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pleasant, and had nice ways in a house, and was altogether too valuable as a lover to be lost without many struggles. So she kept to her scheme, and at last she carried it into execution.
She started alone from her house one morning, and getting into an omnibus at Brompton had herself put down on the rising ground in Piccadilly, opposite to the Green Park. Why she had hesitated to tell the omnibus-man to stop at Bolton Street can hardly be explained; but she had felt that there would be almost a declaration of guilt in naming that locality. So she got out on the little hill, and walked up in front of the Prime Minister's house,-as it was then,-and of the yellow palace built by one of our merchant princes, and turned into the street that was all but interdicted to her by her own conscience. She turned up Bolton Street, and with a trembling hand knocked at Lady Ongar's door.
Florence in the meantime was sitting alone in Onslow Terrace. She knew now that Harry was ill at Clavering,—that he was indeed very ill, though Mrs. Clavering had assured her that his illness was not dangerous. For Mrs. Clavering had written to herself,―addressing her with all the old familiarity and affection,—with a warmth of affection that was almost more than natural. It was clear that Mrs. Clavering knew nothing of Harry's sins. Or, might it not be possible, Cecilia had suggested, that Mrs. Clavering might have known, and have resolved, potentially that those sins should be banished, and become ground for some beautifully sincere repentance? Ah, how sweet it would be to receive that wicked sheep back again into the sheepfold, and then to dock him a little of his wandering powers, to fix him with some pleasant clog, to tie him down as a prudent domestic sheep should be tied, and make him the pride of the flock! But all this had been part of Cecilia's scheme, and of that scheme poor Florence knew nothing. According to Florence's view Mrs. Clavering's letter was written under a mistake. Harry had kept his secret at home, and intended to keep it for the present. But there was the letter, and Florence felt that it was impossible for her to answer it without telling the whole truth. It was very painful to her to leave unanswered so kind a letter as that, and it was quite impossible that she should write of Harry in the old strain. "It will be best that I should tell her the whole," Florence had said, "and then I shall be saved the pain of any direct communication with him." Her brother, to whom Cecilia had repeated this, applauded his sister's resolution. "Let her face it and bear it, and live it down," he had said. "Let her do it at once, so that all this maudlin sentimentality may be at an end." But Cecilia would not accede to this, and as Florence was in truth resolved, and had declared her purpose plainly, Cecilia was driven to the execution of her scheme more quickly than she had intended. In the meantime, Florence took out her little desk and wrote her letter. In tears and an agony of spirit which none can understand but women who have been driven to do the same, was it written. Could she have allowed herself to express her thoughts with passion, it would have been comparatively easy; but it behoved her to be calm, to be very quiet in her words,—
almost reticent even in the language which she chose, and to abandon her claim not only without a reproach, but almost without an allusion to her love. Whilst Cecilia was away, the letter was written, and re-written and copied; but Mrs. Burton was safe in this, that her sister-in-law had promised that the letter should not be sent till she had seen it.
Mrs. Burton, when she knocked at Lady Ongar's door, had a little note ready for the servant between her fingers. Her compliments to Lady Ongar, and would Lady Ongar oblige her by an interview. The note contained simply that, and nothing more; and when the servant took it from her, she declared her intention of waiting in the hall till she had received an answer. But she was shown into the dining-room, and there she remained for a quarter of an hour, during which time she was by no means comfortable. Probably Lady Ongar might refuse to receive her; but should that not be the case,-should she succeed in making her way into that lady's presence, how should she find the eloquence wherewith to plead her cause? At the end of the fifteen minutes, Lady Ongar herself opened the door and entered the room. "Mrs. Burton," she said, smiling, "I am really ashamed to have kept you so long; but open confession, they say, is good for the soul, and the truth is that I was not dressed. Then she led the way upstairs, and placed Mrs. Burton on a sofa, and placed herself in her own chair, from whence she could see well, but in which she could not be well seen, and stretched out the folds of her morning dress gracefully, and made her visitor thoroughly understand that she was at home and at her ease.
