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- The Belton Estate - 6/84 -
'I take it very kind of you, your coming all this way to see us'
'I'd have come three times the distance.'
'But you must put up with us as you find us, you know. The truth is we are very poor.'
'Well, now that's just what I wanted to know. One couldn't write and ask such a question; but I was sure I should find out if I came.'
'You've found it out already, you see.'
'As for being poor, it's a thing I don't think very much about not for young people. But it isn't comfortable when a man gets old. Now what I want to know is this; can't something be done?'
'The only thing to do is to be very kind to him. He has had to let the park to Mr Stovey, and he doesn't like talking about it.'
'But if it isn't talked about, how can it be mended?'
'It can't be mended.'
'We'll see about that. But I'll be kind to him; you see if I ain't. And I'll tell you what, I'll be kind to you too, if you'll let me. You have got no brother now.'
'No,' said Clara; 'I have got no brother now.' Belton was looking full into her face, and saw that her eyes had become clouded with tears.
'I will be your brother,' said he. 'You see if I don't. When I say a thing I mean it. I will be your brother.' And he took her hand, caressing it, and showing her that he was not in the least afraid of her. He was blunt in his bearing, saying things which her father would have called indelicate and heartless, as though they gave him no effort, and placing himself at once almost in a position of ascendency. This Clara had not intended. She had thought that her farmer cousin, in spite of the superiority of his prospects as heir to the property, would have acceded to her little hints with silent acquiescence; but instead of this he seemed prepared to take upon himself the chief part in the play that was to be acted between them. 'Shall it be so?' he said, still holding her hand.
'You are very kind.'
'I will be more than kind; I will love you dearly if you will let me. You don't suppose that I have looked you up here for nothing. Blood is thicker than water, and you have nobody now so near to you as I am. I don't see why you should be so poor, as the debts have been paid.'
'Papa has had to borrow money on his life interest in the place.'
'That's the mischief! Never mind. We'll see if we can't do something. And in the meantime don't make a stranger of me. Anything does for me. Lord bless you! if you were to see how I rough it sometimes! I can eat beans and bacon with any one; and what's more, I can go without 'em if I can't get 'em.'
'We'd better get ready for dinner now. I always dress, because papa likes to see it.' This she said as a hint to her cousin that he would be expected to change his coat, for her father would have been annoyed had his guest sat down to dinner without such ceremony. Will Belton was not very good at taking hints; but he did understand this, and made the necessary change in his apparel.
The evening was long and dull, and nothing occurred worthy of remark except the surprise manifested by Mr Amedroz when Belton called his daughter by her Christian name. This he did without the slightest hesitation, as though it were the most natural thing in the world for him to do. She was his cousin, and cousins of course addressed each other in that way. Clara's quick eye immediately saw her father's slight gesture of dismay, but Belton caught nothing of this. The squire took an early opportunity of calling him Mr Belton with some little peculiarity of expression; but this was altogether lost on Will, who five times in the next five minutes addressed 'Clara' as though they were already on the most intimate terms. She would have answered him in the same way, and would have called him Will, had she not been afraid of offending her father.
Mr Amedroz had declared his purpose of coming down to breakfast during the period of his cousin's visit, and at half-past nine he was in the parlour. Clara had been there some time, but had not seen her cousin. He entered the room immediately after her father, bringing his hat with him in his hand, and wiping the drops of perspiration from his brow. 'You have been out, Mr Belton,' said the squire.
'All round the place, sir. Six o'clock doesn't often find me in bed, summer or winter. What's the use of laying in bed when one has had enough of sleep?'
'But that's just the question,' said Clara; 'whether one has had enough at six o'clock.'
'Women want more than men, of course. A man, if he means to do any good with land, must be out early. The grass will grow of itself at nights, but it wants looking after as soon as the daylight comes.'
'I don't know that it would do much good to the grass here,' said the squire, mournfully.
'As much here as anywhere. And indeed I've got something to say about that.' He had now seated himself at the breakfast-table, and was playing with his knife and fork. 'I think, sir, you're hardly making the best you can out of the park.'
