In course of post there came an answer from Lady Aylmer, naming a day for Clara’s journey to Yorkshire, and also a letter from Captain Aylmer, in, which he stated that he would meet her in London and convey her down to Aylmer Park. ‘The House is sitting,’ he said, ‘and therefore I shall be a little troubled about my time; but I cannot allow that your first meeting with my mother should take place in my absence.’ This was all very well, but at the end of the letter there was a word of caution that was not so well. ‘I am sure, my dear Clara, that you will remember how much is due to my mother’s age, and character, and position. Nothing will be wanted to the happiness of our marriage, if you can succeed in gaining her affection, and therefore I make it my first request to you, that you should endeavour to win her good opinion.’ There was nothing perhaps really amiss, certainly nothing unreasonable, in such words from a future husband to his future wife; but Clara, as she read them, shook her head and pressed her foot against the ground in anger. It would not do. Sorrow would come and trouble and disappointment. She did not say so, even to herself in words; but the words, though not spoken, were audible enough to herself. She could not, would not, bend to Lady Aylmer, and she knew that trouble would come of this visit.
I fear that many ladies will condemn Miss Amedroz when I tell them that she showed this letter to her Cousin Will. It does not promise well for any of the parties concerned when a young woman with two lovers can bring herself to show the love-letters of him to whom she is engaged to the other lover whom she has refused! But I have two excuses to put forward in Clara’s defence. In the first place, Captain Aylmer’s love-letters were not in truth love-letters, but were letters of business; and in the next place, Clara was teaching herself to regard Will Belton as her brother, and to forget that he had ever assumed the part of a lover.
She was so teaching herself, but I cannot say that the lesson was one easily learned; nor had the outrage upon her of which Will had been guilty, and which was described in the last chapter, made the teaching easier. But she had determined, nevertheless, that it should be so. When she thought of Will her heart would become very soft towards him; and sometimes, when she thought of Captain Aylmer, her heart would become anything but soft towards him. Unloving feelings would be very strong within her bosom as she re-read his letters, and remembered that he had not come to her, but had sent her seventy-five pounds to comfort her in her trouble! Nevertheless, he was to be her husband, and she would do her duty. What might have happened had Will Belton come to Belton Castle before she had known Frederic Aylmer of that she stoutly resolved that she would never think at all; and consequently the thought was always intruding upon her.
‘You will sleep one night in town, of course?’ said Will.
‘I suppose so. You know all about it. I shall do as I’m told.’
‘You can’t go down to Yorkshire from here in one day. Where would you like to stay in London?’
‘How on earth should I know? Ladies do sleep at hotels in London sometimes, I suppose?’
‘Oh yes. I can write and have rooms ready for you.’
‘Then that difficulty is over,’ said Clara.
But in Belton’s estimation the difficulty was not exactly over. Captain Aylmer would, of course, be in London that night, and it was a question with Will whether or no Clara was not bound in honour to tell the accursed beast, I am afraid Mr Belton called him in his soliloquies where she would lodge on the occasion. Or would it suffice that he, Will, should hand her over to the enemy at the station of the Great Northern Railway on the following morning? All the little intricacies of the question presented themselves to Will’s imagination. How careful he would be with her, that the inn accommodation should suffice for her comfort! With what pleasure would he order a little dinner for them two, making something of a gentle fˆte of the occasion! How sedulously would he wait upon her with those little attentions, amounting almost to worship, with which such men as Will Belton are prone to treat all women in exceptionable circumstances, when the ordinary routine of life has been disturbed! If she had simply been his cousin, and if he had never regarded her otherwise, how happily could he have done all this! As things now were, if it was left to him to do, he should do it, with what patience and grace might be within his power; he would do it, though he would be mindful every moment of the bitterness of the transfer which he would so soon be obliged to make; but he doubted whether it would not be better for Clara’s sake that the transfer should be made overnight. He would take her up to London, because in that way he could be useful; and then he would go away and hide himself. ‘Has Captain Aylmer said where he would meet you?’ he asked after a pause.
