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those words her proposed marriage with Harry Clavering was absolutely abandoned. "I know," she said, "that your son is more warmly attached to another lady than he is to me, and under those circumstances, for his sake as well as for mine, it is necessary that we should part. Dear Mrs. Clavering, may I ask you to make him understand that he and I are never to recur to the past? If he will send me back any letters of mine,—should any have been kept,-and the little present which I once gave him, all will have been done which need be done, and all have been said which need be said. He will receive in a small parcel his own letters and the gifts which he has made me." There was in this a tone of completeness, -as of a business absolutely finished,―of a judgment admitting no appeal, which did not at all suit Mrs. Burton's views. A letter, quite as becoming on the part of Florence, might, she thought, be written, which would still leave open a door for reconciliation. But Florence was resolved, and the letter was sent.
The part which Mrs. Burton had taken in this conversation had surprised even herself. She had been full of anger with Harry Clavering,— as wrathful with him as her nature permitted her to be; and yet she had pleaded his cause with all her eloquence, going almost so far in her defence of him as to declare that he was blameless. And in truth she was prepared to acquit him of blame,-to give him full absolution without penance, -if only he could be brought back again into the fold. Her wrath against him would be very hot should he not so return;-but all should be more than forgiven if he would only come back, and do his duty with affectionate and patient fidelity. Her desire was, not so much that justice should be done, as that Florence should have the thing coveted, and that Florence's rival should not have it. According to the arguments, as arranged by her feminine logic, Harry Clavering would be all right or all wrong according as he might at last bear himself. She desired success, and, if she could only be successful, was prepared to forgive everything. And even yet she would not give up the battle, though she admitted to herself that Florence's letter to Mrs. Clavering made the contest more difficult than ever. It might, however, be that Mrs. Clavering would be good enough, just enough, true enough, clever enough, to know that such a letter as this, coming from such a girl and written under such circumstances, should be taken as meaning nothing. Most mothers would wish to see their sons married to wealth, should wealth throw itself in their way;-but Mrs. Clavering, possibly, might not be such a mother as that.
In the meantime there was before her the terrible necessity of explaining to her husband the step which she had taken without his knowledge, and of which she knew that she must tell him the history before she could sit down to dinner with him in comfort. "Theodore," she said, creeping in out of her own chamber to his dressing-room, while he was washing his hands, "you mustn't be angry with me, but I have done something to-day."
"And why must I not be angry with you?"
"You know what I mean.
You mustn't be angry-especially about
this, because I don't want you to be."
"That's conclusive," said he. It was manifest to her that he was in a good humour, which was a great blessing. He had not been tried with his work as he was often wont to be, and was therefore willing to be playful.
"What do you think I've done?" said she. "I have been to Bolton Street and have seen Lady Ongar."
"I have, Theodore, indeed."
Mr. Burton had been rubbing his face vehemently with a rough towel at the moment in which the communication had been made to him, and so strongly was he affected by it that he was stopped in his operation and brought to a stand in his movement, looking at his wife over the towel as he held it in both his hands. "What on earth has made you do such
a thing as that?" he said.
"I thought it best. I thought that I might hear the truth, and so I have. I could not bear that Florence should be sacrificed whilst anything remained undone that was possible."
"Why didn't you tell me that you were going?
"Well, my dear; I thought it better not. Of course I ought to havə told you, but in this instance I thought it best just to go without the fuss of mentioning it."
"What you really mean is, that if you had told me I should have asked you not to go."
"And you were determined to have your own way?”
"I don't think, Theodore, I care so much about my own way as some women do. I am sure I always think your opinion is better than my own ;—that is, in most things."
"And what did Lady Ongar say to you?" He had now put down the towel, and was seated in his arm-chair, looking up into his wife's face.
"It would be a long story to tell you all that she said." "Was she civil to you?"
"She was not uncivil. She is a handsome, proud woman, prone speak out what she thinks and determined to have her own way when it is possible; but I think that she intended to be civil to me personally."
What is her purpose now?"
"Her purpose is clear enough. She means to marry Harry Clavering if she can get him. She said so. She made no secret of what her wishes are."
"Then, Cissy, let her marry him, and do not let us trouble ourselves further in the matter."
"But Florence, Theodore! Think of Florence ! "
"I am thinking of her, and I think that Harry Clavering is not worth her acceptance. She is as the traveller that fell among thieves. She is
hurt and wounded, but not dead. It is for you to be the Good Samaritan, but the oil which you should pour into her wounds is not a renewed hope as to that worthless man. Let Lady Ongar have him. As far as I can
see, they are fit for each other."
Then she went through with him, diligently, all the arguments which she had used with Florence, palliating Harry's conduct, and explaining the circumstances of his disloyalty, almost as those circumstances had in truth occurred. "I think you are too hard on him," she said. "You can't be too hard on falsehood," he replied. "No, not while it exists. But you would not be angry with a man for ever, because he should once have been false ? But we do not know that he is false." "Do we not?" said he. "But never mind; we must go to dinner now. Does Florence know of your visit?" Then, before she would allow him to leave his room, she explained to him what had taken place between herself and Florence, and told him of the letter that had been written to Mrs. Clavering. "She is right," said he. "That way out of her difficulty is the best that is left to her." But, nevertheless, Mrs. Burton was resolved that she would not as yet surrender.
