Part 1 out of 9
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THE BELTON ESTATE
by Anthony Trollope
Mrs Amedroz, the wife of Bernard Amedroz, Esq, of Belton Castle, and
mother of Charles and Clara Amedroz, died when those children were only
eight and six years old, thereby subjecting them to the greatest
misfortune which children born in that sphere of life can be made to
suffer. And, in the case of this boy and girl, the misfortune was
aggravated greatly by the peculiarities of the father's character. Mr
Amedroz was not a bad man as men are held to be bad in the world's
esteem. He was not vicious was not a gambler or a drunkard was not
self-indulgent to a degree that brought upon him any reproach; nor was
he regardless of his children. But he was an idle, thriftless man, who,
at the age of sixty-seven, when the reader will first make his
acquaintance, had as yet done no good in the world whatever. Indeed he
had done terrible evil; for his son Charles was now dead had perished
by his own hand and the state of things which had brought about this
woeful event had been chiefly due to the father's neglect.
Belton Castle is a pretty country seat, standing in a small but
beautifully wooded park, close under the Quantock hills in
Somersetshire; and the little town of Belton clusters round the park
gates. Few Englishmen know the scenery of England well, and the
prettinesses of Somersetshire are among those which are the least
known. But the Quantock hills are very lovely, with their rich valleys
lying close among them, and their outlying moorlands running off
towards Dulverton and the borders of Devonshire moorlands which are not
flat, like Salisbury Plain, but are broken into ravines and deep
watercourses and rugged dells hither and thither; where old oaks are
standing, in which life seems to have dwindled down to the last spark;
but the last spark is still there, and the old oaks give forth their
scanty leaves from year to year.
In among the hills, somewhat off the high road from Minehead to
Taunton, and about five miles from the sea, stands the little town, or
village, of Belton, and the modern house of Mr Amedroz, which is called
Belton Castle. The village for it is in truth no more, though it still
maintains a charter for a market, and there still exists on Tuesdays
some pretence of an open sale of grain and butcher's meat in the square
before the church-gate contains about two thousand persons. That and
the whole parish of Belton did once and that not long ago belong to the
Amedroz family. They had inherited it from the Beltons of old, an
Amedroz having married the heiress of the family. And as the parish is
large, stretching away to Exmoor on one side and almost to the sea on
the other, containing the hamlet of Redicote, lying on the Taunton high
road Redicote, where the post-office is placed, a town almost in
itself, and one which is now much more prosperous than Belton as the
property when it came to the first Amedroz had limits such as these,
the family had been considerable in the county. But these limits had
been straitened in the days of the grandfather and the father of
Bernard Amedroz; and he, when he married a Miss Winterfield of Taunton,
was thought to have done very well, in that mortgages were paid off the
property with his wife's money to such an extent as to leave him in
clear possession of an estate that gave him two thousand a year. As Mr
Amedroz had no grand neighbours near him, as the place is remote and
the living therefore cheap, and as with this income there was no
question of annual visits to London, Mr and Mrs Amedroz might have done
very well with such of the good things of the world as had fallen to
their lot. And had the wife lived, such would probably have been the
case; for the Winterfields were known to be prudent people. But Mrs
Amedroz had died young, and things with Bernard Amedroz had gone badly.
And yet the evil had not been so much with him as with that terrible
boy of his. The father had been nearly forty when he married. He had
then never done any good; but as neither had he done much harm, the
friends of the family had argued well of his future career. After him,
unless he should leave a son behind him, there would be no Amedroz left
among the Quantock hills; and by some arrangement in respect to that
Winterfield money which came to him on his marriage the Winterfields
having a long-dated connexion with the Beltons of old the Amedroz
property was, at Bernard's marriage, entailed back upon a distant
Belton cousin, one Will Belton, whom no one had seen for many years,
but who was by blood nearer the squire in default of children of his
own than any other of his relatives. And now Will Belton was the heir
to Belton Castle; for Charles Amedroz, at the age of twenty-seven, had
found the miseries of the world to be too many for him, and had put an
end to them and to himself.
Charles had been a clever fellow a very clever fellow in the eyes of
his father. Bernard Amedroz knew that he himself was not a clever
fellow, and admired his son accordingly; and when Charles had been
expelled from Harrow for some boyish freak in his vengeance against a
neighbouring farmer, who had reported to the school authorities the
doings of a few beagles upon his land, Charles had cut off the heads of
all the trees in a young fir plantation his father was proud of the
exploit. When he was rusticated a second time from Trinity, and when
the father received an intimation that his son's name had better be
taken from the College books, the squire was not so well pleased; but
even then he found some delight in the stories which reached him of his
son's vagaries; and when the young man commenced Bohemian life in
London, his father did nothing to restrain him. Then there came the old
story debts, endless debts; and lies, endless lies. During the two
years before his death, his father paid for him, or undertook to pay,
nearly ten thousand pounds, sacrificing the life assurances which were
to have made provision for his daughter; sacrificing, to a great
extent, his own life income sacrificing everything, so that the
property might not be utterly ruined at his death. That Charles Amedroz
should be a brighter, greater man than any other Amedroz, had still
been the father's pride. At the last visit which Charles had paid to
Belton his father had called upon him to pledge himself solemnly that
his sister should not be made to suffer by what had been done for him.
Within a month of that time he had blown his brains out in his London
lodgings, thus making over the entire property to Will Belton at his
father's death. At that last pretended settlement with his father and
his father's lawyer, he had kept back the mention of debts as heavy
nearly as those to which he had owned; and there were debts of honour,
too, of which he had not spoken, trusting to the next event at
Newmarket to set him right. The next event at Newmarket had set him
more wrong than ever, and so there had come an end to everything with
This had happened in the spring, and the afflicted father afflicted
with the double sorrow of his son's terrible death and his daughter's
ruin had declared that he would turn his face to the wall and die. But
the old squire's health, though far from strong, was stronger than he
had deemed it, and his feelings, sharp enough, were less sharp than he
thought them; and when a month had passed by, he had discovered that it
would be better that he should live, in order that his daughter might
still have bread to eat and a house of her own over her head. Though he
was now an impoverished man, there was still left to him the means of
keeping up the old home; and he told himself that it must, if possible,
be so kept that a few pounds annually might be put by for Clara. The
old carriage-horses were sold, and the park was let to a farmer, up to
the hall door of the castle. So much the squire could do; but as to the
putting by of the few pounds, any dependence on such exertion as that
on his part would, we may say, be very precarious.
Belton Castle was not in truth a castle. Immediately before the front
door, so near to the house as merely to allow of a broad road running
between it and the entrance porch, there stood an old tower, which gave
its name to the residence an old square tower, up which the Amedroz
boys for three generations had been able to climb by means of the ivy
and broken stones in one of the inner corners and this tower was a
remnant of a real castle that had once protected the village of Belton.
The house itself was an ugly residence, three stories high, built in
the time of George II, with low rooms and long passages, and an immense
number of doors. It was a large unattractive house unattractive that
is, as regarded its own attributes but made interesting by the beauty
of the small park in which it stood. Belton Park did not, perhaps,
contain much above a hundred acres, but the land was so broken into
knolls and valleys, in so many places was the rock seen to be cropping
up through the verdure, there were in it so many stunted old oaks, so
many points of vantage for the lover of scenery, that no one would
believe it to be other than a considerable domain. The farmer who took
it, and who would not under any circumstances undertake to pay more
than seventeen shillings an acre for it, could not be made to think
that it was in any way considerable. But Belton Park, since first it
was made a park, had never before been regarded in this fashion. Farmer
Stovey, of the Grange, was the first man of that class who had ever
assumed the right to pasture his sheep in Belton chase as the people
around were still accustomed to call the woodlands of the estate.
It was full summer at Belton, and four months had now passed since the
dreadful tidings had reached the castle. It was full summer, and the
people of the village were again going about their ordinary business;
and the shop-girls with their lovers from Redicote were again to be
seen walking among the oaks in the park on a Sunday evening; and the
world in that district of Somersetshire was getting itself back into
its grooves. The fate of the young heir had disturbed the grooves
greatly, and had taught many in those parts to feel that the world was
coming to an end. They had not loved young Amedroz, for he had been
haughty when among them, and there had been wrongs committed by the
dissolute young squire, and grief had come from his misdoings upon more
than one household; but to think that he should have destroyed himself
with his own hand! And then, to think that Miss Clara would become a
beggar when the old squire should die! All the neighbours around
understood the whole history of the entail, and knew that the property
was to go to Will Belton. Now Will Belton was not a gentleman! So, at
least, said the Belton folk, who had heard that the heir had been
brought up as a farmer somewhere in Norfolk. Will Belton had once been
at the Castle as a boy, now some fifteen years ago, and then there had
sprung up a great quarrel between him and his distant cousin Charles
and Will, who was rough and large of stature, had thrashed the smaller
boy severely; and the thing had grown to have dimensions larger than
those which generally attend the quarrels of boys; and Will had said
something which had shown how well he understood his position in
reference to the estate and Charles had hated him. So Will had gone,
and had been no more seen among the oaks whose name he bore. And the
people, in spite of his name, regarded him as an interloper. To them,
with their short memories and scanty knowledge of the past, Amedroz was
more honourable than Belton, and they looked upon the coming man as an
intruder. Why should not Miss Clara have the property? Miss Clara had
never done harm to any one!
Things got back into their old grooves, and at the end of the third
month the squire was once more seen in the old family pew at church. He
was a large man, who had been very handsome, and who now, in his yellow
leaf, was not without a certain beauty of manliness. He wore his hair
and his beard long; before his son's death they were grey, but now they
were very white. And though he stooped, there was still a dignity in
his slow step a dignity that came to him from nature rather than from
any effort. He was a man who, in fact, did little or nothing in the
world whose life had been very useless; but he had been gifted with
such a presence that he looked as though he were one of God's nobler
creatures. Though always dignified he was ever affable, and the poor
liked him better than they might have done had he passed his time in
searching out their wants and supplying them. They were proud of their
squire, though he had done nothing for them. It was something to them
to have a man who could so carry himself sitting in the family pew in
their parish church. They knew that he was poor, but they all declared
that he was never mean. He was a real gentleman was this last Amedroz
of the family; therefore they curtsied low, and bowed on his
reappearance among them, and made all those signs of reverential awe
which are common to the poor when they feel reverence for the presence
of a superior.
