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19. CHAPTER XI: MISS AMEDROZ HAS ANOTHER CHANCE
It was on a Sunday morning that Clara's letter reached Aylmer Park, and Frederic Aylmer found it on his plate as he took his place at the breakfast-table. Domestic habits at Aylmer Park had grown with the growth of years till they had become adamantine, and domestic habits required prayers every morning at a quarter before nine o'clock. At twenty minutes before nine Lady Aylmer would always be in the dining-room to make the tea and open the post-bag, and as she was always there alone, she knew more about other people's letters than other people ever knew about hers. When these operations were over she rang the bell, and the servants of the family, who by that time had already formed themselves into line in the hail, would march in, and settle themselves on benches prepared for them near the sideboard which benches were afterwards carried away by the retiring procession. Lady Aylmer herself always read prayers, as Sir Anthony never appeared till the middle of breakfast. Belinda would usually come down in a scurry as she heard her mother's bell, in such a way as to put the army in the hail to some confusion; but Frederic Aylmer, when he was at home, rarely entered the room till after the service was over. At Perivale no doubt he was more strict in his conduct; but then at Perivale he had special interests and influences which were wanting to him at Aylmer Park. During those five minutes Lady Aylmer would deal round the letters to the several plates of the inmates of her house not without looking at the post-office marks upon them; and on this occasion she had dealt a letter from Clara to her son.
The arrival of the letter was announced to Frederic Aylmer before he took his seat.
'Frederic,' said her ladyship, in her most portentous voice, 'I am glad to say that at last there is a letter from Belton.'
He made no immediate reply, but making his way slowly to his place, took up the little packet, turned it over in his hand, and then put it into his pocket. Having done this, he began very slowly with his tea and egg. For three minutes his mother was contented to make, or to pretend to make, some effort in the same direction. Then her impatience became too much for her, and she began to question him.
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