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'I want her to have it all,' said William Belton to Mr Green, the lawyer, when they came to discuss the necessary arrangements for the property.
'But that would be absurd.'
'Never mind. It is what I wish. I suppose a man may do what he likes with his own.'
'She won't take it,' said the lawyer.
'She must take it, if you manage the matter properly,' said Will.
'I don't suppose it will make much difference,' said the lawyer 'now that Captain Aylmer is out of the running.'
'I know nothing about that. Of course I am very glad that he should be out of the running, as you call it. He is a bad sort of fellow, and I didn't want him to have the property. But all that has had nothing to do with it. I'm not doing it because I think she is ever to be my wife.'
From this the reader will understand that Belton was still fidgeting himself and the lawyer about the estate when he passed through London. The matter in dispute, however, was so important that he was induced to seek the advice of others besides Mr Green, and at last was brought to the conclusion that it was his paramount duty to become Belton of Belton. There seemed in the minds of all these councillors to be some imperative and almost imperious requirement that the acres should go back to a man of his name. Now, as there was no one else of the family who could stand in his way, he had no alternative but to become Belton of Belton. He would, however, sell his estate in Norfolk, and raise money for endowing Clara with commensurate riches. Such was his own plan but having fallen among counsellors he would not exactly follow his own plan, and at last submitted to an arrangement in accordance with which an annuity of eight hundred pounds a year was to be settled upon Clara, and this was to lie as a charge upon the estate in Norfolk.
'It seems to me to be very shabby,' said William Belton.
'It seems to me to be very extravagant,' said the leader among the counsellors. 'She is net entitled to sixpence.'
But at last the arrangement as above described was the one to which they all assented.
When Belton reached the house which was now his own he found no one there but his sister. Clara was at the cottage. As he had been told that she was to return there, he had no reason to be annoyed. But, nevertheless, he was annoyed, or rather discontented, and had not been a quarter of an hour about the place before he declared his intention to go and seek her.
'Do no such thing, Will; pray do not,' said his sister.
'And why not?'
'Because it will be better that you should wait. You will only injure yourself and her by being impetuous.'
'But it is absolutely necessary that she should know her own position. It would be cruelty to keep her in ignorance though for the matter of that I shall be ashamed to tell her. Yes I shall be ashamed to look her in the face. What will she think of it after I had assured her that she should have the whole?'
'But she would not have taken it, Will. And had she done so, she would have been very wrong. Now she will be comfortable.'
'I wish I could be comfortable,' said he.
'If you will only wait'
'I hate waiting. I do not see what good it will do. Besides, I don't mean to say anything about that not today, at least. I don t indeed. As for being here and not seeing her, that is out of the question. Of course she would think that I had quarrelled with her, and that I meant to take everything to myself, now that I have the power.'
'She won't suspect you of wishing to quarrel with her, Will'
'I should in her place. It is out of the question that I should be here, and not go to her. It would be monstrous. I will wait till they have done lunch, and then I will go up.'
It was at last decided that he should walk up to the cottage, call upon Colonel Askerton, and ask to see Clara in the colonel's presence. It was thought that he could make his statement about the money better before a third person who could be regarded as Clara's friend, than could possibly be done between themselves. He did, therefore, walk across to the cottage, and was shown into Colonel Askerton's study.
'There he is,' Mrs Askerton said, as soon as she heard the sound of the bell. 'I knew that he would come at once.'
During the whole morning Mrs Askerton had been insisting that Belton would make his appearance on that very day the day of his arrival at Belton, and Clara had been asserting that he would not do so.
'Why should he come?' Clara had said.
'Simply to take you to his own house, like any other of his goods and chattels.'
'I am not his goods or his chattels.'
'But you soon will be; and why shouldn't you accept your lot quietly? He is Belton of Belton, and everything here belongs to him.'
'I do not belong to him.'
'What nonsense! When a man has the command of the situation, as he has, he can do just what he pleases. If he were to come and carry you off by violence, I have no doubt the Beltonians would assist him, and say that he was right. And you of course would forgive him. Belton of Belton may do anything.'
'That is nonsense, if you please.'
'Indeed if you had any of that decent feeling of feminine inferiority which ought to belong to all women, he would have found you sitting on the doorstep of his house waiting for him.'
