Anthony Trollope: The Belton Estate


'I didn't mean alone,' said Captain Aylmer.

Then Clara got up and made some excuse for leaving him, and there was nothing more said between them nothing, at least, of moment, on that evening. She had become uneasy when he asked her whether she would like to live in his house at Perivale. But afterwards, when he suggested that she was to have some companion with her there, she felt herself compelled to put an end to the conversation. And yet she knew that this was always the way, both with him and with herself. He would say things which would seem to promise that in another minute he would be at her feet, and then he would go no farther. And she, when she heard those words though in truth size would have had him at her feet if she could would draw away, and recede, and forbid him as it were to go on. But Clara continued to make her comparisons, and knew well that her cousin Will would have gone on in spite of any such forbiddings.

On that night, however, when she was alone, she could console herself with thinking how right she had been. In that front bedroom, the door of which was opposite to her own, with closed shutters, in the terrible solemnity of lifeless humanity, was still lying the body of her aunt! What would she have thought of herself if at such a moment she could have listened to words of love, and promised herself as a wife while such an inmate was in the house? She little knew that he, within that same room, had pledged himself, to her who was now lying there waiting for her last removal had pledged himself, just seven days since, to make the offer which, when he was talking to her, she was always half hoping and half fearing!

He could have meant nothing else when he told her that he had not intended to suggest that she should live there alone in that great house at Perivale. She could not hinder herself from thinking of this, unfit as was the present moment for any such thoughts. How was it possible that she should not speculate on the subject, let her resolutions against any such speculation be ever so strong? She had confessed to herself that she loved the man, and what else could she wish but that he also should love her? But there came upon her some faint suspicion some glimpse of what was almost a dream that he might possibly in this matter be guided rather by duty than by love. It might be that he would feel himself constrained to offer his hand to her constrained by the peculiarity of his position towards her. If so should she discover that such were his motives there would be no doubt as to the nature of her answer.

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