It had been settled for some time past that Miss Amedroz was to go to Perivale for a few days in November. Indeed it seemed to be a recognized fact in her life that she was to make the journey from Belton to Perivale and back very often, as there prevailed an idea that she owed a divided duty. This was in some degree hard upon her, as she had very little gratification in these visits to her aunt. Had there been any intention on the part of Mrs Winterfield to provide for her, the thing would have been intelligible according to the usual arrangements which are made in the world on such matters; but Mrs Winterfield had scarcely a right to call upon her niece for dutiful attendance after having settled it with her own conscience that her property was all to go to her nephew. But Clara entertained no thought of rebelling, and had agreed to make the accustomed journey in November, travelling then, as she did on all such journeys, at her aunt’s expense.
Two things only occurred to disturb her tranquillity before she went, and they were not of much violence. Mr Wright, the clergyman, called at Belton Castle, and in the course of conversation with Mr Amedroz renewed one of those ill-natured rumours which had before been spread about Mrs Askerton. Clara did not see him, but she heard an account of it all from her father.
‘Does it mean, papa,’ she said, speaking almost with anger, ‘that you want me to give up Mrs Askerton?’
‘How can you be so unkind as to ask me such a question?’ he replied. ‘You know how I hate to be bothered. I tell you what I hear, and then you can decide for yourself.’
‘But that isn’t quite fair either, papa. That man comes here’
‘That man, as you call him, is the rector of the parish, and I’ve known him for forty years.’
‘And have never liked him, papa.’
‘I don’t know much about liking anybody, my dear. Nobody likes me, and so why should I trouble myself?’
‘But, papa, it all amounts to this that somebody has said that the Askertons are not Askertons at all, but ought to be called something else. Now we know that he served as Captain and Major Askerton for seven years in India and in fact it all means nothing. If I know anything, I know that he is Colonel Askerton.’
‘But do you know that she is his wife? That is what Mr Wright asks. I don’t say anything. I think it’s very indelicate talking about such things.’
‘If I am asked whether I have seen her marriage certificate, certainly I have not; nor probably did you ever do so as to any lady that you ever knew. But I know that she is her husband’s wife, as we all of us know things of that sort. I know she was in India with him. I’ve seen things of hers marked with her name that she has had at least ten years.’
‘I don’t know anything about it, my dear,’ said Mr Amedroz, angrily.
‘But Mr Wright ought to know something about it before he says such things. And then this that he’s saying now isn’t the same that he said before.’
‘I don’t know what he said before.’
‘He said they were both of them using a feigned name.’
‘It’s nothing to me what name they use. I know I wish they hadn’t come here, if I’m to be troubled about them in this way first by Wright and then by you.’
‘They have been very good tenants, papa.’
‘You needn’t tell me that, Clara, and remind me about the shooting when you know how unhappy it makes me.’
After this Clara said nothing more, and simply determined that Mr Wright and his gossip should have no effect upon her intimacy with Mrs Askerton. But not the less did she continue to remember what her cousin had said about Miss Vigo.
And she had been ruffled a second time by certain observations which Mrs Askerton made to her respecting her cousin or rather by little words which were dropped on various occasions. It was very clear that Mrs Askerton did not like Mr Belton, and that she wished to prejudice Clara against him. ‘It’s a pity he shouldn’t be a lover of yours,’ the lady said, ‘because it would be such a fine instance of Beauty and the Beast.’ It will of course be understood that Mrs Askerton had never been told of the offer that had been made.
‘You don’t mean to say that he’s not a handsome man,’ said Clara.
‘I never observe whether a man is handsome or not; but I can see very well whether he knows what to do with his arms and legs, or whether he has the proper use of his voice before ladies.’ Clara remembered a word or two spoken by her cousin to herself, in speaking which he had seemed to have a very proper use of his voice. ‘I know when a man is at ease like a gentleman, and when he is awkward like a’
‘Like a what?’ said Clara. ‘Finish what you’ve got to say.’
‘Like a ploughboy, I was going to say,’ said Mrs Askerton.
‘I declare I think you have a spite against him, because he said you were like some Miss Vigo,’ replied Clara, sharply. Mrs Askerton was on that occasion silenced, and she said nothing more about Mr Belton till after Clara had returned from Perivale.
