The Belton Estate
Part 3 out of 9
fifteen hundred pounds or, indeed, of as many pence from Captain
Aylmer. During those hours of sickness in the house they had been much
thrown together, and no one could have been kinder or more gentle to
her than he had been. He had come to call her Clara, as people will do
when joined together in such duties, and had been very pleasant as well
as affectionate in his manner with her. It had seemed to her that he
also wished to take upon himself the cares and love of an adopted
brother. But as an adopted brother she would have nothing to do with
him. The two men whom she liked best in the world would assume each the
wrong place; and between them both she felt that she would be left
On the Saturday afternoon they had both surmised how it was going to be
with Mrs Winterfield, and Captain Aylmer had told Mr Palmer that he
feared his coming on the Monday would be useless. He explained also
what was required, and declared that he would be at once ready to make
good the deficiency in the will Mr Palmer seemed to think that this
would be better even than the making of a codicil in the last moments
of the lady's life; and, therefore, he and Captain Aylmer were at rest
on that subject.
During the greater part of the Saturday night both Clara and Captain
Aylmer remained with their aunt; and once when the morning was almost
there, and the last hour was near at hand, she had said a word or two
which both of them had understood, in which she implored her darling
Frederic to take a brother's care of Clara Amedroz. Even in that moment
Clara had repudiated the legacy, feeling sure in her heart that
Frederic Aylmer was aware what was the nature of the care which he
ought to owe, if he would consent to owe any care to her. He promised
his aunt that he would do as she desired him, and it was impossible
that Clara should then, aloud, repudiate the compact. But she said
nothing, merely allowing her hand to rest with his beneath the thin,
dry hand of the dying woman. To her aunt, however, when for a moment
they were alone together, she showed all possible affection, with
thanks and tears, and warm kisses, and prayers for forgiveness as to
all those matters in which she had offended. 'My pretty one my dear,'
said the old woman, raising her hand on to the head of the crouching
girl, who was hiding her moist eyes on the bed. Never during her life
had her aunt appeared to her in so loving a mood as now, when she was
leaving it. Then, with some eager impassioned words, in which she
pronounced her ideas of what should be the religious duties of a woman,
Mrs Winterfield bade farewell to her niece. After that, she had a
longer interview with her nephew, and then it seemed that all worldly
cares were over with her.
The Sunday was passed in all that blackness of funeral grief which is
absolutely necessary on such occasions. It cannot be said that either
Clara or Captain Aylmer were stricken with any of that agony of woe
which is produced on us by the death of those whom we have loved so
well that we cannot bring ourselves to submit to part with them. They
were both truly sorry for their aunt, in the common parlance of the
world; but their sorrow was of that modified sort which does not numb
the heart and make the surviving sufferer feel that there never can be
a remedy. Nevertheless, it demanded sad countenances, few words, and
those spoken hardly above a whisper; an absence of all amusement and
almost of all employment, and a full surrender to the trappings of woe.
They two were living together without other companion in the big house
sitting down together to dinner and to tea; but on this day hardly a
dozen words were spoken between them, and those dozen were spoken with
no purport. On the Monday Captain Aylmer gave orders for the funeral,
and then went away to London, undertaking to be back on the day before
the last ceremony. Clara was rather glad that he should be gone, though
she feared the solitude of the big house. She was glad that he should
be gone, as she found it impossible to talk to him with ease to
herself. She knew that he was about to assume some position as
protector or quasi guardian over her in conformity with her aunt's
express wish, and she was quite resolved that she would submit to no
such guardianship from his hands. That being so, the shorter period
there might be for any such discussion the better.
The funeral was to take place on the Saturday, and during the four days
that intervened she received two visits from Mr Possitt. Mr Possitt was
very discreet in what he said, and Clara was angry with herself for not
allowing his words to have any avail with her. She told herself that
they were commonplace; but she told herself, also, after his first
visit, that she had no right to expect anything else but commonplace
words. How often are men found who can speak words on such occasions
that are not commonplaces that really stir the soul, and bring true
comfort to the listener? The humble listener may receive comfort even
from commonplace words; but Clara was not humble, and rebuked herself
for her own pride. On the second occasion of his coming she did
endeavour to receive him with a meek heart, and to accept what he said
with an obedient spirit. But the struggle within her bosom was hard,
and when he bade her to kneel and pray with him, she doubted for a
moment between rebellion and hypocrisy. But she had determined to be
meek, and so hypocrisy carried the hour.
What would a clergyman say on such an occasion if the object of his
solicitude were to decline the offer, remarking that prayer at that
moment did not seem to be opportune; and that, moreover, he, the person
thus invited, would like, first of all, to know what was to be the
special object of the proposed prayer, if he found that he could, at
the spur of the moment, bring himself at all into a fitting mood for
the task? Of him who would decline, without argument, the clergyman
would opine that he was simply a reprobate. Of him who would propose to
accompany an hypothetical acceptance with certain stipulations, he
would say to himself that he was a stiff-necked wrestler against grace,
whose condition was worse than that of the reprobate. Men and women,
conscious that they will be thus judged, submit to the hypocrisy, and
go down upon their knees unprepared, making no effort, doing nothing
while they are there, allowing their consciences to be eased if they
can only feel themselves numbed into some ceremonial awe by the
occasion. So it was with Clara, when Mr Possitt, with easy piety, went
through the formula of his devotion, hardly ever having realized to
himself the fact that of all works in which man can engage himself,
that of prayer is the most difficult.
'It is a sad loss to me,' said Mr Possitt, as he sat for half an hour
with Clara, after she had thus submitted herself. Mr Possitt was a
weakly, pale-faced little man, who worked so hard in the parish that on
every day, Sundays included, he went to bed as tired in all his bones
as a day labourer from the fields 'a very great loss. There are not
many now who understand what a clergyman has to go through, as our dear
friend did.' If he was mindful of his two glasses of port wine on
Sundays, who could blame him?
'She was a very kind woman, Mr Possitt.'
'Yes, indeed and so thoughtful! That she will have an exceeding great
reward, who can doubt? Since I knew her she always lived as a saint
upon earth. I suppose there's nothing known as to who will live in this
house, Miss Amedroz?'
'Nothing I should think.'
'Captain Aylmer won't keep it in his own hands?'
'I cannot tell in the least; but as he is obliged to live in London
because of Parliament, and goes to Yorkshire always in the autumn, he
can hardly want it.
'I suppose not. But it will be a sad loss a sad loss to have this house
empty. Ah I shall never forget her kindness to me. Do you know, Miss
Amedroz,' and as he told his little secret he became beautifully
confidential 'do you know, she always used to send me ten guineas at
Christmas to help me along. She understood, as well as any one, how
hard it is for a gentleman to live on seventy pounds a year. You will
not wonder that I should feel that I've had a loss.' It is hard for a
gentleman to live upon seventy pounds a year; and it is very hard, too,
for a lady to live upon nothing a year, which lot in life fate seemed
to have in store for Miss Amedroz.
On the Friday evening Captain Aylmer came back, and Clara was in truth
glad to see him. Her aunt's death had been now far enough back to admit
of her telling Martha that she would not dine till Captain Aylmer had
come, and to allow her to think somewhat of his comfort. People must
eat and drink even when the grim monarch is in the house; and it is a
relief when they first dare to do so with some attention to the
comforts which are ordinarily so important to them. For themselves
alone women seldom care to exercise much trouble in this direction; but
the presence of a man at once excuses and renders necessary the
ceremony of a dinner. So Clara prepared for the arrival, and greeted
the corner with some returning pleasantness of manner. And he, too, was
pleasant with her, telling her of his plans, and speaking to her as
though she were one of those whom it was natural that he should
endeavour to interest in his future welfare.
'When I come back tomorrow,' he said, 'the will must be opened and
read. It had better be done here.' They were sitting over the fire in
the dining-room, after dinner, and Clara knew that the coming back to
which he alluded was his return from the funeral. But she made no
answer to this, as she wished to say nothing about her aunt's will.
'And after that,' he continued, 'you had better let me take you out.'
'I am very well,' she said. 'I do not want any special taking out.'
'But you have been confined to the house a whole week.'
'Women are accustomed to that, and do not feel it as you would.
However, I will walk with you if you'll take me.'
'Of course I'll take you. And then we must settle our future plans.
Have you fixed upon any day yet for returning? Of course, the longer
you stay, the kinder you will be.'
'I can do no good to any one by staying.'
'You do good to me but I suppose I'm nobody. I wish I could tell what
to do about this house. Dear, good old woman! I know she would have
wished that I should keep it in my own hands, with some idea of living
here at some future time but of course I shall never live here.'
'Would you like it yourself?'
'I am not Member of Parliament for Perivale, and should not be the
leading person in the town. You would be a sort of king here; and then,
some day, you will have your mother's property as well as your aunt's;
and you would be near to your own tenants.'
'But that does not answer my question. Could you bring yourself to live
here even if it were your own?'
'Because it is so deadly dull because it has no attraction whatever
because of all lives it is the one you would like the least. No one
should live in a provincial town but they who make their money by doing
'And what are the wives and daughters of such people to do and
especially their widows? I have no doubt I could live here very happily
if I had anybody near me that I liked. I should not wish to have to
depend altogether on Mr Possitt for society.'
'And you would find him about the best.'
'Mr Possitt has been with me twice whilst you were away, and he, too,
asked what you meant to do about the house.'
'And what did you say?'
'What could I say? Of course I said I did not know. I suppose he was
meditating whether you would live here and ask him to dinner on
'Mr Possitt is a very good sort of man,' said the captain, gravely for
Captain Aylmer, in the carrying out of his principles, always spoke
seriously of everything connected with the Church in Perivale.
'And quite worthy to be asked to dinner on Sundays,' said Clara. 'But I
did not give him any hope. How could I? Of course I knew that you would
not live here, though I did not tell him so.'
'No; I don't suppose I shall. But I see very plainly that you think I
ought to do so.'
'I've the old-fashioned idea as to a man's living near to his own
property; that is all. No doubt it was good for other people in
Perivale, besides Mr Possitt, that my dear aunt lived here; and if the
house is shut up, or let to some stranger, they will feel her loss the
more. But I don't know that you are bound to sacrifice yourself to
'If I were to marry,' said Captain Aylmer, very slowly and in a low
voice, 'of course I should have to think of my wife's wishes.'
