience winced, and her countenance
braved, and Miss Clarendon listened with that dreadfully good memory,
that positive point-blank recollection, which permits not the slightest
variation of statement. Her doubts and her suspicions returned, but she was
silent; and sternly silent she remained the rest of the evening.
If "trifles light as air are to the jealous confirmations strong as proofs
of Holy Writ," and that they are no one since the time of Othello could
ever doubt, it may be some consolation to observe, on the credit side of
human nature, that, to those who are not cursed with a jealous infirmity,
trifles light as air are often confirmations strong of the constancy of
affection. Well did Lady Cecilia know this when she was so eager to be the
bearer of the flowers which were sent by Beauclerc. She foresaw and enjoyed
the instant effect, the quick smile, and blush of delight with which that
bouquet was received by Helen.
"Oh, thank you! How kind of him!" and "all's well," was her immediate
conclusion. When she saw his note, she never even took notice that he did
not particularly mention her. The flowers from him were enough; she knew
his sincerity so well, trusted to it so completely, that she was quite
sure, if he had been angry with her, he would not have sent these tokens
of his love,--slight tokens, though they were all-sufficient for her. Her
fears had taken but one direction, and in that direction they were all
dispelled. He would be at breakfast to-morrow, when she should know where
he had been, and what had detained him from her the whole of this day. She
told Cecilia that she was now quite well, but that she would not attempt to
go down stairs. And Cecilia left her happy, so far at least; and when she
was alone with her flowers, she doubly enjoyed them, inhaling the fragrance
of each which she knew he particularly liked, and thanking him in her heart
for the careful choice, for she was certain that they were not accidentally
put together. Some of them were associated with little circumstances known
only to themselves, awakening recollections of bright, happy moments, and
selected, she was sure, with reference to a recent conversation they had
had on the language of flowers.
Whether Helen fancied half this, or whether it was all true, it had the
effect of soothing and pleasing her anxious, agitated mind; and she was
the more ready to indulge in that pleasant reverie, from all that she had
previously suffered herself, and all that she feared Beauclerc had yet to
endure. She knew too well how much these reports would affect him--and hear
them he must. She considered what trials he had already borne, and might
still have to bear, for her sake, whatever course she might now pursue.
Though soon, very soon, the whole would be told to him, yet still, though
she might stand clear in his eyes as to the main points, he must, and would
blame her weakness in first consenting to this deception--he who was above
deceit. She had not absolutely _told_, but she had _admitted_ a falsehood;
she had _acted_ a falsehood. This she could not extenuate. Her motive
at first, to save Lady Davenant's life, was good; but then her weakness
afterwards, in being persuaded time after time by Cecilia, could not well
be excused. She was conscious that she had sunk step by step, dragged down
that slippery path by Cecilia, instead of firmly making a stand, as she
ought to have done, and up-holding by her own integrity her friend's
failing truth. With returning anguish of self-reproach, she went over and
over these thoughts; she considered the many unforeseen circumstances that
had occurred. So much public shame, so much misery had been brought upon
herself and on all she loved, by this one false step! And how much more
might still await her, notwithstanding all that best of friends, the
general, had done! She recollected how much he had done for her!--thinking
of her too, as he must, with lowered esteem, and that was the most painful
thought of all;--to Beauclerc she could and would soon clear her truth, but
to the general--never, perhaps, completely!
Her head was leaning on her hand, as she was sitting deep in these
thoughts, when she was startled by an unusual knock at her door. It was
Cockburn with a packet, which General Clarendon had ordered him to deliver
into Miss Stanley's own hands. The instant she saw the packet she knew that
it contained _the book;_ and on opening it she found manuscript letters
inserted between the marked pages, and there was a note from General
Clarendon. She trembled--she foreboded ill.
The note began by informing Miss Stanley how the enclosed manuscript
letters came into General Clarendon's hands from a person whom Miss Stanley
had obliged, and who had hoped in return to do her some service. The
general next begged Miss Stanley to understand that these letters had been
put into his possession since his conversation with her at breakfast time;
his only design in urging her to mark her share in the printed letters had
been to obtain her authority for serving her to the best of his ability;
but he had since compared them:--and then came references, without
comment, to the discrepancies between the marked passages, the uniform
character of the omissions, followed only by a single note of admiration at
each from the general's pen. And at last, in cold polite phrase, came his
regret that he had not been able to obtain that confidence which he had
trusted he had deserved, and his renunciation of all future interference in
her affairs--_or concerns_, had been written, but a broad dash of the pen
had erased the superfluous words; and then came the inevitable conclusion,
on which Helen's eyes fixed, and remained immovable for some time--that
determination which General Clarendon had announced to his wife in the
first heat of indignation, but which, Lady Cecilia had hoped, could be
evaded, changed, postponed--would not at least be so suddenly declared to
Helen; therefore she had given her no hint, had in no way prepared her
for the blow,--and with the full force of astonishment it came upon
her--"General Clarendon cannot have the pleasure he had proposed to
himself, of giving Miss Stanley at the altar to his ward. He cannot by any
public act of his attest his consent to that marriage, of which, in his
private opinion, he no longer approves."
