Florence Burton thought herself the happiest girl in the world. There nothing wanting perfection of her bliss. She could perceive, though she never allowed her mind to dwell upon the fact, that her lover was superior in many respects to the men whom her sisters had married. He was better educated, better looking, in fact more fully a gentleman at all points than either Scarness or any of the others. She liked her sisters’ husbands very well, and in former days, before Harry Clavering had come to Stratton, she had never taught herself to think that she, if she married, would want anything different from that which Providence had given to them. She had never thrown up her head, or even thrown up her nose, and told herself that she would demand something better than that. But not the less was she alive to the knowledge that something better had come in her way, and that that something better was now her own. She was very proud of her lover, and, no doubt, in some gently feminine way showed that she was so as she made her way about among her friends at Stratton. Any idea that she herself was better educated, better looking, or more clever than her elder sisters, and that, therefore, she was deserving of a higher order of husband, had never entered her mind. The Burtons in London — Theodore Burton and his wife — who knew her well, and who, of all the family, were best able to appreciate her worth, had long been of opinion that she deserved some specially favored lot in life. The question with them would be, whether Harry Clavering was good enough for her.
Everybody at Stratton knew that she was engaged, and when they wished her joy she made no coy denials. Her sisters had all been engaged in the same way, and their marriages had gone off in regular sequence to their engagements. There had never been any secret with them about their affairs. On this matter the practice is very various among different people. There are families who think it almost indelicate to talk about marriage as a thing actually in prospect for any of their own community. An ordinary acquaintance would. be considered to be impertinent in even hinting at such a thing, although the thing were an established fact. The engaged young ladies only whisper the news through the very depths of their pink note-paper, and are supposed to blush as they communicate the tidings by their pens, even in the retirement of their own rooms. But there are other families in which there is no vestige of such mystery, in which an engaged couple are spoken of together as openly as though they were already bound in some sort of public partnership. In these families the young ladies talk openly of their lovers, and generally prefer that subject of conversation to any other. Such a family — so little mysterious — so open in their arrangements, was that of the Burtons at Stratton. The reserve in the reserved families is usually atoned for by the magnificence of the bridal arrangements, when the marriage is at last solemnized; whereas, among the other set — the people who have no reserve — the marriage, when it comes, is customarily an affair of much less outward ceremony. They are married without blast of trumpet, with very little profit to the confectioner, and do their honeymoon, if they do it at all, with prosaic simplicity.
Florence had made up her mind that she would be in no hurry about it. Harry was in a hurry; but that was a matter of course. He was a quick-blooded, impatient, restless being. She was slower, and more given to consideration. It would be better that they should wait, even if it were for five or six years. She had no fear of poverty for herself. She had lived always in a house in which money was much regarded, and among people who were of inexpensive habits. But such had not been his lot, and it was her duty to think of the mode of life which might suit him. He would not be happy as a poor man — without comforts around him, which would simply be comforts to him though they would be luxuries to her. When her mother told her, shaking her head rather sorrowfully as she heard Florence talk, that she did not like long engagements, Florence would shake hers too, in playful derision, and tell her mother not to be so suspicious. “It is not you that are going to marry him, mamma.”
“No, my dear; I know that. But long engagements never are good. And I can’t think why young people should want so many things, now, that they used to do without very well when I was married. When I went into housekeeping, we only had one girl of fifteen to do everything; and we hadn’t a nursemaid regular till Theodore was born; and there were three before him.”
Florence could not say how many maid-servants Harry might wish to have under similar circumstances, but she was very confident that he would want much more attendance than her father and mother had done, or even than some of her brothers and sisters. Her father, when he first married, would not have objected, on returning home, to find his wife in the kitchen, looking after the progress of the dinner; nor even would her brother Theodore have been made unhappy by such a circumstance. But Harry, she knew, would not like it; and therefore Harry must wait. “It will do him good, mamma,” said Florence. “You can’t think that I mean to find fault with him; but I know that he is young in his ways. He is one of those men who should not marry till they are twenty-eight, or thereabouts.”
“You mean that he is unsteady?”
“No; not unsteady. I don’t think him a bit unsteady; but he will be happier single for a year or two. He hasn’t settled down to like his tea and toast when he is tired of his work, as a married man should do. Do you know that I am not sure that a little flirtation would not be very good for him?”
