Part 7 out of 9
allusion either to the glories or deficiencies of Norfolk. As he could
think of no other subject on which to speak at the spur of the moment,
he sat himself down and took up a paper; Belton took up another, and so
they remained till Clara made her appearance. That Captain Aylmer read
his paper is probable enough. He was not a man easily disconcerted, and
there was nothing in his present position to disconcert him. But I feel
sure that Will Belton did not read a word. He was angry with this
rival, whom he hated, and was angry with himself for showing his anger.
He would have wished to appear to the best advantage before this man,
or rather before Clara in this man's presence; and he knew that in
Clara's absence be was making such a fool of himself that he would be
unable to recover his prestige. He had serious thoughts within his own
breast whether it would not be as well for him to get up from his seat
and give Captain Aylmer a thoroughly good thrashing: 'Drop into him and
punch his head,' as he himself would have expressed it. For the moment
such an exercise would give him immense gratification. The final
results would, no doubt, be disastrous; but then, all future results,
as far as he could see them, were laden with disaster. He was still
thinking of this, eyeing the man from under the newspaper, and telling
himself that the feat would probably be too easy to afford much
enjoyment, when Clara re-entered the room. Then he got up, acting on
the spur of the moment got up quickly and suddenly, and began to bid
'But you are going to dine here, Will?' she said.
'No; I think not.'
'You promised you would. You told me you had nothing to do to-night.'
Then she turned to Captain Aylmer. 'You expect my cousin to dine with
'I ordered dinner for three,' said Captain Aylmer.
'Oh, very well; it's all the same thing to me,' said Will.
'And to me,' said Captain Aylmer.
'It's not all the same thing to me,' said Clara. 'I don't know when I
may see my cousin again. I should think it very bad of you, Will, if
you went away this evening.'
'I'll go out just for half an hour,' said he, 'and be back to dinner.'
'We dine at seven,' said the captain. Then Belton took his hat and left
the two lovers together.
'Your cousin seems to be a rather surly sort of gentleman.' Those were
the first words which Captain Aylmer spoke when he was alone with the
lady of his love. Nor was he demonstrative of his affection by any of
the usual signs of regard which are permitted to accepted lovers. He
did not offer to kiss her, nor did he attempt to take her hand with a
warmer pressure now that he was alone with her. He probably might have
gone through some such ceremony had he first met Clara in a position
propitious to such purposes; but, as it was, he had been a little
ruffled by Will Belton's want of good breeding, and had probably
forgotten that any such privileges might have been his. I wonder
whether any remembrance flashed across Clara's mind at this moment of
her Cousin Will's great iniquity in the sitting-room at Belton Castle.
She thought of it very often, and may possibly have thought of it now.
'I don't believe that he is surly, Frederic,' she said. 'He may,
perhaps, be out of humour.'
'And why should he be out of humour with me? I only suggested to him
that it might suit him to live at Belton instead of at that farm of
his, down in Norfolk.'
'He is very fond of Plaistow, I fancy.'
'But that's no reason why he should be cross with me. I don't envy him
his taste, that's all. If he can't understand that he, with his name,
ought to live on the family property which belongs to him, it isn't
likely that anything that I can say will open his eyes upon the
'The truth is, Frederic, he has some romantic notion about the Belton
'What romantic notion?'
'He thinks it should not be his at all.'
'Whose then? Who does he think should have it?'
'Of course there can be nothing in it, you know; of course, it's all
'But what is his idea? Who does he think should be the owner?
'He means that it should be mine. But of course, Frederic, it is all
nonsense; we know that.'
It did not seem to be quite clear at the moment that Frederic had
altogether made up his mind upon the subject. As he heard those tidings
from Clara there came across his face a puzzled, dubious look, as
though he did not quite understand the proposition which had been
suggested to him as though some consideration were wanted before he
could take the idea home to himself and digest it, so as to enable
himself to express an opinion upon it. There might be something in it
some show of reason which did not make itself clear to Clara's feminine
mind. 'I have never known what was the precise nature of your father's
marriage settlement,' said he.
Then Clara began to explain with exceeding eagerness that there was no
question as to the accuracy of the settlement, or the legality of the
entail that indeed there was no question as to anything. Her Cousin
Will was romantic, and that was the end of it. Of course quite as a
matter of course, this romance would lead to nothing; and she had only
mentioned the subject now to show that her cousin's mind might possibly
be disturbed when the question of his future residence was raised. 'I
quite feel with you,' she said, 'that it will be much nicer that he
should live at the old family place; but just at present I do not speak
'If he is thinking of not claiming Belton, it is quite another thing,'
'It is his without any claiming,' said Clara.
'Ah, well; it will all be settled before long,' said Aylmer.
'It is settled already,' said Clara.
At seven the three met again, and when the dinner was on the table
there was some little trouble as to the helping of the fish. Which of
the two men should take the lead on the occasion? But Clara decided the
question by asking her cousin to make himself useful. There can be
little doubt but that Captain Aylmer would have distributed the mutton
chops with much more grace, and have carved the roast fowl with much
more skill; but it suited Clara that Will should have the employment,
and Will did the work. Captain Aylmer, throughout the dinner,
endeavoured to be complaisant, and Clara exerted herself to talk as
though all matters around them were easy. Will, too, made his effort,
every now and then speaking a word, and restraining himself from
snapping at his rival; but the restraint was in itself evident, and
there were symptoms throughout the dinner that the untamed man was
longing to fly at the throat of the man that was tamed.
'Is it supposed that I ought to go away for a little while?' said
Clara, as soon as she had drunk her own glass of wine.
'Oh dear, no,' said the captain. 'We'll have a cup of coffee that is,
if Mr Belton likes it.'
'It's all the same to me,' said Will.
'But won't you have some more wine?' Clara asked.
'No more for me,' said Captain Aylmer. 'Perhaps Mr Belton'
'Who; I? No; I don't want any more wine,' said Will; and then they were
It was very hard upon Clara. After a while the coffee came, and even
that was felt to be a comfort. Though there was no pouring out to be
done, no actual employment enacted, still the manoeuvring of the cups
created a diversion. 'If either of you like to smoke,' she said, 'I
shan't mind it in the least.' But neither of them would smoke. 'At what
hour shall we get to Aylmer Park tomorrow?' Clara asked.
'At half-past four,' said the captain.
'Oh, indeed so early as that.' What was she to say next? Will, who had
not touched his coffee, and who was sitting stiffly at the table as
though he were bound in duty not to move, was becoming more and more
grim every moment. She almost repented that she had asked him to remain
with them. Certainly there was no comfort in his company, either to
them or to himself. 'How long shall you remain in town, Will, before
you go down to Plaistow?' she asked.
'One day,' he replied.
'Give my kind love my very kindest love to Mary. I wish I knew her. I
wish I could think that I might soon know her.'
'You'll never know her,' said Belton. The tone of his voice was
actually savage as he spoke so much so that Aylmer turned in his chair
to look at him, and Clara did not dare to answer him. But now that he
had been made to speak, it seemed that he was determined to persevere.
'How should you ever know her? Nothing will ever bring you into
Norfolk, and nothing will ever take her out of it.'
'I don't quite see why either of those assertions should be made.'
'Nevertheless they're both true. Had you ever meant to come to Norfolk
you would have come now.' He had not even asked her to come, having
arranged with his sister that in their existing circumstances any such
asking would not be a kindness; and yet he rebuked her now for not
'My mother is very anxious that Miss Amedroz should pay her a visit at
Aylmer Park,' said the captain.
'And she's going to Aylmer Park, so your mother's anxiety need not
disturb her any longer.'
'Come, Will, don't be out of temper with us,' said Clara. 'It is our
last night together. We, who are so dear to each other, ought not to
'I'm not quarrelling with you, said he.
'I can hardly suppose that Mr Belton wants to quarrel with me,' said
Captain Aylmer, smiling.
'I'm sure he does not,' said Clara. Belton sat silent, with his eyes
fixed upon the table, and with a dark frown upon his brow. He did long
to quarrel with Captain Aylmer; but was still anxious, if it might be
possible, to save himself from what he knew would be a transgression.
'To use a phrase common with us down in Yorkshire,' said Aylmer, 'I
should say that Mr Belton had got out of bed the wrong side this
'What the d does it matter to you, sir, what side I got out of bed?'
said Will, clenching both his fists. Oh if he might have only been
allowed to have a round of five minutes with Aylmer, he would have been
restored to good temper for that night, let the subsequent results have
been what they might. He moved his feet impatiently on the floor, as
though he were longing to kick something; and then he pushed his
coffee-cup away from him, upsetting half the contents upon the table,
and knocking down a wineglass, which was broken.
'Will Will!' said Clara, looking at him with imploring eyes.
'Then he shouldn't talk to me about getting out of bed on the wrong
side; I didn't say anything to him.'
'It is unkind of you, Will, to quarrel with Captain Aylmer because he
is my friend.'
'I don't want to quarrel with him; or, rather, as I won't quarrel with
him because you don't wish it, I'll go away. I can't do more than that.
I didn't want to dine with him here. There's my cousin Clara, Captain
Aylmer; I love her better than all the world besides. Love her! It
seems to me that there's nothing else in the world for me to love. I'd
give my heart for her this minute. All that I have in the world is
hers. Oh love her! I don't believe that it's in you to know what I mean
when I say that I love her! She tells me that he's going to be your
wife. You can't suppose that I can be very comfortable under those
circumstances or that I can be very fond of you. I'm not very fond of
you. Now I'll go away, and then I shan't trouble you any more. But look
here if ever you should ill-treat her, whether you marry her or whether
you don't, I'll crush every bone in your skin.' Having so spoken he
went to the door, but stopped himself before he left the room.
'Good-bye, Clara. I've got a word or two more to say to you, but I'll
write you a line down-stairs. You can show it to him if you please.
It'll only be about business. Good-night.'
She had got up and followed him to the door, and he had taken her by
the hand. 'You shouldn't let your passion get the better of you in this
way,' she said; but the tone of her voice was very soft, and her eyes
were full of love.
'I suppose not,' said he.
'I can forgive him,' said Captain Aylmer.
'D your forgiveness,' said Will Belton. Then Clara dropped the hand
and started back, and the door was shut, and Will Belton was gone.
'Your cousin seems to be a nice sort of young man,' said Aylmer.
'Cannot you understand it all, Frederic, and pardon him?'