Clara was there with him, but she had shown herself in the pew for four
or five weeks before this. She had not been at home when the fearful
news had reached Belton, being at that time with a certain lady who
lived on the farther side of the county, at Perivale a certain Mrs
Winterfield, born a Folliot, a widow, who stood to Miss Amedroz in the
place of an aunt. Mrs Winterfield was, in truth, the sister of a
gentleman who had married Clara's aunt there having been marriages and
intermarriages between the Winterfields and the Folliots and the
Belton-Amedroz families. With this lady in Perivale, which I maintain
to be the dullest little town in England, Miss Amedroz was staying when
the news reached her father, and when it was brought direct from London
to herself. Instantly she had hurried home, taking the journey with all
imaginable speed though her heart was all but broken within her bosom.
She had found her father stricken to the ground, and it was the more
necessary, therefore, that she should exert herself. It would not do
that she also should yield to that longing for death which terrible
calamities often produce for a season.
Clara Amedroz, when she first heard. the news of her brother's fate,
had felt that she was for ever crushed to the ground. She had known too
well what had been the nature of her brother's life, but she had not
expected or feared any such termination to his career as this which had
now come upon him to the terrible affliction of all belonging to him.
She felt at first, as did also her father, that she and he were
annihilated as regards this world, not only by an enduring grief, but
also by a disgrace which would never allow her again to hold up her
head. And for many a long year much of this feeling clung to her clung
to her much more strongly than to her father. But strength was hers to
perceive, even before she had reached her home, that it was her duty to
repress both the feeling of shame and the sorrow, as far as they were
capable of repression. Her brother had been weak, and in his weakness
had sought a coward's escape from the ills of the world around him. She
must not also be a coward! Bad as life might be to her henceforth, she
must endure it with such fortitude as she could muster. So resolving
she returned to her father, and was able to listen to his railings with
a fortitude that was essentially serviceable both to him and to herself.
'Both of you! Both of you!' the unhappy father had said in his woe.
'The wretched boy has destroyed you as much as himself!' 'No, sir,' she
had answered, with a forbearance in her misery, which, terrible as was
the effort, she forced herself to accomplish for his sake. 'It is not
so. No thought of that need add to your grief. My poor brother has not
hurt me not in the way you mean.' 'He has ruined us all,' said the
father; 'root and branch, man and woman, old and young, house and land.
He has brought the family to an end ah me, to such an end!' After that
the name of him who had taken himself from among them was not mentioned
between the father and daughter, and Clara settled herself to the
duties of her new life, striving to live as though there was no great
sorrow around her as though no cloud-storm had burst over her head.
The family lawyer, who lived at Taunton, had communicated the fact of
Charles's death to Mr Belton, and Belton had acknowledged the letter
with the ordinary expressions of regret. The lawyer had alluded to the
entail, saying that it was improbable that Mr Amedroz would have
another son. To this Belton had replied that for his cousin Clara's
sake he hoped that the squire's life might be long spared. The lawyer
smiled as he read the wish, thinking to himself that luckily no wish on
the part of Will Belton could influence his old client either for good
or evil. What man, let alone what lawyer, will ever believe in the
sincerity of such a wish as that expressed by the heir to a property?
And yet where is the man who will not declare to himself that such,
under such circumstances, would be his own wish?
Clara Amedroz at this time was not a very young lady. She had already
passed her twenty-fifth birthday, and in manners, appearance, and
habits was, at any rate, as old as her age. She made no pretence to
youth, speaking of herself always as one whom circumstances required to
take upon herself age in advance of her years. She did not dress young,
or live much with young people, or correspond with other girls by means
of crossed letters; nor expect that, for her, young pleasures should be
provided. Life had always been serious with her; but now, we may say,
since the terrible tragedy lit the family, it must be solemn as well as
serious. The memory of her brother must always be upon her; and the
memory also of the fact that her father was now an impoverished man, on
whose behalf it was her duty to care that every shilling spent in the
house did its full twelve pennies' worth of work. There was a mixture
in this of deep tragedy and of little cares, which seemed to destroy
for her the poetry as well as the pleasure of life. The poetry and
tragedy might have gone hand in hand together; and so might the cares
and pleasures of life have done, had there been no black sorrow of
which she must be ever mindful. But it was her lot to have to
scrutinize the butcher's bill as she was thinking of her brother's
fate; and to work daily among small household things while the spectre
of her brother's corpse was ever before her eyes.
A word must be said to explain how it had come to pass that the life
led by Miss Amedroz had been more than commonly serious before that
tragedy had befallen the family. The name of the lady who stood to
Clara in the place of an aunt has been already mentioned. When a girl
has a mother, her aunt may be little or nothing to her. But when the
mother is gone, if there be an aunt unimpeded with other family duties,
then the family duties of that aunt begin and are assumed sometimes
with great vigour. Such had been the case with Mrs Winterfield. No
woman ever lived, perhaps, with more conscientious ideas of her duty as
a woman than Mrs Winterfield of Prospect Place, Perivale. And this, as
I say it, is intended to convey no scoff against that excellent lady.
She was an excellent lady unselfish, given to self-restraint, generous,
pious, looking to find in her religion a safe path through life a path
as safe as the facts of Adam's fall would allow her feet to find. She
was a woman fearing much for others, but fearing also much for herself,
striving to maintain her house in godliness, hating sin, and struggling
with the weakness of her humanity so that she might not allow herself
to hate the sinners. But her hatred for the sin she found herself bound
at all times to pronounce to show it by some act at all seasons. To
fight the devil was her work was the appointed work of every living
soul, if only living souls could be made to acknowledge the necessity
of the task. Now an aunt of that kind, when she assumes her duties
towards a motherless niece, is apt to make life serious.
But, it will be said, Clara Amedroz could have rebelled; and Clara's
father was hardly made of such stuff that obedience to the aunt would
be enforced on her by parental authority. Doubtless Clara could have
rebelled against her aunt. Indeed, I do not know that she had hitherto
been very obedient. But there were family facts about these Winterfield
connexions which would have made it difficult for her to ignore her
so-called aunt, even had she wished to do so. Mrs Winterfield had
twelve hundred a year at her own disposal, and she was the only person
related to the Amedroz family from whom Mr Amedroz had a right to have
expectations on his daughter's behalf. Clara had, in a measure, been
claimed by the lady, and the father had made good the lady's claim, and
Clara had acknowledged that a portion of her life was due to the
demands of Perivale. These demands had undoubtedly made her life
Life at Perivale was a very serious thing. As regards amusement,
ordinarily so called, the need of any such institution was not
acknowledged at Prospect House. Food, drink, and raiment were
acknowledged to be necessary to humanity, and, in accordance with the
rules of that house, they were supplied in plenty, and good of their
kind. Such ladies as Mrs Winterfield generally keep good tables,
thinking no doubt that the eatables should do honour to the grace that
is said for them. And Mrs Winterfield herself always wore a thick black
silk dress not rusty or dowdy with age but with some gloss of the silk
on it; giving away, with secret, underhand, undiscovered charity, her
old dresses to another lady of her own sort, on whom fortune had not
bestowed twelve hundred a year. And Mrs Winterfield kept a low,
four-wheeled, one-horsed phaeton, in which she made her pilgrimages
among the poor of Perivale, driven by the most solemn of stable-boys,
dressed up in a great white coat, the most priggish of hats, and white
cotton gloves. At the rate of five miles an hour was she driven about,
and this driving was to her the amusement of life. But such an
occupation to Clara Amedroz assisted to make life serious.
In person Mrs Winterfield was tall and thin, wearing on her brow thin
braids of false hair. She had suffered much from acute ill health, and
her jaws were sunken, and her eyes were hollow, and there was a look of
woe about her which seemed ever to be telling of her own sorrows in
this world and of the sorrows of others in the world to come.
Ill-nature was written on her face, but in this her face was a false
face. She had the manners of a cross, peevish woman; but her manners
also were false, and gave no proper idea of her character. But still,
such as she was, she made life very serious to those who were called
upon to dwell with her.
I need, I hope, hardly say that a young lady such as Miss Amedroz, even
though she had reached the age of twenty-five for at the time to which
I am now alluding she had nearly done so and was not young of her age,
had formed for herself no plan of life in which her aunt's money
figured as a motive power. She had gone to Perivale when she was very
young, because she had been told to do so, and had continued to go,
partly from obedience, partly from habit, and partly from affection. An
aunt's. dominion, when once well established in early years, cannot
easily be thrown altogether aside even though a young lady have a will
of her own. Now Clara Amedroz had a strong will of her own, and did not
at all at any rate in these latter days belong to that school of
divinity in which her aunt shone almost as a professor. And this
circumstance, also, added to the seriousness of her life. But in regard
to her aunt's money she had entertained no established hopes; and when
her aunt opened her mind to her, on that subject, a few days before the
arrival of the fatal news at Perivale, Clara, though she was somewhat
surprised, was by no means disappointed. Now there was a certain
Captain Aylmer in the question, of whom in this opening chapter it will
be necessary to say a few words.
Captain Frederic Folliott Aylmer was, in truth, the nephew of Mrs
Winterfield, whereas Clara Amedroz was not, in truth, her niece. And
Captain Aylmer was also Member of Parliament for the little borough of
Perivale, returned altogether on the Low Church interest for a devotion
to which, and for that alone, Perivale was noted among boroughs. These
facts together added not a little to Mrs Winterfield's influence and
professorial power in the place, and gave a dignity to the one-horse
chaise which it might not otherwise have possessed. But Captain Aylmer
was only the second son of his father, Sir Anthony Aylmer, who had
married a Miss Folliott, sister of our Mrs Winterfield. On Frederic
Aylmer his mother's estate was settled. That and Mrs Winterfield's
property lay in the neighbourhood of Perivale; and now, on the occasion
to which I am alluding, Mrs Winterfield thought it necessary to tell
Clara that the property must all go together. She had thought about it,
and had doubted about it, and had prayed about it, and now she found
that such a disposition of it was her duty.
'I am quite sure you're right, aunt,' Clara had said. She knew very
well what had come of that provision which her father had attempted to
make for her, and knew also how great were her father's expectations in
regard to Mrs Winterfield's money.
'I hope I am; but I have thought it right to tell you. I shall feel
myself bound to tell Frederic. I have had many doubts, but I think I am
'I am sure you are, aunt. What would he think of me if, at some future
time, he should have to find that I had been in his way?'
'The future time will not be long now, my dear.'
'I hope it may; but long or short, it is better so.'
'I think it is, my dear; I think it is. I think it is my duty.'
