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21. CHAPTER XXI: MRS ASKERTON'S GENEROSITY (continued)
I feel that I owe you an apology for harassing you on such a subject at such a time; but I know that I ought not to lose a day in tolling you that you are to see nothing more of the friend who has loved you.
Clara's first impulse on receiving this letter was to go off at once to the cottage, and insist on her privilege of choosing her own friends. If she preferred Mrs Askerton to Captain Aylmer, that was no one's business but her own. And she would have done so had she not been afraid of meeting with Colonel Askerton. To him she would not have known how to speak on such a subject nor would she have known how to conduct herself at the cottage without speaking of it. And then, after a while, she felt that were she to do so should she now deliberately determine to throw herself into Mrs Askerton's arms she must at the same time give up all ideas of becoming Captain Aylmer's wife. As she thought of this she asked herself various questions concerning him, which she did not find it easy to answer. Did she wish to be his wife? Could she assure herself that if they were married they would make each other happy? Did she love him? She was still able to declare to herself that the answer to the last question should be an affirmative; but, nevertheless, she thought that she could give him up without great unhappiness. And when she began to think of Lady Aylmer, and to remember that Frederic Aylmer's imperative demands upon her obedience had, in all probability, been dictated by his mother, she was again anxious to go at once to the cottage, and declare that she would not submit to any interference with her own judgment.
On the next morning the postman brought to her a letter which was of much moment to her but he brought to her also tidings which moved her more even than the letter. The letter was from the lawyer, and enclosed a cheque for seventy-five pounds, which he had been instructed to pay to her, as the interest of the money left to her by her aunt. What should be her answer to that letter she knew very well, and she instantly wrote it, sending back the cheque to Mr Green. The postman's news, more important than the letter, told her that William Belton was at the inn at Redicote.
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