'I can pardon him easily enough; but one doesn't like men who are given
to threatening. He's not the sort of man that I took him to be.'
'Upon my word I think he's as nearly perfect as a man can be.'
'Then you like men to swear at you, and to swagger like Bobadils and to
misbehave themselves, so that one has to blush for them if a servant
chances to hear them. Do you really think that he has conducted himself
today like a gentleman?'
'I know that he is a gentleman,' said Clara.
'I must confess I have no reason for supposing him to be so but your
'And I hope that is sufficient, Frederic.'
Captain Aylmer did not answer her at once, but sat for awhile silent,
considering what he would say. Clara, who understood his moods, knew
that he did not mean to drop the subject, and resolved that she would
defend her cousin, let Captain Aylmer attack him as he would.
'Upon my word, I hardly know what to say about it,' said Aylmer.
'Suppose then, that we say nothing more. Will not that be best?'
'No, Clara. I cannot now let the matter pass by in that way. You have
asked me whether I do not think Mr Belton to be a gentleman, and I must
say that I doubt it. Pray hear me out before you answer me. I do not
want to be harder upon him than I can help; and I would have borne, and
I did bear from him, a great deal in silence. But he said that to me
which I cannot allow to pass without notice. He had the bad taste to
speak to me of his his regard for you.'
'I cannot see what harm he did by that except to himself.'
'I believe that it is understood among gentlemen that one man never
speaks to another man about the lady the other man means to marry,
unless they are very intimate friends indeed. What I mean is, that if
Mr Belton had understood how gentlemen live together he would never
have said anything to me about his affection for you. He should at any
rate have supposed me to be ignorant of it. There is something in the
very idea of his doing so that is in the highest degree in-delicate. I
wonder, Clara, that you do not see this yourself.'
'I think he was indiscreet.'
'Indiscreet! Indiscreet is not the word for such conduct. I must say,
that as far as my opinion goes, it was ungentlemanlike.'
'I don't believe that there is a nobler-minded gentleman in all London
than my Cousin Will.'
'Perhaps it gratified you to hear from him the assurance of his love?'
said Captain Aylmer.
'If it is your wish to insult me, Frederic, I will leave you'.
'It is my wish to make you understand that your judgment has been
'That is simply a matter of opinion, and as I do not wish to argue with
you about it, I had better go. At any rate I am very tired. Goodnight,
Frederic.' He then told her what arrangements he had made for the
morrow, and what hour she would be called, and when she would have her
breakfast. After that he let her go without making any further allusion
to Will Belton.
It must be admitted that the meeting between the lovers had not been
auspicious; and it must be acknowledged, also, that Will Belton had
behaved very badly. I am not aware of the existence of that special
understanding among gentlemen in respect to the ladies they are going
to marry which Captain Aylmer so eloquently described; but,
nevertheless, I must confess that Belton would have done better had he
kept his feelings to himself. And when he talked of crushing his
rival's bones, he laid himself justly open to severe censure. But, for
all that, he was no Bobadil. He was angry, sore, and miserable; and in
his anger, soreness, and misery, he had allowed himself to be carried
away. He felt very keenly his own folly, even as he was leaving the
room, and as he made his way out of the hotel he hated himself for his
own braggadocio. 'I wish some one would crush my bones,' he said to
himself almost audibly. 'No one ever deserved to be crushed better than
Clara, when she got to her own room, was very serious and very sad.
What was to be the end of it all? This had been her first meeting after
her father's death with the man whom she had promised to marry; indeed,
it was the first meeting after her promise had been given; and they had
only met to quarrel. There had been no word of love spoken between
them. She had parted from him now almost in anger, without the
slightest expression of confidence between them almost as those part
who are constrained by circumstances to be together, but who yet hate
each other and know that they hate each other. Was there in truth any
love between him and her? And if there was none, could there be any
advantage, any good either to him or to her, in this journey of hers to
Aylmer Park? Would it not be better that she should send for him and
tell him that they were not suited for each other, and that thus she
should escape from all the terrors of Lady Aylmer? As she thought of
this, she could not but think of Will Belton also. Not a gentleman! If
Will Belton was not a gentleman, she desired to know nothing further of
gentlemen. Women are so good and kind that those whom they love they
love almost the more when they commit offences, because of the offences
so committed. Will Belton had been guilty of great offences of offences
for which Clara was pre. pared to lecture him in the gravest manner
should opportunities for such lectures ever come but I think that they
had increased her regard for him rather than diminished it. She could
not, however, make up her mind to send for Captain Aylmer, and when she
went to bed she had resolved that the visit to Yorkshire must be made.
Before she left the room the following morning, a letter was brought to
her from her cousin, which had been written that morning. She asked the
maid to inquire for him, and sent down word to him that if he were in
the house she specially wished to see him; but the tidings came from
the hall porter that he had gone out very early, and had expressly said
that he should not breakfast at the inn.
The letter was as follows:
I meant to have handed to you the enclosed in person, but I lost my
temper last night like a fool as I am and so I couldn't do it. You need
not have any scruple about the money which I send œ100 in ten ten-pound
notes as it is your own. There is the rent due up to your father's
death, which is more than what I now enclose, and there will be a great
many other items, as to all of which you shall have a proper account.
When you want more, you had better draw on me, till things are settled.
It shall all be done as soon as possible. It would not be comfortable
for you to go away without money of your own, and I suppose you would
not wish that he should pay for your journeys and things before you are
Of course I made a fool of myself yesterday. I believe that I usually
do. It is not any good my begging your pardon, for I don't suppose I
shall ever trouble you any more. Good-bye, and God bless you.
Your affectionate Cousin,
It was a bad day for me when I made up my mind to go to Belton Castle
Clara, when she had read the letter, sat down and cried, holding the
bundle of notes in her hand. What would she do with them? Should she
send them back? Oh no she would do nothing to displease him, or to make
him think that she was angry with him. Besides, she had none of that
dislike to taking his money which she had felt as to receiving money
from Captain Aylmer. He had said that she would be his sister, and she
would take from him any assistance that a sister might properly take
from a brother.
She went down-stairs and met Captain Aylmer in the sitting-room. He
stepped up to her as soon as the door was closed, and she could at once
see that he had determined to forget the unpleasantness of the previous
evening. He stepped up to her, and gracefully taking her by one hand,
and passing the other behind her waist, saluted her in a becoming and
appropriate manner. She did not like it. She especially disliked it,
believing in her heart of hearts that she would never become the wife
of this man whom she had professed to love and whom she really had once
loved. But she could only bear it. And, to say the truth, there was not
much suffering of that kind to be borne.
Their journey down to Yorkshire was very prosperous. He maintained his
good humour throughout the day, and never once said a word about Will
Belton. Nor did he say a word about Mrs Askerton. 'Do your best to
please my mother, Clara,' he said, as they were driving up from the
park lodges to the house. This was fair enough, and she therefore
promised him that she would do her best.
MISS AMEDROZ HAS SOME HASHED CHICKEN
Clara felt herself to be a coward as the Aylmer Park carriage, which
had been sent to meet her at the station, was drawn up at Sir Anthony
Aylmer's door. She had made up her mind that she would not bow down to
Lady Aylmer, and yet she was afraid of the woman. As she got out of the
carriage, she looked up, expecting to see her in the hall; but Lady
Aylmer was too accurately acquainted with the weights and measures of
society for any such movement as that. Had her son brought Lady Emily
to the house as his future bride, Lady Aylmer would probably have been
in the hall when the arrival took place; and had Clara possessed ten
thousand pounds of her own, she would probably have been met at the
drawing-room door; but as she had neither money nor title as she in
fact brought with her no advantages of any sort Lady Aylmer was found
stitching a bit of worsted, as though she had expected no one to come
to her. And Belinda Aylmer was stitching also by special order from her
mother. The reader will remember that Lady Aylmer was not without
strong hope that the engagement might even yet be broken off. Snubbing,
she thought, might probably be efficacious to this purpose, and so
Clara was to be snubbed.
Clara, who had just promised to do her best to gain Lady Aylmer's
opinion, and who desired to be in some way true to her promise, though
she thoroughly believed that her labour would be in vain, put on her
pleasantest smile as she entered the room. Belinda, under the pressure
of the circumstances, forgetting somewhat of her mother's injunctions,
hurried to the door to welcome the stranger. Lady Aylmer kept her
chair, and even maintained her stitch, till Clara was half across the
room. Then she got up, and with great mastery over her voice, made her
'We are delighted to see you, Miss Amedroz,' she said, putting out her
hand of which Clara, however, felt no more than the finger.
'Quite delighted,' said Belinda, yielding a fuller grasp. Then there
were affectionate greetings between Frederic and his mother and
Frederic and his sister, during which Clara stood by, ill at ease.
Captain Aylmer said not a word as to the footing on which his future
wife had come to his father's house. He did not ask his mother to
receive her as another daughter, or his sister to take his Clara to her
heart as a sister. There had been no word spoken of recognized
intimacy. Clara knew that the Aylmers were cold people. She had learned
as much as that from Captain Aylmer's words to herself, and from his
own manner. But she had not expected to be so frozen by them as was the
case with her now. In ten minutes she was sitting down with her bonnet
still on, and Lady Aylmer was again at her stitches.
'Shall I show you your room?' said Belinda.
'Wait a moment, my dear,' said Lady Aylmer. 'Frederic has gone to see
if Sir Anthony is in his study.'
Sir Anthony was found in his study, and now made his appearance.
'So this is Clara Amedroz,' he said. 'My dear, you are welcome to
Aylmer Park.' This was so much better, that the kindness expressed
though there was nothing special in it brought a tear into Clara's eye,
and almost made her love Sir Anthony.
'By the by, Sir Anthony, have you seen Darvel? Darvel was wanting to
see you especially about Nuggins. Nuggins says that he'll take the
bullocks now.' This was said by Lady Aylmer, and was skilfully arranged
by her to put a stop to anything like enthusiasm on the part of Sir
Anthony. Clara Amedroz had been invited to Aylmer Park, and was to be
entertained there, but it would not be expedient that she should be
made to think that anybody was particularly glad to see her, or that
the family was at all proud of the proposed connexion. Within five
minutes after this she was up in her room, and had received from
Belinda tenders of assistance as to her lady's maid. Both the mother
and daughter had been anxious to learn whether Clara would bring her
own maid. Lady Aylmer, thinking that she would do so, had already
blamed her for extravagance. 'Of course Fred will have to pay for the
journey and all the rest of it,' she had said. But as soon as she had
perceived that Clara had come without a servant, she had perceived that
any young woman who travelled in that way must be unfit to be mated
with her son. Clara, whose intelligence in such matters was sharp
enough, assured Belinda that she wanted no assistance. 'I dare say you
think it very odd,' she said, 'but I really can dress myself.' And when
the maid did come to unpack the things, Clara would have sent her away
at once had she been able. But the maid, who was not a young woman, was
obdurate. 'Oh no, miss; my lady wouldn't be pleased. If you please,
miss, I'll do it.' And so the things were unpacked.