'But if your wife, when she accepted you, knew that you were living
here, she would hardly take upon herself to demand that you should give
up your residence.'
'She might find it very dull.'
'She would make her own calculations as to that before she accepted
'No doubt but I can't fancy any woman taking a man who was tied by his
leg to Perivale. What do people do who live in Perivale?'
'Earn their bread.'
'Yes that's just what I said. But I shouldn't earn mine here.'
'I have the feeling I spoke of very strongly about papa's place,' said
Clara, changing the conversation suddenly. 'I very often think of the
future fate of Belton Castle when papa shall have gone. My cousin has
got his house at Plaistow, and I don't suppose he'd live there.'
'And where will you go?' he asked.
As soon as she had spoken, Clara regretted her own imprudence in having
ventured to speak upon her own affairs. She had been well pleased to
hear him talk of his plans, and had been quite resolved not to talk of
her own. But now, by her own speech, she had sot him to make inquiries
as to her future life. She did not at first answer the question; but he
repeated it. 'And where will you live yourself?'
'I hope I may not have to think of that for some time to come yet.'
'It is impossible to help thinking of such things.'
'I can assure you that I haven't thought about it; but I suppose I
shall endeavour to to I don't know what I shall endeavour to do.'
'Will you come and live at Perivale?'
'Why here more than anywhere else?
'In this house I mean.'
'That would suit me admirably would it not? I'm afraid Mr Possitt would
not find me a good neighbour. To tell the truth, I think that any lady
who lives here alone ought to be older than I am. The Penvalians would
not show to a young woman that sort of respect which they have always
felt for this house.'
'I didn't mean alone,' said Captain Aylmer.
Then Clara got up and made some excuse for leaving him, and there was
nothing more said between them nothing, at least, of moment, on that
evening. She had become uneasy when he asked her whether she would like
to live in his house at Perivale. But afterwards, when he suggested
that she was to have some companion with her there, she felt herself
compelled to put an end to the conversation. And yet she knew that this
was always the way, both with him and with herself. He would say things
which would seem to promise that in another minute he would be at her
feet, and then he would go no farther. And she, when she heard those
words though in truth size would have had him at her feet if she could
would draw away, and recede, and forbid him as it were to go on. But
Clara continued to make her comparisons, and knew well that her cousin
Will would have gone on in spite of any such forbiddings.
On that night, however, when she was alone, she could console herself
with thinking how right she had been. In that front bedroom, the door
of which was opposite to her own, with closed shutters, in the terrible
solemnity of lifeless humanity, was still lying the body of her aunt!
What would she have thought of herself if at such a moment she could
have listened to words of love, and promised herself as a wife while
such an inmate was in the house? She little knew that he, within that
same room, had pledged himself, to her who was now lying there waiting
for her last removal had pledged himself, just seven days since, to
make the offer which, when he was talking to her, she was always half
hoping and half fearing!
He could have meant nothing else when he told her that he had not
intended to suggest that she should live there alone in that great
house at Perivale. She could not hinder herself from thinking of this,
unfit as was the present moment for any such thoughts. How was it
possible that she should not speculate on the subject, let her
resolutions against any such speculation be ever so strong? She had
confessed to herself that she loved the man, and what else could she
wish but that he also should love her? But there came upon her some
faint suspicion some glimpse of what was almost a dream that he might
possibly in this matter be guided rather by duty than by love. It might
be that he would feel himself constrained to offer his hand to her
constrained by the peculiarity of his position towards her. If so
should she discover that such were his motives there would be no doubt
as to the nature of her answer.
SHOWING HOW CAPTAIN AYLMER KEPT HIS PROMISE
The next day was necessarily very sad. Clara had declared her
determination to follow her aunt to the churchyard, and did so,
together with Martha, the old servant. There were three or four
mourning coaches, as family friends came over from Taunton, one or two
of whom were to be present at the reading of the will. How melancholy
was the occasion, and how well the work was done; how substantial and
yet how solemn was the luncheon, spread after the funeral for the
gentlemen; and how the will was read, without a word of remark, by Mr
Palmer, need hardly be told here. The will contained certain
substantial legacies to servants the amount to that old handmaid Martha
being so great as to produce a fit of fainting, after which the old
handmaid declared that if ever there was, by any chance, an angel of
light upon the earth, it was her late mistress; and yet Martha had had
her troubles with her mistress; and there was a legacy of two hundred
pounds to the gentleman who was called upon to act as co-executor with
Captain Aylmer. Other clause in the will there was none, except that
one substantial clause which bequeathed to her well-beloved nephew,
Frederic Folliott Aylmer, everything of which the testatrix died
possessed. The will had been made at some moment in which Clara's
spirit of independence had offended her aunt, and her name was not
mentioned. That nothing should have been left to Clara was the one
thing that surprised the relatives from Taunton who were present. The
relatives from Taunton, to give them their due, expected nothing for
themselves; but as there had been great doubt as to the proportions in
which the property would be divided between the nephew and adopted
niece, there was aroused a considerable excitement as to the omission
of the name of Miss Amedroz an excitement which was not altogether
unpleasant. When people complain of some cruel shame, which does not
affect themselves personally, the complaint is generally accompanied by
an unexpressed and unconscious feeling of satisfaction.
On the present occasion, when the will had been read and refolded,
Captain Aylmer, who was standing on the rug near the fire, spoke a few
words. His aunt, he said, had desired to add a codicil to the will, of
the nature of which Mr Palmer was well aware. She had expressed her
intention to leave fifteen hundred pounds to her niece, Miss Amedroz;
but death had come upon her too quickly to enable her to perform her
purpose. Of this intention on the part of Mrs Winterfield, Mr Palmer
was as well aware as himself; and he mentioned the subject now, merely
with the object of saying that, as a matter of course, the legacy to
Miss Amedroz was as good as though the codicil had been completed. On
such a question as that there could arise no question as to legal
right; but he understood that the legal claim of Miss Amedroz, under
such circumstances, was as void as his own. It was therefore no affair
of generosity on his part. Then there was a little buzz of satisfaction
on the part of those present, and the meeting was broken up.
A certain old Mrs. Folliott, who was cousin to everybody concerned, had
come over from Taunton to see how things were going. She had always
been at variance with Mrs Winterfield, being a woman who loved cards
and supper parties, and who had throughout her life stabled her horses
in stalls very different to those used by the lady of Perivale. Now
this Mrs Folliott was the first to tell Clara of the will. Clara. of
course, was altogether indifferent. She had known for months past that
her aunt had intended to leave nothing to her, and her only hope had
been that she might be left free from any commiseration or remark on
the subject. But Mrs Folliott, with sundry shakings of the head, told
her how her aunt had omitted to name her and then told her also of
Captain Aylmer's generosity. 'We all did think, my dear,' said Mrs
Folliott, 'that she would have done better than that for you, or at any
rate that she would not have left you dependent on him.' Captain
Aylmer's horses were also supposed to be stabled in strictly Low Church
stalls, and were therefore regarded by Mrs Folliott with much dislike.
'I and my aunt understood each other perfectly,' said Clara.
'I dare say. But if so, you really were the only person that did
understand her. No doubt what she did was quite right, seeing that she
was a saint; but we sinners would have thought it very wicked to have
made such a will, and then to have trusted to the generosity of another
person after we were dead.'
'But there is no question of trusting to any one's generosity, Mrs
'He need not pay you a shilling, you know, unless he likes it.'
'And he will not be asked to pay me a shilling.'
'I don't suppose he will go back after what he has said publicly.'
'My dear Mrs Folliott,' said Clara earnestly, 'pray do not let us talk
about it. it is quite unnecessary. I never expected any of my aunt's
property, and knew all along that it was to go to Captain Aylmer who,
indeed, was Mrs Winterfield's heir naturally. Mrs Winterfield was not
really my aunt, and I had no claim on her.'
'But everybody understood that she was to provide for you.'
'As I was not one of the everybodies myself, it will not signify.' Then
Mrs Folliott retreated, having, as she thought, performed her duty to
Clara, and contented herself henceforth with abusing Mrs Winterfield's
will in her own social circles at Taunton.
On the evening of that day, when all the visitors were gone and the
house was again quiet, Captain Aylmer thought it expedient to explain
to Clara the nature of his aunt's will, and the manner in which she
would be allowed to inherit under it the amount of money which her aunt
had intended to bequeath to her. When she became impatient and objected
to listen to him, he argued with her, pointing out to her that this was
a matter of business to which it was now absolutely necessary that she
should attend. 'It may be the case,' he said, 'and, indeed, I hope it
will, that no essential difference will be made by it except that it
will gratify you to know how careful she was of your interests in her
last moments. But you are bound in duty to learn your own position; and
I, as her executor, am bound to explain it to you. But perhaps you
would rather discuss it with Mr Palmer.'
'Oh no save me from that.'
'You must understand, then, that I shall pay over to you the sum of
fifteen hundred pounds as soon as the will has been proved.'
'I understand nothing of the kind. I know very well that if I were to
take it, I should be accepting a present from you, and to that I cannot
'It is no good, Captain Aylmer. Though I don't pretend to understand
much about law, I do know that I can have no claim to anything that is
not put into the will; and I won't have what I could not claim. My mind
is quite made up, and I hops I mayn't be annoyed about it. Nothing is
more disagreeable than having to discuss money matters.'
Perhaps Captain Aylmer thought that the having no money matters to
discuss might be even more disagreeable. 'Well,' he said, 'I can only
ask you to consult any friend whom you can trust upon the matter. Ask
your father, or Mr Belton, and I have no doubt that either of them will
tell you that you are as much entitled to the legacy as though it had
been written in the will.'
