Part 5 out of 9
Clara did not say much to show her sense of objection. Indeed she said
nothing. But in saying nothing she showed her objection, and Captain
Aylmer understood it. Then came the third letter, and as it contained
matter touching upon our story, it shall be given entire and I hope it
may be taken by gentlemen about to marry as a fair specimen of the sort
of letter they ought not to write to the girls of their hearts:
19th January, 186 .
'Dearest Clara I got your letter of the 16th yesterday, and was sorry
you said nothing in reference to my mother's ideas as to the house at
Perivale. Of course she knew that I heard from you, and was
disappointed when, I was obliged to tell her, that you had not alluded
to the subject. She is very anxious about you, and, having now given
her assent to our marriage, is of course desirous of knowing that her
kindly feeling is reciprocated. I assured her that my own Clara was the
last person to be remiss in such a matter, and reminded her that young
ladies are seldom very careful in their mode of answering letters.
Remember, therefore, that I am now your guarantee, and send some
message to relieve me from my liability.
When I told her of your father's long illness, which she laments
greatly, and of your cousin's continued presence at Belton Castle, she
seemed to think that Mr Belton's visit should not be prolonged. When I
told her that he was your nearest relative, she remarked that cousins
are the same as any other people which indeed they are. I know that my
Clara Will not suppose that I mean more by this than the words convey.
Indeed I mean less. But not having the advantage of a mother of your
own, you will not be sorry to know what are my mother's opinions on
matters which so nearly concern you.
And now I come to another subject, as to which what I shall say will
surprise you very much. You know, I think, that my aunt Winterfield and
I had some conversation about your neighbours, the Askertons; and you
will remember that my aunt, whose ideas on such matters were always
correct, was a little afraid that your father had not made sufficient
inquiry respecting them before he allowed them to settle near him as
tenants. It now turns out that she is very far, indeed, from what she
ought to be. My mother at first thought of writing to you about this;
but she is a little fatigued, and at last resolved that under all the
circumstances it might be as well that I should tell you. It seems that
Mrs Askerton was married before to a certain Captain Berdmore, and that
she left her first husband during his lifetime under the protection of
Colonel Askerton. I believe they, the Colonel and Mrs Askerton, have
been since married. Captain Berdmore died about four years ago in
India, and it is probable that such a marriage has taken place. But
under these circumstances, as Lady Aylmer says, you will at once
perceive that all acquaintance between you and the lady should be
brought to an end. Indeed, your own sense of what is becoming to you,
either as an unmarried girl or as my future wife, or indeed as a woman
at all, will at once make you feel that this must be so. I think, if I
were you, I would tell the whole to Mr Amedroz; but this I will leave
to your own discretion. I can assure you that Lady Aylmer has full
proof as to the truth of what I tell you.
I go up to London in February. I suppose I may hardly hope to see you
before the recess in July or August; but I trust that before that we
shall have fixed the day when you will make me the happiest of men.
Yours, with truest affection,
F. F. AYLMER.'
It was a disagreeable, nasty letter from the first line to the last.
There was not a word in it which did not grate against Clara's feelings
not a thought expressed which did not give rise to fears as to her
future happiness. But the information which it contained about the
Askertons 'the communication,' as Mrs Askerton herself would have
called it made her for the moment almost forget Lady Aylmer and her
insolence. Could this story be true? And if true, how far would it be
imperative on her to take the hint,, or rather obey the order, which
had been given her? What steps should she take to learn the truth? Then
she remembered Mrs Askerton's promise 'If you want to ask any
questions, and will ask them of me, I will answer them.' The
communication, as to which Mrs Askerton had prophesied, had now been
made but it had been made not by Will Belton, whom Mrs Askerton had
reviled, but by Captain Aylmer, whose praises Mrs Askerton had so
loudly sung. As Clara thought of this, she could not analyse her own
feelings, which were not devoid of a certain triumph. She had known
that Belton would not put on his armour to attack a woman. Captain
Aylmer had done so, and she was hardly surprised at his doing it. Yet
Captain Aylmer was the man she loved! Captain Aylmer was the man she
had promised to marry. But, in truth, she hardly knew which was the man
This letter came on a Sunday morning, and on that day she and Belton
went to church together. On the following morning early he was to start
for Taunton. At church they saw Mrs Askerton, whose attendance there
was not very frequent. It seemed, indeed, as though she had come with
the express purpose of seeing Belton once during his visit. As they
left the church she bowed to him, and that was all they saw of each
other throughout the month that he remained in Somersetshire.
'Come to me tomorrow Clara,' Mrs Askerton said as they all passed
through the village together. Clara muttered some reply, having not as
yet made up her mind as to what her conduct must be. Early on the next
morning Will Belton went away, and again Clara got up to give him his
breakfast. On this occasion he had no thought of kissing her. He went
away without having had a word said to him about Mrs Askerton, and then
Clara settled herself down to the work of deliberation. What should she
do with reference to the communication that had been made to her by
Aylmer Park and the great house of the Aylmers together formed an
important and, as regarded in some minds, an imposing country
residence. The park was large, including some three or four hundred
acres, and was peopled, rather thinly, by aristocratic deer. It was
surrounded by an aristocratic paling, and was entered, at three
different points, by aristocratic lodges. The sheep were more numerous
than the deer, because Sir Anthony, though he had a large income, was
not in very easy circumstances. The ground was quite flat; and though
there were thin belts of trees, and some ornamental timber here and
there, it was not well wooded. It had no special beauty of its own, and
depended for its imposing qualities chiefly on its size, on its three
sets of double lodges, and on its old established character as an
important family place in the county. The house was of stone, with a
portico of Ionic columns which looked as though it hardly belonged of
right to the edifice, and stretched itself out grandly, with two
pretentious wings, which certainly gave it a just claim to be called a
mansion. It required a great many servants to keep it in order, and the
numerous servants required an experienced duenna, almost as grand in
appearance as Lady Aylmer herself, to keep them in order. There was an
open carriage and a close carriage, and a butler, and two footmen, and
three gamekeepers, and four gardeners, and there was a coachman, and
there were grooms, and sundry inferior men and boys about the place to
do the work which the gardeners and game-keepers and grooms did not
choose to do themselves. And they all became fat, and lazy, and stupid,
and respectable together; so that, as the reader will at once perceive,
Aylmer Park was kept up in the proper English style. Sir Anthony very
often discussed with his steward the propriety of lessening the
expenditure of his residence, and Lady Aylmer always attended and
probably directed these discussions; but it was found that nothing
could be done. Any attempt to remove a gamekeeper or a gardener would
evidently throw the whole machinery of Aylmer Park out of gear. If
retrenchment was necessary Aylmer Park must be abandoned, and the glory
of the Aylmers must be allowed to pale. But things were not so had as
that with Sir Anthony. The gardeners, grooms, and gamekeepers were
maintained; ten domestic servants sat down to four heavy meals in the
servants' hall every day, and Lady Aylmer contented herself with
receiving little or no company, and with stingy breakfasts and bad
dinners for herself and her husband and daughter. By all this it must
be seen that she did her duty as the wife of an English country
gentleman, and properly maintained his rank as a baronet.
He was a heavy man, over seventy years of age, much afflicted with
gout, and given to no pursuit on earth which was available for his
comfort. He had been a hunting man, and he had shot also; but not with
that energy which induces a sportsman to carry on those amusements in
opposition to the impediments of age. He had been, and still was, a
county magistrate; but he had never been very successful in the
justice-room, and now seldom troubled the county with his judicial
incompetence. He had been fond of good dinners and good wine, and
still, on occasions, would make attempts at enjoyment in that line; but
the gout and Lady Aylmer together were too many for him, and he had but
small opportunity for filling up the blanks of his existence out of the
kitchen or cellar. He was a big man, with a broad chest, and a red
face, and a quantity of white hair and was much given to abusing his
servants. He took some pleasure in standing, with two sticks, on the
top of the steps before his own front door, and railing at any one who
came in his way. But he could not do this when Lady Aylmer was by; and
his dependents, knowing his habits, had fallen into an ill-natured way
of deserting the side of the house which he frequented. With his eldest
son, Anthony Aylmer, he was not on very good terms; and though there
was no positive quarrel, the heir did not often come to Aylmer Park. Of
his son Frederic he was proud and the best days of his life were
probably those which Captain Aylmer spent at the house. The table was
then somewhat more generously spread, and this was an excuse for having
up the special port in which he delighted. Altogether his life was not
very attractive; and though he bad been born to a baronetcy, and eight
thousand a-year, and the possession of Aylmer Park, I do not think that
he was, or had been, a happy man.
Lady Aylmer was more fortunate. She had occupations of which her
husband knew nothing, and for which he was altogether unfit. Though she
could not succeed in making retrenchments, the could and did succeed in
keeping the household books. Sir Anthony could only blow up the
servants when they were thoughtless enough to come in his way, and in
doing that was restricted by his wife's presence. But Lady Aylmer could
get at them day and night. She had no gout to impede her progress about
the house and grounds, and could make her way to places which the
master never saw; and then she wrote many letters daily, whereas Sir
Anthony hardly ever took a pen in his hand. And she knew the cottages
of all the poor about the place, and knew also all their sins of
omission and commission. She was driven out, too, every day, summer and
winter, wet and dry, and consumed enormous packets of wool and worsted,
which were sent to her monthly from York. And she had a companion in
her daughter, whereas Sir Anthony had no companion. Wherever Lady
Aylmer went, Miss Aylmer went with her, and relieved what might
otherwise have been the tedium of her life. She had been a beauty on a
large scale, and was still aware that she had much in her personal
appearance which justified pride. She carried herself uprightly, with a
commanding nose and broad forehead; and though the graces of her own
hair had given way to a front, there was something even in the front
which added to her dignity, if it did not make her a handsome woman.