It must be understood that Captain Aylmer was member for Perivale on
the Low Church interest, and that, therefore, when at Perivale he was
decidedly a Low Churchman. I am not aware that the peculiarity stuck to
him very closely at Aylmer Castle, in Yorkshire, or among his friends
in London; but there was no hypocrisy in this, as the world goes. Women
in such matters are absolutely false if they be not sincere; but men,
with political views, and with much of their future prospects in
jeopardy also, are allowed to dress themselves differently for
different scenes. Whatever be the peculiar interest on which a man goes
into Parliament, of course he has to live up to that in his own
borough. Whether malt, the franchise, or teetotalism be his rallying
point, of course he is full of it when among his constituents. But it
is not desirable that he should be full of it also at his club. Had
Captain Aylmer become Prime Minister, he would no doubt have made Low
Church bishops. It was the side to which he had taken himself in that
matter not without good reasons. And he could say a sharp word or two
in season about vestments; he was strong against candles, and fought
for his side fairly well. No one had good right to complain of Captain
Aylmer as being insincere; but had his aunt known the whole history of
her nephew's life, I doubt whether she would have made him her heir
thinking that in doing so she was doing the best for the good cause.
The whole history of her niece's life she did know, and she knew that
Clara was not with her, heart and soul. Had Clara left the old woman in
doubt on this subject, she would have been a hypocrite. Captain Aylmer
did not often spend a Sunday at Perivale, but when he did, he went to
church three times, and submitted himself to the yoke. He was thinking
of the borough votes quite as much as of his aunt's money, and was
carrying on his business after the fashion of men But Clara found
herself compelled to maintain some sort of a fight, though she also
went to church three times on Sunday. And there was another reason why
Mrs Winterfield thought it right to mention Captain Aylmer's name to
her niece on this occasion.
'I had hoped', she said, 'that it might make no difference in what way
my money was left.'
Clara well understood what this meant, as will, probably, the reader
also. 'I can't say but what it will make a difference,' she answered,
smiling; 'but I shall always think that you have done right. Why should
I stand in Captain Aylmer's way?'
'I had hoped your ways might have been the same,' said the old lady,
'But they cannot be the same.'
'No; you do not see things as he sees them. Things that are serious to
him are, I fear, only light to you. Dear Clara, would I could see you
more in earnest as to the only matter that is worth our earnestness.'
Miss Amedroz said nothing as to the Captain's earnestness, though,
perhaps, her ideas as to his ideas about religion were more correct
than those held by Mrs Winterfield. But it would not have suited her to
raise any argument on that subject. 'I pray for you, Clara,' continued
the old lady, 'and will do so as long as the power of prayer is left to
me. I hope I hope you do not cease to pray for yourself?'
'I endeavour, aunt.'
'It is an endeavour which, if really made, never fails.' Clara said
nothing more, and her aunt also remained silent. Soon afterwards, the
four-wheeled carriage, with the demure stable-boy, came to the door,
and Clara was driven up and down through the streets of Perivale in a
manner which was an injury to her. She knew that she was suffering an
injustice, but it was one of which she could not make complaint. She
submitted to her aunt, enduring the penances that were required of her;
and, therefore, her aunt had opportunity enough to see her
shortcomings. Mrs Winterfield did see them, and judged her accordingly.
Captain Aylmer, being a man and a Member of Parliament, was called upon
to bear no such penances, and, therefore, his shortcomings were not
But, after all, what title had she ever possessed to entertain
expectations from Mrs Winterfield? When she thought of it all in her
room that night, she told herself that it was strange that her aunt
should have spoken to her in such a way on such a subject. But, then,
so much had been said to her on the matter by her father, so much, no
doubt, had reached her aunt's ears also, the hope that her position
with reference to the rich widow at Perivale might be beneficial to her
had been so often discussed at Belton as a make-weight against the
extravagances of the heir, there had already been so much of this
mistake, that she taught herself to perceive that the communication was
needed. 'In her honesty 'she has not chosen to leave me with false
hopes,' said Clara to herself. And at that moment she loved her aunt
for her honesty.
Then, on the day but one following this conversation as to the destiny
of her aunt's property, came the terrible tidings of her brother's
death. Captain Aylmer, who had been in London at the time, hurried down
to Perivale, and had been the first to tell Miss Amedroz what had
happened. The words spoken between them had not been many, but Clara
knew that Captain Aylmer had been kind to her; and when he had offered
to accompany her to Belton, she had thanked him with a degree of
gratitude which had almost seemed to imply more of regard between them
than Clara would have acknowledged to exist. But in moments such as
those, soft words may be spoken and hands may be pressed without any of
that meaning which soft words and the grasping of hands generally carry
with them. As far as Taunton Captain Aylmer did go with Miss Amedroz,
and there they parted, he on his journey up to town, and she for her
father's desolate house at Belton.
THE HEIR PROPOSES TO VISIT HIS COUSIN
It was full summer at Belton, and the sweet scene of the new hay
filled the porch of the old house with fragrance, as Clara sat there
alone with her work. Immediately before the house door, between that
and the old tower, there stood one of Farmer Stovey's hay-carts, now
empty, with an old horse between the shafts looking as though he were
asleep in the sun. Immediately beyond the tower the men were loading
another cart, and the women and children were chattering as they raked
the scattered remnants up to the rows. tinder the shadow of the old
tower, but in sight of Clara as she sat in the porch, there lay the
small beer-barrels of the hay-makers, and three or four rakes were
standing erect against the old grey wall. It was now eleven o'clock,
and Clara was waiting for her father, who was not yet out of his room.
She had taken his breakfast to him in bed, as was her custom; for he
had fallen into idle ways, and the luxury of his bed was, of all his
remaining luxuries, the one that he liked the best. After a while he
came down to her, having an open letter in his hand. Clara saw that he
intended either to show it to her or to speak of it, and asked him
therefore, with some tone of interest in her voice, from whom it had
come. But Mr Amedroz was fretful at the moment, and instead of
answering her began to complain of his tenant's ill-usage of him.
'What has he got his cart there for? I haven't let him the road up to
the hall door. I suppose he will bring his things into the parlour
'I rather like it, papa.'
'Do you? I can only say that you're lucky in your tastes. I don't like
it, I can tell you.'
'Mr Stovey is out there. Shall I ask him to have the things moved
'No, my dear no. I must bear it, as I do all the rest of it. What does
it matter? There'll be an end of it soon. He pays his rent, and I
suppose he is right to do as he pleases. But I can't say that I like
'Am I to see the letter, papa?' she asked, wishing to turn his mind
from the subject of the hay-cart.
'Well, yes. I brought it for you to see; though perhaps I should be
doing better if I burned it, and said nothing more about it. It is a
most impudent production; and heartless very heartless.'
Clara was accustomed to such complaints as these from her father.
Everything that everybody did around him he would call heartless. The
man pitied himself so much in his own misery, that he expected to live
in an atmosphere of pity from others; and though the pity doubtless was
there, he misdoubted it. He thought that Farmer Stovey was cruel in
that he had left the hay-cart near the house, to wound his eyes by
reminding him that he was no longer master of the ground before his own
hall door. He thought that the women and children were cruel to chatter
so near his ears. He almost accused his daughter of cruelty, because
she had told him that she liked the contiguity of the hay-making. Under
such circumstances as those which enveloped him and her, was it not
heartless in her to like anything? It seemed to him that the whole
world of Belton should be drowned in woe because of his misery.
'Where is it from, papa?' she asked.
'There, you may read it. Perhaps it is better that you should know that
it has been written.' Then she read the letter, which was as follows
Though she had never before seen the handwriting, she knew at once from
whence came the letter, for she had often heard of Plaistow Hall. It
was the name of the farm at which her distant cousin, Will Belton,
lived, and her father had more than once been at the trouble of
explaining to her, that though the place was called a hall, the house
was no more than a farmhouse. He had never seen Plaistow Hall, and had
never been in Norfolk; but so much he could take upon himself to say,
'They call all the farms halls down there.' It was not wonderful that
he should dislike his heir; and perhaps not unnatural that he should
show his dislike after this fashion. Clara, when she read the address,
looked up into her father's face. 'You know who it is now,' he said.
And then she read the letter.
I have not written to you before since your bereavement, thinking it
better to wait awhile; but I hope you have not taken me to be unkind in
this, or have supposed me to be unmindful of your sorrow. Now I take up
my pen, hoping that I may make you understand how greatly I was
distressed by what has occurred. I believe I am now the nearest male
relative that you have, and as such I am very anxious to be of service
to you if it may be possible. Considering the closeness of our
connexion, and my position in reference to the property, it seems bad
that we should never meet. I can assure you that you would find me very
friendly if we could manage to come together.
I should think nothing of running across to Belton, if you would
receive me at your house. I could come very well before harvest, if
that would suit you, and would stay with you for a week. Pray give my
kindest regards to my cousin Clara, whom I can only just remember as a
very little girl. She was with her aunt at Perivale when I was at
Belton as a boy. She shall find a friend in me if she wants a friend.
Your affectionate cousin,
Clara read the letter very slowly, so that she might make herself sure
of its tone and bearing before she was called upon by her father to
express her feeling respecting it. She knew that she would be expected
to abuse it violently, and to accuse the writer of vulgarity,
insolence, and cruelty, but she had already learned that she must not
allow herself to accede to all her father's fantasies. For his sake,
and for his protection, it was necessary that she should differ from
him, and even contradict him. Were she not to do so, he would fall into
a state of wailing and complaining that would exaggerate itself almost
to idiotcy. And it was imperative that she herself should exercise her
own opinion on many points, almost without reference to him. She alone
knew how utterly destitute she would be when he should die. He, in the
first days of his agony, had sobbed forth his remorse as to her ruin;
but, even when doing so, he had comforted himself with the remembrance
of Miss Winterfield's money and Mrs Winterfield's affection for his
daughter. And the aunt, when she had declared her purpose to Clara, had
told herself that the provision made for Clara by her father was
sufficient. To neither of them had Clara told her own position. She
could not inform her aunt that her father had given up to the poor
reprobate who had destroyed himself all that had been intended for her.
Had she done so she would have been asking her aunt for charity. Nor
would she bring herself to add to her father's misery, by destroying
the hopes which still supported him. She never spoke of her own
position in regard to money, but she knew that it had become her duty
to live a wary, watchful life, taking much upon herself in their
impoverished household, and holding her own opinion against her
father's when her doing so became expedient. So she finished the letter
in silence, and did not speak at the moment when the movement of her
eyes declared that she had completed the task.
'Well?' said he.
'I do not think my cousin means badly.'
'You don't! I do, then. I think he means very badly. What business has
he to write to me, talking of his position?'
'I can't see anything amiss in his doing so, papa. I think he wishes to
be friendly. The property will be his some day, and I don't see why
that should not be mentioned, when there is occasion.'
'Upon my word, Clara, you surprise me. But women never understood
delicacy in regard to money. They have so little to do with it, and
think so little about it, that they have no occasion for such delicacy.'
Clara could not help the thought that to her mind the subject was
present with sufficient frequency to make delicacy very desirable, if
only it were practicable. But of this she said nothing. 'And what
answer will you send to him, papa?' she asked.
'None at all. Why should I trouble myself to write to him?'
'I will take the trouble off your hands.'
