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This very day would be a day of agony to her. There had been for her, doubtless, many days of agony during the past month. That the letter was true in all its words Mrs. Clavering did not doubt. That Florence believed that all was over between her and Harry, Mrs. Clavering was as sure as Florence had intended that she should be. But all should not be over, and the days of agony should soon be at an end. Her boy had promised her, and to her he had always been true. And she understood, too, the way in which these dangers had come upon him, and her judgment was not heavy upon her son ;-her gracious boy, who had ever been so good to her! It might be that he had been less diligent at his work than he should have been,-that on that account further delay would still be necessary; but Florence would forgive that, and he had promised that Florence should not be deserted.
Then she took the parcel in her hands, and considered all its circumstances, how precious had once been its contents, and how precious doubtless they still were, though they had been thus repudiated! And she thought of the moments,-nay, rather of the hours,-which had been passed in the packing of that little packet. She well understood how a girl would linger over such dear pain, touching the things over and over again, allowing herself to read morsels of the letters at which she had already forbidden herself even to look,-till every word had been again seen and weighed, again caressed and again abjured. She knew how those little trinkets would have been fondled! How salt had been the tears that had fallen on them, and how carefully the drops would have been removed. Every fold in the paper of the two envelopes, with the little morsels of wax just adequate for their purpose, told of the lingering painful care with which the work had been done. Ah! the parcel should go back at once with words of love that should put an end to all that pain! She, who had sent these loved things away, should have her letters again, and should touch her little treasures with fingers that should take pleasure in the touching. She should again read her lover's words with an enduring delight. Mrs. Clavering understood it all, as though she also were still a girl with a lover of her own.
Harry was beginning to think that the time had come in which getting up would be more comfortable than lying in bed, when his mother knocked at his door and entered his room. "I was just going to make a move, mother," he said, having reached that stage of convalescence in which some shame comes upon the idler.
"But I want to speak to you first, my dear," said Mrs. Clavering. "I have got a letter for you, or rather a parcel." Harry held out his hand, and taking the packet, at once recognized the writing of the address. "You know from whom it comes, Harry?"
"Oh, yes, mother."
"And do you know what it contains? Harry, still holding the packet, looked at it, but said nothing. "I know," said his mother; " for she has written and told me. Will you see her letter to me?" Again Harry
held out his hand, but his mother did not at once give him the letter. "First of all, my dear, let us know that we understand each other. This dear girl,-to me she is inexpressibly dear,-is to be your wife?"
"Yes, mother;-it shall be so."
"That is my own boy! Harry, I have never doubted you ;-have never doubted that you would be right at last. Now you shall see her letter. But you must remember that she has had cause to make her unhappy."
"I will remember."
"Had you not been ill, everything would of course have been all right before now." As to the correctness of this assertion the reader probably will have doubts of his own. Then she handed him the letter, and sat on his bed-side while he read it. At first he was startled, and made almost indignant at the firmness of the girl's words. She gave him up as though it were a thing quite decided, and uttered no expression of her own regret in doing so. There was no soft woman's wail in her words. But there was in them something which made him unconsciously long to get back the thing which he had so nearly thrown away from him. They inspired him with a doubt whether he might yet succeed, which very doubt greatly increased his desire. As he read the letter for the second time, Julia became less beautiful in his imagination, and the charm of. Florence's character became stronger.
"Well, dear?" said his mother, when she saw that he had finished tho second reading of the epistle.
He hardly knew how to express, even to his mother, all his feelings,the shame that he felt, and with the shame something of indignation that he should have been so repulsed. And of his love, too, he was afraid to speak. He was willing enough to give the required assurance, but after that he would have preferred to have been left alone. But his mother could not leave him without some further word of agreement between them as to the course which they would pursue.
"I shall write, certainly,-by to-day's post. I would not leave her an hour if I could help it, without an assurance of your unaltered affection." "I could go to town to-morrow, mother;-could I not?"