Miss Aylmer, who was the eldest of the younger generation, and who was
now gently descending from her fortieth year, lacked the strength of
her mother's character, but admired her mother's ways, and followed
Lady Aylmer in all things at a distance. She was very good as indeed
was Lady Aylmer entertaining a high idea of duty, and aware that her
own life admitted of but little self- indulgence. She had no pleasures,
she incurred no expenses ; and was quite alive to the fact that as
Aylmer Park required a regiment of lazy, gormandizing servants to
maintain its position in the county, the Aylmers themselves should not
be lazy, and should not gormandize. No one was more careful with her
few shillings than Miss Aylmer. She had, indeed, abandoned a life's
correspondence with an old friend because she would not pay the postage
on letters to Italy. She knew that it was for the honour of the family
that one of her brothers should sit in Parliament, and was quite
willing to deny herself a new dress because sacrifices must be made to
lessen electioneering expenses. She knew that it was her lot to be
driven about slowly in a carriage with a livery servant before her and
another behind her, and then eat a dinner which the cook-maid would
despise. She was aware that it was her duty to be snubbed by her
mother, and to encounter her father's ill-temper, and to submit to her
brother's indifference, and to have, so to say, the slightest possible
modicum of personal individuality. She knew that she had never
attracted a man's love, and might hardly hope to make friends for the
comfort of her coming age. But still she was contented, and felt that
she had consolation for it all in the fact that she was am. Aylmer. She
read many novels, and it cannot but be supposed that something of
regret would steal over her as she remembered that nothing of the
romance of life had ever, or could ever, come in her way. She wept over
the loves of many women, though she had never been happy or unhappy in
her own. She read of gaiety, though she never encountered it, and must
have known that the world elsewhere was less dull than it was at Aylmer
Park. But she took her life as it came, without a complaint, and prayed
that God would make her humble in the high position to which it had
pleased Him to call her. She hated Radicals, and thought that Essays
and Reviews, and Bishop Colenso, came direct from the Evil One. She
taught the little children in the parish, being specially urgent to
them always to courtesy when they saw any of the family and was as
ignorant, meek, and stupid a poor woman as you shall find anywhere in
It may be imagined that Captain Aylmer, who knew the comforts of his
club and was accustomed to life in London, would feel the dullness of
the paternal roof to be almost unendurable. In truth, he was not very
fond of Aylmer Park, but he was more gifted with patience than most men
of his age and position, and was aware that it behoved him to keep the
Fifth Commandment if he expected to have his own days prolonged in the
land. He therefore made his visits periodically, and contented himself
with clipping a few days at both ends from the length prescribed by
family tradition, which his mother was desirous of exacting. September
was always to be passed at Aylmer Park, because of the shooting. In
September, indeed, the eldest son himself was wont to be there probably
with a friend or two and the fat old servants bestirred themselves, and
there was something of life about the place. At Christmas, Captain
Aylmer was there as the only visitor, and Christmas was supposed to
extend from the middle of December to the opening of Parliament. It
must, however, be explained, that on the present occasion his visit had
been a matter of treaty and compromise. He had not gone to Aylmer Park
at all till his mother had in some sort assented to his marriage with
Clara Amedroz. To this Lady Aylmer had been very averse, and there had
been many serious letters. Belinda Aylmer, the daughter of the house,
had had a bad time in pleading her brother's cause and some very harsh
words had been uttered but ultimately the matter had been arranged,
and, as is usual in such contests, the mother had yielded to the son.
Captain Aylmer had therefore gone down a few days before Christmas,
with a righteous feeling that he owed much to his mother for her
condescension, and almost prepared to make himself very disagreeable to
Clara by way of atoning to his family for his folly in desiring to
Lady Aylmer was very plain-spoken on the subject of all Clara's
shortcomings very plain-spoken, and very inquisitive. 'She will never
have one shilling, I suppose?' she said.
'Yes, ma'am.' Captain Aylmer always called his mother 'ma'am'. 'She
will have that fifteen hundred pounds that I told you of.'
'That is to say, you will have back the money which you yourself have
given her, Fred. I suppose that is the English of it?' Then Lady Aylmer
raised her eyebrows and looked very wise.
'Just so, ma'am.'
'You can't call that having anything of her own. In point of fact she
'It is no good harping on that,' said Captain Aylmer, somewhat sharply.
'Not in the least, my dear; no good at all. Of course you have looked
it all in the face. You will be a poor man instead of a rich man, but
you will have enough to live on that is if she doesn't have a large
family which of course she will.'
'I shall do very well, ma'am.'
'You might do pretty well, I dare say, if you could live privately at
Perivale, keeping up the old family house there, and having no
expenses; but you'll find even that close enough with your seat in
Parliament, and the necessity there is that you should be half the year
in London. Of course she won't go to London. She can't expect it. All
that had better be made quite clear at once.' Hence had come the letter
about the house at Perivale, containing Lady Aylmer's advice on that
subject, as to which Clara made no reply.
Lady Aylmer, though she had given her assent, was still not altogether
without hope. It might be possible that the two young people could be
brought to see the folly and error of their ways before it would be too
late; and that Lady Aylmer, by a judicious course of constant advice,
might be instrumental in opening the eyes, if not of ,the lady, at any
rate of the gentleman. She had great reliance on her own powers, and
knew well that a falling drop will hollow a stone. Her son manifested
no hot eagerness to complete his folly in a hurry, and to cut the
throat of his prospects out of hand. Time, therefore, would be allowed
to her, and she was a woman who could use time with patience. Having,
through her son, dispatched her advice about the house at Perivale
which which simply amounted to this, that Clara should expressly state
her willingness to live there alone whenever it might suit her husband
to be in London or elsewhere she went to work on other points,
connected with the Amedroz family, and eventually succeeded in learning
something very much like the truth as to poor Mrs Askerton and her
troubles. At first she was so comfortably horror-stricken by the
iniquity she had unravelled so delightfully shocked and astounded as
to believe that the facts as they then stood would suffice to annul the
'You don't tell me', she said to Belinda, 'that Frederic's wife will
have been the friend of such a woman as that!' And Lady Aylmer, sitting
upstairs with her household books before her, put up her great fat
hands and her great fat arms, and shook her head front and all in most
'But I suppose Clara did not know it.' Belinda had considered it to be
an act of charity to call Miss Amedroz Clara since the family consent
had been given.
'Didn't know it! They have been living in that sort of way that they
must have been confidantes in everything. Besides, I always hold that a
woman is responsible for her female friends.'
'I think if she consents to drop her at once that is, absolutely to
make a promise that she will never speak to her again Frederic ought to
take that as sufficient. That is, of course, mamma, unless she has had
anything to do with it herself.'
'After this I don't know how I'm to trust her. I don't indeed. It seems
to me that she has been so artful throughout. It has been a regular
case of catching.'
'I suppose, of course, that she has been anxious to marry Frederic but
perhaps that was natural.'
'Anxious look at her going there just when he had to meet his
constituents. How young women can do such things passes me! And how it
is that men don't see it all, when it's going on just under their
noses, I can't understand. And then, her getting my poor dear sister to
speak to him when she was dying! I didn't think your aunt would have
been so weak.' It will be thus seen that there was entire confidence on
this subject between Lady Aylmer and her daughter.
We know what were the steps taken with reference to the discovery, and
how the family were waiting for Clara's reply. Lady Aylmer, though in
her words she attributed so much mean cunning to Miss Amedroz, still
was disposed to believe that that lady would show rather a high spirit
on this occasion; and trusted to that high spirit as the means for
making the breach which she still hoped to accomplish. It had been
intended or rather desired that Captain Aylmer's letter should have
been much sharper and authoritative than he had really made it; but the
mother could not write the letter herself, and had felt that to write
in her own name would not have served to create anger on Clara's part
against her betrothed. But she had quite succeeded in inspiring her son
with a feeling of horror against the iniquity of the Askertons. He was
prepared to be indignantly moral; and perhaps perhaps the misguided
Clara might be silly enough to say a word for her lost friend! Such
being the present position of affairs, there was certainly ground for
And now they were all waiting for Clara's answer. Lady Aylmer had well
calculated the course of post, and knew that a letter might reach them
by Wednesday morning. 'Of course she will not write on Sunday,' she had
said to her son, 'but you have a right to expect that not another day
should go by.' Captain Aylmer, who felt that they were putting Clara on
her trial, shook his head impatiently, and made no immediate answer.
Lady Aylmer, triumphantly feeling that she had the culprit on the hip,
did not care to notice this. She was doing the best she could for his
happiness as she had done for his health, when in days gone by she had
administered to him his infantine rhubarb and early senna; but as she
had never then expected him to like her doses, neither did she now
expect that he should be well pleased at the remedial measures to which
he was to be subjected.
No letter came on the Wednesday, nor did any come on the Thursday, and
then it was thought by the ladies at the Park that the time had come
for speaking a word or two. Belinda, at her mother's instance, began
the attack not in her mother's presence, but when she only was with her
'Isn't it odd, Frederic, that Clara shouldn't write about those people
'Somersetshire is the other side of London, and letters take a long
'But if she had written on Monday, her answer would have been here on
Wednesday morning indeed, you would have had it Tuesday evening, as
mamma sent over to Whitby for the day mail letters.' Poor Belinda was a
bad lieutenant, and displayed too much of her senior officer's tactics
in thus showing how much calculation and how much solicitude there had
been as to the expected letter.
'If I am contented I suppose you may be,' said the brother.
'But it does seem to me to be so very important! If she hasn't got your
letter, you know, it would be so necessary that you should write again,
so that the the the contamination should be stopped as soon as
possible.' Captain Aylmer shook his head and walked away. He was, no
doubt, prepared to be morally indignant morally very indignant at the
Askerton iniquity; but he did not like the word contamination as
applied to his future wife.
'Frederic,' said his mother, later on the same day when the hardly-used
groom had returned from his futile afternoon's inquiry at the
neighbouring post. town 'I think you should do something in this
'Do what, ma'am? Go off to Belton myself?'
'No, no. I certainly would not do that. In the first place it would be
very inconvenient to you, and in the next place it would not be fair
upon us. I did not mean that at all. But I think that something should
be done. She should be made to understand.'
'You may be sure, ma'am, that she understands as well as anybody.'
'I dare say she is clever enough at these kind of things.'
'What kind of things?'
'Don't bite my nose off, Frederic, because I am anxious about your
'What is it that you wish me to do? I have written to her, and can only
wait for her answer.'
'It may be that she feels a delicacy in writing to you on such a
subject; though I own However, to make a long story short, if you like,
I will write to her myself.'
