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- The Belton Estate - 10/84 -


'I suppose you would wish me to see Clara first,' said Mr Amedroz.

'Oh dear, no. I would much rather ask her myself if only I could get your consent to my doing so.'

'And you have said nothing to her?'

'Not a word.'

'I am glad of that. You would have behaved badly, I think, had you done so while staying under my roof.'

'I thought it best, at any rate, to come to you first. But as I must be back at Plaistow on this day week, I haven't much time to lose. So if you could think about it this afternoon, you know Mr Amedroz, much bewildered, promised that he would do his best, and eventually did bring himself to give an answer on the next morning. 'I have been thinking about this all night,' said Mr Amedroz.

'I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you,' said Belton, feeling rather ashamed of his own remissness as he remembered how soundly he had himself slept.

'If you are quite sure of yourself'

'Do you mean sure of loving her? I am as sure of that as anything.'

'But men are so apt to change their fancies.'

'I don't know much about my fancies; but I don't often change my purpose when I'm in earnest. In such a matter as this I couldn't change. I'll say as much as that for myself, though it may seem bold.'

'Of course, in regard to money such a marriage would be advantageous to my child. I don't know whether you know it, but I shall have nothing to give her literally nothing.'

'All the better, sir, as far as I am concerned. I'm not one who wants to be saved from working by a wife's fortune.'

'But most men like to get something when they marry.'

'I want to get nothing nothing, that is, in the way of money. If Clara becomes my wife I'll never ask you for one shilling.'

'I hope her aunt will do something for her.' This the old man said in a wailing voice, as though the expression of such a hope was grievous to him.

'If she becomes my wife, Mrs Winterfield will be quite at liberty to leave her money elsewhere.' There were old causes of dislike between Mr Belton and Mrs Winterfield, and even now Mrs Winterfield was almost offended because Mr Belton was staying at Belton Castle.

'But all that is quite uncertain,' continued Mr Amedroz.

'And I have your leave to speak to Clara myself?'

'Well, Mr Belton; yes; I think so. I do not see why you should not speak to her. But I fear you are a little too precipitate. Clara has known you so very short a time, that you can hardly have a right to hope that she should learn to regard you at once as you would have her do.' As he heard this, Belton's face became long and melancholy. He had taught himself to think that he could dispense with that delay till Christmas which he had at first proposed to himself, and that he might walk into the arena at once, and perhaps win the battle in the first round. 'Three days is such a very short time,' said the squire.

'It is short certainly,' said Belton.

The father's leave was however given, and armed with that, Belton was resolved that he would take, at any rate, some preliminary steps in love-making before he returned to Plaistow. What would be the nature of the preliminary steps taken by such a one as him, the reader by this time will probably be able to surmise.

CHAPTER V

NOT SAFE AGAINST LOVE-MAKING

'Why don't you call him Will?' Clara said to her father. This question was asked on the evening of that Monday on which Mr Amedroz had given his consent as to the marriage proposal.

'Call him Will! Why should I?'

'You used to do so, when he was a boy.'

'Of course I did; but that is years ago. He would think it impertinent now.'

'Indeed he would not; he would like it. He has told me so. It sounds so cold to him to be called Mr Belton by his relations.'

The father looked at his daughter as though for a moment he also suspected that matters had really been arranged between her and her future lover without his concurrence, and before his sanction had been obtained. But if for a moment such a thought did cress his mind, it did not dwell there. He trusted Belton; but as to his daughter, he knew that he might be sure of her. It would be impossible with her to keep such a secret from him, even for half a day. And yet, how odd it was! Here was a man who in three days had fallen in love with his daughter; and here was his daughter apparently quite as ready to be in love with the man. How could she, who was ordinarily circumspect, and almost cold in her demeanour towards strangers who was from circumstances and from her own disposition altogether hostile to flirting intimacies how could this Clara have changed her nature so speedily? The squire did not understand it, but was prepared to believe that it was all for the best. 'I'll call him Will, if you like it,' said he.

