Part 4 out of 9
gentleman he'd have me live there altogether if I would.'
'Is it not odd? I'm so glad I didn't make up my mind not to go when I
got that letter. And yet I don't know.' These last words he added
slowly, and in a low voice, and Mary at once knew that everything was
not quite as it ought to be.
'Is there anything wrong, Will?'
'No, nothing wrong; that is to say, there is nothing to make me regret
that I went. I think I did some good to them.'
'It was to do good to them that you went there.'
'They wanted to have some one near them who could be to them as one of
their own family. He is too old too much worn out to be capable of
managing things; and the people there were, of course, robbing him. I
think I have put a stop to that.'
'And you are to go again at Christmas?'
'Yes; they can do without me at my uncle's, and you will be there. I
have taken the land, and already bought some of the stock for it, and
am going to buy more.'
'I hope you won't lose money, Will.'
'No not ultimately, that is. I shall get the place in good condition,
and I shall have paid myself when he goes, in that way, if in no other.
Besides, what's a little money? I owe it to them for robbing her of her
'You do not rob her, Will.'
'It is hard upon her, though.'
'Does she feel it hard?'
'Whatever may be her feelings on such a matter, she is a woman much too
proud to show them.'
'I wish I knew whether you liked her or not.'
'I do like her I love her better than any one in the world; better even
than you, Mary; for I have asked her to be my wife.'
'And she has refused me. Now you know the whole of it the whole history
of what I have done while I have been away.' And he stood up before
her, with his thumbs thrust into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, with
something serious and almost solemn in his gait, in spite of a smile
which played about his mouth.
'I meant to have told you, of course, Mary to have told you everything;
but I did not mean to tell it to-night; only it has somehow fallen from
me. Out of the full heart the mouth speaks, they say.'
'I never can like her if she refuses your love.'
'Why not? That is unlike you, Mary. Why should she be bound to love me
because I love her?'
'Is there any one else, Will?'
'How can I tell? I did not ask her. I would not have asked her for the
world, though I would have given the world to know.'
'And she is so very beautiful?'
'Beautiful! It isn't that so much though she is beautiful. But but I
can't tell you why but she is the only girl that I ever saw who would
suit me for a wife. Oh, dear!'
'My own Will!'
'But I'm not going to keep you up all night, Mary. And I'll tell you
something else; I'm not going to break my heart for love. Arid I'll
tell you something else again; I'm not going to give it up yet. I
believe I've been a fool. Indeed, I know I've been a fool. I went about
it just as if I were buying a horse, and had told the seller that that
was my price he might take it or leave it. What right had I to suppose
that any girl was to be had in that way; much less such a girl as Clara
'It would have been a great match for her.'
'I'm not so sure of that, Mary. Her education has been different from
mine, and it may well be that she should marry above me. But I swear I
will not speak another word to you to-night. Tomorrow, if you're well
enough, I'll talk to you all day.' Soon after that he did get her to go
up to her room, though, of course, he broke that oath of his as to not
speaking another word. After that he walked out by moonlight round the
house, wandering about the garden and farm-yard, and down through the
avenue, having in his own mind some pretence of the watchfulness of
ownership, but thinking little of his property and much of his love.
Here was a thing that he desired with all his heart, but it seemed to
be out of his reach absolutely out of his reach. He was sick and weary
with a feeling of longing sick with that covetousness wherewith Ahab
coveted the vineyard of Naboth. What was the world to him if he could
not have this thing on which he had set his heart? He had told his
sister that he would not break his heart; and so much, he did not
doubt, would be true. A man or woman with a broken heart was in his
estimation a man or woman who should die of love; and he did not look
for such a fate as that. But he experienced the palpable misery of a
craving emptiness within his breast, and did believe of himself that he
never could again be in comfort unless he could succeed with Clara
Amedroz. He stood leaning against one of the trees, striking his hands
together, and angry with himself at the weakness which had reduced him
to such a state. What could any man be worth who was so little master
of himself as he had now become?
After awhile he made his way back through the farm-yard, and in at the
kitchen door, which he locked and bolted; and then, throwing himself
down into a wooden armchair which always stood there, in the corner of
the huge hearth, he took a short pipe from the mantelpiece, filled it
with tobacco, and lighting it almost unconsciously, began to smoke with
Plaistow Hall was already odious to him, and he longed to be back at
Belton, which he had left only that morning. Yes, on that very morning
she had brought to him his coffee, looking sweetly into his face so
sweetly as she ministered to him. And he might then well have said one
word more in pleading his suit, if he had not been too awkward to know
what that word should be. And was it not his own awkwardness that had
brought him to this state of misery? What right had he to suppose that
any girl should fall in love with such a one as he at first sight
without a moment's notice to her own heart? And then, when he had her
there, almost in his arms, why had he let her go without kissing her?
It seemed to him now that if he might have once kissed her, even that
would have been a comfort to him in his present affliction. 'D tion!'
he said at last, as he jumped to his feet and kicked the chair on one
side, and threw the pipe among the ashes. I trust it will be understood
that he addressed himself, and not his lady-love, in this uncivil way
'D tion!' Then when the chair had been well kicked out of his way, he
took himself up to bed. I wonder whether Clara's heart would have been
hardened or softened towards him had she heard the oath, and understood
all the thoughts and motives which had produced it.
On the next morning poor Mary Belton was too ill to come down-stairs;
and as her brother spent his whole day out upon the farm, remaining
among reapers and wheat stacks till nine o'clock in the evening,
nothing was said about Clara on that day. Then there came a Sunday, and
it was a matter of course that the subject of which they both were
thinking should be discussed. Will went to church, and, as was their
custom on Sundays, they dined immediately on his return. Then, as the
afternoon was very warm, he took her out to a favourite seat she had in
the garden, and it became impossible that they could longer abstain.
'And you really mean to go again at Christmas?' she asked.
'Certainly I shall I promised.'
'Then I am sure you will.'
'And I must go from time to time because of the land I have taken.
Indeed there seems to be an understanding that I am to manage the
property for Mr Amedroz.'
'And does she wish you to go?'
'Yes she says so.'
'Girls, I believe, think sometimes that men are indifferent in their
love. They suppose that a man can forget it at once when he is not
accepted, and that things can go on just as before.'
'I suppose she thinks so of me,' said Belton wofully.
'She must either think that, or else be willing to give herself the
chance of learning to like you better.'
'There's nothing of that, I'm sure. She's as true as steel.'
'But she would hardly want you to go there unless she thought you might
overcome either your love or her indifference. She would not wish you
to be there that you might be miserable.'
'Before I had asked her to be my wife I had promised to be her brother.
And so I will, if she should ever want a brother. I am not going to
desert her because she will not do what I want her to do, or be what I
want her to be. She understands that. There is to be no quarrel between
'But she would be heartless if she were to encourage you to be with her
simply for the assistance you may give her, knowing at the same time
that you could not be happy in her presence.'
'She is not heartless.'
'Then she must suppose that you are.'
'I dare say she doesn't think that I care much about it. When I told
her, I did it all of a heap, you see; and I fancy she thought I was
just mad at the time.'
'And did you speak about it again?'
'No; not a word. I shouldn't wonder if she hadn't forgotten it before I
'That would be impossible.'
'You wouldn't say so if you knew how it was done. It was all over in
half an hour; and she had given me such an answer that I thought I had
no right to say anything more about it. The morning when I left her she
did seem to be kinder.'
'I wish I knew whether she cares for any one else.'
'Ah! I so often think of that. But I couldn't ask her, you know. I had
no right to pry into her secrets. When I came away, she got up to see
me off; and I almost felt tempted to carry her into the gig and drive
'I don't think that would have done, Will.'
'I don't suppose anything will do. We all know what happens to the
child who cries for the top brick of the chimney. The child has to do
without it. The child goes to bed and forgets it; but I go to bed and
can't forget it.'
'My poor Will!'
Then he got up and shook himself, and stalked about the garden always
keeping within a few yards of his sister's chair and carried on a
strong battle within his breast, struggling to get the better of the
weakness which his love produced, though resolved that the love itself
should be maintained.
'I wish it wasn't Sunday,' he said at last, 'because then I could go
and do something. If I thought that no one would see me, I'd fill a
dung-cart or two, even though it is Sunday. I'll tell you what I'll go
and take a walk as far as Denvir Sluice; and I'll be hack to tea. You
'Denvir Sluice is eight miles off.'
'Exactly I'll be there and back in something over three hours.'
'But, Will there's a broiling sun.'
'It will do me good. Anything that will take something out of me is
what I want. I know I ought to stay and read to you; but I couldn't do
it. I've got the fidgets inside, if you know what that means. To have
the big hay-rick on fire, or something of that sort, is what would do
me most good.'
Then he started, and did walk to Denvir Sluice and back in three hours.
The road from Plaistow Hall to Denvir Sluice was not in itself
interesting. It ran through a perfectly flat country, without a tree.