'On such a matter, Captain Aylmer, I don't want to ask anybody. You
can't pay me the money unless I choose to take it, and I certainly
shall not do that.' Upon hearing this he smiled, assuming, as Clara
fancied that he was sometimes wont to do, a look of quiet superiority;
and then, for that time, he allowed the subject to be dropped between
But Clara knew that she must discuss it at length with her father, and
the fear of that discussion made her unhappy. She had already written
to say that she would return home on the day but one after the funeral,
and had told Captain Aylmer of her purpose. So very prudent a man as he
of course could not think it right that a young lady should remain with
him, in his house, as his visitor; and to her decision on this point he
had made no objection. She now heartily wished that she had named the
day after the funeral, and that she had not been deterred by her
dislike of making a Sunday journey. She dreaded this day, and would
have been very thankful if he would have left her and gone back to
London. But he intended, he said, to remain at Perivale throughout the
next week, and she must endure the day as best she might be able. She
wished that it were possible to ask Mr Possitt to his accustomed
dinner; but she did not dare to make the proposition to the master of
the house. Though Captain Aylmer had declared Mr Possitt to be a very
worthy man, Clara surmised that he would not be anxious to commence
that practice of a Sabbatical dinner so soon after his aunt's decease.
The day, after all, would be but one day, and Clara schooled herself
into a resolution to bear it with good humour.
Captain Aylmer had made a positive promise to his aunt on her deathbed
that he would ask Clara Amedroz to be his wife, and be had no more idea
of breaking his word than he had of resigning the whole property which
had been left to him. Whether Clara would accept him he had much doubt.
He was a man by no means brilliant, not naturally self-confident, nor
was he, perhaps, to be credited with the possession of high principles
of the finest sort; but he was clever, in the ordinary sense of the
word, knowing his own interest, knowing, too, that that interest
depended on other things besides money; and ha was a just man,
according to the ordinary rules of justice in the world. Not for the
first time, when he was sitting by the bedside of his dying aunt, had
he thought of asking Clara to marry him. Though he had never hitherto
resolved that he would do so though he had never till then brought
himself absolutely to determine that he would take so important a step
he had pondered over it often, and was aware that he was very fond of
Clara. He was, in truth, as much in love with her as it was in his
nature to be in love. He was not a man to break his heart for a girl
nor even to make a strong fight for a wife, as Belton was prepared to
do. If refused once, he might probably ask again having some idea that
a first refusal was not always intended to mean much and he might
possibly make a third attempt, prompted by some further calculation of
the same nature. But it might be doubted whether, on the first, second,
or third occasion, he would throw much passion into his words; and
those who knew him well would hardly expect to see him die of a broken
heart, should he ultimately be unsuccessful.
When he had first thought of marrying Miss Amedroz he had imagined that
she would have shared with him his aunt's property, and indeed such had
been his belief up to the days of the last illness of Mrs Winterfield.
The match therefore had recommended itself to him as being prudent as
well as pleasant; and though his aunt had never hitherto pressed the
matter upon him, he had understood what her wishes were. When she first
told him, three or four days before her death, that her property was
left altogether to him, and then, on hearing how totally her niece was
without hope of provision from her father, had expressed her desire to
give a sum of money to Clara, she had spoken plainly of her desire but
she had not on that occasion asked him for any promise. But afterwards,
when she knew that she was dying, she had questioned him as to his own
feelings, and he, in his anxiety to gratify her in her last wishes, had
given her the promise which she was so anxious to hear. He made no
difficulty in doing so. It was his own wish as well as hers. In a money
point of view he might no doubt now do better; but then money was not
everything. He was very fond of Clara, and felt that if she would
accept him he would be proud of his wife. She was well born and well
educated, and it was the proper sort of thing for him to do. No doubt
he had some idea, seeing how things had now arranged themselves, that
he would be giving much more than he would get; and perhaps the manner
of his offer might be affected by that consideration; but not on that
account did he feel at all sure that he would be accepted. Clara
Amedroz was a proud girl perhaps too proud. Indeed, it was her fault.
If her pride now interfered with her future fortune in life, it should
be her fault, not his. He would do his duty to her and to his aunt he
would do it perseveringly and kindly; and then, if she refused him, the
fault would not be his.
Such, I think, was the state of Captain Aylmer's mind when he got up on
the Sunday morning, resolving that he would on that day make good his
promise. And it must be remembered, on his behalf, that he would have
prepared himself for his task with more animation if he had hitherto
received warmer encouragement. He had felt himself to be repulsed in
the little efforts which he had already made to please the lady, and
had no idea whatever as to the true state of her feelings. Had he known
what she knew, he would, I think, have been animated enough, and gone
to his task as happy and thriving a lover as any. But he was a man
somewhat diffident of himself, though sufficiently conscious of the
value of the worldly advantages which he possessed and he was, perhaps,
a little afraid of Clara, giving her credit for an intellect superior
to his own.
He had promised to walk with her on the Saturday after the reading of
the will, intending to take her out through the gardens down to a farm,
now belonging to himself, which lay at the back of the town, and which
was held by an old widow who had been senior in life to her late
landlady; but no such walk had been possible, as it was dark before the
last of the visitors from Taunton had gone. At breakfast on Sunday he
again proposed the walk, offering to take her immediately after
luncheon. 'I suppose you will not go to church?' he said.
'Not today. I could hardly bring myself to do it today.'
'I think you are right. I shall go. A man can always do these things
sooner than a lady can. But you will come out afterwards?' To this she
assented, and then she was left alone throughout the morning. The walk
she did not mind. That she and Captain Aylmer should walk together was
all very well. They might probably have done so had Mrs Winterfield
been still alive. It was the long evening afterwards that she dreaded
the long winter evening, in which she would have to sit with him as his
guest, and with him only. She could not pass these hours without
talking to him, and she felt that she could not talk to him naturally
and easily. It would, however, be but for once, and she would bear it.
They went together down to the house of Mrs Partridge, the tenant, and
made their kindly speeches to the old woman. Mrs Partridge already knew
that Captain Aylmer was to be her landlord, but having hitherto seen
more of Miss Amedroz than of the captain, and having always regarded
her landlady's niece as being connected irrevocably with the property,
she addressed them as though the estate were a joint affair.
'I shan't be here to trouble you long that I shan't, Miss Clara,' said
the old woman.
'I am sure Captain Aylmer would be very sorry to lose you,' replied
Clara, speaking loud, and close to the poor woman's ear, for she was
'I never looked to live after she was gone, Miss Clara never. No more I
didn't. Deary deary! And I suppose you'll be living at the big house
now; won't ye?'
'The big house belongs to Captain Aylmer, Mrs Partridge.' She was
driven to bawl out her words, and by no means liked the task. Then
Captain Aylmer said something, but his speech was altogether lost.
'Oh it belongs to the captain, do it? They told me that was the way of
the will; but I suppose it's all one.'
'Yes; it's all one,' said Captain Aylmer, gaily.
'It's not exactly all one, as you call it,' said Clara, attempting to
laugh, but still shouting at the top of her voice.
'Ah I don't understand; but I hope you'll both live there together and
I hope you'll be as good to the poor as she that is gone. Well, well; I
didn't ever think that I should be still here, while she is lying under
the stones up in the old church!'
Captain Aylmer had determined that he would ask his question on the way
back from the farm, and now resolved that he might as well begin with
some allusion to Mrs Partridge's words about the house. The afternoon
was bright and cold, and the lane down to the farmhouse had been dried
by the wind, so that the day was pleasant for walking. 'We might as
well go on to the bridge,' he said, as they left the farmyard. 'I
always think that Perivale church looks better from Creevy bridge than
any other point.' Perivale church stood high in the centre of the town,
on an eminence, and was graced with a spire which was declared by the
Perivalians to be preferable to that of Salisbury in proportion, though
it was acknowledged to be somewhat inferior to it in height. The little
river Creevy, which ran through a portion of the suburbs of the town,
and which, as there seen, was hardly more than a ditch, then sloped
away behind Creevy Grange, as the farm of Mrs Partridge was called, and
was crossed by a small wooden bridge, from which there was a view, not
only of the church, but of all that side of the hill on which Mrs
Winterfield's large brick house stood conspicuously.
So they walked down to Creevy bridge, and, when there, stood leaning on
the parapet and looking back upon the town.
'How well I know every house and spot in the place as I see them from
here,' he said.
'A good many of the houses are your own or will be some day; and
therefore you should know them.'
'I remember, when I used to be here as a boy fishing, I always thought
Aunt Winterfield's house was the biggest house in the county.'
'It can't be nearly so large as your father's house in Yorkshire.'
'No; certainly it is not. Aylmer Park is a large place; but the house
does not stretch itself out so wide as that; nor does it stand on the
side of a hill so as to show out its proportions with so much
ostentation. The coach-house and the stables, and the old brewhouse,
seem to come half way down the hill. And when I was a boy I had much
more respect for my aunt's red-brick house in Perivale than I had for
'And now it's your own.'
'Yes; now it's my own and all my respect for it is gone. I used to
think the Creevy the best river in England for fish; but I wouldn't
give a sixpence now for all the perch I ever caught in it.'
'Perhaps your taste for perch is gone also.'
'Yes; and my taste for jam. I never believed in the store-room at
Aylmer Park as I did in my aunt's store-room here.'
'I don't doubt but what it is full now.'
'I dare say; but I shall never have the curiosity even to inquire. Ah,
dear I wish I knew what to do about the house.'
'You won't sell it, I suppose?'
'Not if I could either live in it, or let it. It would be wrong to let
it stand idle.'
'But you need not decide quite at once.'
'That's just what I want to do. I want to decide at once.'
'Then I'm sure I cannot advise you. It seems to me very unlikely that
you should come and live here by yourself. It isn't like a
'I shan't live there by myself certainly. You heard what Mrs Partridge
said just now.'
'What did Mrs Partridge say?'
'She wanted to know whether it belonged to both of us, and whether it
was not all one. Shall it be all one, Clara?'
She was leaning over the rail of the bridge as he spoke, with her eyes
fixed on the slowly moving water. When she heard his words she raised
her face and looked full upon him. She was in some sort prepared for
the moment, though it would be untrue to say that she had now expected
it. Unconsciously she had made some resolve that if ever the question
were put to her by him, she would not be taken altogether off her
guard; and now that the question was put to her, she was able to
maintain her composure. Her first feeling was one of triumph as it must
be in such a position to any woman who has already acknowledged to
herself that she loves the man who then asks her to be his wife. She
looked up into Captain Aylmer's face and his eye almost quailed beneath
hers. Even should he be triumphant, he was not perfectly assured that
his triumph would be a success.
'Shall what be all one?' she asked.