'I don't see that that would do any good. It would only give her
'Give her offence, Frederic, to receive a letter from her future
mother-in-law from me! Only think, Frederic, what you are saying.'
'If she thought she was being bullied about this, she would turn rusty
'Turn rusty! What am I to think of a young lady who is prepared to turn
rusty at once, too because she is cautioned by the mother of the man
she professes to love against an improper acquaintance against an
acquaintance so very improper?' Lady Aylmer's eloquence should have
been heard to be appreciated. It is but tame to say that she raised her
fat arms and fat hands, and wagged her front her front that was the
more formidable as it was the old one, somewhat rough and dishevelled,
which she was wont to wear in the morning. The emphasis of her words
should have been heard, and the fitting solemnity of her action should
have been seen. 'If there were any doubt,' she continued to say, 'but
there is no doubt. There are the damning proofs.' There are certain
words usually confined to the vocabularies of men, which women such as
Lady Aylmer delight to use on special occasions, when strong
circumstances demand strong language. As she said this she put her hand
below the table, pressing it apparently against her own august person;
but she was in truth indicating the position of a certain valuable
correspondence, which was locked up in the drawer of her writing-table.
'You can write if you like it, of course; but I think you ought to wait
a few more days.'
'Very well, Frederic; then I will wait. I will wait till Sunday. I do
not wish to take any step of which you do not approve. If you have not
heard by Sunday morning, then I will write to her on Monday.'
On the Saturday afternoon life was becoming inexpressibly disagreeable
to Captain Aylmer, and he began to meditate an escape from the Park. In
spite of the agreement between him and his mother, which he understood
to signify that nothing more was to be said as to Clara's wickedness,
at any rate till Sunday after post-hour, Lady Aylmer had twice attacked
him on the Saturday, and had expressed her opinion that affairs were in
a very frightful position. Belinda went about the house in melancholy
guise, with her eyes rarely lifted off the ground, as though she were
prophetically weeping the utter ruin of her brother's respectability.
And even Sir Anthony had raised his eyes and shaken his head, when, on
opening the post-bag at the breakfast-table an operation which was
always performed by Lady Aylmer in person her ladyship had exclaimed,
'again no letter!' Then Captain Aylmer thought that he would fly, and
resolved that, in the event of such flight, he would give special
orders as to the re-direction of his own letters from the post-office
That evening, after dinner, as soon as his mother and sister had left
the room, he began the subject with his father. 'I think I shall go up
to town on Monday, sir,' said he.
'So soon as that. I thought you were to stop till the 9th.'
'There are things I must see to in London, and I believe I had better
go at once.'
'Your mother will be greatly disappointed.'
'I shall be sorry for that but business is business, you know.' Then
the father filled his glass and passed the bottle. He himself did not
at all like the idea of his son's going before the appointed time, but
he did not say a word of himself. He looked at the red-hot coals, and a
hazy glimmer of a thought passed through his mind, that he too would
escape from Aylmer Park if it were possible.
'If you'll allow me, I'll take the dog-cart over to Whitby on Monday,
for the express train.'
'You can do that certainly, but'
'Have you spoken to your mother yet?'
'Not yet. I will to-night.'
'I think she'll be a little angry, Fred.' There was a sudden tone of
subdued confidence in the old man's voice as he made this suggestion,
which, though it was by no means a customary tone, his son well
understood. 'Don't you think she will be eh, a little?'
'She shouldn't go on as she does with me about Clara,' said the captain.
'Ah I supposed there was something of that. Are you drinking port?
'Of course I know that she means all that is good,' said the son,
passing back the bottle.
'Oh yes she means all that is good.'
'She is the best mother in the world.'
'You may say that, Fred and the best wife.'
'But if she can't have her own way altogether ' then the son paused,
and the father shook his head.
'Of course she likes to have her own way,' said Sir Anthony.
'It's all very well in some things.'
'Yes it's very well in some things'
'But there are things which a man must decide for himself.'
'I suppose there are,' said Sir Anthony, not venturing to think what
those things might be as regarded himself.
'Now, with reference to marrying'
'I don't know what you want with marrying at all, Fred. You ought to be
very happy as you are. By heavens, I don't know any one who ought to be
happier. If I were you, I know'
'But you see, sir, that's all settled.'
'If it's all settled, I suppose there's an end of it.'
'It's no good my mother nagging at one.'
'My dear boy, she's been nagging at me, as you call it, for forty
years. That's her way. The best woman in the world, as we were saying
but that's her way. And it's the way with most of them. They can do
anything if they keep it up anything. The best thing is to bear it if
you've got it to bear. But why on earth you should go and marry, seeing
that you're not the eldest son, and that you've got everything on earth
that you want as a bachelor, I can't understand. I can't indeed, Fred.
By heaven, I can't!' Then Sir Anthony gave a long sigh, and sat musing
awhile, thinking of the club in London to which he belonged, but which
he never entered of the old days in which he had been master of a
bedroom near St. James's Street of his old friends whom he never saw
now, and of whom he never heard, except as one and another, year after
year, shuffled away from their wives to that world in which there is no
marrying or giving in marriage. Ah, well,' he said, 'I suppose we may
as well go into the drawing-room. If it is settled, I suppose it is
settled. But it really seems to me that your mother is trying to do the
best she can for you. It really does.'
Captain Aylmer did not say anything to his mother that night as to his
going, but as he thought of his prospects in the solitude of his
bedroom, he felt really grateful to his father for the solicitude which
Sir Anthony had displayed on his behalf. It was not often that he
received paternal counsel, but now that it had come he acknowledged its
value. That Clara Amedroz was a self-willed woman he thought that he
was aware. She was self-reliant, at any rate and by no means ready to
succumb with that pretty feminine docility which he would like to have
seen her evince. He certainly would not wish to be 'nagged' by his wife
Indeed he knew himself well enough to assure himself that he would not
stand it for a day. In his own house he would be master, and if there
came tempests he would rule them. He could at least promise himself
that. As his mother had been strong, so had his father been weak. But
he had as he felt thankful in knowing inherited his mother's strength
rather than his father's weakness. But, for all that, why have a
tempest to rule at all? Even though a man do rule his domestic
tempests, he cannot have a very quiet house with them. Then again he
remembered how very easily Clara had been won. He wished to be just to
all men and women, and to Clara among the number. He desired even to be
generous to her with a moderate generosity. But above all things he
desired not to be duped. What if Clara had in truth instigated her aunt
to that deathbed scene, as his mother had more than once suggested! He
did not believe it. He was sure that it had not been so. But what if it
were so? His desire to be generous and trusting was moderate but his
desire not to be cheated, not to be deceived, was immoderate. Upon the
whole might it not be well for him to wait a little longer, and
ascertain how Clara really intended to behave herself in this emergency
of the Askertons? Perhaps, after all, his mother might be right.
On the Sunday the expected letter came but before its contents are made
known, it will be well that we should go back to Belton, and see what
was done by Clara in reference to the tidings which her lover had sent
MRS ASKERTON'S STORY
When Clara received the letter from Captain Aylmer on which so much is
supposed to hang, she made up her mind to say nothing of it to any one
not to think of it if she could avoid thinking of it till her cousin
should have left her. She could not mention it to him; for, though
there was no one from whom she would sooner have asked advice than from
him, even on so delicate a matter as this, she could not do so in the
present case, as her informant was her cousin's successful rival. When,
therefore, Mrs Askerton on leaving the church had spoken some customary
word to Clara, begging her to come to the cottage on the following day,
Clara had been unable to answer not having as yet made up her mind
whether she would or would not go to the cottage again. Of course the
idea of consulting her father occurred to her or rather the idea of
telling him; but any such telling would lead to some advice from him
which she would find it difficult to obey, and to which she would be
unable to trust. And, moreover, why should she repeat this evil story
against her neighbours?
She had a long morning by herself after Will had started, and then she
endeavoured to arrange her thoughts and lay down for herself a line of
conduct. Presuming this story to be true, to what did it amount? It
certainly amounted to very much. If, in truth, this woman had left her
own husband and gone away to live with another man, she had by doing so
at any rate while she was doing so fallen in such a way as to make
herself unfit for the society of an unmarried young woman who meant to
keep her name unblemished before the world. Clara would not attempt any
further unravelling of the case, even in her own mind but on that point
she could not allow herself to have a doubt. Without condemning the
unhappy victim, she understood well that she would owe it to all those
who held her dear, if not to herself, to eschew any close intimacy with
one in such a position. The rules of the world were too plainly written
to allow her to guide herself by any special judgment of her own in
such a matter. But if this friend of hers having been thus unfortunate
had since redeemed, or in part redeemed, her position by a second
marriage, would it be then imperative upon her to remember the past for
ever, and to declare that the stain was indelible? Clara felt that with
a previous knowledge of such a story she would probably have avoided
any intimacy with Mrs Askerton. She would then have been justified in
choosing whether such intimacy should or should not exist, and would so
have chosen out of deference to the world's opinion. But now it was too
late for that. Mrs Askerton had for years been her friend; and Clara
had to ask herself this question: was it now needful did her own
feminine purity demand that she should throw her friend over because in
past years her life had been tainted by misconduct.
It was clear enough at any rate that this was expected from her nay,
imperatively demanded by him who was to be her lord by him to whom her
future obedience would be due. Whatever might be her immediate
decision, he would have a right to call upon her to be guided by his
judgment as soon as she would become his wife. And indeed, she felt
that he had such right now unless she should decide that no such right
should be his, now or ever. It was still within her power to say that
she could not submit herself to such a rule as his but having received
his commands she must do that or obey them. Then she declared to
herself, not following the matter out logically, but urged to her
decision by sudden impulse, that at any rate she would not obey Lady
Aylmer. She would have nothing to do, in any such matter, with Lady
Aylmer. Lady Aylmer should be no god to her. That question about the
house at Perivale had been very painful to her. She felt that she could
have endured the dreary solitude at Perivale without complaint, if,
after her marriage, her husband's circumstances had made such a mode of
living expedient. But to have been asked to pledge her consent to such
a life before her marriage, to feel that he was bargaining for the
privilege of being rid of her, to know that the Aylmer people were
arranging that he, if he would marry her, should be as little troubled
with his wife as possible all this had been very grievous to her. She
had tried to console herself by the conviction that Lady Aylmer not
Frederic had been the sinner; but even in that consolation there had
been the terrible flaw that the words had come to her written by
Frederic's hand. Could Will Belton have written such a letter to his
In her present emergency she must be guided by her own judgment or her
own instincts not by any edicts from Aylmer Park! If in what she might
do she should encounter the condemnation of Captain Aylmer, she would
answer him she would be driven to answer him by counter-condemnation of
him and his mother. Let it be so. Anything would be better than a mean,
truckling subservience to the imperious mistress of Aylmer Park.