For the greater part of the way it was constructed on the top of a
great bank by the side of a broad dike, and for five miles its course
was straight as a line. A country walk less picturesque could hardly be
found in England. The road, too, was very dusty, and the sun was hot
above Belton's head as he walked. But nevertheless, he persevered,
going on till he struck his stick against the waterfall which was
called Denvir Sluice, and then returned not once slackening his pace,
and doing the whole distance at a rate somewhat above five miles an
hour. They used to say in the nursery that cold pudding is good to
settle a man's love; but the receipt which Belton tried was a walk of
sixteen miles, along a dusty road, after dinner, in the middle of an
I think it did him some good. When he got back he took a long draught
of home-brewed beer, and then went upstairs to dress himself.
'What a state you are in,' Mary said to him when he showed himself for
a moment in the sitting. room.
'I did it from milestone to milestone in eleven minutes, backwards and
forwards, all along the five- mile reach.'
Then Mary knew from his answer that the exercise had been of service to
him, perceiving that he had been able to take an interest in his own
prowess as a walker.
'I only hope you won't have a fever,' she said.
'The people who stand still are they who get fevers,' he answered.
'Hard work never does harm to any one. If John Bowden would walk his
five miles an hour on a Sunday afternoon he wouldn't have the gout so
John Bowden was a neighbour in the next parish, and Mary was delighted
to find that her brother could take a pride in his performance.
By degrees Miss Belton began to know with some accuracy the way in
which Will had managed his affairs at Belton Castle, and was enabled to
give him salutary advice.
'You see, Will,' she said, 'ladies are different from men in this, that
they cannot allow themselves to be in love so suddenly.'
'I don't see how a person is to help it. It isn't like jumping into a
river, which a person can do or not, just as he pleases.'
'But I fancy it is something like jumping into a river, and that a
person can help it. What the person can't help is being in when the
plunge has once been made.'
'No, by George! There's no getting out of that river.'
'And ladies don't take the plunge till they've had time to think what
may come after it. Perhaps you were a little too sudden with our Cousin
'Of course I was. Of course I was a fool, and a brute too.'
'I know you were not a brute, and I don't think you were a fool; but
yet you were too sudden. You see a lady cannot always make up her mind
to love a man, merely because she is asked all in a moment. She should
have a little time to think about it before she is called upon for an
'And I didn't give her two minutes.'
'You never do give two minutes to anyone do you, Will? But you'll be
back there at Christmas, and then she will have had time to turn it
over in her mind.'
'And you think that I may have a chance?'
'Certainly you may have a chance.'
'Although she was so sure about it?'
'She spoke of her own mind and her own heart as she knew them then. But
it depends chiefly on this, Will whether there is any one else. For
anything we know, she may be engaged now.'
'Of course she may.' Then Belton speculated on the extreme probability
of such a contingency; arguing within his own heart that of course
every unmarried man who might see Clara would want to marry her, and
that there could not but be some one whom even she would be able to
When he had been home about a fortnight, there came a letter to him
from Clara, which was a great treasure to him. In truth, it simply told
him of the completion of the cattle-shed, of her father's health, and
of the milk which the little cow gave; but she signed herself his
affectionate cousin, and the letter was very gratifying to him. There
were two lines of a postscript, which could not but flatter him: 'Papa
is so anxious for Christmas, that you may be here again and so, indeed,
am I also.' Of course it will be understood that this was written
before Clara's visit to Perivale, and before Mrs Winterfield's death.
Indeed, much happened in Clara's history between the writing of that
letter and Will Belton's winter visit to the Castle.
But Christmas came at last, all too slowly for Will and he started on
his journey. On this occasion he arranged to stay a week in London,
having a lawyer there whom he desired to see; and thinking, perhaps,
that a short time spent among the theatres might assist him in his love
MR WILLIAM BELTON TAKES A WALK IN LONDON
At the time of my story there was a certain Mr Green, a worthy
attorney, who held chambers in Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, much to
the profit of himself and family and to the profit and comfort also of
a numerous body of clients a man much respected in the neighbourhood of
Chancery Lane, and beloved, I do not doubt, in the neighbourhood of
Bushey, in which delightfully rural parish he was possessed of a
genteel villa and ornamental garden. With Mr Green's private residence
we shall, I believe, have no further concern; but to him at his
chambers in Stone Buildings I must now introduce the reader of these
memoirs. He was a man not yet forty years of age, with still much of
the salt of youth about him, a pleasant companion as well as a good
lawyer, and one who knew men and things in London, as it is given to
pleasant clever fellows, such as Joseph Green, to know them. Now Mr
Green and his father before him had been the legal advisers of the
Amedroz family, and our Mr Joseph Green had had but a bad time of it
with Charles Amedroz in the last years of that unfortunate young man's
life. But lawyers endure these troubles, submitting themselves to the
extravagances, embarrassments, and even villainy of the bad subjects
among their clients' families, with a good-humoured patience that is
truly wonderful. That, however, was all over now as regarded Mr Green
and the Amedrozes, and he had nothing further to do but to save for the
father what relics of the property he might secure. And he was also
legal adviser to our friend Will Belton, there having been some old
family connexion among them, and had often endeavoured to impress upon
his old client at Belton Castle his own strong conviction that the heir
was a generous fellow, who might be trusted in everything. But this had
been taken amiss by the old squire, who, indeed, was too much disposed
to take all things amiss and to suspect everybody. 'I understand,' he
had said to his daughter. 'I know all about it. Belton and Mr Green
have been dear friends always. I can't trust my own lawyer any longer.'
In all which the old squire showed much ingratitude. It will, however,
be understood that these suspicions were rife before the time of
Belton's visit to the family estate.
Some four or five days before Christmas there came a visitor to Mr
Green with whom the reader is acquainted, and who was no less a man
than the Member for Perivale. Captain Aylmer, when Clara parted from
him on the morning of her return to Belton Castle, had resolved that he
would repeat his offer of marriage by letter. A month had passed by
since then, and he had not as yet repeated it. But his intention was
not altered. He was a deliberate man, who did not do such things quite
as quickly as his rival, and who upon this occasion had thought it
prudent to turn over more than once in his mind all that he proposed to
do. Nor had he as yet taken any definite steps as to that fifteen
hundred pounds which he had promised to Clara in her aunt's name, and
which Clara had been, and was, so unwilling to receive. He had now
actually paid it over, having purchased government stock in Clara's
name for the amount, and had called upon Mr Green, in order that that
gentleman, as Clara's lawyer, might make the necessary communication to
'I suppose there's nothing further to be done?' asked Captain Aylmer.
'Nothing further by me,' said the lawyer. 'Of course I shall write to
her, and explain that she must make arrangements as to the interest. I
am very glad that her aunt thought of her in her last moments.'
'Mrs Winterfield would have provided for her before, had she known that
everything had been swallowed up by that unfortunate young man.'
'All's well that ends well. Fifteen hundred pounds are better than
'Is it not enough?' said the captain, blushing.
'It isn't for me to have an opinion about that, Captain Aylmer. It
depends on the nature of her claim; and that again depends on the
relative position of the aunt and niece when they were alive together.'
'You are aware that Miss Amedroz was not Mrs Winterfield's niece?'
'Do not think for a moment that I am criticizing the amount of the
legacy. I am very glad of it, as, without it, there was literally no
provision no provision at all.'
'You will write to herself?'
'Oh yes, certainly to herself. She is a better man of business than her
father and then this is her own, to do as she likes with it.'
'She can't refuse it, I suppose?'
'Even though she did not wish to take it, it would be legally her
property, just as though it had been really left by the will?'
'Well; I don't know. I dare say you could have resisted the payment.
But that has been made now, and there seems to be an end of it.'
At this moment a clerk entered the room and handed a card to his
employer. 'Here's the heir himself,' said Mr Green.
'Will Belton the heir of the property which Mr Amedroz holds.' Captain
Aylmer had soon explained that he was not personally acquainted with Mr
William Belton; but, having heard much about him, declared himself
anxious to make the acquaintance. Our friend Will, therefore, was
ushered into the room, and the two rivals for Clara's favour were
introduced to each other. Each had heard much of the other, and each
had heard of the other from the same person. But Captain Aylmer knew
much more as to Belton than Belton knew in respect to him. Aylmer knew
that Belton had proposed to Clara and had been rejected; and he knew
also that Belton was now again going down to Somersetshire.
'You are to spend your Christmas, I believe, with our friends at Belton
Castle?' said the captain.
'Yes and am now on my way there. I believe you know them also
intimately.' Then there was some explanation as to the Winterfield
connexion, a few remarks as to the precarious state of the old squire's
health, a message or two from Captain Aylmer, which of course were of
no importance, and the captain took his leave.
Then Green and Briton became very comfortably intimate in their
conversation, calling each other Will and Joe for they were old and
close friends. And they discussed matters in that cozy tone of
confidential intercourse which is so directly at variance with the
tones used by men when they ordinarily talk of business. 'He has
brought me good news for your friend, Miss Amedroz,' said the lawyer.
'What good news?'
'That aunt of hers left her fifteen hundred pounds, after all. Or
rather, she did not leave it, but desired on her death-bed that it
might be given.'
'That's the same thing, I suppose?'
'Oh quite that is to say, it's the same thing if the person who has to
hand over the money does not dispute the legacy. But it shows how the
old lady's conscience pricked her at last. And after all it was a
shabby sum, and should have been three times as much.'
