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Some time after this, Mr. Collingwood, rising from the breakfast-table, threw down the day's paper, saying there was nothing in it; Mrs. Collingwood glancing her eye over it exclaimed—
"Do you call this nothing? Helen, hear this!
"Marriage in high life—At the ambassador's chapel, Paris, on the 16th instant, General Clarendon to Lady Cecilia Davenant, only daughter of Earl and Countess Davenant."
"Married! absolutely married!" exclaimed Helen: "I knew it was to be, but so soon I did not expect. Ambassador's chapel—where did you say?—Paris? No, that must be a mistake, they are all at Florence—settled there, I thought their letters said."
Mrs. Collingwood pointed to the paragraph, and Helen saw it was certainly Paris—there could be no mistake. Here was a full account of the marriage, and a list of all "the fashionables who attended the fair bride to the hymeneal altar. Her father gave her away."
"Then certainly it is so," said Helen; and she came to the joyful conclusion that they must all be on their way home:—"Dear Lady Davenant coming to Cecilhurst again!"
Lady Cecilia, "the fair bride," had been Helen's most intimate friend; they had been when children much together, for the deanery was so close to Cecilhurst, that the shrubbery opened into the park. "But is it not rather extraordinary, my dear. Helen," said Mrs. Collingwood, "that you should see this account of your dear Lady Cecilia's marriage in the public papers only, without having heard of it from any of your friends themselves—not one letter, not one line from any of them?"
A cloud came over Helen's face, but it passed quickly, and she was sure they had written—something had delayed their letters. She was certain Lady Davenant or Lady Cecilia had written; or, if they had not, it was because they could not possibly, in such a hurry, such agitation as they must have been in. At all events, whether they had written or not, she was certain they could not mean anything unkind; she could not change her opinion of her friend for a letter more or less. "Indeed!" said Mrs. Collingwood, "how long is it since you have seen them?"
"About two years; just two years it is since I parted from them at Florence."
"And you have corresponded with Lady Cecilia constantly ever since?" asked Mrs. Collingwood.
"Not constantly—oh!" said Mrs. Collingwood, in a prolonged and somewhat sarcastic tone.
"Not constantly—so much the better," said her husband: "a constant correspondence is always a great burthen, and moreover, sometimes a great evil, between young ladies especially—I hate the sight of ladies' long cross-barred letters."
Helen said that Lady Cecilia's letters were never cross-barred, always short and far between.
"You seem wonderfully fond of Lady Cecilia," said Mrs. Collingwood.
"Not wonderfully," replied Helen, "but very fond, and no wonder, we were bred up together. And"—continued she, after a little pause, "and if Lady Cecilia had not been so generous as she is, she might have been—she must have been, jealous of the partiality, the fondness, which her mother always showed me."
"But was not Lady Davenant's heart large enough to hold two?" asked Mrs. Collingwood. "Was not she fond of her daughter?"
"Yes, as far as she knew her, but she did not know Lady Cecilia." "Not know her own daughter!" Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood both at once exclaimed, "How could that possibly be?"
"Very easily," Helen said, "because she saw so little of her."
"Was not Lady Cecilia educated at home?"
"Yes, but still Lady Cecilia, when a child, was all day long with her governess, and at Cecilhurst the governess's apartments were quite out of the way, in one of the wings at the end of a long corridor, with a separate staircase; she might as well have been in another house."
"Bad arrangement," said Mr. Collingwood, speaking to himself as he stood on the hearth. "Bad arrangement which separates mother and daughter."
"At that time," continued Helen, "there was always a great deal of company at Cecilhurst. Lord Davenant was one of the ministers then. I believe—I know he saw a great many political people, and Lady Davenant was forced to be always with them talking."
"Talking! yes, yes!" said Mr. Collingwood, "I understand it all—Lady Davenant is a great politician, and female politicians, with their heads full of the affairs of Europe, cannot have time to think of the affairs of their families."
"What is the matter, my dear Helen?" said Mrs. Collingwood, taking her hand. Helen had tears in her eyes and looked unhappy.
"I have done very wrong," said she; "I have said something that has given you a bad, a false opinion of one for whom I have the greatest admiration and love—of Lady Davenant. I am excessively sorry; I have done very wrong."
"Not the least, my dear child; you told us nothing but what everybody knows—that she is a great politician; you told us no more."
"But I should have told you more, and what nobody knows better than I do," cried Helen, "that Lady Davenant is a great deal more, and a great deal better than a politician. I was too young to judge, you may think, hut young as I was, I could see and feel, and children can and do often see a great deal into character, and I assure you Lady Davenant's is a sort of deep, high character, that you would admire."
Mrs. Collingwood observed with surprise, that Helen spoke of her with even more enthusiasm than of her dear Lady Cecilia. "Yes, because she is a person more likely to excite enthusiasm."
"You did not feel afraid of her, then?"
"I do not say that," replied Helen; "yet it was not fear exactly, it was more a sort of awe, but still I liked it. It is so delightful to have something to look up to. I love Lady Davenant all the better, even for that awe I felt of her."
