At the time of my story there was a certain Mr Green, a worthy attorney, who held chambers in Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, much to the profit of himself and family and to the profit and comfort also of a numerous body of clients a man much respected in the neighbourhood of Chancery Lane, and beloved, I do not doubt, in the neighbourhood of Bushey, in which delightfully rural parish he was possessed of a genteel villa and ornamental garden. With Mr Green’s private residence we shall, I believe, have no further concern; but to him at his chambers in Stone Buildings I must now introduce the reader of these memoirs. He was a man not yet forty years of age, with still much of the salt of youth about him, a pleasant companion as well as a good lawyer, and one who knew men and things in London, as it is given to pleasant clever fellows, such as Joseph Green, to know them. Now Mr Green and his father before him had been the legal advisers of the Amedroz family, and our Mr Joseph Green had had but a bad time of it with Charles Amedroz in the last years of that unfortunate young man’s life. But lawyers endure these troubles, submitting themselves to the extravagances, embarrassments, and even villainy of the bad subjects among their clients’ families, with a good-humoured patience that is truly wonderful. That, however, was all over now as regarded Mr Green and the Amedrozes, and he had nothing further to do but to save for the father what relics of the property he might secure. And he was also legal adviser to our friend Will Belton, there having been some old family connexion among them, and had often endeavoured to impress upon his old client at Belton Castle his own strong conviction that the heir was a generous fellow, who might be trusted in everything. But this had been taken amiss by the old squire, who, indeed, was too much disposed to take all things amiss and to suspect everybody. ‘I understand,’ he had said to his daughter. ‘I know all about it. Belton and Mr Green have been dear friends always. I can’t trust my own lawyer any longer.’ In all which the old squire showed much ingratitude. It will, however, be understood that these suspicions were rife before the time of Belton’s visit to the family estate.
Some four or five days before Christmas there came a visitor to Mr Green with whom the reader is acquainted, and who was no less a man than the Member for Perivale. Captain Aylmer, when Clara parted from him on the morning of her return to Belton Castle, had resolved that he would repeat his offer of marriage by letter. A month had passed by since then, and he had not as yet repeated it. But his intention was not altered. He was a deliberate man, who did not do such things quite as quickly as his rival, and who upon this occasion had thought it prudent to turn over more than once in his mind all that he proposed to do. Nor had he as yet taken any definite steps as to that fifteen hundred pounds which he had promised to Clara in her aunt’s name, and which Clara had been, and was, so unwilling to receive. He had now actually paid it over, having purchased government stock in Clara’s name for the amount, and had called upon Mr Green, in order that that gentleman, as Clara’s lawyer, might make the necessary communication to her.
‘I suppose there’s nothing further to be done?’ asked Captain Aylmer.
‘Nothing further by me,’ said the lawyer. ‘Of course I shall write to her, and explain that she must make arrangements as to the interest. I am very glad that her aunt thought of her in her last moments.’
‘Mrs Winterfield would have provided for her before, had she known that everything had been swallowed up by that unfortunate young man.’
‘All’s well that ends well. Fifteen hundred pounds are better than nothing.’
‘Is it not enough?’ said the captain, blushing.
‘It isn’t for me to have an opinion about that, Captain Aylmer. It depends on the nature of her claim; and that again depends on the relative position of the aunt and niece when they were alive together.’
‘You are aware that Miss Amedroz was not Mrs Winterfield’s niece?’
‘Do not think for a moment that I am criticizing the amount of the legacy. I am very glad of it, as, without it, there was literally no provision no provision at all.’
‘You will write to herself?’
‘Oh yes, certainly to herself. She is a better man of business than her father and then this is her own, to do as she likes with it.’
‘She can’t refuse it, I suppose?’
‘Even though she did not wish to take it, it would be legally her property, just as though it had been really left by the will?’
‘Well; I don’t know. I dare say you could have resisted the payment. But that has been made now, and there seems to be an end of it.’
At this moment a clerk entered the room and handed a card to his employer. ‘Here’s the heir himself,’ said Mr Green.
‘Will Belton the heir of the property which Mr Amedroz holds.’ Captain Aylmer had soon explained that he was not personally acquainted with Mr William Belton; but, having heard much about him, declared himself anxious to make the acquaintance. Our friend Will, therefore, was ushered into the room, and the two rivals for Clara’s favour were introduced to each other. Each had heard much of the other, and each had heard of the other from the same person. But Captain Aylmer knew much more as to Belton than Belton knew in respect to him. Aylmer knew that Belton had proposed to Clara and had been rejected; and he knew also that Belton was now again going down to Somersetshire.