'Fifteen hundred pounds! And that is all she will have when her father
'Every farthing, Will. You'll take all the rest.'
'I wish she wasn't going to have that.'
'Why? Why on earth should you of all men grudge her such a moderate
maintenance, seeing that you have not got to pay it?'
'It isn't a maintenance. How could it be a maintenance for such as her?
What sort of maintenance would it be?'
'Much better than nothing. And so you would feel if she were your
'She shall be my daughter, or my sister, or whatever you like to call
her. You don't think that I'll take the whole estate and leave her to
starve on the interest of fifteen hundred pounds a year!'
'You'd better make her your wife at once, Will.'
Will Belton blushed as he answered, 'That, perhaps, would be easier
said than done. That is not in my power even if I should wish it. But
the other is in my power.'
'Will, take my advice, and don't make any romantic promises when you
are down at Belton. You'll be sure to regret them if you do. And you
should remember that in truth Miss Amedroz has no greater claim on you
than any other lady in the land.'
'Isn't she my cousin?'
'Well yes. She is your cousin, but a distant one only; and I'm not
aware that cousinship gives any claim.'
'Who is she to have a claim on? I'm the nearest she has got. Besides,
am not I going to take all the property which ought to be hers?'
'That's just it. There's no such ought in the case. The property is as
much your own as this poker is mine. That's exactly the mistake I want
you to guard against. If you liked her, and chose to marry her, that
would be all very well; presuming that you don't want to get money in
'I hate the idea of marrying for money.'
'All right. Then marry Miss Amedroz if you please. But don't make any
rash undertakings to be her father, or her brother, or her uncle, or
her aunt. Such romance always leads a man into trouble.'
'But I've done it already.'
'What do you mean?'
'I've told her that I would be her brother, and that as long as I had a
shilling she should never want sixpence. And I mean it. And as for what
you say about romance and repenting it, that simply comes from your
being a lawyer.'
'Thank ye, Will.'
'If one goes to a chemist, of course one gets physic, and has to put up
with the bad smells.'
'Thank you again.'
'But the chemist may be a very good sort of fellow at home all the
same, and have a cupboard full of sweetmeats and a garden full of
flowers. However, the thing is done as far as I am concerned, and I can
almost find it in my heart to be sorry that Clara has got this driblet
of money. Fifteen hundred pounds I It would keep her out of the
workhouse, and that is about all.'
'If you knew how many ladies in her position would think that the
heavens had rained wealth upon them if some one would give them fifteen
'Very well. At any rate I won't take it away from her. And now I want
you to tell me something else. Do you remember a fellow we used to know
'He may have been Philip, or Daniel, or Jeremiah, for anything I know.
But the man I mean was very much given to taking his liquor freely.'
'That was Jack Berdmore, Philip's brother. Oh yes, I remember him. He's
dead now. He drank himself to death at last, out in India.'
'He was in the army?'
'Yes and what a pleasant fellow he was at times! I see Phil constantly,
and Phil's wife, but they never speak of Jack.'
'He got married, didn't he, after we used to see him?'
Oh yes he and Phil married sisters. It was a sad affair, that.'
'I remember being with him and her and the sister too, after they were
engaged, and he got so drunk that we were obliged to take him away.
There was a large party of us at Richmond, but I don't think you were
'But I heard of it'
'And she was a Miss Vigo?'
'Exactly. I see the younger sister constantly. Phil isn't very rich,
and he's got a lot of children but he's very happy.'
'What became of the other sister?
'Of Jack's wife?'
'Yes. What became of her?'
'I haven't an idea. Something bad, I suppose, as they never speak of
'And how long is he dead?'
'He died about three years since. I only knew it from Phil's telling me
that he was in mourning for him. Then he did speak of him for a moment
or two, and I came to know that he had carried on to the end in the
same way. If a fellow takes to drink in this country, he'll never get
cured in India.'
'I suppose not.'
'And now I want to find out something about his widow.'
'Ah I'm not sure that I can tell you why. Indeed I'm sure that I
cannot. But still you might be able to assist me.'
'There were heaps of people who used to know the Vigos,' said the
'No end of people though I couldn't for the life of me say who any of
'They used to come out in London with an aunt, but nobody knew much
about her. I fancy they had neither father nor mother.'
'They were very pretty.'
'And how well they danced. I don't think I ever knew a girl who danced
so pleasantly giving herself no airs, you know as Mary Vigo.'
'Her name was Mary,' said Belton, remembering that Mrs Askerton's name
was also Mary.
'Jack Berdmore married Mary.'
'Well now, Joe, you must find out for me what became of her. Was she
with her husband when he died?'
'Nobody was with him. Phil told me so. No one, that is, but a young
lieutenant and his own servant. It was very sad. He had D.T., and all
that sort of thing.'
'And where was she?'
'At Jericho, for anything that I know.'
'Will you find out?' Then Mr Joseph Green thought for a moment of his
capabilities in that line, and having made an engagement to dine with
his friend at his club on the evening before Will left London, said at
last that he thought he could find out through certain mutual friends
who had known the Berdmores in the old days. 'But the fact is,' said
the lawyer, 'that the world is so good- natured instead of being
ill-natured, as people say that it always forgets those who want to be
We must now go back for a few moments to Captain Aylmer and his
affairs. Having given a full month to the consideration of his position
as regarded Miss Amedroz, he made up his mind to two things. In the
first place, he would at once pay over to her the money which was to be
hers as her aunt's legacy, and then he would renew his offer. To that
latter determination he was guided by mixed motives by motives which,
when joined together, rarely fail to be operative. His conscience told
him that he ought to do so and then the fact of her having, as it were,
taken herself away from him, made him again wish to possess her. And
there was another cause which, perhaps, operated in the same direction.
He had consulted his mother, and she had strongly advised him to have
nothing further to do with Miss Amedroz. Lady Aylmer abused her dead
sister heartily for having interfered in the matter, and endeavoured to
prove to her son that he was released from his promise by having in
fact performed it. But on this point his conscience interfered backed
by his wishes and he made his resolve as has been above stated. On
leaving Mr Green's chambers he went to his own lodgings, and wrote his
letter as follows:
'Mount Street, December, 186
When you parted from me at Perivale you said certain things about our
engagement which I have come to understand better since then, than I
did at the time. It escaped from me that my dear aunt and I had had
some conversation about you, and that I had told her what was my
intention. Something was said about a promise, and I think it was that
word which made you unhappy. At such a time as that when I and my aunt
were talking together, and when she was, as she well knew, on her
deathbed, things will be said which would not be thought of in other
circumstances. I can only assure you now, that the promise I gave her
was a promise to do that which I had previously resolved upon doing. If
you can believe what I say on this head, that ought to be sufficient to
remove the feeling which induced you to break our engagement.
I now write to renew my offer to you, and to assure you that I do so
with my whole heart. You will forgive me if I tell you that I cannot
fail to remember, and always to bear in my mind, the sweet assurances
which you gave me of your regard for myself. As I do not know that
anything has occurred to alter your opinion of me, I write this letter
in strong hope that it may be successful. I believe that your fear was
in respect to my affection for you, not as to yours for me. If this was
so, I can assure you that there is no necessity for such fear.
I need not tell you that I shall expect your answer with great anxiety.
Yours most affectionately,
F. F. AYLMER.
P.S. I have today caused to be bought in your name Bank Stock to the
amount of fifteen hundred pounds, the amount of the legacy coming to
you from my aunt.'
This letter, and that from Mr Green respecting the money, both reached
Clara on the same morning. Now, having learned so much as to the
position of affairs at Belton Castle, we may return to Will and his
dinner engagement with Mr Joseph Green.
'And what have you heard about Mrs Berdmore?' Belton asked, almost as
soon as the two men wore together.
'I wish I knew why you want to know.'
'I don't want to do anybody any harm.'
'Do you want to do anybody any good?'
'Any good! I can't say that I want to do any particular good. The truth
is, I think I know where she is, and that she is living under a false
'Then you know more of her than I do.'
'I don't know anything. I'm only in doubt. But as the lady I mean lives
near to friends of mine, I should like to know.'
'That you may expose her?'
'No by no means. But I hate the idea of deceit. The truth is, that any
one living anywhere under a false name should be exposed or should be
made to assume their right name.'
'I find that Mrs Berdmore left her husband some years before he died.
There was nothing in that to create wonder, for he was a man with whom
a woman could hardly continue to live. But I fear she left him under
protection that was injurious to her character.
'And how long ago is that?'
'I do not know. Some years before his death.'
'And how long ago did he die?'
'About three years since. My informant tells me that he believes she
has since married. Now you know all that I know.' And Belton also knew
that Mrs Askerton of the cottage was the Miss Vigo with whom he had
been acquainted in earlier years.
After that they dined comfortably, and nothing passed between them
which need be recorded as essential to our story till the time came for
them to part. Then, when they were both standing at the club door, the
lawyer said a word or two which is essential. 'So you're off tomorrow?'
'Yes; I shall go down by the express.'
'I wish you a pleasant journey. By the by, I ought to tell you that you
won't have any trouble in being either father or mother, or uncle or
aunt to Miss Amedroz.'
'I suppose it's no secret.'
