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- The Belton Estate - 30/84 -
'There were two ways in which it might have become yours.'
'Though there were ten ways, none of those ways have come my way,' said Clara.
'Of course I know that you are so close that though there were anything to tell you would not tell it.'
'I think I would tell you anything that was proper to be told; but now there is nothing proper or improper.'
'Was it proper or improper when Mr Belton made an offer to you as I knew he would do of course; as I told you that he would? Was that so improper that it could not be told?'
Clara was aware that the tell-tale colour in her face at once took from her the possibility of even pretending that the allegation was untrue, and that in any answer she might give she must acknowledge the fact. 'I do not think,' she said, 'that it is considered fair to gentlemen to tell such stories as that.'
'Then I can only say that the young ladies I have known are generally very unfair.'
'But who told you?'
'Who told me? My maid. Of course she got it from yours. Those things are always known.'
'Poor Will, indeed. He is coming here again, I hear, almost immediately, and it needn't be "poor Will" unless you like it. But as for me, I am not going to be an advocate in his favour. I tell you fairly that I did not like what little I saw of poor Will.'
'I like him of all things.'
'You should teach him to be a little more courteous in his demeanour to ladies; that is all. I will tell you something else, too, about poor Will but not now. Some other day I will tell you something of your Cousin Will.'
Clara did not care to ask any questions as to this something that was to be told, and therefore took her leave and went away.
MR WILLIAM BELTON TAKES A WALK IN THE COUNTRY
Clara Amedroz had made one great mistake about her cousin, Will Belton, when she came to the conclusion that she might accept his proffered friendship without any apprehension that the friend would become a lover; and she made another, equally great, when she convinced herself that his love had been as short-lived as it had been eager. Throughout his journey back to Plaistow, he bad thought of nothing else but his love, and had resolved to persevere, telling himself sometimes that he might perhaps be successful, and feeling sure at other times that he would encounter renewed sorrow and permanent disappointment but equally resolved in either mood that he would persevere. Not to persevere in pursuit of any desired object let the object be what it might was, to his thinking, unmanly, weak, and destructive of self-respect. He would sometimes say of himself, joking with other men, that if he did not succeed in this or that thing, he could never speak to himself again. To no man did he talk of his love in such a strain as this; but there was a woman to whom he spoke of it; and though he could not joke on such a matter, the purport of what he said showed the same feeling. To be finally rejected, and to put up with such rejection, would make him almost contemptible in his own eyes.
This woman was his sister, Mary Belton. Something has been already said of this lady, which the reader may perhaps remember. She was a year or two older than her brother, with whom she always lived, but she had none of those properties of youth which belonged to him in such abundance. She was, indeed, a poor cripple, unable to walk beyond the limits of her own garden, feeble in health, dwarfed in stature, robbed of all the ordinary enjoyments of life by physical deficiencies, which made even the task of living a burden to her. To eat was a pain, or at best a trouble. Sleep would not comfort her in bed, and weariness during the day made it necessary that the hours passed in bed should be very long. She was one of those whose lot in life drives us to marvel at the inequalities of human destiny, and to inquire curiously within ourselves whether future compensation is to be given.
It is said of those who are small and crooked-backed in their bodies, that their minds are equally cross-grained and their tempers as ungainly as their stature. But no one had ever said this of Mary Belton. Her friends, indeed, were very few in number; but those who knew her well loved her as they knew her, and there were three or four persons in the world who were ready at all times to swear that she was faultless. It was the great happiness of her life that among those three or four her own brother was the foremost. Will Belton's love for his sister amounted almost to veneration, and his devotion to her was so great, that in all the affairs of his life he was prepared to make her comfort one of his first considerations. And she, knowing this, had come to fear that she might be an embargo on his prosperity, and a stumbling-block in the way of his success. It had occurred to her that he would have married earlier in life if she had not been, as it were, in his way; and she had threatened him playfully for she could be playful that he would leave him if he did not soon bring a mistress to Plaistow Hall. 'I will go to uncle Robert,' she had said. Now uncle Robert was the clergyman in Lincolnshire of whom mention has been made, and he was among those two or three who believed in Mary Belton with an implicit faith as was also his wife. ' I will go to uncle Robert, Will, and then you will be driven to get a wife.'
'If my sister ever leaves my house, whether there be a wife in it or not,' Will had answered, 'I will never put trust in any woman again.'
Plaistow Manor-house or Hall was a fine brick mansion, built in the latter days of Tudor house architecture, with many gables and countless high chimneys very picturesque to the eye, but not in all respects comfortable as are the modern houses of the well-to-do squirearchy of England. And, indeed, it was subject to certain objectionable characteristics which in some degree justified the scorn which Mr Amedroz intended to throw upon it when he declared it to be a farm-house. The gardens belonging to it were large and excellent; but they did not surround it, and allowed the farm appurtenances to come close up to it on two sides. The door which should have been the front door, opening from the largest room in the house, which had been the hall and which was now the kitchen, led directly into the farm-yard. From the farther end of this farm-yard a magnificent avenue of elms stretched across the home pasture down to a hedge which crossed it at the bottom. That there had been a road through the rows of trees or, in other words, that there had in truth been an avenue to the house on that side was, of course, certain. But now there was no vestige of such road, and the front entrance to Plaistow Hall was by a little path across the garden from a modern road which had been made to run cruelly near to the house. Such was Plaistow Hall, and such was its mistress. Of the master, the reader, I hope, already knows so much as to need no further description.
As Belton drove himself home from the railway station late on that August night, he made up his mind that he would tell his sister all his story about Clara Amedroz. She had ever wished that he should marry, and now he had made his attempt. Little as had been her opportunity of learning the ways of men and women from experience in society, she had always seemed to him to know exactly what every one should do in every position of life. And she would be tender with him, giving him comfort even if she could not give him hope. Moreover Mary might be trusted with his secret; for Belton felt, as men always do feel, a great repugnance to have it supposed that his suit to a woman had been rejected. Women, when they have loved in vain, often almost wish that their misfortune should be known. They love to talk about their wounds mystically telling their own tales under feigned names, and extracting something of a bitter sweetness out of the sadness of their own romance. But a man, when he has been rejected rejected with a finality that is acknowledged by himself is unwilling to speak or hear a word upon the subject, and would willingly wash the episode out from his heart if it were possible.
But not on that his first night would he begin to speak of Clara Amedroz. He would not let his sister believe that his heart was too full of the subject to allow of his thinking of other matters. Mary was still up, waiting for him when he arrived, with tea, and cream, and fruit ready for him. 'Oh, Mary!' he said, 'why are you not in bed? You know that I would have come to you upstairs.' She excused herself, smiling, declaring that she could not deny herself the pleasure of being with him for half an hour on his first return from his travels. 'Of course I want to know what they are like,' she said.
'He is a nice-looking old man,' said Will 'and she is a nice-looking young woman.'
'That is graphic and short, at any rate.'
'And he is weak and silly, but she is strong and and and'
'Not silly also, I hope?'
'Anything but that. I should say she is very clever.'
'I'm afraid you don't like her, Will.'
'Yes, I do.'
'And did she take your coming well?'
'Very well. I think she is much obliged to me for going.'
'And Mr Amedroz?'
'He liked my coming too very much.'
'What after that cold letter?
'Yes, indeed. I shall explain it all by degrees. I have taken a lease of all the land, and I'm to go back at Christmas; and as to the old gentleman he'd have me live there altogether if I would.'
'Is it not odd? I'm so glad I didn't make up my mind not to go when I got that letter. And yet I don't know.' These last words he added slowly, and in a low voice, and Mary at once knew that everything was
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