‘I suppose now, my dear, it may be considered that everything is settled about that young lady,’ said Lady Aylmer to her son, on the same day that Miss Amedroz left Aylmer Park.
‘Nothing is settled, ma’am,’ said the captain.
‘You don’t mean to tell me that after what has passed you intend to follow her up any farther.’
‘I shall certainly endeavour to see her again.’
‘Then, Frederic, I must tell you that you are very wrong indeed almost worse than wrong. I would say wicked, only I feel sure that you will think better of it. You cannot mean to tell me that you would marry her after what has taken place?’
‘The question is whether she would marry me.’
‘That is nonsense, Frederic. I wonder that you, who are so generally so clear-sighted, cannot see more plainly than that. She is a scheming, artful young woman, who is playing a regular game to catch a husband.’
‘If that were so, she would have been more humble to you, ma’am.’
‘Not a bit, Fred. That’s just it. That has been her cleverness. She tried that on at first, and found that she could not get round me. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by that, I pray. And then there is no knowing how she may be bound up with those horrid people, so that she cannot throw them over, even if she would.’
‘I don’t think you understand her, ma’am.’
‘Oh very well. But I understand this, and you had better understand it too that she will never again enter a house of which I am the mistress; nor can I ever enter a house in which she is received. If you choose to make her your wife after that, I have done.’ Lady Aylmer had not done, or nearly done; but we need hear no more of her threats or entreaties. Her son left Aylmer Park immediately after Easter Sunday, and as he went, the mother, nodding her head, declared to her daughter that that marriage would never come off, let Clara Amedroz be ever so sly, or ever so clever.
‘Think of what I have said to you, Fred,’ said Sir Anthony, as he took his leave of his son.
‘Yes, sir, I will.’
‘You can’t be better off than you are you can’t, indeed.’ With these words in his ears Captain Aylmer started for London, intending to follow Clara down to Belton. He hardly knew his own mind on this matter of his purposed marriage. He was almost inclined to agree with his father that he was very well off as he was. He was almost inclined to agree with his mother in her condemnation of Clara’s conduct. He was almost inclined to think that he had done enough towards keeping the promise made to his aunt on her death. bed but still he was not quite contented with himself. He desired to be honest and true, as far as his ideas went of honesty and truth, and his conscience told him that Clara had been treated with cruelty by his mother. I am inclined to think that Lady Aylmer, in spite of her high experience and character for wisdom, had not fought her battle altogether well. No man likes to be talked out of his marriage by his mother, and especially not so when the talking takes the shape of threats. When she told him that under no circumstances would she again know Clara Amedroz, he was driven by his spirit of manhood to declare to himself that that menace from her should not have the slightest influence on him. The word or two which his father said was more effective. After all it might be better for him in his peculiar position to have no wife at all. He did begin to believe that he had no need for a wife. He had never before thought so much of his father’s example as he did now. Clara was manifestly a hot-tempered woman a very hot-tempered woman indeed! Now his mother was also a hot-tempered woman, and he could see the result in the present condition of his father’s life. He resolved that he would follow Clara to Belton, so that some final settlement might be made between them; but in coming to this resolution he acknowledged to himself that should she decide against him he would not break his heart. She, however, should have her chance. Undoubtedly it was only right that she should have her chance.
But the difficulty of the circumstances in which he was placed was so great, that it was almost impossible for him to make up his mind fixedly to any purpose in reference to Clara. As he passed through London on his way to Belton he called at Mr Green’s chambers with reference to that sum of fifteen hundred pounds, which it was now absolutely necessary that he should make over to Miss Amedroz, and from Mr Green he learned that William Belton had given positive instructions as to the destination of the Belton estate. He would not inherit it, or have anything to do with it under the entail from the effects of which he desired to be made entirely free. Mr Green, who knew that Captain Aylmer was engaged to marry his client, and who knew nothing of any interruption to that agreement, felt no hesitation in explaining all this to Captain Aylmer. ‘I suppose you had heard of it before,’ said Mr Green. Captain Aylmer certainly had heard of it, and had been very much struck by the idea; but up to this moment he had not quite believed in it. Coming simply from William Belton to Clara Amedroz, such an offer might be no more than a strong argument used in love — making. ‘Take back the property, but take me with it, of course.’ That Captain Aylmer thought might have been the correct translation of Mr William Belton’s romance. But he was forced to look at the matter differently when he found that it had been put into a lawyer’s hands. ‘Yes,’ said he,’ I have heard of it. Mr Belton mentioned it to me himself.’ This was not strictly true. Clara had mentioned it to him; but Belton had come into the room immediately afterwards, and Captain Aylmer might probably have been mistaken.