'What's no secret?
'She's going to be married to Captain Aylmer.'
Then Will Belton started so violently, and assumed on a sudden so
manifest a look of anger, that his tale was at once told to Mr Green.
'Who says so?' he asked. 'I don't believe it.'
'I'm afraid it's true all the same, Will.'
'Who says it?'
'Captain Aylmer was with me today, and he told me. He ought to be good
authority on such a subject.'
'He told you that he was going to marry Clara Amedroz?'
'And what made him come to you, to tell you?'
'There was a question about some money which he had paid to her, and
which, under existing circumstances, he thought it as well that he
should not pay. Matters of that kind are often necessarily told to
lawyers. But I should not have told it to you, Will, if I had not
thought that it was good news.'
'It is not good news,' said Belton moodily.
'At any rate, old fellow, my telling it will do no harm. You must have
learned it soon.' And he put his hand kindly almost tenderly, on the
other's arm. But Belton moved himself away angrily. The wound had been
so lately inflicted that he could not as yet forgive the hand that had
seemed to strike him.
'I'm sorry that it should be so bad with you, Will.'
'What do you mean by bad? It is not bad with me. it is very well with
me. Keep your pity for those who want it.' Then he walked off by
himself across the broad street before the club door, leaving his
friend without a word of farewell, and made his way up into St. James's
Square, choosing, as was evident to Mr Green, the first street that
would take him out of sight.
'He's hit, and hit hard,' said the lawyer, looking after him. 'Poor
fellow! I might have guessed it from what he said. I never knew of his
caring for any woman before.' Then Mr Green put on his gloves and went
We will now follow Will Belton into St. James's Square, and we shall
follow a very unhappy gentleman. Doubtless he had hitherto known and
appreciated the fact that Miss Amedroz had refused his offer, and had
often declared, both to himself and to his sister, his conviction that
that refusal would never be reversed. But, in spite of that expressed
conviction, he had lived on hope. Till she belonged to another man she
might yet be his. He might win her at last by perseverance. At any rate
he had it in his power to work towards the desired end, and might find
solace even in that working. And the misery of his loss would not be so
great to him as he found himself forced to confess to himself before he
had completed his wanderings on this night in not having her for his
own, as it would be in knowing that she had given herself to another
man. He had often told himself that of course she would become the wife
of some man, but he had never yet realized to himself what it would be
to know that she was the wife of any one specified rival. He had been
sad enough on that moonlight night in the avenue at Plaistow when he
had leaned against the tree, striking his hands together as he thought
of his great want; but his unhappiness then had been as nothing to his
agony now. Now it was all over and he knew the man who had supplanted
How he hated him! With what an unchristian spirit did he regard that
worthy captain as he walked across St. James's Square, across Jermyn
Street, across Piccadilly, and up Bond Street, not knowing whither he
was going. He thought with an intense regret of the laws of modern
society which forbid duelling forgetting altogether that even had the
old law prevailed, the conduct of the man whom he so hated would have
afforded him no casus belli. But he was too far gone in misery and
animosity to be capable of any reason on the matter. Captain Aylmer had
interfered with his dearest wishes, and during this now passing hour he
would willingly have crucified Captain Aylmer had it been within his
power to do so. Till he had gone beyond Oxford Street, and had wandered
away into the far distance of Portman Square and Baker Street, he had
not begun to think of any interest which Clara Amedroz might have in
the matter on which his thoughts were employed. He was sojourning at an
hotel in Bond Street, and had gone thitherwards more by habit than by
thought; but he had passed the door of his inn, feeling it to be
impossible to render himself up to his bed in his present disturbed
mood. As he was passing the house in Bond Street he had been intent on
the destruction of Captain Aylmer and had almost determined that if
Captain Aylmer could not be made to vanish into eternity, he must make
up his mind to go that road himself.
It was out of the question that he should go down to Belton. As to that
he had come to a very decided opinion by the time that he had crossed
Oxford Street. Go down to see her, when she had treated him after this
fashion I No, indeed. She wanted no brother now. She had chosen to
trust herself to this other man, and he, Will Belton, would not
interfere further in her affairs. Then he drew upon his imagination for
a picture of the future, in which he portrayed Captain Aylmer as a
ruined man, who would probably desert his wife, and make himself
generally odious to all his acquaintance a picture as to the
realization of which I am bound to say that Captain Aylmer's
antecedents gave no probability. But it was the looking at this
self-drawn picture which first softened the artist's heart towards the
victim whom he had immolated on his imaginary canvas. When Clara should
be ruined by the baseness and villainy and general scampishness of this
man whom she was going to marry to whom she was about to be weak enough
and fool enough to trust herself then he would interpose and be her
brother once again a broken-hearted brother no doubt, but a brother
efficacious to keep the wolf from the door of this poor woman and her
children. Then, as he thus created Captain Aylmer's embryo family of
unprovided orphans for after a while he killed the captain, making him
to die some death that was very disgraceful, but not very distinct even
to his own imagination as he thought of those coming pledges of a love
which was to him so bitter, he stormed about the streets, performing
antics of which no one would have believed him capable who had known
him as the thriving Mr William Belton, of Plaistow Hall, among the fens
But the character of a man is not to be judged from the pictures which
he may draw or from the antics which he may play in his solitary hours.
Those who act generally with the most consummate wisdom in the affairs
of the world, often meditate very silly doings before their wiser
resolutions form themselves. I beg, therefore, that Mr Belton may be
regarded and criticized in accordance with his conduct on the following
morning when his midnight rambles, which finally took him even beyond
the New Road, had been followed by a few tranquil hours in his Bond
Street bedroom for at last he did bring himself to return thither and
put himself to bed after the usual fashion. He put himself to bed in a
spirit somewhat tranquillized by the exercise of the night, and at last
wept himself to sleep like a baby.
But he was by no means like a baby when he took him early on the
following morning to the Paddington Station, and booked himself
manfully for Taunton. He had had time to recognize the fact that he had
no ground of quarrel with his cousin because she had preferred another
man to him. This had happened to him as he was recrossing the New Road
about two o'clock, and was beginning to find that his legs were weary
under him. And, indeed, he had recognized one or two things before he
had gone to sleep with his tears dripping on to his pillow. In the
first place, he had ill-treated Joe Green, and had made a fool of
himself in his friend's presence. As Joe Green was a sensible, kind-
hearted fellow, this did not much signify but not on that account did
be omit to tell himself of his own fault. Then he discovered that it
would ill become him to break his word to Mr Amedroz and to his
daughter, and to do so without a word of excuse, because Clara had
exercised a right which was indisputably her own. He had undertaken
certain work at Belton which required his presence, and he would go
down and do his work as though nothing had occurred to disturb him. To
remain away because of this misfortune would be to show the white
feather. It would be unmanly. All this he recognized as the pictures he
had painted faded away from their canvases. As to Captain Aylmer
himself, he hoped that he might never be called upon to meet him. He
still hoped that, even as he was resolutely cramming his shirts into
his portmanteau before he began his journey. His Cousin Clara he
thought he could meet, and tender to her some expression of good wishes
as to her future life, without giving way under the effort. And to the
old squire he could endeavour to make himself pleasant, speaking of the
relief from all trouble which this marriage with Captain Aylmer would
afford for now, in his cooler moments, be could perceive that Captain
Aylmer was not a man apt to ruin himself, or his wife and children. But
to Captain Aylmer himself, he could not bring himself to say pleasant
things or to express pleasant wishes. She who was to be Captain
Aylmer's wife, who loved him, would of course have told him what had
occurred up among the rocks in Belton Park; and if that was so, any
meeting between Will and Captain Aylmer would be death to the former.
Thinking of all this he journeyed down to Taunton, and thinking of all
this he made his way from Taunton across to Belton Park.
Clara Amedroz had received her two letters together that, namely, from
the attorney, and that from Captain Aylmer and the result of those
letters is already known. She accepted her lover's renewed offer of
marriage, acknowledging the force of his logic, and putting faith in
the strength of his assurances. This she did without seeking advice
from any one. Who was there from whom she could seek advice on such a
matter as that who, at least, was there at Belton? That her father
would, as a matter of course, bid her accept Captain Aylmer, was, she
thought, certain; and she knew well that Mrs Askerton would do the
same. She asked no counsel from any one, but taking the two letters up
to her own room, sat down to consider them. That which referred to her
aunt's money, together with the postscript in Captain Aylmer's letter
on the same subject, would be of the least possible moment if she could
bring herself to give a favourable answer to the other proposition. But
should she not be able to do this should she hesitate as to doing so at
once then she must write to the lawyer in very strong terms, refusing
altogether to have anything to do with the money. And in such a case as
this, not a word could she say to her father either on one subject or
on the other.