‘Of course I must write and tell him.’
‘And is he to come to you when you reach London?’
‘He has said nothing about that. ‘He will probably be at the House of Commons, or too busy somewhere to come to me then. But why do you ask? Do you wish to hurry through town?’
‘Oh dear, no.’
‘Or perhaps you have friends you want to see. Pray don’t let me be in your way. I shall do very well, you know.’
Belton rebuked her by a look before he answered her. ‘I was only thinking,’ he said, ‘of what would be most convenient for yourself. I have nobody to see, and nothing to do, and nowhere to go to.’ Then Clara understood it all, and said that she would write to Captain Aylmer and ask him, to join them at the hotel.
She determined that she would see Mrs Askerton before she went; and as that lady did not come to the Castle, Clara called upon her at the cottage. This she did the day before she left, and she took her cousin with her. Belton had been at the cottage once or twice since the day on which Mrs Askerton had explained to him how the Aylmer alliance might be extinguished, but Colonel Askerton had always been there, and no reference had been made to the former conversation. Colonel Askerton was not there now, and Belton was almost afraid that words would be spoken to which he would hardly know how to listen.
‘And so you are really going?’ said Mrs Askerton.
‘Yes; we start tomorrow,’ said Clara.
‘I am not thinking of the journey to London,’ said Mrs Askerton, ‘but of the danger and privations of your subsequent progress to the North.’
‘I shall do very well. I am not afraid that any one will eat me.’
‘There are so many different ways of eating people! Are there not, Mr Belton?’
‘I don’t know about eating, but there are a great many ways of boring people,’ said he.
‘And I should think they will be great at that kind of thing at Aylmer Castle. One never hears of Sir Anthony, but I can fancy Lady Aylmer to be a terrible woman.’
‘I shall manage to hold my own, I dare say,’ said Clara.
‘I hope you will; I do hope you will,’ said Mrs Askerton. ‘I don’t know whether you will be powerful to do so, or whether you will fail; my heart is not absolute; but I do know what will be the result if you are successful.’
‘It is much more then than I know myself.’
‘That I can believe too. Do you travel down to Yorkshire alone?’
‘No; Captain Aylmer will meet me in town.’
Then Mrs Askerton looked at Mr Belton, but made no immediate reply; nor did she say anything further about Clara’s journey. She looked at Mr Belton, and Will caught her eye, and understood that he was being rebuked for not having carried out that little scheme which, had been prepared for him. But he had come to hate the scheme, and almost hated Mrs Askerton for proposing it. He had declared to himself that her welfare, Clara’s welfare, was the one thing which the should regard; and he had told himself that he was not strong enough, either in purpose or in wit, to devise schemes for her welfare. She was better able to manage things for herself than he was to manage them for her. If she loved this ‘accursed beast,’ let her marry him; only for that was now his one difficulty only he could not bring himself to think it possible that she should love him.
‘I suppose you will never see this place again?’ said Mrs Askerton after a long pause.
‘I hope I shall, very often,’ said Clara. ‘Why should I not see it again? It is not going out of the family.’
‘No not exactly out of the family. That is, it will belong to your cousin.’
‘And cousins may be as far apart as strangers, you mean; but Will and I are not like that; are we, Will?’
‘I hardly know what we are like,’ said he.
‘You do not mean to say that you will throw me over? But the truth is, Mrs Askerton, that I do not mean to be thrown over. I look upon him as my brother, and I intend to cling to him as sisters do cling.’
‘You will hardly come back here before you are married,’ said Mrs Askerton. It was a terrible speech for her to make, and could only be excused on the ground that the speaker was in truth desirous of doing that which she thought would benefit both of those whom she addressed.
‘Of course you are going to your wedding now?’
‘I am doing nothing of the kind,’ said Clara. ‘How can you speak in that way to me so soon after my father’s death? It is a rebuke to me for being here at all.’
