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It was a delightful day, sun shining, not too hot, air balmy, birds singing, all nature gay; and the happy influence was quickly felt by the riding party. Unpleasant thoughts of the past or future, if any such had been, were now lost in present enjoyment. The general, twice a man on horseback, as he always felt himself, managed his own and Helen's horse to admiration, and Cecilia, riding on with Beauclerc, was well pleased to hear his first observation, that he had been quite wrong last night, in not acknowledging that Miss Stanley was beautiful. "People look so different by daylight and by candlelight," said he; "and so different when one does not know them at all, and when one begins to know something of them."
"But what can you know yet of Helen?"
"One forms some idea of character from trifles light as air. How delightful this day is!"
"And now you really allow she may be called beautiful?"
"Yes, that is, with some expression of mind, heart, soul, which is what I look for in general," said Beauclerc.
"In general, what can you mean by in general?"
"Not in particular; in particular cases I might think—I—I might feel— otherwise."
"In particular, then, do you like fools that have no mind, heart, or soul, Granville?—Answer me."
"Take care," said he, "that horse is too spirited for a lady."
"Not for me," said Lady Cecilia; "but do not think you shall get off so; what did you mean?"
"My meaning lies too deep for the present occasion."
"For the present company—eh?"
Beauclerc half smiled and answered—"You know you used to tell me that you hated long discussions on words and nice distinctions."
"Well, well, but let me have the nice distinction now."
"Between love and friendship, then, there is a vast difference in what one wishes for in a woman's face; there are, 'faces which pale passion loves.'" "To the right, turn," the general's voice far behind was heard to say.
To the right they turned, into a glade of the park, which opened to a favourite view of the general's, to which Cecilia knew that all attention must be paid. He came up, and they proceeded through a wood which had been planted by his father, and which seemed destined to stand for ever secure from sacrilegious axe. The road led them next into a village, one of the prettiest of that sort of scattered English villages, where each habitation seems to have been suited to the fancy as well as to the convenience of each proprietor; giving an idea at once of comfort and liberty, such as can be seen only in England. Happy England, how blest, would she but know her bliss!
This village was inhabited by the general's tenants. His countenance brightened and expanded, as did theirs, whenever he came amongst them; he saw them happy, and they knew that they owed their happiness in just proportion to their landlord and themselves; therefore there was a comfortable mixture in their feelings of gratitude and self-respect. Some old people who were sitting on the stone benches, sunning themselves at their doors, rose as he passed, cap in hand, with cordial greeting. The oldest man, the father of the village, forgot his crutch as he came forward to see his landlord's bride, and to give him joy. At every house where they stopped, out came husband, wife, and children, even "wee toddling things;" one of these, while the general was speaking to its mother, made its way frightfully close to his horse's heels: Helen saw it, and called to the mother. The general, turning and leaning back on his horse, said to the bold little urchin as the mother snatched him up, "My boy, as long as you live never again go behind a horse's heels."
"And remember, it was general Clarendon gave you this advice," added Beauclerc, and turning to Lady Cecilia—"'Et souvenez vous que c'est Maréchal Turenne qui vous l'a dit.'"
While the general searched for that English memento, six-pence, Lady Cecilia repeated, "Marshal Turenne! I do not understand."
"Yes, if you recollect," said Helen, "you do."
"I dare say I know, but I don't remember," said Cecilia. "It was only," said Helen, "that the same thing had happened to Marshal Turenne, that he gave the same advice to a little child."
Lady Cecilia said she owed Beauclerc an acknowledgment down to her saddle-bow, for the compliment to her general, and a bow at least as low to Ellen, for making her comprehend it; and, having paid both debts with graceful promptitude, she observed, in an aside to Beauclerc, that she quite agreed with him, that "In friendship it was good not to have to do with fools."
"It is always permitted," continued Cecilia, "to woman to use her intellects so far as to comprehend what man says; her knowledge, of whatever sort, never comes amiss when it serves only to illustrate what is said by one of the lords of the creation. Let us note this, my dear Ellen, as a general maxim, for future use, and pray, since you have so good a memory, remember to tell mamma, who says I never generalise, that this morning I have actually made and established a philosophical maxim, one that may be of some use too, which cannot be said of all reflections, general or particular."
