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Chapter 29

Some people value their friends most for active service, some for passive kindness. Some are won by tender expressions, some convinced by solid proofs of regard; others of a yet nobler kind, and of this sort was Lady Davenant, are apt to be best pleased, most touched, by proofs that their own character has been thoroughly understood, and that they have justly appreciated the good qualities of their friend. More than by all the kindness and sympathy Helen had ever before shown her was she now pleased and touched by the respect for her feelings in this affair of the page. Helen never having at the moment of his detection nor afterwards, by word or look, indulged in the self-triumph of "You see how right I was!" which implies, "You see how wrong you were!" On the contrary, she gave what comfort she honestly could by showing that she knew from what humane motives and generous feelings Lady Davenant had persisted in supporting this boy to the last.

As to the little wretch himself, he appeared no more. Search was made for him in every direction, but he was not to be found, and Helen thought it was well that Lady Davenant should be spared the pain of seeing or hearing more about him.

The whole mystery was now solved, the difficulty for Lady Davenant in a fair way to be ended. She had felt an instinctive aversion to the fawning tone of the diplomatist, whom she had suspected of caballing against Lord Davenant secretly, and it was now proved that he had been base beyond what she could have conceived possible; had been in confederacy with this boy, whom he had corrupted, purchasing from him copies of private letters, and bribing him to betray his benefactress. The copy of that letter from an illustrious personage had been thus obtained. The proofs now brought home to the guilty person, deprived him at once of all future means of injuring Lord Davenant. Completely in their power, he would be ready to ensure silence at any price, and, instead of caballing further, this low intriguer would now be compelled to return from whence he came, too happy to be permitted to retreat from his situation, and quit England without being brought to public disgrace. No notice of the report that had been in private circulation against Lady Davenant having yet appeared in the public prints, it was possible to prevent the mischief that even the mention of her name in such an affair must have occasioned. It was necessary, however, that letters should be written immediately to the different persons whom the private reports had reached; and Helen and her daughter trembled for her health in consequence of this extreme hurry and fatigue, but she repeated her favourite maxim—"Better to wear out, than to rust out"—and she accomplished all that was to be done. Lord Davenant wrote in triumph that all was settled, all difficulties removed, and they were to set out for Russia immediately.

And now Lady Davenant breathed freely. Relieved from the intolerable thought that the base finger of suspicion could point at her or at Lord Davenant, her spirits rose, her whole appearance renovated, and all the fears that Helen and her daughter had felt, lest she should not be able to sustain the hardships of a long voyage and the rigour of a northern climate, were now completely dispelled.

The day of departure was fixed—Lady Davenant remained, however, as long as she possibly could with her daughter; and she was anxious, too, to see Granville Beauclerc before she left Clarendon Park.

The number of the days of quarantine were gone over every morning at breakfast by Lady Cecilia and the general; they looked in the papers carefully for the arrivals at the hotel which Beauclerc usually frequented. This morning, in reading the list aloud, the general came to the name of Sir Thomas D'Aubigny, brother to the colonel. The paragraph stated that Colonel D'Aubigny had left some manuscripts to his brother, which would soon be published, and then followed some puff in the usual style, which the general did not think it necessary to read. But one of the officers, who knew some of the D'Aubignys, went on talking of the colonel, and relating various anecdotes to prove that his souvenirs would be amusing. Helen, who was conscious that she always blushed when Colonel D'Aubigny's name was mentioned, and that the general had observed it, was glad that he never looked up from what he was reading, and when she had courage to turn towards her, she admired Cecilia's perfect self-possession. Beauclerc's name was not among the arrivals, and it was settled consequently that they should not see him this day.

Some time after they had left the breakfast-room, Helen found Lady Davenant in her own apartment, sitting, as it was very unusual with her, perfectly unemployed—her head leaning on her hand, and an expression of pain in her countenance. "Are not you well, my dear Lady Davenant?" Helen asked.

"My mind is not well," she replied, "and that always affects my body, and I suppose my looks." After a moment's silence she fixed her eyes on Helen, and said, "You tell me that Colonel D'Aubigny never was a lover—never was an admirer of yours?"