‘I intend no rebuke, as you well know. What I mean is this; if you do not stay in Yorkshire till you are married, let the time be when it may, where do you intend to go in the meantime?’
‘My plans are not settled yet.’
‘She will have this house if she pleases,’ said Will. ‘There will be no one else here. It will be her own, to do as she likes with it.’
‘She will hardly come here to be alone.’
‘I will not be inquired into, my dear,’ said Clara, speaking with restored good-humour. ‘Of course I am an unprotected female, and subject to disadvantages. Perhaps I have no plans for the future; and if I have plans, perhaps I do not mean to divulge them.’
‘I had better come to the point at once,’ said Mrs Askerton. ‘If if if it should ever suit you, pray come here to us. Flowers shall not be more welcome in May. It is difficult to speak of it all, though you both understand everything as well as I do. I cannot press my invitation as another woman might.’
‘Yes, you can,’ said Clara with energy. ‘Of course you can.’
‘Can I? Then I do. Dear Clara, do come to us.’ And then as she spoke Mrs Askerton knelt on the ground at her visitor’s knees. ‘Mr Belton, do tell her that when she is tired with the grandeur of Aylmer Park she may come to us here.’
‘I don’t know anything about the grandeur of Aylmer Park,’ said Will, suddenly.
‘But she may come here may she not?’
‘She will not ask my leave,’ said he.
‘She says that you are her brother. Whose leave should she ask?’
‘He knows that I should ask his rather than that of any living person,’ said Clara.
‘There, Mr Belton. Now you must say that she may come or that she may not.’
‘I will say nothing. She knows what to do much better than I can tell her.’
Mrs Askerton was still kneeling, and again appealed to Clara. ‘You hear what he says. What do you say yourself? Will you come to us? that is, if such a visit will suit you in point of convenience?’
‘I will make no promise; but I know no reason why I should not.’
‘And I must be content with that? Well: I will be content.’ Then she got up. ‘For such a one as I am, that is a great deal. And, Mr Belton, let me tell you this I can be grateful to you, though you cannot be gracious to me.’
‘I hope I have not been ungracious,’ said he.
‘Upon my word, I cannot compliment you. But there is something so much better than grace, that I can forgive you. You know, at any rate, how thoroughly I wish you well.’
Upon this Clara got up to take her leave, and the demonstrative affection of an embrace between the two women afforded a remedy for the awkwardness of the previous conversation.
‘God bless you, dearest,’ said Mrs Askerton. ‘May I write to you?’
‘Certainly,’ said Clara.
‘And you will answer my letters?’
‘Of course I will. You must tell me everything about the place and especially as to Bessy. Bessy is never to be sold is she, Will? Bessy was the cow which Belton had given her.
‘Not if you choose to keep her.’
‘I will go down and see to her myself,’ said Mrs Askerton, and will utter little prayers of my own over her horns that certain events that I desire may come to pass. Good-bye, Mr Belton. You may be as ungracious as you please, but it will not make any difference.’
When Clara and her cousin left the cottage they did not return to the house immediately, but took a last walk round the park, and through the shrubbery, and up to the rocks on which a remarkable scene bad once taken place between them. Few words were spoken as they were walking, and there had been no agreement as to the path they would take. Each seemed to understand that there was much of melancholy in their present mood, and that silence was more fitting than speech. But when they reached the rocks Belton sat himself down, asking Clara’s leave to stop there for a moment. ‘I don’t suppose I shall ever come to this place again,’ said he.
‘You are as bad as Mrs Askerton,’ said Clara.
‘I do not think I shall ever come to this place again,’ said he, repeating his words very solemnly. At any rate, I will never do so willingly, unless’
‘Unless you are either my wife, or have promised to become so.’
‘Oh, Will; you know that that is impossible.’
‘Then it is impossible that I should come here again.’
‘You know that I am engaged to another man.’