That had been said early in the morning, when they first knew that he had arrived; but they had been talking about him ever since talking about him under pressure from Mrs Askerton, till Clara had been driven to long that she might be spared. 'If he chooses to come, he will come,' she said. 'Of course he will come,' Mrs Askerton had answered, and then they heard the ring of the hell. 'There he is. I could swear to the sound of his foot. Doesn't he step as though he were Belton of Belton, and conscious that everything belonged to him?' Then there was a pause. 'He has been shown in to Colonel Askerton. What on earth could he want with him?'
'He has called to tell him something about the cottage,' said Clara, endeavouring to speak as though she were calm through it all.
'Cottage! Fiddlestick! The idea of a man coming to look after his trumpery cottage on the first day of his showing himself as lord of his own property! Perhaps he is demanding that you shall be delivered up to him. If he does I shall vote for obeying.'
'And I for disobeying and shall vote very strongly too.'
Their suspense was yet prolonged for another ten minutes, and at the end of that time the servant came in and asked if Miss Amedroz would be good enough to go into the master's room. 'Mr Belton is there, Fanny?' asked Mrs Askerton. The girl confessed that Mr Belton was there, and then Clara, without another word, got up and left the room. She had much to do in assuming a look of composure before she opened the door; but she made the effort, and was not unsuccessful. In another second she found her hand in her cousin's, and his bright eye was fixed upon her with that eager friendly glance which made his face so pleasant to those whom he loved.
'Your cousin has been telling me of the arrangements he has been making for you with the lawyers,' said Colonel Askerton. 'I can only say that I wish all the ladies had cousins so liberal, and so able to be liberal.'
'I thought I would see Colonel Askerton first, as you are staying at his house. And as for liberality there is nothing of the kind. You must understand, Clara, that a fellow can't do what he likes with his own in this country. I have found myself so bullied by lawyers and that sort of people, that I have been obliged to yield to them. I wanted that you should have the old place, to do just what you pleased with It.'
'That was out of the question, Will.'
'Of course it was,' said Colonel Askerton. Then, as Belton himself did not proceed to the telling of his own story, the colonel told it for him, and explained what was the income which Clara was to receive.
'But that is as much out of the question,' said she, 'as the other. I cannot rob you in that way. I cannot and I shall not. And why should I? What do I want with an income? Something I ought to have, if only for the credit of the family, and that I am willing to take from your kindness; but'
'It's all settled now, Clara.'
'I don't think that you can lessen the weight of your obligation, Miss Amedroz, after what has been done up in London,' said the colonel.
'If you had said a hundred a year'
'I have been allowed to say nothing,' said Belton; 'those people have said eight and so it is settled. When are you coming over to see Mary?'
To this question he got no definite answer, and as he went away immediately afterwards he hardly seemed to expect one. He did not even ask for Mrs Askerton, and as that lady remarked, behaved altogether like a bear. 'But what a munificent bear!' she said. 'Fancy eight hundred a year of your own. One begins to doubt whether it is worth one's while to marry at all with such an income as that to do what one likes with! However, it all means nothing. It will all be his own again before you have even touched it.'
'You must not say anything more about that,' said Clara gravely.
'And why must I not?'
'Because I shall hear nothing more of it. There is an end of all that as there ought to be.'
'Why an end? I don't see an end. There will be no end till Belton of Belton has got you and your eight hundred a year as well as everything else.'
'You will find that he does not mean anything more,' said Clara.
'You think not?'
'I am sure of it.' Then there was a little sound in her throat as though she were in some danger of being choked; but she soon recovered herself, and was able to express herself clearly. 'I have only one favour to ask you now, Mrs Askerton, and that is that you will never say anything more about him. He has changed his mind. Of course he has, or he would not come here like that and have gone away without saying a word.'
'Not a word! A man gives you eight hundred a year and that is not saying a word!'
'Not a word except about money! But of course he is right. I know that he is right. Alter what has passed he would be very wrong to to think about it any more. You joke about his being Belton of Belton. But it does make a difference.'
'It does does it?'
'It has made a difference. I see and feel it now. I shall never hear him ask me that question any more.'
'And if you did hear him, what answer would you make him?'