"Never!" said Helen, low, but very decidedly. Lady Davenant sighed, but did not speak.

After a longer continuance of silence than had almost ever occurred when they two were alone together, Lady Davenant looked up, and said, "I hope in God that I am mistaken. I pray that I may never live to see it!"

"To see what?" cried Helen.

"To see that one little black spot, invisible to you, Helen, the speck of evil in that heart—my daughter's heart—spread and taint, and destroy all that is good. It must be cut out—at any pain it must be cut away; if any part be unsound, the corruption will spread."

"Corruption in Cecilia!" exclaimed Helen. "Oh! I know her—I know her from dear childhood! there is nothing corrupt in her, no, not a thought!"

"My dear Helen, you see her as she has been—as she is. I see her as she may become—very—frightfully different. Helen! if truth fail, if the principle of truth fail in her character, all will fail! All that charming nature, all that fair semblance, all that fair reality, all this bright summer's dream of happiness, even love—the supreme felicity of her warm heart—even love will fail her. Cecilia will lose her husband's affections!"

Helen uttered a faint cry.

"Worse!" continued Lady Davenant. "Worse! she will lose her own esteem, she will sink, but I shall be gone," cried she, and pressing her hand upon her heart, she faintly repeated, "Gone!" And then abruptly added, "Call Cecilia! I must see Cecilia, I must speak to her. But first I will tell you, from a few words that dropped this morning from General Clarendon, I suspect—I fear that Cecilia has deceived him!"

"Impossible!—about what—about whom?"

"That Colonel D'Aubigny," said Lady Davenant.

"I know all about it, and it was all nothing but nonsense. Did you look at her when the general read that paragraph this morning—did you see that innocent countenance?"

"I saw it, Helen, and thought as you did, but I have been so deceived—so lately in countenance!"

"Not by hers—never."

"Not by yours, Helen, never. And yet, why should I say so? This very morning, yours, had I not known you, yours would have misled me."

"Oh, my foolish absurd habit of blushing, how I wish I could prevent it!" said Helen; "I know it will make me betray somebody some time or other."

"Betray! What have you to betray?" cried Lady Davenant, leaning forward with an eagerness of eye and voice that startled Helen from all power of immediate reply. After an instant's pause, however, she answered firmly, "Nothing, Lady Davenant, and that there is nothing wrong to be known about Cecilia, I as firmly believe as that I stand here at this moment. Can you suspect anything really wrong?"

"Suspect!—wrong!" cried Lady Davenant, starting up, with a look in her eyes which made Helen recoil. "Helen, what can you conceive that I suspect wrong?—Cecilia?—Captain D'Aubigny?—What did you mean? Wrong did you say?—of Cecilia? Could you mean—could you conceive, Helen, that I, having such a suspicion could be here—living with her—or—living anywhere—" And she sank down on the sofa again, seized with sudden spasm—in a convulsion of agonising pain. But she held Helen's hand fast grasped, detaining her—preventing her from pulling the bell; and by degrees the pain passed off, the livid hue cleared away, the colour of life once more returned, but more tardily than before, and Helen was excessively alarmed.

"Poor child! my poor, dear child, I feel—I hear your heart beating. You are a coward, Helen, but a sweet creature; and I love you—and I love my daughter. What were we saying?"

"Oh, say no more! say no more now, for Heaven's sake," said Helen, kneeling beside her; and, yielding to that imploring look, Lady Davenant, with a fond smile, parted the hair on her forehead, kissed her, and remained perfectly quiet and silent for some time.

"I am quite well again now," said she, "and quite composed. If Cecilia has told her husband the whole truth, she will continue to be, as she is, a happy wife; but if she have deceived him in the estimation of a single word—she is undone. With him, of all men, never will confidence, once broken, unite again. Now General Clarendon told me this morning—would I had known it before the marriage!—that he had made one point with my daughter, and only one, on the faith of which he married: the point was, that she should tell him, if she had ever loved any other man. And she told him—I fear from some words which he said afterwards—I am sure he is in the belief—the certainty, that his wife never loved any man breathing but himself."

