At the door of the hotel of the Great Northern Railway Station they met Captain Aylmer. Rooms had been taken there because they were to start by an early train on that line in the morning, and Captain Aylmer had undertaken to order dinner. There was nothing particular in the meeting to make it unpleasant to our friend Will. The fortunate rival could do no more in the hall of the inn than give his hand to his affianced bride, as he might do to any other lady, and then suggest to her that she should go upstairs and see her room. When he had done this, he also offered his hand to Belton; and Will, though he would almost sooner have out off his own, was obliged to take it. In a few minutes the two men were standing alone together in the sitting-room.
‘I suppose you found it cold coming up?’ said the captain.
‘Not particularly,’ said Will.
‘It’s rather a long journey from Belton.’
‘Not very long,’ said Will.
‘Not for you, perhaps; but Miss Amedroz must be tired.’
Belton was angry at having his cousin called Miss Amedroz feeling that the reserve of the name was intended to keep him at a distance. But he would have been equally angry had Aylmer called her Clara.
‘My cousin,’ said Will, stoutly, ‘is able to bear slight fatigue of that kind without suffering.’
‘I didn’t suppose she suffered; but journeys are always tedious, especially where there is so much roadwork. I believe you are twenty miles from the station?’
‘Belton Castle is something over twenty miles from Taunton.’
‘We are seven from our station at Aylmer Park, and we think that a great deal.’
‘I’m more than that at Plaistow,’ said Will.
‘Oh, indeed. Plaistow is in Norfolk, I believe?’
‘Yes Plaistow is in Norfolk.’
‘I suppose you’ll leave it now and go into Somersetshire,’ suggested Captain Aylmer.
‘Certainly not. Why should I leave it?’
‘I thought, perhaps as Belton Castle is now your own’
‘Plaistow Hall is more my own than Belton Castle, if that signifies anything which it doesn’t.’ This he said in an angry tone, which, as he became conscious of it, he tried to rectify. ‘I’ve a deal of stock and all that sort of thing at Plaistow, and couldn’t very well leave it, even if I wished it,’ he said.
‘You’ve pretty good shooting too, I suppose,’ said Aylmer.
‘As far as partridges go I’ll back it against most properties of the same extent in any county.’
‘I’m too busy a man myself,’ said the captain, ‘to do much at partridges. We think more of pheasants down with us.’
‘I dare say.’
‘But a Norfolk man like you is of course keen about birds.’
‘We are obliged to put up with what we’ve got, you know not but what I believe there is a better general head of game in Norfolk than in any other county in England.’
‘That’s what makes your hunting rather poor.’
‘Our hunting poor! Why do you say it’s poor?’
‘So many of you are against preserving foxes.’
‘I’ll tell you what, Captain Aylmer; I don’t know what pack you hunt with, but I’ll bet you a five — pound note that we killed more foxes last year than you did that is, taking three days a week. Nine-and-twenty brace and a half in a short season I don’t call poor at all.’
Captain Aylmer saw that the man was waxing angry, and made no further allusion either to the glories or deficiencies of Norfolk. As he could think of no other subject on which to speak at the spur of the moment, he sat himself down and took up a paper; Belton took up another, and so they remained till Clara made her appearance. That Captain Aylmer read his paper is probable enough. He was not a man easily disconcerted, and there was nothing in his present position to disconcert him. But I feel sure that Will Belton did not read a word. He was angry with this rival, whom he hated, and was angry with himself for showing his anger. He would have wished to appear to the best advantage before this man, or rather before Clara in this man’s presence; and he knew that in Clara’s absence be was making such a fool of himself that he would be unable to recover his prestige. He had serious thoughts within his own breast whether it would not be as well for him to get up from his seat and give Captain Aylmer a thoroughly good thrashing: ‘Drop into him and punch his head,’ as he himself would have expressed it. For the moment such an exercise would give him immense gratification. The final results would, no doubt, be disastrous; but then, all future results, as far as he could see them, were laden with disaster. He was still thinking of this, eyeing the man from under the newspaper, and telling himself that the feat would probably be too easy to afford much enjoyment, when Clara re-entered the room. Then he got up, acting on the spur of the moment got up quickly and suddenly, and began to bid her adieu.