'And what will you say to him?'
'I will ask him to come here, as he proposes.'
'Why not, papa? He is the heir to the property, and why should he not
be permitted to see it? There are many things in which his co-operation
with you might be a comfort to you. I can't tell you whether the
tenants and people are treating you well, but he can do so; and,
moreover, I think he means to be kind. I do not see why we should
quarrel with our cousin because he is the heir to your property. It is
not through any doing of his own that he is so.'
This reasoning had no effect upon Mr Amedroz, but his daughter's
resolution carried the point against him in spite of his want of
reason. No letter was written that day, or on the next; but on the day
following a formal note was sent off by Clara, in which Mr Belton was
told that Mr Amedroz would be happy to receive him at Belton Castle.
The letter was written by the daughter, but the father was responsible
for the formality. He sat over her while she wrote it, and nearly drove
her distracted by discussing every word and phrase. At last, Clara was
so annoyed with her own production, that she was almost tempted to
write another letter unknown to her father; but the formal note went.
'My Dear Sir
'I am desired by my father to say that he will be happy to receive you
at Belton Castle, at the time fixed by yourself.
There was no more than that, but that had the desired effect; and by
return of post there came a rejoinder saying that Will Belton would be
at the Castle on the fifteenth of August. 'They can do without me for
about ten days,' he said in his postscript, writing in a familiar tone,
which did not seem to have been at all checked by the coldness of his
cousin's note 'as our harvest will be late; but I must be back for a
week's work before the partridges.'
'Heartless! quite heartless!' Mr Amedroz said as he read this.
'Partridges! to talk of partridges at such a time as this!'
Clara, however, would not acknowledge that she agreed with her father;
but she could not altogether restrain a feeling on her own part that
her cousin's good humour towards her and Mr Amedroz should have been
repressed by the tone of her letter to him. The man was to come,
however, and she would not judge of him until he was there.
In one house in the neighbourhood, and in only one, had Miss Amedroz a
friend with whom she was intimate; and as regarded even this single
friend, the intimacy was the effect rather of circumstances than of
real affection. She liked Mrs Askerton, and saw her almost daily; but
she could hardly tell herself that she loved her neighbour.
In the little town of Belton, close to the church, there stood a
pretty, small house, called Belton Cottage. It was so near the church
that strangers always supposed it to be the parsonage; but the rectory
stood away out in. the country, half a mile from the town, on the road
to Redicote, and was a large house, three stories high, with grounds of
its own, and very ugly. Here lived the old bachelor rector, seventy
years of age, given much to long absences when he could achieve them,
and never on good terms with his bishop. His two curates lived at
Redicote, where there was a second church. Belton Cottage, which was
occupied by Colonel Askerton and Mrs Askerton, was on the Amedroz
property, and had been hired some two years since by the Colonel, who
was then a stranger in the country and altogether unknown to the Belton
people. But he had come there for shooting, and therefore his coming
had been understood. Even as long ago as two years since, there had
been neither use nor propriety in keeping the shooting for the squire's
son, and it had been let with the cottage to Colonel Askerton. So
Colonel Askerton had come there with his wife, and no one in the
neighbourhood had known anything about them. Mr Amedroz, with his
daughter, had called upon them, and gradually there had grown up an
intimacy between Clara and Mrs Askerton. There was an opening from the
garden of Belton Cottage into the park, so that familiar intercourse
was easy, and Mrs Askerton was a woman who knew well how to make
herself pleasant to such another woman as Miss Amedroz.
The reader may as well know at ones that rumours prejudicial to the
Askertons reached Belton before they had been established there for six
months. At Taunton, which was twenty miles distant, these rumours were
very rife, and there were people there who knew with accuracy though
probably without a grain of truth in their accuracy every detail in the
history of Mrs Askerton's life. And something, too, reached Clara's
ears something from old Mr Wright, the rector, who loved scandal, and
was very ill-natured. 'A very nice woman,' the rector had said; 'but
she does not seem to have any belongings in particular.' 'She has got a
husband,' Clara had replied with some little indignation, for she had
never loved Mr Wright. 'Yes; I suppose she has got a husband.' Then
Clara had, in her own judgment, accused the rector of lying,
evil-speaking, and slandering, and had increased the measure of her
cordiality to Mrs Askerton. But something more she had heard on the
same subject at Perivale. 'Before you throw yourself into close
intimacy with the lady, I think you should know something about her,'
Mrs Winterfield had said to her. ' I do know something about her; I
know that she has the manners and education of a lady, and that she is
living affectionately with her husband, who is devoted to her. What
more ought I to know?' 'If you really do know all that, you know a
great deal,' Mrs Winterfield had replied.
'Do you know anything against her, aunt?' Clara asked, after a pause.
There was another pause before Mrs Winterfield answered. 'No, my dear;
I cannot say that I do. But I think that young ladies, before they make
intimate friendships, should be very sure of their friends.'
'You have already acknowledged that I know a great deal about her,'
Clara replied. And then the conversation was at an end. Clara had not
been quite ingenuous, as she acknowledged to herself. She was aware
that her aunt would not permit herself to repeat rumours as to the
truth of which she had no absolute knowledge. She understood that the
weakness of her aunt's caution was due to the old lady's sense of
charity and dislike of slander. But Clara had buckled on her armour for
Mrs Askerton, and was glad, therefore, to achieve her little victory.
When we buckle on our armour in any cause, we are apt to go on buckling
it, let the cause become as weak as it may; and Clara continued her
intimacy with Mrs Askerton, although there was something in the lady's
modes of speech, and something also in her modes of thinking, which did
not quite satisfy the aspirations of Miss Amedroz as to a friend.
Colonel Askerton himself was a pleasant, quiet man, who seemed to be
contented with the life which he was leading. For six weeks in April
and May he would go up to town, leaving Mrs Askerton at the cottage as
to which, probably jovial, absence in the metropolis there seemed to be
no spirit of grudging on the part of the wife. On the first of
September a friend would come to the cottage and remain there for six
weeks' shooting: and during the winter the Colonel and his wife always
went to Paris for a fortnight. Such had been their life for the last
two years; and thus so said Mrs Askerton to Clara did they intend to
live as long as they could keep the cottage at Belton. Society at
Belton they had none, and as they said desired none. Between them and
Mr Wright there was only a speaking acquaintance. The married curate at
Redicote would not let his wife call on Mrs Askerton, and the unmarried
curate was a hard-worked, clerical hack a parochial minister at all
times and seasons, who went to no houses except the houses of the poor,
and who would hold communion with no man, and certainly with no woman,
who would not put up with clerical admonitions for Sunday backslidings.
Mr Amedroz himself neither received guests nor went as a guest to other
men's houses. He would occasionally stand for a while at the gate of
the Colonel's garden, and repeat the list of his own woes as long as
his neighbour would stand there to hear it. But there was no society at
Belton, and Clara, as far as she herself was aware, was the only person
with whom Mrs Askerton held any social intercourse, except what she
might have during her short annual holiday in Paris.
'Of course, you are right,' she said, when Clara told her of the
proposed coming of Mr Belton. 'If he turn out to be a good fellow, you
will have gained a great deal. And should he be a bad, fellow, you will
have lost nothing. In either case you will know him, and considering
how he stands towards you, that itself is desirable.'
'But if he should annoy papa?'
'In your papa's condition, my dear, the coming of any one will annoy
him. At least, he will say so; though I do not in the least doubt that
he will like the excitement better even than you will.'
'I can't say there will be much excitement to me.'
'No excitement in a young man's coming into the house! Without shocking
your propriety, allow me to say that that is impossible. Of course, he
is coming to see whether he can't make matters all right by marrying
'That's nonsense, Mrs Askerton.'
'Very well. Let it be nonsense. But why shouldn't he? It's just what he
ought to do. He hasn't got a wife; and, as far as I know, you haven't
got a lover.'
'I certainly have not got a lover.'
'Our religious nephew at Perivale does not seem to be of any use.'
'I wish, Mrs Askerton, you would not speak of Captain Aylmer in that
way. I don't know any man whom I like so much, or at any rate better,
than Captain Aylmer; but I hate the idea that no girl can become
acquainted with an unmarried man without having her name mentioned with
his, and having to hear ill-natured remarks of that kind.'
'I hope you will learn to like this other man much better. Think how
nice it will be to be mistress of the old place after all. And then to
go back to the old family name! If I were you I would make up my mind
not to let him leave the place till I had brought him to my feet.'
'If you go on like that I will not speak to you about him again.'
'Or rather not to my feet for gentlemen have laid aside the humble way
of making love for the last twenty years at least; but I don't know
whether the women haven't gained quite as much by the change as the
'As I know nothing will stop you when you once get into a vein of that
kind, I shall go,' said Clara. 'And till this man has come and gone I
shall not mention his name again in your presence.'
'So be it,' said Mrs Askerton; 'but as I will promise to say nothing
more about him, you need not go on his account.' But Clara had got up,
and did leave the cottage at once.
Mr Belton came to the castle, and nothing further had been said at the
cottage about his coming. Clara had seen Mrs Askerton in the meantime
frequently, but that lady had kept her promise almost to Clara's
disappointment. For she though she had in truth disliked the
proposition that her cousin could be coming with any special views with
reference to herself had nevertheless sufficient curiosity about the
stranger to wish to talk about him. Her father, indeed, mentioned
Belton's name very frequently, saying something with reference to him
every time he found himself in his daughter's presence. A dozen times
he said that the man was heartless to come to the house at such a time,
and he spoke of his cousin always as though the man were guilty of a
gross injustice in being heir to the property. But not the less on that
account did he fidget himself about the room in which Belton was to
sleep, about the food that Belton was to eat, and especially about the
wine that Belton was to drink. What was he to do for wine? The stock of
wine in the cellars at Belton Castle was, no doubt, very low. The
squire himself drank a glass or two of port daily, and had some remnant
of his old treasures by him, which might perhaps last him his time; and
occasionally there came small supplies of sherry from the grocer at
Taunton; but Mr Amedroz pretended to think that Will Belton would want
champagne and claret and he would continue to make these suggestions in
spite of his own repeated complaints that the man was no better than an
ordinary farmer. 'I've no doubt he'll like beer,' said Clara. 'Beer!'
said her father, and then stopped himself, as though. he were lost in
doubt whether it would best suit him to scorn his cousin for having so
low a taste as that suggested on his behalf, or to ridicule his
daughter's idea that the household difficulty admitted of so convenient
The day of the arrival at last came, and Clara certainly was in a
twitter, although she had steadfastly resolved that she would be in no
twitter at all. She had told her aunt by letter of the proposed visit,
and Mrs Winterfield had expressed her approbation, saying that she
hoped it would lead to good results. Of what good results could her
aunt be thinking? The one probable good result would surely. be this
that relations so nearly connected should know each other. Why should
there be any fuss made about such a visit? But, nevertheless, Clara,
though she made no outward fuss, knew that inwardly she was not as calm
about the man's coming as she would have wished herself to be.
