« ZurückWeiter »
Flo?" Cecilia answered reproachfully. "Let me see the outside of them." Then Florence brought them round the table, and put them into her sister's hands. "May I open this one from Mrs. Clavering?" Florence nodded her head. Then the seal was broken, and in one minute the two women were crying in each other's arms. "I was quite sure of it," said Cecilia, through her tears,-" perfectly sure. I never doubted it for a moment. How could you have talked of going to Stratton ? " At last Florence got herself away up to the window, and gradually mustered courage to break the envelope of her lover's letter. It was not at once that she showed the postscript to Cecilia, nor at once that the packet was opened. That last ceremony she did perform in the solitude of her own room. But before the day was over the postscript had been shown, and the added trinket had been exhibited. "I remember it well," said Florence." Mrs. Clavering wore it on her forehead when we dined at Lady Clavering's." Mrs. Burton in all this saw something of the gentle persuasion which the mother had used, but of that she said nothing. That he should be back again, and should have repented, was enough for her.
Mr. Burton was again absent, when Harry Clavering knocked in person at the door; but on this occasion his absence had been specially arranged by him with a view to Harry's comfort. "He won't want to see me this evening," he had said. "Indeed you'll all get on a great deal better without me." He therefore had remained away from home, and not being a club man, had dined most uncomfortably at an eating-house.
la lies at home?" Harry asked, when the door was opened. Oh, yes; they were at home. There was no danger that they should be found out on such an occasion as this. The girl looked at him pleasantly, calling him by his name as she answered him, as though she too desired to show him that he had again been taken into favour,-into her favour as well as that of her mistress.
He hardly knew what he was doing as he ran up the steps to the drawing-room. He was afraid of what was to come; but nevertheless ho rushed at his fate as some young soldier rushes at the trench in which he feels that he may probably fall. So Harry Clavering hurried on, and before he had looked round upon the room which he had entered, found his fate with Florence on his bosom.
Alas, alas! I fear that justice was outraged in the welcome that Harry received on that evening. I have said that he would be called upon to own his sins, and so much, at least, should have been required of him. But he owned no sin! I have said that a certain degradation must attend him in that first interview after his reconciliation. Instead of this the hours that he spent that evening in Onslow Terrace were hours of one long ovation. He was, as it were, put upon a throne as a king who had returned from his conquest, and those two women did him honour, almost kneeling at his feet. Cecilia was almost as tender with him as Florence, pleading to her own false heart the fact of his illness as his excuse. There was
something of the pallor of the sick-room left with him,-a slight tenuity in his hands and brightness in his eye which did him yeoman's service. Had he been quite robust, Cecilia might have felt that she could not justify to herself the peculiar softness of her words. After the first quarter of an hour he was supremely happy. His awkwardness had gone, and as he sat with his arm round Florence's waist, he found that the little pencil-case had again been attached to her chain, and as he looked down upon her he saw that the cheap brooch was again on her breast. It would have been pretty, could an observer have been there, to see the skill with which they both steered clear of any word or phrase which could be disagreeable to him. One might have thought that it would have been impossible to avoid all touch of a rebuke. The very fact that he was forgiven would seem to imply some fault that required pardon. But there was no hint at any fault. The tact of women excels the skill of men; and so perfect was the tact of these women that not a word was said which wounded Harry's ear. He had come again into their fold, and they were rejoiced and showed their joy. He who had gone astray had repented, and they were beautifully tender to the repentant sheep.
HARRY stayed a little too long with his love,- -a little longer at least than had been computed, and in consequence met Theodore Burton in the Crescent as he was leaving it. This meeting could hardly be made without something of pain, and perhaps it was well for Harry that he should have such an opportunity as this for getting over it quickly. But when he saw Mr. Burton under the bright gas-lamp he would very willingly have avoided him, had it been possible.