‘You are to spend your Christmas, I believe, with our friends at Belton Castle?’ said the captain.
‘Yes and am now on my way there. I believe you know them also intimately.’ Then there was some explanation as to the Winterfield connexion, a few remarks as to the precarious state of the old squire’s health, a message or two from Captain Aylmer, which of course were of no importance, and the captain took his leave.
Then Green and Briton became very comfortably intimate in their conversation, calling each other Will and Joe for they were old and close friends. And they discussed matters in that cozy tone of confidential intercourse which is so directly at variance with the tones used by men when they ordinarily talk of business. ‘He has brought me good news for your friend, Miss Amedroz,’ said the lawyer.
‘What good news?’
‘That aunt of hers left her fifteen hundred pounds, after all. Or rather, she did not leave it, but desired on her death-bed that it might be given.’
‘That’s the same thing, I suppose?’
‘Oh quite that is to say, it’s the same thing if the person who has to hand over the money does not dispute the legacy. But it shows how the old lady’s conscience pricked her at last. And after all it was a shabby sum, and should have been three times as much.’
‘Fifteen hundred pounds! And that is all she will have when her father dies 7’
‘Every farthing, Will. You’ll take all the rest.’
‘I wish she wasn’t going to have that.’
‘Why? Why on earth should you of all men grudge her such a moderate maintenance, seeing that you have not got to pay it?’
‘It isn’t a maintenance. How could it be a maintenance for such as her? What sort of maintenance would it be?’
‘Much better than nothing. And so you would feel if she were your daughter.’
‘She shall be my daughter, or my sister, or whatever you like to call her. You don’t think that I’ll take the whole estate and leave her to starve on the interest of fifteen hundred pounds a year!’
‘You’d better make her your wife at once, Will.’
Will Belton blushed as he answered, ‘That, perhaps, would be easier said than done. That is not in my power even if I should wish it. But the other is in my power.’
‘Will, take my advice, and don’t make any romantic promises when you are down at Belton. You’ll be sure to regret them if you do. And you should remember that in truth Miss Amedroz has no greater claim on you than any other lady in the land.’
‘Isn’t she my cousin?’
‘Well yes. She is your cousin, but a distant one only; and I’m not aware that cousinship gives any claim.’
‘Who is she to have a claim on? I’m the nearest she has got. Besides, am not I going to take all the property which ought to be hers?’
‘That’s just it. There’s no such ought in the case. The property is as much your own as this poker is mine. That’s exactly the mistake I want you to guard against. If you liked her, and chose to marry her, that would be all very well; presuming that you don’t want to get money in marriage.’
‘I hate the idea of marrying for money.’
‘All right. Then marry Miss Amedroz if you please. But don’t make any rash undertakings to be her father, or her brother, or her uncle, or her aunt. Such romance always leads a man into trouble.’
‘But I’ve done it already.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’ve told her that I would be her brother, and that as long as I had a shilling she should never want sixpence. And I mean it. And as for what you say about romance and repenting it, that simply comes from your being a lawyer.’
‘Thank ye, Will.’
‘If one goes to a chemist, of course one gets physic, and has to put up with the bad smells.’
‘Thank you again.’
‘But the chemist may be a very good sort of fellow at home all the same, and have a cupboard full of sweetmeats and a garden full of flowers. However, the thing is done as far as I am concerned, and I can almost find it in my heart to be sorry that Clara has got this driblet of money. Fifteen hundred pounds I It would keep her out of the workhouse, and that is about all.’
‘If you knew how many ladies in her position would think that the heavens had rained wealth upon them if some one would give them fifteen hundred pounds!’
‘Very well. At any rate I won’t take it away from her. And now I want you to tell me something else. Do you remember a fellow we used to know named Berdmore?’
‘He may have been Philip, or Daniel, or Jeremiah, for anything I know. But the man I mean was very much given to taking his liquor freely.’
‘That was Jack Berdmore, Philip’s brother. Oh yes, I remember him. He’s dead now. He drank himself to death at last, out in India.’
‘He was in the army?’
‘Yes and what a pleasant fellow he was at times! I see Phil constantly, and Phil’s wife, but they never speak of Jack.’
‘He got married, didn’t he, after we used to see him?’
Oh yes he and Phil married sisters. It was a sad affair, that.’
‘I remember being with him and her and the sister too, after they were engaged, and he got so drunk that we were obliged to take him away. There was a large party of us at Richmond, but I don’t think you were there.’
‘But I heard of it’
‘And she was a Miss Vigo?’
