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THE

CORNHILL MAGAZINE.

MARCH, 1867.

The Claverings.

CHAPTER XL.

SIEWING HOW MRS. BURTON FOUGHT HER BATTLE.

LORENCE, I have been to
Bolton Street and I have seen
Lady Ongar."

Those were the first words which Cecilia Burton spoke to her sister-inlaw, when she found Florence in the drawing-room on her return from the visit which she had made to the countess. Florence had still before her the desk on which she had been writing; and the letter in its envelope addressed to Mrs. Clavering, but as yet unclosed, was lying beneath her blottingpaper. Florence, who had never dreamed of such an undertaking on Cecilia's part, was astounded at the tidings which she heard. Of course her first effort was made to learn from her sister's tone

and countenance what had been the result of this interview ;—but she could learn nothing from either

. There was no radiance as of joy in Mrs. Burton's face, nor was there written there anything of despair. Her voice was serious and VOL. XV.-NO, 87.

13.

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almost solemn, and her manner was very grave;—but that was all. “You have seen her ? ” said Florence, rising up from her chair.

Yes, dear. I may have done wrong. Theodore, I know, will say so. But I thought it best to try to learn the truth before you wrote to Vrs. Clavering."

“And what is the truth ? But perhaps you have not learned it?”

"I think I have learned all that she could tell me. She has been rery frank."

“ Well ;—what is the truth? Do not suppose, dearest, that I cannot bear it. I hope for nothing now. I only want to have this settled, that I may be at rest."

Upon this Mrs. Burton took the suffering girl in her arms and caressed her tenderly. My love,” said she, “it is not easy for us to be at rest. You cannot be at rest as yet.”

“ I can. I will be so, when I know that this is settled. I do not wish to interfere with his fortune. There is my letter to his mother, and not I will go back to Stratton."

“Not yet, dearest; not yet,” said Mrs. Burton, taking the letter in her hand, but refraining from withdrawing it at once from the envelope. “ You must hear what I have heard to-day.”

“ Does she say that she loves him?"
Ah, yes ;-she loves him. We must not doubt that."
And he ;—what does she say of him ?"

says
what

you also must say, Florence ;—though it is hard that it should be so. It must be as he shall decide."

“No," said Florence, withdrawing herself from the arm that was still around her. “No; it shall not be as he may choose to decide. I will not so submit myself to him. It is enough as it is. I will never see him more;-never. To say that I do not love him would be untrue, but I will never see him again.”

Stop, dear; stop. What if it be no fault of his ?”

• No fault of his that he went to her when we-we-we—he and Iwere, as we were, together!”

• Of course there has been some fault; but, Flo dearest, listen to ne. You know that I would ask you to do nothing from which a woman should shrink."

“I know that you would give your heart's blood for me ;—but nothing will be of avail now. Do not look at me with melancholy eyes like that. Cissy, it will not kill me. It is only the doubt that kills one."

“I will not look at you with melancholy eyes, but you must listen to

She does not herself know what his intention is."

“But I know it,--and I know my own. Read my letter, Cissy. There is not one word of anger in it, nor will I ever utter a reproach. He knew her first. If he loved her through it all, it was a pity he could not be constant to his love, even though she was false to him.”

“ But you won't hear me, Flo. As far as I can learn the truth.

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13 I myself most firmly believe,—when he went to her on her roturn to England, he had no other intention than that of visiting an old friend."

“But what sort of friend, Cissy ?”

“ He had no idea then of being untrue to you. But when he saw her the old intimacy came back. That was natural. Then he was dazzled by her beauty."

“Is she then so beautiful ? " “She is very beautiful."

“Let him go to her," said Florence, tearing herself away from her sister's arm, and walking across the room with a quick and almost angry step. “Let her have him, Cissy, there shall be an end of it. I will not condescend to solicit his love. If she is such as you say, and if beauty with him goes for everything,—what chance could there be for such as me?"

"I did not say that beauty with him went for everything."

“Of course it does. I ought to have known that it would be so with such a one as him. And then she is rich also,—wonderfully rich! What right can I have to think of him ? "

Florence, you are unjust. You do not even suspect that it is her money.”

“ To me it is the same thing. I suppose that a woman who is so beautiful has a right to everything. I know that I am plain, and I will be-content-in future—to think no more --” Poor Florence, when she had got as far as that, broke down, and could go on no further with the declaration which she had been about to make as to her future prospects. Mrs. Burton, taking advantage of this, went on with her story, struggling, not altogether unsuccessfully, to assume a calm tone of unimpassioned

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“As I said before, he was dazzled-
“ Dazzled !-oh!”
“But even then he had no idea of being untrue to you."
“No; he was untrue without an idea. That is worse."

“ Florence, you are perverse, and are determined to be unfair. I must beg that you will hear me to the end, so that then you may be able to judge what course you ought to follow.” This Mrs. Burton said with the air of a great authority; after which she continued in a voice something less stem—“He thought of doing no injury to you when he went to see her; but something of the feeling of his old love grew upon him when he was in her company, and he became embarrassed by his position before he was aware of his own danger. Ho might, of course, have been stronger.” Here Florence exhibited a gesture of strong impatience, though she did not speak. “I am not going to defend him altogether, but I think you must admit that he was hardly tried. Of course I cannot say what passed between them, but I can understand how easily they might recur to the old scenes ;-how naturally she would wish for a renewal of the love which she had been base enough to betray! She does not, however, consider herself as at present engaged to him. That you may know for certain. It may be that she has asked him for such a promise, and that he has hesitated. If so, his staying away from us, and his not writing to you, can be easily understood."

“ And what is it you would have me do ? "

• He is ill now. Wait till he is well. He would have been here before this, had not illness prevented him. Wait till he comes."

“I cannot do that, Cissy. Wait I must, but I cannot wait without offering him, through his mother, the freedom which I have so much reason to know that he desires."

6. We do not know that he desires it. We do not know that his mother even suspects him of any fault towards you. Now that he is there,—at home,-away from Bolton Street-"

“I do not care to trust to such influences as that, Cissy. If he could not spend this morning with her in her own house, and then as he left ber feel that he preferred me to her, and to all the world, I would rather be as I am than take his hand. He shall not marry me from pity, nor yet from a sense of duty. We know the old story,-how the devil would be å monk when he was sick. I will not accept his sick-bed allegiance, or have to think that I owe my husband to a mother's influence over him while he is ill."

You will make me think, Flo, that you are less true to him than she is."

Perhaps it is so. Let him have what good such truth as hers can do him. For me, I feel that it is my duty to be true to myself. I will not condescend to indulge my heart at the cost of my pride as a woman."

Oh, Florence, I hate that word pride."
“ You would not hate it for yourself, in my place."
“ You need take no shame to love him."

• Have I taken shame to love him?” said Florence, rising again from her chair. “ Have I been missish or coy about my love ? From the moment in which I knew that it was a pleasure to myself to regard him as my future husband, I have spoken of my love as being always proud of it. I have acknowledged it as openly as you can do yours for Theodore. I acknowledge it still, and will never deny it. Take shame that I have loved him! No. But I should take to myself great shame should I ever be brought so low as to ask him for his love, when once I had learned to think that he had transferred it from myself to another woman." Then she walked the length of the room, backwards and forwards, with hasty steps, not looking at her sister-in-law, whose eyes were now filled with tears. “Come, Cissy,” she then said, “we will make an end of this. Read my letter if you choose to read it,—though indeed it is not worth the reading, and then let me send it to the post."

Mrs. Burton now opened the letter and read it very slowly. It was stern and almost unfeeling in the calmness of the words chosen : but in

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