The journey itself from Belton to Perivale was always a nuisance, and was more so now than usual, as it was made in the disagreeable month of November. There was kept at the little inn at Redicote an old fly-so called which habitually made the journey to the Taunton railway-station, under the conduct of an old grey horse and an older and greyer driver, whenever any of the old ladies of the neighbourhood were minded to leave their homes. This vehicle usually travelled at the rate of five miles an hour; but the old grey driver was never content to have time allowed to him for the transit calculated upon such a rate of speed. Accidents might happen, and why should he be made, as he would plaintively ask, to drive the poor beast out of its skin? He was consequently always at Belton a full hour before the time, and though Clara was well aware of all this, she could not help herself. Her father was fussy and impatient, the man was fussy and impatient; and there was nothing for her but to go. On the present occasion she was taken off in this way the full sixty minutes too soon, and after four dreary hours spent upon the road, found herself landed at the Taunton station, with a terrible gulf of time to be passed before she could again proceed on her journey.
One little accident had occurred to her. The old horse, while trotting leisurely along the level high road, had contrived to tumble down. Clara did not think very much of this, as the same thing had happened with her before; but, even with an hour or more to spare, there arises a question whether under such circumstances the train can be saved. But the grey old man reassured her. ‘Now, miss,’ said he, coming to the window, while he left his horse recumbent and apparently comfortable on the road, ‘where’d you have been now, zure, if I hadn’t a few minutes in hand for you?’ Then he walked off to some neighbouring cottage, and having obtained assistance, succeeded in putting his beast again upon his legs. After that he looked once more in at the window. ‘Who’s right now, I wonder?’ he said, with an air of triumph. And when he came to her for his guerdon at Taunton, he was evidently cross in not having it increased because of the accident.
That hour at the Taunton station was terrible to her. I know of no hours more terrible than those so passed. The minutes will not go away, and utterly fail in making good their claim to be called winged. A man walks up and down the platform, and in that way obtains something of the advantage of exercise; but a woman finds herself bound to sit still within the dreary dullness of the waiting — room. There are, perhaps, people who under such circumstances can read, but they are few in number. The mind altogether declines to be active, whereas the body is seized by a spirit of restlessness to which delay and tranquillity are loathsome. The advertisements on the walls are examined, the map of some new Eden is studied some Eden in which an irregular pond and a church are surrounded by a multiplicity of regular villas and shrubs till the student feels that no consideration of health or economy would induce him to live there. Then the porters come in and out, till each porter has made himself odious to the sight. Everything is hideous, dirty, and disagreeable; and the mind wanders away, to consider why station-masters do not more frequently commit suicide. Clara Amedroz had already got beyond this stage, and was beginning to think of herself rather than of the station-master, when at last there sounded, close to her ears, the bell of promise, and she knew that the train was at hand.
At Taunton there branched away from the main line that line which was to take her to Perivale, and therefore she was able to take her own place quietly in the carriage when she found that the down — train from London was at hand. This she did, and could then watch with equanimity, while the travellers from the other train went through the penance of changing their seats. But she had not been so watching for many seconds when she saw Captain Frederic Aylmer appear upon the platform. Immediately she sank back into her corner and watched no more. Of course he was going to Perivale; but why had not her aunt told her that she was to meet him? Of course she would be staying in the same house with him, and her present small attempt to avoid him would thus be futile. The attempt was made; but nevertheless she was probably pleased when she found that it was made in vain. He came at once to the carriage in which she was sitting, and had packed his coats, and dressing-bag, and desk about the carriage before he had discovered who was his fellow-traveller ‘How do you do, Captain Aylmer?’ she said, as he was about to take his seat.
‘Miss Amedroz! Dear me; how very odd! I had not the slightest expectation of meeting you here. The pleasure is of course the greater.’
‘Nor I of seeing you. Mrs Winterfield has not mentioned to me that you were coming to Perivale.’