Clara was told that they dined at half-past seven, and she remained
alone in her room till dinner- time, although it had not yet struck
five when she had gone upstairs. The maid had brought her up a cup of
tea, and she seated herself at her fire, turning over in her mind the
different members of the household in which she found herself. It would
never do. She told herself over and over again that it would never come
to pass that that woman should be her mother-in-law, or that that other
woman should be her sister. It was manifest to her that she was
distasteful to them; and she had not lost a moment in assuring herself
that they were distasteful to her. What purpose could it answer that
she should strive not to like them, for no such strife was possible but
to appear to like them? The whole place and everything about it was
antipathetic to her. Would it not be simply honest to Captain Aylmer
that she should tell him so at once, and go away? Then she remembered
that Frederic had not spoken to her a single word since she had been
under his father's roof. What sort of welcome would have been accorded
to her had she chosen to go down to Plaistow Hall?
At half-past seven she made her way by herself downstairs. In this
there was some difficulty, as she remembered nothing of the rooms
below, and she could not at first find a servant. But a man at last did
come to her in the hall, and by him she was shown into the
drawing-room. Here she was alone for a few minutes. As she looked about
her, she thought that no room she had ever seen had less of the comfort
of habitation. It was not here that she had met Lady Aylmer before
dinner. There had, at any rate, been in that other room work things,
and the look of life which life gives to a room. But here there was no
life. The furniture was all in its place, and everything was cold and
grand and comfortless. They were making company of her at Aylmer Park!
Clara was intelligent in such matters, and understood it all thoroughly.
Lady Aylmer was the first person to come to her. 'I hope my maid has
been with you,' said she to which Clara muttered something intended for
thanks. 'You'll find Richards a very clever woman, and quite a proper
'I don't at all doubt that.'
'She has been here a good many years, and has perhaps little ways of
her own but she means to be obliging.'
'I shall give her very little trouble, Lady Aylmer. I am used to dress
myself.' I am afraid this was not exactly true as to Clara's past
habits; but she could dress herself, and intended to do so in future,
and in this way justified the assertion to herself.
'You had better let Richards come to you, my dear, while you are here,'
said Lady Aylmer, with a slight smile on her countenance which outraged
Clara more even than the words. 'We like to see young ladies nicely
dressed here.' To be told that she was to be nicely dressed because she
was at Aylmer Park! Her whole heart was already up in rebellion. Do her
best to please Lady Aylmer! It would be utterly impossible to her to
make any attempt whatever in that direction. There was something in her
ladyship's eye a certain mixture of cunning, and power, and hardness in
the slight smile that would gather round her mouth, by which Clara was
revolted. She already understood much of Lady Aylmer, but in one thing
she was mistaken. She thought that she saw simply the natural woman;
but she did, in truth, see the woman specially armed with an intention
of being disagreeable, made up to give offence, and prepared to create
dislike and enmity. At the present moment nothing further was said, as
Captain Aylmer entered the room, and his mother immediately began to
talk to him in whispers.
The first two days of Clara's sojourn at Aylmer Park passed by without
the occurrence of anything that was remarkable. That which most
surprised and annoyed her, as regarded her own position, was the
coldness of all the people around her, as connected with the actual
fact of her engagement. Sir Anthony was very courteous to her, but had
never as yet once alluded to the fact that she was to become one of his
family as his daughter-in-law. Lady Aylmer called her Miss Amedroz
using the name with a peculiar emphasis, as though determined to show
that Miss Amedroz was to be Miss Amedroz as far as any one at Aylmer
Park was concerned and treated her almost as though her presence in the
house was intrusive. Belinda was as cold as her mother in her mother's
presence; but when alone with Clara would thaw a little. She, in her
difficulty, studiously avoided calling the new-corner by any name at
all. As to Captain Aylmer, it was manifest to Clara that he was
suffering almost more than she suffered herself. His position was so
painful that she absolutely pitied him for the misery to which he was
subjected by his own mother. They still called each other Frederic and
Clara, and that was the only sign of special friendship which
manifested itself between them. And Clara, though she pitied him, could
not but learn to despise him. She had hitherto given him credit at any
rate for a will of his own. She had believed him to be a man able to
act in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience. But now she
perceived him to be so subject to his mother that he did not dare to
call his heart his own. What was to be the end of it all? And if there
could only be one end, would it not be well that that end should be
reached at once, so that she might escape from her purgatory?
But on the afternoon of the third day there seemed to have come a
change over Lady Aylmer. At lunch she was especially civil civil to the
extent of picking out herself for Clara, with her own fork, the breast
of a hashed fowl from a dish that was before her. This she did with
considerable care I may say, with a show of care; and then, though she
did not absolutely call Clara by her Christian name, she did call her
'my dear'. Clara saw it all, and felt that the usual placidity of the
afternoon would be broken by some special event. At three o'clock, when
the carriage as usual came to the door, Belinda was out of the way, and
Clara was made to understand that she and Lady Aylmer were to be driven
out without any other companion. 'Belinda is a little busy, my dear.
So, if you don't mind, we'll go alone.' Clara of course assented, and
got into the carriage with a conviction that now she would hear her
fate. She was rather inclined to think that Lady Aylmer was about to
tell her that she had failed in obtaining the approbation of Aylmer
Park, and that she must be returned as goods of a description inferior
to the order given. If such were the case, the breast of the chicken
had no doubt been administered as consolation. Clara had endeavoured,
since she had been at Aylmer Park, to investigate her own feelings in
reference to Captain Aylmer; but had failed, and knew that she had
failed. She wished to think that she loved him, as she could not endure
the thought of having accepted a man whom she did not love. And she
told herself that he bad done nothing to forfeit her love. A woman who
really loves will hardly allow that her love should be forfeited by any
fault. True love breeds forgiveness for all faults. And, after all, of
what fault had Captain Aylmer been guilty? He had preached to her out
of his mother's mouth. That had been all! She had first accepted him,
and then rejected him, and then accepted him again; and now she would
fain be firm, if firmness were only possible to her. Nevertheless, if
she were told that she was to be returned as inferior, she would hold
up her head under such disgrace as best she might, and would not let
the tidings break her heart.
'My dear,' said Lady Aylmer, as soon as the trotting horses and rolling
wheels made noise enough to prevent her words from reaching the
servants on the box. 'I want to say a few words to you and I think that
this will be a good opportunity.'
'A very good opportunity,' said Clara.
'Of course, my dear, you are aware that I have heard of something going
on between you and my son Frederic.' Now that Lady Aylmer had taught
herself to call Clara 'my dear', it seemed that she could hardly call
her so often enough.
'Of course I know that Captain Aylmer has told you of our engagement.
But for that, I should not be here.'
'I don't know how that might be,' said Lady Aylmer; 'but at any rate,
my dear, he has told me that since the day of my sister's death there
has been in point of fact, a sort of engagement.'
'I don't think Captain Aylmer has spoken of it in that way.'
'In what way? Of course he has not said a word that was not nice and
lover-like, and all that sort of thing. I believe he would have done
anything in the world that his aunt had told him; and as to his'
'Lady Aylmer!' said Clara, feeling that her voice was almost trembling
with anger,' I am sure you cannot intend to be unkind to me?'
'Or to insult me?'
'Insult you, my dear! You should not use such strong words, my dear;
indeed you should not. Nothing of the kind is near my thoughts.'
'If you disapprove of my marrying your son, tell me so at once, and I
shall know what to do.'
'It depends, my dear it depends on circumstances, and that is just why
I want to speak to you.'
'Then tell me the circumstances though indeed I think it would have
been better if they could have been told to me by Captain Aylmer
'There, my dear, you must allow me to judge. As a mother, of course I
am anxious for my son. Now Frederic is a poor man. Considering the kind
of society in which he has to live, and the position which he must
maintain as a Member of Parliament, he is a very poor man.'
This was an argument which Clara certainly had not expected that any of
the Aylmer family would condescend to use. She had always regarded
Captain Aylmer as a rich man since he had inherited Mrs Winterfield's
property, knowing that previously to that he had been able to live in
London as rich men usually do live. 'Is he?' said she. 'It may seem odd
to you, Lady Aylmer, but I do not think that a word has ever passed
between me and your son as to the amount of his income.'
'Not odd at all, my dear. Young ladies are always thoughtless about
those things, and when they are looking to be married think that money
will come out of the skies.'
'If you mean that I have been looking to be married'
'Well expecting. I suppose you have been expecting it.' Then she
paused; but as Clara said nothing, she went on. 'Of course, Frederic
has got my sister's moiety of the Perivale property about eight hundred
a year, or something of that sort, when all deductions are made. He
will have the moiety when I die, and if you and he can be satisfied to
wait for that event which may not perhaps be very long '. Then there
was another pause, indicative of the melancholy natural to such a
suggestion, during which Clara looked at Lady Aylmer, and made up her
mind that her ladyship would live for the next twenty-five years at
least. 'If you can wait for that,' she continued, it may be all very
well, and though you will be poor people, in Frederic's rank of life,
you will be able to live.'
'That will be so far fortunate,' said Clara.
'But you'll have to wait,' said Lady Aylmer, turning upon her companion
almost fiercely. 'That is, you certainly will have to do so if you are
to depend upon Frederic's income alone.'
'I have nothing of my own as he knows; absolutely nothing.'
'That does not seem to be quite so clear,' said Lady Aylmer, speaking
now very cautiously or rather with a purpose of great caution; 'I don't
think that that is quite so clear. Frederic has been telling me that
there seems to be some sort of a doubt about the settlement of the
'There is no sort of doubt whatsoever no shadow of a doubt. He is quite
'Don't be in such a hurry, my dear. It is not likely that you yourself
should be a very good lawyer.'