‘Exactly. I see the younger sister constantly. Phil isn’t very rich, and he’s got a lot of children but he’s very happy.’
‘What became of the other sister?
‘Of Jack’s wife?’
‘Yes. What became of her?’
‘I haven’t an idea. Something bad, I suppose, as they never speak of her.’
‘And how long is he dead?’
‘He died about three years since. I only knew it from Phil’s telling me that he was in mourning for him. Then he did speak of him for a moment or two, and I came to know that he had carried on to the end in the same way. If a fellow takes to drink in this country, he’ll never get cured in India.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘And now I want to find out something about his widow.’
‘Ah I’m not sure that I can tell you why. Indeed I’m sure that I cannot. But still you might be able to assist me.’
‘There were heaps of people who used to know the Vigos,’ said the lawyer.
‘No end of people though I couldn’t for the life of me say who any of them were.’
‘They used to come out in London with an aunt, but nobody knew much about her. I fancy they had neither father nor mother.’
‘They were very pretty.’
‘And how well they danced. I don’t think I ever knew a girl who danced so pleasantly giving herself no airs, you know as Mary Vigo.’
‘Her name was Mary,’ said Belton, remembering that Mrs Askerton’s name was also Mary.
‘Jack Berdmore married Mary.’
‘Well now, Joe, you must find out for me what became of her. Was she with her husband when he died?’
‘Nobody was with him. Phil told me so. No one, that is, but a young lieutenant and his own servant. It was very sad. He had D.T., and all that sort of thing.’
‘And where was she?’
‘At Jericho, for anything that I know.’
‘Will you find out?’ Then Mr Joseph Green thought for a moment of his capabilities in that line, and having made an engagement to dine with his friend at his club on the evening before Will left London, said at last that he thought he could find out through certain mutual friends who had known the Berdmores in the old days. ‘But the fact is,’ said the lawyer, ‘that the world is so good — natured instead of being ill-natured, as people say that it always forgets those who want to be forgotten.’
We must now go back for a few moments to Captain Aylmer and his affairs. Having given a full month to the consideration of his position as regarded Miss Amedroz, he made up his mind to two things. In the first place, he would at once pay over to her the money which was to be hers as her aunt’s legacy, and then he would renew his offer. To that latter determination he was guided by mixed motives by motives which, when joined together, rarely fail to be operative. His conscience told him that he ought to do so and then the fact of her having, as it were, taken herself away from him, made him again wish to possess her. And there was another cause which, perhaps, operated in the same direction. He had consulted his mother, and she had strongly advised him to have nothing further to do with Miss Amedroz. Lady Aylmer abused her dead sister heartily for having interfered in the matter, and endeavoured to prove to her son that he was released from his promise by having in fact performed it. But on this point his conscience interfered backed by his wishes and he made his resolve as has been above stated. On leaving Mr Green’s chambers he went to his own lodgings, and wrote his letter as follows:
‘Mount Street, December, 186
When you parted from me at Perivale you said certain things about our engagement which I have come to understand better since then, than I did at the time. It escaped from me that my dear aunt and I had had some conversation about you, and that I had told her what was my intention. Something was said about a promise, and I think it was that word which made you unhappy. At such a time as that when I and my aunt were talking together, and when she was, as she well knew, on her deathbed, things will be said which would not be thought of in other circumstances. I can only assure you now, that the promise I gave her was a promise to do that which I had previously resolved upon doing. If you can believe what I say on this head, that ought to be sufficient to remove the feeling which induced you to break our engagement.
I now write to renew my offer to you, and to assure you that I do so with my whole heart. You will forgive me if I tell you that I cannot fail to remember, and always to bear in my mind, the sweet assurances which you gave me of your regard for myself. As I do not know that anything has occurred to alter your opinion of me, I write this letter in strong hope that it may be successful. I believe that your fear was in respect to my affection for you, not as to yours for me. If this was so, I can assure you that there is no necessity for such fear.
I need not tell you that I shall expect your answer with great anxiety.
Yours most affectionately,
F. F. AYLMER.
P.S. I have today caused to be bought in your name Bank Stock to the amount of fifteen hundred pounds, the amount of the legacy coming to you from my aunt.’
This letter, and that from Mr Green respecting the money, both reached Clara on the same morning. Now, having learned so much as to the position of affairs at Belton Castle, we may return to Will and his dinner engagement with Mr Joseph Green.
‘And what have you heard about Mrs Berdmore?’ Belton asked, almost as soon as the two men wore together.
‘I wish I knew why you want to know.’