'Shall it be in your house and my house? Can you tell me that you will
love me and be my wife?' Again she looked at him, and he repeated his
question. 'Clara, can you love me well enough to take me for your
'I can,' she said. Why should she hesitate, and play the coy girl, and
pretend to any doubts in her mind which did not exist there? She did
love him, and had so told herself with much earnestness. To him, while
his words had been doubtful while he had simply played at making love
to her, she had given no hint of the state of her affections. She had
so carried herself before him as to make him doubt whether success
could be possible for him. But now why should she hesitate now? It was
as she had hoped or as she bad hardly dared to hope. He did love her.
'I can,' she said; and then, before he could speak again, she repeated
her words with more emphasis. 'Indeed I can; with all my heart.'
As regarded herself, she was quite equal to the occasion; but had she
known more of the inner feelings of men and women in general, she would
have been slower to show her own. What is there that any man desires
any man or any woman that does not lose half its value when it is found
to be easy of access and easy of possession? Wine is valued by its
price, not its flavour. Open your doors freely to Jones and Smith, and
Jones and Smith will not care to enter them. Shut your doors obdurately
against the same gentlemen, and they will use all their little
diplomacy to effect an entrance. Captain Aylmer, when he heard the
hearty tone of the girl's answer, already began almost to doubt whether
it was wise on his part to devote the innermost bin of his cellar to
wine that was so cheap.
Not that he had any idea of receding. Principle, if not love, prevented
that. 'Then the question about the house is decided,' he said, giving
his hand to Clara as he spoke.
'I don't care a bit about the house now,' she answered.
'I am thinking so much more of you of you and of myself. What does an
old house matter?'
'It's in very good repair,' said Captain Aylmer.
'You must not laugh at me,' she said; and in truth he was not laughing
at her. 'What I mean is that anything about a house is indifferent to
me now. It is as though I had got all that I want in the world. Is it
wrong of me to say so?'
'Oh, dear, no not wrong at all. How can it be wrong?' He did not tell
her that he also had got all he wanted; but his lack of enthusiasm in
this respect did not surprise her, or at first even vex her. She had
always known him to be a man careful of his words knowing their value
not speaking with hurried rashness as would her dear cousin Will. And
she doubted whether, after all, such hurried words mean as much as
words which are slower and calmer. After all his heat in love and
consequent disappointment, Will Belton had left her apparently well
contented. His fervour had been short-lived. She loved her cousin
dearly, and was so very glad that his fervour had been short-lived!
'When you asked me, I could but tell you the truth,' she said, smiling
The truth is very well, but he would have liked it better had the truth
come to him by slower degrees. When his aunt had told him to marry
Clara Amedroz, he had been at once reconciled to the order by a feeling
on his own part that the conquest of Clara would not be too facile. She
was a woman of value, not to be snapped up easily or by any one. So he
had thought then; but he began to fancy now that he had been wrong in
The walk back to the house was not of itself very exciting, though to
Clara it was a short period of unalloyed bliss. No doubt had then come
upon her to cloud her happiness, and she was 'wrapped up in measureless
content.' It was well that they should both be silent at such a moment.
Only yesterday had been buried their dear old friend the friend who had
brought them together, and been so anxious for their future happiness!
And Clara Amedroz was not a young girl, prone to jump out of her shoes
with elation because she had got a lover. She could be steadily happy
without many immediate words about her happiness. When they reached the
house, and were once more together in the drawing-room, she again gave
him her hand, and was the first to speak. And you; are you contented?'
she asked. Who does not know the smile of triumph with which a girl
asks such a question at such a moment as that?
'Contented? well yes; I think I am,' he said.
But even those words did not move her to doubt. 'If you are,' she
said,' I am. And now I will leave you till dinner, that you may think
over what you have done.'
'I had thought about it before, you know,' he replied. Then he stooped
over her and kissed her. It was the first time he had done so; but his
kiss was as cold and proper as though they had been man and wife for
years! But it sufficed for her, and she went to her room as happy as a
MISS AMEDROZ IS TOO CANDID BY HALE
Clara, when she left her accepted lover in the drawing-room and went
up to her own chamber, had two hours for consideration before she would
see him again and she had two hours for enjoyment. She was very happy.
She thoroughly believed in the man who was to be her husband, feeling
confident that he possessed those qualities which she thought to be
most necessary for her married happiness. She had quizzed him at times,
pretending to make it matter of accusation against him that his life
was not in truth all that his aunt believed it to be but had it been
more what Mrs Winterfield would have wished, it would have been less to
Clara's taste. She liked his position in the world; she liked the
feeling that he was a man of influence; perhaps she liked to think that
to some extent he was a man of fashion. He was not handsome, but he
looked always like a gentleman. He was well educated, given to reading,
prudent, steady in his habits, a man likely to rise in the world; and
she loved him. I fear the reader by this time may have begun to think
that her love should never have been given to such a man. To this
accusation I will make no plea at present, but I will ask the
complainant whether such men are not always loved. Much is said of the
rashness of women in giving away their hearts wildly; but the charge
when made generally is, I think, an unjust one. I am more often
astonished by the prudence of girls than by their recklessness. A woman
of thirty will often love well and not wisely; but the girls of twenty
seem to me to like propriety of demeanour, decency of outward life, and
a competence. It is, of course, good that it should be so; but if it is
so, they should not also claim a general character for generous and
passionate indiscretion, asserting as their motto that Love shall still
be Lord of All. Clara was more than twenty; but she was not yet so far
advanced in age as to have lost her taste for decency of demeanour and
propriety of life. A Member of Parliament, with a small house near
Eaton Square, with a moderate income, and a liking for committees, who
would write a pamphlet once every two years, and read Dante critically
during the recess, was, to her, the model for a husband. For such a one
she would read his blue books, copy his pamphlets, and learn his
translations by heart. She would be safe in the hands of such a man,
and would know nothing of the miseries which her brother bad
encountered. Her model may not appear, when thus described, to be a
very noble one; but I think it is the model most approved among ladies
of her class in England.
She made up her mind on various points during those two hours of
solitude. In the first place, she would of course keep her purpose of
returning home on the following day. It was not probable that Captain
Aylmer would ask her to change it; but let him ask ever so much it must
not be changed. She must at once have the pleasure of telling her
father that all his trouble about her would now be over; and then,
there was the consideration that her further sojourn in the house, with
Captain Aylmer as her lover, would hardly be more proper than it would
have been bad he not occupied that position. And what was she to say if
he pressed her as to the time of their marriage? Her aunt's death would
of course be a sufficient reason why it should be delayed for some few
months; and, upon the whole, she thought it would be best to postpone
it till the next session of Parliament should have nearly expired. But
she would be prepared to yield to Captain Aylmer, should he name any
time after Easter. It was clearly his intention to keep up the house in
Perivale as his country residence. She did not like Perivale or the
house, but she would say nothing against such am arrangement. Indeed,
with what face could she do so? She was going to bring nothing to the
common account absolutely nothing but herself! As she thought of this
her love grew warmer, and she hardly knew how sufficiently to testify
to herself her own gratitude and affection.
She became conscious, as she was preparing herself for dinner, of some
special attention to her toilet. She was more than ordinarily careful
with her hair, and felt herself to be aware of an anxiety to look her
best. She had now been for some time so accustomed to dress herself in
black, that in that respect her aunt's death had made no difference to
her. Deep mourning had ceased from habit to impress her with any
special feeling of funereal solemnity. But something about herself, or
in the room, at last struck her with awe, bidding her remember how
death had of late been busy among those who had been her dearest and
nearest friends; and she sat down, almost frightened at her own
heartlessness, in that she was allowing herself to be happy at such a
time. Her aunt had been carried away to her grave only yesterday, and
her brother's death had occurred under circumstances of peculiar
distress within the year and yet she was happy, triumphant almost lost
in the joy of her own position! She remained for a while in her chair,
with her black dress hanging across her lap, as she argued with herself
as to her own state of mind. Was it a sign of a hard heart within her,
that she could be happy at such a time? Ought the memory of her poor
brother to have such an effect upon her as to make any joy of spirits
impossible to her? Should she at the present moment be so crushed by
her aunt's demise, as to be incapable of congratulating herself upon
her own success? Should she have told him, when he asked her that
question upon the bridge, that there could be no marrying or giving in
marriage between them, no talking on such a subject in days so full of
sorrow as these? I do not know that she quite succeeded in recognizing
it as a truth that sorrow should be allowed to bar out no joy that it
does not bar out of absolute necessity by its own weight, without
reference to conventional ideas; that sorrow should never, under any
circumstances, be nursed into activity, as though it were a thing in
itself divine or praiseworthy. I do not know that she followed out her
arguments till she had taught herself that it is the Love that is
divine the Love which, when outraged by death or other severance,
produces that sorrow which man would control if he were strong enough,
but which he cannot control by reason of the weakness of his humanity.
I doubt whether so much as this made itself plain to her, as she sat
there before her toilet table, with her sombre dress hanging from her
hands on to the ground. But something of the strength of such reasoning
was hers. Knowing herself to be full of joy, she would not struggle to
make herself believe that it behoved her to be unhappy. She told
herself that she was doing what was good for others as well as for
herself what would be very good for her father, and what should be
good, if it might be within her power to make it so, for him who was to
be her husband. The blackness of the cloud of her brother's death would
never altogether pass away from her. It had tended, as she knew well,
to make her serious, grave, and old, in spite of her own efforts to the
contrary. The cloud had been so black with her that it had nearly lost
for her the prize which was now her own. But she told herself that that
blackness was an injury to her, and not a benefit, and that it had now
become a duty to her for his sake, if not for her own to dispel its
shadows rather than encourage them. She would go down to him full of
joy, though not full of mirth, and would confess to him frankly, that
in receiving the assurance of his love, she had received everything
that had seemed to have any value for her in the world.
Hitherto she had been independent she had specially been careful to
show to him her resolve to be independent of him. Now she would put
aside all that, and let him know that she recognized in him her lord
and master as well as husband. To her father had been left no strength
on which she could lean, and she had been forced therefore to trust to
her own strength. Now she would be dependent on him who was to be her
husband. As heretofore she had rejected his offers of assistance almost
with disdain, so now would she accept them without scruple, looking to
him to be her guide in all things, putting from her that carping spirit
in which she had been wont to judge of his actions, and believing in
him as a wife should believe in her husband.