‘Of course I do. I am not asking you to break your engagement. I am simply telling you that in spite of that engagement I love you as well as I did love you before you had made it. I have a right to let you know the truth.’ As if she had not known it without his telling it to her now! ‘It was here that I told you that I loved you. I now repeat it here; and will never come here again unless I may say the same thing over and over and over. That is all. We might as well go on now.’ But when he got up she sat down, as though unwilling to leave the spot. It was still winter, and the rock was damp with cold drippings from the trees, and the moss around was wet, and little pools of water had formed themselves in the shallow holes upon the surface. She did not speak as she seated herself; but he was of course obliged to wait till she should be ready to accompany him. ‘It is too cold for you to sit there,’ he said. ‘Come, Clara; I will not have you loiter here. It is cold and wet.’
‘It is not colder for me than for you.’
‘You are not used to that sort of thing as I am.’
‘Will,’ she said, ‘ you must never speak to me again as you spoke just now. Promise me that you will not.’
‘Promises will do no good in such a matter.’
‘It is almost a repetition of what you did before though of course it is not so bad as that.’
‘Everything I do is bad.’
‘No, Will dear Will! Almost everything you do is good. But of what use can it be to either of us for you to be thinking of that which can never be? Cannot you think of me as your sister and only as your sister?
‘No; I cannot.’
‘Then it is not right that we should be together.’
‘I know nothing of right. You ask me a question, and I suppose you don’t wish that I should tell you a lie.’
‘Of course I do not wish that.’
‘Therefore I tell you the truth. I love you as any other man loves the girl that he does love; and, as far as I know myself now, I never can be happy unless you are my own.’
‘Oh, Will, how can that be when I am engaged to marry another man?’
‘As to your engagement I should care nothing. Does he love you as I love you? If he loves you, why is he not here? If he loves you, why does he let his mother ill-use you, and treat you with scorn? If he loves you as I love you, how could he write to you as he does write? Would I write to you such a letter as that? Would I let you be here without coming to you to be looked after by any one else? If you had said that you would be my wife, would I leave you in solitude and sorrow, and then send you seventy-five pounds to console you? If you think he loves you, Clara’
‘He thought he was doing right when he sent me the money.’
‘But he shouldn’t have thought it right. Never mind. I don’t want to accuse him; but this I know and you know; he does not love you as I love you.’
‘What can I say to answer you?’
‘Say that you will wait till you have seen him. Say that I may have a hope a chance; that if he is cold, and hard, and and and, just what we know he is, then I may have a chance.’
‘How can I say that when I am engaged to him? Cannot you understand that I am wrong to let you speak of him as you do?’
‘How else am I to speak of him? Tell me this. Do you love him?’ ‘Yes I do.’
‘I don’t believe it!’
‘I don’t believe it. Nothing on earth shall make me believe it. It is impossible impossible!’
‘Do you mean to insult me, Will?’
‘No; I do not mean to insult you, but I mean to tell you the truth. I do not think you love that man as you ought to love the man whom you are going to marry. I should tell you just the same thing if I were really your brother. Of course it isn’t that I suppose you love any one else me for instance. I’m not such a fool as that. But I don’t think you love him; and I’m quite sure he doesn’t love you. That’s just what I believe; and if I do believe it, how am I to help telling you?’
‘You’ve no right to have such beliefs.’
‘How am I to help it? Well never mind. I won’t let you sit there any longer. At any rate you’ll be able to understand now that I shall never come to this place any more.’ Clara, as she got up to obey him, felt that she also ought never to see it again unless, indeed unless
They passed that evening together without any reference to the scene on the rock, or any allusion to their own peculiar troubles. Clara, though she would not admit to Mrs Askerton that she was going away from the place for ever, was not the less aware that such might very probably be the case. She had no longer any rights of ownership at Belton Castle, and all that had taken place between her and her cousin tended to make her feel that under no circumstances could she again reside there. Nor was it probable that she would be able to make to Mrs Askerton the visit of which they had been talking. If Lady Aylmer were wise so Clara thought there would be no mention of Mrs Askerton at Aylmer Park; and, if so, of course she would not outrage her future husband by proposing to go to a house of which she knew that he disapproved. If Lady Aylmer were not wise if she should take upon herself the task of rebuking Clara for her friendship then, in such circumstances as those, Clara believed that the visit to Mrs Askerton might be possible.
