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Helena's strength was exhausted-she sank down. Marie, who stood nearest to her, caught her before she fell, placed her in her own chair, and stood supporting her in her arms. The count was as white as a
My God!" he exclaimed, "she must have been struck with sudden delirium !"
Svendsen and Volmand hurried to her in dismay. They seemed to share in the count's opinion. The doctor tore off her glove, and felt her pulse. All crowded round her; one brought a glass of water, another eau-de-Cologne, a third reviving drops; every one was anxious and occupied about her. They chafed her temples, they threw cold water on her, until her beautiful dress was drenched in it. The bridal wreath dropped from her hair, and her rich locks fell over her white shoulders.
At length she recovered consciousness, and looked round, bewildered. Volmand asked:
"Do you know me, my Helena ?"
"Dearest uncle !" she replied, in a tone of extreme languor.
"My beloved girl!" said the count, taking her hand. She drew it back.
Volmand raised her up in his arms, and supported by him and her father, she went into the next room. Thither her mother, the clergyman, Count Munck, and Falkenstierne followed. Volmand placed Helena on a sofa, and shut the door against the other guests, some of whom wished to make their way in. Falkenstierne knelt before Helena, and said:
"My sweetest girl! what an unlucky confusion of mind- But she did not allow him to finish his speech; she exerted herself to rise, and with a degree of dignity and self-possession which no one had ever supposed so young and timid a girl could have assumed, she said:
"No, Count Falkenstierne, I have not lost my senses; on the contrary, my mind has been enlightened by the conversation, to me most painful, which recently took place in this very room. I had deceived myself. You are not the man whom I loved with all my heart and all the powers of my soul. Your fine features, your elegance, and your charming manners attracted the inexperienced girl, but do me the justice to believe that I was captivated by these externals because I thought they betokened internal worth and a noble spirit. I was mistaken, and your influence over me is at an end. My enthusiasm is gone, and with it my love."
How, Helena," cried the count, "have you the heart to speak thus to me? Was your love so weak that it could not survive an inconsiderate step, which, overwhelmed with embarrassments, I was, as it were, driven to risk ?"
"Oh, Falkenstierne !" exclaimed Helena, "my affection was real. It was yourself I loved, But you did not care for me. Ah, that such words must pass my lips! It was not the poor girl, who felt the most devoted attachment to you-who would gladly have given her life for you-it was not for her that you cared, not for her own sake that you sought her, but I shudder to think it-for the sake of her father's riches. A richer bride may yet be yours, one far more showy and more accomplished, but never one who can love you so much as did the poor,
unpretending, and so often slighted Helena!" She covered her face with her hands, and wept bitterly.
"Ah, dear Helena, can you doubt my love?" cried the count. "Only reflect a moment. If you ever really cared for me, how can you find in your heart to put such an indignity upon me as, at a moment like this, in this cruel manner to break with me, when we were all but united by the ordinances of the Church! What a shocking scandal! What will the world say?"
Helena suddenly raised her head, and looking earnestly at him, she said:
"It was with the ridicule of the world that you threatened me a few minutes ago, when, prompted by selfishness and cold calculation, you spoke of breaking off our engagement. I now dissolve that engagement on higher and more important grounds."
"Are you in earnest? Is this your serious determination?" asked the count, in ill-suppressed wrath.
"Yes!" replied Helena, "my resolution is as earnest as my love was sincere."
"Then I bid you and yours farewell!" cried the count. He took the unlucky document from his pocket, cast it scornfully on the floor, and left the room without taking further notice of any one. He was heard in the hall calling in a voice of thunder for his servants, and immediately after his carriage drove furiously off.
Count Munck took the paper up from the floor, read it, laid it on the table, and threw himself on a chair. The clergyman returned to the wedding guests, who flocked round him to obtain some information of what had been going on. Marie wept, but the Struds family laughed maliciously, with the exception of Malle, who seemed shocked, and began to speak in a low voice to Marie.