“Oh, my dear!”
“It should be very moderate, you know.”
“But then, suppose it wasn’t moderate. I don’t like to see engaged young men going on in that way. I suppose I’m very old fashioned; but I think when a young man is engaged, he ought to remember it and to show it. It ought to make him a little serious, and he shouldn’t be going about like a butterfly, that may do just as it pleases in the sunshine.”
During the three months which Harry remained in town before the Easter holidays he wrote more than once to Florence, pressing her to name an early day for their marriage. These letters were written, I think, after certain evenings spent under favorable circumstances in Onslow Crescent, when he was full of the merits of domestic comfort, and perhaps also owed some of their inspiration to the fact that Lady Ongar had left London without seeing him. He had called repeatedly in Bolton Street, having been specially pressed to do so by Lady Ongar, but he had only once found her at home, and then a third person had been present. This third person had been a lady who was not introduced to him, but he had learned from her speech that she was a foreigner. On that occasion Lady Ongar had made herself gracious and pleasant, but nothing had passed which interested him, and, most unreasonably, he had felt himself to be provoked. When next he went to Bolton Street he found that Lady Ongar had left London. She had gone down to Ongar Park, and, as far as the woman at the house knew, intended to remain there till after Easter. Harry had some undefined idea that she should not have taken such a step without telling him. Had she not declared to him that he was her only friend? When a friend is going out of town, leaving an only friend behind, that friend ought to tell her only friend what she is going to do, otherwise such a declaration of only-friendship means nothing. Such was Harry Clavering’s reasoning, and having so reasoned, he declared to himself that it did mean nothing, and was very pressing to Florence Burton to name an early day. He had been with Cecilia, he told her — he had learned to call Mrs. Burton Cecilia in his letters — and she quite agreed with him that their income would be enough. He was to have two hundred a year from his father, having brought himself to abandon that high-toned resolve which he had made some time since, that he would never draw any part of his income from the parental coffers. His father had again offered it, and he had accepted it. Old Mr. Burton was to add a hundred, and Harry was of opinion that they could do very well. Cecilia thought the same, he said, and therefore Florence surely would not refuse. But Florence received, direct from Onslow Crescent Cecilia’s own version of her thoughts, and did refuse. It may be surmised that she would have refused even without assistance from Cecilia, for she was a young lady not of a fickle or changing disposition. So she wrote to Harry with much care, and as her letter had some influence on the story to be told, the reader shall read it — if the reader so pleases.
STRATTON, March, 186 —.
DEAR HARRY: I received your letter this morning, and answer it at once, because I know you will be impatient for an answer. You are impatient about things — are you not? But it was a kind, sweet, dear, generous letter, and I need not tell you now that I love the writer of it with all my heart. I am so glad you like Cecilia. I think she is the perfection of a woman. And Theodore is every bit as good as Cecilia, though I know you don’t think so, because you don’t say so. I am always happy when I am in Onslow Crescent. I should have been there this Spring, only that a certain person, who chooses to think that his claims on me are stronger than those of any other person, wishes me to go elsewhere. Mamma wishes me to go to London also for a week, but I don’t want to be away from the old house too much before the final parting comes at last.
And now about the final parting; for I may as well rush at it at once. I need hardly tell you that no care for father or mother shall make me put off my marriage. Of course I owe everything to you now; and as they have approved it, I have no right to think of them in opposition to you. And you must not suppose that they ask me to stay. On the contrary, mamma is always telling me that early marriages are best. She has sent all the birds out of the nest but one; and is impatient to see that one fly away, that she may be sure that there is no lame one in the brood. You must not therefore think that it is mamma; nor is it papa, as regards himself — though papa agrees with me in thinking that we ought to wait a little.
Dear Harry, you must not be angry, but I am sure that we ought to wait. We are, both of us, young, and why should we be in a hurry? I know what you will say, and of course I love you the more because you love me so well; but I fancy that I can be quite happy if I can see you two or three times in the year, and hear from you constantly.
It is so good of you to write such nice letters, and the longer they are the better I like them. Whatever you put in them, I like them to be full. I know I can’t write nice letters myself, and it makes me unhappy. Unless I have got something special to say, I am dumb.
