The Belton Estate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XV

Evil Words

Clara Amedroz had received her two letters together that, namely, from the attorney, and that from Captain Aylmer and the result of those letters is already known. She accepted her lover’s renewed offer of marriage, acknowledging the force of his logic, and putting faith in the strength of his assurances. This she did without seeking advice from any one. Who was there from whom she could seek advice on such a matter as that who, at least, was there at Belton? That her father would, as a matter of course, bid her accept Captain Aylmer, was, she thought, certain; and she knew well that Mrs Askerton would do the same. She asked no counsel from any one, but taking the two letters up to her own room, sat down to consider them. That which referred to her aunt’s money, together with the postscript in Captain Aylmer’s letter on the same subject, would be of the least possible moment if she could bring herself to give a favourable answer to the other proposition. But should she not be able to do this should she hesitate as to doing so at once then she must write to the lawyer in very strong terms, refusing altogether to have anything to do with the money. And in such a case as this, not a word could she say to her father either on one subject or on the other.

But why should she not accept the offer made to her? Captain Aylmer declared that he had determined to ask her to be his wife before he had made any promise to Mrs Winterfield. If this were in truth so, then the very ground on which she had separated herself from him would be removed. Why should she hesitate in acknowledging to herself that she loved the man and believed him to be true? So she sat herself down and answered both the letters writing to the lawyer first. To him she said that nothing need be done about the money or the interest till he should see or hear from Captain Aylmer again. Then to Captain Aylmer she wrote very shortly, but very openly with the same ill-judged candour which her spoken words to him had displayed. Of course she would be his; his without hesitation, now that she knew that he expressed his own wishes, and not merely those of his aunt. ‘As to the money,’ she said, ‘it would be simply nonsense now for us to have any talk of money. It is yours in any way, and you had better manage about it as you please. I have written an ambiguous letter to Mr Green, which will simply plague him, and which you may go and see if you like.’ Then she added her postscript, in which she said that she should now at once tell her father, as the news would remove from his mind all solicitude as to her future position. That Captain Aylmer did go to Mr Green we already know, and we know also that he told Mr Green of his intended marriage.

Nothing was said by Captain Aylmer as to any proposed period for their marriage; but that was only natural. It was not probable that any man would name a day till he knew whether or not he was accepted. Indeed, Clara, on thinking over the whole affair, was now disposed to find fault rather with herself than with her lover, and forgetting his coldness and formality at Perivale, remembered only the fact of his offer to her, and his assurance now received that he had intended to make it before the scene which had taken place between him and his aunt. She did find fault with herself, telling herself that she had quarrelled with him without sufficient cause and the eager loving candour of her letter to him was attributable to those self-accusations.

‘Papa,’ she said, after the postman had gone away from Belton, so that there might be no possibility of any recall of her letter, ‘I have something to tell you which I hope will give you pleasure.’

‘It isn’t often that I hear anything of that kind,’ said he.

‘But I think that this will give you pleasure. I do indeed. I am going to be married.’

‘Going to what?’

‘Going to be married, papa. That is, if I have your leave. Of course any offer of that kind that I have accepted is subject to your approval.’

‘And I have been told nothing about it!’

‘It began at Perivale, and I could not tell you then. You do not ask me who is to be my husband.’

‘It is not Will Belton?’

‘Poor Will! No; it is not Will. It is Frederic Aylmer. I think you would prefer him as a son-inlaw even to my Cousin Will.’

‘No I shouldn’t. Why should I prefer a man whom I don’t even know, who lives in London, and who will take you away, so that I shall never see you again?’

‘Dear papa don’t speak of it in that way. I thought you would be glad to know that I was to be so so so happy!’

‘But why is it to be done this way of a sudden? Why didn’t he come to me? Will came to me the very first thing.’

‘He couldn’t come all the way to Belton very well particularly as he does not know you.’

‘Will came here.’

‘Oh, papa, don’t make difficulties. Of course that was different. He was here when he first thought of it. And even then he didn’t think very much about it.’

‘He did all that he could, I suppose?’

‘Well yes. I don’t know how that might be.’ And Clara almost laughed as she felt the difficulties into which she was creeping. ‘Dear Will. He is much better as a cousin than as a husband.’