They rode on through a lane bright and fragrant with primroses and violets; gradually winding, this lane opened at last upon the beautiful banks of the Thames, whose "silver bosom" appeared at once before them in the bright sunshine, silent, flowing on, seeming, as Beauclerc said, as if it would for ever flow on unaltered in full, broad, placid dignity. "Here," he exclaimed, as they paused to contemplate the view, "the throng of commerce, the ponderous barge, the black steam-boat, the hum and din of business, never have violated the mighty current. No lofty bridge insultingly over-arches it, no stone-built wharf confines it; nothing but its own banks, coeval with itself and like itself, uncontaminated by the petty uses of mankind!—they spread into large parks, or are hung with thick woods, as nature wills. No citizen's box, no chimera villa destroys the idea of repose; but nature, uninterrupted, carries on her own operations in field, and flood, and tree."
The general, less poetically inclined, would name to Helen all the fine places within view—"Residences," as he practically remarked, "such as cannot be seen in any country in the world but England; and not only fine places such as these, but from the cottage to the palace—'the homes of Old England' are the best homes upon earth."
"The most candid and sensible of all modern French travellers," said Beauclerc, "was particularly struck with the superiority of our English country residences, and the comfort of our homes."
"You mean M. de Staël?" said the general; "true English sense in that book, I allow."
When the general and Beauclerc did agree in opinion about a book, which was not a circumstance of frequent occurrence, they were mutually delighted; one always feeling the value of the other's practical sense, and the other then acknowledging that literature is good for something. Beauclerc in the fulness of his heart, and abundance of his words, began to expatiate on M. de Staël's merits, in having better than any foreigner understood the actual workings and balances of the British constitution, that constitution so much talked of abroad, and so little understood.
"So little understood any where," said the general.
Reasonably as Beauclerc now spoke, Helen formed a new idea of his capacity, and began to think more respectfully even of his common sense, than when she had heard him in the Beltravers cause. He spoke of the causes of England's prosperity, the means by which she maintains her superiority among nations—her equal laws and their just administration. He observed, that the hope which every man born in England, even in the lowest station, may have of rising by his own merits to the highest eminence, forms the great spring of industry and talent. He agreed with the intelligent foreigner's observation, that the aristocracy of talent is superior in England to the aristocracy of birth.
The general seemed to demur at the word superior, drew himself up, but said nothing in contradiction.
"Industry, and wealth, and education, and fashion, all emulous, act in England beneficially on each other," continued Beauclerc.
The general sat at ease again.
"And above all," pursued Beauclerc,—"above all, education and the diffusion of knowledge——"
"Knowledge—yes, but take care of what kind," said his guardian. "All kinds are good," said Beauclerc.
"No, only such as are safe," said the general. The march of intellect was not a favourite march with him, unless the step were perfectly kept, and all in good time.
But now, on passing a projecting bend in the wood, they came within sight of a place in melancholy contrast to all they had just admired. A park of considerable extent, absolutely bereft of trees, except a few ragged firs on each side of a large dilapidated mansion, on the summit of a bleak hill: it seemed as if a great wood had once been there.
"Old Forest!" exclaimed the general; "Old Forest, now no more! Many a happy hour, when I was a boy, have I spent shooting in those woods," and he pointed to where innumerable stumps of trees, far as the eye could reach, marked where the forest had once stood: some of the white circles on the ground showed the magnificent size of those newly felled. Beauclerc was quite silent.
The general led the way on to the great gate of entrance: the porter's lodge was in ruins.
A huge rusty padlock hung upon one of the gates, which had been dragged half open, but, the hinge having sunk, there it stuck—the gate could not be opened further. The other could not be stirred without imminent hazard of bringing down the pier on which it hung, and which was so crazy, the groom said, "he was afraid, if he shook it never so little, all would come down together."