But now I have something special to say. In spite of all that you tell me about Cecilia, I do not think it would do for us to venture upon marrying yet. I know that you are willing to sacrifice everything, but I ought not on that account to accept a sacrifice. I could not bear to see you poor and uncomfortable; and we should be very poor in London now-a-days with such an income as we should have. If we were going to live here at Stratton, perhaps we might manage; but I feel sure that it would be imprudent in London. You ought not to be angry with me for saying this, for I am quite as anxious to be with you as you can possibly be to be with me; only, I can bear to look forward, and have a pleasure in feeling that all my happiness is to come. I know I am right in this. Do write me one little line to say that you are not angry with your little girl.
I shall be quite ready for you by the 29th. I got such a dear little note from Fanny the other day. She says that you never write to them, and she supposes that I have the advantage of all your energy in that way. I have told her that I do get a good deal. My brother writes to me very seldom, I know; and I get twenty letters from Cecilia for one scrap that Theodore ever sends me. Perhaps some of these days I shall be the chief correspondent with the rectory. Fanny told me all about the dresses, and I have my own quite ready. I’ve been bridesmaid to four of my own sisters, so I ought to know what I’m about. I’ll never be bridesmaid to anybody again, after Fanny; but whom on earth shall I have for myself? I think we must wait till Cissy and Sophy are ready. Cissy wrote me word that you were a darling man. I don’t know how much of that came directly from Cissy, or how much from Cecilia.
God bless you, dear, dearest Harry. Let me have one letter before you come to fetch me, and acknowledge that I am right, even if you say that I am disagreeable. Of course I like to think that you want to have me; but, you see, one has to pay the penalty of being civilized. Ever and always your own affectionate:
Harry Clavering was very angry when he got this letter. The primary cause of his anger was the fact that Florence should pretend to know what was better for him than he knew himself. If he was willing to encounter life in London on less than four hundred a year, surely she might be contented to try the same experiment. He did not for a moment suspect that she feared for herself, but he was indignant with her because of her fear for him. What right had she to accuse him of wanting to be comfortable? Had be not for her sake consented to be very uncomfortable at that old house at Stratton? Was he not willing to give up his fellowship, and the society of Lady Ongar, and everything else, for her sake? Had he not shown himself to be such a lover as there is not one in a hundred? And yet she wrote and told him that it wouldn’t do for him to be poor and uncomfortable? After all that lie had done in the world, after all that he had gone through, it would be odd if at this time of day, he did not know what was good for himself! It was in that way that he regarded Florence’s pertinacity.
He was rather unhappy at this period. It seemed to him that he was somewhat slighted on both sides — or, if I may say so, less thought of on both sides than he deserved. Had Lady Ongar remained in. town, as she ought to have done, he would have solaced himself, and at the same time have revenged himself upon Florence, by devoting some of his spare hours to that lady. It was Lady Ongar’s sudden departure that had made him feel that he ought to rush at once into marriage. Now he had no consolation, except that of complaining to Mrs. Burton, and going frequently to the theatre. To Mrs. Burton he did complain a great deal, pulling her worsteds and threads about the while, sitting in idleness while she was working, just as Theodore Burton had predicted that he would do.
“I won’t have you so idle, Harry,” Mrs. Burton said to him one day. “You know you ought to be at your office now.” It must be admitted, on behalf of Harry Clavering, that they who liked him, especially women, were able to become intimate with him very easily. He had comfortable, homely ways about him, and did not habitually give himself airs. He had become quite domesticated at the Burtons’ house during the ten weeks that he had been in London, and knew his way to Onslow Crescent almost too well. It may, perhaps, be surmised correctly that he would not have gone there so frequently if Mrs. Theodore Burton had been an ugly woman.
“It’s all her fault,” said he, continuing to snip a piece of worsted with a pair of scissors as he spoke. “She’s too prudent by half.”
“You can’t but know that I should work three times as much if she had given me a different answer. It stands to reason any man would work under such circumstances as that. Not that I am idle, I believe. I do as much as any other man about the place.”
“I won’t have my worsted destroyed all the same. Theodore says that Florence is right.”
“Of course he does; of course he’ll say I’m wrong. I won’t ask her again — that’s all.”
“Oh, Harry! don’t say that. You know you’ll ask her. You would to-morrow, if she were here.”