‘He’s quite in earnest,’ said Mr Green.
‘Of course, I can say nothing, Mr Green, as I am myself so nearly interested in the matter. It is a great question, no doubt, how far such an entail as that should be allowed to operate.’
‘I think it should stand, as a matter of course. I think Belton is wrong,’ said Mr Green.
‘Of course I can give no opinion,’ said the other.
‘I’ll tell you what you can do, Captain Aylmer. You can suggest to Miss Amedroz that there should be a compromise. Let them divide it. They are both clients of mine, and in that way I shall do my duty to each. Let them divide it. Belton has money enough to buy up the other moiety, and in that way would still be Belton of Belton.’
Captain Aylmer had not the slightest objection to such a plan. Indeed, he regarded it as in all respects a wise and salutary arrangement. The moiety of the Belton estate might probably be worth twenty-five thousand pounds, and the addition of such a sum as that to his existing means would make all the difference in the world as to the expediency of his marriage. His father’s arguments would all fall to the ground if twenty-five thousand pounds were to be obtained in this way; and he had but little doubt that such a change in affairs would go far to mitigate his mother’s wrath. But he was by no means mercenary in his views so, at least, he assured himself. Clara should have her chance with or without the Belton estate or with or without the half of it. He was by no means mercenary. Had he not made his offer to her and repeated it almost with obstinacy, when she had no prospect of any fortune? He could always remember that of himself at least; and remembering that now, he could take a delight in these bright money prospects without having to accuse himself in the slightest degree of mercenary motives. This fortune was a godsend which he could take with clean hands if only he should ultimately be able to take the lady who possessed the fortune!
>From London he wrote to Clara, telling her that he proposed to visit her at Belton. His letter was written before he had seen Mr Green, and was not very fervent in its expressions; but, nevertheless, it was a fair letter, written with the intention of giving her a fair chance. He had seen with great sorrow ‘with heartfelt grief,’ that quarrel between his mother and his own Clara. Thinking, as he felt himself obliged to think, about Mrs Askerton, he could not but feel that his mother bad cause for her anger. But he himself was unprejudiced, and was ready, and anxious also the word anxious was underscored to carry out his engagement. A few words between them might probably set everything right, and therefore be proposed to meet her at the Belton Castle house, at such an hour, on such a day. He should run down to Perivale on his journey, and perhaps Clara would let him have a line addressed to him there. Such was his letter.
‘What do you think of that?’ said Clara, showing it to Mrs Askerton on the afternoon of the day on which she had received it.
‘What do you think of it?’ said Mrs Askerton. ‘I can only hope, that he will not come within reach of my hands.’
‘You are not angry with me for showing it to you?’
‘No why should I be angry with you? Of course I knew it all without any showing. Do not tell Colonel Askerton, or they will be killing each other.’
‘Of course I shall not tell Colonel Askerton; but I could not help showing this to you.’
‘And you will meet him?’
‘Yes; I shall meet him. What else can I do?’
‘Unless, indeed, you were to write and tell him that it would do no good.’
‘It will be better that he should come.’
‘If you allow him to talk you over you will be a wretched woman all your life.’
‘It will be better that he should come,’ said Clara again. And then she wrote to Captain Aylmer at Perivale, telling him that she would be at the house at the hour he had named, on the day he had named.
When that day came she walked across the park a little before the time fixed, not wishing to meet Captain Aylmer before she had reached the house. It was now nearly the middle of April, and the weather was soft and pleasant. It was almost summer again, and as she felt this, she thought of all the events which had occurred since the last summer of their agony of grief at the catastrophe which had closed her brother’s life, of her aunt’s death first, and then of her father’s following so close upon the other, and of the two offers of marriage made to her as to which she was now aware that she had accepted the wrong man and rejected the wrong man. She was steadily minded, now, at this moment, that before she parted from Captain Aylmer, her engagement with him should be brought to a close. Now, at this coming interview, so much at any rate should be done. She had tried to make herself believe that she felt for him that sort of affection which a woman should have for the man she is to marry, but she had failed. She hardly knew whether she had in truth ever loved him; but she was quite sure that she did not love him now. No she had done with Aylmer Park, and she could feel thankful, amidst all her troubles, that that difficulty should vex her no more. In showing Captain Aylmer’s letter to Mrs Askerton she had made no such promise as this, but her mind had been quite made up. ‘He certainly shall not talk me over,’ she said to herself as she walked across the park.