'We won't mind talking about it, if you please,' said the squire.
'Well; of course I won't, if you don't like it; but upon my word you ought to look about you; you ought indeed.'
'In what way do you mean?' said Clara.
'If your father doesn't like to keep the land in his own hands, he should let it to some one who would put stock in it not go on cutting it year after year and putting nothing back, as this fellow will do. I've been talking to Stovey, and that's just what he means.'
'Nobody here has got money to put stock on the land,' said the squire, angrily.
'Then you should look for somebody somewhere else. That's all. I'll tell you what now, Mr Amedroz, I'll do it myself.' By this time he had helped himself to two large slices of cold mutton, and was eating his breakfast and talking with an equal amount of energy for either occupation.
'That's out of the question,' said the squire.
'I don't see why it should be out of the question. It would be better for you and better for me too, if this place is ever to be mine.' On hearing this the squire winced, but said nothing. This terrible fellow was so vehemently outspoken that the poor old man was absolutely unable to keep pace with him even to the repeating of his wish that the matter should be talked of no further. 'I'll tell you what I'll do, now,' continued Belton. 'There's altogether, outside the palings and in, about a hundred and fifty acres of it. I'll give you one pound two and sixpence an acre, and I won't cut an acre of grass inside the park no, nor much of it outside either only just enough to give me a little fodder for the cattle in winter.'
'And give up Plaistow Hall?' asked Clara.
'Lord love you, no. I've a matter of nine hundred acres on hand there, and most of it under the plough. I've counted it up, and it would just cost me a thousand pounds to stock this place. I should come and look at it twice a year or so, and I should see my money home again, if I didn't get any profit out of it.'
Mr Amedroz was astonished. The man had only been in his house one night, and was proposing to take all his troubles off his hands. He did not relish the proposition at all. He did not like to be accused of not doing as well for himself as others could do for him. He did not wish to make any change although he remembered at the moment his anger with Farmer Stovey respecting the haycarts. He did not desire that the heir should have any immediate interest in the place. But he was not strong enough to meet the proposition with a direct negative. 'I couldn't get rid of Stovey in that way,' he said, plaintively. I've settled it all with Stovey already,' said Belton. 'He'll be glad enough to walk off with a twenty-pound note, which I'll give him. He can't make money out of the place. He hasn't got means to stock it, and then see the wages that hay-making runs away with! He'd lose by it even at what he's paying, and he knows it. There won't be any difficulty about Stovey.'
By twelve o'clock on that day Mr Stovey had been brought into the house, and had resigned the land. It had been let to Mr William Belton at an increased rental a rental increased by nearly forty pounds per annum and that gentleman had already made many of his arrangements for entering upon his tenancy. The twenty pounds had already been paid to Stovey, and the transaction was complete. Mr Amedroz sat in his chair bewildered, dismayed and, as he himself declared shocked, quite shocked, at the precipitancy of the young man. It might be for the best. He didn't know. He didn't feel at all sure. But such hurrying in such a matter was, under all the circumstances of the family, to say the least of it, very indelicate. He was angry with himself for having yielded, and angry with Clara for having allowed him to do so. 'It doesn't signify much,' he said, at last. 'Of course he'll have it all to himself before long.'
'But, papa, it really seems to be a much better arrangement for you. You'll get more money'
'Money is not everything, my dear.'
'But you'd sooner have Mr Belton, our own cousin, about the place, than Mr Stovey.'
'I don't know. We shall see. The thing is done now, and there is no use in complaining. I must say he hasn't shown a great deal of delicacy.'
On that afternoon Belton asked Clara to go out with him, and walk round the place. He had been again about the grounds, and had made plans, and counted up capabilities, and calculated his profit and losses. 'If you don't dislike scrambling about,' said he, 'I'll show you everything that I intend to do.'
'But I can't have any changes made, Mr Belton,' said Mr Amedroz, with some affectation of dignity in his manner. 'I won't have the fences
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