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 that.’
‘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 about it.’
‘I don’t wonder at that, for she was very anxious that we should be married.’
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 asked.
‘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 an offer.’
‘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 thereof.
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 indisposed 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 her.’
‘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 bad.
‘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-inlaw. 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 spoke.
‘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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01