'Lady Aylmer, I must be in a hurry lest there should be any mistake
about this. There is no question here for lawyers. Frederic must have
been misled by a word or two which I said to him with quite another
purpose. Everybody concerned knows that the Belton estate goes to my
cousin Will. My poor father was quite aware of it.'
'That is all very well; and pray remember, my dear, that you need not
attack me in this way. I am endeavouring, if possible, to arrange the
accomplishment of your own wishes. It seems that Mr Belton himself does
not claim the property.'
'There is no question of claiming. Because he is a man more generous
than any other person in the world romantic ally generous he has
offered to give me the property which was my father's for his lifetime;
but I do not suppose that you would wish, or that Captain Aylmer would
wish, that I should accept such an offer as that.' There was a tone in
her voice as she said this, and a glance in her eye as she turned her
face full upon her companion, which almost prevailed against Lady
Aylmer's force of character.
'I really don't know, my dear,' said Lady Aylmer. 'You are so violent.'
'I certainly am eager about this. No consideration on earth would
induce me to take my cousin's property from him.'
'It always seemed to me that that entail was a most unfair proceeding.'
'What would it signify even if it were which it was not? Papa got
certain advantages on those conditions. But what can all that matter?
It belongs to Will Belton.'
Then there was another pause, and Clara thought that that subject was
over between them. But Lady Aylmer had not as yet completed her
purpose. Shall I tell you, my dear, what I think you ought to do?'
'Certainly, Lady Aylmer; if you wish it.'
'I can at any rate tell you what it would become any young lady to do
under such circumstances. I suppose you will give me credit for knowing
as much as that. Any young lady placed as you are would be recommended
by her friends if she had friends able and fit to give her advice to
put the whole matter into the hands of her natural friends and her
lawyer together. Hear me out, my dear, if you please. At least you can
do that for me, as I am taking a great deal of trouble on your behalf.
You should let Frederic see Mr Green. I understand that Mr Green was
your father's lawyer. And then Mr Green can see Mr Belton. And so the
matter can be arranged. It seems to me, from what I hear, that in this
way, and in this way only; something can be done as to the proposed
marriage. In no other way can anything be done.'
Then Lady Aylmer had finished her argument, and throwing herself back
into the carriage, seemed to intimate that she desired no reply. She
had believed and did believe that her guest was so intent upon marrying
her son, that no struggle would be regarded as too great for the
achievement of that object. And such belief was natural on her part.
Mothers always so think of girls engaged to their sons, and so think
especially when the girls are penniless and the sons are well-to-do in
the world. But such belief, though it is natural, is sometimes wrong
and it was altogether wrong in this instance. 'Then,' said Clara,
speaking very plainly,' nothing can be done.'
'Very well, my dear.'
After that there was not a word said between them till the carriage was
once more within the park. Then Lady Aylmer spoke again. 'I presume you
see, my dear, that under these circumstances any thought of marriage
between you and my son must be quite out of the question at any rate
for a great many years.'
'I will speak to Captain Aylmer about it, Lady Aylmer.'
'Very well, my dear. So do. Of course he is his own master. But he is
my son as well, and I cannot see him sacrificed without an effort to
When Clara came down to dinner on that day she was again Miss Amedroz,
and she could perceive from Belinda's manner quite as plainly as from
that of her ladyship that she was to have no more tit-bits of hashed
chicken specially picked out for her by Lady Aylmer's own fork., That
evening and the two next days passed, just as had passed the two first
days, and everything was dull, cold, and uncomfortable. Twice she had
walked out with Frederic, and on each occasion had thought that he
would refer to what his mother had said; but he did not venture to
touch upon the subject. Clara more than once thought that she would do
so herself; but when the moment came she found that it was impossible.
She could not bring herself to say anything that should have had the
appearance of a desire on her part to hurry on a marriage. She could
not say to him, 'If you are too poor to be married or even if you mean
to put forward that pretence say so at once.' He still called her
Clara, and still asked her to walk with him, and still talked, when
they were alone together, in a distant cold way, of the events of their
future combined life. Would they live at Perivale? Would it be
necessary to refurnish the house? Should he keep any of the land on his
own hands? These are all interesting subjects of discussion between an
engaged man and the girl to whom he is engaged; but the man, if he wish
to make them thoroughly pleasant to the lady, should throw something of
the urgency of a determined and immediate purpose into the discussion.
Something should be said as to the actual destination of the rooms. A
day should be fixed for choosing the furnishing. Or the gentleman
should declare that he will at once buy the cows for the farm. But with
Frederic Aylmer all discussions seemed to point to some cold, distant
future, to which Clara might look forward as she did to the joys of
heaven. Will Belton would have bought the ring long since, and bespoken
the priest, and arranged every detail of the honeymoon, tour and very
probably would have stood looking into a cradle shop with longing eyes.
At last there came an absolute necessity for some plain speaking.
Captain Aylmer declared his intention of returning to London that he
might resume his parliamentary duties. He had purposed to remain till
after Easter, but it was found to be impossible. 'I find I must go up
tomorrow,' he said at breakfast. 'They are going to make a stand about
the poor-rates, and I must be in the House in the evening.' Clara felt
herself to be very cold and uncomfortable. As things were at present
arranged, she was to be left at Aylmer Park without a friend. And how
long was she to remain there? No definite ending had been proposed for
her visit. Something must be said and something settled before Captain
Aylmer went away.
'You will come down for Easter, of course,' said his mother.
'Yes; I shall come down for Easter, I think or at any rate at
'You must come at Easter, Frederic,' said his mother.
'I don't doubt but I shall,' said he.
'Miss Amedroz should lay her commands upon him,' said Sir Anthony
'Nonsense, said Lady Aylmer.
'I have commands to lay upon him all the same,' said Clara; 'and if he
will give me half an hour this morning he shall have them.' To this
Captain Aylmer, of course, assented as how could he escape from such
assent and a regular appointment was made, Captain Aylmer and Miss
Amedroz were to be closeted together in the little back drawing-room
immediately after breakfast. Clara would willingly have avoided any
such formality could she have done so compatibly with the exigencies of
the occasion. She had been obliged to assert herself when Lady Aylmer
had rebuked Sir Anthony, and then Lady Aylmer had determined that an
air of business should be assumed. Clara, as she was marched off into
the back drawing-room followed by her lover with more sheep-like gait
even than her own, felt strongly the absurdity and the wretchedness of
her position. But she was determined to go through with her purpose.
'I am very sorry that I have to leave you so soon,' said Captain
Aylmer, as soon as the door was shut and they were alone together.
'Perhaps it may be better as it is, Frederic; as in this way we shall
all come to understand each other, and something will be settled.'
'Well, yes; perhaps that will be best.'
'Your mother has told me that she disapproves of our marriage.'
'No; not that, I think, I don't think she can have quite said that.'
'She says that you cannot marry while she is alive that is, that you
cannot marry me because your income would not be sufficient.'
'I certainly was speaking to her about my income.'
'Of course I have got nothing.' Here she paused. 'Not a penny-piece in
the world that I can call my own.'
'Oh yes, you have.'
'You have your aunt's legacy?'
'No; I have not. She left me no legacy. But as that is between you and
me, if we think of marrying each other, that would make no difference.'
'None at all, of course.'
'But in truth I have got nothing. Your mother said something to me
about the Belton estate; as though there was some idea that possibly it
might come to me.'
'Your cousin himself seemed to think so.'
'Frederic, do not let us deceive ourselves. There can be nothing of the
kind. I could not accept any portion of the property from my cousin
even though our marriage were to depend upon it.'
'Of course it does not.'
'But if your means are not sufficient for your wants I am quite ready
to accept that reason as being sufficient for breaking our engagement.'
'There need be nothing of the kind.'
'As for waiting for the death of another person for your mother's
death, I should think it very wrong. Of course, if our engagement
stands there need be no hurry; but some time should be fixed.' Clara as
she said this felt that her face and forehead were suffused with a
blush; but she was determined that it should be said, and the words
'I quite think so too,' said he.
'I am glad that we agree. Of course, I will leave it to you to fix the
'You do not mean at this very moment?' said Captain Aylmer, almost
'No; I did not mean that.'
'I'll tell you what. I'll make a point of coming down at Easter. I
wasn't sure about it before, but now I will be. And then it shall be
Such was the interview; and on the next morning Captain Aylmer started
for London. Clara felt, aware that she had not done or said all that
should have been done and said; but, nevertheless, a step in the right
direction had been taken.
THE AYLMER PARK HASHED CHICKEN COMES TO AN END
Easter in this year fell about the middle of April, and it still
wanted three weeks of that time when Captain Aylmer started for London.
Clara was quite alive to the fact that the next three weeks would not
be a happy time for her. She looked forward, indeed, to so much
wretchedness during this period, that the days as they came were not
quite so bad as she had expected them to be. At first Lady Aylmer said
little or nothing to her. It seemed to be agreed between them that
there was to be war, but that there was no necessity for any of the
actual operations of war during the absence of Captain Aylmer. Clara
had become Miss Amedroz again; and though an offer to be driven out in
the carriage was made to her every day, she was in general able to
escape the infliction so that at last it came to be understood that
Miss Amedroz did not like carriage exercise. She has never been used to
it,' said Lady Aylmer to her daughter. 'I suppose not,' said Belinda;
'but if she wasn't so very cross she'd enjoy it just for that reason.'
Clara sometimes walked about the grounds with Belinda, but on such
occasions there was hardly anything that could be called conversation
between them, and Frederic Aylmer's name was never mentioned.
Captain Aylmer had not been gone many days before she received a letter
from her cousin, in which he spoke with absolute certainty of his
intention of giving up the estate. He had, he said, consulted Mr Green,
and the thing was to be done. 'But it will be better, I think,' he went
on to say, 'that I should manage it for you till after your marriage. I
simply mean what I say. You are not to suppose that I shall interfere
in any way afterwards. Of course there will be a settlement, as to
which I hope you will allow me to see Mr Green on your behalf.' In the
first draught of his letter he had inserted a sentence in which he
expressed a wish that the property should be so settled that it might
at last all come to some one bearing the name of Belton. But as he read
this over, the condition for coming from him it would be a condition
seemed to him to be ungenerous, and he expunged it. 'What does it
matter who has it,' he said to himself bitterly, 'or what he is called?