But what should she do as regarded Mrs Askerton? That the story was
true she was beginning to believe. That there was some such history was
made certain to her by the promise which Mrs Askerton had given her.
'If you want to ask any questions, and will ask them of me, I will
answer them.' Such a promise would not have been volunteered unless
there was something special to be told. It would be best, perhaps, to
demand from Mrs Askerton the fulfilment of this promise. But then in
doing so she must own from whence her information had come. Mrs
Askerton had told her that the 'communication' would be made by her
Cousin Will. Her Cousin Will had gone away without a word of Mrs
Askerton, and now the 'communication' had come from Captain Aylmer!
The Monday and Tuesday were rainy days, and the rain was some excuse
for her not going to the cottage. On the Wednesday her father was ill,
and his illness made a further excuse for her remaining at home. But on
the Wednesday evening there came a note to her from Mrs Askerton. 'You
naughty girl, why do you not come to me? Colonel Askerton has been away
since yesterday morning, and I am forgetting the sound of my own voice.
I did not trouble you when your divine cousin was here for reasons; but
unless you come to me now I shall think that his divinity has
prevailed. Colonel Askerton is in Ireland, about some property, and
will not be back till next week.'
Clara sent back a promise by the messenger, and on the following
morning she put on her hat and shawl, and started on her dreaded task.
When she left the house she had not even yet quite made up her mind
what she would do. At first she put her lover's letter into her pocket,
so that she might have it for reference; but, on second thoughts, she
replaced it in her desk, dreading lest she might be persuaded into
showing or reading some part of it. There had come a sharp frost after
the rain, and the ground was hard and dry. In order that she might gain
some further last moment for thinking, she walked round, up among the
rocks, instead of going straight to the cottage; and for a moment
though the air was sharp with frost she sat upon the stone where she
had been seated when her Cousin Will blurted out the misfortune of his
heart. She sat there on purpose that she might think of him, and recall
his figure, and the tones of his voice, and the look of his eyes, and
the gesture of his face. What a man he was so tender, yet so strong; so
thoughtful of others, and yet so self- sufficient! She had,
unconsciously, imputed to him one fault, that he had loved and then
forgotten his love unconsciously, for she had tried to think that this
was a virtue rather than a fault but now with a full knowledge of what
she was doing, but without any intention of doing it she acquitted him
of that one fault. Now that she could acquit him, she owned that it
would have been a fault. To have loved, and so soon to have forgotten
it! No; he had loved her truly, and alas! he was one who could not be
made to forget it. Then she went on to the cottage, exercising her
thoughts rather on the contrast between the two men than on the subject
to which she should have applied them.
'So you have come at last!' said Mrs Askerton. 'Till I got your message
I thought there was to be some dreadful misfortune.'
'Something dreadful! One often anticipates something very bad without
exactly knowing what. At least, I do. I am always expecting a
catastrophe when I am alone that is and then I am so often alone.'
'That simply means low spirits, I suppose?'
'It's more than that, my dear.'
'Not much more, I take it.'
'Once when we were in India we lived close to the powder magazine, and
we were always expecting to be blown up. You never lived near a powder
'No, never unless there's one at Belton. But I should have thought that
'And then there was the gentleman who always had the sword hanging over
him by the horse's hair.'
'What do you mean, Mrs Askerton?'
'Don't look so innocent, Clara. You know what I mean. What were the
results at last of your cousin's diligence as a detective officer?'
'Mrs Askerton, you wrong my cousin greatly. He never once mentioned
your name while he was with us. He did not make a single allusion to
you, or to Colonel Askerton, or to the cottage.'
'He did not?'
'Then I beg his pardon. But not the less has he been busy making
'But why should you say that there is a powder magazine, or a sword
hanging over your head?'
Here was the subject ready opened to her hand, and yet Clara did not
know how to go on with it. It seemed to her now that it would have been
easier for her to commence it, if Mrs Askerton had made no commencement
herself. As it was, she knew not how to introduce the subject of
Captain Aylmer's letter, and was almost inclined to wait, thinking that
Mrs Askerton might tell her own story without any such introduction.
But nothing of the kind was forthcoming. Mrs Askerton began to talk of
the frost, and then went on to abuse Ireland, complaining of the
hardship her husband endured in being forced to go thither in winter to
look after his tenants.
'What did you mean', said Clara, at last, 'by the sword hanging over
'I think I told you what I meant pretty plainly. If you did not
understand me I cannot tell you more plainly.'
'It is odd that you should say so much, and not wish to say more.'
'Ah! you are making your inquiries now.'
'In my place would not you do so too? How can I help it when you talked
of a sword? Of course you make me ask what the sword is.'
'And am I bound to satisfy your curiosity?'
'You told me, just before my cousin came here, that if I asked any
question you would answer me.'
'And I am to understand that you are asking such a question now?'
'Yes if it will not offend you.'
'But what if it will offend me offend me greatly? Who likes to be
'But you courted such inquiry from me.'
'No, Clara, I did not do that. I'll tell you what I did. I gave you to
understand that if it was needful that you should hear about me and my
antecedents certain matters as to which Mr Belton had been inquiring
into in a manner that I thought to be most unjustifiable I would tell
you that story.'
'And do so without being angry with me for asking.'
'I meant, of course, that I would not make it a ground for quarrelling
with you. If I wished to tell you, I could do so without any inquiry.'
'I have sometimes thought that you did wish to tell me.'
'Sometimes I have almost.'
'But you have no such wish now?'
'Can't you understand? It may well be that one so much alone as I am
living here without a female friend, or even acquaintance, except
yourself should often feel a longing for that comfort which full
confidence between us would give me.'
'Then why not'
'Stop a moment. Can't you understand that I may feel this, and yet
entertain the greatest horror against inquiry? We all like to tell our
own sorrows, but who likes to be inquired into? Many a woman burns to
make a full confession, who would be as mute as death before a
'I am no policeman.'
'But you are determined to ask a policeman's questions?'
To this Clara made no immediate reply. She felt that she was acting
almost falsely in going on with such questions, while she was in fact
aware of all the circumstances which Mrs Askerton could tell but she
did not know how to declare her knowledge and to explain it. She
sincerely wished that Mrs Askerton should be made acquainted with the
truth; but she had fallen into a line of conversation which did not
make her own task easy. But the idea of her own hypocrisy was
distressing to her, and she rushed at the difficulty with hurried,
eager words, resolving that, at any rate, there should be no longer any
doubt between them.
'Mrs Askerton,' she said, 'I know it all. There is nothing for you to
tell. I know what the sword is.'
'What is it that you know?'
'That you were married long ago to Mr Berdmore.'
'Then Mr Belton did do me the honour of talking about me when he was
here?' As she said this she rose from her chair, and stood before Clara
with flashing eyes.
'Not a word. He never mentioned your name, or the name of any one
belonging to you. I have heard it from another.'
'From what other?'
'I do not know that that signifies but I have learned it.'
'Well and what next?'
'I do not know what next. As so much has been told me, and as you had
said that I might ask you, I have come to you, yourself. I shall
believe your own story more thoroughly from yourself than from any
'And suppose I refuse to answer you?'
'Then I can say nothing further.'
'And what will you do?'
'Ah that I do not know. But you are harsh to me, while I am longing to
be kind to you. Can you not see that this has been all forced upon me
partly by yourself?'
'And the other part who has forced that upon you? Who is your
informant? If you mean to be generous, be generous altogether. Is it a
man or a woman that has taken the trouble to rip up old sorrows that my
name may be blackened? But what matters? There I was married to Captain
Berdmore. I left him, and went away with my present husband. For three
years I was a man's mistress, and not his wife. When that poor creature
died we were married, and then came here. Now you know it all all all
though doubtless your informant has made a better story of it. After
that, perhaps, I have been very wicked to sully the air you breathe by
'Why do you say that to me?'
'But no you do not know it all. No one can ever know it all. No one can
ever know how I suffered before I was driven to escape, or how good to
me has been he who who who ' Then she turned her back upon Clara, and,
walking off to the window, stood there, hiding the tears which clouded
her eyes, and concealing the sobs which choked her utterance.
For some moments for a space which seemed long to both of them Clara
kept her seat in silence. She hardly dared to speak; and though she
longed to show her sympathy, she knew not what to say. At last she too
rose and followed the other to the window. She uttered no words,
however, but gently putting her arm around Mrs Askerton's waist, stood
there close to her, looking out upon the cold wintry flower-beds not
venturing to turn her eyes upon her companion. The motion of her arm
was at first very gentle, but after a while she pressed it closer, and
thus by degrees drew her friend to her with an eager, warm, and
enduring pressure. Mrs Askerton made some little effort towards
repelling her, some faint motion of resistance; but as the embrace
became warmer the poor woman yielded herself to it, and allowed her
face to fall upon Clara's shoulder. So they stood, speaking no word,
making no attempt to rid themselves of the tears which were blinding
their eyes, but gazing out through the moisture on the bleak wintry
scene before them. Clara's mind was the more active at the moment, for
she was resolving that in this episode of her life she would accept no
lesson whatever from Lady Aylmer's teaching no, nor any lesson whatever
from the teaching of any Aylmer in existence. And as for the world's
rules, she would fit herself to them as best she could; but no such
fitting should drive her to the unwomanly cruelty of deserting this
woman whom she had known and loved and whom she now loved with a
fervour which she had never before felt towards her.
'You have heard it all now,' said Mrs Askerton at last.
'And is it not better so?'
'Ah I do not know. How should I know?'
'Do you not know?' And as she spoke, Clara pressed her arm still
closer. 'Do you not know yet?' Then, turning herself half round, she
clasped the other woman full in her arms, and kissed her forehead and
'Do you not know yet?'