But she determined that she would leave the home in which she had been born, and had passed so many happy and so many unhappy days, as though she were never to see it again. All her packing had been done, down to the last fragment of an old letter that was stuffed into her writing-desk; but, nevertheless, she went about the house with a candle in her hand, as though she were still looking that nothing had been omitted, while she was in truth saying farewell in her heart to every corner which she knew so well. When at last she came down to pour out for her desolate cousin his cup of tea, she declared that everything was done. ‘You may go to work now, Will,’ she said, and do what you please with the old place. My jurisdiction is over.’
‘Not altogether,’ said he. He no longer spoke like a despairing lover. Indeed there was a smile round his mouth, and his voice was cheery.
‘Yes altogether. I give over my sovereignty from this moment and a dirty dilapidated sovereignty it is.’
‘That’s all very well to say.’
‘And also very well to do. What best pleases me in going to Aylmer Castle just now is the power it gives me of doing at once that which otherwise I might have put off till the doing of it had become much more unpleasant. Mr Belton, there is the key of the cellar which I believe gentlemen always regard as the real sign of possession. I don’t advise you to trust much to the contents.’ He took the key from her, and without saying a word chucked it across the room on to an old sofa. ‘If you won’t take it, you had better, at any rate, have it tied up with the others,’ she said.
‘I dare say you’ll know where to find it when you want it,’ he answered.
‘I shall never want it.’
‘Then it’s as well there as anywhere else.’
‘But you won’t remember, Will.’
‘I don’t suppose I shall have occasion for remembering.’ Then he paused a moment before he went on. ‘I have told you before that I do not intend to take possession of the place. I do not regard it as mine at all.’
‘And whose is it, then?’
‘No, dear Will; it is not mine. You know that.’
‘I intend that it shall be so, and therefore you might as well put the keys where you will know how to find them.’
Alter he had gone she did take up the key, and tied it with sundry others, which she intended to give to the old servant who was to be left in charge of the house. But after a few moments’ consideration she took the cellar key again off the bunch, and put it back upon the sofa in the place to which he had thrown it.
On the following morning they started on their journey. The old fly from Redicote was not used on this occasion, as Belton had ordered a pair of post-horses and a comfortable carriage from Taunton. ‘I think it such a shame,’ said Clara, ‘going away for the last time without having Jerry and the grey horse.’ Jerry was the man who had once driven her to Taunton when the old horse fell with her on the road. ‘But Jerry and the grey horse could not have taken you and me too, and all our luggage,’ said Will. ‘Poor Jerry! I suppose not,’ said Clara; ‘but still there is an injury done in going without him.’
There were four or five old dependents of the family standing round the door to bid her adieu, to all of whom she gave her hand with a cordial pressure. They, at least, seemed to regard her departure as final. And of course it was final. She had assured herself of that during the night. And just as they were about to start, both Colonel and Mrs Askerton walked up to the door. ‘He wouldn’t let you go without bidding you farewell,’ said Mrs Askerton. ‘I am so glad to shake hands with him,’ Clara answered. Then the colonel spoke a word to her, and, as he did so, his wife contrived to draw Will Belton for a moment behind the carriage. ‘Never give it up, Mr Belton,’ said she eagerly. ‘If you persevere she’ll be yours yet.’ ‘I fear not,’ he said. ‘Stick to her like a man,’ said she, pressing his hand in her vehemence. ‘If you do, you’ll live to thank me for having told you so.’ Will had not a word to say for himself, but he thought that he would stick to her. Indeed, he thought that he had stuck to her pretty well.
