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Helen's perfect happiness at Clarendon Park was not of long duration. People who have not been by nature blessed or cursed with nice feelings, or who have well rubbed off their delicacy in roughing through the world, can be quite happy, or at least happy enough without ascertaining whether they are really esteemed or liked by those with whom they live. Many, and some of high degree, when well sheltered and fed, and provided with all the necessaries, and surrounded by all the luxuries of life, and with appearances tolerably well kept up by outward manner, care little or nought about the inside sentiments.
But Helen was neither of the case-hardened philosophic, or the naturally obtuse-feeling class; she belonged to the over-anxious. Surrounded at Clarendon Park with all the splendour of life, and with the immediate expectation of seeing and being seen by the first society in England; with the certainty also of being tenderly loved and highly esteemed by two of the persons she was living with, yet a doubt about the third began to make her miserable. Whether General Clarendon really liked her or not, was a question that hung upon her mind sometimes as a dead weight—then vibrating backwards and forwards, she often called to mind, and endeavoured to believe, what Cecilia the first day told her, that this reserved manner was natural to him with strangers, and would wear off. But to her the icy coldness did not thaw. So she felt, or so she fancied, and which it was she could not decide. She had never before lived with any one about whose liking for her she could doubt, therefore, as she said to herself, "I know I am a bad judge." She feared to open her mind to Cecilia. Lady Davenant would be the safest person to consult; yet Helen, with all her young delicacy fresh about her, scrupled, and could not screw her courage to the sticking-place. Every morning going to Lady Davenant's room, she half resolved and yet came away without speaking. At last, one morning, she began:—
You said something the other day, my dear Lady Davenant, about a visit from Miss Clarendon. Perhaps—I am afraid—in short I think,—I fear, the general does not like my being here; and I thought, perhaps, he was displeased at his sister's not being here,—that he thought Cecilia's having asked me prevented his sister's coming; but then you told me he was not of a jealous temper, did not you?"
"Distinguez," said Lady Davenant; "distinguons, as the old French metaphysicians used to say, distinguons, there be various kinds of jealousy, as of love. The old romancers make a distinction between amour and amour par amours. Whatever that mean, I beg leave to take a distinction full as intelligible, I trust, between jalousie par amour and jalousie par amitié. Now, to apply; when I told you that our general was not subject to jealousy, I should have distinguished, and said, jalousie par amour—jealousy in love, but I will not ensure him against jalousie par amitié—jealousy in friendship—of friends and relations, I mean. Me-thinks I have seen symptoms of this in the general, he does not like my influence over Cecilia, nor yours, my dear."
"I understand it all," exclaimed Helen, "and I was right from the very first; I saw he disliked me, and he ever will and must dislike and detest me—I see it in every look, hear it in every word, in every tone." "Now, my dear Helen, if you are riding off on your imagination, I wish you a pleasant ride, and till you come back again I will write my letter," said Lady Davenant, taking up a pen.
Helen begged pardon, and protested she was not going to ride off upon any imagination,—she had no imagination now—she entreated Lady Davenant to go on, for she was very anxious to know the whole truth, whatever it might be. Lady Davenant laid down her pen, and told her all she knew. In the first place, that Cecilia did not like Miss Clarendon, who, though a very estimable person, had a sort of uncompromising sincerity, joined with a brusquerie of manner which Cecilia could not endure. How her daughter had managed matters to refuse the sister without offending the brother, Lady Davenant said she did not know; that was Cecilia's secret, and probably it lay in her own charming manner of doing things, aided by the whole affair having occurred a few days before marriage, when nothing could be taken ill of the bride elect. "The general, as Cecilia told me, desired that she would write to invite you, Helen; she did so, and I am very glad of it. This is all I know of this mighty matter."
But Helen could not endure the idea of being there, contrary to the general's wishes, in the place of the sister he loved. Oh, how very, very unfortunate she was to have all her hopes blighted, destroyed—and Cecilia's kindness all in vain. Dear, dear Cecilia!—but for the whole world Helen would not be so selfish—she would not run the hazard of making mischief. She would never use her influence over Cecilia in opposition to the general. Oh, how little he knew of her character, if he thought it possible.