"Let it alone," said the general, in the tone of one resolved to be patient; "there is room enough for us to get in one by one—Miss Stanley, do not be in a hurry, if you please; follow me quietly."
In they filed. The avenue, overgrown with grass, would have been difficult to find, but for deep old cart-ruts which still marked the way. But soon, fallen trees, and lopped branches, dragged many a rood and then left there, made it difficult to pass. And there lay exposed the white bodies of many a noble tree, some wholly, some half, stripped of their bark, some green in decay, left to the weather—and every here and there little smoking pyramids of burning charcoal.
As they approached the house—"How changed," said the general, "from that once cheerful hospitable mansion!"—It was a melancholy example of a deserted home: the plaster dropping off, the cut stone green, the windows broken, the shutters half shut, the way to the hall-door steps blocked up. They were forced to go round through the yards. Coach-houses and stables, grand ranges, now all dilapidated. Only one yelping cur in the great kennel. The back-door being ajar, the general pushed it open, and they went in, and on to the great kitchen, where they found in the midst of wood smoke one little old woman, whom they nearly scared out of her remaining senses. She stood and stared. Beauclerc stepped towards her to explain; but she was deaf: he raised his voice—in vain. She was made to comprehend by the general, whose voice, known in former times, reached her heart—"that they only came to see the place."
"See the place! ah! a sad sight to see." Her eyes reverted to Beauclerc, and, conceiving that he was the young lord himself, she waxed pale, and her head shook fearfully; but, when relieved from this mistake, she went forward to show them over the house.
As they proceeded up the great staircase, she confided to her friend, the general, that she was glad it was not the young lord, for she was told he was a fiery man, and she dreaded his coming unawares.
Lady Cecilia asked if she did not know him?
No, she had never seen him since he was a little fellow: "he has been always roaming about, like the rest, in foreign parts, and has never set foot in the place since he came to man's estate."
As the general passed a window on the landing-place, he looked out.— "You are missing the great elm, Sir. Ah! I remember you here, a boy; you was always good. It was the young lord ordered specially the cutting of that, which I could not stomach; the last of the real old trees! Well, well! I'm old and foolish—I'm old and foolish, and I should not talk."
But still she talked on, and as this seemed her only comfort, they would not check her garrulity. In the hope that they were come to take the house, she now bustled as well as she could, to show all to the best advantage, but bad was the best now, as she sorrowfully said. She was very unwilling that the gentlemen should go up to inspect the roof. They went, however; and the general saw and estimated, and Beauclerc saw and hoped.
The general, recollecting the geography of the house, observed that she had not shown them what used to be the picture-gallery, which looked out on the terrace; he desired to see it. She reluctantly obeyed; and, after trying sundry impossible keys, repeating all the while that her heart was broke, that she wished it had pleased God never to give her a heart, unlock the door she could not in her trepidation. Beauclerc gently took the keys from her, and looked so compassionately upon her, that she God- blessed him, and thought it a pity her young lord was not like him; and while he dealt with the lock, Lady Cecilia, saying they would trouble her no further, slipped into her hand what she thought would be some comfort. The poor old creature thanked her ladyship, but said gold could be of no use to her now in life; she should soon let the parish bury her, and be no cost to the young lord. She could forgive many things, she said, but she could never forgive him for parting with the old pictures. She turned away as the gallery-door opened.
One only old daub of a grandmother was there; all the rest had been sold, and their vacant places remained discoloured on the walls. There were two or three dismembered old chairs, the richly dight windows broken, the floor rat-eaten. The general stood and looked, and did not sigh, but absolutely groaned. They went to the shattered glass door, which looked out upon the terrace—that terrace which had cost thousands of pounds to raise, and he called Cecilia to show her the place where the youngsters used to play, and to point out some of his favourite haunts.
"It is most melancholy to see a family-place so gone to ruin," said Beauclerc; "if it strikes us so much, what must it be to the son of this family, to come back to the house of his ancestors, and find it thus desolate! Poor Beltravers!"
The expression of the general's eye changed.
