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- The Belton Estate - 50/84 -

tunnup that was skipped in the chopping,' said the boy, as he spoke of his master afterwards to the old groom. At last, however, a thought seemed to strike Belton. 'Do you get on Brag,' he said to the boy, 'and ride off to Goldingham Corner, and tell Daniel to bring the horse home again. I shan't hunt today. And I think I shall go away from home. If so, tell him to be sure the horses are out every morning and tell him to stop their beans. I mightn't hunt again for the next month.' Then he returned into the house, and went to the parlour in which his sister was sitting. 'I shan't go out today,' he said.

'I thought you would not, Will,' she answered.

'Not that I see any harm in it.'

'I don't say that there is any harm, but it is as well on such occasions to do as others do.'

'That's humbug, Mary.'

'No, Will; I do not think that. When any practice has become the fixed rule of the society in which we live, it is always wise to adhere to that rule, unless it call upon us to do something that is actually wrong. One should not offend the prejudices of the world, even if one is quite sure that they are prejudices.'

'It hasn't been that that has brought me back, Mary. I'll tell you what. I think I'll go down to Belton after all.'

His sister did not know what to say in answer to this. Her chief anxiety was, of course, on behalf of her brother. That he should be made to forget Clara Amedroz, if that were only possible, was her great desire; and his journey at such a time as this down to Belton was not the way to accomplish such forgetting. And then she felt that Clara might very possibly not wish to see him. Had Will simply been her cousin, such a visit might be very well; but he had attempted to be more than her cousin, and therefore it would probably not be well. Captain Aylmer might not like it; and Mary felt herself bound to consider even Captain Aylmer's likings in such a matter. And yet she could not bear to oppose him in anything. 'It would be a very long journey,' she said.

'What does that signify?'

'And then it might so probably be for nothing.'

'Why should it be for nothing?'

'Because '

'Because what? Why don't you speak out? You need not be afraid of hurting me. Nothing that you can say can make it at all worse than it is.'

'Dear Will, I wish I could make it better.'

'But you can't. Nobody can make it either better or worse. I promised her once before that I would go to her when she might be in trouble, and I will be as good as my word. I said I would be a brother to her and so I will. So help me God, I will!' Then he rushed out of the room, striding through the door as though he would knock it down, and hurried up. stairs to his own chamber. When there he stripped himself of his hunting things, and dressed himself again with all the expedition in his power; and then he threw a heap of clothes into a large portmanteau, and set himself to work packing as though everything in the world were to depend upon his catching a certain train. And he went to a locked drawer, and taking out a cheque-book, folded it up and put it into his pocket. Then he rang the bell violently; and as he was locking the portmanteau, pressing down the lid with all his weight and all his strength, he ordered that a certain mare should be put into a certain dog-cart and that somebody might be ready to drive over with him to the Downham Station. Within twenty minutes of the time of his rushing upstairs he appeared again before his sister with a greatcoat on, and a railway rug hanging over his arm. 'Do you mean that you are going today?' said she.

'Yes. I'll catch the 11.40 up-train at Downham. What's the good of going unless I go at once? If I can be of any use it will be at the first. It may be that she will have nobody there to do anything for her.'

'There is the clergyman, and Colonel Askerton even if Captain Aylmer has not gone down.'

'The clergyman and Colonel Askerton are nothing to her. And if that man is there I can come back again.'

'You will not quarrel with him?'

'Why should I quarrel with him? What is there to quarrel about? I'm not such a fool as to quarrel with a man because I hate him. If he is there I shall see her for a minute or two, and then I shall come back.'

'I know it is no good my trying to dissuade you.'

'None on earth. If you knew it all you would not try to dissuade me. Before I thought of asking her to be my wife and yet I thought of that very soon but before I ever thought of that, I told her that when she wanted a brother's help I would give it her. Of course I was thinking of the property that she shouldn't be turned out of her father's house like a beggar. I hadn't any settled plan then how could I? But I meant her to understand that when her father died I would be the same to her that I am to you. If you were alone, in distress, would I not go to you?'

'But I have no one else, Will,' said she, stretching out her hand to him where he stood.