"Not to-morrow, Harry. It would be foolish. Say on Monday." "And you will write to-day?"
"I will send a line also,-just a line."
"And the parcel ?"
"I have not opened it yet.
"You know what it contains. Send it back at once, Harry ;-at once. If I understand her feelings, she will not be happy till she gets it into her hands again. We will send Jem over to the post-office, and have it registered."
When so much was settled, Mrs. Clavering went away about the affairs
of her house, thinking as she did so of the loving words with which she would strive to give back happiness to Florence Burton.
Harry, when he was alone, slowly opened the parcel. He could not resist the temptation of doing this, and of looking again at the things which she had sent back to him. And he was not without an idea,-perhaps a hope that there might be with them some short note,-some scrap containing a few words for himself. If he had any such hope he was disappointed. There were his own letters, all scented with lavender from the casket in which they had been preserved; there was the rich bracelet which had been given with some little ceremony, and the cheap brooch which he had thrown to her as a joke, and which she had sworn that she would value the most of all because she could wear it every day; and there was the pencil-case which he had fixed on to her watch-chain, while her fingers were touching his fingers, caressing him for his love while her words were rebuking him for his awkwardness. He remembered it all as the things lay strewed upon his bed. And he re-read every word of his own words. "What a fool a man makes of himself," he said to himself at last, with something of the cheeriness of laughter about his heart. But as he said so he was quite ready to make himself a fool after the same fashion again,-if only there were not in his way that difficulty of recommencing. Had it been possible for him to write again at once in the old strain,-without any reference to his own conduct during the last month, he would have begun his fooling without waiting to finish his dressing.
"Did you open the parcel ?" his mother asked him, some hour or so before it was necessary that Jem should be started on his mission.
"Yes; I thought it best to open it."
"And have you made it up again?" "Not yet, mother."
"Put this with it, dear." And his mother gave him a little jewel, a cupid in mosaic surrounded by tiny diamonds, which he remembered her to wear ever since he had first noticed the things she had worn. "Not from me, mind. I give it to you. Come ;-will you trust me to pack them?" Then Mrs. Clavering again made up the parcel, and added the trinket which she had brought with her.
Harry at last brought himself to write a few words. "Dearest, dearest Florence,-They will not let me out, or I would go to you at once. My mother has written, and though I have not seen her letter, I know what it contains. Indeed, indeed you may believe it all. May I not venture to return the parcel? I do send it back and implore you to keep it. I shall be in town, I think, on Monday, and will go to Onslow Crescent,— instantly. Your own, H. C." Then there was scrawled a postscript which was worth all the rest put together, was better than his own note, better than his mother's letter, better than the returned packet. "I love no one better than you;-no one half so well,-neither now, nor ever did." These words, whether wholly true or only partially so, were
at least to the point; and were taken by Cecilia Burton, when she heard of them, as a confession of faith that demanded instant and plenary absolution.
The trouble which had called Harry down to Clavering remained, I regret to say, almost in full force now that his prolonged visit had been brought so near its close. Mr. Saul, indeed, had agreed to resign his curacy, and was already on the look-out for similar employment in some other parish. And since his interview with Fanny's father he had never entered the rectory, or spoken to Fanny. Fanny had promised that there should be no such speaking, and indeed no danger of that kind was feared. Whatever Mr. Saul might do he would do openly,-nay, audaciously. But though there existed this security, nevertheless things as regarded Fanny were very unpleasant. When Mr. Saul had commenced his courtship, she had agreed with her family in almost ridiculing the idea of such a lover. There had been a feeling with her as with the others that poor Mr. Saul was to be pitied. Then she had come to regard his overtures as matters of grave import,—not indeed avowing to her mother anything so strong as a return of his affection, but speaking of his proposal as one to which there was no other objection than that of a want of money. Now, however, she went moping about the house as though she were a victim of true love, condemned to run unsmoothly for ever; as though her passion for Mr. Saul were too much for her, and she were waiting in patience till death should relieve her from the cruelty of her parents. She never complained. Such victims never do complain. But she moped and was wretched, and when her mother questioned her, struggling to find out how strong this feeling might in truth be, Fanny would simply make her dutiful promises,-promises which were wickedly dutiful,-that she would never mention the name of Mr. Saul any more. Mr. Saul in the meantime went about his parish duties with grim energy, supplying the rector's shortcomings without a word. He would have been glad to preach all the sermons and read all the services during these six months, had he been allowed to do so. He was constant in the schools,—more constant than ever in his visitings. He was very courteous to Mr. Clavering when the necessities of their position brought them together. For all this Mr. Clavering hated him,-unjustly. For a man placed as Mr. Saul was placed a line of conduct exactly level with that previously followed is impossible, and it was better that he should become more energetic in his duties than less so. It will be easily understood that all these things interfered much with the general happiness of the family at the rectory at this time.