'I don't know.'
'That is just it. Women are so cross-grained that it is a wonder to me that men should ever have any. thing to do with them. They have about them some madness of a phantasy which they dignify with the name of feminine pride, and under the cloak of this they believe themselves to be justified in tormenting their lovers' lives out. The only consolation is that they torment themselves as much. Can anything be more cross-grained than you are at this moment? You were resolved just now that it would be the most unbecoming thing in the world if he spoke a word more about his love for the next twelve months'
'Mrs Askerton, I said nothing about twelve months.'
'And now you are broken-hearted because he did not blurt it all out before Colonel Askerton in a business interview, which was very properly had at once, and in which he has had the exceeding good taste to confine himself altogether to the one subject.'
'I am not complaining.'
'It was good taste; though if he had not been a bear he might have asked after me, who am fighting his battles for him night and day.'
'But what will he do next?'
'Eat his dinner, I should think, as it is now nearly five o'clock. Your father used always to dine at five.'
'I can't go to see Mary,' she said, 'till he comes here again.'
'He will be here fast enough. I shouldn't wonder if he was to come here tonight.' And he did come again that night.
When Belton's interview was over in the colonel's study, he left the house without even asking after the mistress, as that mistress had taken care to find out and went off, rambling about the estate which was now his own. It was a beautiful place, and he was not insensible to the gratification of being its owner. There is much in the glory of ownership of the ownership of land and houses, of beeves and woolly flocks, of wide fields and thick-growing woods, even when that ownership is of late date, when it conveys to the owner nothing but the realization of a property on the soil; but there is much more in it when it contains the memories of old years; when the glory is the glory of race as well as the glory of power and property. There had been Beltons of Belton living there for many centuries, and now he was the Belton of the day, standing on his own ground the descendant and representative of the Beltons of old Belton of Belton without a flaw in his pedigree! He felt himself to be proud of his position prouder than he could have been of any other that might have been vouchsafed to him. And yet amidst it all he was somewhat ashamed of his pride. 'The man who can do it for himself is the real man after all,' he said. 'But I have got it by a fluke and by such a sad chance too!' Then he wandered on, thinking of the circumstances under which the property had fallen into his hands, and remembering how and when and where the first idea had occurred to him of making Clara Amedroz his wife. He had then felt that if he could only do that he could reconcile himself to the heirship. And the idea had grown upon him instantly, and had become a passion by the eagerness with which he had welcomed it. From that day to this he had continued to tell himself that he could not enjoy his good fortune unless he could enjoy it with her. There had come to be a horrid impediment in his way a barrier which had seemed to have been placed there by his evil fortune, to compensate the gifts given to him by his good fortune, and that barrier had been Captain Aylmer. He had not, in fact, seen much of his rival, but he had seen enough to make it matter of wonder to him that Clara could be attached to such a man. He had thoroughly despised Captain Aylmer, and had longed to show his contempt of the man by kicking him out of the hotel at the London railway station. At that moment all the world had seemed to him to be wrong and wretched.
But now it seemed that all the world might so easily be made right again! The impediment had got itself removed. Belton did not even yet altogether comprehend by what means Clara had escaped from the meshes of the Aylmer Park people, but he did know that she had escaped. Her eyes had been opened before it was too late, and she was a free woman to be compassed if only a man might compass her. While she had been engaged to Captain Aylmer, Will had felt that she was not assailable. Though he had not been quite able to restrain himself as on that fatal occasion when he had taken her in his arms and kissed her still he had known that as she was an engaged woman, he could not, without insulting her, press his own suit upon her. But now all that was over. Let him say what he liked on that head, she would have no proper plea for anger. She was assailable and, as this was so, why the mischief should he not set about the work at once? His sister bade him wait. Why should he wait when one fortunate word might do it? Wait! He could not wait. How are you to bid a starving man to wait when you put him down at a well-covered board? Here was he, walking about Belton Park just where she used to walk with him and there was she at Belton Cottage, within half an hour of him at this moment, if he were to go quickly; and yet Mary was telling him to wait! No; he would not wait. There could be no reason for waiting. Wait, indeed, till some other Captain Aylmer should come in the way and give him more trouble!