"And he is right. O Cecilia!" was Helen's first thought, when she could
think after this shock--not of her marriage, not of herself, not of
Beauclerc, but of Cecilia's falsehood--Cecilia's selfish cowardice, she
thought, and could not conceive it possible,--could not believe it,
though it was there. "Incredible--yet proved--there--there--before her
eyes-brought home keen to her heart! after all! at such a time--after her
most solemn promise, with so little temptation, so utterly false--with
every possible motive that a good mind could have to be true--in this last
trial--her friend's whole character at stake--ungenerous--base! O Cecilia!
how different from what I thought you--or how changed! And I have helped
to bring her to this!--I--I have been the cause.--I will not stay in this
house--I will leave her. To save her--to save myself--save my own truth
and my own real character--let the rest go as it will--the world think
what it may! Farther and farther, lower and lower, I have gone: I will not
go lower--I will struggle up again at any risk, at any sacrifice. This is a
sacrifice Lady Davenant would approve of: she said that if ever I should
be convinced that General Clarendon did not wish me to be his guest--if he
should ever cease to esteem me--I should go, that instant--and I will go.
But where? To whom could she fly, to whom turn? The Collingwoods were gone;
all her uncle's friends passed rapidly through her recollection. Since
she had been living with General and Lady Cecilia Clarendon, several had
written to invite her; but Helen knew a little more of the world now than
formerly, and she felt that there was not one, no, not one of all these, to
whom she could now, at her utmost need, turn and say, 'I am in distress,
receive me! my character is attacked, defend me! my truth is doubted,
believe in me!'" And, her heart beating with anxiety, she tried to think
what was to be done. There was an old Mrs. Medlicott, who had been a
housekeeper of her uncle's, living at Seven Oaks--she would go there--she
should be safe--she should be independent. She knew that she was then in
town, and was to go to Seven Oaks the next day; she resolved to send Rose
early in the morning to Mrs. Medlicott's lodging, which was near Grosvenor
Square, to desire her to call at General Clarendon's as she went out of
town, at eight o'clock. She could then go with her to Seven Oaks; and, by
setting out before Cecilia could be up, she should avoid seeing her again.
There are minds which totally sink, and others that wonderfully rise, under
the urgency of strong motive and of perilous circumstance. It is not always
the mind apparently strongest or most daring that stands the test. The
firm of principle are those most courageous in time of need. Helen had
determined what her course should be, and, once determined, she was calm.
She sat down and wrote to General Clarendon.
"Miss STANLEY regrets that she cannot explain to General Clarendon the
circumstances which have so much displeased him. She assures him that no
want of confidence has been, on her part, the cause; but she cannot expect
that, without further explanation, he should give her credit for sincerity.
She feels that with his view of her conduct, and in his situation, his
determination is right,--that it is what she has deserved,--that it is just
towards his ward and due to his own character. She hopes, however, that he
will not think it necessary to announce to Mr. Beauclerc his determination
of withdrawing his approbation and consent to his marriage, when she
informs him that it will now never be by her claimed or accepted. She
trusts that General Clarendon will permit her to take upon herself the
breaking off this union. She encloses a letter to Mr. Beauclerc, which she
begs may be given to him to-morrow. General Clarendon will find she has
dissolved their engagement as decidedly as he could desire, and that her
decision will be irrevocable. And since General Clarendon has ceased to
esteem her, Miss Stanley cannot longer accept his protection, or encroach
upon his hospitality. She trusts that he will not consider it as any want
of respect, that she has resolved to retire from his family as soon as
possible. She is certain of having a safe and respectable home with a
former housekeeper of her uncle Dean Stanley's, who will call for her at
eight o'clock to-morrow, and take her to Seven Oaks, where she resides.
Miss Stanley has named that early hour, that she may not meet Mr. Beauclerc
before she goes; she wishes also to avoid the struggle and agony of parting
with Lady Cecilia. She entreats General Clarendon will prevent Lady Cecilia
from attempting to see her in the morning, and permit her to go unobserved
out of the house at her appointed hour.
"So now farewell, my dear friend--yes, friend, this last time you must
permit me to call you; for such I feel you have ever been, and ever
would have been, to me, if my folly would have permitted. Believe
me--notwithstanding the deception of which I acknowledge I have been guilty
towards you, General Clarendon--I venture to say, _believe me_, I am not
ungrateful. At this instant my heart swells with gratitude, while I pray
that you may be happy--happy as you deserve to be. But you will read this
with disdain, as mere idle words: so be it. Farewell! HELEN STANLEY."
Next, she was to write to Beauclerc himself. Her letter was as follows:--
"With my whole heart, dear Granville, I thank you for the generous
confidence you have shown towards me, and for the invariable steadiness
of your faith and love. For your sake, I rejoice. One good has at least
resulted from the trials you have gone through: you must now and hereafter
feel sure of your own strength of mind. With me it has been different,
for I have not a strong mind. I have been all weakness, and must now be