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26. CHAPTER XXVI: THE AYLMER PARK HASHED CHICKEN COMES TO AN END
Easter in this year fell about the middle of April, and it still wanted three weeks of that time when Captain Aylmer started for London. Clara was quite alive to the fact that the next three weeks would not be a happy time for her. She looked forward, indeed, to so much wretchedness during this period, that the days as they came were not quite so bad as she had expected them to be. At first Lady Aylmer said little or nothing to her. It seemed to be agreed between them that there was to be war, but that there was no necessity for any of the actual operations of war during the absence of Captain Aylmer. Clara had become Miss Amedroz again; and though an offer to be driven out in the carriage was made to her every day, she was in general able to escape the infliction so that at last it came to be understood that Miss Amedroz did not like carriage exercise. She has never been used to it,' said Lady Aylmer to her daughter. 'I suppose not,' said Belinda; 'but if she wasn't so very cross she'd enjoy it just for that reason.' Clara sometimes walked about the grounds with Belinda, but on such occasions there was hardly anything that could be called conversation between them, and Frederic Aylmer's name was never mentioned.
Captain Aylmer had not been gone many days before she received a letter from her cousin, in which he spoke with absolute certainty of his intention of giving up the estate. He had, he said, consulted Mr Green, and the thing was to be done. 'But it will be better, I think,' he went on to say, 'that I should manage it for you till after your marriage. I simply mean what I say. You are not to suppose that I shall interfere in any way afterwards. Of course there will be a settlement, as to which I hope you will allow me to see Mr Green on your behalf.' In the first draught of his letter he had inserted a sentence in which he expressed a wish that the property should be so settled that it might at last all come to some one bearing the name of Belton. But as he read this over, the condition for coming from him it would be a condition seemed to him to be ungenerous, and he expunged it. 'What does it matter who has it,' he said to himself bitterly, 'or what he is called? I will never set eyes upon his children, nor yet upon the place when he has become the master of it.' Clara wrote both to her cousin and to the lawyer, repeating her assurance with great violence, as Lady Aylmer would have said that she would have nothing to with the Belton estate. She told Mr Green that it would be useless for him to draw up any deeds. 'It can't be made mine unless I choose to have it,' she said, 'and I don't choose to have it.' Then there came upon her a terrible fear. What if she should marry Captain Aylmer after all; and what if he, when he should be her husband, should take the property on her behalf! Something must be done before her marriage to prevent the possibility of such results something as to the efficacy of which for such prevention she could feel altogether certain.
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