After the lapse of a few seconds, Helena went up to her parents, threw herself on her knees, and exclaimed:
"Oh, my dear father and mother, forgive me that I formed this engagement, forgive me that I have so abruptly broken it off! Your poor Helena comes back to you with redoubled affection. Cast me not from you, but grant me my old place in your hearts and in your house! Let me again share in your domestic occupations, my dear mother! Again sit with you in my little parlour, dearest uncle," she added, as she held out her hand to Dr. Volmand. "And I pray you all to forgive me. I have disobeyed you for the first and last time."
They all three caressed her, while they could hardly speak for tears. "My Helena," at length exclaimed Dr. Volmand, "my darling! this moment repays me for all the sorrow and anxiety I have suffered on your account latterly."
Mr. Svendsen turned joyfully to his wife, and said:
"I am as much delighted at this moment as I was when I returned from that distant voyage, and you showed me our child the first time."
In their excitement, they had quite forgotten that Count Munck was in the room. They now all turned their eyes to him. He was sitting perfectly still, with his arms resting on the table, and his hands before his eyes. Helena went up to him, threw herself at his feet, and said, weeping:
'Oh, noble sir, be not angry with me! I shall always lament the loss of such a father-in-law, I was so proud of becoming your daughter. May I not still be as a daughter to you? May I not dare to hope that you will permit me to come and see you? Will you not kindly allow me to come and be your nurse if ever you should be ill? will ever have the deepest interest for me."
All that relates
Munck was much affected at the fair girl's appeal. He raised her, and embraced her affectionately. He soon after left the house, but not until he had promised to maintain a friendly acquaintance with the Svendsen family.
Helena was much exhausted, and by her uncle's advice, she immediately retired for the night, her mother and Marie following her to her room, and assisting her to divest herself of all her bridal paraphernalia. She begged her mother to send early next morning for her embroideryframe, her book-case, and all the little matters belonging to her that had been removed to the house she was to have occupied, and let them all be put back in their former places, "so that everything," she said, " may stand as it used to do, and I may fancy, when I wake to-morrow morning, that all the events of the last eight months were but a dream."
A few days after Mr. Svendsen called on Count Munck. He handed over to him the casket of jewels which had been presented to his daughter. "These ought to remain in your family," said he. "But permit me now to speak on another subject. I honour and love you do not be offended at the freedom of the expression-as I would a much-respected brother."
"I entertain exactly the same sentiments towards you," said the count, cordially shaking his hand.
"If that be the case," cried Svendsen, "allow me to entreat a proof of your regard."
"With all my heart," replied the count.
"Well then," continued Svendsen, "Fortune has favoured me much lately. Two ships of mine have arrived after most successful voyages, and business has been most prosperous. Now as to this document" (he drew from his pocket the bond Falkenstierne had got him to sign), “I can't bear to see it; I feel as if it burns me when I touch it. You are so surrounded with honours that nothing can add to them, I am but a humble individual; yet let me hope that you will condescend to oblige me; and if you would wish to do that, take this paper from me, and give it to your stepson. I feel that he has still a claim upon me—since my daughter loved him so well."
Touched by his goodness, Count Munck warmly thanked Mr. Svendsen. But," he added, "I cannot undertake your generous commission. Put yourself in my place. I have loved Alexander as a father; he was brought up in my house. I will not endeavour to offer any excuse for him, but a parent's affection will cling even to an unworthy child. No, dear sir, I could not humiliate him so deeply."
"Then do me the honour to accept this money yourself," said Svendsen. "You can then assist your son with it, and yet not humiliate him."
"Would he not easily guess whence it came?" said Munck. "If ever
I have need myself of pecuniary assistance I will apply to you, trusting to your kindness-to no one else. But for him I cannot accept anything."
Mr. Svendsen regretted much the result of his interview with Count Munck. In relating it to Volmand afterwards, he said:
"I would so gladly have helped that Falkenstierne. I really feel as if I were someway connected to him, although he has not become my sonin-law."
Volmand replied with a sarcastic smile:
"Provide the money, and hand it over to me; I warrant you I will find a way to dispose of it according to your desire."