‘I don’t see that at all. Captain Aylmer will not have the Belton estate or Plaistow Hall.’

‘Surely he is well enough off to take care of a wife. He will have the whole of the Perivale estate, you know.’

‘I don’t know anything about it. According to my ideas of what is proper he should have spoken to me first. If he could not come he might have written. No doubt my ideas may be old-fashioned, and I’m told that Captain Aylmer is a fashionable young man.’

‘Indeed he is not, papa. He is a hard-working Member of Parliament.’

‘I don’t know that he is any better for that. People seem to think that if a man is a Member of Parliament he may do what he pleases. There is Thompson, the Member for Minehead, who has bought some sort of place out by the moors. I never saw so vulgar, pigheaded a fellow in my life. Being in Parliament used to be something when I was young, but it won’t make a man a gentleman now-a-days. It seems to me that none but brewers, and tallow-chandlers, and lawyers go into Parliament now. Will Belton could go into Parliament if he pleased, but he knows better than that. He won’t make himself such a fool.’

This was not comfortable to Clara; but she knew her father, and allowed him to go on with his grumbling. He would come round by degrees, and he would appreciate, if he could not be induced to acknowledge, the wisdom of the step she was about to take.

‘When is it to be?’ he asked.

‘Nothing of that kind has ever been mentioned, papa.’

‘It had better be soon, if I am to have anything to do with it.’ Now it was certainly the case that the old man was very ill. He had not been out of the house since Clara had returned home; and, though he was always grumbling about his food, he could hardly be induced to eat anything when the morsels for which he expressed a wish were got for him.

‘Of course you will be consulted, papa, before anything is settled.’

‘I don’t want to be in anybody’s way, my dear.’

‘And may I tell Frederic that you have given your consent?

‘What’s the use of my consenting or not consenting? If you had been anxious to oblige me you would have taken your Cousin Will.’

‘Oh, papa, how could I accept a man I didn’t love?’

‘You seemed to me to be very fond of him at first; and I must say, I thought he was ill-treated.’

‘Papa, papa; do not say such things as that to me!’

‘What am I to do? You tell me, and I can’t altogether hold my tongue.’ Then there was a pause. ‘Well, my dear, as for my consent, of course you may have it if it’s worth anything. I don’t know that I ever heard anything bad about Captain Aylmer.’

He had heard nothing bad about Captain Aylmer! Clara, as she left her father, felt that this was very grievous. Whatever cause she might have had for discontent with her lover, she could not but be aware that he was a man whom any father might be proud to welcome as a suitor for his daughter. He was a man as to whom no ill tales had ever been told who had never been known to do anything wrong or imprudent; who had always been more than respectable, and as to whose worldly position no exception could be taken. She had been entitled to expect her father’s warmest congratulations, and her tidings had been received as though she had proposed to give her hand to one whose character and position only just made it not imperative on the father to withhold his consent! All this was hard, and feeling it to be so, she went upstairs, all alone, and cried bitterly as she thought of it.

On the next day she went down to the cottage and saw Mrs Askerton. She went there with the express purpose of telling her friend of her engagement desirous of obtaining in that quarter the sympathy which her father declined to give her. Had her communication to him been accepted in a different spirit, she might probably have kept her secret from Mrs Askerton till something further had been fixed about her marriage; but she was in want of a few kind words, and pined for some of that encouragement which ladies in love usually wish to receive, at any rate from some one chosen friend. But when she found herself alone with Mrs Askerton she hardly knew how to tell her news; and at first could not tell it at all, as that lady was eager in speaking on another subject.

‘When do you expect your cousin?’ Mrs Askerton asked, almost as soon as Clara was seated.

‘The day after tomorrow.’

‘And he is in London now?’

‘He may be. I dare say he is. But I don’t know anything about it.’

‘I can tell you then that he is. Colonel Askerton has heard of his being there.’

‘You seem to speak of it as though there were some offence in it. Is there any reason why he should not be in London if he pleases?’

‘None in the least. I would much rather that he should be there than here.’

‘Why so? Will his coming hurt you?’

‘I don’t like him. I don’t like him at all and now you know the truth. You believe in him I don’t. You think him to be a fine fellow and a gentleman, whereas I don’t think him to be either.’