He arrived about five o'clock in a gig from Taunton. Five was the
ordinary dinner hour at Belton, but it had been postponed till six on
this day, in the hope that the cousin might make his appearance at any
rate by that hour. Mr Amedroz had uttered various complaints as to the
visitor's heartlessness in not having written to name the hour of his
arrival, and was manifestly intending to make the most of the grievance
should he not present himself before six but this indulgence was cut
short by the sound of the gig wheels. Mr Amedroz and his daughter were
sitting in a small drawing-room which looked out to the front of the
house, and he, seated in his accustomed chair near the window, could
see the arrival. For a moment or two he remained quiet in his chair, as
though he would not allow so insignificant a thing as his cousin's
coming to ruffle him but he could not maintain this dignified
indifference, and before Belton was out of the gig he had shuffled out
into the hall.
Clara followed her father almost unconsciously, and soon found herself
shaking hands with a big man, over six feet high, broad in the
shoulders, large limbed, with bright quick grey eyes, a large mouth,
teeth almost too perfect and a well-formed nose, with thick short brown
hair and small whiskers which came half-way down his cheeks a decidedly
handsome man with a florid face, but still, perhaps, with something of
the promised roughness of the farmer. But a more good-humoured looking
countenance Clara felt at once that she had never beheld.
'And you are the little girl that I remember when I was a boy at Mr
Folliott's?' he said. His voice was clear, and rather loud, but it
sounded very pleasant in that sad old house.
'Yes; I am the little girl,' said Clara smiling.
'Dear, dear! and that's twenty years ago now,' said he.
'But you oughtn't to remind me of that, Mr Belton.'
'Oughtn't I? Why not?'
'Because it shows how very old I am.'
'Ah, yes to be sure. But there's nobody here that signifies. How well I
remember this room and the old tower out there. It isn't changed a bit!'
'Not to the outward eye, perhaps,' said the squire.
'That's what I mean. So they're making hay still. Our hay has been all
up these three weeks. I didn't know you ever meadowed the park.' Here
he trod with dreadful severity upon the corns of Mr Amedroz, but he did
not perceive it. And when the squire muttered something about a tenant,
and the inconvenience of keeping land in his own hands, Belton would
have gone on with the subject had not Clara changed the conversation.
The squire complained bitterly of this to Clara when they were alone,
saying that it was very heartless.
She had a little scheme of her own a plan arranged for the saying of a
few words to her cousin on the earliest opportunity of their being
alone together and she contrived that this should take place within
half an hour after his arrival, as he went through the hall up to his
room. 'Mr Belton,' she said, 'I'm sure you will not take it amiss if I
take a cousin's privilege at once and explain to you something of our
way of living here. My dear father is not very strong.'
'He is much altered since I saw him last.'
'Oh, yes. Think of all that he has had to bear! Well, Mr Belton, the
fact is, that we are not so well off as we used to be, and are obliged
to live in a very quiet way. You will not mind that?'
'I take it very kind of you, your coming all this way to see us'
'I'd have come three times the distance.'
'But you must put up with us as you find us, you know. The truth is we
are very poor.'
'Well, now that's just what I wanted to know. One couldn't write and
ask such a question; but I was sure I should find out if I came.'
'You've found it out already, you see.'
'As for being poor, it's a thing I don't think very much about not for
young people. But it isn't comfortable when a man gets old. Now what I
want to know is this; can't something be done?'
'The only thing to do is to be very kind to him. He has had to let the
park to Mr Stovey, and he doesn't like talking about it.'
'But if it isn't talked about, how can it be mended?'
'It can't be mended.'
'We'll see about that. But I'll be kind to him; you see if I ain't. And
I'll tell you what, I'll be kind to you too, if you'll let me. You have
got no brother now.'
'No,' said Clara; 'I have got no brother now.' Belton was looking full
into her face, and saw that her eyes had become clouded with tears.
'I will be your brother,' said he. 'You see if I don't. When I say a
thing I mean it. I will be your brother.' And he took her hand,
caressing it, and showing her that he was not in the least afraid of
her. He was blunt in his bearing, saying things which her father would
have called indelicate and heartless, as though they gave him no
effort, and placing himself at once almost in a position of ascendency.
This Clara had not intended. She had thought that her farmer cousin, in
spite of the superiority of his prospects as heir to the property,
would have acceded to her little hints with silent acquiescence; but
instead of this he seemed prepared to take upon himself the chief part
in the play that was to be acted between them. 'Shall it be so?' he
said, still holding her hand.
'You are very kind.'
'I will be more than kind; I will love you dearly if you will let me.
You don't suppose that I have looked you up here for nothing. Blood is
thicker than water, and you have nobody now so near to you as I am. I
don't see why you should be so poor, as the debts have been paid.'
'Papa has had to borrow money on his life interest in the place.'
'That's the mischief! Never mind. We'll see if we can't do something.
And in the meantime don't make a stranger of me. Anything does for me.
Lord bless you! if you were to see how I rough it sometimes! I can eat
beans and bacon with any one; and what's more, I can go without 'em if
I can't get 'em.'
'We'd better get ready for dinner now. I always dress, because papa
likes to see it.' This she said as a hint to her cousin that he would
be expected to change his coat, for her father would have been annoyed
had his guest sat down to dinner without such ceremony. Will Belton was
not very good at taking hints; but he did understand this, and made the
necessary change in his apparel.
The evening was long and dull, and nothing occurred worthy of remark
except the surprise manifested by Mr Amedroz when Belton called his
daughter by her Christian name. This he did without the slightest
hesitation, as though it were the most natural thing in the world for
him to do. She was his cousin, and cousins of course addressed each
other in that way. Clara's quick eye immediately saw her father's
slight gesture of dismay, but Belton caught nothing of this. The squire
took an early opportunity of calling him Mr Belton with some little
peculiarity of expression; but this was altogether lost on Will, who
five times in the next five minutes addressed 'Clara' as though they
were already on the most intimate terms. She would have answered him in
the same way, and would have called him Will, had she not been afraid
of offending her father.
Mr Amedroz had declared his purpose of coming down to breakfast during
the period of his cousin's visit, and at half-past nine he was in the
parlour. Clara had been there some time, but had not seen her cousin.
He entered the room immediately after her father, bringing his hat with
him in his hand, and wiping the drops of perspiration from his brow.
'You have been out, Mr Belton,' said the squire.
'All round the place, sir. Six o'clock doesn't often find me in bed,
summer or winter. What's the use of laying in bed when one has had
enough of sleep?'
'But that's just the question,' said Clara; 'whether one has had enough
at six o'clock.'
'Women want more than men, of course. A man, if he means to do any good
with land, must be out early. The grass will grow of itself at nights,
but it wants looking after as soon as the daylight comes.'
'I don't know that it would do much good to the grass here,' said the
'As much here as anywhere. And indeed I've got something to say about
that.' He had now seated himself at the breakfast-table, and was
playing with his knife and fork. 'I think, sir, you're hardly making
the best you can out of the park.'
'We won't mind talking about it, if you please,' said the squire.
'Well; of course I won't, if you don't like it; but upon my word you
ought to look about you; you ought indeed.'
'In what way do you mean?' said Clara.
'If your father doesn't like to keep the land in his own hands, he
should let it to some one who would put stock in it not go on cutting
it year after year and putting nothing back, as this fellow will do.
I've been talking to Stovey, and that's just what he means.'
'Nobody here has got money to put stock on the land,' said the squire,
'Then you should look for somebody somewhere else. That's all. I'll
tell you what now, Mr Amedroz, I'll do it myself.' By this time he had
helped himself to two large slices of cold mutton, and was eating his
breakfast and talking with an equal amount of energy for either
'That's out of the question,' said the squire.
'I don't see why it should be out of the question. It would be better
for you and better for me too, if this place is ever to be mine.' On
hearing this the squire winced, but said nothing. This terrible fellow
was so vehemently outspoken that the poor old man was absolutely unable
to keep pace with him even to the repeating of his wish that the matter
should be talked of no further. 'I'll tell you what I'll do, now,'
continued Belton. 'There's altogether, outside the palings and in,
about a hundred and fifty acres of it. I'll give you one pound two and
sixpence an acre, and I won't cut an acre of grass inside the park no,
nor much of it outside either only just enough to give me a little
fodder for the cattle in winter.'
'And give up Plaistow Hall?' asked Clara.
'Lord love you, no. I've a matter of nine hundred acres on hand there,
and most of it under the plough. I've counted it up, and it would just
cost me a thousand pounds to stock this place. I should come and look
at it twice a year or so, and I should see my money home again, if I
didn't get any profit out of it.'
Mr Amedroz was astonished. The man had only been in his house one
night, and was proposing to take all his troubles off his hands. He did
not relish the proposition at all. He did not like to be accused of not
doing as well for himself as others could do for him. He did not wish
to make any change although he remembered at the moment his anger with
Farmer Stovey respecting the haycarts. He did not desire that the heir
should have any immediate interest in the place. But he was not strong
enough to meet the proposition with a direct negative. 'I couldn't get
rid of Stovey in that way,' he said, plaintively. I've settled it all
with Stovey already,' said Belton. 'He'll be glad enough to walk off
with a twenty-pound note, which I'll give him. He can't make money out
of the place. He hasn't got means to stock it, and then see the wages
that hay-making runs away with! He'd lose by it even at what he's
paying, and he knows it. There won't be any difficulty about Stovey.'
By twelve o'clock on that day Mr Stovey had been brought into the
house, and had resigned the land. It had been let to Mr William Belton
at an increased rental a rental increased by nearly forty pounds per
annum and that gentleman had already made many of his arrangements for
entering upon his tenancy. The twenty pounds had already been paid to
Stovey, and the transaction was complete. Mr Amedroz sat in his chair
bewildered, dismayed and, as he himself declared shocked, quite
shocked, at the precipitancy of the young man. It might be for the
best. He didn't know. He didn't feel at all sure. But such hurrying in
such a matter was, under all the circumstances of the family, to say
the least of it, very indelicate. He was angry with himself for having
yielded, and angry with Clara for having allowed him to do so. 'It
doesn't signify much,' he said, at last. 'Of course he'll have it all
to himself before long.'
'But, papa, it really seems to be a much better arrangement for you.
You'll get more money'
'Money is not everything, my dear.'
'But you'd sooner have Mr Belton, our own cousin, about the place, than
'I don't know. We shall see. The thing is done now, and there is no use
in complaining. I must say he hasn't shown a great deal of delicacy.'