Such were the resolutions which Clara made in the first hour of
solitude which came to her after her engagement; and they would have
been wise resolutions but for this flaw that the stronger was
submitting itself to the weaker, the greater to the less, the more
honest to the less honest, that which was nearly true to that which was
in great part false. The theory of man and wife that special theory in
accordance with which the wife is to bend herself in loving submission
before her husband is very beautiful; and would be good altogether if
it could only be arranged that the husband should be the stronger and
the greater of the two. The theory is based upon that hypothesis and
the hypothesis sometimes fails of confirmation. In ordinary marriages
the vessel rights itself, and the stronger and the greater takes the
lead, whether clothed in petticoats, or in coat, waistcoat, and
trousers; but there sometimes comes a terrible shipwreck, when the
woman before marriage has filled herself full with ideas of submission,
and then finds that her golden. headed god has got an iron body and
feet of clay.
Captain Aylmer, when he was left alone, had also something to think
about; and as there were two hours left for such thought before he
would again meet Clara, and as he had nothing else with which to occupy
himself during those two hours, he again strolled down to the bridge on
which be had made his offer. He strolled down there, thinking that he
was thinking, but hardly giving much mind to his thoughts, which he
allowed to run away with themselves as they listed. Of course he was
going to be married. That was a thing settled. And he was perfectly
satisfied with himself in that he had done nothing in a hurry, and
could accuse himself of no folly even if he had no great cause for
triumph. He had been long thinking that he should like to have Clara
Amedroz for his wife long thinking that he would ask her to marry him;
and having for months indulged such thoughts, he could not take blame
to himself for having made to his aunt that deathbed promise which she
had exacted. At the moment in which she asked him the question he was
himself anxious to do the thing she desired of him. How then could be
have refused her? And, having given the promise, it was a matter of
course with him to fulfil it. He was a man who would have never
respected himself again would have hated himself for ever, had he
failed to keep a promise from which no living being could absolve him.
He had been right therefore to make the promise, and having made it,
had been right to keep it, and to do the thing at once. And Clara was
very good and very wise, and sometimes looked very well, and would
never disgrace him; and as she was in worldly matters to receive much
and give nothing, she would probably be willing to make herself
amenable to any arrangements as to their future mode of life which he
might propose. In respect of this matter he was probably thinking of
lodgings for himself in London during the parliamentary session, while
she remained alone in the big red house upon which his eyes were fixed
at the time. There was much of convenience in all this, which might
perhaps atone to him for the sacrifice which he was undoubtedly making
of himself. Had marriage simply been of itself a thing desirable, he
could doubtless have disposed of himself to better advantage. His
prospects, present fortune, and general position were so favourable,
that he might have dared to lift his expectations, in regard both to
wealth and rank, very high. The Aylmers were a considerable people, and
he, though a younger brother, bad much more than a younger brother's
portion. His seat in Parliament was safe; his position in society was
excellent and secure; he was exactly so placed that marriage with a
fortune was the only thing wanting to put the finishing coping-stone to
his edifice that, and perhaps also the useful glory of having some Lady
Mary or Lady Emily at the top of his table. Lady Emily Aylmer? Yes it
would have sounded better, and there was a certain Lady Emily who might
have suited. Now, as some slight regrets stole upon him gently, he
failed to remember that this Lady Emily had not a shilling in the world.
Yes; some faint regrets did steal upon him, though he went on telling
himself that he had acted rightly. His stars, which were generally very
good to him, had not perhaps on this occasion been as good as usual. No
doubt he had to a certain degree become encumbered with Clara Amedroz.
Had not the direct and immediate leap with which she had come into his
arms shown him somewhat too plainly that one word of his mouth tending
towards matrimony had been regarded by her as being too valuable to be
lost? The fruit that falls easily from the tree, though it is ever the
best, is never valued by the gardener. Let him have well-nigh broken
his neck in gathering it, unripe and crude, from the small topmost
boughs of the branching tree, and the pippin will be esteemed by him as
invaluable. On that morning, as Captain Aylmer had walked home from
church, he had doubted much what would be Clara's answer to him. Then
the pippin was at the end of the dangerous bough. Now it had fallen to
his feet, and he did not scruple to tell himself that it was his and
always might have been his as a matter of course. Well, the apple had
come of a good kind, and, though there might be specks upon it, though
it might not be fit for any special glory of show or pride of place
among the dessert service, still it should be garnered and used, and no
doubt would be a very good apple for eating. Having so concluded,
Captain Aylmer returned to the house, washed his hands, changed his
boots, and went down to the drawing-room just as dinner was ready.
She came up to him almost radiant with joy, and put her hand upon his
arm. 'Martha did not know but what you were here,' she said, 'and told
them to put dinner on the table.'
'I hope I have not kept you waiting.'
'Oh, dear, no. And what if you did? Ladies never care about things
getting cold. It is gentlemen only who have feelings in such matters as
'I don't know that there is much difference; but, however ' Then they
were in the dining-room, and as the servant remained there during
dinner, there was nothing in their conversation worth repeating. After
dinner they still remained down-stairs, seating themselves on the two
sides of the fire, Clara having fully resolved that she would not on
such an evening as this leave Captain Aylmer to drink his glass of port
wine by himself.
'I suppose I may stay with you, mayn't I?' she said.
'Oh, dear, yes; I'm sure I'm very much obliged. I'm not at all wedded
to solitude.' Then there was a slight pause.
'That's lucky,' she said 'as you have made up your mind to be wedded in
another sort of way.' Her voice as she spoke was very low, but there
was a gentle ring of restrained joyousness in it which ought to have
gone at once to his heart and made him supremely blessed for the time.
'Well yes,' he answered. 'We are in for it now, both of us are we not?
I hope you have no misgivings about it, Clara.'
'Who? I? I have misgivings! No, indeed. I have no misgivings, Frederic;
no doubts, no scruples, no alloy in my happiness. With me it is all as
I would have it be. Ah; you haven't understood why it has been that I
have seemed to be harsh to you when we have met.'
'No, I have not,' said he. This was true; but it is true also that it
would have been well that he should be kept in his ignorance. She was
minded, however, to tell him everything, and therefore she went on.
'I don't know how to tell you; and yet, circumstanced as we are now, it
seems that I ought to tell you everything.'
'Yes, certainly; I think that,' said Aylmer. He was one of those men
who consider themselves entitled to see, hear, and know every little
detail of a woman's conduct, as a consequence of the circumstances of
his engagement, and who consider themselves shorn of their privilege if
anything be kept back. If any gentleman had said a soft word to Clara
eight years ago, that soft word ought to be repeated to him now. lam
afraid that these particular gentlemen sometimes hear some fibs; and I
often wonder that their own early passages in the tournays of love do
not warn them that it must be so. When James has sat deliciously
through all the moonlit night with his arm round Mary's waist and
afterwards sees Mary led to the altar by John, does it not occur to him
that some John may have also sat with his arm round Anna's waist that
Anna whom he is leading to the altar? These things should not be
inquired into too curiously; but the curiosity of some men on such
matters has no end. For the most part, women like telling only they do
not choose to be pressed beyond their own modes of utterance. 'I should
like to know that I have your full confidence,' said he.
'You have got my full confidence,' she replied.
'I mean that you should tell me anything that there is to be told.'
'It was only this, that I had learned to love you before I thought that
my love would be returned.'
'Oh was that it?' said Captain Aylmer, in a tone which seemed to imply
something like disappointment.
'Yes. Fred; that was It. And how could I, under such circumstances,
trust myself to be gentle with you, or to look to you for assistance?
How could I guess then all that I know now?'
'Of course you couldn't.'
'And therefore I was driven to be harsh. My aunt used to speak to me
'I don't wonder at that, for she was very anxious that we should be
Clara for a moment felt herself to be uncomfortable as she heard these
words, half perceiving that they implied some instigation on the part
of Mrs Winterfield. Could it be that Captain Aylmer's offer had been
made in obedience to a promise? 'Did you know of her anxiety?' she
'Well yes; that is to say, I guessed it. It was natural enough that the
same idea should come to her and to me too. Of course, seeing us so
much thrown together, she could not but think of our being married as a
chance upon the cards.'
'She used to tell me that I was harsh to you abrupt, she called it. But
what could I do? I'll tell you, Fred, how I first found out that I
really cared for you. What I tell you now is of course a secret; and I
should speak of it to no one under any circumstances but those which
unite us two together. My Cousin Will, when he was at Belton, made me
'He did, did he? You did not tell me that when you were saying all
those fine things in his praise in the railway carriage.'
Of course I did not. Why should I? I wasn't bound to tell you my
secrets then, sir.'
'But did he absolutely offer to you?'
'Is there anything so wonderful in that? But, wonderful or not, he did.'
'And you refused him?'
'I refused him certainly.'
'It wouldn't have been a bad match, if all that you say about his
property is true.'
'If you come to that, it would have been a very good match; and perhaps
you think I was silly to decline it?'
'I don't say that.'
'Papa thought so but, then, I couldn't tell papa the whole truth, as I
can tell it to you now, Captain Aylmer. I couldn't tell dear papa that
my heart was not my own to give to my Cousin Will; nor could I give
Will any such reason. Poor Will! I could only say to him bluntly that I
wouldn't have him.'
'And you would, if it hadn't been hadn't been for me.'
'Nay, Fred; there you tax me too far. What might have come of my heart
if you hadn't fallen in my way, who can say? I love Will Belton dearly,
and hope that you may do so'
'I must see him first.'
'Of course but, as I was saying, I doubt whether, under any
circumstances, he would have been the man I should have chosen for a
husband. But as it was it was impossible. Now you know it all, and I
think that I have been very frank with you.'
'Oh! very frank.' He would not take her little jokes, nor understand
her little prettinesses. That he was a man not prone to joking she knew
well, but still it went against the grain with her to find that be was
so very hard in his replies to her attempts.
It was not easy for Clara to carry on the conversation after this, so
she proposed that they should go upstairs into the drawing-room. Such a
change even as that would throw them into a different way of talking,
and prevent the necessity of any further immediate allusion to Will
Belton. For Clara was aware, though she hardly knew why, that her
frankness to her future husband had hardly been successful, and she
regretted that she had on this occasion mentioned her cousin's name.