'But you will go away, and people will tell you that you are wrong.'
'What people?' said Clara, thinking as she spoke of the whole family at
'Your husband will tell you so.'
'I have no husband as yet to order me what to think or what not to
'No not quite as yet. But you will tell him all this.'
'He knows it. It was he who told me.
'What! Captain Aylmer?'
'Yes; Captain Aylmer.'
'And what did he say?'
'Never mind. Captain Aylmer is not my husband not as yet. If he takes
me, he must take me as I am, not as he might possibly have wished me to
be. Lady Aylmer'
'And does Lady Aylmer know it?'
'Yes. Lady Aylmer is one of those hard, severe women who never forgive.'
'Ah, I see it all now. I understand it all. Clara, you must forget me,
and come here no more. You shall not be ruined because you are
'Ruined! If Lady Aylmer's displeasure can ruin me, I must put up with
ruin. I will not accept her for my guide. I am too old, and have had my
own way too long. Do not let that thought trouble you. In this matter I
shall judge for myself. I have judged for myself already.'
'And your father?'
'Papa knows nothing of it.'
'But you will tell him?'
'I do not know. Poor papa is very ill. If he were well I would tell
him, and he would think as I do.'
'And your cousin?'
'You say that he has heard it all.'
'I think so. Do you know that I remembered him the first moment that I
saw him? But what could I do? When you mentioned to me my old name, my
real name, how could I be honest? I have been driven to do that which
has made honesty to me impossible. My life has been a lie; and yet how
could I help it? I must live somewhere and how could I live anywhere
'And yet that is so sad.'
'Sad indeed! But what could I do? Of course I was wrong in the
beginning. Though how am I to regret it, when it has given me such a
husband as I have? Ah if you could know it all, I think I think you
would forgive me.'
Then by degrees she told it all, and Clara was there for hours
listening to her story. The reader will not care to hear more of it
than he has heard. Nor would Clara have desired any closer revelation;
but as it is often difficult to obtain a confidence, so is it
impossible to stop it in the midst of its effusion. Mrs Askerton told
the history of her life of her first foolish engagement, her belief,
her half-belief, in the man's reformation, of the miseries which
resulted from his vices, of her escape and shame, of her welcome
widowhood, and of her second marriage. And as she told it, she paused
at every point to insist on the goodness of him who was now her
husband. 'I shall tell him this,' she said at last. 'as I do
everything; and then he will know that I have in truth got a friend.'
She asked again and again about Mr Belton, but Clara could only tell
her that she knew nothing of her cousin's knowledge. Will might have
heard it all, but if so he had kept his information to himself.
'And now what shall you do?' Mrs Askerton asked of Clara, at length
prepared to go.
'Do? in what way? I shall do nothing.'
'But you will write to Captain Aylmer?'
'Yes I shall write to him.'
'And about this?'
'Yes I suppose I must write to him.'
'And what will you say?'
'That I cannot tell. I wish I knew what to say. If it were to his
mother I could write my letter easily enough.'
'And what would you say to her?'
'I would tell her that I was responsible for my own friends. But I must
go now. Papa will complain that I am so long away.' Then there was
another embrace, and at last Clara found her way out of the house and
was alone again in the park.
She clearly acknowledged to herself that she had a great difficulty
before her. She had committed herself altogether to Mrs Askerton, and
could no longer entertain any thought of obeying the very plainly
expressed commands which Captain Aylmer had given her. The story as
told by Captain Aylmer had been true throughout; but, in the teeth of
that truth, she intended to maintain her acquaintance with Mrs
Askerton. From that there was now no escape. She had been carried away
by impulse in what she had done and said at the cottage, but she could
not bring herself to regret it. She could not believe that it was her
duty to throw over and abandon a woman whom she loved, because that
woman had once, in her dire extremity, fallen away from the path of
virtue. But how was she to write the letter?
When she reached her father he complained of her absence, and almost
scolded her for having been so long at the cottage. 'I cannot see',
said he, 'what you find in that woman to make so much of her.'
'She is the only neighbour I have, papa.'
'And better none than her, if all that people say of her is true.'
'All that people say is never true, papa.'
'There is no smoke without fire. I am not at all sure that it's good
for you to be so much with her.'
'Oh, papa don't treat me like a child.'
'And I'm sure it's not good for me that you should be so much away. For
anything I have seen of you all day you might have been at Perivale.
But you are going soon, altogether, so I suppose I may as well make up
my mind to it.'
'I'm not going for a long time yet, papa.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'I mean that there's nothing to take me away from here at present.'
'You are engaged to be married.'
'But it will be a long engagement. It is one of those engagements in
which neither party is very anxious for an immediate change.' There was
something bitter in Clara's tone as she said this, which the old man
perceived, but could only half understand. Clara remained with him then
for the rest of the day, going down-stairs for five minutes to her
dinner, and then returning to him and reading aloud while he dozed. Her
winter evenings at Belton Castle were not very bright, but she was used
to them and made no complaint.
When she left her father for the night she got out her desk and
prepared herself for her letter to her lover. She was determined that
it should be finished that night before she went to bed. And it was so
finished; though the writing of it gave her much labour, and occupied
her till the late hours had come upon her. When completed it was as
Dear Frederic I received your letter last Sunday, but I could not
answer it sooner, as it required much consideration, and also some
information which I have only obtained today. About the plan of living
at Perivale I will not say much now, as my mind is so full of other
things. I think, however, I may promise that I will never make any
needless difficulty as to your plans. My cousin Will left us on Monday,
so your mother need not have any further anxiety on that head. It does
papa good to have him here, and for that reason I am sorry that he has
gone. I can assure you that I don't think what you said about him meant
anything at all particular. Will is my nearest cousin, and of course
you would be glad that I should like him which I do, very much.
And now about the other subject, which I own has distressed me, as you
supposed it would I mean about Mrs Askerton. I find it very difficult
in your letter to divide what comes from your mother and what from
yourself. Of course I want to make the division, as every word from you
has great weight with me. At present I don't know Lady Aylmer
personally, and I cannot think of her as I do of you. Indeed, were I to
know her ever so well, I could not have the same deference for her that
I have for the man who is to be my husband. I only say this, as I fear
that Lady Aylmer and I may not perhaps agree about Mrs Askerton.
I find that your story about Mrs Askerton is in the main true. But the
person who told it you does not seem to have known any of the
provocations which she received. She was very badly treated by Captain
Berdmore, who, I am afraid, was a terrible drunkard; and at last she
found it impossible to stay with him. So she went away. I cannot tell
you how horrid it all was, but I am sure that if I could make you
understand it, it would go a long way in inducing you to excuse her.
She was married to Colonel Askerton as soon as Captain Berdmore died,
and this took place before she came to Belton. I hope you will remember
that. It all occurred out in India, and I really hardly know what
business we have to inquire about it now.
At any rate, as I have been acquainted with her a long time, and very
intimately, and as I am sure that she has repented of anything that has
been wrong, I do not think that I ought to quarrel with her now. Indeed
I have promised her that I will not. I think I owe it you to tell you
the whole truth, and that is the truth.
Pray give my regards to your mother, and tell her that I am sure she
would judge differently if she were in my place. This poor woman has no
other friend here; and who am I, that I should take upon myself to
condemn her? I cannot do it. Dear Frederic, pray do not be angry with
me for asserting my own will in this matter. I think you would wish me
to have an opinion of my own. In my present position I am bound to have
one, as I am, as yet, responsible for what I do myself. I shall be
very, very sorry, if I find that you differ from me; but still I cannot
be made to think that I am wrong. I wish you were here, that we might
talk it over together, as I think that in that case you would agree
If you can manage to come to us at Easter, or any other time when
Parliament does not keep you in London, we shall be so delighted to see
Yours very affectionately,
MISS AMEDROZ HAS ANOTHER CHANCE
It was on a Sunday morning that Clara's letter reached Aylmer Park,
and Frederic Aylmer found it on his plate as he took his place at the
breakfast-table. Domestic habits at Aylmer Park had grown with the
growth of years till they had become adamantine, and domestic habits
required prayers every morning at a quarter before nine o'clock. At
twenty minutes before nine Lady Aylmer would always be in the
dining-room to make the tea and open the post-bag, and as she was
always there alone, she knew more about other people's letters than
other people ever knew about hers. When these operations were over she
rang the bell, and the servants of the family, who by that time had
already formed themselves into line in the hail, would march in, and
settle themselves on benches prepared for them near the sideboard which
benches were afterwards carried away by the retiring procession. Lady
Aylmer herself always read prayers, as Sir Anthony never appeared till
the middle of breakfast. Belinda would usually come down in a scurry as
she heard her mother's bell, in such a way as to put the army in the
hail to some confusion; but Frederic Aylmer, when he was at home,
rarely entered the room till after the service was over. At Perivale no
doubt he was more strict in his conduct; but then at Perivale he had
special interests and influences which were wanting to him at Aylmer
Park. During those five minutes Lady Aylmer would deal round the
letters to the several plates of the inmates of her house not without
looking at the post-office marks upon them; and on this occasion she
had dealt a letter from Clara to her son.
The arrival of the letter was announced to Frederic Aylmer before he
took his seat.
'Frederic,' said her ladyship, in her most portentous voice, 'I am glad
to say that at last there is a letter from Belton.'
He made no immediate reply, but making his way slowly to his place,
took up the little packet, turned it over in his hand, and then put it
into his pocket. Having done this, he began very slowly with his tea
and egg. For three minutes his mother was contented to make, or to
pretend to make, some effort in the same direction. Then her impatience
became too much for her, and she began to question him.
'Will you not read it, Frederic?'
'Of course I shall, ma'am.'
'But why not do so now, when you know how anxious we are?'
'There are letters which one would sooner read in private.'
'But when a matter is of so much importance ,' said Belinda.
'The importance, Bel, is to me, and not to you,' said her brother.
'All we want to know is,' continued the sister, 'that she promises to
be guided by you in this matter; and of course we feel quite sure that
'If you are quite sure that must be sufficient for you.'