"Nor did she," said Helen. "I can answer for it—she has told him the truth—and she has nothing to fear, nor have you."

"You give me new life!" cried Lady Davenant, her face becoming suddenly radiant with hope; "but how can you answer for this, Helen? You had no part in any deceit, I am sure, but there was something about a miniature of you, which I found in Colonel D'Aubigny's hands one day. That was done, I thought at the time, to deceive me, to make me believe that you were his object.—Deceit there was."

"On his part," said Helen, "much and always; but on Cecilia's there was only, from her over-awe of you, some little concealment; but the whole was broken off and repented of, whatever little there was, long since. And as to loving him, she never did; she told me so then, and often and often she has told me so since."

"Convince me of that," said Lady Davenant; "convince me that she thought what she said. I believe, indeed, that till she met General Clarendon she never felt any enthusiastic attachment, but I thought she liked that man—it was all coquetry, flirting nonsense perhaps. Be it so—I am willing to believe it. Convince me but that she is true—there is the only point of consequence. The man is dead and gone, the whole in oblivion, and all that is of importance is her truth; convince me but of that, and I am a happy mother."

Helen brought recollections, and proofs from conversations at the time and letters since, confirming at least Cecilia's own belief that she had never loved the man, that it was all vanity on her part and deception on his: Lady Davenant listened, willing to be convinced.

"And now," said she, "let us put this matter out of our minds entirely—I want to talk to you of yourself."

She took Helen out with her in her pony-phaeton, and spoke of GranvilleBeauclerc, and of his and Helen's prospects of happiness.

Lady Cecilia, who was riding with her husband in some fields adjoining the park, caught a glimpse of the phaeton as it went along the avenue, and, while the general was giving some orders to the wood-ranger about a new plantation, she, telling him that she would be back in two minutes, cantered off to overtake her mother, and, making a short cut across the fields, she leaped a wide ha-ha which came in her way. She was an excellent horse-woman, and Fairy carried her lightly over; and when she heard the general's voice in dismay and indignation at what she had done, she turned and laughed, and cantered on till she overtook the phaeton. The breeze had blown her hair most becomingly, and raised her colour, and her eyes were joyously bright, and her light figure, always well on horseback, now looked so graceful as she bent to speak to her mother, that her husband could not find it in his heart to scold her, and he who came to chide remained to admire. Her mother, looking up at her, could not help exclaiming,

"Well! certainly, you are an excessively pretty creature!"

"Bearers of good news always look well, I believe," said she, smiling; "so there is now some goodness in my face."

"That there certainly is," said her mother, fondly.

"But you certainly don't know what it is—you cannot know till I tell you, my dearest Helen—my dear mother, I mean. Granville Beauclerc will be here to-day—I am sure of it. So pray do not go far from home—do not go out of the grounds: this was what I was in such a hurry to say to you."

"But how do you know, Cecilia?"

"Just because I can read," replied she, "because I can read a newspaper through, which none of you newspaper-readers by profession could do this morning. After you all of you laid them down I took them up, and found in that evening paper which your stupid aide-de-camp had been poring and boring over, a fresh list of arrivals, and Mr. Granville Beauclerc among them at full length. Now he would not stay a moment longer in town than was absolutely necessary, you know, or else he ought to be excommunicated. But it is not in his nature to delay; he will be here directly—I should not be surprised—"

"You are right, Cecilia," interrupted the general. "I see a caleche on that road.—It is he."

The caleche turned into the park, and in a few minutes they met.—Carriages, horses, and servants, were sent off to the house, while the whole party walked, and talked, and looked. Lady Cecilia was in delightful spirits, and so affectionately, so delicately joyful—so kind, that if Helen and Beauclerc had ever blamed, or had reason to blame her, it must now be for ever forgotten. As, in their walk, they came near that seat by the water's side where the lovers had parted, Cecilia whispered something to her mother, and instantly it was "done as desired." Beauclerc and Helen were left to their own explanations, and the rest of the party pursued their walk home. Of what passed in this explanatory scene no note has been transmitted to the biographer, and we must be satisfied with the result.

Maria Edgeworth