“You don’t know me, Cecilia, or you would not say so. When I have made up my mind to a thing, I am generally firm about it. She said something about two years, and I will not say a word to alter that decision. If it be altered, it shall be altered by her.”
In the meantime he punished Florence by sending her no special answer to her letter. He wrote to her as usual; but he made no reference to his last proposal, nor to her refusal. She had asked him to tell her that he was not angry, but he would tell her nothing of the kind. He told her when and where and how he would meet her, and convey her from Stratton to Clavering; gave her some account of a play he had seen; described a little dinner-party in Onslow Crescent; and told her a funny story about Mr. Walliker and the office at the Adelphi. But he said no word, even in rebuke, as to her decision about their marriage. He intended that this should be felt to be severe, and took pleasure in the pain that he would be giving. Florence, when she received her letter, knew that he was sore, and understood thoroughly the working of his mind. “I will comfort him when we are together,” she said to herself. “I will make him reasonable when I see him.” It was not the way in which he expected that his anger would be received.
One day on his return home he found a card on his table which surprised him very much. It contained a name but no address, but over the name there was a pencil memorandum, stating that the owner of the card would call again on his return to London after Easter. The name on the card was that of Count Pateroff. He remembered the name well as soon as he saw it, though he had never thought of it since the solitary occasion on which it had been mentioned to him. Count Pateroff was the man who had been Lord Ongar’s friend, and respecting whom Lord Ongar had brought a false charge against his wife. Why should Count Pateroff call on him? Why was he in England? Whence had he learned the address in Bloomsbury Square? To that last question he had no difficulty in finding an answer. Of course he must have heard it from Lady Ongar. Count Pateroff had now left London. Had he gone to Ongar Park? Harry Clavering’s mind was instantly filled with suspicion, and he became jealous in spite of Florence Burton. Could it be that Lady Ongar, not yet four months a widow, was receiving at her house in the country this man with whose name her own had been so fatally joined? If so, what could he think of such behavior? He was very angry. He knew that he was angry, but he did not at all know that he was jealous. Was he not, by her own declaration to him, her only friend; and as such could he entertain such a suspicion without anger? “Her friend!” he said to himself. “Not if she has any dealings whatever with that man after what she has told me of him!” He remembered at last that perhaps the count might not be at Ongar Park; but he must, at any rate, have had some dealing with Lady Ongar, or he would not have known the address in Bloomsbury Square. “Count Pateroff!” he said, repeating the name, “I shouldn’t wonder if I have to quarrel with that man.” During the whole of that night he was thinking of Lady Ongar. As regarded himself, he knew that he had nothing to offer to Lady Ongar but a brotherly friendship; but, nevertheless, it was an injury to him that she should be acquainted intimately with any unmarried man but himself.
On the next day he was to go to Stratton, and in the morning a letter was brought to him by the postman; a letter, or rather a very short note. Guildford was the postmark, and he knew at once that it was from Lady Ongar.
DEAR MR. CLAVERING (the note said)—
I was so sorry to leave London without seeing you; I shall be back by the end of April, and am keeping on the same rooms. Come to me, if you can, on the evening of the 30th, after dinner. He at last bade Hermy to write and ask me to go to Clavering for the Easter week. Such a note! I’ll show it you when we meet. Of course I declined.
But I write on purpose to tell you that I have begged Count Pateroff to see you. I have not seen him, but I have had to write to him about things that happened in Florence. He has come to England chiefly with reference to the affairs of Lord Ongar. I want you to hear his story. As far as I have known him he is a truth-telling man, though I do not know that I am able to say much more in his favor. Ever yours, J. 0.
When he had read this he was quite an altered man. See Count Pateroff! Of course he would see him. What task could be more fitting for a friend than this, of seeing such a man under such circumstances. Before he left London he wrote a note for Count Pateroff, to be given to the count by the people at the lodgings should he call during Harry’s absence from London. In this he explained that he would be at Clavering for a fortnight, but expressed himself ready to come up to London at a day’s notice should Count Pateroff be necessitated again to leave London before the day named.
As he went about his business that day, and as he journeyed down to Stratton, he entertained much kinder ideas about Lady Ongar than he had previously done since seeing Count Pateroff’s card.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55