"I am sure you must pity him, my dear general," continued Beauclerc.
"I might, had he done any thing to prevent, or had he done less to hasten, this ruin."
"How? he should not have cut down the trees, do you mean?—but it was to pay his father's debts——" "And his own," said the general.
"He told me his father's, sir."
"And I tell you his own."
"Even so," said Beauclerc, "debts are not crimes for which we ought to shut the gates of mercy on our fellow-creatures—and so young a man as Beltravers, left to himself, without a home, his family abroad, no parent, no friend—no guardian friend."
"But what is it you would do, Beauclerc?" said the general.
"What you must wish to be done," said Beauclerc. "Repair this ruin, restore this once hospitable mansion, and put it in the power of the son to be what his ancestors have been."
"But how—my dear Beauclerc? Tell me plainly—how?"
"Plainly, I would lend him money enough to make this house fit to live in."
"And he would never repay you, and would never live in it."
"He would, sir—he promised me he would."
"And I promised him that I would lend him the money."
"Promised! Beauclerc? Without your guardian's knowledge? Pray, how much—"
"Confound me, if I remember the words. The sense was, what would do the business; what would make the house fit for him and his sisters to live in."
"Ten thousand!—fifteen thousand would not do."
"Well, sir. You know what will be necessary better than I do. A few thousands more or less, what signifies, provided a friend be well served. The superfluous money accumulated during my long minority cannot be better employed."
"All that I have been saving for you with such care from the time your father died!"
"My dear guardian, my dear friend, do not think me ungrateful; but the fact is,—in short, my happiness does not depend, never can depend, upon money; as my friend, therefore, I beseech you to consider my moneyed interest less, and my happiness more."
"Beauclerc, you do not know what your happiness is. One hour you tell me it is one thing, the next another. What is become of the plan for the new house you wanted to build for yourself? I must have common sense for you, Beauclerc, as you have none for yourself. I shall not give you this money for Lord Beltravers."
"You forget sir, that I told you I had promised."
"You forget, Beauclerc, that I told you that such a promise, vague and absurd in itself, made without your guardian's concurrence or consent, is absolutely null and void."
"Null and void in law, perhaps it may be," cried Beauclerc; "but for that very reason, in honour, the stronger the more binding, and I am speaking to a man of honour."
"To one who can take care of his own honour," said the general.
"And of mine, I trust."
"You do well to trust it, as your father did, to me: it shall not he implicated—"
"When once I am of age," interrupted Beauclerc.
"You will do as you please," said the general. "In the mean time I shall do my duty."
"But, sir, I only ask you to let me lend this money."
"Lend—nonsense! lend to a man who cannot give any security."
"Security!" said Beauclerc, with a look of unutterable contempt. "When a friend is in distress, to talk to him like an attorney, of security! Do, pray, sir, spare me that. I would rather give the money at once."
"I make no doubt of it; then at once I say No, sir."
"No, sir! and why do you say no?"
"Because I think it my duty, and nothing I have heard has at all shaken my opinion."
"Opinion! and so I am to be put down by opinion, without any reason!" cried Beauclerc. Then trying to command his temper, "But tell me, my dear general, why I cannot have this cursed money?"
"Because, my dear Beauclerc, I am your guardian, and can say no, and can adhere to a refusal as firmly as any man living, when it is necessary."
"Yes, and when it is unnecessary. General Clarendon, according to your own estimate, fifteen thousand pounds is the utmost sum requisite to put this house in a habitable state—by that sum I abide!" "Abide!"
"Yes, I require it, to keep my promise to Beltraver's, and have it I MUST."
"Not from me."
"From some one else then, for have it I WILL.
"Dearest Clarendon," whispered Lady Cecilia, "let him have it, since he has promised——"
Without seeming to hear her whisper, without a muscle of his countenance altering, General Clarendon repeated, "Not from me."
"From some one else then—I can."
"Not while I have power to prevent."