On that afternoon Belton asked Clara to go out with him, and walk round
the place. He had been again about the grounds, and had made plans, and
counted up capabilities, and calculated his profit and losses. 'If you
don't dislike scrambling about,' said he, 'I'll show you everything
that I intend to do.'
'But I can't have any changes made, Mr Belton,' said Mr Amedroz, with
some affectation of dignity in his manner. 'I won't have the fences
moved, or anything of that kind.'
'Nothing shall be done, sir, that you don't approve. I'll just manage
it all as if I was acting as your own bailiff.' 'Son,' he was going to
say, but he remembered the fate of his cousin Charles just in time to
prevent the use of the painful word.
'I don't want to have anything done,' said Mr Amedroz.
'Then nothing shall be done. We'll just mend a fence or two, to keep in
the cattle, and leave other things as they are. But perhaps Clara will
walk out with me all the same.'
Clara was quite ready to walk out, and had already tied on her hat and
taken her parasol.
'Your father is a little nervous,' said he, as soon as they were beyond
hearing of the house.
'Can you wonder at it, when you remember all that he has suffered.'
'I don't wonder at it in the least; and I don't wonder at his disliking
'I don't think he dislikes you, Mr Belton.'
'Oh, but he does. Of course he does. I'm the heir to the place instead
of you. It is natural that he should dislike me. But I'll live it down.
You see if I don't. I'll make him so fond of me, he'll always want to
have me here. I don't mind a little dislike to begin with.'
'You're a wonderful man, Mr Belton.'
'I wish you wouldn't call me Mr Belton. But of course you must do as
you please about that. If I can make him call me Will, I suppose you'll
call me so too.'
'Oh, yes; then I will.'
'It don't much matter what a person is called; does it! Only one likes
to be friendly with one's friends. I suppose you don't like my calling
'Now you've begun you had better go on.'
'I mean to. I make it a rule never to go back in the world. Your father
is half sorry that he has agreed about the place; but I shan't let him
off now. And I'll tell you what. In spite of what he says, I'll have it
as different as possible before this time next year. 'Why, there's lots
of timber that ought to come out of the plantation; and there's places
where the roots want stubbing up horribly. These things always pay for
themselves if they are properly done. Any good done in the world always
pays.' Clara often remembered those words afterwards when she was
thinking of her cousin's character. Any good done in the world always
'But you mustn't offend my father, even though it should do good,' she
'I understand,' he answered. 'I won't tread on his toes. Where do you
get your milk and butter?'
'We buy them.'
'From Stovey, I suppose.'
'Yes; from Mr Stovey. It goes against the rent.'
'And it ought to go against the grain too living in the country and
paying for milk! I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a cow. It
shall be a little present from me to you.' He said nothing of the more
important present which this would entail upon him in the matter of the
grass for the cow; but she understood the nature of the arrangement,
and was anxious to prevent it.
'Oh, Mr Belton, I think we'd better not attempt that,' she said.
'But we will attempt it. I've pledged myself to do nothing to oppose
your father; but I've made no such promise as to you. We'll have a cow
before I'm many days older. What a pretty place this is! I do like
these rocks so much, and it is such a comfort to be off the flat.'
'It is pretty.'
'Very pretty. You've no conception what an ugly place Plaistow is. The
land isn't actual fen now, but it was once. And it's quite flat. And
there is a great dike, twenty feet wide, oozing through it just oozing,
you know; and lots of little dikes, at right angles with the big one.
And the fields are all square. And there are no hedges and hardly a
tree to be seen in the place.
'What a picture you have drawn! I should commit suicide if I lived
'Not if you had so much to do as I have.'
'And what is the house like?'
'The house is good enough an old-fashioned manor-house, with high brick
chimneys, and brick gables, tiled all over, and large square windows
set in stone. The house is good enough, only it stands in the middle of
a farm-yard. I said there were no trees, but there is an avenue.'
'Come, that is something.'
'It was an old family seat, and they used to have avenues in those
days; but it doesn't lead up to the present hail door. It comes
sideways up to the farm. yard; so that the whole thing must have been
different once, and there must have been a great court-yard. In
Elizabeth's time Plaistow Manor was rather a swell place, and belonged
to some Roman Catholics who came to grief, and then the Howards got it.
There's a whole history about it, only I don't care much about those
'And is it yours now?'
'It's between me and my uncle, and I pay him rent for his part. He's a
clergyman you know, and he has a living in Lincolnshire not far off.'
'And do you live alone in that big house?'
'There's my sister. You've heard of Mary haven't you?'
Then Clara remembered that there was a Miss Belton, a poor sickly
creature, with a twisted spine and a hump back, as to whose welfare she
ought to have made inquiries.
'Oh yes; of course,' said Clara. 'I hope she's better than she used to
be when we heard of her.'
'She'll never be better. But then she does not become much worse. I
think she does grow a little weaker. She's older than I am, you know
two years older; but you would think she was quite an old woman to look
at her.' Then, for the next half-hour, they talked about Mary Belton as
they visited every corner of the place. Belton still had an eye to
business as he went on talking, and Clara remarked how many sticks he
moved as he went, how many stones he kicked on one side, and how
invariably he noted any defect in the fences. But still he talked of
his sister, swearing that she was as good as gold, and at last wiping
away the tears from his eyes as he described her maladies. 'And yet I
believe she is better off than any of us,' he said, 'because she is so
good.' Clara began to wish that she had called him Will from the
beginning, because she liked him so much. He was just the man to have
for a cousin a true loving cousin, stalwart, self-confident, with a
grain or two of tyranny in his composition as becomes a man in relation
to his intimate female relatives; and one, moreover, with whom she
could trust herself to be familiar without any danger of love-making!
She saw his character clearly, and told herself that she understood it
perfectly. He wag a jewel of a cousin, and she must begin to call him
Will as speedily as possible.
At last they came round in their walk to the gate leading into Colonel
Askerton's garden; and here in the garden, close to the gate, they
found Mrs Askerton. I fancy that she had been watching for them, or at
any rate watching for Clara, so that she might know how her friend was
carrying herself with her cousin. She came at once to the wicket, and
there she was introduced by Clara to Mr Belton. Mr Belton, as he made
his bow, muttered something awkwardly, and seemed to lose his self-
possession for the moment. Mrs Askerton was very gracious to him, and
she knew well how to be both gracious and ungracious. She talked about
the scenery, and the charms of the old place, and the dullness of the
people around them, and the inexpediency of looking for society in
country places; till after awhile Mr Belton was once more at his ease.
'How is Colonel Askerton?' asked Clara.
'He's in-doors. Will you come and see him? He's reading a French novel,
as usual. It's the only thing he ever does in summer. Do you ever read
French novels, Mr Belton?'
'I read very little at all, and when I do I read English.'
'Ah, you're a man who has a pursuit in life, no doubt.'
'I should rather think so that is, if you mean, by a pursuit, earning
my bread. A man has not much time for French novels with a thousand
acres of land on his hands; even if he knew how to read French, which I
'But you're not always at work on your farm?'
'It's pretty constant, Mrs Askerton. Then I shoot, and hunt.'
'You're a sportsman?'
'All men living in the country are more or less.'
'Colonel Askerton shoots a great deal. He has the shooting of Belton,
you know. He'll be delighted, I'm sure, to see you if you are here some
time in September. But you, coming from Norfolk, would not care for
partridge-shooting in Somersetshire.'
'I don't see why it shouldn't be as good here as there.'
'Colonel Askerton thinks he has got a fair head of game upon the place.'
'I dare say. Game is easily kept if people knew how to set about it.'
'Colonel Askerton has a very good keeper, and has gone to a great deal
of expense since he has been here.'
'I'm my own head-keeper,' said Belton;' and so I will be or rather
should be, if I had this place.'
Something in the lady's tone had grated against his feelings and
offended him; or perhaps he thought that she assumed too many of the
airs of proprietorship because the shooting of the place had been let
to her husband for thirty pounds a year.
'I hope you don't mean to say you'll turn us out,' said Mrs Askerton,
'I have no power to turn anybody out or in,' said he. 'I've got nothing
to do with it.'
Clara, perceiving that matters were not going quite pleasantly between
her old and new friend, thought it best to take her departure. Belton,
as he went, lifted his hat from his head, and Clara could not keep
herself from thinking that he was not only very handsome, but that he
looked very much like a gentleman, in spite of his occupation as a
'Bye-bye, Clara,' said Mrs Askerton; 'come down and see me tomorrow,
there's a dear. Don't forget what a dull life I have of it.' Clara said
that she would come. And I shall be so happy to see Mr Belton if he
will call before he leaves you.' At this Belton again raised his hat
from his head, and muttered some word or two of civility. But this, his
latter muttering, was different from the first, for he had altogether
regained his presence of mind.
'You didn't seem to get on very well with my friend,' said Clara,
laughing, as soon as they had turned away from the cottage.
'Well, no that is to say, not particularly well or particularly badly.
At first I took her for somebody else I knew slightly ever so long ago,
and I was thinking of that other person at the time.'
'And what was the other person's name?'
'I can't even remember that at the present moment.'
'Mrs Askerton was a Miss Oliphant.'
'That wasn't the other lady's name. But, independently of that, they
can't be the same. The other lady married a Mr Berdmore.'
'A Mr Berdmore!' Clara as she repeated the name felt convinced that she
had heard it before, and that she had heard it in connexion with Mrs
Askerton. She certainly had heard the name of Berdmore pronounced, or
had seen it written, or had in some shape come across the name in Mrs
Askerton's presence; or at any rate somewhere on the premises occupied
by that lady. More than this she could not remember; but the name, as
she had now heard it from her cousin, became at once distinctly
connected in her memory with her friends at the cottage.
'Yes,' said Belton; 'a Berdmore. I knew more of him than of her, though
for the matter of that, I knew very little of him either. She was a
fast-going girl, and his friends were very sorry. But I think they are
both dead or divorced, or that they have come to grief in some way.'
'And is Mrs Askerton like the fast-going lady?'
'In a certain way. Not that I remember what the fast-going lady was
like; but there was something about this woman that put me in mind of
the other. Vigo was her name; now I recollect it a Miss Vigo. It's nine
or ten years ago now, and I was little more than a boy.'
'Her name was Oliphant.'
'I don't suppose they have anything to do with each other. What riled
me was the way she talked of the shooting. People do when they take a
little shooting. They pay some trumpery thirty or forty pounds a year,
and then they seem to think that it's almost the same as though they
owned the property themselves. I've known a man talk of his manor
because he had the shooting of a wood and a small farm round it. They
are generally shop-keepers out of London, gin distillers, or brewers,
or people like that.'
'Why, Mr Belton, I didn't think you could be so furious!