‘I didn’t know it myself till the day before yesterday. I’m going to give an account of my stewardship to the good-natured Perivalians who sent me to Parliament. I’m to dine with the Mayor tomorrow, and as some big-wig has come in his way who is going to dine with him also, the thing has been got up in a hurry. But I’m delighted to find that you are to be with us.’
‘I generally go to my aunt about this time of the year.’
‘It is very good-natured of you.’ Then he asked after her father, and she told him of Mr Belton’s visit, telling him nothing as the reader will hardly require to be told of Mr Belton’s offer. And so, by degrees, they fell into close and intimate conversation.
‘I am so glad, for your, father’s sake!’ said the captain, with sympathetic voice, speaking still of Mr Belton’s visit.
‘That’s what I feel, of course.’
‘I is just as it should be, as he stands in that position to the property. And so he is a nice sort of fellow, is he?
‘Nice is no word for him. He is perfect!’
‘Dear me! This is terrible! You remember that they hated some old Greek patriot when they could find no fault in him?’
‘I’ll defy you to hate my cousin Will.’
‘What sort of looking man is he?’
‘Extremely handsome at least I should say so.’
‘Then I certainly must hate him. And clever?’
‘Well not what you would call clever. He is very clever about fields and cattle.’
‘Come, there is some relief in that.’
‘But you must not mistake me. He is clever; and then there’s a way about him of doing everything just as he likes it, which is wonderful. You feel quite sure that he’ll become master of everything.’
‘But I do not feel at all sure that I should like him better for that
‘But he doesn’t meddle in things that he doesn’t understand. And then he is so generous! His spending all that money down there is only done because he thinks it will make the place pleasanter to papa.’
‘Has he got plenty of money?’
‘Oh, plenty! At least, I think so. He says that he has.’
‘The idea of any man owning that he had got plenty of money! What a happy mortal! And then to be handsome, and omnipotent, and to understand cattle and fields! One would strive to emulate him rather than envy him, had not one learned to acknowledge that it is not given to every one to get to Corinth.’
‘You may laugh at him, but you’d like him if you knew him.’
‘One never can be sure of that from a lady’s account of a man. When a man talks to me about another man, I can generally tell whether I should like him or not particularly if I know the man well who is giving the description; but it is quite different when a woman is the describer.’
‘You mean that you won’t take my word?’
‘We see with different eyes in such matters. I have no doubt your cousin is a worthy man and as prosperous a gentleman as the Thane of Cawdor in his prosperous days but probably if he and I came together we shouldn’t have a word to say to each other.’
Clara almost hated Captain Aylmer for speaking as he did, and yet she knew that it was true. Will Belton was not an educated man, and were they two to meet in her presence the captain and the farmer she felt that she might have to blush for her cousin. But yet he was the better man of the two. She knew that he was the better man of the two, though she knew also that she could not love him as she loved the other.
Then they changed the subject of their conversation, and discussed Mrs Winterfield, as they had often done before. Captain Aylmer had said that he should return to London on the Saturday, the present day being Tuesday, and Clara accused him of escaping always from the real hard work of his position. ‘I observe that you never stay a Sunday at Perivale,’ she said.
‘Well not often. Why should I? Sunday is just the day that people like to be at home.’
‘I should have thought it would not have made much difference to a bachelor in that way.’
‘But Sunday is a day that one specially likes to pass after one’s own fashion.’
‘Exactly and therefore you don’t stay with my aunt. I understand it all completely.’
‘Now you mean to be ill-natured!’
‘I mean to say that I don’t like Sundays at Perivale at all, and that I should do just as you do if I had the power. But women women, that is, of my age are such slaves! We are forced to give an obedience for which we can see no cause, and for which we can understand no necessity. I couldn’t tell my aunt that I meant to go away on Saturday.’
‘You have no business which makes imperative calls upon your time.’
‘That means that I can’t plead pretended excuses. But the true reason is that we are dependent.’
‘There is something in that, I suppose.’
‘Not that I am dependent on her. But my position generally is dependent, and I cannot assist myself.’