I will never set eyes upon his children, nor yet upon the place when he
has become the master of it.' Clara wrote both to her cousin and to the
lawyer, repeating her assurance with great violence, as Lady Aylmer
would have said that she would have nothing to with the Belton estate.
She told Mr Green that it would be useless for him to draw up any
deeds. 'It can't be made mine unless I choose to have it,' she said,
'and I don't choose to have it.' Then there came upon her a terrible
fear. What if she should marry Captain Aylmer after all; and what if
he, when he should be her husband, should take the property on her
behalf! Something must be done before her marriage to prevent the
possibility of such results something as to the efficacy of which for
such prevention she could feel altogether certain.
But could she marry Captain Aylmer at all in her present mood? During
these three weeks she was unconsciously teaching herself to hope that
she might be relieved from her engagement. She did not love him. She
was becoming aware that she did not love him. She was beginning to
doubt whether, in truth, she had ever loved him. But yet she felt that
she could not, escape from her engagement if he should show himself to.
be really actuated by any fixed purpose to carry it out; nor could she
bring herself to be so weak before Lady Aylmer as to seem to yield. The
necessity of not striking her colours was forced upon her by the
warfare to which she was subjected. She was unhappy, feeling that her
present position in life was bad, and unworthy of her. She could have
brought herself almost to run away from Aylmer Park, as a boy runs away
from school, were it not that she had no place to which to run. She
could not very well make her appearance at Plaistow Hall, and say that
she had come there for shelter and succour. She could, indeed, go to
Mrs Askerton's cottage for awhile; and the more she thought of the
state of her affairs, the more did she feel sure that that would,
before long, be her destiny. It must be her destiny unless Captain
Aylmer should return at Easter with purposes so firmly fixed that even
his mother should not be able to prevail against them.
And now, in these days, circumstances gave her a new friend or perhaps,
rather, a new acquaintance, where she certainly had looked neither for
the one or for the other. Lady Aylmer and Belinda and the carriage and
the horses used, as I have said, to go off without her. This would take
place soon after luncheon. Most of us know how the events of the day
drag themselves on tediously in such a country house as Aylmer Park -a
country house in which people neither read, nor flirt, nor gamble, nor
smoke, nor have resort to the excitement of any special amusement.
Lunch was on the table at half-past one, and the carriage was at the
door at three. Eating and drinking and the putting on of bonnets
occupied the hour and a half. From breakfast to lunch Lady Aylmer, with
her old 'front', would occupy herself with her household accounts. For
some days after Clara's arrival she put on her new 'front' before
lunch; but of late since the long conversation in the carriage the new
'front' did not appear till she came down for the carriage. According
to the theory of her life, she was never to be seen by any but her own
family in her old 'front'. At breakfast she would appear with head so
mysteriously enveloped with such a bewilderment of morning caps that
old 'front' or new 'front' was all the same. When Sir Anthony perceived
this change when he saw that Clara was treated as though she belonged
to Aylmer Park then he told himself that his son's marriage with Miss
Amedroz was to be; and, as Miss Amedroz seemed to him to be a very
pleasant young woman, he would creep out of his own quarters when the
carriage was gone and have a little chat with her being careful to
creep away again before her ladyship's return. This was Clara's new
'Have you heard from Fred since he has been gone?' the old man asked
one day, when he had come upon Clara still seated in the parlour in
which they had lunched. He had been out, at the front of the house,
scolding the under-gardener; but the man had taken away his barrow and
left him, and Sir Anthony had found himself without employment.
'Only a line to say that he is to be here on the sixteenth.'
'I don't think people write so many love-letters as they did when I was
young,' said Sir Anthony.
'To judge from the novels, I should think not. The old novels used to
be full of love-letters.'
'Fred was never good at writing, I think.'
'Members of Parliament have too much to do, I suppose,' said Clara.
'But he always writes when there is any business. He's a capital man of
business. I wish I could say as much for his brother or for myself.'
'Lady Aylmer seems to like work of that sort.'
'So she does. She's fond of it I am not. I sometimes think that Fred
takes after her. Where was it you first knew him?'
'At Perivale. We used, both of us, to be staying with Mrs Winterfield.'
'Yes, yes; of course. The most natural thing in life. Well, my dear, I
can assure you that I am quite satisfied.'
'Thank you, Sir Anthony. I'm glad to hear you say even as much as that.'
'Of course money is very desirable for a man situated like Fred; but
he'll have enough, and if he is pleased, I am. Personally, as regards
yourself, I am more than pleased. I am indeed.'
'It's very good of you to say so.'
Sir Anthony looked at Clara, and his heart was softened towards her as
he saw that there was a tear in her eye. A man's heart must be very
hard when it does not become softened by the trouble of a woman with
whom he finds himself alone. 'I don't know how you and Lady Aylmer get
on together,' he said; 'but it will not be my fault if we are not
'I am afraid that Lady Aylmer does not like me,' said Clara.
'Indeed. I was afraid there was something of that. But you must
remember she is hard to please. You'll find she'll come round in time.'
'She thinks that Captain Aylmer should not marry a woman without money.'
'That's all very well; but I don't see why Fred shouldn't please
himself, He's old enough to know what he wants.'
'Is he, Sir Anthony? That's just the question. I'm not quite sure that
he does know what he wants.'
'Fred doesn't know, do you mean?'
'I don't quite think he does, sir. And the worst of it is, I am in
doubt as well as he.'
'In doubt about marrying him?'
'In doubt whether it will be good for him or for any of us. I don't
like to come into a family that does not desire to have me.'
'You shouldn't think so much of Lady Aylmer as all that, my dear.'
'But I do think a great deal of her.'
'I shall be very glad to have you as a daughter-in-law. And as for Lady
Aylmer between you and me, my dear, you shouldn't take every word she
says so much to heart. She's the best woman in the world, and I'm sure
I'm bound to say so. But she has her temper, you know; and I don't
think you ought to give way to her altogether. There's the carriage. It
won't do you any good if we're found together talking over it all; will
it?' Then the baronet hobbled off, and Lady Aylmer, when she entered
the room, found Clara sitting alone.
Whether it was that the wife was clever enough to extract from her
husband something of the conversation that had passed between him and
Clara, or whether she had some other source of information or whether
her conduct might proceed from other grounds, we need not inquire; but
from that afternoon Lady Aylmer's manner and words to Clara became much
less courteous than they had been before. She would always speak as
though some great iniquity was being committed, and went about the
house with a portentous frown, as though some terrible measure must
soon be taken with the object of putting an end to the present
extremely improper state of things. All this was so manifest to Clara,
that she said to Sir Anthony one day that she could no longer bear the
look of Lady Aylmer's displeasure and that she would be forced to leave
Aylmer Park before Frederic's return, unless the evil were mitigated.
She had by this time told Sir Anthony that she much doubted whether the
marriage would be possible, and that she really believed that it would
be best for all parties that the idea should be abandoned. Sir Anthony,
when he heard this, could only shake his head and hobble away. The
trouble was too deep for him to cure.
But Clara still held on; and now there wanted but two days to Captain
Aylmer's return, when, all suddenly, there arose a terrible storm at
Aylmer Park, and then came a direct and positive quarrel between Lady
Aylmer and Clara a quarrel direct and positive and, on the part of both
ladies, very violent.
Nothing had hitherto been said at Aylmer Park about Mrs Askerton
nothing, that is, since Clara's arrival. And Clara had been thankful
for this silence. The letter which Captain Aylmer had written to her
about Mrs Askerton will perhaps be remembered, and Clara's answer to
that letter. The Aylmer Park opinion as to this poor woman, and as to
Clara's future conduct towards the poor woman, had been expressed very
strongly; and Clara had as strongly resolved that she would not be
guided by Aylmer Park opinions in that matter. She had anticipated much
that was disagreeable on this subject, and had therefore congratulated
herself not a little on the absence of all allusion to it. But Lady
Aylmer had, in truth, kept Mrs Askerton in reserve, as a battery to be
used against Miss Amedroz if all other modes of attack should fail as a
weapon which would be powerful when other weapons had been powerless.
For a while she had thought it possible that Clara might be the owner
of the Belton estate, and then it had been worth the careful mother's
while to be prepared to accept a daughter-in-law so dowered. We have
seen how the question of such ownership had enabled her to put forward
the plea of poverty which she had used on her son's behalf. But since
that, Frederic had declared his intention of marrying the young woman
in spite of his poverty, and Clara seemed to be equally determined. 'He
has been fool enough to speak the word, and she is determined to keep
him to it,' said Lady Aylmer to her daughter. Therefore the Askerton
battery was brought to bear not altogether unsuccessfully.
The three ladies were sitting together in the drawing-room, and had
been as mute as fishes for half an hour. In these sittings they were
generally very silent, speaking only in short little sentences. 'Will
you drive with us today, Miss Amedroz?' 'Not today, I think, Lady
Aylmer.' 'As you are reading, perhaps you won't mind our leaving you?'
'Pray do not put yourself to inconvenience for me, Miss Aylmer,' Such
and such like was their conversation; but on a sudden, after a full
half- hour's positive silence, Lady Aylmer asked a question altogether
of another kind. 'I think, Miss Amedroz, my son wrote to you about a
certain Mrs Askerton?'
Clara put down her work and sat for a moment almost astonished. It was
not only that Lady Aylmer had asked so very disagreeable a question,
but that she had asked it with so peculiar a voice a voice as it were a
command, in a manner that was evidently intended to be taken as
serious, and with a look of authority in her eye, as though she were
resolved that this battery of hers should knock the enemy absolutely in
the dust! Belinda gave a little spring in her chair, looked intently at
her work, and went on stitching faster than before. 'Yes, he did,' said
Clara, finding that an answer was imperatively demanded from her.
'It was quite necessary that he should write. I believe it to be an
undoubted fact that Mrs Askerton is is is not at all what she ought to
'Which of us is what we ought to be?' said Clara.
'Miss Amedroz, on this subject I am not at all inclined to joke. Is it
not true that Mrs Askerton'
'You must excuse me, Lady Aylmer, but what I know of Mrs Askerton, I
know altogether in confidence; so that I cannot speak to you of her
'But, Miss Amedroz, pray excuse me if I say that I must speak of it.
When I remember the position in which you do us the honour of being our
visitor here, how can I help speaking of it?' Belinda was stitching
very hard, and would not even raise her eyes. Clara, who still held her
needle in her hand, resumed her work, and for a moment or two made no
further answer. But Lady Aylmer had by no means completed her task.