‘But you are going to dine here, Will?’ she said.
‘No; I think not.’
‘You promised you would. You told me you had nothing to do to-night.’ Then she turned to Captain Aylmer. ‘You expect my cousin to dine with us today?’
‘I ordered dinner for three,’ said Captain Aylmer.
‘Oh, very well; it’s all the same thing to me,’ said Will.
‘And to me,’ said Captain Aylmer.
‘It’s not all the same thing to me,’ said Clara. ‘I don’t know when I may see my cousin again. I should think it very bad of you, Will, if you went away this evening.’
‘I’ll go out just for half an hour,’ said he, ‘and be back to dinner.’
‘We dine at seven,’ said the captain. Then Belton took his hat and left the two lovers together.
‘Your cousin seems to be a rather surly sort of gentleman.’ Those were the first words which Captain Aylmer spoke when he was alone with the lady of his love. Nor was he demonstrative of his affection by any of the usual signs of regard which are permitted to accepted lovers. He did not offer to kiss her, nor did he attempt to take her hand with a warmer pressure now that he was alone with her. He probably might have gone through some such ceremony had he first met Clara in a position propitious to such purposes; but, as it was, he had been a little ruffled by Will Belton’s want of good breeding, and had probably forgotten that any such privileges might have been his. I wonder whether any remembrance flashed across Clara’s mind at this moment of her Cousin Will’s great iniquity in the sitting-room at Belton Castle. She thought of it very often, and may possibly have thought of it now.
‘I don’t believe that he is surly, Frederic,’ she said. ‘He may, perhaps, be out of humour.’
‘And why should he be out of humour with me? I only suggested to him that it might suit him to live at Belton instead of at that farm of his, down in Norfolk.’
‘He is very fond of Plaistow, I fancy.’
‘But that’s no reason why he should be cross with me. I don’t envy him his taste, that’s all. If he can’t understand that he, with his name, ought to live on the family property which belongs to him, it isn’t likely that anything that I can say will open his eyes upon the subject.’
‘The truth is, Frederic, he has some romantic notion about the Belton estate.’
‘What romantic notion?’
‘He thinks it should not be his at all.’
‘Whose then? Who does he think should have it?’
‘Of course there can be nothing in it, you know; of course, it’s all nonsense.’
‘But what is his idea? Who does he think should be the owner?
‘He means that it should be mine. But of course, Frederic, it is all nonsense; we know that.’
It did not seem to be quite clear at the moment that Frederic had altogether made up his mind upon the subject. As he heard those tidings from Clara there came across his face a puzzled, dubious look, as though he did not quite understand the proposition which had been suggested to him as though some consideration were wanted before he could take the idea home to himself and digest it, so as to enable himself to express an opinion upon it. There might be something in it some show of reason which did not make itself clear to Clara’s feminine mind. ‘I have never known what was the precise nature of your father’s marriage settlement,’ said he.
Then Clara began to explain with exceeding eagerness that there was no question as to the accuracy of the settlement, or the legality of the entail that indeed there was no question as to anything. Her Cousin Will was romantic, and that was the end of it. Of course quite as a matter of course, this romance would lead to nothing; and she had only mentioned the subject now to show that her cousin’s mind might possibly be disturbed when the question of his future residence was raised. ‘I quite feel with you,’ she said, ‘that it will be much nicer that he should live at the old family place; but just at present I do not speak about it.’
‘If he is thinking of not claiming Belton, it is quite another thing,’ said Aylmer.
‘It is his without any claiming,’ said Clara.
‘Ah, well; it will all be settled before long,’ said Aylmer.
‘It is settled already,’ said Clara.
At seven the three met again, and when the dinner was on the table there was some little trouble as to the helping of the fish. Which of the two men should take the lead on the occasion? But Clara decided the question by asking her cousin to make himself useful. There can be little doubt but that Captain Aylmer would have distributed the mutton chops with much more grace, and have carved the roast fowl with much more skill; but it suited Clara that Will should have the employment, and Will did the work. Captain Aylmer, throughout the dinner, endeavoured to be complaisant, and Clara exerted herself to talk as though all matters around them were easy. Will, too, made his effort, every now and then speaking a word, and restraining himself from snapping at his rival; but the restraint was in itself evident, and there were symptoms throughout the dinner that the untamed man was longing to fly at the throat of the man that was tamed.