They went upstairs and again sat themselves in chairs over the fire;
but for a while conversation did not seem to come to them freely. Clara
felt that it was now Captain Aylmer's turn to begin, and Captain Aylmer
felt that he wished he could read the newspaper. He had nothing in
particular that he desired to say to his lady-love. That morning, as he
was shaving himself, he had something to say that was very particular
as to which he was at that moment so nervous, that he had cut himself
slightly through the trembling of his hand. But that had now been said,
and he was nervous no longer. That had now been said, and the thing
settled so easily, that he wondered at his own nervousness. He did not
know that there was anything that required much further immediate
speech. Clara had thought somewhat of the time which might be proposed
for their marriage, making some little resolves, with which the reader
is already acquainted; but no ideas of this kind presented themselves
to Captain Aylmer. He had asked his cousin to be his wife, thereby
making good his promise to his aunt. There could be no further
necessity for pressing haste. Sufficient for the day is the evil
It is not to be supposed that the thriving lover actually spoke to
himself in such language as that or that he confessed to himself that
Clara Amedroz was an evil to him rather than a blessing. But his
feelings were already so far tending in that direction, that he was by
no means disposed to make any further promise, or to engage himself in
closer connexion with matrimony by the mention of any special day.
Clara, finding that her companion would not talk without encouragement
from her, had to begin again, and asked all those natural questions
about his family, his brother, his sister, his home habits, and the old
house in Yorkshire, the answers to which must be so full of interest to
her. But even on these subjects he was dry, and in-disposed to answer
with the full copiousness of free communication which she desired. And
at last there came a question and an answer a word or two on one side,
and then a word or two on the other, from which Clara got a wound which
was very sore to her.
'I have always pictured to myself,' she said 'your mother as a woman
who has been very handsome.'
'She is still a handsome woman, though she is over sixty.'
'Tall, I suppose?'
'Yes, tall, and with something of of what shall I say dignity, about
'She is not grand, I hope?'
'I don't know what you call grand.'
'Not grand in a bad sense I'm sure she is not that. But there are some
ladies who seem to stand so high above the level of ordinary females as
to make us who are ordinary quite afraid of them.'
'My mother is certainly not ordinary,' said Captain Aylmer.
'And I am,' said Clara, laughing. 'I wonder what she'll say to me or,
rather, what she will think of me.' Then there was a moment's silence,
after which Clara, still laughing, went on. 'I see, Fred, that you have
not a word of encouragement to give me about your mother.'
'She is rather particular,' said Captain Aylmer.
Then Clara drew herself up, and ceased to laugh. She had called herself
ordinary with that half- insincere depreciation of self which is common
to all of us when we speak of our own attributes, but which we by no
means intend that they who hear us shall accept as strictly true, or
shall re-echo as their own approved opinions. But in this instance
Captain Aylmer, though he had not quite done that, had done almost as
'Then I suppose I had better keep out of her way,' said Clara, by no
means laughing as she spoke.
'Of course when we are married you must go and see her.'
'You do not, at any rate, promise me a very agreeable visit, Fred. But
I dare say I shall survive it. After all, it is you that I am to marry,
and not your mother; and as long as you are not majestic to me, I need
not care for her majesty.'
'I don't know what you mean by majesty.'
'You must confess that you speak of her as of something very terrible.'
'I say that she is particular and so she is. And as my respect for her
opinion is equal to my affection for her person, I hope that you will
make a great effort to gain her esteem.'
'I never make any efforts of that kind. If esteem doesn't come without
efforts it isn't worth having.'
'There I disagree with you altogether but I especially disagree with
you as you are speaking about my mother, and about a lady who is to
become your own mother-in-law. I trust that you will make such efforts,
and that you will make them successfully. Lady Aylmer is not a woman
who will give you her heart at once, simply because you have become her
son's wife. She will judge you by your own qualities and will not
scruple to condemn you should she see cause.'
Then there was a longer silence, and Clara's heart was almost in
rebellion even on this, the first day of her engagement. But she
quelled her high spirit, and said no further word about Lady Aylmer.
Nor did she speak again till she had enabled herself to smile as she
'Well, Fred,' she said, putting her hand upon his arm, 'I'll do my
best, and woman can do no more. And now I'll say good-night, for I must
pack for tomorrow's journey before I go to bed.' Then he kissed her
with a cold, chilling kiss and she left him for the night.
MISS AMEDROZ RETURNS HOME
Clara was to start by a train leaving Perivale at eight on the
following morning, and therefore there was not much time for
conversation before she went. During the night she had endeavoured so
to school herself as to banish from her breast all feelings of anger
against her lover, and of regret as regarded herself. Probably, as she
told herself, she had made more of what he had said than he had
intended that she should do; and then, was it not natural that he
should think much of his mother, and feel anxious as to the way in
which she might receive his wife. As to that feeling of anger on her
own part, she did get quit of it; but the regret was not to be so
easily removed. It was not only what Captain Aylmer had said about his
mother that clung to her, doing much to quench her joy; but there had
been a coldness in his tone to her throughout the evening which she
recognized almost unconsciously, and which made her heart heavy in
spite of the joy which she repeatedly told herself ought to be her own.
And she also felt though she was not clearly aware that she did so that
his manner towards her had become less affectionate, less like that of
a lover, since the honest tale she had told him of her own early love
for him. She should have been less honest, and more discreet; less
bold, and more like in her words to the ordinary run of women. She had
known this as she was packing last night, and she told herself that it
was so as she was dressing on this her last morning at Perivale. That
frankness of hers had not been successful, and she regretted that she
had not imposed on herself some little reticence or even a little of
that coy pretence of indifference which is so often used by ladies when
they are wooed. She had been boldly honest, and had found her honesty
to be bad policy. She thought, at least, that she had found its policy
to be bad. Whether in truth it may not have been very good have been
the best policy in the world tending to give her the first true
intimation which she had ever yet received of the real character of the
man who was now so much to her that is altogether another question.
But it was clearly her duty to make the best of her present
circumstances, and she went down-stairs with a smiling face and with
pleasant words on her tongue. When she entered the breakfast-room
Captain Aylmer was there; but Martha was there also, and her pleasant
words were received indifferently in the presence of the servant. When
the old woman was gone, Captain Aylmer assumed a grave face, and began
a serious little speech which he had prepared. But he broke down in the
utterance of it, and was saying things very different from what he had
intended before he had completed it.
'Clara,' he began, 'what occurred between us yesterday is a source of
great satisfaction to me.'
'I am glad of that, Frederick,' said she, trying to be a little less
serious than her lover.
'Of very great satisfaction,' he continued; 'and I cannot but think
that we were justified by the circumstances of our position in
forgetting for a time the sad solemnity of the occasion. When I
remember that it was but the day before yesterday that I followed my
dear old aunt to the grave, I am astonished to think that yesterday I
should have made an offer of marriage.'
What could be the good of his talking in this strain? Clara, too, had
had her own misgivings on the same subject little qualms of conscience
that had come to her as she remembered her old friend in the silent
watches of the night; but such thoughts were for the silent watches,
and not for open expression in the broad daylight. But he had paused,
and she must say something.
'One's excuse to oneself is this that she would have wished it so.'
'Exactly. She would have wished it. Indeed she did wish it, and
therefore ' He paused in what he was saying, and felt himself to be on
difficult ground. Her eye was full upon him, and she waited for a
moment or two as though expecting that he would finish his words. But
as he did not go on, she finished them for him.
'And therefore you sacrificed your own feelings.' Her heart was
becoming sore, and she was unable to restrain the utterance of her
'Just so,' said he; 'or, rather, not exactly that. I don't mean that I
am sacrificed; for, of course, as I have just now said, nothing as
regards myself can be more satisfactory. But yesterday should have been
a solemn day to us; and as it was not'
'I thought it very solemn.'
'What I mean is that I find an excuse in remembering that I was doing
what she asked me to do.'
'What she asked you to do, Fred?'
'What I had promised, I mean.'
'What you had promised? I did not hear that before.' These last words
were spoken in a very low voice, but they went direct to Captain
'But you have heard me declare,' he said, 'that as regards myself
nothing could be more satisfactory.'
'Fred,' she said, 'listen to me for a moment. You and I engaged
ourselves to each other yesterday as man and wife.'
'Of course we did.'
'Listen to me, dear Fred. In doing that there was nothing in my mind
unbefitting the sadness of the day. Even in death we must think of
life, and if it were well for you and me that we should be together it
would surely have been but a foolish ceremony between us to have
abstained from telling each other that it would be so because my aunt
had died last week. But it may be, and I think it is the case, that the
feelings arising from her death have made us both too precipitate.'
'I don't understand how that can be.'
'You have been anxious to keep a promise made to her, without
considering sufficiently whether in doing so you would secure your own
happiness; and I'
'I don't know about you, but as regards myself I must be considered to
be the best judge.'
'And I have been too much in a hurry in believing that which I wished
'What do you mean by all this, Clara?'
'I mean that our engagement shall be at an end; not necessarily so for
always. But that as an engagement binding us both, it shall for the
present cease to exist. You shall be again free'
'But I don't choose to be free.'
'When you think of it you will find it best that it should be so. You
have performed your promise honestly, even though at a sacrifice to
yourself. Luckily for you for both of us, I should say the full truth
has come out; and we can consider quietly what will be best for us to
do, independently of that promise. We will part, therefore, as dear
friends but not as engaged to each other as man and wife.'
'But we are engaged, and I will not hear of its being broken.'
'A lady's word, Fred, is always the most potential before marriage; and
you must therefore yield to me in this matter. I am sure your judgment
will approve of my decision when you think of it. There shall be no
engagement between us. I shall consider myself quite free free to do as
I please altogether; and you, of course, will be free also.'
'If you please, of course it must be so.'
'I do please, Fred.'
'And yesterday, then, is to go for nothing.'
'Not exactly. It cannot go for nothing with me. I told you too many of
my secrets for that. But nothing that was done or said yesterday is to
be held as binding upon either of us.'
'And you made up your mind to that last night?'
'It is at any rate made up to that now. Come I shall have to go without
my breakfast if I do not eat it at once. Will you have your tea now, or
wait and take it comfortably when I am gone?'
