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- The Belton Estate - 60/84 -


At last they were off, and the village of Belton was behind them; Will, glancing into his cousin's face, saw that her eyes were laden with tears, and refrained from speaking. As they passed the ugly red-brick rectory. house, Clara for a moment put her face to the window, and then withdrew it. 'There is nobody there,' she said, 'who will care to see me. Considering that I have lived here all my life, is it not odd that there should be so few to bid me good-bye?'

'People do not like to put themselves forward on such occasions,' said Will.

'People there are no people. No one ever had so few to care for them as I have. And now But never mind; I mean to do very well, and I shall do very well.' Belton would not take advantage of her in her sadness, and they reached the station at Taunton almost without another word.

Of course they had to wait there for half an hour, and of course the waiting was very tedious. To Will it was very tedious indeed, as he was not by nature good at waiting. To Clara, who on this occasion sat perfectly still in the waiting-room, with her toes on the fender before the fire, the evil of the occasion was not so severe. 'The man would take two hours for the journey, though I told him an hour and a half would be enough,' said Will, querulously.

'But we might have had an accident.'

'An accident! What accident? People don't have accidents every day.'

At last the train came and they started. Clara, though she had with her her best friend I may almost say the friend whom in the world she loved the best did not have an agreeable journey. Belton would not talk; but as he made no attempt at reading, Clara did not like to have recourse to the book which she had in her travelling-bag. He sat opposite to her, opening the window and shutting it as he thought she might like it, but looking wretched and forlorn. At Swindon he brightened up for a moment under the excitement of getting her something to eat, but that relaxation lasted only for a few minutes. Alter that he relapsed again into silence till the train had passed Slough and he knew that in another half-hour they would be in London. Then he leant over her and spoke.

'This will probably be the last opportunity I shall have of saying a few words to you alone.'

'I don't know that at all, Will.'

'It will be the last for a long time at any rate. And as I have got something to say, I might as well say it now. I have thought a great deal about the property the Belton estate, I mean; and I don't intend to take it as mine.'

'That is sheer nonsense, Will. You must take it, as it is yours, and can't belong to any one else.'

'I have thought it over, and I am quite sure that all the business of the entail was wrong radically wrong from first to last. You are to understand that my special regard for you has nothing whatever to do with it. I should do the same thing if I felt that I hated you.'

'Don't hate me, Will!'

'You know what I mean. I think the entail was all wrong, and I shan't take advantage of it. It's not common sense that I should have everything because of poor Charley's misfortune.'

'But it seems to me that it does not depend upon you or upon me, or upon anybody. It is yours by law, you know.'

'And therefore it won't be sufficient for me to give it up without making it yours by law also which I intend to do. I shall stay in town tomorrow and give instructions to Mr Green. I have thought it proper to tell you this now, in order that you may mention it to Captain Aylmer.'

They were leaning over in the carriage one towards the other; her face had been slightly turned away from him; but now she slowly raised her eyes till they met his, and looking into the depth of them, and seeing there all his love and all his suffering, and the great nobility of his nature, her heart melted within her. Gradually, as her tears came would come, in spite of all her constraint, she again turned her face towards the window. 'I can't talk now,' she said, 'indeed I can't.'

'There is no need for any more talking about it,' be replied. And there was no more talking between them, on that subject or on any other, till the tickets bad been taken and the train was again in motion. Then he referred to it again for a moment. 'You will tell Captain Aylmer, my dear.'

'I will tell him what you say, that he may know your generosity. But of course he will agree with me that no such offer can be accepted. It is quite quite quite out of the question.'

'You had better tell him and say nothing more; or you can ask him to see Mr Green after tomorrow. He, as a man who understands business, will know that this arrangement must he made, if I choose to make it. Come; here we are. Porter, a four-wheeled cab. Do you go with him, and I'll look after the luggage.'

Clara, as she got into the cab, felt that she ought to have been more stout in her resistance to his offer. But it would be better, perhaps, that she should write to him from Aylmer Park, and get Frederic to write also.

CHAPTER XXIV

THE GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY HOTEL

At the door of the hotel of the Great Northern Railway Station they met Captain Aylmer. Rooms had been taken there because they were to start by an early train on that line in the morning, and Captain Aylmer had undertaken to order dinner. There was nothing particular in the meeting to make it unpleasant to our friend Will. The fortunate rival could do no more in the hall of the inn than give his hand to his affianced bride, as he might do to any other lady, and then suggest to her that she should go upstairs and see her room. When he had done this, he also offered his hand to Belton; and Will, though he would almost sooner have out off his own, was obliged to take it. In a few minutes the two men were standing alone together in the sitting-room.

'I suppose you found it cold coming up?' said the captain.

'Not particularly,' said Will.

'It's rather a long journey from Belton.'

'Not very long,' said Will.

'Not for you, perhaps; but Miss Amedroz must be tired.'

Belton was angry at having his cousin called Miss Amedroz feeling that the reserve of the name was intended to keep him at a distance. But he would have been equally angry had Aylmer called her Clara.

'My cousin,' said Will, stoutly, 'is able to bear slight fatigue of that kind without suffering.'

'I didn't suppose she suffered; but journeys are always tedious, especially where there is so much roadwork. I believe you are twenty miles from the station?'

'Belton Castle is something over twenty miles from Taunton.'

'We are seven from our station at Aylmer Park, and we think that a great deal.'

'I'm more than that at Plaistow,' said Will.

'Oh, indeed. Plaistow is in Norfolk, I believe?'

'Yes Plaistow is in Norfolk.'

'I suppose you'll leave it now and go into Somersetshire,' suggested Captain Aylmer.

'Certainly not. Why should I leave it?'

'I thought, perhaps as Belton Castle is now your own'

'Plaistow Hall is more my own than Belton Castle, if that signifies anything which it doesn't.' This he said in an angry tone, which, as he became conscious of it, he tried to rectify. 'I've a deal of stock and all that sort of thing at Plaistow, and couldn't very well leave it, even if I wished it,' he said.

'You've pretty good shooting too, I suppose,' said Aylmer.

'As far as partridges go I'll back it against most properties of the same extent in any county.'

'I'm too busy a man myself,' said the captain, 'to do much at partridges. We think more of pheasants down with us.'

'I dare say.'

'But a Norfolk man like you is of course keen about birds.'

'We are obliged to put up with what we've got, you know not but what I believe there is a better general head of game in Norfolk than in any other county in England.'

'That's what makes your hunting rather poor.'

'Our hunting poor! Why do you say it's poor?'

'So many of you are against preserving foxes.'

'I'll tell you what, Captain Aylmer; I don't know what pack you hunt with, but I'll bet you a five- pound note that we killed more foxes last year than you did that is, taking three days a week. Nine- and-twenty brace and a half in a short season I don't call poor at all.'

Captain Aylmer saw that the man was waxing angry, and made no further allusion either to the glories or deficiencies of Norfolk. As he could think of no other subject on which to speak at the spur of the moment, he sat himself down and took up a paper; Belton took up another, and so they remained till Clara made her appearance. That Captain Aylmer read his paper is probable enough. He was not a man easily disconcerted, and there was nothing in his present position to disconcert him. But I feel sure that Will Belton did not read a word. He was angry with this


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