At last they were off, and the village of Belton was behind them; Will, glancing into his cousin’s face, saw that her eyes were laden with tears, and refrained from speaking. As they passed the ugly red-brick rectory. house, Clara for a moment put her face to the window, and then withdrew it. ‘There is nobody there,’ she said, ‘who will care to see me. Considering that I have lived here all my life, is it not odd that there should be so few to bid me good-bye?’
‘People do not like to put themselves forward on such occasions,’ said Will.
‘People there are no people. No one ever had so few to care for them as I have. And now But never mind; I mean to do very well, and I shall do very well.’ Belton would not take advantage of her in her sadness, and they reached the station at Taunton almost without another word.
Of course they had to wait there for half an hour, and of course the waiting was very tedious. To Will it was very tedious indeed, as he was not by nature good at waiting. To Clara, who on this occasion sat perfectly still in the waiting-room, with her toes on the fender before the fire, the evil of the occasion was not so severe. ‘The man would take two hours for the journey, though I told him an hour and a half would be enough,’ said Will, querulously.
‘But we might have had an accident.’
‘An accident! What accident? People don’t have accidents every day.’
At last the train came and they started. Clara, though she had with her her best friend I may almost say the friend whom in the world she loved the best did not have an agreeable journey. Belton would not talk; but as he made no attempt at reading, Clara did not like to have recourse to the book which she had in her travelling-bag. He sat opposite to her, opening the window and shutting it as he thought she might like it, but looking wretched and forlorn. At Swindon he brightened up for a moment under the excitement of getting her something to eat, but that relaxation lasted only for a few minutes. Alter that he relapsed again into silence till the train had passed Slough and he knew that in another half-hour they would be in London. Then he leant over her and spoke.
‘This will probably be the last opportunity I shall have of saying a few words to you alone.’
‘I don’t know that at all, Will.’
‘It will be the last for a long time at any rate. And as I have got something to say, I might as well say it now. I have thought a great deal about the property the Belton estate, I mean; and I don’t intend to take it as mine.’
‘That is sheer nonsense, Will. You must take it, as it is yours, and can’t belong to any one else.’
‘I have thought it over, and I am quite sure that all the business of the entail was wrong radically wrong from first to last. You are to understand that my special regard for you has nothing whatever to do with it. I should do the same thing if I felt that I hated you.’
‘Don’t hate me, Will!’
‘You know what I mean. I think the entail was all wrong, and I shan’t take advantage of it. It’s not common sense that I should have everything because of poor Charley’s misfortune.’
‘But it seems to me that it does not depend upon you or upon me, or upon anybody. It is yours by law, you know.’
‘And therefore it won’t be sufficient for me to give it up without making it yours by law also which I intend to do. I shall stay in town tomorrow and give instructions to Mr Green. I have thought it proper to tell you this now, in order that you may mention it to Captain Aylmer.’
They were leaning over in the carriage one towards the other; her face had been slightly turned away from him; but now she slowly raised her eyes till they met his, and looking into the depth of them, and seeing there all his love and all his suffering, and the great nobility of his nature, her heart melted within her. Gradually, as her tears came would come, in spite of all her constraint, she again turned her face towards the window. ‘I can’t talk now,’ she said, ‘indeed I can’t.’
‘There is no need for any more talking about it,’ be replied. And there was no more talking between them, on that subject or on any other, till the tickets bad been taken and the train was again in motion. Then he referred to it again for a moment. ‘You will tell Captain Aylmer, my dear.’
‘I will tell him what you say, that he may know your generosity. But of course he will agree with me that no such offer can be accepted. It is quite quite quite out of the question.’
‘You had better tell him and say nothing more; or you can ask him to see Mr Green after tomorrow. He, as a man who understands business, will know that this arrangement must he made, if I choose to make it. Come; here we are. Porter, a four-wheeled cab. Do you go with him, and I’ll look after the luggage.’
Clara, as she got into the cab, felt that she ought to have been more stout in her resistance to his offer. But it would be better, perhaps, that she should write to him from Aylmer Park, and get Frederic to write also.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14