About two months after the scene described in the last chapter, when the full summer had arrived, Clara received two letters from the two lovers the history of whose loves have just been told, and these shall be submitted to the reader, as they will serve to explain the manner in which the two men proposed to arrange their affairs. We will first have Captain Aylmer’s letter, which was the first read; Clara kept the latter for the last, as children always keep their sweetest morsels.
‘Aylmer Park, August 188
My dear Miss Amedroz,
I heard before leaving London that you are engaged to marry your cousin Mr William Belton, and I think that perhaps you may be satisfied to have a line from me to let you know that I quite approve of the marriage.’ ‘I do not care very much for his approval or disapproval,’ said Clara as she read this. ‘No doubt it will be the best thing you can do, especially as it will heal all the sores arising from the entail.’ ‘There never was any sore,’ said Clara. ‘Pray give my compliments to Mr Belton, and offer him my congratulations, and tell him that I wish him all happiness in the married state.’ ‘Married fiddlestick!’ said Clara. In this she was unreasonable; but the euphonious platitudes of Captain Aylmer were so unlike the vehement protestations of Mr Belton that she must be excused if by this time she had come to entertain something of an unreasonable aversion for the former.
I hope you will not receive my news with perfect indifference when I tell you that I also am going to be married. The lady is one whom I have known for a long time, and have always esteemed very highly. She is Lady Emily Tagmaggert, the youngest daughter of the Earl of Mull.’ Why Clara should immediately have conceived a feeling of supreme contempt for Lady Emily Tagmaggert, and assured herself that her ladyship was a thin, dry, cross old maid with a red nose, I cannot explain; but I do know that such were her thoughts, almost instantaneously, in reference to Captain Aylmer’s future bride. ‘Lady Emily is a very intimate friend of my sister’s; and you, who know how our family cling together, will feel how thankful I must be when I tell you that my mother quite approves of the engagement. I suppose we shall be married early in the spring. We shall probably spend some months every year at Perivale, and I hope that we may look forward to the pleasure of seeing you sometimes as a guest beneath our roof.’ On reading this Clara shuddered, and made some inward protestation which seemed to imply that she had no wish whatever to revisit the dull streets of the little town with which she had been so well acquainted. ‘I hope she’ll be good to poor Mr Possit,’ said Clara, ‘and give him port wine on Sundays.’
I have one more thing that I ought to say. You will remember that I intended to pay my aunt’s legacy immediately after her death, but that I was prevented by circumstances which I could not control. I have paid it now into Mr Green’s hands on your account, together with the sum of œ59 18s 3d., which is due upon it as interest at the rate of 5 per cent. I hope that this may be satisfactory.’ ‘It is not satisfactory at all,’ said Clara, putting down the letter, and resolving that Will Belton should be instructed to repay the money instantly. It may, however, be explained here that in this matter Clara was doomed to be disappointed; and that she was forced, by Mr Green’s arguments, to receive the money. ‘Then it shall go to the hospital at Perivale,’ she declared when those arguments were used. As to that, Mr Green was quite indifferent, but I do not think that the legacy which troubled poor Aunt Winterfield so much on her dying bed was ultimately applied to so worthy a purpose.
And now, my dear Miss Amedroz,’ continued the letter, ‘I will say farewell, with many assurances of my unaltered esteem, and with heartfelt wishes for your future happiness. Believe me to be always,
Most faithfully and sincerely yours,
FREDERIC F. AYLMER.
‘Esteem!’ said Clara, as she finished the letter. ‘I wonder which he esteems the most, me or Lady Emily Tagmaggert. He will never get beyond esteem with any one.
The letter which was last read was as follows:
Plaistow, August 186 .
I don’t think I shall ever get done, and I am coming to hate farming. It is awful lonely here, too, and I pass all my evenings by myself, wondering why I should be doomed to this kind of thing, while you and Mary are comfortable together at Belton. We have begun with the wheat, and as soon as that is safe I shall cut and run. I shall leave the barley to Bunce. Bunce knows as much about it as I do and as for remaining here all the summer, it’s out of the question.