Helen had now come to tears. Then the keen sense of injustice turned to indignation; and the tears wiped away, and pride prevailing, colouring she exclaimed, "That she knew what she ought to do, she knew what she would do—she would not stay where the master of the house did not wish for her. Orphan though she was, she could not accept of protection or obligation from any human being who neither liked or esteemed her. She would shorten her visit at Clarendon Park—make it as short as his heart could desire,—she would never be the cause of any disagreement—poor, dear, kind Cecilia! She would write directly to Mrs. Collingwood." At the close of these last incoherent sentences, Helen was awe-struck by the absolute composed immovability and silence of Lady Davenant. Helen stood rebuked before her.
"Instead of writing to Mrs. Collingwood, had not you better go at once?" said her ladyship, speaking in a voice so calm, and in a tone so slightly ironical, that it might have passed for earnest on any but an acutely feeling ear—"Shall I ring, and order your carriage?" putting her hand on the bell as she spoke, and resting it there, she continued—"It would be so spirited to be off instantly; so wise, so polite, so considerate towards dear Cecilia—so dignified towards the general, and so kind towards me, who am going to a far country, Helen, and may perhaps not see you ever again."
"Forgive me!" cried Helen; "I never could go while you were here."
"I did not know what you might think proper when you seemed to have lost your senses."
"I have recovered them," said Helen; "I will do whatever you please—whatever you think best."
"It must not be what I please, my dear child, nor what I think best, but what you judge for yourself to be best; else what will become of you when I am in Russia? It must be some higher and more stable principle of action that must govern you. It must not be the mere wish to please this or that friend;—the defect of your character, Helen, remember I tell you, is this—inordinate desire to be loved, this impatience of not being loved—that which but a moment ago made you ready to abandon two of the best friends you have upon earth, because you imagine, or you suspect, or you fear, that a third person, almost a stranger, does not like before he has had time to know you."
"I was very foolish," said Helen; "but now I will be wise, I will do whatever is—right. Surely you would not have me live here if I were convinced that the master of the house did not wish it?"
"Certainly not—certainly not," repeated Lady Davenant; "but let us see our way before us; never gallop, my dear, much less leap; never move, till you see your way;—once it is ascertained that General Clarendon does not wish you to be here, nor approve of you for the chosen companion of his wife, I, as your best friend, would say, begone, and speed you on your way; then as much pride, as much spirit as you will; but those who are conscious of possessing real spirit, should never be—seldom are—in a hurry to show it; that kind of ostentatious haste is undignified in man, and ungraceful in woman."
Helen promised that she would be patience itself: "But tell me exactly," said she, "what you would have me do."
"Nothing," said Lady Davenant.
"Nothing! that is easy at least," said Helen, smiling.
"No, not so easy as you imagine; it requires sometimes no small share of strength of mind."
"Strength of mind!" said Helen, "I am afraid I have not any."
"Acquire it then, my dear," said her friend.
"But can I?"
"Certainly; strength of mind, like strength of body, is improved by exercise."
"If I had any to begin with—" said Helen.
"You have some, Helen, a great deal in one particular, else why should I have any more regard for you, or more hope of you, than of any other well-dressed, well-taught beauty, any of the tribe of young ladies who pass before me without ever fixing my mind's eye for one moment?"
"But in what particular, my dear Lady Davenant, do you mean?" said Helen, anxiously; "I am afraid you are mistaken; in what do you think I ever showed strength of mind? Tell me, and I will tell you the truth."
"That you will, and there is the point that I mean. Ever since I have known you, you have always, as at this moment, coward as you are, been brave enough to speak the truth; and truth I believe to be the only real lasting foundation for friendship; in all but truth there is a principle of decay and dissolution. Now good bye, my dear;—stay, one word more—there is a line in some classic poet, which says 'the suspicion of ill-will never fails to produce it'—Remember this in your intercourse with General Clarendon; show no suspicion of his bearing you ill-will, and to show none, you must feel none. Put absolutely out of your head all that you may have heard or imagined about Miss Clarendon, or her brother's prejudices on her account."