Theodore Burton, when he reached the drawing-room, went up to his sister and kissed her. Such a sign of the tenderness of love was not common with him, for he was one of those who are not usually demonstrative in their affection. At the present moment he said nothing of what was passing in his mind, nor did she. She simply raised her face to meet his lips, and pressed his hand as she held it. What need was there of any further sign between them than this? Then they went to dinner, and their meal was eaten almost in silence. Almost every moment Cecilia's eye was on her sister-in-law. A careful observer, had there been one there, might have seen this; but, while they remained together downstairs, there occurred among them nothing else to mark that all was not well with them.
Nor would the brother have spoken a word during the evening on the subject that was so near to all their hearts had not Florence led the way. When they were at tea, and when Cecilia had already made up her mind that there was to be no further discussion that night, Florence suddenly broke forth.
"Theodore," she said, "I have been thinking much about it, and I believe I had better go home, to Stratton, to-morrow.”
"Oh, no," said Cecilia, eagerly.
"I believe it will be better that I should," continued Florence. "I suppose it is very weak in me to own it; but I am unhappy, and, like the wounded bird, I feel that it will be well that I should hide myself." "Dearest Flo," she said.
Cecilia was at her feet in a moment.
not this your home as well as Stratton?"
"When I am able to be happy it is. Those who have light hearts may have more homes than one; but it is not so with those whose hearts are heavy. I think it will be best for me to go."
"You shall do exactly as you please," said her brother. "In such a matter I will not try to persuade you. I only wish that we could tend to comfort you."
"You do comfort me. If I know that you think I am doing right, that will comfort me more than anything. Absolute and immediate comfort is not to be had when one is sorrowful."
"No, indeed," said her brother. "Sorrow should not be killed too quickly. I always think that those who are impervious to grief must be impervious also to happiness. If you have feelings capable of the one, you must have them capable also of the other!"
"You should wait at any rate, till you get an answer from Mrs. Clavering," said Cecilia.
"I do not know that she has any answer to send to me." "Oh, yes; she must answer you, if you will think of it. what you have said—"
"She cannot but accept it."
If she accepts
"Then she must reply to you. There is something which you have asked her to send to you; and I think you should wait, at any rate, till it reaches you here. Mind I do not think her answer will be of that nature; but it is clear that you should wait for it whatever it may be." Then Florence, with the concurrence of her brother's opinion, consented to remain in London for a few days, expecting the answer which would be sent by Mrs. Clavering;-and after that no further discussion took place as to her trouble.
THE SHEEP RETURNS TO THE FOLD.
HARRY CLAVERING had spoken solemn words to his mother, during his illness, which both he and she regarded as a promise that Florence should not be deserted by him. After that promise nothing more was said between them on the subject for a few days. Mrs. Clavering was contented that the promise had been made, and Harry himself, in the weakness consequent upon his illness, was willing enough to accept the excuse which his illness gave him for postponing any action in the matter. But the fever had left him, and he was sitting up in his mother's room, when Florence's letter reached the parsonage, and, with the letter, the little parcel which she herself had packed up so carefully. On the day before that a few words had passed between the rector and his wife, which will explain the feelings of both of them in the matter.
"Have you heard," said he,-speaking in a voice hardly above a whisper, although no third person was in the room-" that Harry is again thinking of making Julia his wife?"
"He is not thinking of doing so," said Mrs. Clavering. "They who say so, do him wrong."
"It would be a great thing for him as regards money."
"But he is engaged,-and Florencé Burton has been received here as his future wife. I could not endure to think that it should be so. At any rate, it is not true."
"I only tell you what I heard," said the rector, gently sighing, partly in obedience to his wife's implied rebuke, and partly at the thought that so grand a marriage should not be within his son's reach. The rector was beginning to be aware that Harry would hardly make a fortune at the profession which he had chosen, and that a rich marriage would be an easy way out of all the difficulties which such a failure promised. The rector was a man who dearly loved easy ways out of difficulties. But in such matters as these his wife he knew was imperative and powerful, and he lacked the courage to plead for a cause that was prudent, but
When Mrs. Clavering received the letter and parcel on the next morning, Harry Clavering was still in bed. With the delightful privilege of a convalescent invalid, he was allowed in these days to get up just when getting up became more comfortable than lying in bed, and that time did not usually come till eleven o'clock was past;—but the postman reached the Clavering parsonage by nine. The letter, as we know, was addressed to Mrs. Clavering herself, as was also the outer envelope which contained the packet; but the packet itself was addressed in Florence's clear handwriting to Harry Clavering, Esq. "That is a large parcel to come by post, mamma," said Fanny.
"Yes, my dear; but it is something particular."
"It's from some tradesman, I suppose ? said the rector.
"No; it's not from a tradesman," said Mrs. Clavering. But she said nothing further, and both husband and daughter perceived that it was not intended that they should ask further questions.
Fanny, as usual, had taken her brother his breakfast, and Mrs. Clavering did not go up to him till that ceremony had been completed and removed. Indeed it was necessary that she should study Florence's letter in her own room before she could speak to him about it. What the parcel contained she well knew, even before the letter had been thoroughly read; and I need hardly say that the treasure was sacred in her hands. When she had finished the perusal of the letter there was a tear,—a gentle tear, in each eye. She understood it all, and could fathom the strength and weakness of every word which Florence had written. But she was such a exactly such a woman, as Cecilia Burton had pictured to herself. Mrs. Clavering was good enough, great enough, true enough, clever enough to know that Harry's love for Florence should be sustained, and his fancy for Lady Ongar overcome. At no time would she have been proud to see her son prosperous only in the prosperity of a wife's fortune; but she would have been thoroughly ashamed of him, had he resolved to pursue such prosperity under his present circumstances.
But her tears, though they were there in the corners of her eyes,— were not painful tears. Dear Florence! She was suffering bitterly now.