'Can't I? When my back's up, it is up! But it isn't up yet.'
'And I hope it won't be up while you remain in Somersetshire.'
'I won't answer for that. There's Stovey's empty cart standing just
where it stood yesterday; and he promised he'd have it home before
three today. My back will be up with him if he doesn't mind himself.'
It was nearly six o'clock when they got back to the house, and Clara
was surprised to find that she had been out three hours with her
cousin. Certainly it had been very pleasant. The usual companion of her
walks, when she had a companion, was Mrs Askerton; but Mrs Askerton did
not like real walking. She would creep about the grounds for an hour or
so, and even such companionship as that was better to Clara than
absolute solitude; but now she had been carried about the place,
getting over stiles and through gates, and wandering through the
copses, till she was tired and hungry, and excited and happy. 'Oh,
papa,' she said, 'we have had such a walk!'
'I thought we were to have dined at five,' he replied, in a low wailing
'No, papa, indeed indeed you said six.'
'That was for yesterday.'
'You said we were to make it six while Mr Belton was here.'
'Very well if it must be, I suppose it must be.'
'You don't mean on my account,' said Will. 'I'll undertake to eat my
dinner, sir, at any hour that you'll undertake to give it me. If
there's a strong point about me at all, it is my appetite.'
Clara, when she went to her father's room that evening, told him what
Mr Belton had said about the shooting, knowing that her father's
feelings would agree with those which had been expressed by her cousin.
Mr Amedroz of course made this an occasion for further grumbling,
suggesting that Belton wanted to get the shooting for himself as he had
got the farm. But, nevertheless, the effect which Clara had intended
was produced, and before she left him he had absolutely proposed that
the shooting and the land should go together.
'I'm sure that Mr Belton doesn't mean that at all,' said Clara.
'I don't care what he means,' said the squire.
'And it wouldn't do to treat Colonel Askerton in that way,' said Clara.
'I shall treat him just as I like,' said the squire.
SAFE AGAINST LOVE-MAKING
A DEAR cousin, and safe against love-making! This was Clara's verdict
respecting Will Belton, as she lay thinking of him in bed that night.
Why that warranty against love-making should be a virtue in her eyes I
cannot, perhaps, explain. But all young ladies are apt to talk to
themselves in such phrases about gentlemen with whom they are thrown
into chance intimacy as though love-making were in itself a thing
injurious and antagonistic to happiness, instead of being, as it is,
the very salt of life. Safe against love-making! And yet Mrs Askerton,
her friend, had spoken of the probability of such love-making as being
the great advantage of his coming. And there could not be a second
opinion as to the expediency of a match between her and her cousin in a
worldly point of view. Clara, moreover, had already perceived that he
was a man fit to guide a wife, very good- humoured and good-tempered
also, anxious to give pleasure to others, a man of energy and
forethought, who would be sure to do well in the world and hold his
head always high among his fellows as good a husband as a girl could
have. Nevertheless, she congratulated herself in that she felt
satisfied that he was safe against love-making! Might it be possible
that the pressing of hands at Taunton had been so tender, and those
last words spoken with Captain Aylmer so soft, that on his account she
felt delighted to think that her cousin was warranted not to make love?
And what did Will Belton think about his cousin, insured as he was thus
supposed to be against the dangers of love? He, also, lay awake for
awhile that night, thinking over his new friendship. Or rather he
thought of it walking about his room, and looking out at the bright
harvest moon for with him to be in bed was to be asleep. He sat himself
down, and he walked about, and he leaned out of the window into the
cool night air; and he made some comparisons in his mind, and certain
calculations; and he thought of his present home, and of his sister,
and of his future prospects as they were concerned with the old place
at which he was now staying; and he portrayed to himself, in his mind,
Clara's head and face and figure and feet and he resolved that she
should be his wife. He had never seen a girl who seemed to suit him so
well. Though he had only been with her for a day, he swore to himself
that he knew he could love her. Nay he swore to himself that he did
love her. Then when he had quite made up his mind, he tumbled into his
bed and was asleep in five minutes.
Miss Amedroz was a handsome young woman, tall, well-made, active, and
full of health. She carried herself as though she thought her limbs
were made for use, and not simply for ease upon a sofa. Her head and
neck stood well upon her shoulders, and her waist showed none of those
waspish proportions of which ladies used to be more proud than I
believe them to be now, in their more advanced state of knowledge and
taste. There was much about her in which she was like her cousin, as
though the blood they had in common between them had given to both the
same proportions and the same comeliness. Her hair was of a dark brown
colour, as was his. Her eyes were somewhat darker than his, and perhaps
not so full of constant movement; but they were equally bright, and
possessed that quick power of expressing tenderness which belonged to
them. Her nose was more finely cut, as was also her chin, and the oval
of her face; but she had the same large expressive mouth, and the same
perfection of ivory-white teeth. As has been said before, Clara
Amedroz, who was now nearly twenty-six years of age, was not a
young-looking woman. To the eyes of many men that would have been her
fault; but in the eyes of Belton it was no fault. He had not made
himself fastidious as to women by much consort with them, and he was
disposed to think that she who was to become his wife had better be
something more than a girl not long since taken out of the nursery. He
was well-to-do in the world, and could send his wife out in her
carriage, with all becoming bravery of appurtenances. And he would do
so, too, when he should have a wife. But still he would look to his
wife to be a useful partner to him. She should be a woman not above
agricultural solicitude, or too proud to have a care for her cows.
Clara, he was sure, had no false pride; and yet as he was sure also she
was at every point such a lady as would do honour to the carriage and
the bravery when it should be forthcoming. And then such a marriage as
this would put an end to all the trouble which he felt in reference to
the entail on the estate. He knew that he was to be master of Belton,
and of course had, in that knowledge, the satisfaction which men do
feel from the consciousness of their future prosperity. And this with
him was enhanced by a strong sympathy with old-fashioned prejudices as
to family. He would be Belton of Belton; and there had been Beltons of
Belton in old days, for a longer time backwards than he was able to
count. But still the prospect had not been without its alloy, and he
had felt real distress at the idea of turning his cousin out of her
father's house. Such a marriage as that he now contemplated would put
all these things right.
When he got up in the morning he was quite as keen about it as he had
been on the previous evening and as he thought about it the more, he
became keener and still more keen. On the previous evening, as he was
leaning out of the window endeavouring to settle in his own mind what
would be the proper conduct of the romance of the thing, he had
considered that he had better not make his proposal quite at once. He
was to remain eight days at Belton, and as eight days was not a long
period of acquaintance, he had reflected that it might be well for him
to lay what foundation for love it might be in his power to construct
during his present sojourn, and then return and complete the work
before Christmas. But as he was shaving himself, the habitual
impatience of his nature predominated, and he became disposed to think
that delay would be useless, and might perhaps be dangerous. It might
be possible that Clara would be unable to give him a decisive answer so
quickly as to enable him to return home an accepted lover; but if such
doubt were left, such doubt would give him an excuse for a speedy
return to Belton. He did not omit to tell himself that very probably he
might not succeed at all. He was a man not at all apt to feel assurance
that he could carry all before him in love. But in this matter, as in
all others which required from him any personal effort, he prepared
himself to do his best, leaving the consequences to follow as they
might. When he threw his seed corn into the earth with all such due
appliances of agricultural skill and industry as his capital and
experience enabled him to use, he did his part towards the production
of next year's crop; and after that he must leave it to a higher Power
to give to him, or to withhold from him, the reward of his labour. He
had found that, as a rule, the reward had been given when the labour
had been honest; and he was now prepared to follow the same plan, with
the same hopes, in this matter of his love-making.
After much consideration very much consideration, a consideration which
took him the whole time that he was brushing his hair and washing his
teeth he resolved that he would, in the first instance, speak to Mr
Amedroz. Not that he intended that the father should win the daughter
for him. He had an idea that he would like to do that work for himself.
But he thought that the old squire would be better pleased if his
consent were asked in the first instance. The present day was Sunday,
and he would not speak on the subject till Monday. This day he would
devote to the work of securing his future father-in-law's good opinion;
to that and to his prayers.
And he had gained very much upon Mr Amedroz before the evening of the
day was over. He was a man before whom difficulties seemed to yield,
and who had his own way simply because he had become accustomed to ask
for it to ask for it and to work for it. He had so softened the
squire's tone of thought towards him, that the future stocking of the
land was spoken of between them with something like energy on both
sides; and Mr Amedroz had given his consent, without any difficulty, to
the building of a shed for winter stall-feeding. Clara sat by
listening, and perceived that Will Belton would soon be allowed to do
just what he pleased with the place. Her father talked as she had not
heard him talk since her poor brother's death, and was quite animated
on the subject of woodcraft. 'We don't know much about timber down
where I am,' said Will, 'just because we've got no trees.'
'I'll show you your way,' said the old man. 'I've managed the timber on
the estate myself for the last forty years.' Will Belton of course did
not say a word as to the gross mismanagement which had been apparent
even to him. What a cousin he was! Clara thought what a paragon among
cousins! And then he was so manifestly safe against love-making! So
safe, that he only cared to talk about timber, and oxen, and fences,
and winter-forage! But it was all just as it ought to be; and if her
father did not call him Will before long, she herself would set the way
by doing so first. A very paragon among cousins!
'What a flatterer you are,' she said to him that night.
'A flatterer! I?'
'Yes, you. You have flattered papa out of all his animosity already. I
shall be jealous soon; for he'll think more of you than of me.'
'I hope he'll come to think of us as being nearly equally near to him,'
said Belton, with a tone that was half serious and half tender. Now
that he had made up his mind, he could not keep his hand from the work
before him an instant. But Clara had also made up her mind, and would
not be made to think that her cousin could mean anything that was more
'Upon my word,' she said, laughing, 'that is very cool on your part.'
'I came here determined to be friends with him at any rate.'
'And you did so without any thought of me. But you said you would be my
brother, and I shall not forget your promise. Indeed, indeed, I cannot
tell you how glad I am that you have come both for papa's sake and my
own. You have done him so much good that I only dread to think that you
are going so soon.'
'I'll be back before long. I think nothing of running across here from
Norfolk. You'll see enough of me before next summer.'
Soon after breakfast on the next morning he got Mr Amedroz out into the
grounds, on the plea of showing him the proposed site for the cattle
shed; but not a word was said about the shed on that occasion. He went
to work at his other task at once, and when that was well on hand the
squire was quite unfitted for the consideration of any less important
matter, however able to discuss it Belton might have been himself.
'I've got something particular that I want to say to you, sir,' Belton
Now Mr Amedroz was of opinion that his cousin had been saying something
very particular ever since his arrival, and was rather frightened at
this immediate prospect of a new subject.
'There's nothing wrong; is there?'