Captain Aylmer breakfasted with her, and took her to the station, and
saw her off with all possible courtesy and attention, and then he
walked back by himself to his own great house in Perivale. Not a word
more had been said between him and Clara as to their engagement, and he
recognized it as a fact that he was no longer bound to her as her
future husband. Indeed, he had no power of not recognizing the fact, so
decided had been her language, and so imperious her manner It had been
of no avail that he had said that the engagement should stand. She had
told him that her voice was to be the more potential, and he had felt
that it was so. Well might it not be best for him that it should be so?
He had kept his promise to his aunt, and bad done all that lay in his
power to make Clara Amedroz his wife. If she chose to rebel against her
own good fortune simply because he spoke to her a few words which
seemed to him to be fitting, might it not be well for him to take her
at her word?
Such were his first thoughts; but as the day wore on with him,
something more generous in his nature came to his aid, and something
also that was akin to real love. Now that she was no longer his own, he
again felt a desire to have her. Now that there would be again
something to be done in winning her, he was again stirred by a man's
desire to do that something. He ought not to have told her of the
promise. He was aware that what he had said on that point had been
dropped by him accidentally, and that Clara's resolution after that had
not been unnatural. He would, therefore, give her another chance, and
resolved before he went to bed that night that he would allow a
fortnight to pass away, and would then write to her, renewing his offer
with all the strongest declarations of affection which he would be
enabled to make.
Clara on her way home was not well satisfied with herself or with her
position. She had had great joy, during the few hours of joy which had
been hers, in thinking of the comfort which her news would give to her
father. He would be released from all further trouble on her account by
the tidings which she would convey to him by the tidings which she had
intended to convey to him. But now the story which she would have to
tell would by no means be comfortable. She would have to explain to him
that her aunt had left no provision for her, and that would be the
beginning and the end of her story. As for those conversations about
the fifteen hundred pounds of them she would say nothing. When she
reflected on what had taken place between herself and Captain Aylmer
she was more resolved than ever that she would not touch any portion of
that money or of any money that should come from him. Nor would she
tell her father anything of the marriage engagement which had been made
on one day and unmade on the next. Why should she add to his distress
by showing him what good things might have been hers had she only had
the wit to keep them? No; she would tell her father simply of the will,
and then comfort him in his affliction as best she might.
As regarded her position with Captain Aylmer, the more she thought of
it the more sure she became that everything was over in that quarter.
She had, indeed, told him that such need not necessarily be the case
but this she had done in her desire at the moment to mitigate the
apparent authoritativeness of her own decision, rather than with any
idea of leaving the matter open for further consideration. She was sure
that Captain Aylmer would be glad of a means of escape, and that he
would not again place himself in the jeopardy which the promise exacted
from him by his aunt had made so nearly fatal to him. And for herself,
though she still loved the man so loved him that she lay back in the
corner of her carriage weeping behind her veil as she thought of what
she had lost still she would not take him, though he should again press
his suit upon her with all the ardour at his command. No, indeed. No
man should ever be made to regard her as a burden imposed upon him by
an extorted promise! What! let a man sacrifice himself to a sense of
duty on her behalf! And then she repeated the odious words to herself,
till she came to think that it had fallen from his lips and not from
In writing to her father from Perivale, she had merely told him of Mrs
Winterfield's death and of her own intended return. At the Taunton
station she met the well-known old fly and the well-known old driver,
and was taken home in the accustomed manner. As she drew nearer to
Belton the sense of her distress became stronger and stronger, till at
last she almost feared to meet her father. What could she say to him
when he should repeat to her, as be would be sure to do, his
lamentation as to her future poverty?
On arriving at the house she learned that he was upstairs in his
bedroom. He had been ill, the servant said, and though he was not now
in bed, he had not come down-stairs. So she ran up to his room, and
finding him seated in an old arm-chair by the fire-side, knelt down at
his feet, as she took his hand and asked him as to his health.
'What has Mrs Winterfield done for you in her will?' These were the
first words he spoke to her.
'Never mind about wills now, papa. I want you to tell me of yourself.'
'Nonsense, Clara. Answer my question.'
'Oh, papa, I wish you would not think so much about money for me.'
'Not think about it? Why am I not to think about it? What else have I
got to think of? Tell me at once, Clara, what she has done. You ought
to have written to me directly the will was made known.'
There was no help for her, and the terrible word must be spoken. 'She
has left her property to Captain Aylmer, papa; and I must say that I
think she is right.'
'You do not mean everything?'
'She has provided for her servants.'
'And has made no provision for you?'
'Do you mean to tell me that she has left you nothing absolutely
nothing?' The old man's manner was altogether altered as he asked the
question; and there came over his face so unusual a look of energy of
the energy of anger that Clara was frightened, and knew not how to
answer him with that tone of authority which she was accustomed to use
when she found it necessary to exercise control over him. 'Do you mean
to say that there is nothing nothing?' And as he repeated the question
he pushed her away from his knees and stood up with an effort, leaning
against the back of his chair.
'Dear papa, do not let this distress you.'
'But is it so? Is there in truth nothing?'
'Nothing, papa. Remember that she was not really my aunt.'
'Nonsense, child! nonsense! How can you talk such trash to me as that?
And then you tell me not to distress myself! I am to know that you will
be a beggar in a year or two probably in a few months and that is not
to distress me! She has been a wicked woman!'
'Oh, papa, do not say that.'
'A wicked woman. A very wicked woman. It is always so with those who
pretend to be more religious than their neighbours. She has been a very
wicked woman, alluring you into her house with false hopes.'
'No, papa no; I must contradict you. She had given me no grounds for
'I say she had even though she may not have made a promise. I say she
had. Did not everybody think that you were to have her money?'
'I don't know what people may have thought. Nobody has had any right to
think about it at all.'
'That is nonsense, Clara. You know that I expected it that you expected
'No no, no!'
'Clara how can you tell me that?'
'Papa, I knew that she intended to leave me nothing. She told me so
when I was there in the spring.'
'She told you so?'
'Yes, papa. She told me that Frederic Aylmer was to have all her
property. She explained to me everything that she meant to do, and I
thought that she was right.'
'And why was not I told when you came home?'
'Dear papa, indeed. What is the meaning of dear papa? Why have I been
'What good could I do by telling you? You could not change it.'
'You have been very undutiful; and as for her, her wickedness and
cruelty shock me shock me. They do, indeed. That she should have known
your position, and had you with her always and then have made such a
will as that! Quite heartless! She must have been quite heartless.'
Clara now began to find that she must in justice to her aunt's memory
tell her father something more. And yet it would be very difficult to
tell him anything that would not bring greater affliction upon him, and
would not also lead her into deeper trouble. Should it come to pass
that her aunt's intention with reference to the fifteen hundred pounds
was mentioned, she would be subjected to an endless persecution as to
the duty of accepting that money from Captain Aylmer. But her present
feelings would have made her much prefer to beg her bread upon the
roads than accept her late lover's generosity. And then again, how
could she explain to her father Mrs Winterfield's mistake about her own
position without seeming to accuse her father of having robbed her? But
nevertheless she must say something, as Mr Amedroz continued to apply
that epithet of heartless to Mrs Winterfield, going on with it in a low
droning tone, that was more injurious to Clara's ears than the first
full energy of his anger.
'Heartless quite heartless shockingly heartless shockingly heartless!'
'The truth is, papa,' Clara said at last, 'that when my aunt told me
about her will, she did not know but what I had some adequate provision
from my own family.'
'That is the truth, papa for she explained the whole thing to me. I
could not tell her that she was mistaken, and thus ask for her money.'
'But she knew everything about that poor wretched boy.' And now the
father dropped back into his chair, and buried his face in his hands.
When he did this Clara again knelt at his feet. She felt that she had
been cruel, and that she had defended her aunt at the cost of her own
father. She had, as it were, thrown in his teeth his own imprudence,
and twitted him with the injuries which he had done to her. 'Papa,' she
said, 'dear papa, do not think about it at all. What is the use? After
all, money is not everything. I care nothing for money. If you will
only agree to banish the subject altogether, we shall be so
'How is it to be banished?'
'At any rate we need not speak of it. Why should we talk on a subject
which is simply uncomfortable, and which we cannot mend?'
'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!' And now he swayed himself backwards and
forwards in his chair, bewailing his own condition and hers, and his
past imprudence, while the tears ran down his checks. She still knelt
there at his feet, looking up into his face with loving, beseeching
eyes, praying him to be comforted, and declaring that all would still
be well if he would only forget the subject, or, at any rate, cease to
speak of it. But still he went on wailing, complaining of his lot as a
child complains, and refusing all consolation. 'Yes; I know,' said he,
'it has all been my fault. But how could I help it? What was I to do?'
'Papa, nobody has said that anything was your fault; nobody has thought
'I never spent anything on myself never, never; and yet and yet and yet
'Look at it with more courage, papa. After all, what harm will it be if
I should have to go out and earn my own bread like any other young
woman? I am not afraid.'
At last he wept himself into an apathetic tranquillity, as though he
had at present no further power for any of the energy of grief; and she
left him while she went about the house and learned how things had gone
on during her absence. It seemed, from the tidings which the servant
gave her, that he had been ill almost since she had been gone. He had,
at any rate, chosen to take his meals in his own room, and as far as
was remembered, had not once left the house since she had been away. He
had on two or three occasions spoken of Mr Belton, appearing to be
anxious for his coming, and asking questions as to the cattle and the
work that was still going on about the place; and Clara, when she
returned to his room, tried to interest him again about her cousin. But
he had in truth been too much distressed by the ill news as to Mrs
Winterfield's will to be able to rally himself, and the evening that
was spent up in his room was very comfortless to both of them. Clara
had her own sorrows to bear as well as her father's, and could take no
pleasant look out into the world of her own circumstances. She had
gained her lover merely to lose him and had lost him under
circumstances that were very painful to her woman's feeling. Though he
had been for one night betrothed to her as her husband, he had never
loved her. He had asked her to be his wife simply in fulfilment of a
death-bed promise! The more she thought of it the more bitter did the
idea of it become to her. And she could not also but think of her
cousin. Poor Will! He, at any rate, had loved her, though his eagerness
in love had been, as she told herself, but short-lived. As she thought
of him, it seemed but the other day that he had been with her up on the
rock in the park but as she thought of Captain Aylmer, to whom she had
become engaged only yesterday, and from whom she had separated herself
only that morning, she felt that an eternity of time had passed since
she had parted from him.