My own dear, darling love, of course I don’t intend to urge you to do anything that you don’t like; but upon my honour I don’t see the force of what you say. You know I have as much respect for your father’s memory as anybody, but what harm can it do to him that we should be married at once? Don’t you think he would have wished it himself? It can be ever so quiet. So long as it’s done, I don’t care a straw how it’s done. Indeed, for the matter of that, I always think it would be best just to walk to church and to walk home again without saying anything to anybody. I hate fuss and nonsense, and really I don’t think anybody would have a right to say anything if we were to do it at once in that sort of way. I have had a bad time of it for the last twelvemonth. You must allow that, and I think that I ought to be rewarded.
As for living, you shall have your choice. Indeed you shall live anywhere you please at Timbuctoo if you like it. I don’t want to give up Plaistow, because my father and grandfather farmed the land themselves; but I am quite prepared not to live here. I don’t think it would suit you, because it has so much of the farm-house about it. Only I should like you sometimes to come and look at the old place. What I should like would be to pull down the house at Belton and build another. But you mustn’t propose to put it off till that’s done, as I should never have the heart to do it. If you think that would suit you, I’ll make up my mind to live at Belton for a constancy; and then I’d go in for a lot of cattle, and don’t doubt I’d make a fortune. I’m almost sick of looking at the straight ridges in the big square fields every day of my life.
Give my love to Mary. I hope she fights my battle for me. Pray think of all this, and relent if you can. I do so long to have an end of this purgatory. If there was any use, I wouldn’t say a word; but there’s no good in being tortured, when there is no use. God bless you, dearest love. I do love you so well!
Yours most affectionately,
She kissed the letter twice, pressed it to her bosom, and then sat silent for half an hour thinking of it of it, and the man who wrote it, and of the man who had written the other letter. She could not but remember how that other man had thought to treat her, when it was his intention and her intention that they two should join their lots together how cold he had been; how full of caution and counsel; how he had preached to her himself and threatened her with the preaching of his mother; how manifestly he had purposed to make her life a sacrifice to his life; how he had premeditated her incarceration at Perivale, while he should be living a bachelor’s life in London! Will Belton’s ideas of married life were very different. Only come to me at once now, immediately, and everything else shall be disposed just as you please. This was his offer. What he proposed to give or rather his willingness to be thus generous, was very sweet to her; but it was not half so sweet as his impatience in demanding his reward. How she doted on him because he considered his present state to be a purgatory! How could she refuse anything she could give to one who desired her gifts so strongly?
As for her future residence, it would be a matter of indifference to her where she should live, so long as she might live with him; but for him she felt that but one spot in the world was fit for him. He was Belton of Belton, and it would not be becoming that he should live elsewhere. Of course she would go with him to Plaistow Hall as often as he might wish it; but Belton Castle should be his permanent resting-place. It would be her duty to be proud for him, and therefore, for his sake, she would beg that their home might be in Somersetshire.
‘Mary,’ she said to her cousin soon afterwards, ‘Will sends his love to you.’
‘And what else does he say?’
‘I couldn’t tell you everything. You shouldn’t expect it.’
‘I don’t expect it; but perhaps there may be something to be told.’
‘Nothing that I need tell specially. You, who know him so well, can imagine what he would say.’
‘Dear Will! I am sure he would mean to write what was pleasant.’
Then the matter would have dropped had Clara been so minded but she, in truth, was anxious to be forced to talk about the letter. She wished to be urged by Mary to do that which Will urged her to do or, at least, to learn whether Mary thought that her brother’s wish might be gratified without impropriety. ‘Don’t you think we ought to live here?’ she said.
‘By all means if you both like it.’
‘He is so good so unselfish, that he will only ask me to do what I like best.’
‘And which would you like best?’
‘I think he ought to live here because it is the old family property. I confess that the name goes for something with me. He says that he would build a new house.’
‘Does he think he could have it ready by the time you are married?’
