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26. CHAPTER XXVI: THE AYLMER PARK HASHED CHICKEN COMES TO AN END (continued)
But could she marry Captain Aylmer at all in her present mood? During these three weeks she was unconsciously teaching herself to hope that she might be relieved from her engagement. She did not love him. She was becoming aware that she did not love him. She was beginning to doubt whether, in truth, she had ever loved him. But yet she felt that she could not, escape from her engagement if he should show himself to. be really actuated by any fixed purpose to carry it out; nor could she bring herself to be so weak before Lady Aylmer as to seem to yield. The necessity of not striking her colours was forced upon her by the warfare to which she was subjected. She was unhappy, feeling that her present position in life was bad, and unworthy of her. She could have brought herself almost to run away from Aylmer Park, as a boy runs away from school, were it not that she had no place to which to run. She could not very well make her appearance at Plaistow Hall, and say that she had come there for shelter and succour. She could, indeed, go to Mrs Askerton's cottage for awhile; and the more she thought of the state of her affairs, the more did she feel sure that that would, before long, be her destiny. It must be her destiny unless Captain Aylmer should return at Easter with purposes so firmly fixed that even his mother should not be able to prevail against them.
And now, in these days, circumstances gave her a new friend or perhaps, rather, a new acquaintance, where she certainly had looked neither for the one or for the other. Lady Aylmer and Belinda and the carriage and the horses used, as I have said, to go off without her. This would take place soon after luncheon. Most of us know how the events of the day drag themselves on tediously in such a country house as Aylmer Park -a country house in which people neither read, nor flirt, nor gamble, nor smoke, nor have resort to the excitement of any special amusement. Lunch was on the table at half-past one, and the carriage was at the door at three. Eating and drinking and the putting on of bonnets occupied the hour and a half. From breakfast to lunch Lady Aylmer, with her old 'front', would occupy herself with her household accounts. For some days after Clara's arrival she put on her new 'front' before lunch; but of late since the long conversation in the carriage the new 'front' did not appear till she came down for the carriage. According to the theory of her life, she was never to be seen by any but her own family in her old 'front'. At breakfast she would appear with head so mysteriously enveloped with such a bewilderment of morning caps that old 'front' or new 'front' was all the same. When Sir Anthony perceived this change when he saw that Clara was treated as though she belonged to Aylmer Park then he told himself that his son's marriage with Miss Amedroz was to be; and, as Miss Amedroz seemed to him to be a very pleasant young woman, he would creep out of his own quarters when the carriage was gone and have a little chat with her being careful to creep away again before her ladyship's return. This was Clara's new friend.
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