Captain Aylmer found it difficult to make any answer to this, feeling the subject to be one which could hardly be discussed between him and Miss Amedroz. He not unnaturally looked to be the heir of his aunt’s property, and any provision made out of that property for Clara would so far lessen that which would come to him. For anything that he knew, Mrs Winterfield might leave everything she possessed to her niece. The old lady had not been open and candid to him whom she meant to favour in her will, as she had been to her to whom no such favour was to be shown. But Captain Aylmer did know, with tolerable accuracy, what was the state of affairs at Belton, and was aware that Miss Amedroz had no prospect of maintenance on which to depend, unless she could depend on her aunt. She was now pleading that she was not dependent on that lady, and Captain Aylmer felt that she was wrong. He was a man of the world, and was by no means inclined to abandon any right that was his own; but it seemed to him that he was almost bound to say some word to show that in his opinion Clara should hold herself bound to comply with her aunt’s requirements.
‘Dependence is a disagreeable word,’ he said; and one never quite knows what it means.’
‘If you were a woman you’d know. It means that I must stay at Perivale on Sundays, while you can go up to London or down to Yorkshire. That’s what it means.’
‘What you do mean, I think, is this that you owe a duty to your aunt, the performance of which is not altogether agreeable. Nevertheless it would be foolish in you to omit it.’
‘It isn’t that not that at all. It would not be foolish, not in your sense of the word, but it would be wrong. My aunt has been kind to me, and therefore I am bound to her for this service. But she is kind to you also, and yet you are not bound. That’s why I complain. You sail always under false pretences, and yet you think you do your duty. You have to see your lawyer which means going to your club; or to attend to your tenants which means hunting and shooting.’
‘I haven’t got any tenants.’
‘You know very well that you could remain over Sunday without doing any harm to anybody only you don’t like going to church three times, and you don’t like hearing my aunt read a sermon afterwards. Why shouldn’t you stay, and I go to the club?’
‘With all my heart, if you can manage it.’
‘But I can’t; we ain’t allowed to have clubs, or shooting, or to have our own way in anything, putting forward little pretences about lawyers.’
‘Come, I’ll stay if you’ll ask me.’
‘I’m sure I won’t do that. In the first place you’d go to sleep, and then she would be offended; and I don’t know that your sufferings would make mine any lighter. I’m not prepared to alter the ways of the world, but feel myself entitled to grumble at them sometimes.’
Mrs Winterfield inhabited a large brick house in the centre of the town. It had a long frontage to the street; for there was not only the house itself, with its three square windows on each side of the door, and its seven windows over that, and again its seven windows in the upper story but the end of the coach-house also abutted on the street, on which was the family clock, quite as much respected in Perivale as was the town-clock; and between the coach-house and the mansion there was the broad entrance into the yard, and the entrance also to the back door. No Perivalian ever presumed to doubt that Mrs Winterfield’s house was the most important house in the town. Nor did any stranger doubt it on looking at the frontage. But then it was in all respects a town house to the eye that is, an English town house, being as ugly and as respectable as unlimited bricks and mortar could make it. Immediately opposite to Mrs Winterfield lived the leading doctor and a retired builder, so that the lady’s eye was not hurt by any sign of a shop. The shops, indeed, came within a very few yards of her on either side; but as the neighbouring shops on each side were her own property, this was not unbearable. To me, had I lived there, the incipient growth of grass through some of the stones which formed the margin of the road would have been altogether unendurable. There is no sign of coming decay which is so melancholy to the eye as any which tells of a decrease in the throng of men. Of men or horses there was never any throng now in that end of Perivale. That street had formed part of the main line of road from Salisbury to Taunton, and coaches, wagons, and posting-carriages had been frequent on it; but now, alas lit was deserted. Even the omnibuses from the railway-station never came there unless they were ordered to call at Mrs Winterfield’s door. For Mrs Winterfield herself, this desolation had, I think, a certain melancholy attraction. It suited her tone of mind and her religious views that she should be thus daily reminded that things of this world were passing away and going to destruction. She liked to have ocular proof that grass was growing in the highways under mortal feet, and that it was no longer worth man’s while to renew human flags in human streets. She was drawing near to the pavements which would ever be trodden by myriads of bright sandals, and which yet would never be worn, and would be carried to those jewelled causeways on which no weed could find a spot for its useless growth.
