Anthony Trollope: The Belton Estate


When Clara received the letter from Captain Aylmer on which so much is supposed to hang, she made up her mind to say nothing of it to any one not to think of it if she could avoid thinking of it till her cousin should have left her. She could not mention it to him; for, though there was no one from whom she would sooner have asked advice than from him, even on so delicate a matter as this, she could not do so in the present case, as her informant was her cousin's successful rival. When, therefore, Mrs Askerton on leaving the church had spoken some customary word to Clara, begging her to come to the cottage on the following day, Clara had been unable to answer not having as yet made up her mind whether she would or would not go to the cottage again. Of course the idea of consulting her father occurred to her or rather the idea of telling him; but any such telling would lead to some advice from him which she would find it difficult to obey, and to which she would be unable to trust. And, moreover, why should she repeat this evil story against her neighbours?

She had a long morning by herself after Will had started, and then she endeavoured to arrange her thoughts and lay down for herself a line of conduct. Presuming this story to be true, to what did it amount? It certainly amounted to very much. If, in truth, this woman had left her own husband and gone away to live with another man, she had by doing so at any rate while she was doing so fallen in such a way as to make herself unfit for the society of an unmarried young woman who meant to keep her name unblemished before the world. Clara would not attempt any further unravelling of the case, even in her own mind but on that point she could not allow herself to have a doubt. Without condemning the unhappy victim, she understood well that she would owe it to all those who held her dear, if not to herself, to eschew any close intimacy with one in such a position. The rules of the world were too plainly written to allow her to guide herself by any special judgment of her own in such a matter. But if this friend of hers having been thus unfortunate had since redeemed, or in part redeemed, her position by a second marriage, would it be then imperative upon her to remember the past for ever, and to declare that the stain was indelible? Clara felt that with a previous knowledge of such a story she would probably have avoided any intimacy with Mrs Askerton. She would then have been justified in choosing whether such intimacy should or should not exist, and would so have chosen out of deference to the world's opinion. But now it was too late for that. Mrs Askerton had for years been her friend; and Clara had to ask herself this question: was it now needful did her own feminine purity demand that she should throw her friend over because in past years her life had been tainted by misconduct.

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