But she could not see her way so clearly out of that further difficulty with regard to her cousin. It might be that she would be able to rid herself of the one lover with comparative ease; but she could not bring herself to entertain the idea of accepting the other. It was true that this man longed for her desired to call her his own, with a wearing, anxious, painful desire which made his heart grievously heavy heavy as though with lead hanging to its strings; and it was true that Clara knew that it was so. It was true also that his spirit had mastered her spirit, and that his persistence had conquered her resistance the resistance, that is, of her feelings. But there remained with her a feminine shame, which made it seem to her to be impossible that she should now reject Captain Aylmer, and as a consequence of that rejection, accept Will Belton’s hand. As she thought of this, she could not see her way out of her trouble in that direction with any of that clearness which belonged to her in reference to Captain Aylmer.
She had been an hour in the house before he came, and never did an hour go so heavily with her. There was no employment for her about the place, and Mrs Bunce, the old woman who now lived there, could not understand why her late mistress chose to remain seated among the unused furniture. Clara had of course told her that a gentleman was coming. ‘Not Mr Will?’ said the woman. ‘No; it is not Mr Will,’ said Clara; ‘his name is Captain Aylmer.’ ‘Oh, indeed.’ And then Mrs Bunce looked at her with a mystified look. Why on earth should not the gentleman call on Miss Amedroz at Mrs Askerton’s cottage? ‘I’ll be sure to show ’un up, when a comes, at any rate,’ said the old woman solemnly and Clara felt that it was all very uncomfortable.
At last the gentleman did come, and was shown up with all the ceremony of which Mrs Bunce was capable. ‘Here he be, mum.’ Then Mrs Bunce paused a moment before she retreated, anxious to learn whether the new corner was a friend or a foe. She concluded from the captain’s manner that he was a very dear friend, and then she departed.
‘I hope you are not surprised at my coming,’ said Captain Aylmer, still holding Clara by the hand.
‘A little surprised,’ she said, smiling.
‘But not annoyed?’
‘No not annoyed.’
‘As soon as you had left Aylmer Park I felt that it was the right thing to do the only thing to do as I told my mother.’
‘I hope you have not come in opposition to her wishes,’ said Clara, unable to control a slight tone of banter as she spoke.
‘In this matter I found myself compelled to act in accordance with my own judgment,’ said he, untouched by her sarcasm.
‘Then I suppose that Lady Aylmer is is vexed with you for coming here. I shall be so sorry for that so very sorry, as no good can come of it.’
‘Well I am not so sure of that. My mother is a most excellent woman, one for whose opinions on all matters I have the highest possible value a value so high, that that that’
‘That you never ought to act in opposition to it. That is what you really mean, Captain Aylmer; and upon my word I think that you are right.’
‘No, Clara; that is not what I mean not exactly that. Indeed, just at present I mean the reverse of that. There are some things on which a man must act on his own judgment, irrespectively of the opinions of any one else.’
‘Not of a mother, Captain Aylmer?’
‘Yes of a mother. That is to say, a man must do so. With a lady of course it is different. I was very, very sorry that there should have been any unpleasantness at Aylmer Park.’
‘It was not pleasant to me, certainly.’
‘Nor to any of us, Clara.’
‘At any rate, it need not be repeated.’
‘I hope not.’
‘No it certainly need not be repeated. I know now that I was wrong to go to Aylmer Park. I felt sure beforehand that there were many things as to which I could not possibly agree with Lady Aylmer, and I ought not to have gone.’
‘I don’t see that at all, Clara.’
‘I do see it now.’
‘I can’t understand you. What things? Why should you be determined to disagree with my mother? Surely you ought at any rate to endeavour to think as she thinks.’
‘I cannot do that, Captain Aylmer.’
‘I am sorry to hear you speak in this way. I have come here all the way from Yorkshire to try to put things straight between us; but you receive me as though you would remember nothing but that unpleasant quarrel.’
‘It was so unpleasant so very unpleasant! I had better speak out the truth at once. I think that Lady Aylmer ill-used me cruelly. I do. No one can talk me out of that conviction. Of course I am sorry to be driven to say as much to you and I should never have said it, had you not come here. But when you speak of me and your mother together, I must say what I feel. Your mother and I, Captain Aylmer, are so opposed to each other, not only in feeling, but in opinions also, that it is impossible that we should be friends impossible that we should not be enemies if we are brought together.’
This she said with great energy, looking intently into his face as she spoke. He was seated near her, on a chair from which he was leaning over towards her, holding his hat in both hands between his legs. Now, as he listened to her, he drew his chair still nearer, ridding himself of his hat, which he left upon the carpet, and keeping his eyes upon hers as though he were fascinated. ‘I am sorry to hear you speak like this,’ he said.
‘It is best to say the truth.’
‘But, Clara, if you intend to be my wife’
‘Oh, no that is impossible now.’ ‘What is impossible?’