But why should she not accept the offer made to her? Captain Aylmer
declared that he had determined to ask her to be his wife before he had
made any promise to Mrs Winterfield. If this were in truth so, then the
very ground on which she had separated herself from him would be
removed. Why should she hesitate in acknowledging to herself that she
loved the man and believed him to be true? So she sat herself down and
answered both the letters writing to the lawyer first. To him she said
that nothing need be done about the money or the interest till he
should see or hear from Captain Aylmer again. Then to Captain Aylmer
she wrote very shortly, but very openly with the same ill-judged
candour which her spoken words to him had displayed. Of course she
would be his; his without hesitation, now that she knew that he
expressed his own wishes, and not merely those of his aunt. 'As to the
money,' she said, 'it would be simply nonsense now for us to have any
talk of money. It is yours in any way, and you had better manage about
it as you please. I have written an ambiguous letter to Mr Green, which
will simply plague him, and which you may go and see if you like.' Then
she added her postscript, in which she said that she should now at once
tell her father, as the news would remove from his mind all solicitude
as to her future position. That Captain Aylmer did go to Mr Green we
already know, and we know also that he told Mr Green of his intended
Nothing was said by Captain Aylmer as to any proposed period for their
marriage; but that was only natural. It was not probable that any man
would name a day till he knew whether or not he was accepted. Indeed,
Clara, on thinking over the whole affair, was now disposed to find
fault rather with herself than with her lover, and forgetting his
coldness and formality at Perivale, remembered only the fact of his
offer to her, and his assurance now received that he had intended to
make it before the scene which had taken place between him and his
aunt. She did find fault with herself, telling herself that she had
quarrelled with him without sufficient cause and the eager loving
candour of her letter to him was attributable to those self-accusations.
'Papa,' she said, after the postman had gone away from Belton, so that
there might be no possibility of any recall of her letter, 'I have
something to tell you which I hope will give you pleasure.'
'It isn't often that I hear anything of that kind,' said he.
'But I think that this will give you pleasure. I do indeed. I am going
to be married.'
'Going to what?'
'Going to be married, papa. That is, if I have your leave. Of course
any offer of that kind that I have accepted is subject to your
'And I have been told nothing about it!'
'It began at Perivale, and I could not tell you then. You do not ask me
who is to be my husband.'
'It is not Will Belton?'
'Poor Will! No; it is not Will. It is Frederic Aylmer. I think you
would prefer him as a son-in-law even to my Cousin Will.'
'No I shouldn't. Why should I prefer a man whom I don't even know, who
lives in London, and who will take you away, so that I shall never see
'Dear papa don't speak of it in that way. I thought you would be glad
to know that I was to be so so so happy!'
'But why is it to be done this way of a sudden? Why didn't he come to
me? Will came to me the very first thing.'
'He couldn't come all the way to Belton very well particularly as he
does not know you.'
'Will came here.'
'Oh, papa, don't make difficulties. Of course that was different. He
was here when he first thought of it. And even then he didn't think
very much about it.'
'He did all that he could, I suppose?'
'Well yes. I don't know how that might be.' And Clara almost laughed as
she felt the difficulties into which she was creeping. 'Dear Will. He
is much better as a cousin than as a husband.'
'I don't see that at all. Captain Aylmer will not have the Belton
estate or Plaistow Hall.'
'Surely he is well enough off to take care of a wife. He will have the
whole of the Perivale estate, you know.'
'I don't know anything about it. According to my ideas of what is
proper he should have spoken to me first. If he could not come he might
have written. No doubt my ideas may be old-fashioned, and I'm told that
Captain Aylmer is a fashionable young man.'
'Indeed he is not, papa. He is a hard-working Member of Parliament.'
'I don't know that he is any better for that. People seem to think that
if a man is a Member of Parliament he may do what he pleases. There is
Thompson, the Member for Minehead, who has bought some sort of place
out by the moors. I never saw so vulgar, pigheaded a fellow in my life.
Being in Parliament used to be something when I was young, but it won't
make a man a gentleman now-a-days. It seems to me that none but
brewers, and tallow-chandlers, and lawyers go into Parliament now. Will
Belton could go into Parliament if he pleased, but he knows better than
that. He won't make himself such a fool.'
This was not comfortable to Clara; but she knew her father, and allowed
him to go on with his grumbling. He would come round by degrees, and he
would appreciate, if he could not be induced to acknowledge, the wisdom
of the step she was about to take.
'When is it to be?' he asked.
'Nothing of that kind has ever been mentioned, papa.'
'It had better be soon, if I am to have anything to do with it.' Now it
was certainly the case that the old man was very ill. He had not been
out of the house since Clara had returned home; and, though he was
always grumbling about his food, he could hardly be induced to eat
anything when the morsels for which he expressed a wish were got for
'Of course you will be consulted, papa, before anything is settled.'
'I don't want to be in anybody's way, my dear.'
'And may I tell Frederic that you have given your consent?
'What's the use of my consenting or not consenting? If you had been
anxious to oblige me you would have taken your Cousin Will.'
'Oh, papa, how could I accept a man I didn't love?'
'You seemed to me to be very fond of him at first; and I must say, I
thought he was ill-treated.'
'Papa, papa; do not say such things as that to me!'
'What am I to do? You tell me, and I can't altogether hold my tongue.'
Then there was a pause. 'Well, my dear, as for my consent, of course
you may have it if it's worth anything. I don't know that I ever heard
anything bad about Captain Aylmer.'
He had heard nothing bad about Captain Aylmer! Clara, as she left her
father, felt that this was very grievous. Whatever cause she might have
had for discontent with her lover, she could not but be aware that he
was a man whom any father might be proud to welcome as a suitor for his
daughter. He was a man as to whom no ill tales had ever been told who
had never been known to do anything wrong or imprudent; who had always
been more than respectable, and as to whose worldly position no
exception could be taken. She had been entitled to expect her father's
warmest congratulations, and her tidings had been received as though
she had proposed to give her hand to one whose character and position
only just made it not imperative on the father to withhold his consent!
All this was hard, and feeling it to be so, she went upstairs, all
alone, and cried bitterly as she thought of it.
On the next day she went down to the cottage and saw Mrs Askerton. She
went there with the express purpose of telling her friend of her
engagement desirous of obtaining in that quarter the sympathy which her
father declined to give her. Had her communication to him been accepted
in a different spirit, she might probably have kept her secret from Mrs
Askerton till something further had been fixed about her marriage; but
she was in want of a few kind words, and pined for some of that
encouragement which ladies in love usually wish to receive, at any rate
from some one chosen friend. But when she found herself alone with Mrs
Askerton she hardly knew how to tell her news; and at first could not
tell it at all, as that lady was eager in speaking on another subject.
'When do you expect your cousin?' Mrs Askerton asked, almost as soon as
Clara was seated.
'The day after tomorrow.'
'And he is in London now?'
'He may be. I dare say he is. But I don't know anything about it.'
'I can tell you then that he is. Colonel Askerton has heard of his
'You seem to speak of it as though there were some offence in it. Is
there any reason why he should not be in London if he pleases?'
'None in the least. I would much rather that he should be there than
'Why so? Will his coming hurt you?'
'I don't like him. I don't like him at all and now you know the truth.
You believe in him I don't. You think him to be a fine fellow and a
gentleman, whereas I don't think him to be either.'
'This is strong language, I know.'
'Very strong language.'
'Yes, my dear; but the truth is, Clara, that you and I, living together
here this sort of hermit's life, each seeing so much of the other and
seeing nothing of anybody else, must either be real friends, telling
each other what we think, or we must be nothing. We can't go on with
the ordinary make- believes of society, saying little civil speeches
and not going beyond them. Therefore I have made up my mind to tell you
in plain language that I don't like your cousin, and don't believe in
'I don't know what you mean by believing in a man.'
'I believe in you. Sometimes I have thought that you believe in me, and
sometimes I have feared that you do not. I think that you are good, and
honest, and true; and therefore I like to see your face and hear your
voice though it is not often that you say very pleasant things to me.'
'Do I say unpleasant things?'
'I am not going to quarrel with you not if I can help it. What business
has Mr Belton to go about London making inquiries as to me? What have I
done to him, that he should honour me so far?'
'Has he made inquiries?'
'Yes; he has. If you have been contented with me as I am if you are
satisfied, why should he want to learn more? If you have any question
to ask me I will answer it. But what right can he have to be asking
questions among strangers?'
Clara had no question to ask, and yet she could not say that she was
satisfied. She would have been better satisfied to have known more of
Mrs Askerton, but yet she had never condescended to make inquiries
about her friend. But her curiosity was now greatly raised; and,
indeed, Mrs Askerton's manner was so strange, her vehemence so unusual,
and her eagerness to rush into dangerous subjects so unlike her usual
tranquillity in conversation, that Clara did not know how to answer her.
'I know nothing of any questioning,' she said.
'I am sure you don't. Had I thought you did, much as I love you
valuable as your society is to me down in this desert I would never
speak to you again. But remember if you want to ask any questions, and
will ask them of me of me I will answer them, and will not be angry.'
'But I don't want to ask any questions.'
'You may some day; and then you can remember what I say.'
'And am I to understand that you are determined to quarrel with my
'Quarrel with him! I don't suppose that I shall see him. After what I
have said it is not probable that you will bring him here, and the
servant will have orders to say that I am not at home if be should
call. Luckily he and Colonel Askerton did not meet when he was here
'This is the most strange thing I ever heard in my life.'
'You will understand it better, my dear, when he makes his
communication to you.'