'I really think you need not quarrel with your sister,' said Lady
Aylmer, 'because she is anxious as to the the respectability, I must
say, for there is no other word, of a young lady whom you propose to
make your wife. I can assure you that I am very anxious myself very
Captain Aylmer made no answer to this, but he did not take the letter
from his pocket. He drank his tea in silence, and in silence sent up
his cup to be refilled. In silence also was it returned to him. He ate
his two eggs and his three bits of toast, according to his custom, and
when he had finished, sat out his three or four minutes as was usual.
Then be got up to retire to his room, with the envelope still unbroken
in his pocket.
'You will go to church with us, I suppose?' said Lady Aylmer.
'I won't promise, ma'am; but if I do, I'll walk across the park so that
you need not wait for me.'
Then both the mother and sister knew that the Member for Perivale did
not intend to go to church on that occasion. To morning service Sir
Anthony always went, the habits of Aylmer Park having in them more of
adamant in reference to him than they had as regarded his son.
When the father, mother, and daughter returned, Captain Aylmer had read
his letter, and bad, after doing so, received further tidings from
Belton Castle further tidings which for the moment prevented the
necessity of any reference to the letter, and almost drove it from his
own thoughts. When his mother entered the library he was standing
before the fire with a scrap of paper in his hand.
'Since you have been at church there has come a telegraphic message,'
'What is it, Frederic? Do not frighten me if you can avoid it!'
'You need not be frightened, ma'am, for you did not know him. Mr
Amedroz is dead.'
'No!' said Lady Aylmer, seating herself.
'Dead!' said Belinda, holding up her hands.
'God bless my soul!' said the baronet, who had now followed the ladies
into the room. 'Dead! Why, Fred, he was five years younger than I am!'
Then Captain Aylmer read the words of the message ' Mr Amedroz died
this morning at five o'clock. I have sent word to the lawyer and to Mr
'Who does it come from?' asked Lady Aylmer.
'From Colonel Askerton.'
Lady Aylmer paused, and shook her head, and moved her foot uneasily
upon the carpet. The tidings, as far as they went, might be
unexceptionable, but the source from whence they had come had evidently
polluted them in her ladyship's judgment. Then she uttered a series of
inter-ejaculations, expressions of mingled sorrow and anger.
'There was no one else near her,' said Captain Aylmer apologetically.
'Is there no clergyman in the parish?'
'He lives a long way off. The message had to be sent at once.'
'Are there no servants in the house? It looks it looks . But I am the
last person in the world to form a harsh judgment of a young woman at
such a moment as this. What did she say in her letter, Fred?'
Captain Aylmer had devoted two hours of consideration to the letter
before the telegram had come to relieve his mind by a fresh subject,
and in those two hours he had not been able to extract much of comfort
out of the document. It was, as he felt, a stubborn, stiff-necked,
disobedient, almost rebellious letter. It contained a manifest defiance
of his mother, and exhibited doctrines of most questionable morality.
It had become to him a matter of doubt whether he could possibly marry
a woman who could entertain such ideas and write such a letter. If the
doubt was to be decided in his own mind against Clara, he had better
show the letter at once to his mother, and allow her ladyship to fight
the battle for him a task which, as he well knew, her ladyship would
not be slow to undertake. But he had not succeeded in answering the
question satisfactorily to himself when the telegram arrived and
diverted all his thoughts. Now that Mr Amedroz was dead, the whole
thing might be different. Clara would come away from Belton and Mrs
Askerton, and begin life, as it were, afresh It seemed as though in
such an emergency she ought to have another chance; and therefore he
did not hasten to pronounce his judgment. Lady Aylmer also felt
something of this, and forbore to press her question when it was not
'She will have to leave Belton now, I suppose?' said Sir Anthony.
'The property will belong to a distant cousin a Mr William Belton.'
'And where will she go?' said Lady Aylmer. 'I suppose she has no place
that she can call her home?'
'Would it not be a good thing to ask her here?' said Belinda. Such a
question as that was very rash on the part of Miss Aylmer. In the first
place, the selection of guests for Aylmer Park was rarely left to her;
and in this special case she should have understood that such a
proposal should have been fully considered by Lady Aylmer before it
reached Frederic's ears.
'I think it would be a very good plan,' said Captain Aylmer, generously.
Lady Aylmer shook her head. 'I should like much to know what she has
said about that unfortunate connexion before I offer to take her by the
hand myself. I'm sure Fred will feel that I ought to do so.'
But Fred retreated from the room without showing the letter. He
retreated from the room and betook himself to solitude, that he might
again endeavour to make up his mind as to what he would do. He put on
his hat and his great-coat and gloves, and went off without his
luncheon that he might consider it all. Clara Amedroz had now no home
and, indeed, very little means of providing one. If he intended that
she should be his wife, he must furnish her with a home at once. It
seemed to him that three houses might possibly be open to her of which
one, the only one which under such circumstances would be proper, was
Aylmer Park. The other two were Plaistow Hall and Mrs Askerton's
cottage at Belton. As to the latter should she ever take shelter there,
everything must be over between him and her. On that point there could
be no doubt. He could not bring himself to marry a wife out of Mrs
Askerton's drawing-room, nor could he expect his mother to receive a
young woman brought into the family under such circumstances. And
Plaistow Hall was almost as bad. It was as bad to him, though it would,
perhaps, be less objectionable in the eyes of Lady Aylmer. Should Clara
go to Plaistow Hall there must be an end to everything. Of that also he
taught himself to be quite certain. Then he took out Clara's letter and
read it again. She acknowledged the story about the woman to be true
such a story as it was too and yet refused to quarrel with the woman
had absolutely promised the woman not to quarrel with her! Then he read
and re-read the passage in which Clara claimed the right of forming her
own opinion in such matters. Nothing could be more indelicate nothing
more unfit for his wife. He began to think that he had better show the
letter to his mother, and acknowledge that the match must be broken
off. That softening of his heart which had followed upon the receipt of
the telegraphic message departed from him as he dwelt upon the
stubborn, stiff-necked, unfeminine obstinacy of the letter. Then he
remembered that nothing had as yet been done towards putting his aunt's
fifteen hundred pounds absolutely into Clara's hands; and he remembered
also that she might at the present moment be in great want. William
Belton might, not improbably, assist her in her want, and this idea was
wormwood to him in spite of his almost formed resolution to give up his
own claims. He calculated that the income arising from fifteen hundred
pounds would be very small, and he wished that he had counselled his
aunt to double the legacy. He thought very much about the amount of the
money and the way in which it might be beat expended, and was, after
his cold fashion, really solicitous as to Clara's welfare. If he could
have fashioned her future life, and his own too, in accordance with his
own now existing wishes, I think he would have arranged that neither of
them should marry at all, and that to him should be assigned the duty
and care of being Clara's protector with full permission to tell her
his mind as often as he pleased on the subject of Mrs Askerton. Then he
went in and wrote a note to Mr Green, the lawyer, desiring that the
interest of the fifteen hundred pounds for one year might be at once
remitted to Miss Amedroz. He knew that he ought to write to her himself
immediately, without loss of a post; but how was he to write while
things were in their present position? Were he now to condole with her
on her father's death, without any reference to the great Askerton
iniquity, he would thereby be condoning all that was past, and
acknowledging the truth and propriety of her arguments. And he would be
doing even worse than that. He would be cutting the ground absolutely
from beneath his own feet as regarded that escape from his engagement
which he was contemplating.
What a cold-hearted, ungenerous wretch he must have been! That will be
the verdict against him. But the verdict will be untrue. Cold-hearted
and ungenerous he was; but he was no wretch as men and women are
now-a-days called wretches. He was chilly hearted, but yet quite
capable of enough love to make him a good son, a good husband, and a
good father too. And though he was ungenerous from the nature of his
temperament, he was not close-fisted or over covetous. And he was a
just man, desirous of obtaining nothing that was not fairly his own.
But, in truth, the artists have been so much in the habit of painting
for us our friends' faces without any of those flaws and blotches with
which work and high living are apt to disfigure us, that we turn in
disgust from a portrait in which the roughnesses and pimples are made
But it was essential that he should now do something, and before he sat
down to dinner he did show Clara's letter to his mother. 'Mother,' he
said, as he sat himself down in her little room upstairs and she knew
well by the tone of his voice, and by the mode of his address, that
there was to be a solemn occasion, and a serious deliberative council
on the present existing family difficulty 'mother, of course I have
intended to let you know what is the nature of Clara's answer to my
'I am glad there is to be no secret between us, Frederic. You know how
I dislike secrets in families.' As she said this she took the letter
out of her son's hands with an eagerness that was almost greedy. As she
read it, he stood over her, watching her eyes, as they made their way
down the first page and on to the second, and across to the third, and
so, gradually on, till the whole reading was accomplished. What Clara
had written about her Cousin Will, Lady Aylmer did not quite
understand; and on this point now she was so little anxious that she
passed over that portion of the letter readily. But when she came to
Mrs Askerton and the allusions to herself, she took care to comprehend
the meaning and weight of every word. 'Divide your words and mine! Why
should we want to divide them? Not agree with me about Mrs Askerton!
How is it possible that any decent young woman should not agree with
me! It is a matter in which there is no room for a doubt. True the
story true! Of course it is true. Does she not know that it would not
have reached her from Aylmer Park if it were not true? Provocation!
Badly treated! Went away! Married to Colonel Askerton as soon as
Captain Berdmore died! Why, Frederic, she cannot have been taught to
understand the first principle of morals in life! And she that was so
much with my poor sister! Well, well!' The reader should understand
that the late Mrs Winterfield and Lady Aylmer had never been able to
agree with each other on religious subjects. 'Remember that they are
married. Why should we remember anything of the kind? It does not make
an atom of difference to the woman's character. Repented! How can Clara
say whether she has repented or not? But that has nothing to do with
it. Not quarrel with her as she calls it! Not give her up! Then,
Frederic, of course it must be all over, as far as you are concerned.'
When she had finished her reading, she returned the letter, still open,
to her son, shaking her head almost triumphantly. As far as I am a
judge of a young woman's character, I can only give you one counsel,'
said Lady Aylmer solemnly.
'I think that she should have another chance,' said Captain Aylmer.
'What other chance can you give her? It seems to me that she is
obstinately bent on her own destruction.'
'You might ask her to come here, as Belinda suggested.'