The same day the Countess Matilda, accompanied by Gustavus, arrived in town. She went straight to Helena, spoke a long time in private with her, and from this period a sincere friendship sprang up between Helena and that amiable lady. She told the desponding girl that it was on her account alone she had come up from Lindenborg, and she invited her to accompany her back to that lovely and peaceful abode. The kind invitation was accepted with pleasure, and her parents promised to come and fetch her home after a time. Soothed by the tender attentions of real friendship, enlivened by refined and agreeable society, and invigorated by the fresh breezes of the early spring, Helena's health and spirits equally began to recover.
What became of Count Falkenstierne's diplomatic mission? Whether one had been really offered to him, or whether the assertion was a poetical fiction of the moment when he felt at a loss what to say, certain it was that no more was heard of it. However, owing to Count Munck's influence and efforts, his affairs were to a certain extent arranged, and it was settled that he should go abroad for a few years.
Gustavus, who, in consequence of a conversation he had had with Volmand, had returned to town, came one morning to Falkenstierne, and said:
"I know some worthy people who take an interest in you, without being at all connected to you. And with their help I shall happily have it in my power to furnish you with the means of paying your creditors, if you will give me a list of your debts."
The count looked keenly at him, while he replied:
"You shall have the list to-morrow."
"Further," continued Gustavus, "they will give you a credit upon certain banks in the principal towns of the countries you intend to visit, so that you can travel with comfort."
The count laughed, and said:
"Do you fancy me, now, such a blockhead as not to know right well
who the worthy people' are, or rather who the worthy person is? You would make but a sorry diplomatist. However, it is all one to me. what story you please about having thrown dust in my eyes. I should accept the money were it ten times as much. It is but a slender sation for the disgraceful manner in which I was treated."
Twelve months had elapsed since the day of the interrupted wedding. Helena had spent a great portion of that time at Lindenborg. The snowdrops and violets had scarcely begun to announce the return of spring the following year, before Countess Matilda had sent for her young friend.
Her parents had escorted her into the country, and returned home again. Volmand soon after joined the little circle at Lindenborg.
One day, when he entered the boudoir of the countess, he found her standing at a window, and apparently so absorbed in thought that she did not observe his approach until he accosted her, asking what so entirely occupied her attention.
"Look at our young favourites," replied the countess, "they are coming yonder through the alley of trees."
Volmand looked, and saw Gustavus and Helena approaching arm-inarm. The young man leaned down towards his lovely companion with eyes that beamed with joy. Helena met his look with a happy and affectionate smile. They seemed to be engaged in some deeply interesting
Volmand took the Countess Matilda's hand:
"Dear friend," he exclaimed, "my wishes are the same as yours, are they not ?"
"Yes," she replied, "my most earnest wishes. But," she added, as she turned from the window, "ought one not to be afraid, in reason, to fix one's eyes on any cherished hope ?"
"No," replied the physician, "not eyes such as yours-eyes so holy that they might look into eternity. But see! here come the two so fondly loved. They hail us with gladness in their looks, and make signs that they are bringing us the first flowerets of the spring. Let us hope that the coming summer will bring roses for them and for us."
"Yes," replied the countess, again gazing from the window:
"Time as it speeds on silent wings,
Oft summer's sweetest roses brings."
BY STEAM-BOAT TO SAINT CLOUD.
No matter if the Seine is not salt-and yet why should it not be salted?-its steamers are a precious consolation for the pride that is pained by Paris not being a seaport.
Hence it is that the crowd is always considerable on board of the boats that perform the journey from the Pont Royal to the Pont de St. Cloud. The packet itself on these stirring occasions testifies by the hiccupping of its boiler how weary it is of the hawser that fastens it to the shore. A jack-tar, who, when he is at home, dwells probably in a back room, sixth story of the Rue Tirechappe, has been for the last three-quarters of an hour pulling away at a great bell as if he wished to crack the parapets. He never leaves off indeed for a moment, except to answer the inquiries of passengers as to when the boat is likely to start, and for them he has a short and curt response-immediately! Which said, he resumes his soli on the tintinnabulary allegretto.
The crowd in the mean time has so encumbered the deck that there is no longer room for the sparest of opera-dancers. The mariner executes his last peal, and a shudder runs through the contemplative crowd perched on the bridge above as the Arcas weighs her anchor.