"I will—I will indeed," said Helen, and so they parted. A few words have sometimes a material influence on events in human life. Perhaps even among those who hold in general that advice never does good, there is no individual who cannot recollect some few words—some conversation which has altered the future colour of their lives.
Helen's over-anxiety concerning General Clarendon's opinion of her, being now balanced by the higher interest Lady Davenant had excited, she met him with new-born courage; and Lady Cecilia, not that she suspected it was necessary, but merely by way of prevention, threw in little douceurs of flattery, on the general's part, repeated sundry pretty compliments, and really kind things which he had said to her of Helen. These always pleased Helen at the moment, but she could never make what she was told he said of her quite agree with what he said to her: indeed, he said so very little, that no absolute discrepancy could be detected between the words spoken and the words reported to have been said; but still the looks did not agree with the opinions, or the cordiality implied.
One morning Lady Cecilia told her that the general wished that she would ride out with them, "and you must come, indeed you must, and try his pretty Zelica; he wishes it of all things, he told me so last night."
The general chancing to come in as she spoke, Lady Cecilia appealed to him with a look that almost called upon him to enforce her request; but he only said that if Miss Stanley would do him the honour, he should certainly be happy, if Zelica would not be too much for her; but he could not take it upon him to advise. Then looking for some paper of which he came in search, and passing her with the most polite and deferential manner possible, he left the room.
Half vexed, half smiling, Helen looked at Cecilia, and asked whether all she had told her was not a little—"plus belle que la vérité."
Lady Cecilia, blushing slightly, poured out rapid protestations that all she had ever repeated to Helen of the general's sayings was perfect truth—"I will not swear to the words—because in the first place it is not pretty to swear, and next, because I can never recollect anybody's words, or my own, five minutes after they have been said."
Partly by playfulness, and partly by protestations, Lady Cecilia half convinced Helen; but from this time she refrained from repeating compliments which, true or false, did no good, and things went on better; observing this, she left them to their natural course, upon all such occasions the best way.
And now visitors began to appear, and some officers of the general's staff arrived. Clarendon Park happened to be in the district which General Clarendon commanded, so that he was able usually to reside there. It was in what is called a good neighbourhood, and there was much visiting, and many entertainments.
One day at dinner, Helen was seated between the general and a fine young guardsman, who, as far as his deep sense of his own merit, and his fashionable indifference to young ladies would permit, had made some demonstrations of a desire to attract her notice. He was piqued when, in the midst of something he had wonderfully exerted himself to say, he observed that her attention was distracted by a gentleman opposite, who had just returned from the Continent, and who, among other pieces of news, marriages and deaths of English abroad, mentioned that "poor D'Aubigny" was at last dead.
Helen looked first at Cecilia, who, as she saw, heard what was said with perfect composure; and then at Lady Davenant, who had meantime glanced imperceptibly at her daughter, and then upon Helen, whose eyes she met—and Helen coloured merely from association, because she had coloured before-provoking! yet impossible to help it. All passed in less time than it can be told, and Helen had left the guardsman in the midst of his sentence, discomfited, and his eyes were now upon her; and in confusion she turned from him, and there were the general's eyes but he was only inviting her to taste some particular wine, which he thought she would like, and which she willingly accepted, and praised, though she assuredly did not know in the least what manner of taste it had. The general now exerted himself to occupy the guardsman in a conversation about promotion, and drew all observation from Helen. Yet not the slightest indication of having seen, heard, or understood, appeared in his countenance, not the least curiosity or interest about Colonel D'Aubigny. Of one point Helen was however intuitively certain, that he had noticed that confusion which he had so ably, so coolly covered. One ingenuous look from her thanked him, and his look in return was most gratifying; she could not tell how it was, but it appeared more as if he understood and liked her than any look she had ever seen from him before. They were both more at their ease. Next day, he certainly justified all Cecilia's former assurances, by the urgency with which he desired to have her of the riding party. He put her on horseback himself, bade the aide-de-camp ride on with Lady Cecilia—three several times set the bridle right in Miss Stanley's hand, assuring her that she need not be afraid, that Zelica was the gentlest creature possible, and he kept his fiery horse, Fleetfoot, to a pace that suited her during the whole time they were out. Helen took courage, and her ride did her a vast deal of good.
