« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
orphaned, unprotected, penniless girl reviled and insulted for his entertainment."
Lord Tewkesbury was much perplexed at this simple appeal. Deeply prejudiced as he had been by Lady Helen's spirited delineation of her niece's true character, and astounded as he was by the startling disclosures that had been elicited from the latter, still he was a wellbred, kind-hearted man of the world, and he could not but feel that the Saint's earnest reproof was not uncalled for.
“My dear young lady,” exclaimed he, notwithout some embarrassment, “I should be grieved more than I could say, if this necessarily painful conversation were unduly to affect you. Pray remember that it is a duty to yourself, as well as to others, to obviate all future and serious suffering by a timely explanation.”
“Oh! it is for my sake, is it," replied Cécile bitterly, “that I have been dragged to this extremity of shame? I did not know that it was a matter of such grave moment at Redburn, whether my heart were to wither or to break.”
“But, my dear Miss Cécile,” resumed the Earl, “ since you have yourself admitted that my son takes a particular, and very natural, interest in your fate ”
“I have made no such admission, Lord Tewkesbury,” interrupted Cécile fiercely. “ Lady Helen's questions were so devised, as to render denial impossible, where admission would be equally insincere. The truth lies between the two, and it shall be fearlessly told by me, now as always. Your son has observed from the first, what you may have seen now yourself with a very different feeling, that I have my trials and my sorrows here. Nay, more, he has deemed, perchance, that there may be an intention somewhere, of driving a despairing heart to some wild and frantic deed, for the folly of which my native infirmity, or my creed, perhaps, may be held responsible. Hence, the sole origin of the interest that he may have taken in my fate. I use your very words, that I may disclaim the interpretation which you attach to them. I could not, in truth or in honour, affirm that I have received no marks of sympathy from him ; but I should deceive you far more if I suffered you to imaginehow shall I say ?—that your apprehensions are well founded.”
“ Very well, my dear girl,” interposed Lord Tewkesbury, “I am perfectly satisfied. Do not agitate yourself any further.”
“I have a word yet to add,” resumed the ardent Cécile. “Now that you have rent nature's fair veil from my heart, all shall be disclosed. I do not feel myself justified, at present, in showing to you the sole communication that I have ever received from your son; but, ere long, no doubt, you will see it, and then you will be convinced that it cannot for an instant bear the construction ironically sug-' gested by Lady Helen. I have told you that I sent no reply, because none was required; but yet, mark my words, Lord Tewkesbury, there will be an answer to it soon, and one that will satisfy even Lady Helen and yourself. Do you want me any more now ?” added she, addressing both her interrogators.
“ Yes; stop a moment,” replied her aunt. “ You have not been sparing in your accusations of others; you had better hear what I should otherwise have to say, on their part, in your absence. You were, as you need not have reminded us, a portionless orphan, alien to us in creed, in education, and, I might also add, by the forfeited station of your parents. Contrary to my expressed misgivings, Sir Charles was not satisfied with merely providing for you, which he might have done liberally in some other form; he introduced you, as a second daughter, into the bosom of his family, and what has been our reward ? Our counsels spurned, our confidence betrayed, our family interest, and, far more, our family peace, blighted and destroyed. An evil genius have you been to me and mine, Cécile, and knowing that, as you well do, you might at least have the grace to remain silent. One word more: Edward will shortly, I trust, return here, and St. Edmunds, too, has his appointed place within our family circle. You must and shall learn to live with them, and with such as them, to the honest possession of whose affections you may not pretend—you must and shall, I repeat, learn to live with them in the modest consciousness of your own position. My especial care shall henceforth be that you do so, for I now perceive how culpably negligent I have been.”
• “You may.”
During the whole of that morning and afternoon, a succession of visitors kept the whole party at Redburn so closely engaged that the absence of Cécile, even at luncheon, could scarcely be observed. It was not before five o'clock that Constance, being at length released, sought her cousin's room ; but on opening the door, she found her engaged in such earnest conversation with Father Athanasius, and with another priest far more advanced in life, that she hastily withdrew to her own premises. At dinner, it might have been remarked that St. Edmunds and Saint Cecilia were both immoderately thoughtful ; but so courteous and kind was the repentant Lord Tewkesbury's manner to the latter, so animated were the spirits of Sir Charles, of Lady Helen, and of Constance, that the evening glided rapidly away.
At half-past ten, Lady Helen rose and said:
“ Cécile, I am going to bed, and you had better come with me.”
The Saint immediately folded up her work, and prepared to obey. At that moment, Lord Tewkesbury was