So he wandered on, resolving that he would see his cousin again that very day. Such an interview as that which had just taken place between two such dear friends was not natural was not to be endured. What might not Clara think of it! To meet her for the first time after her escape from Aylmer Park, and to speak to her only on matters concerning money! He would certainly go to her again on that afternoon. In his walking he came to the bottom of the rising ground on the top of which stood the rock on which he and Clara had twice sat. But he turned away, and would not go up to it. He hoped that he might go up to it very soon but, except under certain dream. stances, he would never go up to it again.
'I am going across to the cottage immediately after dinner,' he said to his sister.
'Have you an appointment?'
'No; I have no appointment. I suppose a man doesn't want an appointment to go and see his own cousin down in the country.'
'I don't know what their habits are.'
'I shan't ask to go in; but I want to see her.'
Mary looked at him with loving, sorrowing eyes, but she said no more. She loved him so well that she would have given her right hand to get for him what he wanted but she sorrowed to think that he should want such a thing so sorely. Immediately after his dinner, he took his hat and went out without saying a word further, and made his way once more across to the gate of the cottage. It was a lovely summer evening, at that period of the year in which our summer evenings just begin, when the air is sweeter and the flowers more fragrant, and the forms of the foliage more lovely than at any other time. it was now eight o'clock, but it was hardly as yet evening; none at least of the gloom of evening had come, though the sun was low in the heavens. At the cottage they were all sitting out on the lawn; and as Belton came near he was seen by them, and he saw them.
'I told you so,' said Mrs Askerton, to Clara, in a whisper.
'He is not coming in,' Clara answered. 'He is going on.'
But when he had come nearer, Colonel Askerton called to him over the garden paling, and asked him to join them. He was now standing within ten or fifteen yards of them, though the fence divided them. 'I have come to ask my Cousin Clara to take a walk with me,' he said. 'She can be back by your tea time.' He made his request very placidly, and did not in any way look like a lover.
'I am sure she will be glad to go,' said Mrs Askerton. But Clara said nothing.
'Do take a turn with me, if you are not tired,' said he.
'She has not been out all day, and cannot be tired,' said Mrs Askerton, who had now walked up to the paling. 'Clara, get your hat. But, Mr Belton, what have I done that I am to be treated in this way? Perhaps you don't remember that you have not spoken to me since your arrival.'
'Upon my word, I beg your pardon,' said he, endeavouring to stretch his hand across the bushes.
'I forgot I didn't see you this morning.'
'I suppose I musn't be angry, as this is your day of taking possession; but it is exactly on such days as this that one likes to be remembered.'
'I didn't mean to forget you, Mrs Askerton; I didn't, indeed. And as for the special day, that's all bosh, you know. I haven't taken particular possession of anything that I know of.'
'I hope you will, Mr Belton, before the day is over,' said she. Clara had at length arisen, and had gone into the house to fetch her hat. She had not spoken a word, and even yet her cousin did not know whether she was coming. 'I hope you will take possession of a great deal that is very valuable. Clara has gone to get her hat.'
'Do you think she means to walk?'
'I think she does, Mr Belton. And there she is at the door. Mind you bring her back to tea.'
Clara, as she came forth, felt herself quite unable to speak, or walk, or look after her usual manner. She knew herself to be a victim to be so far a victim that she could no longer control her own fate. To Captain Aylmer, at any rate, she had never succumbed. In all her dealings with him she had fought upon an equal footing. She had never been compelled to own herself mastered. But now she was being led out that she might confess her own submission, and acknowledge that hitherto she had not known what was good for her. She knew that she would have to yield. She must have known how happy she was to have an opportunity of yielding; but yet yet, had there been any room for choice, she thought she would have refrained from walking with her cousin that evening. She had wept that afternoon because she had thought that he would not come again; and now that he had come at the first moment that was possible for him, she was almost tempted to wish him once more away.
'I suppose you understand that when I came up this morning I came merely to talk about business,' said Belton, as soon as they were off together.
'It was very good of you to come at all so soon after your arrival.'
'I told those people in London that I would have it all settled at once, and so I wanted to have it off my mind.'
'I don't know what I ought to say to you. Of course I shall not want so much money as that.'
'We won't talk about the money any more today. I hate talking about money.'
