The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 11

Daniel Granger.

After luncheon that day, Clarissa lost sight of Lady Laura. The Castle seemed particularly quiet on this afternoon. Nearly every one was out of doors playing croquet; but Clarissa had begun to find croquet rather a wearisome business of late, and had excused herself on the plea of letters to write. She had not begun her letter-writing yet, however, but was wandering about the house in a purposeless way — now standing still for a quarter of an hour at a time, looking out of a window, without being in the least degree conscious of the landscape she was looking at, and then pacing slowly up and down the long picture gallery with a sense of relief in being alone.

At last she roused herself from this absent dreamy state.

“I am too idle to write this afternoon,” she thought. “I’ll go to the library and get a book.”

The Hale library was Clarissa’s delight. It was a noble collection gathered by dead-and-gone owners of the Castle, and filled up with all the most famous modern works at the bidding of Mr. Armstrong, who gave his bookseller a standing order to supply everything that was proper, and rarely for his own individual amusement or instruction had recourse to any shelf but one which contained neat editions of the complete works of the Druid and Mr. Apperley, the Life of Assheton Smith, and all the volumes of the original Sporting Magazine bound in crimson russia. These, with Ruff’s Guide, the Racing Calendar, and a few volumes on farriery, supplied Mr. Armstrong’s literary necessities. But to Clarissa, for whom books were at once the pleasure and consolation of life, this library seemed a treasure-house of inexhaustible delights. Her father’s collection was of the choicest, but limited. Here she found everything she had ever heard of, and a whole world of literature she had never dreamed of. She was not by any means a pedant or a blue-stocking, and it was naturally amongst the books of a lighter class she found the chief attraction; but she was better read than most girls of her age, and better able to enjoy solid reading.

To-day she was out of spirits, and came to the library for some relief from those vaguely painful thoughts that had oppressed her lately. The room was so little affected by my lady’s butterfly guests that she made sure of having it all to herself this afternoon, when the voices and laughter of the croquet-players, floating in at the open windows, told her that the sport was still at its height.

She went into the room, and stopped suddenly a few paces from the doorway. A gentleman was standing before the wide empty fireplace, where there was a great dog-stove of ironwork and brass which consumed about half a ton of coal a day in winter; a tall, ponderous-looking man, with his hands behind him, glancing downward with cold gray eyes, but not in the least degree inclining his stately head to listen to Lady Laura Armstrong, who was seated on a sofa near him, fanning herself and prattling gaily after her usual vivacious manner.

Clarissa started and drew back at sight of this tall stranger.

“Mr. Granger,” she thought, and tried to make her escape without being seen.

The attempt was a failure. Lady Laura called to her.

“Who is that in a white dress? Miss Lovel, I am sure. — Come here, Clary — what are you running away for? I want to introduce my friend Mr. Granger to you. — Mr. Granger, this is Miss Lovel, the Miss Lovel whose birthplace fortune has given to you.”

Mr. Granger bowed rather stiffly, and with the air of a man to whom a bow was a matter of business.

“I regret,” he said, “to have robbed Miss Lovel of a home to which she was attached. I regret still more that she will not avail herself of my desire to consider the park and grounds entirely at her disposal on all occasions. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see her use the place as if it were her own.”

“And nothing could be kinder than such a wish on your part.” exclaimed my lady approvingly.

Clarissa lifted her eyes rather shyly to the rich man’s face. He was not a connoisseur in feminine loveliness, but they struck him at once as very fine eyes. He was a connoisseur in pictures, and no mean judge of them, and those brilliant hazel eyes of Clarissa’s reminded him of a portrait by Velasquez, of which he was particularly proud.

“You are very kind,” she murmured; “but — but there are some associations too painful to bear. The park would remind me so bitterly of all I have lost since I was a child.”

She was thinking of her brother, and his disgrace — or misfortune; she did not even know which of these two it was that had robbed her of him. Mr. Granger looked at her wonderingly. Her words and manner seemed to betray a deeper feeling than he could have supposed involved in the loss of an estate. He was not a man of sentiment himself, and had gone through life affected only by its sternest realities. There was something rather too Rosa–Matildaish for his taste in this faltered speech of Clarissa’s; but he thought her a very pretty girl nevertheless, and was inclined to look somewhat indulgently upon a weakness he would have condemned without compunction in his daughter. Mr. Granger was a man who prided himself upon his strength of mind, and he had a very poor idea of the exclusive recluse whose early extravagances had made him master of Arden Court. He had not seen Mr. Lovel half-a-dozen times in his life, for all business between those two that could be transacted by their respective lawyers had been so transacted; but what he had seen of that pale careworn face, that fragile figure, and somewhat irritable manner, had led the ponderous, strong-minded Daniel Granger to consider Marmaduke Lovel a very poor creature.

He was interested in this predecessor of his nevertheless. A man must be harder than iron who can usurp another man’s home, and sit by another man’s hearthstone, without giving some thought to the exile he has ousted. Daniel Granger was not so hard as that, and he did profoundly pity the ruined gentleman he had deposed. Perhaps he was still more inclined to pity the ruined gentleman’s only daughter, who must needs suffer for the sins and errors of others.