'Belinda was very foolish to suggest anything of the kind without more
'I suppose that my future wife would be made welcome here?
'Yes, Frederic, certainly. I do not know who could be more welcome. But
is she to be your wife?'
'We are engaged.'
'But does not that letter break any engagement? Is there not enough in
that to make such a marriage quite out of the question? What do you
think about it yourself, Frederic?'
'I think that she should have another chance.'
What would Clara have thought of all this herself if she could have
heard the conversation between Lady Aylmer and her betrothed husband,
and have known that her lover was proposing to give her 'another
chance?' But it is lucky for us that we seldom know what our best
friends say on our behalf, when they discuss us and our faults behind
'What chance, Frederic, can she have? She knows all about this horrid
woman, and yet refuses to give her up! What chance can she have after
'I think that you might have her here and talk to her.' Lady Aylmer, in
answer to this, simply shook her head. And I think she was right in
supposing that such shaking of her head was a sufficient reply to her
son's proposition. What talking could possibly be of service to such a
one as this Miss Amedroz? Why should she throw her pearls before swine?
'We must either ask her to come here, or else I must go to her,' said
'I don't see that at all, Frederic.'
'I think it must be so. As she is situated at present she has got no
home; and I think it would be very horrid that she should be driven
into that woman's house, simply because she has no other shelter for
'I suppose she can remain where she is for the present?
'She is all alone, you know; and it must be very gloomy and her cousin
can turn her out at a moment's notice.'
'But that would not entitle her to come here, unless'
'No I quite understand that. But you cannot wonder that I should feel
the hardship of her position.'
'Who is to be blamed if it be hard? You see, Frederic, I take my
standing upon that letter her own letter. How am I to ask a young woman
into my house who declares openly that my opinion on such a matter goes
for nothing with her? How am I to do it? That's what I ask you. How am
I to do it? It's all very well for Belinda to suggest this and that.
But how am I to do it? That's what I want to know.'
But at last Lady Aylmer managed to answer the question for herself, and
did do it. But this was not done on that Sunday afternoon, nor on the
Monday, nor on the Tuesday. The question was closely debated, and at
last the anxious mother perceived that the giving of the invitation
would be more safe than withholding it. Captain Aylmer at last
expressed his determination to go to Belton unless the invitation were
given; and then, should he do that, there might be danger that he would
never be again seen at Aylmer Park till he brought Clara Amedroz with
him as his wife. The position was one of great difficulty, but the
interests at stake were so immense that something must be risked. It
might be that Clara would not come when invited, and in that case her
obstinacy would be a great point gained. And if she came ! Well; Lady
Aylmer admitted to herself that the game would be difficult difficult
and very troublesome; but yet it might be played, and perhaps won. Lady
Aylmer was a woman who had great confidence in herself. Not so utterly
had victory in such contests deserted her hands, that she need fear to
break a lance with Miss Amedroz beneath her own roof, when the occasion
was so pressing.
The invitation was therefore sent in a note written by herself, and was
enclosed in a letter from her son. After much consultation and many
doubts on the subject, it was at last agreed that nothing further
should now be urged about Mrs Askerton. 'She shall have her chance,'
said Lady Aylmer over and over again, repeating her son's words. 'She
shall have her chance.' Lady Aylmer, therefore, in her note, confined
herself strictly to the giving of the invitation, and to a suggestion
that, as Clara had now no settled home of her own, a temporary sojourn
at Aylmer Park might be expedient. And Captain Aylmer in his letter
hardly said much more. He knew, as he wrote the words, that they were
cold and comfortless, and that he ought on such an occasion to have
written words that should have been warm at any rate, even though they
might not have contained comfort. But, to have written with affection,
he should have written at once, and he had postponed his letter from
the Sunday till the Wednesday. It had been absolutely necessary that
that important question as to the invitation should be answered before
he could write at all.
When all this was settled he went up to London; and there was an
understanding between him and his mother that he should return to
Aylmer Park with Clara, in the event of her acceptance of the
'You won't go down to Belton for her?' said the mother.
'No I do not think that will be necessary,' said the son.
'I should think not,' said the mother.
WILLIAM BELTON DOES NOT GO OUT HUNTING
WE will now follow the other message which was sent down into Norfolk,
and which did not get into Belton's hands till the Monday morning. He
was sitting with his sister at breakfast, and was prepared for hunting,
when the paper was brought into the room. Telegraphic messages were not
very common at Plaistow Hall, and on the arrival of any that had as yet
reached that house, something of that awe had been felt with which such
missives were always accompanied in their earliest days. 'A telegruff
message, mum, for Mr William,' said the maid, looking at her mistress
with eyes opened wide, as she handed the important bit of paper to her
master. Will opened it rapidly, laying down the knife and fork with
which he was about to operate upon a ham before him. He was dressed in
boots and breeches, and a scarlet coat in which garb he was, in his
sister's eyes, the most handsome man in Norfolk.
'Oh, Mary!' he exclaimed.
'What is it, Will?'
'Mr Amedroz is dead.'
Miss Belton put out her hand for the paper before she spoke again, as
though she could better appreciate the truth of what she heard when
reading it herself on the telegraph slip than she had done from her
brother's words. 'How sudden! how terribly sudden!' she said.
'Sudden indeed. When I left him he was not well, certainly, but I
should have said that he might have lived for twenty years. Poor old
man! I can hardly say why it was so, but I had taken a liking to him.'
'You take a liking to everybody, Will.'
'No I don't. I know people I don't like.' Will Belton as he said this
was thinking of Captain Aylmer, and he pressed the heel of his boot
hard against the floor.
'And Mr Amedroz is dead! It seems to be so terribly sudden. What will
she do, Will?'
'That's what I'm thinking about.'
'Of course you are, my dear. I can see that. I wish I wish'
'It's no good wishing anything, Mary. I don't think wishing ever did
any good yet. If I might have my wish, I shouldn't know how to have it.'
'I was wishing that you didn't think so much about it.'
'You need not be troubled about me. I shall do very well. But what is
to become of her now at once? Might she not come here? You are now the
nearest female relation that she has.'
Mary looked at him with her anxious, painful eyes, and he knew by her
look that she did not approve of his plan. 'I could go away,' he
continued. 'She could come to you without being troubled by seeing me.'
'And where would you go, Will?'
'What does it matter? To the devil, I suppose.'
'Oh, Will, Will!'
'You know what I mean. I'd go anywhere. Where is she to find a home
till till she is married?' He had paused at the word; but was
determined not to shrink from it, and bolted it out in a loud, sharp
tone so that both he and she recognized all the meaning of the word all
that was conveyed in the idea. He hated himself when he endeavoured to
conceal from his own mind any of the misery that was coming upon him.
He loved her. He could not get over it. The passion was on him like a
palsy, for the shaking off of which no sufficient physical energy was
left to him. It clung to him in his goings out and comings in with a
painful, wearing tenacity, against which he would now and again
struggle, swearing that it should be so no longer but against which he
always struggled in vain. It was with him when he was hunting. He was
ever thinking of it when the bird rose before his gun. As he watched
the furrow, as his men and horses would drive it straight and deep
through the ground, he was thinking of her and not of the straightness
and depth of the furrow, as had been his wont in former years. Then he
would turn away his f toe, and stand alone in his field, blinded by the
salt drops in his eyes, weeping at his own weakness. And when he was
quite alone, he would stamp his foot on the ground, and throw abroad
his arms, and curse himself. What Nessus's shirt was this that had
fallen upon him, and unmanned him from the sole of his foot to the top
of his head? He went through the occupations of the week. He hunted,
and shot, and gave his orders, and paid his men their wages but he did
it all with a palsy of love upon him as he did it. He wanted her, and
he could not overcome the want. He could not bear to confess to himself
that the thing by which he had set so much store could never belong to
him. His sister understood it all, and sometimes he was almost angry
with her because of her understanding it. She sympathized with him in
all his moods, and sometimes he would shake away her sympathy as though
it scalded him. 'Where is she to find a home till till she is married?'
Not a word had as yet been said between them about the property which
was now his estate. He was now Belton of Belton, and it must be
supposed that both he and she had remembered that it was so. But
hitherto not a word had been said between them on that point. Now she
was compelled to allude to it. 'Cannot she live at the Castle for the
'What all alone?'
'Of course she is remaining there now.'
'Yes,' said he, 'of course she is there now. Now! Why, remember what
these telegraphic messages are. He died only on yesterday morning. Of
course she is there, but I do not think it can be good that she should
remain there. There is no one near her where she is but that Mrs
Askerton. It can hardly be good for her to have no other female friend
at such a time as this.'
'I do not think that Mrs Askerton will hurt her.'
'Mrs Askerton will not hurt her at all and as long as Clara does not
know the story, Mrs Askerton may serve as well as another. But yet'
'Can I go to her, Will?'
'No, dearest. The journey would kill you in winter. And he would not
like it. We are bound to think of that for her sake cold-hearted,
thankless, meagre-minded creature as I know he is.'
'I do not know why he should be so bad.'
'No, nor I. But I know that he is. Never mind. Why should we talk about
him? I suppose she'll have to go there to Aylmer Park. I suppose they
will send for her, and keep her there till it's all finished. I'll tell
you what, Mary I shall give her the place.'
'What Belton Castle?'
'Why not? Will it ever be of any good to you or me? Do you want to go
and live there?'
'No, indeed not for myself.'
'And do you think that I could live there? Besides why should she be
turned out of her father's house?
'He would not be mean enough to take it.'
'He would be mean enough for anything. Besides, I should take very good
care that it should be settled upon her.'
'That's nonsense, Will it is indeed. You are now William Belton of
Belton, and you must remain so.'
'Mary I would sooner be Will Belton with Clara Amedroz by my side to
get through the world with me, and not the interest of an acre either
at Belton Castle or at Plaistow Hall! And I believe I should be the
richer man at the end if there were any good in that.' Then he went out
of the room, and she heard him go through the kitchen, and knew that he
passed out into the farm-yard, towards the stable, by the back-door. He
intended, it seemed, to go on with his hunting in spite of this death
which had occurred. She was sorry for it, but she could not venture to
stop him. And she was sorry also that nothing had been settled as to
the writing of any letter to Clara. She, however, would take upon
herself to write while he was gone.