'It is not the pleasantest subject in the world.'
'No,' said he; 'no indeed. I hate it particularly between friends. So you have come to grief with your friends, the Aylmers?'
'I hope I haven't come to grief and the Aylmers, as a family, never were my friends. I'm obliged to contradict you, point by point you see.'
'I don't like Captain Aylmer at all,' said Will, after a pause.
'So I saw, Will; and I dare say he was not very fond of you.' 'Fond of me! I didn't want him to be fond of me. I don't suppose he ever thought much about me. I could not help thinking of him.' She had nothing to say to this, and therefore walked on silently by his side. 'I suppose he has not any idea of coming back here again?'
'What; to Belton? No, I do not think he will come to Belton any more.'
'Nor will you go to Aylmer Park?'
'No; certainly not. Of all the places on earth. Will, to which you could send me, Aylmer Park is the one to which I should go most unwillingly.'
'I don't want to send you there.'
'You never could be made to understand what a woman she is; how disagreeable, how cruel, how imperious, how insolent.'
'Was she so bad as all that?'
'Indeed she was, Will. I can't but tell the truth to you.
'And he was nearly as bad as she.'
'No, Will; no; do not say that of him.'
'He was such a quarrelsome fellow. He flew at me just because I said we had good hunting down in Norfolk.'
'We need not talk about all that, Will.'
'No of course not. It's all passed and gone, I suppose.'
'Yes it is all passed and gone. You did not know my Aunt Winterfield, or you would understand my first reason for liking him.'
'No,' said Will; 'I never saw her.'
Then they walked on together for a while without speaking, and Clara was beginning to feel some relief some relief at first; but as the relief came, there came back to her the dead, dull, feeling of heaviness at her heart which had oppressed her after his visit in the morning. She had been right, and Mrs Askerton had been wrong. He had returned to her simply as her cousin, and now he was walking with her and talking to her in this strain, to teach her that it was so. But of a sudden they came to a place where two paths diverged, and he turned upon her and asked her quickly which path they should take. 'Look, Clara,' he said, 'will you go up there with me?' It did not need that she should look, as she knew that the way indicated by him led up among the rocks.
'I don't much care which way,' she said, faintly.
'Do you not? But I do. I care very much. Don't you remember where that path goes?' She had no answer to give to this. She remembered well, and remembered how he had protested that he would never go to the place again unless he could go there as her accepted lover. And she had asked herself sundry questions as to that protestation. Could it be that for her sake he would abstain from visiting the prettiest spot on his estate that he would continue to regard the ground as hallowed because of his memories of her? 'Which way shall we go?' he asked.
'I suppose it does not much signify,' said she, trembling.
'But it does signify. It signifies very much to me. Will you go up to the rocks?'
'I am afraid we shall be late, if we stay out long.'
'What matters how late? Will you come?'
'I suppose so if you wish it, Will.'
She had anticipated that the high rock was to be the altar at which the victim was to be sacrificed; but now he would not wait till he had taken her to the sacred spot. He had of course intended that he would there renew his offer; but he had perceived that his offer had been renewed, and had, in fact, been accepted, during this little parley as to the pathway. There was hardly any necessity for further words. So he must have thought; for, as quick as lightning, he flung his arms around her, and kissed her again, as he had kissed her on that other terrible occasion that occasion on which he had felt that he might hardly hope for pardon.
'William, William,' she said; 'how can you serve me like that?' But he had a full understanding as to his own privileges, and was well aware that he was in the right now, as he had been before that he was trespassing egregiously. 'Why are you so rough with me?' she said.
'Clara, say that you love me.'
'I will say nothing to you because you are so rough.' They were now walking up slowly towards the rocks.
And as he had his arm round her waist, he was contented for awhile to allow her to walk without speaking. But when they were on the summit it was necessary for him that he should have a word from her of positive assurance. 'Clara, say that you love me.'
'Have I not always loved you, Will, since almost the first moment that I saw you?'
'But that won't do. You know that is not fair. Come, Clara; I've had a deal of trouble and grief too; haven't I? You should say a word to make up for it that is, if you can say it.'
'What can a word like that signify to you today? You have got everything.'