'Miss Amedroz,' she said, 'you must allow me to judge for myself in
this matter. The subject is one on which I feel myself obliged to speak
'But I have got nothing to say about it.'
'You have, I believe, admitted the truth of the allegations made by us
as to this woman.' Clara was becoming very angry. A red spot showed
itself on each cheek, and a frown settled upon her brow. She did not as
yet know what she would say or how she would conduct herself. She was
striving to consider how best she might assert her own independence.
But she was fully determined that in this matter she would not bend an
inch to Lady Aylmer. 'I believe we may take that as admitted?', said
'I am not aware that I have admitted anything to you, Lady Aylmer, or
said anything that can justify you in questioning me on the subject.'
'Justify me in questioning a young woman who tells me that she is to be
my future daughter-in-law!'
'I have not told you so. I have never told you anything of the kind.'
'Then on what footing, Miss Amedroz, do you do us the honour of being
with us here at Aylmer Park?'
'On a very foolish footing.'
'On a foolish footing! What does that mean?'
'It means that I have been foolish in coming to a house in which I am
subjected to such questioning.'
'Belinda, did you ever hear anything like this? Miss Amedroz, I must
persevere, however much you may dislike it. The story of this woman's
life whether she be Mrs Askerton or not, I don't know'
'She is Mrs Askerton,' said Clara.
'As to that I do not profess to know, and I dare say that you are no
wiser than myself. But what she has been we do know.' Here Lady Aylmer
raised her voice and continued to speak with all the eloquence which
assumed indignation could give her. 'What she has been we do know, and
I ask you, as a duty which I own to my son, whether you have put an end
to your acquaintance with so very disreputable a person a person whom
even to have known is a disgrace?'
'I know her, and'
'Stop one minute, if you please. My questions are these Have you put an
end to that acquaintance? Are you ready to give a promise that it shall
never be resumed?
'I have not put an end to that acquaintance or rather that affectionate
friendship as I should call it, and I am ready to promise that it shall
be maintained with all my heart.'
'Belinda, do you hear her?'
'Yes, mamma.' And Belinda slowly shook her head, which was now bowed
lower than ever over her lap.
'And that is your resolution?'
'Yes, Lady Aylmer; that is my resolution.'
'And you think that becoming to you, as a young woman?'
'Just so; I think that becoming to me as a young woman.'
'Then let me tell you, Miss Amedroz, that I differ from you altogether
altogether.' Lady Aylmer, as she repeated the last word, raised her
folded hands as though she were calling upon heaven to witness how
thoroughly she differed from the young woman!
'I don't see how I am to help that, Lady Aylmer. I dare say we may
differ on many subjects.'
'I dare say we do. I dare say we do. And I need not point out to you
how very little that would be a matter of regret to me but for the hold
you have upon my unfortunate son.'
'Hold upon him, Lady Aylmer! How dare you insult me by such language?'
Hereupon Belinda again jumped in her chair; but Lady Aylmer looked as
though she enjoyed the storm.
'You undoubtedly have a hold upon him, Miss Amedroz, and I think that
it is a great misfortune. Of course, when he hears what your conduct is
with reference to this person, he will release himself from his
'He can release himself from his entanglement whenever he chooses,'
said Clara, rising from her chair. 'Indeed, he is released. I shall let
Captain Aylmer know that our engagement must be at an end, unless he
will promise that I shall never in future be subjected to the
unwarrantable insolence of his mother.' Then she walked off to the
door, not regarding, and indeed not hearing, the parting shot that was
fired at her.
And now what was to be done! Clara went up to her own room, making
herself strong and even comfortable, with an inward assurance that
nothing should ever induce her even to sit down to table again with
Lady Aylmer. She would not willingly enter the same room with Lady
Aylmer, or have any speech with her. But what should she at once do?
She could not very well leave Aylmer Park without settling whither she
would go; nor could she in any way manage to leave the house on that
afternoon. She almost resolved that she would go to Mrs Askerton.
Everything was of course over between her and Captain Aylmer, and
therefore there was no longer any hindrance to her doing so on that
score. But what would be her Cousin Will's wish? He, now, was the only
friend to whom she could trust for good counsel. What would be his
advice? Should she write and ask him? No she could not do that. She
could not bring herself to write to him, telling him that the Aylmer
'entanglement' was at an end. Were she to do so, he, with his
temperament, would take such letter as meaning much more than it was
intended to mean. But she would write a letter to Captain Aylmer. This
she thought that she would do at once, and she began it.
She got as far as 'My dear Captain Aylmer,' and then she found that the
letter was one which could not be written very easily. And she
remembered, as the greatness of the difficulty of writing the letter
became plain to her, that it could not now be sent so as to reach
Captain Aylmer before he would leave London. If written at all, it must
be addressed to him at Aylmer Park, and the task might be done tomorrow
as well as today. So that task was given up for the present.
But she did write a letter to Mrs Askerton a letter which she would
send or not on the morrow, according to the state of her mind as it
might then be. In this she declared her purpose of leaving Aylmer Park
on the day after Captain Aylmer's arrival, and asked to be taken in at
the cottage. An answer was to be sent to her, addressed to the Great
Northern Railway Hotel.
Richards, the maid, came up to her before dinner, with offers of
assistance for dressing offers made in a tone which left no doubt on
Clara's mind that Richards knew all about the quarrel. But Clara
declined to be dressed, and sent down a message saying that she would
remain in her room, and begging to be supplied with tea. She would not
even condescend to say that she was troubled with a headache. Then
Belinda came up to her, just before dinner was announced, and with a
fluttered gravity advised Miss Amedroz to come down-stairs. 'Mamma
thinks it will be much better that you should show yourself, let the
final result be what it may.'
'But I have not the slightest desire to show myself.'
'There are the servants, you know.'
'But, Miss Aylmer, I don't care a straw for the servants really not a
'And papa will feel it so.'
'I shall be sorry if Sir Anthony is annoyed but I cannot help it. It
has not been my doing.'
'And mamma says that my brother would of course wish it.'
'After what your mother has done, I don't see what his wishes would
have to do with it even if she knew them which I don't think she does.'
'But if you will think of it, I'm sure you'll find it is the proper
thing to do. There is nothing to be avoided so much as an open quarrel,
that all the servants can see.'
'I must say, Miss Aylmer, that I disregard the servants. After what
passed downstairs, of course I have had to consider what I should do.
Will you tell your mother that I will stay here, if she will permit it?'
'Of course. She will be delighted.'
'I will remain, if she will permit it, till the morning after Captain
Aylmer's arrival. Then I shall go.'
'Where to, Miss Amedroz?'
'I have already written to a friend, asking her to receive me.'
Miss Aylmer paused a moment before she asked her next question but she
did ask it, showing by her tone and manner that she had been driven to
summon up all her courage to enable her to do so. 'To what friend, Miss
Amedroz? Mamma will be glad to know.'
'That is a question which Lady Aylmer can have no right to ask,' said
'Oh very well. Of course, if you don't like to tell, there's no more to
'I do not like to tell, Miss Aylmer.'
Clara had her tea in her room that evening, and lived there the whole
of the next day. The family downstairs was not comfortable. Sir Anthony
could not be made to understand why his guest kept her room which was
not odd, as Lady Aylmer was very sparing in the information she gave
him; and Belinda found it to be impossible to sit at table, or to say a
few words to her father and mother, without showing at every moment her
consciousness that a crisis had occurred. By the next day's post the
letter to Mrs Askerton was sent, and at the appointed time Captain
Aylmer arrived. About an hour after he entered the house, Belinda went
upstairs with a message from him would Miss Amedroz see him? Miss
Amedroz would see him, but made it a condition of doing so that she
should not be required to meet Lady Aylmer. She need not be afraid,'
said Lady Aylmer. 'Unless she sends me a full apology, with a promise
that she will have no further intercourse whatever with that woman, I
will never willingly see her again.' A meeting was therefore arranged
between Captain Aylmer and Miss Amedroz in a sitting-room upstairs.
'What is all this, Clara?' said Captain Aylmer, at once.
'Simply this that your mother has insulted me most wantonly.'
'She says that it is you who have been uncourteous to her.'
'Be it so you can of course believe whichever you please, and it is
desirable, no doubt, that you should prefer to believe your mother.'
'But I do not wish there to be any quarrel.'
'But there is a quarrel, Captain Aylmer, and I must leave your father's
house. I cannot stay here after what has taken place. Your mother told
me I cannot tell you what she told me, but she made against me just
those accusations which she knew it would be the hardest for me to
'I'm sure you have mistaken her.'
'No; I have not mistaken her.'
'And where do you propose to go?'
'To Mrs Askerton.'
'I have written to Mrs Askerton to ask her to receive me for awhile.
Indeed, I may almost say that I had no other choice.'
'If you go there, Clara, there will be an end to everything.'
'And there must be an end of what you call everything, Captain Aylmer,'
said she, smiling. 'It cannot be for your good to bring into your
family a wife of whom your mother would think so badly as she thinks of
There was a great deal said, and Captain Aylmer walked very often up
and down the room, endeavouring to make some arrangement which might
seem in some sort to appease his mother. Would Clara only allow a
telegram to be sent to Mrs Askerton, to explain that she had changed
her mind? But Clara would allow no such telegram to be sent, and on
that evening she packed up all her things. Captain Aylmer saw her again
and again, sending Belinda backwards and forwards, and making different
appointments up to midnight; but it was all to no purpose, and on the
next morning she took her departure alone in the Aylmer Park carriage
for the railway station. Captain Aylmer had proposed to go with her;
but she had so stoutly declined his company that he was obliged to
abandon his intention. She saw neither of the ladies on that morning,
but Sir Anthony came out to say a word of farewell to her in the hall.
'I am very sorry for all this,' said he. 'It is a pity,' said Clara,
'but it cannot be helped. Good-bye, Sir Anthony.' 'I hope we may meet
again under pleasanter circumstances,' said the baronet. To this Clara
made no reply, and was then handed into the carriage by Captain Aylmer.
'I am so bewildered,' said he, 'that I cannot now say anything
definite, but I shall write to you, and probably follow you.'