He went straight out towards the stables, hardly conscious of what he
was doing or where he was going, and found his hack ready saddled for
him in the stall. Then he remembered that he must either go or come to
some decision that he would not go. The horse that he intended to ride
had been sent on to the meet, and if he were not to be used, some
message must be dispatched as to the animal's return. But Will was half
inclined to go, although he knew that the world would judge him to be
heartless if he were to go hunting immediately on the receipt of the
tidings which had reached him that morning. He thought that he would
like to set the world at defiance in this matter. Let Frederic Aylmer
go into mourning for the old man who was dead. Let Frederic Aylmer be
solicitous for the daughter who was left lonely in the old house. No
doubt. he, Will Belton, had inherited the dead man's estate, and
should, therefore, in accordance with all the ordinary rules of the
world on such matters, submit himself at any rate to the decency of
funereal reserve. An heir should not be seen out hunting on the day on
which such tidings as to his heritage had reached him. But he did not
wish, in his present mood, to be recognized as the heir. He did not
want the property. He would have preferred to rid himself altogether of
any of the obligations which the ownership of the estate entailed upon
him. It was not permitted to him to have the custody of the old
squire's daughter, and therefore he was unwilling to meddle with any of
the old squire's concerns.
Belton had gone into the stable, and had himself loosed the animal,
leading him out into the yard as though he were about to mount him.
Then he had given the reins to a stable boy, and had walked away among
the farm buildings, not thinking of what he was doing. The lad stood
staring at him with open mouth, not at all understanding his master's
hesitation. The meet, as the boy knew, was fourteen miles off, and
Belton had not allowed himself above an hour and a half for the
journey. It was his practice to jump into the saddle and bustle out of
the place, as though seconds were important to him. He would look at
his watch with accuracy, and measure his pace from spot to spot, as
though minutes were too valuable to be lost. But now he wandered away
like one distraught, and the stable boy knew that something was wrong.
'I thout he was a thinken of the white cow as choked 'erself with the
tunnup that was skipped in the chopping,' said the boy, as he spoke of
his master afterwards to the old groom. At last, however, a thought
seemed to strike Belton. 'Do you get on Brag,' he said to the boy, 'and
ride off to Goldingham Corner, and tell Daniel to bring the horse home
again. I shan't hunt today. And I think I shall go away from home. If
so, tell him to be sure the horses are out every morning and tell him
to stop their beans. I mightn't hunt again for the next month.' Then he
returned into the house, and went to the parlour in which his sister
was sitting. 'I shan't go out today,' he said.
'I thought you would not, Will,' she answered.
'Not that I see any harm in it.'
'I don't say that there is any harm, but it is as well on such
occasions to do as others do.'
'That's humbug, Mary.'
'No, Will; I do not think that. When any practice has become the fixed
rule of the society in which we live, it is always wise to adhere to
that rule, unless it call upon us to do something that is actually
wrong. One should not offend the prejudices of the world, even if one
is quite sure that they are prejudices.'
'It hasn't been that that has brought me back, Mary. I'll tell you
what. I think I'll go down to Belton after all.'
His sister did not know what to say in answer to this. Her chief
anxiety was, of course, on behalf of her brother. That he should be
made to forget Clara Amedroz, if that were only possible, was her great
desire; and his journey at such a time as this down to Belton was not
the way to accomplish such forgetting. And then she felt that Clara
might very possibly not wish to see him. Had Will simply been her
cousin, such a visit might be very well; but he had attempted to be
more than her cousin, and therefore it would probably not be well.
Captain Aylmer might not like it; and Mary felt herself bound to
consider even Captain Aylmer's likings in such a matter. And yet she
could not bear to oppose him in anything. 'It would be a very long
journey,' she said.
'What does that signify?'
'And then it might so probably be for nothing.'
'Why should it be for nothing?'
'Because what? Why don't you speak out? You need not be afraid of
hurting me. Nothing that you can say can make it at all worse than it
'Dear Will, I wish I could make it better.'
'But you can't. Nobody can make it either better or worse. I promised
her once before that I would go to her when she might be in trouble,
and I will be as good as my word. I said I would be a brother to her
and so I will. So help me God, I will!' Then he rushed out of the room,
striding through the door as though he would knock it down, and hurried
up. stairs to his own chamber. When there he stripped himself of his
hunting things, and dressed himself again with all the expedition in
his power; and then he threw a heap of clothes into a large
portmanteau, and set himself to work packing as though everything in
the world were to depend upon his catching a certain train. And he went
to a locked drawer, and taking out a cheque-book, folded it up and put
it into his pocket. Then he rang the bell violently; and as he was
locking the portmanteau, pressing down the lid with all his weight and
all his strength, he ordered that a certain mare should be put into a
certain dog-cart and that somebody might be ready to drive over with
him to the Downham Station. Within twenty minutes of the time of his
rushing upstairs he appeared again before his sister with a greatcoat
on, and a railway rug hanging over his arm. 'Do you mean that you are
going today?' said she.
'Yes. I'll catch the 11.40 up-train at Downham. What's the good of
going unless I go at once? If I can be of any use it will be at the
first. It may be that she will have nobody there to do anything for
'There is the clergyman, and Colonel Askerton even if Captain Aylmer
has not gone down.'
'The clergyman and Colonel Askerton are nothing to her. And if that man
is there I can come back again.'
'You will not quarrel with him?'
'Why should I quarrel with him? What is there to quarrel about? I'm not
such a fool as to quarrel with a man because I hate him. If he is there
I shall see her for a minute or two, and then I shall come back.'
'I know it is no good my trying to dissuade you.'
'None on earth. If you knew it all you would not try to dissuade me.
Before I thought of asking her to be my wife and yet I thought of that
very soon but before I ever thought of that, I told her that when she
wanted a brother's help I would give it her. Of course I was thinking
of the property that she shouldn't be turned out of her father's house
like a beggar. I hadn't any settled plan then how could I? But I meant
her to understand that when her father died I would be the same to her
that I am to you. If you were alone, in distress, would I not go to
'But I have no one else, Will,' said she, stretching out her hand to
him where he stood.
'That makes no difference,' he replied, almost roughly. A promise is a
promise, and I resolved from the first that my promise should hold good
in spite of my disappointment. Dear, dear it seems but the other day
when I made it and now, already, everything is changed.' As he was
speaking the servant entered the room, and told him that the horse and
gig were ready for him. 'I shall just do it nicely,' said he, looking
at his watch. 'I have over an hour. God bless you, Mary. I shan't be
away long. You may be sure of that.'
'I don't suppose you can tell as yet, Will.'
'What should keep me long? I shall see Green as I go by, and that is
half of my errand. I dare say I shan't stay above a night down in
'You'll have to give some orders about the estate.'
'I shall not say a word on the subject to anybody; that is, not to
anybody there. I am going to look after her, and not the estate.' Then
he stooped down and kissed his sister, and in another minute was
turning the corner out of the farm-yard on to the road at a quick pace,
not losing a foot of ground in the turn, in that fashion of rapidity
which the horses at Plaistow Hall soon learned from their master. The
horse is a closely sympathetic beast, and will make his turns, and do
his trottings, and comport himself generally in strict unison with the
pulsation of his master's heart. When a horse won't jump it is
generally the case that the inner man is declining to jump also, let
the outer man seem ever so anxious to accomplish the feat.
Belton, who was generally very communicative with his servants, always
talking to any man he might have beside him in his dog-cart about the
fields and cattle and tillage around him, said not a word to the boy
who accompanied him on this occasion. He had a good many things to
settle in his mind before he got to London, and he began upon the work
as soon as he had turned the corner out of the farm-yard. As regarded
this Belton estate, which was now altogether his own, he had always bad
doubts and qualms qualms of feeling rather than of conscience; and he
had, also, always entertained a strong family ambition. His people,
ever so far back, had been Beltons of Belton. They told him that his
family could be traced back to very early days before the Plantagenets,
as he believed, though on this point of the subject he was very hazy in
his information and he liked the idea of being the man by whom the
family should be reconstructed in its glory. Worldly circumstances had
been so kind to him, that he could take up the Belton estate with more
of the prestige of wealth than had belonged to any of the owners of the
place for many years past. Should it come to pass that living there
would be desirable, he could rebuild the old house, and make new
gardens, and fit himself out with all the pleasant braveries of a
well-to-do English squire. There need be no pinching and scraping, no
question whether a carriage would be possible, no doubt as to the
prudence of preserving game. All this had given much that was
delightful to his prospects. And he had, too, been instigated by a
somewhat weak desire to emerge from that farmer's rank into which he
knew that many connected with him had supposed him to have sunk. It was
true that he farmed land that was half his own and that, even at
Plaistow, he was a wealthy man; but Plaistow Hall, with all its
comforts, was a farm-house; and the ambition to be more than a farmer
had been strong upon him.
But then there had been the feeling that in taking the Belton estate he
would be robbing his Cousin Clara of all that should have been hers. It
must be remembered that he had not been brought up in the belief that
he would ever become the owner of Belton. All his high ambition in that
matter had originated with the wretched death of Clara's brother. Could
he bring himself to take it all with pleasure, seeing that it came to
him by so sad a chance by a catastrophe so deplorable? When he would
think of this, his mind would revolt from its own desires, and he would
declare to himself that his inheritance would come to him with a stain
of blood upon it. He, indeed, would have been guiltless; but how could
he take his pleasure in the shades of Belton without thinking of the
tragedy which had given him the property? Such had been the thoughts
and desires, mixed in their nature and militating against each other,
which had induced him to offer his first visit to his cousin's house.
We know what was the effect of that visit, and by what pleasant scheme
he had endeavoured to overcome all his difficulties, and so to become
master of Belton that Clara Amedroz should also be its mistress. There
had been a way which, after two days' intimacy with Clara, seemed to
promise him comfort and happiness on all sides. But he had come too
late, and that way was closed against him! Now the estate was his, and
what was he to do with it? Clara belonged to his rival, and in what way
would it become him to treat her? He was still thinking simply of the
cruelty of the circumstances which had thrown Captain Aylmer between
him and his cousin, when he drove himself up to the railway station at
'Take her back steady, Jem,' he said to the boy.