‘I don’t want to do anybody any harm.’
‘Do you want to do anybody any good?’
‘Any good! I can’t say that I want to do any particular good. The truth is, I think I know where she is, and that she is living under a false name.’
‘Then you know more of her than I do.’
‘I don’t know anything. I’m only in doubt. But as the lady I mean lives near to friends of mine, I should like to know.’
‘That you may expose her?’
‘No by no means. But I hate the idea of deceit. The truth is, that any one living anywhere under a false name should be exposed or should be made to assume their right name.’
‘I find that Mrs Berdmore left her husband some years before he died. There was nothing in that to create wonder, for he was a man with whom a woman could hardly continue to live. But I fear she left him under protection that was injurious to her character.
‘And how long ago is that?’
‘I do not know. Some years before his death.’
‘And how long ago did he die?’
‘About three years since. My informant tells me that he believes she has since married. Now you know all that I know.’ And Belton also knew that Mrs Askerton of the cottage was the Miss Vigo with whom he had been acquainted in earlier years.
After that they dined comfortably, and nothing passed between them which need be recorded as essential to our story till the time came for them to part. Then, when they were both standing at the club door, the lawyer said a word or two which is essential. ‘So you’re off tomorrow?’ said he.
‘Yes; I shall go down by the express.’
‘I wish you a pleasant journey. By the by, I ought to tell you that you won’t have any trouble in being either father or mother, or uncle or aunt to Miss Amedroz.’
‘I suppose it’s no secret.’
‘What’s no secret?
‘She’s going to be married to Captain Aylmer.’
Then Will Belton started so violently, and assumed on a sudden so manifest a look of anger, that his tale was at once told to Mr Green. ‘Who says so?’ he asked. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘I’m afraid it’s true all the same, Will.’
‘Who says it?’
‘Captain Aylmer was with me today, and he told me. He ought to be good authority on such a subject.’
‘He told you that he was going to marry Clara Amedroz?’
‘And what made him come to you, to tell you?’
‘There was a question about some money which he had paid to her, and which, under existing circumstances, he thought it as well that he should not pay. Matters of that kind are often necessarily told to lawyers. But I should not have told it to you, Will, if I had not thought that it was good news.’
‘It is not good news,’ said Belton moodily.
‘At any rate, old fellow, my telling it will do no harm. You must have learned it soon.’ And he put his hand kindly almost tenderly, on the other’s arm. But Belton moved himself away angrily. The wound had been so lately inflicted that he could not as yet forgive the hand that had seemed to strike him.
‘I’m sorry that it should be so bad with you, Will.’
‘What do you mean by bad? It is not bad with me. it is very well with me. Keep your pity for those who want it.’ Then he walked off by himself across the broad street before the club door, leaving his friend without a word of farewell, and made his way up into St. James’s Square, choosing, as was evident to Mr Green, the first street that would take him out of sight.
‘He’s hit, and hit hard,’ said the lawyer, looking after him. ‘Poor fellow! I might have guessed it from what he said. I never knew of his caring for any woman before.’ Then Mr Green put on his gloves and went away home.
We will now follow Will Belton into St. James’s Square, and we shall follow a very unhappy gentleman. Doubtless he had hitherto known and appreciated the fact that Miss Amedroz had refused his offer, and had often declared, both to himself and to his sister, his conviction that that refusal would never be reversed. But, in spite of that expressed conviction, he had lived on hope. Till she belonged to another man she might yet be his. He might win her at last by perseverance. At any rate he had it in his power to work towards the desired end, and might find solace even in that working. And the misery of his loss would not be so great to him as he found himself forced to confess to himself before he had completed his wanderings on this night in not having her for his own, as it would be in knowing that she had given herself to another man. He had often told himself that of course she would become the wife of some man, but he had never yet realized to himself what it would be to know that she was the wife of any one specified rival. He had been sad enough on that moonlight night in the avenue at Plaistow when he had leaned against the tree, striking his hands together as he thought of his great want; but his unhappiness then had been as nothing to his agony now. Now it was all over and he knew the man who had supplanted him.