‘Is it supposed that I ought to go away for a little while?’ said Clara, as soon as she had drunk her own glass of wine.
‘Oh dear, no,’ said the captain. ‘We’ll have a cup of coffee that is, if Mr Belton likes it.’
‘It’s all the same to me,’ said Will.
‘But won’t you have some more wine?’ Clara asked.
‘No more for me,’ said Captain Aylmer. ‘Perhaps Mr Belton’
‘Who; I? No; I don’t want any more wine,’ said Will; and then they were all silent.
It was very hard upon Clara. After a while the coffee came, and even that was felt to be a comfort. Though there was no pouring out to be done, no actual employment enacted, still the manoeuvring of the cups created a diversion. ‘If either of you like to smoke,’ she said, ‘I shan’t mind it in the least.’ But neither of them would smoke. ‘At what hour shall we get to Aylmer Park tomorrow?’ Clara asked.
‘At half-past four,’ said the captain.
‘Oh, indeed so early as that.’ What was she to say next? Will, who had not touched his coffee, and who was sitting stiffly at the table as though he were bound in duty not to move, was becoming more and more grim every moment. She almost repented that she had asked him to remain with them. Certainly there was no comfort in his company, either to them or to himself. ‘How long shall you remain in town, Will, before you go down to Plaistow?’ she asked.
‘One day,’ he replied.
‘Give my kind love my very kindest love to Mary. I wish I knew her. I wish I could think that I might soon know her.’
‘You’ll never know her,’ said Belton. The tone of his voice was actually savage as he spoke so much so that Aylmer turned in his chair to look at him, and Clara did not dare to answer him. But now that he had been made to speak, it seemed that he was determined to persevere. ‘How should you ever know her? Nothing will ever bring you into Norfolk, and nothing will ever take her out of it.’
‘I don’t quite see why either of those assertions should be made.’
‘Nevertheless they’re both true. Had you ever meant to come to Norfolk you would have come now.’ He had not even asked her to come, having arranged with his sister that in their existing circumstances any such asking would not be a kindness; and yet he rebuked her now for not coming!
‘My mother is very anxious that Miss Amedroz should pay her a visit at Aylmer Park,’ said the captain.
‘And she’s going to Aylmer Park, so your mother’s anxiety need not disturb her any longer.’
‘Come, Will, don’t be out of temper with us,’ said Clara. ‘It is our last night together. We, who are so dear to each other, ought not to quarrel.’
‘I’m not quarrelling with you, said he.
‘I can hardly suppose that Mr Belton wants to quarrel with me,’ said Captain Aylmer, smiling.
‘I’m sure he does not,’ said Clara. Belton sat silent, with his eyes fixed upon the table, and with a dark frown upon his brow. He did long to quarrel with Captain Aylmer; but was still anxious, if it might be possible, to save himself from what he knew would be a transgression.
‘To use a phrase common with us down in Yorkshire,’ said Aylmer, ‘I should say that Mr Belton had got out of bed the wrong side this morning.’
‘What the d does it matter to you, sir, what side I got out of bed?’ said Will, clenching both his fists. Oh if he might have only been allowed to have a round of five minutes with Aylmer, he would have been restored to good temper for that night, let the subsequent results have been what they might. He moved his feet impatiently on the floor, as though he were longing to kick something; and then he pushed his coffee-cup away from him, upsetting half the contents upon the table, and knocking down a wineglass, which was broken.
‘Will Will!’ said Clara, looking at him with imploring eyes.
‘Then he shouldn’t talk to me about getting out of bed on the wrong side; I didn’t say anything to him.’
‘It is unkind of you, Will, to quarrel with Captain Aylmer because he is my friend.’
