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The world of London knew nothing of Mrs. Vaughan, save that as Philip Thornleigh's mistress, she was said to have "behaved well;" and that, in appreciation of her conduct, and in disgust at that of his wife, he had committed the insane act of making her the heiress of his wealth. That she had schemed for this result, or acted in some unworthy fashion to arrive at it, seemed certainly more than probable; and to that belief did those incline who were not likely to benefit by her accession to fortune. There were, however, many who took her merits upon trust, and believed her perfect, from the mere fact that she was rich.
In the spring of the year that followed on Philip’s death, Helen broke through her habits of seclusion, and what is called “opened her house" to a certain portion of the London world. It was a very agreeable society that she collected round her. Among the men were many distinguished by talent, and high in worldly position while there were besides a few persons of rare genius, but of reserved habits, who (thawed by the genial warmth of Helen's manner, and the unobtrusive brightness of her conversation) had been drawn from their books and their retirement to join her magic circle. There were some women among
for she was not one of those who can endure an entire dependence for companionship on male friends and acquaintances: but although those of her own sex with whom she associated were necessarily chosen from that class against which society shuts its doors, it must not therefore be imagined that all such banished ones could find entrance within hers. There was a line drawn by Mrs. Vaughan, beyond which none could, and indeed
beyond which none ever attempted to pass, for Helen acknowledged fully and unconditionally the wisdom and the justice of those long-standing social laws, by which women whose sins have been flagrant and public, are excluded from general recognition and consideration. “Those women,
so Helen argued, “who could wish for, and aim at such recognition, are most probably the least sincere in their repentance, and the least worthy of being upheld. But there are encouragements to be given," she would say, "and friendly visits to be paid privately and unostentatiously to those who are mourning over their sins in solitude: and such kindly upholding can hardly do an injury to the interests of society.” Impressed with this belief, she acted on it systematically, choosing her companions from among those whose early temptations might in some sort palliate their offences, and especially seeking for those who, far from boasting of and luxuriating in the consequences of their guilt, were grieving over the necessity that kept them as they were.
Were we describing an imaginary character, we would abstain from depicting Helen as having fellowship with the unfruitful workers of darkness; while we should, instead, pourtray her as leading the life of a penitent recluse, far from the dangers of temptation, and equally removed from the power of succouring those who had fallen. This done (and having enlisted in her behalf the sympathies of the right thinking), we would lead our penitent gently by the hand, laying her down at last in a peaceful grave,
over which village children should strew the flowers she loved the best, while with their innocent tears they moistened
the sods that lay above the breast of their benefactress.
But it was not among the just, who needed no repentance, that our sinner believed her mission lay. Among those with whose weaknesses she was acquainted, and of whose mental diseases and their possible cure she had some knowledge, she deemed it her duty to live. It may be suggested that she chose that field of duty because in it she found an excitement that was pleasant to her; and there are some who will not be backward to remark, that the company of sinners was likely to be more congenial to a woman of Helen's description than that of saints. There are few whose motives, as well as conduct, can bear with impunity the searching investigation of the merciless: but it is by her deeds, and by the good she effected, that this woman must be judged, and not by the preconceived notions of those by whom that judgment may be too rashly pronounced.
There was but one place of public resort frequented by Mrs. Vaughan, and that one was the Italian Opera. Her love of music was intense, and her attendance constant in the excellent box which she had engaged. She was known rather than seen to be there for seated behind the half-drawn curtain, she indulged in her deeply felt pleasure with as much privacy as possible.
It was on a full and brilliant night at“Her Majesty's Theatre,” that two men standing in the stalls between the acts of the “Lucia,” levelled their glasses somewhat pertinaciously at a box on the first tier, in which one lady was visible, and the presence of another was more than suspected.
The former, whose face was turned towards the stage, was a little creature fair-haired and beautifully "got up," with small delicate features and a dazzling skin. Of the latter, we, whose privilege it is to look behind the curtain, can offer a description. She was dressed in black, as, indeed, was her invariable custom; and her only ornaments were the diamond locket suspended from her throat, and a single crimson rose in her rich dark hair. Her face had a character of calm loveliness (if we may so express it) that was singularly attractive, and had she allowed her beauty to be seen, she would have been the cynosure of many an eye that night.
Her companion was the "well-conducted,” but too tardily married wife of Lord Tiverton an old and intimate friend of Philip Thornleigh. The pair were well-matched, for they never had what the husband called "rows;" and they were both firmly convinced that the best philosophy of life consists in every one doing what he or she finds most agreeable. Lady Tiverton was a first-rate rider across country, “sticking to her horse," as her lord expressed it, “better than any woman in England;” and for that cause, if for that alone, he whose soul was in the stable would have admired and respected her.
Lord Tiverton was rarely seen at the Opera, or indeed in any place where “dress” was required, and where ladies expected him to be decorous. He hated to be what the French call gêné, and what he called bored; and he had moreover a fancy for putting his boots where he chose, and was sulky if, when nature within' him called for a cigar, he was not able to obey her dictates. Sleepy he was at all times and places
and as, at his home and in his club, he would always indulge in the pleasant restorative of a "nap;" he declared that it was “deuced jolly” to adhere to those sanctums where there were no i confounded women to make the agreeable to." Such was Lord Tiverton. Maggie Brand suited him exactly; for she had just the right number of ideas in her head, and just the proper amount of sentiment in her heart, to keep her what he called “straight,” while “Tivvy” was to her a
“Something better than her dog, a little dearer than her horse;" and she was true to him accordingly.
Lady Tiverton entertained for Mrs. Vaughan a feeling almost akin to affection. The latter amused her, while most of the women she associated with were so “boring;" she had caught "Tivvy's" word (the word indeed of most of the men she knew), and used it freely. She was not particularly fond of music, and on the present occasion had come to the Opera to please her friend, who did not care to be companionless at the theatre, and one of whose favourite operas had been announced for performance on the night in question.
During the first act, and while her senses were wrapt in the enjoyment of Donizetti's most exquisite melodies, a young man had entered the box, and unobserved by its occupants, had taken up his temporary station there. He was one of the hundreds of welldressed juvenile gentlemen who are harmless enough in themselves, but whose increasing numbers (a supply evidently created by the demand) does not tend to raise our estimate of the dignity of the nineteenth century, in so far as its social ambitions may be taken