We may, I think, surmise that Lady Ongar's open confession would do her soul but little good, as it lacked truth, which is the first requisite for all confessions. Lady Ongar had been sufficiently dressed to receive any visitor, but had felt that some special preparation was necessary for the reception of the one who had now come to her. She knew well who was Mrs. Burton, and surmised accurately the purpose for which Mrs. Burton had come. Upon the manner in which she now carried herself might hang the decision of the question which was so important to her,-whether that Phoebus in knickerbockers should or should not become lord of Ongar Park. To effect success now, she must maintain an ascendancy during this coming interview, and in the maintenance of all ascendancy, much depends on the outward man or woman; and she must think a little of the words she must use, and a little, too, of her own purpose. She was fully minded to get the better of Mrs. Burton if that might be possible, but she was not altogether decided on the other point. She wished that Harry Clavering might be her own. She would have wished to pension off that Florence Burton with half her wealth, had such pensioning been possible. But not the less did she entertain some half doubts whether it would not be well that she could abandon her own wishes, and give up her own hope of happiness. Of Mrs. Burton personally she had known nothing, and having expected to see a somewhat strong-featured and perhaps rather vulgar woman, and to hear a voice painfully indicative of a strong mind, she was agreeably surprised to
find a pretty, mild lady, who from the first showed that she was half afraid of what she herself was doing. "I have heard your name, Mrs. Burton,” said Lady Ongar, "from our mutual friend, Mr. Clavering, and I have no doubt you have heard mine from him also." This she said in accordance with the little plan which during those fifteen minutes she had laid down for her own guidance.
Mrs. Burton was surprised, and at first almost silenced, by this open mentioning of a name which she had felt that she would have the greatest difficulty in approaching. She said, however, that it was so. She had heard Lady Ongar's name from Mr. Clavering. "We are connected, you know," said Lady Ongar. "My sister is married to his first-cousin, Sir Hugh; and when I was living with my sister at Clavering, he was at the rectory there. That was before my own marriage." She was perfectly easy in her manner, and flattered herself that the ascendancy was complete. "I have heard as much from Mr. Clavering," said Cecilia.
"And he was very civil to me immediately on my return home. Perhaps you may have heard that also. He took this house for me, and made himself generally useful, as young men ought to do. I believe he is in the same office with your husband; is he not? I hope I may not have been the means of making him idle?
This was all very well and very pretty, but Mrs. Burton was already beginning to feel that she was doing nothing towards the achievement of her purpose. "I suppose he has been idle," she said, "but I did not mean to trouble you about that." Upon hearing this, Lady Ongar smiled. This supposition that she had really intended to animadvert upon Harry Clavering's idleness was amusing to her as she remembered how little such idleness would signify if she could only have her way.
"Poor Harry!" she said. "I supposed his sins would be laid at my door. But my idea is, you know, that he never will do any good at such
work as that."
"Perhaps not;—that is, I really can't say. I don't think Mr. Burton has ever expressed any such opinion; and if he had
"If he had, you wouldn't mention it."
"I don't suppose I should, Lady Ongar;-not to a stranger."
Harry Clavering and I are not strangers," said Lady Ongar, changing the tone of her voice altogether as she spoke.
"No; I know that. You have known him longer than we have. I am aware of that."
"Yes; before he ever dreamed of going into your husband's business, Mrs. Burton; long before he had ever been to-Stratton."
The name of Stratton was an assistance to Cecilia, and seemed to have been spoken with the view of enabling her to commence her work. "Yes," she said, "but nevertheless he did go to Stratton. He went to Stratton, and there he became acquainted with my sister-in-law, Florence Burton."
"And he also became engaged to her."
"I am aware of that too. He has told me as much himself."
"And has he told you whether he means to keep, or to break that engagement?"
"Ah, Mrs. Burton, is that question fair? Is it fair either to him, or to me? If he has taken me into his confidence and has not taken you, should I be doing well to betray him? Or if there can be anything in such a secret specially interesting to myself, why should I be made to tell it you?"