‘I don’t want to quarrel with him; or, rather, as I won’t quarrel with him because you don’t wish it, I’ll go away. I can’t do more than that. I didn’t want to dine with him here. There’s my cousin Clara, Captain Aylmer; I love her better than all the world besides. Love her! It seems to me that there’s nothing else in the world for me to love. I’d give my heart for her this minute. All that I have in the world is hers. Oh love her! I don’t believe that it’s in you to know what I mean when I say that I love her! She tells me that he’s going to be your wife. You can’t suppose that I can be very comfortable under those circumstances or that I can be very fond of you. I’m not very fond of you. Now I’ll go away, and then I shan’t trouble you any more. But look here if ever you should ill-treat her, whether you marry her or whether you don’t, I’ll crush every bone in your skin.’ Having so spoken he went to the door, but stopped himself before he left the room. ‘Good-bye, Clara. I’ve got a word or two more to say to you, but I’ll write you a line down-stairs. You can show it to him if you please. It’ll only be about business. Good-night.’
She had got up and followed him to the door, and he had taken her by the hand. ‘You shouldn’t let your passion get the better of you in this way,’ she said; but the tone of her voice was very soft, and her eyes were full of love.
‘I suppose not,’ said he.
‘I can forgive him,’ said Captain Aylmer.
‘D your forgiveness,’ said Will Belton. Then Clara dropped the hand and started back, and the door was shut, and Will Belton was gone.
‘Your cousin seems to be a nice sort of young man,’ said Aylmer.
‘Cannot you understand it all, Frederic, and pardon him?’
‘I can pardon him easily enough; but one doesn’t like men who are given to threatening. He’s not the sort of man that I took him to be.’
‘Upon my word I think he’s as nearly perfect as a man can be.’
‘Then you like men to swear at you, and to swagger like Bobadils and to misbehave themselves, so that one has to blush for them if a servant chances to hear them. Do you really think that he has conducted himself today like a gentleman?’
‘I know that he is a gentleman,’ said Clara.
‘I must confess I have no reason for supposing him to be so but your assurance.’
‘And I hope that is sufficient, Frederic.’
Captain Aylmer did not answer her at once, but sat for awhile silent, considering what he would say. Clara, who understood his moods, knew that he did not mean to drop the subject, and resolved that she would defend her cousin, let Captain Aylmer attack him as he would.
‘Upon my word, I hardly know what to say about it,’ said Aylmer.
‘Suppose then, that we say nothing more. Will not that be best?’
‘No, Clara. I cannot now let the matter pass by in that way. You have asked me whether I do not think Mr Belton to be a gentleman, and I must say that I doubt it. Pray hear me out before you answer me. I do not want to be harder upon him than I can help; and I would have borne, and I did bear from him, a great deal in silence. But he said that to me which I cannot allow to pass without notice. He had the bad taste to speak to me of his his regard for you.’
‘I cannot see what harm he did by that except to himself.’
‘I believe that it is understood among gentlemen that one man never speaks to another man about the lady the other man means to marry, unless they are very intimate friends indeed. What I mean is, that if Mr Belton had understood how gentlemen live together he would never have said anything to me about his affection for you. He should at any rate have supposed me to be ignorant of it. There is something in the very idea of his doing so that is in the highest degree indelicate. I wonder, Clara, that you do not see this yourself.’
‘I think he was indiscreet.’
‘Indiscreet! Indiscreet is not the word for such conduct. I must say, that as far as my opinion goes, it was ungentlemanlike.’
‘I don’t believe that there is a nobler-minded gentleman in all London than my Cousin Will.’
‘Perhaps it gratified you to hear from him the assurance of his love?’ said Captain Aylmer.
‘If it is your wish to insult me, Frederic, I will leave you’.
‘It is my wish to make you understand that your judgment has been wrong.’
‘That is simply a matter of opinion, and as I do not wish to argue with you about it, I had better go. At any rate I am very tired. Goodnight, Frederic.’ He then told her what arrangements he had made for the morrow, and what hour she would be called, and when she would have her breakfast. After that he let her go without making any further allusion to Will Belton.