'You'll find that he'll have a communication to make. He has been so
diligent and so sharp that he'll have a great deal to tell, I do not
doubt. Only, remember, Clara, that if anything that he tells you makes
any difference in your feelings towards me, I shall expect you to come
to me and say so openly. If he makes his statement, let me make mine. I
have a right to ask for that, after what I have promised.'
'You may be sure that I will.'
'I want nothing more. I have no distrust in you none in the least. I
tell you that I believe in you. If you will do that, and will keep Mr
William Belton out of my way during his visit to these parts, I shall
be satisfied.' For some time past Mrs Askerton had been walking about
the room, but, as she now finished speaking, she sat herself down as
though the subject was fully discussed and completed. For a minute or
two she made an effort to resume her usual tranquillity of manner, and
in doing so attempted to smile, as though ridiculing her own energy. 'I
knew I should make a fool of myself when you came,' she said; and now I
have done it.'
'I don't think you have been a fool at all, but you may have been
'Very well, my dear, we shall see. It's very odd what a dislike I took
to that man the first time I saw him.'
'And I am so fond of him!'
'Yes; he has cozened you as he has your father. I am only glad that he
did not succeed in cozening you further than he did. But I ought to
have known you bettor than to suppose you could give your heart of
hearts to one who is'
'Do not abuse him any more.'
'Who is so very unlike the sort of people with whom you have lived. I
may, at any rate, say that.'
'I don't know that. I haven't lived much with any one yet except papa,
and my aunt, and you.'
'But you know a gentleman when you see him.'
'Come, Mrs Askerton, I will not stand this. I thought you had done with
the subject, and now you begin again. I had come here on purpose to
tell you something of real importance that is, to me; but I must go
away without telling you, unless you will give over abusing my cousin.'
'I will not say a word more about him not at present.'
'I feel so sure that you are mistaken, you know.'
'Very well and I feel sure that you are mistaken. We will leave it so,
and go to this matter of importance.' But Clara felt it to be very
difficult to tell her tidings after such a conversation as that which
had just occurred. When she had entered the room her mind had been
tuned to the subject, and she could have found fitting words without
much difficulty to herself; but now her thoughts had been scattered and
her feelings hurt, and she did not know how to bring herself back to
the subject of her engagement. She paused, therefore, and sat with a
doubtful, hesitating look, meditating some mode of escape. 'I am all
ears,' said Mrs Askerton; and Clara thought that she discovered
something of ridicule or of sarcasm in the tone of her friend's voice.
'I believe I'll put it off till another day,' she said.
'Why so? You don't think that anything really important to you will not
be important to me also?'
'I'm sure of that, but somehow'
'You mean to say that I have ruffled you?'
'Well perhaps; a little.'
'Then be unruffled again, like my own dear, honest Clara. I have been
ruffled too, but I'll be as tranquil now as a drawing-room cat.' Then
Mrs Askerton got up from her chair, and seated herself by Clara's side
on the sofa. 'Come; you can't go till you've told me; and if you
hesitate, I shall think that you mean to quarrel With me.'
'I'll come to you tomorrow.'
'No, no; you shall tell me today. All tomorrow you'll be preparing for
'Or else you'll come prepared to vindicate him, and then we shan't get
on any further. Tell me what it is today. You can't leave me in
curiosity after what you have said.'
'You've heard of Captain Aylmer, I think.'
'Of course I've heard of him.'
'But you've never seen him?'
'You know I never have.'
'I told you that he was at Perivale when Mrs Winterfield died.'
'And now he has proposed, and you are going to accept him? That will
indeed be important. Is it so? say. But don't I know it is so? Why
don't you speak?'
'If you know it, why need I speak?'
'But it is so? Oh, Clara, I am so glad. I congratulate you with all my
heart with all my heart. My dearest, dearest Clara! What a happy
arrangement! What a success! It is just as it should be. Dear, good
man! to come forward in that sensible way, and put an end to all the
little family difficulties!'
'I don't know so much about success. Who is it that is successful?'
'You, to be sure.'
'Then by the same measurement he must be unsuccessful.'
'Don't be a fool, Clara.'
'Of course I have been successful if I've got a man that I can love as
'Now, my dear, don't be a fool. Of course all that is between you and
him, and I don't in the least doubt that it is all as it should be. If
Captain Aylmer had been the elder brother instead of the younger, and
had all the Aylmer estates instead of the Perivale property, I know you
would not accept him if you did not like him.'
'I hope not.'
'I am sure you would not. But when a girl with nothing a year has
managed to love a man with two or three thousand a year, and has
managed to be loved by him in return instead of going through the same
process with the curate or village doctor it is a success, and her
friend will always think so. And when a girl marries a gentleman, and a
Member of Parliament, instead of well, I'm not going to say anything
personal her friends will congratulate her upon his position. It may be
very wicked, and mercenary, and all that; but it's the way of the
'I hate hearing about the world.'
'Yes, my dear; all proper young ladies like you do hate it. But I
observe that such girls as you never offend its prejudices. You can't
but know that you would have done a wicked as well as a foolish thing
to marry a man without an adequate income.'
'But I needn't marry at all.'
'And what would you live on then? Come Clara, we needn't quarrel about
that. I've no doubt he's charming, and beautiful, and'
'He isn't beautiful at all; and as for charming'
'He has charmed you at any rate.'
'He has made me believe that I can trust him without doubt, and love
him without fear.'
'An excellent man! And the income will be an additional comfort; you'll
'I'll allow nothing.'
'And when is it to be?'
'Oh perhaps in six or seven years.'
'Perhaps sooner; but there's been no word said about time.'
'Is not Mr Amedroz delighted?'
'Not a bit. He quite scolded me when I told him.'
'Why what did he want?'
'You know papa.'
'I know he scolds at everything, but I shouldn't have thought he would
have scolded at that. And when does he come here?'
'Who come here?'
'I don't know that he is coming at all.'
'He must come to be married.'
'All that is in the clouds as yet. I did not like to tell you, but you
mustn't suppose that because I've told you, everything is settled.
Nothing is settled.'
'Nothing except the one thing?'
It was more than an hour after that before Clara went away, and when
she did so she was surprised to find that she was followed out of the
house by Colonel Askerton. It was quite dusk at this time, the days
being just at their shortest, and Colonel Askerton, according to his
custom, would have been riding, or returning from his ride. Clara had
been over two hours at the cottage, and had been aware when she reached
it that be had not as yet gone out. It appeared now that he had not
ridden at all, and, as she remembered to have seen his horse led before
the window, it at once occurred to her that he had remained at home
with the view of catching her as she went away. He came up to her just
as she was passing through the gate, and offered her his right hand as
he raised his hat with his left. It sometimes happens to all of us in
life that we become acquainted with persons intimately that is, with an
assumed intimacy whom in truth we do not know at all. We meet such
persons frequently, often eating and drinking in their company, being
familiar with their appearance, and well-informed generally as to their
concerns; but we never find ourselves holding special conversations
with them, or in any way fitting the modes of our life to the modes of
their life. Accident has brought us together, and in one sense they are
our friends. We should probably do any little kindness for them, or
expect the same from them; but there is nothing in common between us,
and there is generally a mutual though unexpressed agreement that there
shall be nothing in common. Miss Amedroz was intimately acquainted with
Colonel Askerton after this fashion. She saw him very frequently, and
his name was often on her tongue; but she rarely, if ever, conversed
with him, and knew of his habits only from his wife's words respecting
them. When, therefore, he followed her through the garden gate into the
park, she was driven to suppose that he had something special to say to
'I'm afraid you'll have a dark walk, Miss Amedroz,' he said.
'It's only just across the park, and I know the way so well.'
'Yes of course. I saw you coming out, and as I want to say a word or
two, I have ventured to follow you. When Mr Belton was down here I did
not have the pleasure of meeting him.'
'I remember that you missed each other.'
'Yes, we did. I understand from my wife that he will be here again in a
day or two.'
'He will be with us the day after tomorrow.'
'I hope you will excuse my saying that it will be very desirable that
we should miss each other again.' Clara felt that her face became red
with anger as she listened to Colonel Askerton's words. He spoke
slowly, as was his custom, and without any of that violence of
expression which his wife had used; but on that very account there was
more, if possible, of meaning in his words than in hers. William Belton
was her cousin, and such a speech as that which Colonel Askerton had
made, spoken with deliberation and unaccompanied by any previous
explanation, seemed to her almost to amount to insult. But as she did
not know how to answer him at the spur of the moment, she remained
silent. Then he continued, 'You may be sure, Miss Amedroz, that I
should not make so strange a request to you if I had not good reason
for making it.'
'I think it a very strange request.'
'And nothing but a strong conviction of its propriety on my part would
have induced me to make it.'
'If you do not want to see my cousin, why cannot you avoid him without
saying anything to me on the subject
'Because you would not then have understood as thoroughly as I wish you
to do why I kept out of his way. For my wife's sake and for yours, if
you will allow me to say so I do not wish to come to any open quarrel
with him; but if we met, a quarrel would, I think, be inevitable. Mary
has probably explained to you the nature of his offence against us?'
'Mrs Askerton has told me something as to which I am quite sure that
she is mistaken.'