"Well, Harry?" said Burton, giving his hand to the repentant sheep. "How are you, Burton ?" said Harry, trying to speak with an unconcerned voice. Then in answer to an inquiry as to his health, he told of his own illness, speaking of that confounded fever having made him very low. He intended no deceit, but he made more of the fever than was necessary.
"When will you come back to the shop? Burton asked. It must be remembered that though the brother could not refuse to welcome back to his home his sister's lover, still he thought that the engagement was a misfortune. He did not believe in Harry as a man of business, and had almost rejoiced when Florence had been so nearly quit of him. And now there was a taint of sarcasm in his voice as he asked as to Harry's return to the chambers in the Adelphi.
"I can hardly quite say as yet," said Harry, still pleading his illness. "They were very much against my coming up to London so soon. Indeed I should not have done it had I not felt so very-very anxious to see
Florence. I don't know, Burton, whether I ought to say anything to you
suppose you have said what you had to say to the women ?" "Oh, yes. I think they understand me completely, and I hope that I understand them."
"In that case I don't know that you need say anything to me.
Come to the Adelphi as soon as you can; that's all. I never think myself that a man becomes a bit stronger after an illness by remaining idle." Then Harry passed on, and felt that he had escaped easily in that interview.
But as he walked home he was compelled to think of the step which he must next take. When he had last seen Lady Ongar he had left her with a promise that Florence was to be deserted for her sake. As yet that promise would by her be supposed to be binding. Indeed he had thought it to be binding on himself till he had found himself under his mother's influence at the parsonage. During his last few weeks in London he had endured an agony of doubt; but in his vacillations the pendulum had always veered more strongly towards Bolton Street than to Onslow Crescent. Now the swinging of the pendulum had ceased altogether. From henceforth Bolton Street must be forbidden ground to him, and the sheepfold in Onslow Crescent must be his home till he should have established a small peculiar fold for himself. But, as yet, he had still before him the task of communicating his final decision to the lady in Bolton Street. As he walked home he determined that he had better do so in the first place by letter, and so eager was he as to the propriety of doing this at once, that on his return to his lodgings he sat down, and wrote the letter before he went to his bed. It was not very easily written. Here, at any rate, he had to make those confessions of which I have before spoken;-confessions which it may be less difficult to make with pen and ink than with spoken words, but which when so made are more degrading. The word that is written is a thing capable of permanent life, and lives frequently to the confusion of its parent. A man should make his confessions always by word of mouth if it be possible. Whether such a course would have been possible to Harry Clavering may be doubtful. It might have been that in a personal meeting the necessary confession would not have got itself adequately spoken. Thinking, perhaps, of this he wrote his letter as follows on that night.
Bloomsbury Square, July, 186—.
The date was easily written, but how was he to go on after that? In what form of affection or indifference was he to address her whom he had at that last meeting called his own, his dearest Julia? He got out of his difficulty in the way common to ladies and gentlemen under such stress, and did not address her by any name or any epithet. The date he allowed to remain, and then he went away at once to the matter of his subject.
I feel that I owe it you at once to tell you what has been my history during the last few weeks. I came up from Clavering to-day, and have since that been with Mrs, and Miss Burton. Immediately on my return from them I sit down to write you.
After having said so much, Harry probably felt that the rest of his letter would be surplusage. Those few words would tell her all that it was required that she should know. But courtesy demanded that he should say more, and he went on with his confession.
You know that I became engaged to Miss Burton soon after your own marriage. I feel now that I should have told you this when we first met; but yet, had I done so, it would have seemed as though I told it with a special object. I don't know whether I make myself understood in this. I can only hope that I do so.
Understood! Of course she understood it all. blundering explanation from him to assist her intelligence.
She required no
I wish now that I had mentioned it. It would have been better for both of us. I should have been saved much pain; and you, perhaps, some uneasiness.