'Do, papa, and then I can do so also. He is such a good fellow, and I am so fond of him.'

On the next morning Mr Amedroz did, with much awkwardness, call his guest by his Christian name. Clara caught her cousin's eye and smiled, and he also smiled. At that moment he was more in love than ever. Could anything be more charming than this? Immediately after breakfast he was going over to Redicote, to see a builder in a small way who lived there, and whom he proposed to employ in putting up the shed for the cattle; but he almost begrudged the time, so anxious was he to begin his suit. But his plan had been laid out and he would follow it. 'I think I shall be back by three o'clock,' he said to Clara, 'and then we'll have our walk.'

'I'll be ready; and you can call for me at Mr Askerton's. I must go down there, and it will save you something in your walk to pick me up at the cottage.' And so the arrangements for the day were made.

Clara had promised that she would soon call at the cottage, and was, indeed, rather anxious to see Mrs Askerton on her own account. What she had heard from her cousin as to a certain Miss Vigo of old days had interested her, and also what she had heard of a certain Mr Berdmore. It had been evident to her that her cousin had thought little about it. The likeness of the lady he then saw to the lady he had before known. had at first struck him; but when he found that the two ladies were not represented by one and the same person, he was satisfied, and there was an end of the matter for him. But it was not so with Clara. Her feminine mind dwelt on the matter with more earnestness than he had cared to entertain, and her clearer intellect saw possibilities which did not occur to him. But it was not till she found herself walking across the park to the cottage that she remembered that any inquiries as to her past life might be disagreeable to Mrs Askerton. She had thought of asking her friend plainly whether the names of Vigo and Berdmore had ever been familiar to her; but she reminded herself that there had been rumours afloat, and that there might be a mystery. Mrs Askerton would sometimes talk of her early life; but she would do this with dreamy, indistinct language, speaking of the sorrows of her girlhood, but not specifying their exact nature, seldom mentioning any names, and never referring with clear personality to those who had been nearest to her when she had been a child. Clara had seen her friend's maiden name, Mary Oliphant, written in a book, and seeing it had alluded to it. On that occasion Mrs Askerton had spoken of herself as having been an Oliphant, and thus Clara had come to know the fact. But now, as she made her way to the cottage, she remembered that she had learned nothing more than this as to Mrs Askerton's early life. Such being the case, she hardly knew how to ask any question about the two names that had been mentioned. And yet, why should she not ask such a question? Why should she doubt Mrs Askerton? And if she did doubt, why should not her doubts be solved?

She found Colonel Askerton and his wife together, and she certainly would ask no such question in his presence. He was a slight built, wiry man, about fifty, with iron-grey hair and beard who seemed to have no trouble in life, and to desire but few pleasures. Nothing could be more regular than the course of his days, and nothing more idle. He breakfasted at eleven, smoked and read till the afternoon, when he rode for an hour or two; then he dined, read again, smoked again, and went to bed. In September and October he shot, and twice in the year, as has been before stated, went away to seek a little excitement elsewhere. He seemed to be quite contented with his lot, and was never heard to speak an angry word with any one. Nobody cared for him much; but then he troubled himself with no one's affairs. He never went to church, and had not eaten or drank in any house but his own since he had come to Belton.

'Oh, Clara, you naughty girl,' said Mrs Askerton, 'why didn't you come yesterday? I was expecting you all day.'

'I was busy. Really, we've grown to be quite industrious people since my cousin came.'

'They tell me he's taking the land into his own hands,' said the colonel.

'Yes, indeed; and he is going to build sheds, and buy cattle; and I don't know what he doesn't mean to do; so that we shall be alive again.'

'I hope he won't want my shooting.'

'He has shooting of his own in Norfolk,' said Clara.

'Then he'll hardly care to come here for that purpose. When I heard of his proceedings I began to be afraid.'

'I don't think he would do anything to annoy you for the world,' said Clara, enthusiastically. 'He's the most unselfish person I ever met.'

'He'd have a perfect right to take the shooting if he liked it that is


The Belton Estate - 10/84

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