The Monday came, and Harry Clavering, now convalescent and simply interesting from the remaining effects of his illness, started on his journey from London. There had come no further letters from Onslow Terrace to the parsonage, and, indeed, owing to the intervention of Sunday, none could have come unless Florence had written by return of post. Harry made his journey, beginning it with some promise of happiness to himself, -but becoming somewhat uneasy as his train drew near to London. He
had behaved badly, and he knew that in the first place he must own that he had done so. To men such a necessity is always grievous. Women not unfrequently like the task. To confess, submit, and be accepted as confessing and submitting, comes naturally to the feminine mind. The cry of peccavi sounds soft and pretty when made by sweet lips in a loving voice. But a man who can own that he has done amiss without a pang, -who can so own it to another man, or even to a woman,-is usually but a poor creature. Harry must now make such confession, and therefore he became uneasy. And then, for him, there was another task behind the one which he would be called upon to perform this evening,—a task which would have nothing of pleasantness in it to redeem its pain. He must confess not only to Florence,-where his confession might probably have its reward, but he must confess also to Julia. This second confession would, indeed, be a hard task to him. That, however, was to be postponed till the morrow. On this evening he had pledged himself that he would go direct to Onslow Terrace; and this he did as soon after he had reached his lodgings as was possible. It was past six when he reached London, and it was not yet eight when, with palpitating heart, he knocked at Mr. Burton's door.
I must take the reader back with me for a few minutes, in order that we may see after what fashion the letters from Clavering were received by the ladies in Onslow Terrace. On that day Mr. Burton had been required to go out of London by one of the early trains, and had not been in the house when the postman came. Nothing had been said between Cecilia and Florence as to their hopes or fears in regard to an answer from Clavering;-nothing at least since that conversation in which Florence had agreed to remain in London for yet a few days; but each of them was very nervous on the matter. Any answer, if sent at once from Clavering, would arrive on this morning; and therefore, when the well-known knock was heard, neither of them was able to maintain her calmness perfectly. But yet nothing was said, nor did either of them rise from her seat at the breakfast-table. Presently the girl came in with apparently a bundle of letters, which she was still sorting when she entered the room. There were two or three for Mr. Burton, two for Cecilia, and then two besides the registered packet for Florence. For that a receipt was needed, and as Florence had seen the address and recognized the writing, she was hardly able to give her signature. As soon as the maid was gone, Cecilia could keep her scat no longer. "I know those are from Clavering," she said, rising from her chair, and coming round to the side of the table. Florence instinctively swept the packet into her lap, and, leaning forward, covered the letters with her hands. "Oh, Florence, let us see them; let us see them at once. If we are to be happy let us know it." But Florencə paused, still leaning over her treasures, and hardly daring to show her burning face. Even yet it might be that she was rejected. Then Cecilia went back to her seat, and simply looked at her sister with beseeching eyes. "I think I'll go upstairs," said Florence. "Are you afraid of me,