'Have I got you?' Still she paused. 'I will have an answer. Have I got you? Are you now my own?'
'I suppose so, Will. Don't now. I will not have it again. Does not that satisfy you?'
'Tell me that you love me.'
'You know that I love you.'
'Better than anybody in the world?'
'Yes better than anybody in the world.'
'And after all you will be my wife?'
'Oh, Will how you question one!'
'You shall say it, and then it will all be fair and honest.'
'Say what? I'm sure I thought I had said everything.'
'Say that you mean to be my wife.'
'I suppose so if you wish it.'
'Wish it!' said he, getting up from his seat, and throwing his hat into the bushes on one side; 'wish it! I don't think you have ever understood howl have wished it. Look here, Clara; I found when I got down to Norfolk that I couldn't live without you. Upon my word it is true. I don't suppose you'll believe me.'
'I didn't think it could be so bad with you as that.'
'No I don't suppose women ever do believe. And I wouldn't have believed it of myself. I hated myself for it. By George, I did. That is when I began to think it was all up with me.'
'All up with you! Oh, Will!'
'I had quite made up my mind to go to New Zealand. I had, indeed. I couldn't have kept my hands off that man if we had been living in the same country. I should have wrung his neck.'
'Will, how can you talk so wickedly?'
'There's no understanding it till you have felt it. But never mind. It's all right now; isn't it, Clara?'
'If you think so.'
'Think so! Oh, Clara, I am such a happy fellow. Do give me a kiss. You have never given me one kiss yet.'
'What nonsense! I didn't think you were such a baby.'
'By George, but you shall or you shall never get home to tea to-night. My own, own, own darling. Upon my word, Clara, when I begin to think about it I shall be half mad.'
'I think you are quite that already.'
'No, I'm not but I shall be when I'm alone. What can I say to you, Clara, to make you under. stand how much I love you? You remember the song, "For Bonnie Annie Laurie I'd lay me down and dee". Of course it is all nonsense talking of dying for a woman. What a man has to do is to live for her. But that is my feeling. I'm ready to give you my life. If there was anything to do for you, I'd do it if I could, whatever it was. Do you understand me?'
'Dear Will! Dearest Will!'
'Am I dearest?'
'Are you not sure of it?'
'But I like you to tell me so. I like to feel that you are not ashamed to own it. You ought to say it a few times to me, as I have said it so very often to you.'
'You'll hear enough of it before you've done with me.'
'I shall never have heard enough of it. Oh, Heavens, only think, when I was coming down in the train last night I was in such a bad way.'
'And are you in a good way now?'
'Yes; in a very good way. I shall crow over Mary so when I get home.'
'And what has poor Mary done?'
'I dare say she knows what is good for you better than you know yourself. I suppose she has told you that you might do a great deal better than trouble yourself with a wife?'
'Never mind what she has told me. It is settled now is it not?
'I hope so, Will.'
'But not quite settled as yet. When shall it be? That is the next question.'
But to that question Clara positively refused to make any reply that her lover would consider to be satisfactory. He continued to press her till she was at last driven to remind him how very short a time it was since her father had been among them; and then he was very angry with himself, and declared himself to be a brute. 'Anything but that,' she said. 'You are the kindest and the best of men but at the same time the most impatient.'
'That's what Mary says; but what's the good of waiting? She wanted me to wait today.'
'And as you would not, you have fallen into a trap out of which you can never escape. But pray let us go. What will they think of us?'
'I shouldn't wonder if they didn't think something near the truth.'
'Whatever they think, we will go back. It is ever so much past nine.'
'Before you stir, Clara, tell me one thing. Are you really happy?'
'And are you glad that this has been done?'
'Very glad. Will that satisfy you?'
'And you do love me?'
'I do I do I do. Can I say more than that?
'More than anybody else in the world?'
'Better than all the world put together.'
'Then,' said he, holding her tight in his arms, 'show me that you love me.' And as he made his request he was quick to explain to her what, according to his ideas, was the becoming mode by which lovers might show their love. I wonder whether it ever occurred to Clara, as she thought of it all before she went to bed that night, that Captain Aylmer and William Belton were very different in their manners. And if so, I must wonder further whether she most approved the manners of the patient man or the man who was impatient.
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