"Power! power! power! Yes, that is what you love, above all things and all persons, and I tell you plainly, General Clarendon," pursued Beauclerc, too angry to heed or see Lady Cecilia's remonstrating looks, "at once I tell you that you have not the power. You had it. It is past and gone. The power of affection you had, if not of reason; but force, General Clarendon, despotism, can never govern me. I submit to no man's mere will, much less to any man's sheer obstinacy."
At the word obstinacy, the general's face, which was before rigid, grew hard as iron. Beauclerc walked up and down the room with great strides, and as he strode he went on talking to himself.
"To be kept from the use of my own money, treated like a child—an idiot—at my time of life! Not considered at years of discretion, when other men of the meanest capacity, by the law of the land, can do what they please with their own property! By heavens!—that will of my father's——"
"Should be respected, my dear Granville, since it was your father's will," said Lady Cecilia, joining him as he walked. "And respect——" He stopped short.
"My dear Lady Cecilia, for your sake——" he tried to restrain himself.
"Till this moment never did I say one disrespectful word to General Clarendon. I always considered him as the representative of my father; and when most galled I have borne the chains in which it was my father's pleasure to leave me. Few men of my age would have so submitted to a guardian not many years older than himself." "Yes, and indeed that should be considered," said Lady Cecilia, turning to the general.
"I have always considered General Clarendon more as my friend than my guardian."
"And have found him so, I had hoped," said the general, relaxing in tone hut not in looks.
"I have never treated you, sir, as some wards treat their guardians. I have dealt openly, as man of honour to man of honour, gentleman to gentleman, friend to friend."
"Acknowledged, and felt by me, Beauclerc."
"Then now, my dear Clarendon, grant the only request of any consequence I ever made you—say yes." Beauclerc trembled with impatience.
"No," said the general, "I have said it—No."
The gallery rung with the sound.
"No!" repeated Beauclerc.
Each walked separately up and down the room, speaking without listening to what the other said. Helen heard an offer from Beauclerc, to which she extremely wished that the general had listened. But he was deaf with determination not to yield to any thing Beauclerc could say further: the noise of passion in their ears was too great for either of them to hear the other.
Suddenly turning, Beauclerc exclaimed,—
"Borne with me, do you say? 'Tis I that have to bear—and by heavens!" cried he, "more than I can—than I will—bear. Before to-morrow's sun goes down I will have the money."
"From any money-lending Jew—usurer—extortioner—cheat—rascal— whatever he be. You drive me to it—you—you my friend—you, with whom I have dealt so openly; and to the last it shall be open. To no vile indirections will I stoop. I tell you, my guardian, that if you deny me my own, I will have what I want from the Jews."
"Easily," said his guardian. "But first, recollect that a clause in your father's will, in such case, sends his estates to your cousin Venables."
"To my cousin Venables let them go—all—all; if such be your pleasure, sir, be it so. The lowest man on earth that has feeling keeps his promise. The slave has a right to his word! Ruin me if you will, and as soon as you please; disgrace me you cannot; bend my spirit you cannot; ruin in any shape I will meet, rather than submit to such a guardian, such a——"
Tyrant he was on the point of saying, but Lady Cecilia stopped that word by suddenly seizing upon his arm: forcibly she carried him off, saying "Come out with me on the terrace, Granville, and recover your senses."
"My senses! I have never lost them; never was cooler in my life," said he, kicking open the glass door upon its first resistance, and shattering its remaining panes to fragments. Unnoticing, not hearing the crash, the general stood leaning his elbow on the mantel-piece, and covering his eyes with his hand. Helen remained near him, scarce breathing loud enough to be heard; he did not know she was there, and he repeated aloud, in an accent of deep feeling, "Tyrant! from Beauclerc!"
A sigh from Helen made him aware of her presence, and, as he removed his hand from his eyes, she saw his look was more in sorrow than in anger: she said softly, "Mr. Beauclerc was wrong, very wrong, but he was in a passion, he did not know what he meant."
There was silence for a few moments. "You are right, I believe," said the general, "it was heat of anger——"
"To which the best are subject," said Helen, "and the best and kindest most easily forgive."