The rides were repeated, the general evidently became more and more interested about Miss Stanley; he appealed continually to her taste, and marked that he considered her as part of his family; but, as Helen told Lady Davenant, it was difficult, with a person of his high-bred manners and reserved temper, to ascertain what was to be attributed to general deference to her sex, what to particular regard for the individual, how much to hospitality to his guest, or attention to his wife's friend, and what might be considered as proof of his own desire to share that friendship, and of a real wish that she should continue to live with them.
While she was in this uncertainty, Lord Davenant arrived from London; he had always been fond of Helen, and now the first sight of her youthful figure in deep mourning, the recollection of the great changes that had taken place since they had last met, touched him to the heart—he folded her in his arms, and was unable to speak. He! a great bulky man, with a face of constitutional joy—but so it was; he had a tender heart, deep feelings of all kinds under an appearance of insouciance which deceived the world. He was distinguished as a political leader—but, as he said of himself, he had been three times inoculated with ambition—once by his mother, once by his brother, and once by his wife; but it had never taken well; the last the best, however,—it had shown at least sufficiently to satisfy his friends, and he was happy to be no more tormented. With talents of the first order, and integrity unblenching, his character was not of that stern stuff—no, not of that corrupt stuff—of which modern ambition should be made.
He had now something to tell Helen, which he would say even before he opened his London budget of news. He told her, with a congratulatory smile, that he had had an opportunity of showing his sense of Mr. Collingwood's merits; and as he spoke he put a letter into her hand.
The letter was from her good friend Mr. Collingwood, accepting a bishopric in the West Indies, which had been offered to him by Lord Davenant. It enclosed a letter for Helen, desiring in the most kind manner that she would let him know immediately and decidedly where and with whom she intended to live; and there was a postscript from Mrs. Collingwood full of affection, and doubts, and hopes, and fears.
The moment Helen had finished this letter, without seeming to regard the inquiring looks of all present, and without once looking towards any one else, she walked deliberately up to General Clarendon, and begged to speak to him alone. Never was general more surprised, but of course he was too much of a general to let that appear. Without a word, he offered his arm, and led her to his study; he drew a chair towards her—
"No misfortune, I hope, Miss Stanley? If I can in any way be of service——"
"The only service, General Clarendon," said Helen, her manner becoming composed, and her voice steadying as she went on—"the only service you can do me now is to tell me the plain truth, and this will prevent what would certainly be a misfortune to me—perhaps to all of us. Will you read this letter?"
He received it with an air of great interest, and again moved the chair to her. Before she sat down, she added,—
"I am unused to the world, you see, General Clarendon. I have been accustomed to live with one who always told me his mind sincerely, so that I could judge always what I ought to do. Will you do so now? It is the greatest service, as well as favour, you can do me."
"Depend upon it, I will," said General Clarendon.
"I should not ask you to tell me in words—that might be painful to your politeness; only let me see it," said Helen, and she sat down.
The general read on without speaking, till he came to the mention of Helen's original promise of living with the Collingwoods. He did not comprehend that passage, he said, showing it to her. He had always, on the contrary, understood that it had been a long settled thing, a promise between Miss Stanley and Lady Cecilia, that Helen should live with Lady Cecilia when she married.
"No such thing!" Helen said. "No such agreement had ever been made."
So the general now perceived; but this was a mistake of his which he hoped would make no difference in her arrangements, he said: "Why should it?—unless Miss Stanley felt unhappy at Clarendon Park?"
He paused, and Helen was silent: then, taking desperate resolution, she answered,—
"I should be perfectly happy here, if I were sure of your wishes, your feelings about me—about it."