I was called down to Clavering a few weeks ago, about some business in the family, and then became ill,- --so that I was confined to my bed instead of returning to town. Had it not been for this I should not have left you so long in suspense, that is if there has been suspense. For myself, I have to own that I have been very weak, —worse than weak, I fear you will think. I do not know whether your old regard for me will prompt you to make any excuse for me, but I am well sure that I can make none for myself which will not have suggested itself to you without my urging it, If you choose to think that I have been heartless, or rather, if you are able so to think of me, no words of mine, written or spoken now, will remove that impression from your mind.
I believe that I need write nothing further. You will understand from what I have said all that I should have to say were I to refer at length to that which has passed between us. All that is over now, and it only remains for me to express a hope that you may be happy. Whether we shall ever see each other again who shall say ?—but if we do I trust that we may not meet as enemies. May God bless you here and hereafter.
When the letter was finished Harry sat for a while by his open window looking at the moon, over the chimney-pots of his square, and thinking of his career in life as it had hitherto been fulfilled. The great promise of his carlier days had not been kept. His plight in the world was now poor enough, though his hopes had been so high! He was engaged to be married, but had no income on which to marry. He had narrowly escaped great wealth. Ah!—It was hard for him to think of that without a regret; but he did strive so to think of it. Though he told himself that it would have been evil for him to have depended on money which had been procured by the very act which had been to him an injury, to have dressed himself in the feathers which had been plucked from Lord Ongar's wings,-it was hard for him to think of all that he had missed, and rejoice thoroughly that he had missed it. But he told himself that he so rejoiced, and endea voured to be glad that he had not soiled his hands with riches which never would have belonged to the woman he had loved had she not earned them by being false to him. Early on the following morning he sent off his letter, and then, putting himself into a cab, bowled down to Onslow Crescent. The sheepfold now was very pleasant to him when the head
shepherd was away, and so much gratification it was natural that he should allow himself.
That evening, when he came from his club, he found a note from Lady Ongar. It was very short, and the blood rushed to his face as he felt ashamed at seeing with how much apparent ease she had answered him. He had written with difficulty, and had written awkwardly. was nothing awkward in her words.
Dear Harry,—We are quits now. I do not know why we should ever meet as enemies. I shall never feel myself to be an enemy of yours. I think it would be well that we should see each other, and if you have no objection to seeing me, I will be at home any evening that you may call. Indeed I am at home always in the evening. Surely, Harry, there can be no reason why we should not meet. You need not fear that there will be danger in it.
Will you give my compliments to Miss Florence Burton, with my best wishes for her happiness. Your Mrs. Burton I have seen,-as you may have heard, and I congratulate you on your friend.
Yours always, J. O.
The writing of this letter seemed to have been easy enough, and certainly there was nothing in it that was awkward; but I think that the writer had suffered more in the writing than Harry had done in producing his longer epistle. But she had known how to hide her suffering, and had used a tone which told no tale of her wounds. We are quits now, she had said, and she had repeated the words over and over again to herself as she walked up and down her room. Yes! they were quits now,if the reflection of that fact could do her any good. She had ill-treated him in her early days; but, as she had told herself so often, she had served him rather than injured him by that ill-treatment. She had been false to him; but her falsehood had preserved him from a lot which could not have been fortunate. With such a clog as she would have been round his neck, with such a wife, without a shilling of fortune, how could he have risen in the world? No! Though she had deceived him, she had served him. Then, after that, had come the tragedy of her life, the terrible days in thinking of which she still shuddered, the days of her husband and Sophie Gordeloup,-that terrible deathbed, those attacks upon her honour, misery upon misery, as to which she never now spoke a word to any one, and as to which she was resolved that she never would speak again. She had sold herself for money, and had got the price; but the punishment of her offence had been very heavy. And now, in theso latter days, she had thought to compensate the man she had loved for the treachery with which she had used him. That treachery had been serviceable to him, but not the less should the compensation be very rich. And she would love him too. Ah, yes; she had always loved him! He should have it all now, everything, if only he would consent to forget that terrible episode in her life, as she would strive to forget it. All that should remain to remind them of Lord Ongar would be the wealth that should henceforth belong to Harry Clavering. Such had been her dream, and