"But Beauclerc said some things which were——"
"Unpardonable—only forget them; let all be forgotten."
"Yes," said the general, "all but my determination; that, observe, is fixed. My mind, Miss Stanley, is made up, and, once made up, it is not to be changed."
"I am certain of that," said Helen, "but I am not clear that your mind is made up."
The general looked at her with astonishment.
"Your refusal is not irrevocable."
"You do not know me, Miss Stanley."
"I think I do."
"Better than I know myself."
"Yes, better, if you do yourself the injustice to think that you would not yield, if it were right to do so. At this very instant," pursued Helen, disregarding his increasing astonishment, "you would yield if you could reasonably, honourably—would not you? If you could without injury to your ward's fortune or character, would you not? Surely it is for his good only that you are so resolute?"
"Certainly!" He waited with eyes fixed, bending forward, but with intensity of purpose in his calmness of attention.
"There was something which I heard Mr. Beauclerc say, which, I think, escaped your attention," said Helen. "When you spoke of the new house he intended to build for himself, which was to cost so much, he offered to give that up."
"I never heard that offer."
"I heard him," said Helen, "I assure you: it was when you were both walking up and down the room."
"This may be so, I was angry then," said the general.
"But you are not angry now," said Helen.
He smiled, and in truth he desired nothing more than an honourable loophole—a safe way of coming off without injury to his ward—without hurting his own pride, or derogating from the dignity of guardian. Helen saw this, and, thanking him for his condescension, his kindness, in listening to her, she hastened as quickly as possible, lest the relenting moment might not be seized; and running out on the terrace, she saw Beauclerc, his head down upon his arms, leaning upon an old broken stone lion, and Lady Cecilia standing beside him, commiserating; and as she approached, she beard her persuading him to go to the general, and speak to him again, and say so—only say so.
Whatever it was, Helen did not stay to inquire, but told Cecilia, in as few words as she could, all that she had to say; and ended with "Was I right?"
"Quite right, was not she, Granville?"
Beauclerc looked up—a gleam of hope and joy came across his face, and, with one grateful look to Helen, he darted forward. They followed, but could not keep pace with him; and when they reached the gallery, they found him appealing, as to a father, for pardon.
"Can you forgive, and will you?"
"Forgive my not hearing you, not listening to you, as your father would? My dear Beauclerc, you were too hot, and I was too cold; and there is an end of it." This reconciliation was as quick, as war, as the quarrel had been. And then explanations were made, as satisfactorily as they are when the parties are of good understanding, and depend on each other's truth, past, present, and future.
Beauclerc, whose promise all relied on, and for reasons good, none more implicitly than the general, promised that he would ask for no more than just what would do to put this Old Forest house in habitable trim; he said he would give up the new house for himself, till as many thousands as he now lent, spent, or wasted—take which word you will—should be again accumulated from his income. It was merely a sacrifice of his own vanity, and perhaps a little of his own comfort, he said, to save a friend, a human being, from destruction.
"Well, well, let it rest so."
It was all settled, witness present—"two angels to witness," as Beauclerc quoted from some old play.
And now in high good-humour, up again to nonsense pitch, they all felt that delightful relief of spirits, of which friends, after perilous quarrel, are sensible in perfect reconciliation. They left this melancholy mansion now, with Beauclerc the happiest of the happy, in the generous hope that he should be the restorer of its ancient glories and comfort. The poor old woman was not forgotten as they passed, she courtesying, hoping, and fearing: Lady Cecilia whispered, and the deaf ear heard.
"The roof will not fall—all will be well: and there is the man that will do it all."
"Well, well, my heart inclined to him from the first—at least from the minute I knew him not to be my young lord."
They were to go home by water. The boat was in readiness, and, as Beauclerc carefully handed Helen into it, the general said:—"Yes, you are right to take care of Miss Stanley, Beauclerc; she is a good friend in need, at least, as I have found this morning," added he, as he seated himself beside her.
Lady Cecilia was charming, and every thing was delightful, especially the cold chicken.
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