"Is it possible that there has been any thing in my manner," said he, "that could give Miss Stanley pain? What could have put a doubt into her mind?"
"There might be some other person nearer, and naturally dearer to you," said Helen, looking up in his face ingenuously—"one whom you might have desired to have in my place:—your sister, Miss Clarendon, in short."
"Did Cecilia tell you of this?"
"No, Lady Davenant did; and since I heard it I never could be happy—I never can be happy till I know your feeling."
His manner instantly changed.
"You shall know my feelings, then," said he. "Till I knew you, Helen, my wish was, that my sister should live with my wife; now I know you, my wish is, that you should live with us. You will suit Cecilia better than my sister could—will suit us both better, having the same truth of character, and more gentleness of manner. I have answered you with frankness equal to your own. And now," said he, taking her hand, "you know Cecilia has always considered you as her sister—allow me to do the same: consider me as a brother—such you shall find me. Thank you. This is settled for life," added he, drawing her arm through his, and taking up her letters, he led her back towards the library.
But her emotion, the stronger for being suppressed, was too great for re-appearing in company: she withdrew her arm from his when they were passing through the hall, and turning her face away, she had just voice enough to beg he would show her letters to——
He understood. She ran up-stairs to her own room, glad to be alone; a flood of joy came over her.
"A brother in Cecilia's husband!—a brother!"
The word had a magical charm, and she could not help repeating it aloud—she wept like a child. Lady Cecilia soon came flying in, all delight and affection, reproaches and wonder alternately, in the quickest conceivable succession. "Delighted, it is settled and for ever! my dear, dear Helen! But how could you ever think of leaving us, you wicked Helen! Well! now you see what Clarendon really is! But, my dear, I was so terrified when I heard it all. You are, and ever were, the oddest mixture of cowardice and courage. I—do you know I, brave I—never should have advised—never should have ventured as you have? But he is delighted at it all, and so am I now it has all ended so charmingly, now I have you safe. I will write to the Collingwoods; you shall not have a moment's pain; I will settle it all, and invite them here before they leave England; Clarendon desired I would—oh, he is!—now you will believe me! The Collingwoods, too, will be glad to be asked here to take leave of you, and all will be right; I love, as you do, dear Helen, that everybody should be pleased when I am happy."
When Lady Davenant heard all that had passed, she did not express that prompt unmixed delight which Helen expected; a cloud came over her brow, something painful regarding her daughter seemed to strike her, for her eyes fixed on Cecilia, and her emotion was visible in her countenance; but pleasure unmixed appealed as she turned to Helen, and to her she gave, what was unusual, unqualified approbation.
"My dear Helen, I admire your plain straightforward truth; I am satisfied with this first essay of your strength of mind and courage."
"Courage!" said Helen, smiling.
"Not such as is required to take a lion by the beard, or a bull by the horns," replied Lady Davenant; "but there are many persons in this world who, brave though they be, would rather beard a lion, sooner seize a bull by the horns, than, when they get into a dilemma, dare to ask a direct question, and tell plainly what passes in their own minds. Moral courage is, believe me, uncommon in both sexes, and yet in going through the world it is equally necessary to the virtue of both men and women."
"But do you really think," said Helen, "that strength of mind, or what you call moral courage, is as necessary to women as it is to men?"
"Certainly, show me a virtue, male or female—if virtues admit of grammatical distinctions, if virtues acknowledge the more worthy gender and the less worthy of the grammar, show me a virtue male or female that can long exist without truth. Even that emphatically termed the virtue of our sex, Helen, on which social happiness rests, society depends, on what is it based? is it not on that single-hearted virtue truth?—and truth on what? on courage of the mind. They who dare to speak the truth, will not ever dare to go irretrievably wrong. Then what is falsehood but cowardice?—and a false woman!—does not that say all in one word?"
"But whence arose all this? you wonder, perhaps," said Lady Davenant; "and I have not inclination to explain. Here comes Lord Davenant. Now for politics—farewell morality, a long farewell. Now for the London budget, and 'what news from Constantinople? Grand vizier certainly strangled, or not?'"
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