'Do not follow me, pray, Captain Aylmer,' said she, Then she was driven
to the station; and as she passed through the lodges of the park
entrance she took what she intended to be a final farewell of Aylmer
ONCE MORE BACK TO BELTON
When the carriage was driven away, Sir Anthony and Captain Aylmer were
left standing alone at the ball door of the house. The servants had
slunk off, and the father and son, looking at each other, felt that
they also must slink away, or else have some words together on the
subject of their guest's departure. The younger gentleman would have
preferred that there should be no words, but Sir Anthony was curious to
know something of what had passed in the house during the last few
days. 'I'm afraid things are not going quite comfortable,' he said.
'It seems to me, sir,' said his son, 'that things very seldom do go
'But, Fred what is it all about? Your mother says that Miss Amedroz is
behaving very badly.'
'And Miss Amedroz says that my mother is behaving very badly.'
'Of course that's only natural. And what do you say?'
'I say nothing, sir. The less said the soonest mended.'
'That's all very well; but it seems to me that you, in your position,
must say something. The long and the short of it is this. Is she to be
'Upon my word, sir, I don't know.'
They were still standing out under the portico, and as Sir Anthony did
not for a minute or two ask any further questions, Captain Aylmer
turned as though he were going into the house. But his father had still
a word or two to say. Stop a moment, Fred. I don't often trouble you
'I'm sure I'm always glad to hear it when you offer any.'
'I know very well that in most things your opinion is better than mine.
You've had advantages which I never had. But I've had more experience
than you, my dear boy. It stands to reason that in some things I must
have had more experience than you.' There was a tone of melancholy in
the father's voice as he said this which quite touched his son, and
which brought the two closer together out in the porch. 'Take my word
for it,' continued Sir Anthony, 'that you are much better off as you
are than you could be with a wife.'
'Do you mean to say that no man should marry?'
'No I don't mean to say that. An eldest son ought to marry, so that the
property may have an heir. And poor men should marry, I suppose, as
they want wives to do for them. And sometimes, no doubt, a man must
marry when he has got to be very fond of a girl, and has compromised
himself, and all that kind of thing. I would never advise any man to
sully his honour.' As Sir Anthony said this he raised himself a little
with his two sticks and spoke out in a bolder voice. The voice however,
sank again as he descended from the realms of honour to those of
prudence. 'But none of these cases are yours, Fred. To be sure you'll
have the Perivale property; but that is not a family estate, and you'll
be much better off by turning it into money. And in the way of comfort,
you can be a great deal more comfortable without a wife than you can
with one. What do you want a wife for? And then, as to Miss Amedroz for
myself I must say that I like her uncommonly. She has been very
pleasant in her ways with me. But somehow or another, I don't think you
are so much in love with her but what you can do without her.' Hereupon
he paused and looked his son full in the face. Fred had also been
thinking of the matter in his own way, and asking himself the same
question whether he was in truth so much in love with Clara that he
could not live without her. 'Of course I don't know,' continued Sir
Anthony, ' what has taken place just now between you and her, or what
between her and your mother; but I suppose the whole thing might fall
through without any further trouble to you or without anything
unhandsome on your part?' But Captain Aylmer still said nothing. The
whole thing might, no doubt, fall through, but he wished to be neither
unjust nor ungenerous and he specially wished to avoid anything
unhandsome. After a further pause of a few minutes, Sir Anthony went on
again, pouring forth the words of experience. 'Of course marriage is
all very well. I married rather early in life, and have always found
your mother to be a most excellent woman. A better woman doesn't
breathe. I'm as sure of that as I am of anything. But God bless me of
course you can see. I can't call anything my own. I'm tied down here
and I can't move. I've never got a shilling to spend, while all these
lazy hounds about the place are eating me up. There isn't a clerk with
a hundred a year in London that isn't better off than I am as regards
ready money. And what comfort have I in a big house, and no end of
gardens, and a place like this? What pleasures do I get out of it? That
comes of marrying and keeping up one's name in the county respectably!
What do I care for the county? D the county! I often wish that I'd
been a younger son as you are.'
Captain Aylmer had no answer to make to all this. It was, no doubt, the
fact that age and good living had made Sir Anthony altogether incapable
of enjoying the kind of life which he desiderated, and that he would
probably have eaten and drunk himself into his grave long since had
that kind of life been within his reach. This, however, the son could
not explain to the father. But in fitting, as he endeavoured to do, his
father's words to his own case, Captain Aylmer did perceive that a
bachelor's life might perhaps be the most suitable to his own peculiar
case. Only he would do nothing unhandsome. As to that he was quite
resolved. Of course Clara must show herself to be in some degree
amenable to reason and to the ordinary rules of the world; but he was
aware that his mother was hot. tempered, and he generously made up his
mind that he would give Miss Amedroz even yet another chance.
At the hotel in London Clara found a short note from Mrs Askerton, in
which she was warmly assured that everything should be done to make her
comfortable at the cottage as long as she should wish to stay there.
But the very warmth of affection thus expressed made her almost shrink
from what she was about to do. Mrs Askerton was no doubt anxious for
her coming; but would her Cousin Will Belton approve of the visit; and
what would her Cousin Mary say about it? If she was being driven into
this step against her own approval, by the insolence of Lady Aylmer if
she was doing this thing simply because Lady Aylmer had desired her not
to do it, and was doing it in opposition to the wishes of the man she
had promised to marry as well as to her own judgment, there could not
but be cause for shrinking. And yet she believed that she was right. If
she could only have had some one to tell her some one in whom she could
trust implicitly to direct her! She had hitherto been very much prone
to rebel against authority. Against her aunt she had rebelled, and
against her father, and against her lover. But now she wished with all
her heart that there might be some one to whom she could submit with
perfect faith. If she could only know what her Cousin Will would think.
In him she thought she could have trusted with that perfect faith if
only he would have been a brother to her.
But it was too late now for doubting, and on the next day she found
herself getting out of the old Redicote fly, at Colonel Askerton's
door. He came out to meet her, and his greeting was very friendly.
Hitherto there had been no great intimacy between him and her, owing
rather to the manner of life adopted by him than to any cause of mutual
dislike between them. Mrs Askerton had shown herself desirous of some
social intercourse since she had been at Belton, but with Colonel
Askerton there had been nothing of this. He had come there intending to
live alone, and had been satisfied to carry out his purpose. But now
Clara had come to his house as a guest, and he assumed towards her
altogether a new manner. 'We are so glad to have you,' he said, taking
both her hands. Then she passed on into the cottage, and in a minute
was in her friend's arms.
'Dear Clara dearest Clara, I am so glad to have you here.'
'It is very good of you.'
'No, dear; the goodness is with you to come. But we won't quarrel about
that. We will both be ever so good. And he is so happy that you should
be here. You'll get to know him now. But come upstairs. There's a fire
in your room, and I'll be your maid for the occasion because then we
can talk.' Clara did as she was bid and went upstairs; and as she sat
over the fire while her friend knelt beside her for Mrs Askerton was
given to such kneelings she could not but tell herself that Belton
Cottage was much more comfortable than Aylmer Park. During the whole
time of her sojourn at Aylmer Park no word of real friendship had once
greeted her ears. Everything there had been cold and formal, till
coldness and formality had given way to violent insolence.
'And so you have quarrelled with her ladyship,' said Mrs Askerton. 'I
knew you would.'
'I have not said anything about quarrelling with her.'
'But of course you have. Come, now; don't make yourself disagreeable.
You have had a downright battle have you not?'
'Something very like it, I'm afraid.'
'I am so glad,' said Mrs Askerton, rubbing her hands.
'That is ill-natured.'
'Very well. Let it be ill-natured. One isn't to be good-natured all
round, or what would be the use of it? And what sort of a woman is she?'
'Oh dear; I couldn't describe her. She is very large, and wears a great
wig, and manages everything herself, and I've no doubt she's a very
good woman in her own way.'
'I can see her at once and a very pillar of virtue as regards morality
and going to church. Poor me! Does she know that you have come here?'
'I have no doubt she does. I did not tell her, nor would I tell her
daughter; but I told Captain Aylmer.'
'That was right. That was very right. I'm so glad of that. But who
would doubt that you would show a groper spirit? And what did he say?'
'Not much, indeed.'
'I won't trouble you about him. I don't in the least doubt but all that
will come right. And what sort of man is Sir Anthony?'
'A common-place sort of a man; very gouty, and with none of his wife's
strength. I liked him the best of them all.'
'Because you saw the least of him, I suppose.'
'He was kind in his manner to me.'
'And they were like she-dragons. I understand it all, and can see them
just as though I had been there. I felt that I knew what would come of
it when you first told me that you were going to Aylmer Park, I did,
indeed. I could have prophesied it all.'
'What a pity you did not.'
'It would have done no good and your going there has done good. It has
opened your eyes to more than one thing, I don't doubt. But tell me
have you told them in Norfolk that you were coming here?'
'No I have not written to my cousin.'
'Don't be angry with me if I tell you something. I have.'
'I have told Mr Belton that you were coming here. It was in this way. I
had to write to him about our continuing in the cottage. Colonel
Askerton always makes me write if it's possible, and of course we were
obliged to settle something as to the place.'
'I'm sorry you said anything about me.'
'How could I help it? What would you have thought of me, or what would
he have thought, if, when writing to him, I had not mentioned such a
thing as your visit? Besides, it's much better that he should know.'
'I am sorry that you said anything about it.'
'You are ashamed that he should know that you are here,' said Mrs
Askerton, in a tone of reproach.
'Ashamed! No; I am not ashamed. But I would sooner that he had not been
told as yet. Of course he would have been told before long.'
'But you are not angry with me?'
'Angry! How can I be angry with any one who is so kind to me?'
That evening passed by very pleasantly, and when she went again to her
own room, Clara was almost surprised to find how completely she was at
home. On the next day she and Mrs Askerton together went up to the
house, and roamed through all the rooms, and Clara seated herself in
all the accustomed chairs. On the sofa, just in the spot to which
Belton had thrown it, she found the key of the cellar. She took it up
in her band, thinking that she would give it to the servant; but again
she put it back upon the sofa. It was his key, and he had left it
there, and if ever there came an occasion she would remind him where he
had put it. Then they went out to the cow, who was at her ease in a
little home paddock.
'Dear Bessy,' said Clara, 'see how well she knows me.' But I think the
tame little beast would have known any one else as well who had gone up
to her as Clara did, with food in her hand. 'She is quite as sacred as
any cow that ever was worshipped among the cow-worshippers,' said Mrs
Askerton. I suppose they milk her and sell the butter, but otherwise
she is not regarded as an ordinary cow at all.' 'Poor Bessy,' said
Clara. 'I wish she had never come here. What is to be done with her?'