'I will say nothing about that, as I have no wish at all to set you
against your cousin. I will bid you good-night now as you are close at
home.' Then he turned round and left her.
Clara, as she thought of all this, could not but call to mind her
cousin's remembrances about Miss Vigo and Mr Berdmore. What if he made
some inquiry as to the correctness of his old recollections? Nothing,
she thought, could be more natural. And then she reflected that, in the
ordinary way of the world, persons feel none of that violent objection
to the asking of questions about their antecedents which was now
evinced by both Colonel and Mrs Askerton. But of one thing she felt
quite assured that her cousin, Will Belton, would make no inquiry which
he ought not to make; and would make no improper use of any information
which he might obtain.
THE HEIR'S SECOND VISIT TO BELTON
Clara began to doubt whether any possible arrangement of the
circumstances of her life could be regarded as fortunate. She was very
fond, in a different degree and after a different fashion, of both
Captain Aylmer and Mr Belton. As regarded both, her position was now
exactly what she herself would have wished. The man that she loved was
betrothed to her, and the other man, whom she loved indeed also as a
brother, was coming to her in that guise with the understanding that
that was to be his position. And yet everything was going wrong! Her
father, though he did not actually say anything against Captain Aylmer,
showed by a hundred little signs, of which he was a skilful master,
that the Aylmer alliance was distasteful to him, and that he thought
himself to be aggrieved in that his daughter would not marry her
cousin; whereas, over at the cottage, there was a still more bitter
feeling against Mr Belton a feeling so bitter, that it almost induced
Clara to wish that her cousin was not coming to them.
But the cousin did come, and was driven up to the door in the gig from
Taunton, just as had been the case on his previous visit. Then,
however, he had come in the full daylight, and the hay-carts had been
about, and all the prettiness and warmth of summer had been there; now
it was mid-winter, and there had been some slight beginnings of snow,
and the wind was moaning about the old tower, and the outside of the
house looked very unpleasant from the hall-door. As it had become dusk
in the afternoon, the old squire had been very careful in his orders as
to preparations for Will's comfort as though Clara would have forgotten
all those things in the preoccupation of her mind, caused by the
constancy of her thoughts towards Will's rival. He even went so far as
to creep across the upstairs landing-place to see that the fire was
lighted in Will's room, this being the first time that he had left his
chamber for many days and bad given special orders as to the food which
was to be prepared for Will's dinner in a very different spirit from
that which bad dictated some former orders when Will was about to make
his first visit, and when his coming had been regarded by the old man
as a heartless, indelicate, and almost hostile proceeding.
'I wish I could go down to receive him,' said Mr Amedroz, plaintively.
'I hope he won't take it amiss.'
'You may be sure he won't do that.'
'Perhaps I can tomorrow.'
'Dear papa, you had better not think of it till the weather is milder.'
'Milder! how is it to get milder at this time of the year?'
'Of course he'll come up to you, papa.'
'He's very good. I know he's very good. No one also would do as much.'
Clara understood accurately what all this meant. Of course she was glad
that her father should feel so kindly towards her cousin, and think so
much of his coming; but every word said by the old man in praise of
Will Belton implied an equal amount of dispraise as regarded Captain
Aylmer, and contained a reproach against his daughter for having
refused the former and accepted the latter.
Clara was in the ball when Belton arrived, and received him as he
entered, enveloped in his damp great-coats. 'It is so good of you to
come in such weather,' she said.
'Nice seasonable weather, I call it,' he said. It was the same
comfortable, hearty, satisfactory voice which had done so much towards
making his way for him on his first arrival at Belton Castle The voices
to which Clara was most accustomed were querulous as though the world
had been found by the owners of them to be but a bad place. But
Belton's voice seemed to speak of cheery days and happy friends, and a
general state of things which made life worth having. Nevertheless,
forty-eight hours had not yet passed over his head since he was walking
about London in such misery that he had almost cursed the hour in which
be was born. His misery still remained with him, as black now as it had
been then; and yet his voice was cheery. The sick birds, we are told,
creep into holes, that they may die alone and unnoticed; and the
wounded beasts hide themselves that their grief may not be seen of
their fellows. A man has the same instinct to conceal the weakness of
his sufferings; but, if he be a man, he hides it in his own heart,
keeping it for solitude and the watches of the night, while to the
outer world he carries a face on which his care has made no marks.
'You will be sorry to hear that papa is too ill to come downstairs.'
'Is he, indeed? I am truly sorry. I had beard he was ill; but did not
know he was so ill as that.'
'Perhaps he fancies himself weaker than he is.'
'We must try and cure him of that. I can see him, I hope?'
'Oh dear, yes. He is most anxious for you to go to him. As soon as ever
you can come upstairs I will take you.' He had already stripped himself
of his wrappings, and declaring himself ready, at once followed Clara
to the squire's room.
'I'm sorry, sir, to find you in this way,' he said.
'I'm very poorly, Will very,' said the squire, putting out his hand as
though he were barely able to lift it above his knee. Now it certainly
was the fact that half an hour before he had been walking across the
'We must see if we can't soon make you better among us,' said Will.
The squire shook his head with a slow, melancholy movement, not raising
his eyes from the ground. 'I don't think you'll ever see me much
better, Will,' he said. And yet half an hour since he had been talking
of being down in the dining-room on the next day. 'I shan't trouble you
much longer,' said the squire. 'You'll soon have it all without paying
rent for it.'
This was very unpleasant, and almost frustrated Belton's attempts to be
cheery. But he persevered nevertheless. 'It'll be a long time yet
before that day comes, sir.'
'Ah; that's easily said. But never mind. Why should I want to remain
when I shall have once seen her properly settled. I've nothing to live
for except that she may have a home.'
On this subject it was quite impossible that Belton should say
anything. Clara was standing by him, and she, as he knew, was engaged
to Captain Aylmer. So circumstanced, what could he say as to Clara's
settlement in life? That something should be said between him and the
old man, and something also between him and Clara, was a matter of
course; but it was quite out of the question that he should discuss
Clara's prospects in life in presence of them both together.
'Papa's illness makes him a little melancholy,' said Clara.
'Of course of course. It always does,' said Will.
'I think he will be better when the weather becomes milder,' said Clara.
'I suppose I may be allowed to know how I feel myself,' said the
squire. 'But don't keep Will up here when he wants his dinner. There;
that'll do. You'd better leave me now.' Then Will went out to his old
room, and a quarter of an hour afterwards he found himself seated with
Clara at the dinner- table; and a quarter of an hour after that the
dinner was over, and they had both drawn their chairs to the fire.
Neither of them knew how to begin with the other. Clara was under no
obligation to declare her engagement to her cousin, but yet she felt
that it would be unhandsome in her not to do so. Had Will never made
the mistake of wanting to marry her himself, she would have done so as
a matter of course. Had she supposed him to cherish any intention of
renewing that mistake she would have felt herself bound to tell him so
that he might save himself from unnecessary pain. But she gave him
credit for no such intention, and yet she could not but remember that
scene among the rocks. And then was she, or was she not, to say
anything to him about the Askertons? With him also the difficulty was
as great. He did not in truth believe that the tidings which he had
heard from his friend the lawyer required corroboration; but yet it was
necessary that he should know from herself that she had disposed of her
hand and it was necessary also that he should say some word to her as
to their future standing and friendship.
'You must be very anxious to see how your farm goes on,' said she.
He had not thought much of his agricultural venture at Belton for the
last three or four days, and would hardly have been vexed had he been
told that every head of cattle about the place had died of the murrain.
Some general idea of the expediency of going on with a thing which he
had commenced still actuated him; but it was the principle involved,
and not the speculation itself, which interested him. But he could not
explain all this, and he therefore was driven to some cold agreement
with her. 'The farm! you mean the stock. Yes; I shall go and have a
look at them early tomorrow. I suppose they're all alive.'
'Pudge says that they are doing uncommonly well.' Pudge was a leading
man among the Belton labourers, whom Will had hired to look after his
'That's all right. I dare say Pudge knows quite as much about it as I
'But the master's eye is everything.'
'Pudge's eye is quite as good as mine; and probably much better, as he
knows the country.'
'You used to say that it was everything for a man to look after his own
'And I do look after them. Pudge and I will go and have a look at every
beast tomorrow, and I shall look very wise and pretend to know more
about it than he does. In stock-farming the chief thing is not to have
too many beasts. They used to say that half-stocking was whole profit,
and. whole- stocking was half profit. If the animals have plenty to
eat, and the rent isn't too high, they'll take care of. their owner.'
'But then there is so much illness.'
'I always insure.'
Clara perceived that the subject of the cattle didn't suit the present
occasion. When he had before been at Belton. he had liked nothing so
much as talking about the cattle-sheds, and the land, and the kind of
animals which would suit the place; but now the novelty of the thing
was gone and the farmer did not wish to talk of his farm. In her
anxiety to find a topic which would not be painful, she went from the
cattle to the cow. 'You can't think what a pet Bess has been with us.
And she seems to think that she is privileged to go everywhere, and do
'I hope they have taken care that she has had winter food.'
'Winter food! Why Pudge, and all the Pudges, and all the family in the
house, and all your cattle would have to want, before Bessy would be
allowed to miss a meal. Pudge always says, with his sententious shake
of the head, that the young squire was very particular about Bessy.'