‘Mrs Askerton!’

‘This is strong language, I know.’

‘Very strong language.’

‘Yes, my dear; but the truth is, Clara, that you and I, living together here this sort of hermit’s life, each seeing so much of the other and seeing nothing of anybody else, must either be real friends, telling each other what we think, or we must be nothing. We can’t go on with the ordinary make — believes of society, saying little civil speeches and not going beyond them. Therefore I have made up my mind to tell you in plain language that I don’t like your cousin, and don’t believe in him.’

‘I don’t know what you mean by believing in a man.’

‘I believe in you. Sometimes I have thought that you believe in me, and sometimes I have feared that you do not. I think that you are good, and honest, and true; and therefore I like to see your face and hear your voice though it is not often that you say very pleasant things to me.’

‘Do I say unpleasant things?’

‘I am not going to quarrel with you not if I can help it. What business has Mr Belton to go about London making inquiries as to me? What have I done to him, that he should honour me so far?’

‘Has he made inquiries?’

‘Yes; he has. If you have been contented with me as I am if you are satisfied, why should he want to learn more? If you have any question to ask me I will answer it. But what right can he have to be asking questions among strangers?’

Clara had no question to ask, and yet she could not say that she was satisfied. She would have been better satisfied to have known more of Mrs Askerton, but yet she had never condescended to make inquiries about her friend. But her curiosity was now greatly raised; and, indeed, Mrs Askerton’s manner was so strange, her vehemence so unusual, and her eagerness to rush into dangerous subjects so unlike her usual tranquillity in conversation, that Clara did not know how to answer her.

‘I know nothing of any questioning,’ she said.

‘I am sure you don’t. Had I thought you did, much as I love you valuable as your society is to me down in this desert I would never speak to you again. But remember if you want to ask any questions, and will ask them of me of me I will answer them, and will not be angry.’

‘But I don’t want to ask any questions.’

‘You may some day; and then you can remember what I say.’

‘And am I to understand that you are determined to quarrel with my Cousin Will?’

‘Quarrel with him! I don’t suppose that I shall see him. After what I have said it is not probable that you will bring him here, and the servant will have orders to say that I am not at home if be should call. Luckily he and Colonel Askerton did not meet when he was here before.’

‘This is the most strange thing I ever heard in my life.’

‘You will understand it better, my dear, when he makes his communication to you.’

‘What communication?’

‘You’ll find that he’ll have a communication to make. He has been so diligent and so sharp that he’ll have a great deal to tell, I do not doubt. Only, remember, Clara, that if anything that he tells you makes any difference in your feelings towards me, I shall expect you to come to me and say so openly. If he makes his statement, let me make mine. I have a right to ask for that, after what I have promised.’

‘You may be sure that I will.’

‘I want nothing more. I have no distrust in you none in the least. I tell you that I believe in you. If you will do that, and will keep Mr William Belton out of my way during his visit to these parts, I shall be satisfied.’ For some time past Mrs Askerton had been walking about the room, but, as she now finished speaking, she sat herself down as though the subject was fully discussed and completed. For a minute or two she made an effort to resume her usual tranquillity of manner, and in doing so attempted to smile, as though ridiculing her own energy. ‘I knew I should make a fool of myself when you came,’ she said; and now I have done it.’

‘I don’t think you have been a fool at all, but you may have been mistaken.’

‘Very well, my dear, we shall see. It’s very odd what a dislike I took to that man the first time I saw him.’

‘And I am so fond of him!’

‘Yes; he has cozened you as he has your father. I am only glad that he did not succeed in cozening you further than he did. But I ought to have known you bettor than to suppose you could give your heart of hearts to one who is’

‘Do not abuse him any more.’

‘Who is so very unlike the sort of people with whom you have lived. I may, at any rate, say that.’

‘I don’t know that. I haven’t lived much with any one yet except papa, and my aunt, and you.’

‘But you know a gentleman when you see him.’

‘Come, Mrs Askerton, I will not stand this. I thought you had done with the subject, and now you begin again. I had come here on purpose to tell you something of real importance that is, to me; but I must go away without telling you, unless you will give over abusing my cousin.’

‘I will not say a word more about him not at present.’