Behind the house there was a square prim garden, arranged in parallelograms, tree answering to tree at every corner, round which it was still her delight to creep when the weather permitted. Poor Clara! How much advice she had received during these creepings, and how often had she listened to inquiries as to the schooling of the gardener’s children. Mrs Winterfield was always unhappy about her gardener. Serious footmen are very plentiful, and even coachmen are to be found who, at a certain rate of extra payment, will be punctual at prayer time, and will promise to read good little books; but gardeners, as a class, are a profane people, who think themselves entitled to claim liberty of conscience, and who will not submit to the domestic despotism of a serious Sunday. They live in cottages by themselves, and choose to have an opinion of their own on church matters. Mrs Winterfield was aware that she ought to bid high for such a gardener as she wanted. A man must be paid well who will submit to daily inquiries as to the spiritual welfare of himself, his wife, and family. But even though she did bid high, and though she paid generously, no gardener would stop with her. One conscientious man attempted to bargain for freedom from religion during the six unimportant days of the week, being strong, and willing therefore to give up his day of rest; but such liberty could not be allowed to him, and he also went. ‘He couldn’t stop,’ he said, ‘in justice to the greenhouses, when missus was so constant down upon him about his sprittual backsliding. And after all, where did he backslide? It was only a pipe of tobacco with the babby in his arms, instead of that darned evening lecture.’
Poor Mrs Winterfield! She had been strong in her youth, and had herself sat through evening lectures with a fortitude which other people cannot attain. And she was strong too in her age, with the strength of a martyr, submitting herself with patience to wearinesses which are insupportable to those who have none of the martyr spirit. The sermons of Perivale were neither bright, nor eloquent, nor encouraging. All the old vicar or the young curate could tell she had heard hundreds of times. She knew it all by heart, and could have preached their sermons to them better than they could preach them to her. It was impossible that she could learn anything from them: and yet she would sit there thrice a day, suffering from cold in winter, from cough in spring, from heat in summer, and from rheumatism in autumn; and now that her doctor had forbidden her to go more than twice, recommending her to go only once, she really thought that she regarded the prohibition as a grievance. Indeed, to such as her, that expectation of the jewelled causeway, and of the perfect pavement that shall never be worn, must be everything. But if she was right right as to herself and others then why has the world been made so pleasant? Why is the fruit of the earth so sweet; and the trees why are they so green; and the mountains so full of glory? Why are women so lovely? and why is it that the activity of man’s mind is the only sure forerunner of man’s progress? In Listening thrice a day to outpourings from the clergyman at Perivale there certainly was no activity of mind.
Now, in these days, Mrs Winterfield was near to her reward. That she had ensured that I cannot doubt. She had fed the poor, and filled the young full with religious teachings perhaps not wisely, and in her own way only too well, but yet as her judgment had directed her. She had cared little for herself forgiving injuries done to her, and not forgiving those only which she thought were done to the Lord. She had lived her life somewhat as the martyr lived, who stood for years on his pillar unmoved, while his nails grew through his flesh. So had she stood, doing, I fear, but little positive good with her large means but thinking nothing of her own comfort here, in comparison with the comfort of herself and others in the world to which she was going.
On this occasion her nephew and niece reached her together; the prim boy, with the white cotton gloves and the low four-wheeled carriage, having been sent down to meet Clara. For Mrs Winterfield was a lady who thought it unbecoming that her niece though only an adopted niece should come to her door in an omnibus. Captain Aylmer had driven the four-wheeled carriage from the station, dispossessing the boy, and the luggage had been confided to the public conveyance.
‘It is very fortunate that you should come together,’ said Mrs Winterfield. ‘I didn’t know when to expect you, Fred. Indeed, you never say at what hour you’ll come.’
‘I think it safer to allow myself a little margin, aunt, because one has so many things to do.’
‘I suppose it is so with a gentleman,’ said Mrs Winterfield. After which Clara looked at Captain Aylmer, but did not betray any of her suspicions. ‘But I knew Clara would come by this train,’ continued the old lady; ‘so I sent Tom to meet her. Ladies always can be punctual; they can do that at any rate.’ Mrs Winterfield was one of those women who have always believed that their own sex is in every respect inferior to the other.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01