'Those Alderneys want a little care that's all.'
Bessy was. of no better service to Clara in her present difficulty than
the less aristocratic herd of common cattle. There was a pause for a
moment, and then she began again. 'How did you leave your sister, Will?'
'Much the same as usual. I think she has borne the first of the cold
weather better than she did last year.'
'I do so wish that I knew her.'
'Perhaps you will some day. But I don't suppose that you ever will.'
'It's not likely that you'll ever come to Plaistow now and Mary never
leaves it except to go to my uncle's.'
Clara instantly knew that he had heard of her engagement, though she
could not imagine from what source he had heard it. There was something
in the tone of his voice something especially in the expression of that
word 'now', which told her that it must be so. 'I should be so glad to
go there if I could,' she said, with that special hypocrisy which
belongs to women, and is allowed to them; 'but, of course, I cannot
leave papa in his present state.'
'And if you did leave him you would not go to Plaistow.'
'Not unless you and Mary asked me.'
'And you wouldn't if we did. How could you?'
'What do you mean, Will? It seems as though you were almost savage to
'Am I? Well I feel savage, but not to you.'
'Nor to any one, I hope, belonging to me.' She knew that it was all
coming; that the whole subject of her future life must now be
discussed; and she began to fear that the discussion might not be easy.
But she did not know how to give it a direction. She feared that he
would become angry, and yet she knew not why. He had accepted his own
rejection tranquilly, and could hardly take it as an offence that she
should now be engaged to Captain Aylmer.
'Mr Green has told me', said he, 'that you are going to be married.'
'How could Mr Green have known?'
'He did know at least I suppose he knew, for he told me.'
'How very odd.'
'I suppose it is true?' Clara did not make any immediate answer, and
then he repeated the question. 'I suppose it is true?'
'It is true that I am engaged.'
'To Captain Aylmer?'
'Yes; to Captain Aylmer. You know that I had known him very long. I
hope that you are not angry with me because I did not write and tell
you. Strange as it may seem, seeing that you had heard it already, it
is not a week yet since it was settled; and had I written to you, I
could only have addressed my letter to you here.'
'I wasn't thinking about that. I didn't specially want you to write to
me. What difference would it make?'
'But I should have felt that I owed it to your kindness and your regard
'My regard! What's the use of regard?'
'You are not going to quarrel with me, Will, because because because .
If you had really been my brother, as you once said you would be, you
could not but have approved of what I have done.'
'But I am not your brother.'
'Oh, Will; that sounds so cruel!'
'I am not your brother, and I have no right to approve or disapprove.'
'I will not say that I could make my engagement with Captain Aylmer
dependent on your approval. It would not be fair to him to do so, and
it would put me into a false position.'
' Have I asked you to make any such absurd sacrifice?'
'Listen to me, Will. I say that I could not do that. But, short of
that, there is nothing I would not do to satisfy you. I think so much
of your judgment and goodness, and so very much of your affection; I
love you so dearly, that Oh, Will, say a kind word to me!'
'A kind word; yes, but what sort of kindness?
'You must know that Captain Aylmer'
'Don't talk to me of Captain Aylmer. Have I said anything against him?
Have I ventured to make any objection? Of course, I know his
superiority to myself. I know that he is a man of the world, and that I
am not; that he is educated, and that I am ignorant; that he has a
position, and that I have none; that he has much to offer, and that I
have nothing. Of course, I see the difference; but that does not make
'Will, I had learned to love him before I had ever seen you.'
'Why didn't you tell me so, that I might have known there was no hope,
and have gone away utterly out of the kingdom? If it was all settled
then, why didn't you tell me, and save me from breaking my heart with
'Nothing was settled then. I hardly knew my own mind; but yet I loved
him. There; cannot you understand it? Have I not told you enough?'
'Yes, I understand it.'
'And do you blame me?'
He paused awhile before he answered her. 'No; I do not blame you. I
suppose I must blame no one but myself. But you should bear with me. I
was so happy, and now I am so wretched.'
There was nothing that she could say to comfort him. She had altogether
mistaken the nature of the man's regard, and had even mistaken the very
nature of the man. So much she now learned, and could tell herself that
had she known him better she would either have prevented this second
visit, or would have been careful that he should have learned the truth
from herself before he came. Now she could only wait till he should
again have got strength to hide his suffering under the veil of his own
'I have not a word to say against what you are doing,' he said at last;
'not a word. But you will understand what I mean when I tell you that
it is not likely that you will come to Plaistow.'
'Some day, Will, when you have a wife of your own'
'Very well; but we won't talk about that at present, if you please.
When I have, things will be different. In the meantime your course and
mine will be separate. You, I suppose, will be with him in London,
while I shall be at the devil as likely as not.'
'How can you speak to me in that way? Is that like being my brother?'
'I don't feel like being your brother. However, I beg your pardon, and
now we will have done with it. Spilt milk can't be helped, and my milk
pans have got themselves knocked over. That's all. Don't you think we
ought to go up to your father again?'
On the following day Belton and Mr Amedroz discussed the same subject,
but the conversation went off very quietly. Will was determined not to
exhibit his weakness before the father as he had done before the
daughter. When the squire, with a maundering voice, drawled out some
expression of regret that his daughter's choice had not fallen in
another place, Will was able to say that bygones must he bygones. He
regretted it also, but that was now over. And when the squire
endeavoured to say a few ill-natured words about Captain Aylmer, Will
stopped him at once by asserting that the captain was all that he ought
'And it would have made me so happy to think that my daughter's child
should come to live in his grandfather's old house,' murmured Mr
'And there's no knowing that he mayn't do so yet,' said Will. 'But all
these things are so doubtful that a man is wrong to fix his happiness
upon them.' After that he went out to ramble about, the place, and
before the third day was over Clara was able to perceive that, in spite
of what he had said, he was as busy about the cattle as though his
bread depended on them.
Nothing had been said as yet about the Askertons, and Clara had
resolved that their name should not first be mentioned by her. Mrs
Askerton had prophesied that Will would have some communication to make
about herself, and Clara would at any rate see whether her cousin
would, of his own accord, introduce the subject. But three days passed
by, and he had made no allusion to the cottage or its inhabitants. This
in itself was singular, as the Askertons were the only local friends
whom Clara knew, and as Belton had become personally acquainted with
Mrs Askerton. But such was the case; and when Mr Amedroz once said
something about Mrs Askerton in the presence of both Clara and Belton,
they both of them shrank from the subject in a manner that made Clara
understand that any conversation about the Askertons was to be avoided.
On the fourth day Clara saw Mrs Askerton, but then Will Belton's name
was not mentioned. There was therefore, among them all, a sense of some
mystery which made them uncomfortable, and which seemed to admit of no
solution. Clara was more sure than ever that her cousin had made no
inquiries that he should not have made, and that he would put no
information that he might have to an improper use. But of such
certainty on her part she could say nothing.
Three weeks passed by, and it seemed as though Belton's visit were to
come to an end without any further open trouble. Now and then something
was said about. Captain Aylmer; but it was very little, and Belton made
no further reference to his own feelings. It had come to be understood
that his visit was to be limited to a month; and to both him and Clara
the month wore itself away slowly, neither of them having much pleasure
in the society of the other. The old squire came downstairs once for an
hour or two, and spent the whole time in bitter complaints. Everything
was wrong, and everybody was ill-treating him. Even with Will he
quarrelled, or did his best to quarrel, in regard to everything about
the place, though at the same time he did not cease to grumble at his
visitor for going away and leaving him. Belton bore it all so well that
the grumbling and quarrelling did not lead to much; but it required all
his good-humour and broad common sense to prevent serious troubles and
During the period of her cousin's visit at Belton, Clara received two
letters from Captain Aylmer, who was spending the Christmas holidays
with his father and mother, and on the day previous to that of her
cousin's departure there came a third. In neither of these letters was
there much said about Sir Anthony, but they were all very full of Lady
Aylmer. In the first he wrote with something of the personal enthusiasm
of a lover and therefore Clara hardly felt the little drawbacks to her
happiness which were contained in certain innuendoes respecting Lady
Aylmer's ideas, and Lady Aylmer's hopes, and Lady Aylmer's fears. Clara
was not going to marry Lady Aylmer, and did not fear but that she could
hold her own against any mother-in-law in the world when once they
should be brought face to face. And as long as Captain Aylmer seemed to
take her part rather than that of his mother it was all very well. The
second letter was more trying to her temper, as it contained one or two
small morsels of advice as to conduct which had evidently originated
with her ladyship. Now there is nothing, I take it, so irritating to an
engaged young lady as counsel from her intended husband's mamma. An
engaged young lady, if she be really in love, will take almost anything
from her lover as long as she is sure that it comes altogether from
himself. He may take what liberties he pleases with her dress. He may
prescribe high church or low church if he be not, as is generally the
case, in a condition to accept, rather than to give, prescriptions on
that subject. He may order almost any course of reading providing that
he supply the books. And he may even interfere with the style of
dancing, and recommend or prohibit partners. But he may not thrust his
mother down his future wife's throat. In answer to the second letter,