‘I feel so sure that you are mistaken, you know.’

‘Very well and I feel sure that you are mistaken. We will leave it so, and go to this matter of importance.’ But Clara felt it to be very difficult to tell her tidings after such a conversation as that which had just occurred. When she had entered the room her mind had been tuned to the subject, and she could have found fitting words without much difficulty to herself; but now her thoughts had been scattered and her feelings hurt, and she did not know how to bring herself back to the subject of her engagement. She paused, therefore, and sat with a doubtful, hesitating look, meditating some mode of escape. ‘I am all ears,’ said Mrs Askerton; and Clara thought that she discovered something of ridicule or of sarcasm in the tone of her friend’s voice.

‘I believe I’ll put it off till another day,’ she said.

‘Why so? You don’t think that anything really important to you will not be important to me also?’

‘I’m sure of that, but somehow’

‘You mean to say that I have ruffled you?’

‘Well perhaps; a little.’

‘Then be unruffled again, like my own dear, honest Clara. I have been ruffled too, but I’ll be as tranquil now as a drawing-room cat.’ Then Mrs Askerton got up from her chair, and seated herself by Clara’s side on the sofa. ‘Come; you can’t go till you’ve told me; and if you hesitate, I shall think that you mean to quarrel With me.’

‘I’ll come to you tomorrow.’

‘No, no; you shall tell me today. All tomorrow you’ll be preparing for your cousin.’

‘What nonsense!’

‘Or else you’ll come prepared to vindicate him, and then we shan’t get on any further. Tell me what it is today. You can’t leave me in curiosity after what you have said.’

‘You’ve heard of Captain Aylmer, I think.’

‘Of course I’ve heard of him.’

‘But you’ve never seen him?’

‘You know I never have.’

‘I told you that he was at Perivale when Mrs Winterfield died.’

‘And now he has proposed, and you are going to accept him? That will indeed be important. Is it so? say. But don’t I know it is so? Why don’t you speak?’

‘If you know it, why need I speak?’

‘But it is so? Oh, Clara, I am so glad. I congratulate you with all my heart with all my heart. My dearest, dearest Clara! What a happy arrangement! What a success! It is just as it should be. Dear, good man! to come forward in that sensible way, and put an end to all the little family difficulties!’

‘I don’t know so much about success. Who is it that is successful?’

‘You, to be sure.’

‘Then by the same measurement he must be unsuccessful.’

‘Don’t be a fool, Clara.’

‘Of course I have been successful if I’ve got a man that I can love as my husband.’

‘Now, my dear, don’t be a fool. Of course all that is between you and him, and I don’t in the least doubt that it is all as it should be. If Captain Aylmer had been the elder brother instead of the younger, and had all the Aylmer estates instead of the Perivale property, I know you would not accept him if you did not like him.’

‘I hope not.’

‘I am sure you would not. But when a girl with nothing a year has managed to love a man with two or three thousand a year, and has managed to be loved by him in return instead of going through the same process with the curate or village doctor it is a success, and her friend will always think so. And when a girl marries a gentleman, and a Member of Parliament, instead of well, I’m not going to say anything personal her friends will congratulate her upon his position. It may be very wicked, and mercenary, and all that; but it’s the way of the world.’

‘I hate hearing about the world.’

‘Yes, my dear; all proper young ladies like you do hate it. But I observe that such girls as you never offend its prejudices. You can’t but know that you would have done a wicked as well as a foolish thing to marry a man without an adequate income.’

‘But I needn’t marry at all.’

‘And what would you live on then? Come Clara, we needn’t quarrel about that. I’ve no doubt he’s charming, and beautiful, and’

‘He isn’t beautiful at all; and as for charming’

‘He has charmed you at any rate.’

‘He has made me believe that I can trust him without doubt, and love him without fear.’

‘An excellent man! And the income will be an additional comfort; you’ll allow that?’

‘I’ll allow nothing.’

‘And when is it to be?’

‘Oh perhaps in six or seven years.’

‘Clara!’

‘Perhaps sooner; but there’s been no word said about time.’

‘Is not Mr Amedroz delighted?’

‘Not a bit. He quite scolded me when I told him.’

‘Why what did he want?’

‘You know papa.’