'That makes no difference,' he replied, almost roughly. A promise is a promise, and I resolved from the first that my promise should hold good in spite of my disappointment. Dear, dear it seems but the other day when I made it and now, already, everything is changed.' As he was speaking the servant entered the room, and told him that the horse and gig were ready for him. 'I shall just do it nicely,' said he, looking at his watch. 'I have over an hour. God bless you, Mary. I shan't be away long. You may be sure of that.'

'I don't suppose you can tell as yet, Will.'

'What should keep me long? I shall see Green as I go by, and that is half of my errand. I dare say I shan't stay above a night down in Somersetshire.'

'You'll have to give some orders about the estate.'

'I shall not say a word on the subject to anybody; that is, not to anybody there. I am going to look after her, and not the estate.' Then he stooped down and kissed his sister, and in another minute was turning the corner out of the farm-yard on to the road at a quick pace, not losing a foot of ground in the turn, in that fashion of rapidity which the horses at Plaistow Hall soon learned from their master. The horse is a closely sympathetic beast, and will make his turns, and do his trottings, and comport himself generally in strict unison with the pulsation of his master's heart. When a horse won't jump it is generally the case that the inner man is declining to jump also, let the outer man seem ever so anxious to accomplish the feat.

Belton, who was generally very communicative with his servants, always talking to any man he might have beside him in his dog-cart about the fields and cattle and tillage around him, said not a word to the boy who accompanied him on this occasion. He had a good many things to settle in his mind before he got to London, and he began upon the work as soon as he had turned the corner out of the farm-yard. As regarded this Belton estate, which was now altogether his own, he had always bad doubts and qualms qualms of feeling rather than of conscience; and he had, also, always entertained a strong family ambition. His people, ever so far back, had been Beltons of Belton. They told him that his family could be traced back to very early days before the Plantagenets, as he believed, though on this point of the subject he was very hazy in his information and he liked the idea of being the man by whom the family should be reconstructed in its glory. Worldly circumstances had been so kind to him, that he could take up the Belton estate with more of the prestige of wealth than had belonged to any of the owners of the place for many years past. Should it come to pass that living there would be desirable, he could rebuild the old house, and make new gardens, and fit himself out with all the pleasant braveries of a well-to-do English squire. There need be no pinching and scraping, no question whether a carriage would be possible, no doubt as to the prudence of preserving game. All this had given much that was delightful to his prospects. And he had, too, been instigated by a somewhat weak desire to emerge from that farmer's rank into which he knew that many connected with him had supposed him to have sunk. It was true that he farmed land that was half his own and that, even at Plaistow, he was a wealthy man; but Plaistow Hall, with all its comforts, was a farm-house; and the ambition to be more than a farmer had been strong upon him.

But then there had been the feeling that in taking the Belton estate he would be robbing his Cousin Clara of all that should have been hers. It must be remembered that he had not been brought up in the belief that he would ever become the owner of Belton. All his high ambition in that matter had originated with the wretched death of Clara's brother. Could he bring himself to take it all with pleasure, seeing that it came to him by so sad a chance by a catastrophe so deplorable? When he would think of this, his mind would revolt from its own desires, and he would declare to himself that his inheritance would come to him with a stain of blood upon it. He, indeed, would have been guiltless; but how could he take his pleasure in the shades of Belton without thinking of the tragedy which had given him the property? Such had been the thoughts and desires, mixed in their nature and militating against each other, which had induced him to offer his first visit to his cousin's house. We know what was the effect of that visit, and by what pleasant scheme he had endeavoured to overcome all his difficulties, and so to become master of Belton that Clara Amedroz should also be its mistress. There had been a way which, after two days' intimacy with Clara, seemed to promise him comfort and happiness on all sides. But he had come too late, and that way was closed against him! Now the estate was his, and what was he to do with it? Clara belonged to his rival, and in what way would it become him to treat her? He was still thinking simply of the cruelty of the circumstances which had thrown Captain Aylmer between him and his cousin, when he drove himself up to the railway station at Downham.

'Take her back steady, Jem,' he said to the boy.

'I'll be sure to take her wery steady,' Jem answered, 'and tell Compton to have the samples of barley ready for me. I may be back any day, and we shall be sowing early this spring.'

Then he left his cart, followed the porter who had taken his luggage eagerly, knowing that Mr Belton was always good for sixpence, and in

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