'No, nothing wrong at least, I hope it's not wrong. Would not it be a
good plan, sir, if I were to marry my cousin Clara?'
What a terrible young man! Mr Amedroz felt that his breath was so
completely taken away from him that he was quite unable to speak a word
of answer at the moment. Indeed, he was unable to move, and stood
still, where he had been fixed by the cruel suddenness of the
proposition made to him.
'Of course I know nothing of what she may think about it,' continued
Belton. 'I thought it best to come to you before I spoke a word to her.
And I know that in many ways she is above me. She is better educated,
and reads more, and all that sort of thing. And it may be that she'd
rather marry a London man than a fellow who passes all his time in the
country. But she couldn't get one who would love her better or treat
her more kindly. And then as to the property; you must own it would be
a good arrangement. You'd like to know it would go to your own child
and your own grandchild wouldn't you, sir? And I'm not badly off,
without looking to this place at all, and could give her every thing
she wants. But then I don't know that she'd care to marry a farmer.'
These last words he said in a melancholy tone, as though aware that he
was confessing his own disgrace.
The squire had listened to it all, and had not as yet said a word. And
now, when Belton ceased, he did not know what word to speak. He was a
man whose thoughts about women were chivalrous, and perhaps a little
old-fashioned. Of course, when a man contemplates marriage, he could do
nothing better, nothing more honourable, than consult the lady's father
in the first instance. But he felt that even a father should be
addressed on such a subject with great delicacy. There should be
ambages in such a matter. The man who resolved to commit himself to
such a task should come forward with apparent difficulty with great
diffidence, and even with actual difficulty. He should keep himself
almost hidden, as behind a mask, and should tell of his own ambition
with doubtful, quivering voice. And the ambages should take time. He
should approach the citadel to be taken with covered ways working his
way slowly and painfully. But this young man, before he had been in the
house three days, said all that he had to say without the slightest
quaver in his voice, and evidently expected to get an answer about the
squire's daughter as quickly as he had got it about the squire's land.
'You have surprised me very much,' said the old man at last, drawing
'I'm quite in earnest about it. Clara seems to me to be the very girl
to make a good wife to such a one as I am. She's got everything that a
woman ought to have By George, she has!'
'She is a good girl, Mr Belton.'
'She is as good as gold, every inch of her.'
'But you have not known her very long, Mr Belton.'
'Quite long enough for my purposes. You see I knew all about her
beforehand who she is, and where she comes from. There's a great deal
in that, you know.'
Mr Amedroz shuddered at the expressions used. It was grievous to him to
hear his daughter spoken of as one respecting whom some one knew who
she was and whence she came. Such knowledge respecting the daughter of
such a family was, as a matter of course, common to all polite persons.
'Yes,' said Mr Amedroz, stiffly: 'you know as much as that about her,
'And she knows as much about me. Now the question is, whether you have
any objection to make?'
'Really, Mr Belton, you have taken me so much by surprise that I do not
feel myself competent to answer you at once.'
'Shall we say in an hour's time, sir?' An hour's time! Mr Amedroz, if
he could have been left to his own guidance, would have thought a month
very little for such a work.
'I suppose you would wish me to see Clara first,' said Mr Amedroz.
'Oh dear, no. I would much rather ask her myself if only I could get
your consent to my doing so.'
'And you have said nothing to her?'
'Not a word.'
'I am glad of that. You would have behaved badly, I think, had you done
so while staying under my roof.'
'I thought it best, at any rate, to come to you first. But as I must be
back at Plaistow on this day week, I haven't much time to lose. So if
you could think about it this afternoon, you know Mr Amedroz, much
bewildered, promised that he would do his best, and eventually did
bring himself to give an answer on the next morning. 'I have been
thinking about this all night,' said Mr Amedroz.
'I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you,' said Belton, feeling rather
ashamed of his own remissness as he remembered how soundly he had
'If you are quite sure of yourself'
'Do you mean sure of loving her? I am as sure of that as anything.'
'But men are so apt to change their fancies.'
'I don't know much about my fancies; but I don't often change my
purpose when I'm in earnest. In such a matter as this I couldn't
change. I'll say as much as that for myself, though it may seem bold.'
'Of course, in regard to money such a marriage would be advantageous to
my child. I don't know whether you know it, but I shall have nothing to
give her literally nothing.'
'All the better, sir, as far as I am concerned. I'm not one who wants
to be saved from working by a wife's fortune.'
'But most men like to get something when they marry.'
'I want to get nothing nothing, that is, in the way of money. If Clara
becomes my wife I'll never ask you for one shilling.'
'I hope her aunt will do something for her.' This the old man said in a
wailing voice, as though the expression of such a hope was grievous to
'If she becomes my wife, Mrs Winterfield will be quite at liberty to
leave her money elsewhere.' There were old causes of dislike between Mr
Belton and Mrs Winterfield, and even now Mrs Winterfield was almost
offended because Mr Belton was staying at Belton Castle.
'But all that is quite uncertain,' continued Mr Amedroz.
'And I have your leave to speak to Clara myself?'
'Well, Mr Belton; yes; I think so. I do not see why you should not
speak to her. But I fear you are a little too precipitate. Clara has
known you so very short a time, that you can hardly have a right to
hope that she should learn to regard you at once as you would have her
do.' As he heard this, Belton's face became long and melancholy. He had
taught himself to think that he could dispense with that delay till
Christmas which he had at first proposed to himself, and that he might
walk into the arena at once, and perhaps win the battle in the first
round. 'Three days is such a very short time,' said the squire.
'It is short certainly,' said Belton.
The father's leave was however given, and armed with that, Belton was
resolved that he would take, at any rate, some preliminary steps in
love-making before he returned to Plaistow. What would be the nature of
the preliminary steps taken by such a one as him, the reader by this
time will probably be able to surmise.
NOT SAFE AGAINST LOVE-MAKING
'Why don't you call him Will?' Clara said to her father. This question
was asked on the evening of that Monday on which Mr Amedroz had given
his consent as to the marriage proposal.
'Call him Will! Why should I?'
'You used to do so, when he was a boy.'
'Of course I did; but that is years ago. He would think it impertinent
'Indeed he would not; he would like it. He has told me so. It sounds so
cold to him to be called Mr Belton by his relations.'
The father looked at his daughter as though for a moment he also
suspected that matters had really been arranged between her and her
future lover without his concurrence, and before his sanction had been
obtained. But if for a moment such a thought did cress his mind, it did
not dwell there. He trusted Belton; but as to his daughter, he knew
that he might be sure of her. It would be impossible with her to keep
such a secret from him, even for half a day. And yet, how odd it was!
Here was a man who in three days had fallen in love with his daughter;
and here was his daughter apparently quite as ready to be in love with
the man. How could she, who was ordinarily circumspect, and almost cold
in her demeanour towards strangers who was from circumstances and from
her own disposition altogether hostile to flirting intimacies how could
this Clara have changed her nature so speedily? The squire did not
understand it, but was prepared to believe that it was all for the
best. 'I'll call him Will, if you like it,' said he.
'Do, papa, and then I can do so also. He is such a good fellow, and I
am so fond of him.'
On the next morning Mr Amedroz did, with much awkwardness, call his
guest by his Christian name. Clara caught her cousin's eye and smiled,
and he also smiled. At that moment he was more in love than ever. Could
anything be more charming than this? Immediately after breakfast he was
going over to Redicote, to see a builder in a small way who lived
there, and whom he proposed to employ in putting up the shed for the
cattle; but he almost begrudged the time, so anxious was he to begin
his suit. But his plan had been laid out and he would follow it. 'I
think I shall be back by three o'clock,' he said to Clara, 'and then
we'll have our walk.'
'I'll be ready; and you can call for me at Mr Askerton's. I must go
down there, and it will save you something in your walk to pick me up
at the cottage.' And so the arrangements for the day were made.
Clara had promised that she would soon call at the cottage, and was,
indeed, rather anxious to see Mrs Askerton on her own account. What she
had heard from her cousin as to a certain Miss Vigo of old days had
interested her, and also what she had heard of a certain Mr Berdmore.
It had been evident to her that her cousin had thought little about it.
The likeness of the lady he then saw to the lady he had before known.
had at first struck him; but when he found that the two ladies were not
represented by one and the same person, he was satisfied, and there was
an end of the matter for him. But it was not so with Clara. Her
feminine mind dwelt on the matter with more earnestness than he had
cared to entertain, and her clearer intellect saw possibilities which
did not occur to him. But it was not till she found herself walking
across the park to the cottage that she remembered that any inquiries
as to her past life might be disagreeable to Mrs Askerton. She had
thought of asking her friend plainly whether the names of Vigo and
Berdmore had ever been familiar to her; but she reminded herself that
there had been rumours afloat, and that there might be a mystery. Mrs
Askerton would sometimes talk of her early life; but she would do this
with dreamy, indistinct language, speaking of the sorrows of her
girlhood, but not specifying their exact nature, seldom mentioning any
names, and never referring with clear personality to those who had been
nearest to her when she had been a child. Clara had seen her friend's
maiden name, Mary Oliphant, written in a book, and seeing it had
alluded to it. On that occasion Mrs Askerton had spoken of herself as
having been an Oliphant, and thus Clara had come to know the fact. But
now, as she made her way to the cottage, she remembered that she had
learned nothing more than this as to Mrs Askerton's early life. Such
being the case, she hardly knew how to ask any question about the two
names that had been mentioned. And yet, why should she not ask such a
question? Why should she doubt Mrs Askerton? And if she did doubt, why
should not her doubts be solved?
She found Colonel Askerton and his wife together, and she certainly
would ask no such question in his presence. He was a slight built, wiry
man, about fifty, with iron-grey hair and beard who seemed to have no
trouble in life, and to desire but few pleasures. Nothing could be more
regular than the course of his days, and nothing more idle. He
breakfasted at eleven, smoked and read till the afternoon, when he rode
for an hour or two; then he dined, read again, smoked again, and went
to bed. In September and October he shot, and twice in the year, as has
been before stated, went away to seek a little excitement elsewhere. He
seemed to be quite contented with his lot, and was never heard to speak
an angry word with any one. Nobody cared for him much; but then he
troubled himself with no one's affairs. He never went to church, and
had not eaten or drank in any house but his own since he had come to
'Oh, Clara, you naughty girl,' said Mrs Askerton, 'why didn't you come
yesterday? I was expecting you all day.'
'I was busy. Really, we've grown to be quite industrious people since
my cousin came.'
'They tell me he's taking the land into his own hands,' said the
'Yes, indeed; and he is going to build sheds, and buy cattle; and I
don't know what he doesn't mean to do; so that we shall be alive again.'
'I hope he won't want my shooting.'
'He has shooting of his own in Norfolk,' said Clara.