‘I know he scolds at everything, but I shouldn’t have thought he would have scolded at that. And when does he come here?’

‘Who come here?’

‘Captain Aylmer.’

‘I don’t know that he is coming at all.’

‘He must come to be married.’

‘All that is in the clouds as yet. I did not like to tell you, but you mustn’t suppose that because I’ve told you, everything is settled. Nothing is settled.’

‘Nothing except the one thing?’

‘Nothing else.’

It was more than an hour after that before Clara went away, and when she did so she was surprised to find that she was followed out of the house by Colonel Askerton. It was quite dusk at this time, the days being just at their shortest, and Colonel Askerton, according to his custom, would have been riding, or returning from his ride. Clara had been over two hours at the cottage, and had been aware when she reached it that be had not as yet gone out. It appeared now that he had not ridden at all, and, as she remembered to have seen his horse led before the window, it at once occurred to her that he had remained at home with the view of catching her as she went away. He came up to her just as she was passing through the gate, and offered her his right hand as he raised his hat with his left. It sometimes happens to all of us in life that we become acquainted with persons intimately that is, with an assumed intimacy whom in truth we do not know at all. We meet such persons frequently, often eating and drinking in their company, being familiar with their appearance, and well-informed generally as to their concerns; but we never find ourselves holding special conversations with them, or in any way fitting the modes of our life to the modes of their life. Accident has brought us together, and in one sense they are our friends. We should probably do any little kindness for them, or expect the same from them; but there is nothing in common between us, and there is generally a mutual though unexpressed agreement that there shall be nothing in common. Miss Amedroz was intimately acquainted with Colonel Askerton after this fashion. She saw him very frequently, and his name was often on her tongue; but she rarely, if ever, conversed with him, and knew of his habits only from his wife’s words respecting them. When, therefore, he followed her through the garden gate into the park, she was driven to suppose that he had something special to say to her.

‘I’m afraid you’ll have a dark walk, Miss Amedroz,’ he said.

‘It’s only just across the park, and I know the way so well.’

‘Yes of course. I saw you coming out, and as I want to say a word or two, I have ventured to follow you. When Mr Belton was down here I did not have the pleasure of meeting him.’

‘I remember that you missed each other.’

‘Yes, we did. I understand from my wife that he will be here again in a day or two.’

‘He will be with us the day after tomorrow.’

‘I hope you will excuse my saying that it will be very desirable that we should miss each other again.’ Clara felt that her face became red with anger as she listened to Colonel Askerton’s words. He spoke slowly, as was his custom, and without any of that violence of expression which his wife had used; but on that very account there was more, if possible, of meaning in his words than in hers. William Belton was her cousin, and such a speech as that which Colonel Askerton had made, spoken with deliberation and unaccompanied by any previous explanation, seemed to her almost to amount to insult. But as she did not know how to answer him at the spur of the moment, she remained silent. Then he continued, ‘You may be sure, Miss Amedroz, that I should not make so strange a request to you if I had not good reason for making it.’

‘I think it a very strange request.’

‘And nothing but a strong conviction of its propriety on my part would have induced me to make it.’

‘If you do not want to see my cousin, why cannot you avoid him without saying anything to me on the subject

‘Because you would not then have understood as thoroughly as I wish you to do why I kept out of his way. For my wife’s sake and for yours, if you will allow me to say so I do not wish to come to any open quarrel with him; but if we met, a quarrel would, I think, be inevitable. Mary has probably explained to you the nature of his offence against us?’

‘Mrs Askerton has told me something as to which I am quite sure that she is mistaken.’

‘I will say nothing about that, as I have no wish at all to set you against your cousin. I will bid you good-night now as you are close at home.’ Then he turned round and left her.

Clara, as she thought of all this, could not but call to mind her cousin’s remembrances about Miss Vigo and Mr Berdmore. What if he made some inquiry as to the correctness of his old recollections? Nothing, she thought, could be more natural. And then she reflected that, in the ordinary way of the world, persons feel none of that violent objection to the asking of questions about their antecedents which was now evinced by both Colonel and Mrs Askerton. But of one thing she felt quite assured that her cousin, Will Belton, would make no inquiry which he ought not to make; and would make no improper use of any information which he might obtain.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43