It must be admitted that the meeting between the lovers had not been auspicious; and it must be acknowledged, also, that Will Belton had behaved very badly. I am not aware of the existence of that special understanding among gentlemen in respect to the ladies they are going to marry which Captain Aylmer so eloquently described; but, nevertheless, I must confess that Belton would have done better had he kept his feelings to himself. And when he talked of crushing his rival’s bones, he laid himself justly open to severe censure. But, for all that, he was no Bobadil. He was angry, sore, and miserable; and in his anger, soreness, and misery, he had allowed himself to be carried away. He felt very keenly his own folly, even as he was leaving the room, and as he made his way out of the hotel he hated himself for his own braggadocio. ‘I wish some one would crush my bones,’ he said to himself almost audibly. ‘No one ever deserved to be crushed better than I do.’
Clara, when she got to her own room, was very serious and very sad. What was to be the end of it all? This had been her first meeting after her father’s death with the man whom she had promised to marry; indeed, it was the first meeting after her promise had been given; and they had only met to quarrel. There had been no word of love spoken between them. She had parted from him now almost in anger, without the slightest expression of confidence between them almost as those part who are constrained by circumstances to be together, but who yet hate each other and know that they hate each other. Was there in truth any love between him and her? And if there was none, could there be any advantage, any good either to him or to her, in this journey of hers to Aylmer Park? Would it not be better that she should send for him and tell him that they were not suited for each other, and that thus she should escape from all the terrors of Lady Aylmer? As she thought of this, she could not but think of Will Belton also. Not a gentleman! If Will Belton was not a gentleman, she desired to know nothing further of gentlemen. Women are so good and kind that those whom they love they love almost the more when they commit offences, because of the offences so committed. Will Belton had been guilty of great offences of offences for which Clara was pre. pared to lecture him in the gravest manner should opportunities for such lectures ever come but I think that they had increased her regard for him rather than diminished it. She could not, however, make up her mind to send for Captain Aylmer, and when she went to bed she had resolved that the visit to Yorkshire must be made.
Before she left the room the following morning, a letter was brought to her from her cousin, which had been written that morning. She asked the maid to inquire for him, and sent down word to him that if he were in the house she specially wished to see him; but the tidings came from the hall porter that he had gone out very early, and had expressly said that he should not breakfast at the inn.
The letter was as follows:
I meant to have handed to you the enclosed in person, but I lost my temper last night like a fool as I am and so I couldn’t do it. You need not have any scruple about the money which I send œ100 in ten ten-pound notes as it is your own. There is the rent due up to your father’s death, which is more than what I now enclose, and there will be a great many other items, as to all of which you shall have a proper account. When you want more, you had better draw on me, till things are settled. It shall all be done as soon as possible. It would not be comfortable for you to go away without money of your own, and I suppose you would not wish that he should pay for your journeys and things before you are married.
Of course I made a fool of myself yesterday. I believe that I usually do. It is not any good my begging your pardon, for I don’t suppose I shall ever trouble you any more. Good-bye, and God bless you.
Your affectionate Cousin,
It was a bad day for me when I made up my mind to go to Belton Castle last summer.’
Clara, when she had read the letter, sat down and cried, holding the bundle of notes in her hand. What would she do with them? Should she send them back? Oh no she would do nothing to displease him, or to make him think that she was angry with him. Besides, she had none of that dislike to taking his money which she had felt as to receiving money from Captain Aylmer. He had said that she would be his sister, and she would take from him any assistance that a sister might properly take from a brother.
She went down-stairs and met Captain Aylmer in the sitting-room. He stepped up to her as soon as the door was closed, and she could at once see that he had determined to forget the unpleasantness of the previous evening. He stepped up to her, and gracefully taking her by one hand, and passing the other behind her waist, saluted her in a becoming and appropriate manner. She did not like it. She especially disliked it, believing in her heart of hearts that she would never become the wife of this man whom she had professed to love and whom she really had once loved. But she could only bear it. And, to say the truth, there was not much suffering of that kind to be borne.
Their journey down to Yorkshire was very prosperous. He maintained his good humour throughout the day, and never once said a word about Will Belton. Nor did he say a word about Mrs Askerton. ‘Do your best to please my mother, Clara,’ he said, as they were driving up from the park lodges to the house. This was fair enough, and she therefore promised him that she would do her best.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01