‘Ah that is just the difficulty. Perhaps, after all, you had better read his letter. I don’t know why I should not show it to you. It will only tell you what you know already that he is the most generous fellow in all the world.’ Then Mary read the letter. ‘What am I to say to him?’ Clara asked. ‘It seems so hard to refuse anything to one who is so true, and good, and generous.’
‘It is hard.’
‘But you see my poor, dear father’s death has been so recent.’
‘I hardly know,’ said Mary, ‘how the world feels about such things.’
‘I think we ought to wait at least twelve months,’ said Clara, very sadly.
‘Poor Will! He will be broken-hearted a dozen times before that. But then, when his happiness does come, he will be all the happier.’ Clara, when she heard this, almost hated her cousin Mary not for her own sake, but on Will’s account. Will trusted so implicitly to his sister, and yet she could not make a better fight for him than this! It almost seemed that Mary was indifferent to her brother’s happiness. Had Will been her brother, Clara thought, and had any girl asked her advice under similar circumstances, she was sure that she would have answered in a different way. She would have told such girl that her first duty was owing to the man who was to be her husband, and would not have said a word to her about the feeling of the world. After all, what did the feeling of the world signify to them, who were going to be all the world to each other?
On that afternoon she went up to Mrs Askerton’s; and succeeded in getting advice from her also, though she did not show Will’s letter to that lady. ‘Of course, I know what he says,’ said Mrs Askerton. ‘Unless I have mistaken the man, he wants to be married tomorrow.’
‘He is not so bad as that,’ said Clara.
‘Then the next day, or the day after. Of course he is impatient, and does not see any earthly reason why his impatience should not be gratified.’
‘He is impatient.’
‘And I suppose you hesitate because of your father’s death?
‘It seems but the other day does it not?’ said Clara.
‘Everything seems but the other day to me. It was but the other day that I myself was married.’
‘And, of course, though I would do anything I could that he would ask me to do’
‘But would you do anything?’
‘Anything that was not wrong I would. Why should I not, when he is so good to me?’
‘Then write to him, my dear, and tell him that it shall be as he wishes it. Believe me, the days of Jacob are over. Men don’t understand waiting now, and it’s always as well to catch your fish when you can.’
‘You don’t suppose I have any thought of that kind?’
‘I am sure you have not and I’m sure that he deserves no such thought but the higher that are his deserts, the greater should be his reward. If I were you, I should think of nothing but him, and I should do exactly as he would have me.’ Clara kissed her friend as she parted from her, and again resolved that all that woman’s sins should be forgiven her. A woman who could give such excellent advice deserved that every sin should be forgiven her. ‘They’ll be married yet before the summer is over,’ Mrs Askerton said to her husband that afternoon. ‘I believe a man may have anything he chooses to ask for, if he’ll only ask hard enough.’
And they were married in the autumn, if not actually in the summer. With what precise words Clara answered her lover’s letter I will not say; but her answer was of such a nature that he found himself compelled to leave Plaistow, even before the wheat was garnered. Great confidence was placed in Bunce on that occasion, and I have reason to believe that it was not misplaced. They were married in September yes, in September, although that letter of Will’s was written in August, and by the beginning of October they had returned from their wedding trip to Plaistow. Clara insisted that she should be taken to Plaistow, and was very anxious when there to learn all the particulars of the farm. She put down in a little book how many acres there were in each field, and what was the average produce of the land. She made inquiry about four-crop rotation, and endeavoured, with Bunce, to go into the great subject of stall-feeding. But Belton did not give her as much encouragement as he might have done. ‘We’ll come here for the shooting next year,’ he said; ‘that is, if there is nothing to prevent us.’
‘I hope there’ll be nothing to prevent us.’
‘There might be, perhaps; but we’ll always come if there is not. For the rest of it, I’ll leave it to Bunce, and just run over once or twice in the year. It would not be a nice place for you to live at long.’
‘I like it of all things. I am quite interested about the farm.’