‘Impossible that I should become your wife. Indeed I have convinced myself that you do not wish it.’
‘But I do wish it.’
‘No no. If you will question your heart about it quietly, you will find that you do not wish it.’
‘You wrong me, Clara.’
‘At any rate it cannot be so.’
‘I will not take that answer from you,’ he said, getting up from his chair, and walking once up and down the room. Then he returned to it, and repeated his words. ‘I will not take that answer from you. An engagement such as ours cannot be put aside like an old glove. You do not mean to tell me that all that has been between us is to mean nothing.’ There was something now like feeling in his tone, something like passion in his gesture, and Clara, though she had no thought of changing her purpose, was becoming unhappy at the idea of his unhappiness.
‘It has meant nothing,’ she said. ‘We have been like children together, playing at being in love. It is a game from which you will come out scatheless, but I have been scalded.’
‘Well never mind. I do not mean to complain, and certainly not of you.’
‘I have come here all the way from Yorkshire in order that things may be put right between us.’
‘You have been very good very good to come, and I will not say that I regret your trouble. It is best, I think, that we should meet each other once more face to face, so that we may understand each other. There was no understanding anything during those terrible days at Aylmer Park.’ Then she paused, but as he did not speak at once she went on. ‘I do not blame you for anything that has taken place, but I am quite sure of this that you and I could never be happy together as man and wife.’
‘I do not know why you say so; I do not indeed.’
‘You would disapprove of everything that I should do. You do disapprove of what I am doing now.’
‘Disapprove of what?’
‘I am staying with my friend, Mrs Askerton.’
He felt that this was hard upon him. As she had shown herself inclined to withdraw herself from him, he had become more resolute in his desire to follow her up, and to hold by his engagement. He was not employed now in giving her another chance as he had proposed to himself to do but was using what eloquence he had to obtain another chance for himself. Lady Aylmer had almost made him believe that Clara would be the suppliant, but now he was the suppliant himself. In his anxiety to keep her he was willing even to pass over her terrible iniquity in regard to Mrs Askerton that great sin which had led to all these troubles. He had once written to her about Mrs Askerton, using very strong language, and threatening her with his mother’s full displeasure. At that time Mrs Askerton had simply been her friend. There had been no question then of her taking refuge under that woman’s roof. Now she had repelled Lady Aylmer’s counsels with scorn, was living as a guest in Mrs Askerton’s house; and yet he was willing to pass over the Askerton difficulty without a word. He was willing not only to condone past offences, but to wink at existing iniquity! But she she who was the sinner, would not permit of this. She herself dragged up Mrs Askerton’s name, and seemed to glory in her own shame.
‘I had not intended,’ said he, ‘to speak of your friend.’
‘I only mention her to show how impossible it is that we should ever agree upon some subjects as to which a husband and wife should always be of one mind. I knew this from the moment in which I got your letter and only that I was a coward I should have said so then.’
‘And you mean to quarrel with me altogether?’
‘No why should we quarrel?’
‘Why, indeed?’ said he.
‘But I wish it to be settled quite settled, as from the nature of things it must be, that there shall be no attempt at renewal of our engagement. After what has passed, how could I enter your mother’s house?’
‘But you need not enter it.’ Now, in his emergency he was willing to give up anything everything. He had been prepared to talk her over into a reconciliation with his mother, to admit that there had been faults on both sides, to come down from his high pedestal and discuss the matter as though Clara and his mother stood upon the same footing. Having recognized the spirit of his lady-love, he had told himself that so much indignity as that must be endured. But now, he had been carried so far beyond this, that he was willing, in the sudden vehemence of his love, to throw his mother over altogether, and to accede to any terms which Clara might propose to him. ‘Of course, I would wish you to be friends,’ he said, using now all the tones of a suppliant; ‘but if you found that it could not be so’
‘Do you think that I would divide you from your mother?’
‘There need be no question as to that.’
‘Ah there you are wrong. There must be such questions. I should have thought of it sooner.’
‘Clara, you are more to me than my mother. Ten times more.’ As he said this he came up and knelt down beside her. ‘You are everything to me. You will not throw me over.’ He was a suppliant indeed, and such supplications are very potent with women. Men succeed often by the simple earnestness of their prayers. Women cannot refuse to give that which is asked for with so much of the vehemence of true desire. ‘Clara, you have promised to be my wife. You have twice promised; and can have no right to go back because you are displeased with what my mother may have said. I am not responsible for my mother. Clara, say that you will be my wife.’ As he spoke he strove to take her hand, and his voice sounded as though there were in truth something of passion in his heart.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01