"And I like you all the better for everything you feel, think, and say about your friends," cried Mrs. Collingwood; "but let us see what they will do; when I see whether they can write, and what they write to you, I will tell you more of my mind—if any letters come."
"If!—" Helen repeated, but would say no more—and there it rested, or at least stopped. By common consent the subject was not recurred to for several days. Every morning at post-time Helen's colour rose with expectation, and then faded with disappointment; still, with the same confiding look, she said, "I am sure it is not their fault."
"Time will show," said Mrs. Collingwood.
At length, one morning when she came down to breakfast, "Triumph, my dear Helen!" cried Mrs. Collingwood, holding up two large letters, all scribbled over with "Try this place and try that, mis-sent to Cross-keys—Over moor, and heaven knows where—and—no matter."
Helen seized the packets and tore them open; one was from Paris, written immediately after the news of Dean Stanley's death; it contained two letters, one from Lady Davenant, the other from Lady Cecilia—"written, only think!" cried she, "how kind!—the very day before her marriage; signed 'Cecilia Davenant, for the last time,'—and Lady Davenant, too—to think of me in all their happiness."
She opened the other letters, written since their arrival in England, she read eagerly on,—then stopped, and her looks changed.
"Lady Davenant is not coming to Cecilhurst. Lord Davenant is to be sent ambassador to Petersburgh, and Lady Davenant will go along with him!—Oh! there is an end of everything, I shall never see her again!—Stay—she is to be first with Lady Cecilia at Clarendon Park, wherever that is, for some time—she does not know how long—she hopes to see me there—oh! how kind, how delightful!" Helen put Lady Davenant's letter proudly into Mrs. Collingwood's hand, and eagerly opened Lady Cecilia's.
"So like herself! so like Cecilia," cried she. Mrs. Collingwood read and acknowledged that nothing could be kinder, for here was an invitation, not vague or general, but particular, and pressing as heart could wish or heart could make it. "We shall be at Clarendon Park on Thursday, and shall expect you, dearest Helen, on Monday, just time, the general says, for an answer; so write and say where horses shall meet you," &c. &c.
"Upon my word, this is being in earnest, when it comes to horses meeting," cried Mr. Collingwood. "Of course you will go directly?"
Helen was in great agitation.
"Write—write—my dear, directly," said Mrs. Collingwood, "for the post-boy waits."
And before she had written many lines the Cross-post boy sent up word that he could wait no longer.
Helen wrote she scarcely knew what, but in short an acceptance, signed, sealed, delivered, and then she took breath. Off cantered the boy with the letters bagged, and scarcely was he out of sight, when Helen saw under the table the cover of the packet, in which were some lines that had not yet been read. They were in Lady Cecilia's handwriting—a postscript.
"I forgot, dear Helen, the thing that is most essential, (you remember our friend Dumont's definition of une betîse: c'est d'oublier la chose essentielle;) I forgot to tell you that the general declares he will not hear of a mere visit from you. He bids me tell you that it must be 'till death or marriage.' So, my dear friend, you must make up your mind in short to live with us till you find a General Clarendon of your own. To this postscript no reply—silence gives consent."
"If I had seen this!" said Helen, as she laid it before Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood, "I ought to have answered, but, indeed, I never saw it;" she sprang forward instantly to ring the bell, exclaiming, "It is time yet—stop the boy—'silence gives consent.' I must write. I cannot leave you, my dear friends, in this way. I did not see that postscript, believe me I did not."
They believed her, they thanked her, but they would not let her ring the bell; they said she had better not bind herself in any way either to themselves or to Lady Cecilia. Accept of the present invitation she must—she must go to see her friend on her marriage; she must take leave of her dear Lady Davenant before her departure.
"They are older friends than we are," said Mr. Collingwood, "they have the first claim upon you; but let us think of it as only a visit now. As to a residence for life, that you can best judge of for yourself after you have been some time at Clarendon Park; if you do not like to remain there, you know how gladly we shall welcome you here again, my child; or, if you decide to live with those you have known so long and loved so much, we cannot be offended at your choice,"
This generous kindness, this freedom from jealous susceptibility, touched Helen's heart, and increased her agitation. She could not bear the thoughts of either the reality or appearance of neglecting these kind good people, the moment she had other prospects, and frequently in all the hurry of her preparations, she repeated, "It will only be a visit at Clarendon Park. I will return to you, I shall write to you, my dear Mrs. Collingwood, at all events, constantly."
When Mr. Collingwood gave her his parting blessing he reminded her of his warning about her fortune. Mrs. Collingwood reminded her of her promise to write. The carriage drove from the door. Helen's heart was full of the friends she was leaving, but by degrees the agitation of the parting subsided, her tears ceased, her heart grew lighter, and the hopes of seeing her friends at Clarendon Park arose bright in her mind, and her thoughts all turned upon Cecilia, and Lady Davenant.
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