‘You’d get very sick of it if you were here in the winter. The truth is that if you farm well, you must farm ugly. The picturesque nooks and corners have all to be turned inside out, and the hedgerows must be abolished, because we want the sunshine. Now, down at Belton, just above the house, we won’t mind farming well, but will stick to the picturesque.’
The new house was immediately commenced at Belton, and was made to proceed with all imaginable alacrity. It was supposed at one time at least Belton himself said that he so supposed that the building would be ready for occupation at the end of the first summer; but this was not found to be possible. ‘We must put it off till May, after all,’ said Belton, as he was walking round the unfinished building with Colonel Askerton. ‘It’s an awful bore, but there’s no getting people really to pull out in this country.’
‘I think they’ve pulled out pretty well. Of course you couldn’t have gone into a damp house for the winter.’
‘Other people can get a house built within twelve months. Look what they do in London.’
‘And other people with their wives and children die in consequence of colds and sore throats and other evils of that nature. I wouldn’t go into a new house, I know, till I was quite sure it was dry.’
As Will at this time was hardly ten months married, he was not as yet justified in thinking about his own wife and children; but he had already found it expedient to make arrangements for the autumn, which would prevent that annual visit to Plaistow which Clara had contemplated, and which he had regarded with his characteristic prudence as being subject to possible impediments. He was to be absent himself for the first week in September, but was to return immediately after that. This he did; and before the end of that month he was justified in talking of his wife and family. ‘I suppose it wouldn’t have done to have been moving now under all the circumstances,’ he said to his friend, Mrs Askerton, as he still grumbled about the unfinished house.
‘I don’t think it would have done at all, under all the circumstances,’ said Mrs Askerton.
But in the following spring or early summer they did get into the new house and a very nice house it was, as will, I think, be believed by those who have known Mr William Belton. And when they were well settled, at which time little Will Belton was some seven or eight mouths old little Will, for whom great bonfires had been lit, as though his birth in those parts was a matter not to be regarded lightly; for was he not the first Belton of Belton who had been born there for more than a century? when that time came visitors appeared at the new Belton Castle, visitors of importance, who were entitled to, and who received, great consideration. These were no less than Captain Aylmer, Member for Perivale, and his newly-married bride, Lady Emily Aylmer, n‚e Tagmaggert. They were then just married, and had come down to Belton Castle immediately after their honeymoon trip. How it had come to pass that such friendship had sprung up or rather how it had been revived it would be bootless here to say. But old affiances, such as that which had existed between the Aylmer and the Amedroz families, do not allow themselves to die out easily, and it is well for us all that they should be long-lived. So Captain Aylmer brought his bride to Belton Park, and a small fatted calf was killed, and the Askertons came to dinner on which occasion Captain Aylmer behaved very well, though we may imagine that he must have had some misgivings on the score of his young wife. The Askertons came to dinner, and the old rector, and the squire from a neighbouring parish, and everything was very handsome and very dull. Captain Aylmer was much pleased with his visit, and declared to Lady Emily that marriage had greatly improved Mi. William Belton. Now Will had been very dull the whole evening, and very unlike the fiery, violent, unreasonable man whom Captain Aylmer remembered to have met at the station hotel of the Great Northern Railway.
‘I was as sure of it as possible,’ Clara said to her husband that night.
‘Sure of what, my dear?’
‘That she would have a red nose.’
‘Who has got a red nose?’
‘Don’t be stupid, Will. Who should have it but Lady Emily?’
‘Upon my word I didn’t observe it.’
‘You never observe anything, Will; do you? But don’t you think she is very plain?’
‘Upon my word I don’t know. She isn’t as handsome as some people.’
‘Don’t be a fool, Will. How old do you suppose her to be?’ ‘How old? Let me see. Thirty, perhaps.’
‘If she’s not over forty, I’ll consent to change noses with her.’
‘No we won’t do that; not if I know it.’
‘I cannot conceive why any man should marry such a woman as that. Not but what she’s a very good woman, I dare say; only what can a man get by it? To be sure there’s the title, if that’s worth anything.’ But Will Belton was never good for much conversation at this hour, and was too fast asleep to make any rejoinder to the last remark.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14