"I think the truth is always the best, Lady Ongar."
"Truth is always better than a lie ;-so at least people say, though they sometimes act differently; but silence may be better than either."
"This is a matter, Lady Ongar, in which I cannot be silent. I hope you will not be angry with me for coming to you,—or for asking you these questions
"O dear, no."
"But I cannot be silent. My sister-in-law must at any rate know what is to be her fate."
"Then why do you not ask him?"
"He is ill at present."
"Ill! Where is he ill? Who says he is ill?" And Lady Ongar, though she did not quite leave her chair, raised herself up and forgot all her preparations. "Where is he, Mrs. Burton? I have not heard of his illness.” "He is at Clavering;-at the parsonage."
"I have heard nothing of this. What ails him? If he be really ill, dangerously ill, I conjure you to tell me. tell me the truth. Let there be no tricks in such a matter as this."
"Tricks, Lady Ongar!"
"If Harry Clavering be ill, tell me what ails him. Is he in danger?" "His mother in writing to Florence says that he is not in danger; but that he is confined to the house. He has been taken by some fever." On that very morning Lady Ongar had received a letter from her sister, begging her to come to Clavering Park during the absence of Sir Hugh; but in the letter no word had been said as to Harry's illness. Had he been seriously, or at least dangerously ill, Hermione would certainly have mentioned it. All this flashed across Julia's mind as these tidings about Harry reached her. If he were not really in danger, or even if he were, why should she betray her feeling before this woman? "If there had been much in it," she said, resuming her former position and manners, "I should no doubt have heard of it from my sister."
"We hear that it is not dangerous," continued Mrs. Burton; "but he away, and we cannot see him. And, in truth, Lady Ongar, we cannot see him any more until we know that he means to deal honestly by us." "Am I the keeper of his honesty ?"
"From what I have heard, I think you are. If you will tell me that I have heard falsely, I will go away and beg your pardon for mv intrusion.
But if what I have heard be true, you must not be surprised that I show this anxiety for the happiness of my sister. If you knew her, Lady Ongar, you would know that she is too good to be thrown aside with indifference."
"Harry Clavering tells me that she is an angel,-that she is perfect." "And if he loves her, will it not be a shame that they should be parted?"
"I said nothing about his loving her. Men are not always fond of perfection. The angels may be too angelic for this world."
"He did love her."
"So I suppose ;-
"He has my leave to do so, Mrs. Burton."
Cecilia, though she was somewhat afraid of the task which she had undertaken, and was partly awed by Lady Ongar's style of beauty and demeanour, nevertheless felt that if she still hoped to do any good, she must speak the truth out at once. She must ask Lady Ongar whether she held herself to be engaged to Harry Clavering. If she did not do this, nothing could come of the present interview.
"You say that, Lady Ongar, but do you mean it?" she asked. "We have been told that you also are engaged to marry Mr. Clavering." "Who has told you so ?"
"We have heard it. I have heard it, and have been obliged to tell my sister that I had done so."
"And who told you?
Did you hear it from Harry Clavering
"I did. I heard it in part from him."
"Then why have you come beyond him to me? He must know. If he has told you that he is engaged to marry me, he must also have told you that he does not intend to marry Miss Florence Burton. It is not for me to defend him or to accuse him. Why do you come to me?" "For mercy and forbearance," said Mrs. Burton, rising from her seat and coming over to the side of the room in which Lady Ongar was seated. "And Miss Burton has sent you ?"
"No; she does not know that I am here; nor does my husband know it. No one knows it. I have come to tell you that before God this man is engaged to become the husband of Florence Burton. She has learned to love him, and has now no other chance of happiness."
"But what of his happiness?"
"Yes; we are bound to think of that. Florence is bound to think of that above all things."
"And so am I. I love him too ;-as fondly, perhaps, as she can do. I loved him first, before she had even heard his name."
"But, Lady Ongar————
"Yes; you may ask the question if you will, and I will answer it truly." They were both standing now and confronting each other. "Or