On the following day, a dull, dark, melancholy day, towards the end of
November, she went out to saunter about the park, leaving her father
still in his bedroom, and after a while made her way down to the
cottage. She found Mrs Askerton as usual alone in the little
drawing-room, sitting near the window with a book in her hand; but
Clara knew at once that her friend had not been reading that she had
been sitting there looking out upon the clouds, with her mind fixed
upon things far away. The general cheerfulness of this woman had often
been cause of wonder to Clara, who knew how many of her hours were
passed in solitude; but there did occasionally come upon her periods of
melancholy in which she was unable to act up to the settled rule of her
life, and in which she would confess that the days and weeks and months
were too long for her.
'So you are back,' said Mrs Askerton, as soon as the first greeting was
'Yes; I am back.'
'I supposed you would not stay there long after the funeral.'
'No; what good could I do?'
'And Captain Aylmer is still there, I suppose?'
'I left him at Perivale.'
There was a slight pause, as Mrs Askerton hesitated before she asked
her next question. 'May I be told anything about the will?' she said.
'The weary will! If you knew how I hated the subject you would not ask
me. But you must not think I hate it because it has given me nothing.'
'Given you nothing?'
'Nothing ! But that does not make me hate it. It is the nature of the
subject that is so odious. I have now told you all everything that
there is to be told, though we were to talk for a week. If you are
generous you will not say another word about it.'
'But I am so sorry.'
'There that's it. You won't perceive that the expression of such sorrow
is a personal injury to me. I don't want you to be sorry.'
'How am I to help it?'
'You need not express it. I don't come pitying you for supposed
troubles. You have plenty of money; but if you were so poor that you
could eat nothing but cold mutton, I shouldn't condole with you as to
the state of your larder. I should pretend to think that poultry and
piecrust were plentiful with you.'
'No, you wouldn't, dear not if I were as dear to you as you are to me.'
'Well, then, be sorry; and let there be an end of it. Remember how much
of all this I must of necessity have to go through with poor papa.'
'Ah, yes; I can believe that.'
'And he is so far from well. Of course you have not seen him since I
have been gone.'
'No; we never see him unless he comes up to the gate there.' Then there
was another pause for a moment. And what about Captain Aylmer?' asked
'Well what about him?'
'He is the heir now?'
'Yes he is the heir.'
'And that is all?'
'Yes; that is all. What more should there be? The poor old house at
Perivale will be shut up, I suppose.'
'I don't care about the old house much, as it is not to be your house.'
'No it is not to be my house certainly.'
'There were two ways in which it might have become yours.'
'Though there were ten ways, none of those ways have come my way,' said
'Of course I know that you are so close that though there were anything
to tell you would not tell it.'
'I think I would tell you anything that was proper to be told; but now
there is nothing proper or improper.'
'Was it proper or improper when Mr Belton made an offer to you as I
knew he would do of course; as I told you that he would? Was that so
improper that it could not be told?'
Clara was aware that the tell-tale colour in her face at once took from
her the possibility of even pretending that the allegation was untrue,
and that in any answer she might give she must acknowledge the fact. 'I
do not think,' she said, 'that it is considered fair to gentlemen to
tell such stories as that.'
'Then I can only say that the young ladies I have known are generally
'But who told you?'
'Who told me? My maid. Of course she got it from yours. Those things
are always known.'
'Poor Will, indeed. He is coming here again, I hear, almost
immediately, and it needn't be "poor Will" unless you like it. But as
for me, I am not going to be an advocate in his favour. I tell you
fairly that I did not like what little I saw of poor Will.'
'I like him of all things.'
'You should teach him to be a little more courteous in his demeanour to
ladies; that is all. I will tell you something else, too, about poor
Will but not now. Some other day I will tell you something of your
Clara did not care to ask any questions as to this something that was
to be told, and therefore took her leave and went away.
MR WILLIAM BELTON TAKES A WALK IN THE COUNTRY
Clara Amedroz had made one great mistake about her cousin, Will
Belton, when she came to the conclusion that she might accept his
proffered friendship without any apprehension that the friend would
become a lover; and she made another, equally great, when she convinced
herself that his love had been as short-lived as it had been eager.
Throughout his journey back to Plaistow, he bad thought of nothing else
but his love, and had resolved to persevere, telling himself sometimes
that he might perhaps be successful, and feeling sure at other times
that he would encounter renewed sorrow and permanent disappointment but
equally resolved in either mood that he would persevere. Not to
persevere in pursuit of any desired object let the object be what it
might was, to his thinking, unmanly, weak, and destructive of
self-respect. He would sometimes say of himself, joking with other men,
that if he did not succeed in this or that thing, he could never speak
to himself again. To no man did he talk of his love in such a strain as
this; but there was a woman to whom he spoke of it; and though he could
not joke on such a matter, the purport of what he said showed the same
feeling. To be finally rejected, and to put up with such rejection,
would make him almost contemptible in his own eyes.
This woman was his sister, Mary Belton. Something has been already said
of this lady, which the reader may perhaps remember. She was a year or
two older than her brother, with whom she always lived, but she had
none of those properties of youth which belonged to him in such
abundance. She was, indeed, a poor cripple, unable to walk beyond the
limits of her own garden, feeble in health, dwarfed in stature, robbed
of all the ordinary enjoyments of life by physical deficiencies, which
made even the task of living a burden to her. To eat was a pain, or at
best a trouble. Sleep would not comfort her in bed, and weariness
during the day made it necessary that the hours passed in bed should be
very long. She was one of those whose lot in life drives us to marvel
at the inequalities of human destiny, and to inquire curiously within
ourselves whether future compensation is to be given.
It is said of those who are small and crooked-backed in their bodies,
that their minds are equally cross-grained and their tempers as
ungainly as their stature. But no one had ever said this of Mary
Belton. Her friends, indeed, were very few in number; but those who
knew her well loved her as they knew her, and there were three or four
persons in the world who were ready at all times to swear that she was
faultless. It was the great happiness of her life that among those
three or four her own brother was the foremost. Will Belton's love for
his sister amounted almost to veneration, and his devotion to her was
so great, that in all the affairs of his life he was prepared to make
her comfort one of his first considerations. And she, knowing this, had
come to fear that she might be an embargo on his prosperity, and a
stumbling-block in the way of his success. It had occurred to her that
he would have married earlier in life if she had not been, as it were,
in his way; and she had threatened him playfully for she could be
playful that he would leave him if he did not soon bring a mistress to
Plaistow Hall. 'I will go to uncle Robert,' she had said. Now uncle
Robert was the clergyman in Lincolnshire of whom mention has been made,
and he was among those two or three who believed in Mary Belton with an
implicit faith as was also his wife. ' I will go to uncle Robert, Will,
and then you will be driven to get a wife.'
'If my sister ever leaves my house, whether there be a wife in it or
not,' Will had answered, 'I will never put trust in any woman again.'
Plaistow Manor-house or Hall was a fine brick mansion, built in the
latter days of Tudor house architecture, with many gables and countless
high chimneys very picturesque to the eye, but not in all respects
comfortable as are the modern houses of the well-to-do squirearchy of
England. And, indeed, it was subject to certain objectionable
characteristics which in some degree justified the scorn which Mr
Amedroz intended to throw upon it when he declared it to be a
farm-house. The gardens belonging to it were large and excellent; but
they did not surround it, and allowed the farm appurtenances to come
close up to it on two sides. The door which should have been the front
door, opening from the largest room in the house, which had been the
hall and which was now the kitchen, led directly into the farm-yard.
From the farther end of this farm-yard a magnificent avenue of elms
stretched across the home pasture down to a hedge which crossed it at
the bottom. That there had been a road through the rows of trees or, in
other words, that there had in truth been an avenue to the house on
that side was, of course, certain. But now there was no vestige of such
road, and the front entrance to Plaistow Hall was by a little path
across the garden from a modern road which had been made to run cruelly
near to the house. Such was Plaistow Hall, and such was its mistress.
Of the master, the reader, I hope, already knows so much as to need no
As Belton drove himself home from the railway station late on that
August night, he made up his mind that he would tell his sister all his
story about Clara Amedroz. She had ever wished that he should marry,
and now he had made his attempt. Little as had been her opportunity of
learning the ways of men and women from experience in society, she had
always seemed to him to know exactly what every one should do in every
position of life. And she would be tender with him, giving him comfort
even if she could not give him hope. Moreover Mary might be trusted
with his secret; for Belton felt, as men always do feel, a great
repugnance to have it supposed that his suit to a woman had been
rejected. Women, when they have loved in vain, often almost wish that
their misfortune should be known. They love to talk about their wounds
mystically telling their own tales under feigned names, and extracting
something of a bitter sweetness out of the sadness of their own
romance. But a man, when he has been rejected rejected with a finality
that is acknowledged by himself is unwilling to speak or hear a word
upon the subject, and would willingly wash the episode out from his
heart if it were possible.
But not on that his first night would he begin to speak of Clara
Amedroz. He would not let his sister believe that his heart was too
full of the subject to allow of his thinking of other matters. Mary was
still up, waiting for him when he arrived, with tea, and cream, and
fruit ready for him. 'Oh, Mary!' he said, 'why are you not in bed? You
know that I would have come to you upstairs.' She excused herself,
smiling, declaring that she could not deny herself the pleasure of
being with him for half an hour on his first return from his travels.
'Of course I want to know what they are like,' she said.
'He is a nice-looking old man,' said Will 'and she is a nice-looking
'That is graphic and short, at any rate.'
'And he is weak and silly, but she is strong and and and'
'Not silly also, I hope?'
'Anything but that. I should say she is very clever.'
'I'm afraid you don't like her, Will.'
'Yes, I do.'
'And did she take your coming well?'
'Very well. I think she is much obliged to me for going.'
'And Mr Amedroz?'
'He liked my coming too very much.'
'What after that cold letter?
'Yes, indeed. I shall explain it all by degrees. I have taken a lease
of all the land, and I'm to go back at Christmas; and as to the old
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