Beyond the City (Chapter 6, page 2 of 6)

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Chapter 6

"It seemed to me most delicate. You see, Clara, the matter stands
in this way. It is quite possible that I may soon find myself in a
completely new sphere of life, which will involve fresh duties and make
it impossible for me to keep up a household which Charles can share."

Clara stared. Did this mean that she was about to marry again? What else
could it point to?

"Therefore Charles must have a household of his own. That is obvious.
Now, I don't approve of bachelor establishments. Do you?"

"Really, Mrs. Westmacott, I have never thought of the matter."

"Oh, you little sly puss! Was there ever a girl who never thought of the
matter? I think that a young man of six-and-twenty ought to be married."

Clara felt very uncomfortable. The awful thought had come upon her
that this ambassadress had come to her as a proxy with a proposal of
marriage. But how could that be? She had not spoken more than three or
four times with her nephew, and knew nothing more of him than he had
told her on the evening before. It was impossible, then. And yet what
could his aunt mean by this discussion of his private affairs?

"Do you not think yourself," she persisted, "that a young man of
six-and-twenty is better married?"

"I should think that he is old enough to decide for himself."

"Yes, yes. He has done so. But Charles is just a little shy, just a
little slow in expressing himself. I thought that I would pave the
way for him. Two women can arrange these things so much better. Men
sometimes have a difficulty in making themselves clear."

"I really hardly follow you, Mrs. Westmacott," cried Clara in despair.

"He has no profession. But he has nice tastes. He reads Browning every
night. And he is most amazingly strong. When he was younger we used to
put on the gloves together, but I cannot persuade him to now, for he
says he cannot play light enough. I should allow him five hundred, which
should be enough at first."

"My dear Mrs. Westmacott," cried Clara, "I assure you that I have not
the least idea what it is that you are talking of."

"Do you think your sister Ida would have my nephew Charles?"

Her sister Ida? Quite a little thrill of relief and of pleasure ran
through her at the thought. Ida and Charles Westmacott. She had never
thought of it. And yet they had been a good deal together. They had
played tennis. They had shared the tandem tricycle. Again came
the thrill of joy, and close at its heels the cold questionings of
conscience. Why this joy? What was the real source of it? Was it that
deep down, somewhere pushed back in the black recesses of the soul,
there was the thought lurking that if Charles prospered in his wooing
then Harold Denver would still be free? How mean, how unmaidenly, how
unsisterly the thought! She crushed it down and thrust it aside, but
still it would push up its wicked little head. She crimsoned with shame
at her own baseness, as she turned once more to her companion.

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