'Done with her! She'll stay here till she dies a natural death, and
then a romantic pair of mourners will follow her to her grave, mixing
their sympathetic tears comfortably as they talk of the old days; and
in future years, Bessy will grow to be a divinity of the past, never to
be mentioned without tenderest reminiscences. I have not the slightest
difficulty in prophesying as to Bessy's future life and posthumous
honours.' They roamed about the place the whole morning, through the
garden and round the farm buildings, and in and out of the house; and
at every turn something was said about Will Belton. But Clara would not
go up to the rocks, although Mrs Askerton more than once attempted to
turn in that direction. He had said that he never would go there again
except under certain circumstances. She knew that those circumstances
would never come to pass; but yet neither would she go there. She would
never go there till her cousin was married. Then, if in those days she
should ever be present at Belton Castle, she would creep up to the spot
all alone, and allow herself to think of the old days.
On the following morning there came to her a letter bearing the Downham
post-mark but at the first glance she knew that it was not from her
Cousin Will. Will wrote with a bold round hand, that was extremely
plain and caligraphic when he allowed him. self time for the work in
hand, as he did with the commencement of his epistles, but which would
become confused and altogether anti- caligraphic when he fell into a
hurry towards the end of his performance as was his wont. But the
address of this letter was written in a pretty, small, female hand very
careful in the perfection of every letter, and very neat in every
stroke. It was from Mary Briton, between whom and Clara there had never
hitherto been occasion for correspondence. The letter was as follows:
'Plaistow Hall, April, 186 .
My Dear Cousin Clara,
William has heard from your friends at Belton, who are tenants on the
estate, and as to whom there seems to be some question whether they are
to remain. He has written, saying, I believe, that there need be no
difficulty if they wish to stay there. But we learn, also, from Mrs
Askerton's letter, that you are expected at the cottage, and therefore
I will address this to Belton, supposing that it may find you there.
You and I have never yet known each other which has been a grief to me;
but this grief, I hope, may be cured some day before long. I myself, as
you know, am such a poor creature that I cannot go about the world to
see my friends as other people do at least, not very well; and
therefore I write to you with the object of asking you to come and see
me here. This is an interesting old house in its way; and though I must
not conceal from you that life here is very, very quiet, I would do my
best to make the days pass pleasantly with you. I had heard that you
were gone to Aylmer Park. Indeed, William told me of his taking you up
to London. Now it seems you have left Yorkshire, and I suppose you will
not return there very soon. If it be so, will it not be well that you
should come to me for a short time?
Both William and I feel that just for the present for a little time you
would perhaps prefer to be alone with me. He must go to London for
awhile, and then on to Belton, to settle your affairs and his. He
intends to be absent for six weeks. If you would not be afraid of the
dullness of this house for so long a time, pray come to us. The
pleasure to me would be very great, and I hope that you have some of
that feeling, which with me is so strong, that we ought not to be any
longer personally strangers to each other. You could then make up your
mind as to what you would choose to do afterwards. I think that by the
end of that time that is, when William returns my uncle and aunt from
Sleaford will be with us. He is a clergyman, you know; and if you then
like to remain, they will be delighted to make your acquaintance.
It seems to be a long journey for a young lady to make alone, from
Belton to Plaistow; but travelling is so easy now-a-days, and young
ladies seem to be so independent, that you may be able to manage it.
Hoping to see you soon, I remain
Your affectionate Cousin,
This letter she received before breakfast, and was therefore able to
read it in solitude, and to keep its receipt from the knowledge of Mrs
Askerton, if she should be so minded. She understood at once all that
it intended to convey a hint that Plaistow Hall would be a better
resting place for her than Mrs Askerton's cottage; and an assurance
that if she would go to Plaistow Hall for her convenience, no advantage
should be taken of her presence there by the owner of the house for his
convenience. As she sat thinking of the offer which had been made to
her she fancied that she could see and hear her Cousin Will as he
discussed the matter with his sister, and with a half assumption of
surliness declared his own intention of going away. Captain Aylmer,
after that interview in London, had spoken of Belton's conduct as being
unpardonable; but Clara had not only pardoned him, but had, in her own
mind, pronounced his virtues to be so much greater than his vices as to
make him almost perfect. 'But I will not drive him out of his own
house,' she said. 'What does it matter where I go?'
'Colonel Askerton has had a letter from your cousin,' said Mrs Askerton
as soon as the two ladies were alone together.
'And what does he say?'
'Not a word about you.'
'So much the better. I have given him trouble enough, and am glad to
think that he should be free of me for awhile. Is Colonel Askerton to
stay at the cottage?'
'Now, Clara, you are a hypocrite. You know that you are a hypocrite.'
'Very likely but I don't know why you should accuse me just now.'
'Yes, you do. Have not you heard from Norfolk also?' 'Yes I have.'
'I was sure of it. I knew he would never have written in that way, in
answer to my letter, ignoring your visit here altogether, unless he had
written to you also.'
'But he has not written to me. My letter is from his sister. There it
is.' Whereupon she handed the letter to Mrs Askerton, and waited
patiently while it was being read. Her friend returned it to her
without a word, and Clara was the first to speak again. 'It is a nice
letter, is it not? I never saw her, you know.'
'So she says.'
'But is it not a kind letter?'
'I suppose it is meant for kindness. It is not very complimentary to
me. It presumes that such a one as I may be treated without the
slightest consideration. And so I may. It is only fit that I should be
so treated. If you ask my advice, I advise you to go at once at once.'
'But I have not asked your advice, dear; nor do I intend to ask it.'
'You would not have shown it me if you had not intended to go.'
'How unreasonable you are! You told me just now that I was a hypocrite
for not telling you of my letter, and now you are angry with me because
I have shown it you.'
'I am not angry. I think you have been quite right to show it me. I
don't know how else you could have acted upon it.'
'But I do not mean to act upon it. I shall not go to Plaistow. There
are two reasons against it, each sufficient. I shall not leave you just
yet unless you send me away; and I shall not cause my cousin to be
turned out of his own house.'
'Why should he be turned out? Why should you not go to him? You love
him and as for him, he is more in love than any man I ever knew. Go to
Plaistow Hall, and everything will run smooth.'
'No, dear; I shall not do that.'
'Then you are foolish. I am bound to tell you so, as I have inveigled
'I thought I had invited myself.'
'No; I asked you to come, and when I asked you I knew that I was wrong.
Though I meant to be kind, I knew that I was unkind. I saw that my
husband disapproved it, though he had not the heart to tell me so. I
wish he had. I wish he had.'
'Mrs Askerton, I cannot tell you how much you wrong yourself, and how
you wrong me also. I am more than contented to be here.'
'But you should not be contented to be here. It is just that. In
learning to love me or rather, perhaps, to pity me, you lower yourself.
Do you think that I do not see it all, and know it all? Of course it is
bad to be alone, but I have no right not to be alone.' There was
nothing for Clara to do but to draw herself once again close to the
poor woman, and to embrace her with protestations of fair, honest,
equal regard and friendship. 'Do you think I do not understand that
letter?' continued Mrs Askerton. 'If it had come from Lady Aylmer I
could have laughed at it, because I believe Lady Aylmer to be an
overbearing virago, whom it is good to put down in every way possible.
But this comes from a pure-minded woman, one whom I believe to be
little given to harsh judgments on her fellow-sinners; and she tells
you, in her calm wise way, that it is bad for you to be here with me.'
'She says nothing of the kind.'
'But does she not mean it? Tell me honestly do you not know that she
'I am not to be guided by what she means.'
'But you are to be guided by what her brother means. It is to come to
that, and you may as well bend your neck at once. It is to come to
that, and the sooner the better for you. it is easy to see that you are
badly off for guidance when you take up me as your friend.' When she
had so spoken Mrs Askerton got up and went to the door. 'No, Clara, do
not come with me; not now,' she said, turning to her companion, who had
risen as though to follow her. 'I will come to you soon, but I would
rather be alone now. And, look here, dear; you must answer your
cousin's letter. Do so at once, and say that you will go to Plaistow.
In any event it will be better for you.'
Clara, when she was alone, did answer her cousin's letter, but she did
not accept the invitation that had been given her. She assured Miss
Belton that she was most anxious to know her, and hoped that she might
do so before long, either at Plaistow or at Belton; but that at present
she was under an engagement to stay with her friend Mrs Askerton. In an
hour or two Mrs Askerton returned, and Clara handed to her the note to
read. 'Then all I can say is you are very silly, and don't know on
which side your bread is buttered.' It was evident from Mrs Askerton's
voice that she had recovered her mood and tone of mind. 'I don't
suppose it will much signify, as it will all come right at last,' she
said afterwards. And then, after luncheon, when she had been for a few
minutes with her husband in his own room, she told Clara that the
colonel wanted to speak to her. 'You'll find him as grave as a judge,
for he has got something to say to you in earnest. Nobody can be so
stern as he is when he chooses to put on his wig and gown.' So Clara
went into the colonel's study, and seated herself in a chair which he
had prepared for her.
She remained there for over an hour, and during the hour the
conversation became very animated. Colonel Askerton's assumed gravity
had given way to ordinary eagerness, during which he walked about the
room in the vehemence of his argument; and Clara, in answering him, had
also put forth all her strength. She had expected that he also was
going to speak to her on the propriety of her going to Norfolk; but he
made no allusion to that subject, although all that he did say was
founded on Will Belton's letter to himself. Belton, in speaking of the
cottage, had told Colonel Askerton that Miss Amedroz would be his
future landlord, and had then gone on to explain that it was his,
Belton's, intention to destroy the entail, and allow the property to
descend from the father to the daughter. 'As Miss Amedroz is with you
now,' he said, 'may I beg you to take the trouble to explain the matter
to her at length, and to make her understand that the estate is now, at
this moment, in fact her own. Her possession of it does not depend on
any act of hers or, indeed, upon her own will or wish in the matter.'
On this subject Colonel Askerton had argued, using all his skill to
make Clara in truth perceive that she was her father's heiress through
the generosity undoubtedly of her cousin and that she had no
alternative but to assume the possession which was thus thrust upon her.
And so eloquent was the colonel that Clara was staggered, though she
was not convinced. 'It is quite impossible,' she said. 'Though he may