How he hated him! With what an unchristian spirit did he regard that worthy captain as he walked across St. James’s Square, across Jermyn Street, across Piccadilly, and up Bond Street, not knowing whither he was going. He thought with an intense regret of the laws of modern society which forbid duelling forgetting altogether that even had the old law prevailed, the conduct of the man whom he so hated would have afforded him no casus belli. But he was too far gone in misery and animosity to be capable of any reason on the matter. Captain Aylmer had interfered with his dearest wishes, and during this now passing hour he would willingly have crucified Captain Aylmer had it been within his power to do so. Till he had gone beyond Oxford Street, and had wandered away into the far distance of Portman Square and Baker Street, he had not begun to think of any interest which Clara Amedroz might have in the matter on which his thoughts were employed. He was sojourning at an hotel in Bond Street, and had gone thitherwards more by habit than by thought; but he had passed the door of his inn, feeling it to be impossible to render himself up to his bed in his present disturbed mood. As he was passing the house in Bond Street he had been intent on the destruction of Captain Aylmer and had almost determined that if Captain Aylmer could not be made to vanish into eternity, he must make up his mind to go that road himself.
It was out of the question that he should go down to Belton. As to that he had come to a very decided opinion by the time that he had crossed Oxford Street. Go down to see her, when she had treated him after this fashion I No, indeed. She wanted no brother now. She had chosen to trust herself to this other man, and he, Will Belton, would not interfere further in her affairs. Then he drew upon his imagination for a picture of the future, in which he portrayed Captain Aylmer as a ruined man, who would probably desert his wife, and make himself generally odious to all his acquaintance a picture as to the realization of which I am bound to say that Captain Aylmer’s antecedents gave no probability. But it was the looking at this self-drawn picture which first softened the artist’s heart towards the victim whom he had immolated on his imaginary canvas. When Clara should be ruined by the baseness and villainy and general scampishness of this man whom she was going to marry to whom she was about to be weak enough and fool enough to trust herself then he would interpose and be her brother once again a broken-hearted brother no doubt, but a brother efficacious to keep the wolf from the door of this poor woman and her children. Then, as he thus created Captain Aylmer’s embryo family of unprovided orphans for after a while he killed the captain, making him to die some death that was very disgraceful, but not very distinct even to his own imagination as he thought of those coming pledges of a love which was to him so bitter, he stormed about the streets, performing antics of which no one would have believed him capable who had known him as the thriving Mr William Belton, of Plaistow Hall, among the fens of Norfolk.
But the character of a man is not to be judged from the pictures which he may draw or from the antics which he may play in his solitary hours. Those who act generally with the most consummate wisdom in the affairs of the world, often meditate very silly doings before their wiser resolutions form themselves. I beg, therefore, that Mr Belton may be regarded and criticized in accordance with his conduct on the following morning when his midnight rambles, which finally took him even beyond the New Road, had been followed by a few tranquil hours in his Bond Street bedroom for at last he did bring himself to return thither and put himself to bed after the usual fashion. He put himself to bed in a spirit somewhat tranquillized by the exercise of the night, and at last wept himself to sleep like a baby.
But he was by no means like a baby when he took him early on the following morning to the Paddington Station, and booked himself manfully for Taunton. He had had time to recognize the fact that he had no ground of quarrel with his cousin because she had preferred another man to him. This had happened to him as he was recrossing the New Road about two o’clock, and was beginning to find that his legs were weary under him. And, indeed, he had recognized one or two things before he had gone to sleep with his tears dripping on to his pillow. In the first place, he had ill-treated Joe Green, and had made a fool of himself in his friend’s presence. As Joe Green was a sensible, kind-hearted fellow, this did not much signify but not on that account did be omit to tell himself of his own fault. Then he discovered that it would ill become him to break his word to Mr Amedroz and to his daughter, and to do so without a word of excuse, because Clara had exercised a right which was indisputably her own. He had undertaken certain work at Belton which required his presence, and he would go down and do his work as though nothing had occurred to disturb him. To remain away because of this misfortune would be to show the white feather. It would be unmanly. All this he recognized as the pictures he had painted faded away from their canvases. As to Captain Aylmer himself, he hoped that he might never be called upon to meet him. He still hoped that, even as he was resolutely cramming his shirts into his portmanteau before he began his journey. His Cousin Clara he thought he could meet, and tender to her some expression of good wishes as to her future life, without giving way under the effort. And to the old squire he could endeavour to make himself pleasant, speaking of the relief from all trouble which this marriage with Captain Aylmer would afford for now, in his cooler moments, be could perceive that Captain Aylmer was not a man apt to ruin himself, or his wife and children. But to Captain Aylmer himself, he could not bring himself to say pleasant things or to express pleasant wishes. She who was to be Captain Aylmer’s wife, who loved him, would of course have told him what had occurred up among the rocks in Belton Park; and if that was so, any meeting between Will and Captain Aylmer would be death to the former.
Thinking of all this he journeyed down to Taunton, and thinking of all this he made his way from Taunton across to Belton Park.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01