“Now, pray don’t run away, Clary,” cried Lady Laura, seeing Clarissa moving towards the door, as if still anxious to escape. “You came to look for some books, I know. — Miss Lovel is a very clever young lady, I assure you, Mr. Granger, and has read immensely. — Sit down, Clary; you shall take away an armful of books by-and-by, if you like.”

Clarissa seated herself near my lady’s sofa with a gracious submissive air, which the owner of Arden Court thought a rather pretty kind of thing, in its way. He had a habit of classifying all young women in a general way with his own daughter, as if in possessing that one specimen of the female race he had a key to the whole species. His daughter was obedient — it was one of her chief virtues; but somehow there was not quite such a graceful air in her small concessions as he perceived in this little submission of Miss Lovel’s.

Mr. Granger was rather a silent man; but my lady rattled on gaily in her accustomed style, and while that perennial stream of small talk flowed on, Clarissa had leisure to observe the usurper.

He was a tall man, six feet high perhaps, with a powerful and somewhat bulky frame, broad shoulders, a head erect and firmly planted as an obelisk, and altogether an appearance which gave a general idea of strength. He was not a bad-looking man by any means. His features were large and well cut, the mouth firm as iron, and unshadowed by beard or moustache; the eyes gray and clear, but very cold. Such a man could surely be cruel, Clarissa thought, with an inward shudder. He was a man who would have looked grand in a judge’s wig; a man whose eyes and eyebrows, lowered upon some trembling delinquent, might have been almost as awful as Lord Thurlow’s. Even his own light-brown hair, faintly streaked with grey, which he wore rather long, had something of a leonine air.

He listened to Lady Laura’s trivial discourse with a manner which was no doubt meant to be gracious, but with no great show of interest. Once he went so far as to remark that the Castle gardens were looking very fine for so advanced a season, and attended politely to my lady’s rather diffuse account of her triumphs in the orchid line.

“I don’t pretend to understand much about those things,” he said, in his stately far-off way, as if he lived in some world quite remote from Lady Laura’s, and of a superior rank in the catalogue of worlds. “They are pretty and curious, no doubt. My daughter interests herself considerably in that sort of thing. We have a good deal of glass at Arden — more than I care about. My head man tells me that I must have grapes and pines all the year round: and since he insists upon it, I submit. But I imagine that a good many more of his pines and grapes find their way to Covent Garden than to my table.”

Clarissa remembered the old kitchen-gardens at the Court in her father’s time, when the whole extent of “glass” was comprised by a couple of dilapidated cucumber-frames, and a queer little greenhouse in a corner, where she and her brother had made some primitive experiments in horticulture, and where there was a particular race of spiders, the biggest specimens of the spidery species it had ever been her horror to encounter.

“I wonder whether the little greenhouse is there still?” she thought. “O, no, no; battered down to the ground, of course, by this pompous man’s order. I don’t suppose I should know the dear old place, if I were to see it now.”

“You are fond of botany, I suppose, Miss Lovel?” Mr. Granger asked presently, with a palpable effort. He was not an adept in small talk, and though in the course of years of dinner-eating and dinner-giving he had been frequently called upon to address his conversation to young ladies, he never opened his lips to one of the class without a sense of constraint and an obvious difficulty. He had all his life been most at home in men’s society, where the talk was of grave things, and was no bad talker when the question in hand was either commercial or political. But as a rich man cannot go through life without being cultivated more or less by the frivolous herd, Mr. Granger had been compelled to conform himself somehow to the requirements of civilised society, and to talk in his stiff bald way of things which he neither understood nor cared for.

“I am fond of flowers,” Clarissa answered, “but I really know nothing of botany. I would always rather paint them than anatomise them.”

“Indeed! Painting is a delightful occupation for a young lady. My daughter sketches a little, but I cannot say that she has any remarkable talent that way. She has been well taught, of course.”

“You will find Miss Lovel quite a first-rate artist,” said Lady Laura, pleased to praise her favourite. “I really know no one of her age with such a marked genius for art. Everybody observes it.” And then, half afraid that this praise might seem to depreciate Miss Granger, the good-natured châtelaine went on, “Your daughter illuminates, I daresay?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so, Lady Laura. I know that Sophia does some massy kind of work involving the use of gums and colours. I have seen her engaged in it sometimes. And there are scriptural texts on the walls of our poor-schools which I conclude are her work. A young woman cannot have too many pursuits. I like to see my daughter occupied.”

“Miss Granger reads a good deal, I suppose, like Clarissa,’ Lady Laura hazarded.

“No, I cannot say that she does. My daughter’s habits are active and energetic rather than studious. Nor should I encourage her in giving much time to literature, unless the works she read were of a very solid character. I have never found anything great achieved by reading men of my own acquaintance; and directly I hear that, a man is never so happy as in his library, I put him down as a man whose life will be a failure.”

“But the great men of our day have generally been men of wide reading, have they not?”

“I think not, Lady Laura. They have been men who have made a little learning go a long way. Of course there are numerous exceptions amongst the highest class of all — statesmen, and so on. But for success in active life, I take it, a man cannot have his brain too clear of waste rubbish in the way of book-learning. He wants all his intellectual coin in his current account, you see, ready for immediate use, not invested in out-of-the-way corners, where he can’t get at it.”

While Mr. Granger and my lady were arguing this question, Clarissa went to the bookshelves and amused herself hunting for some attractive volumes. Daniel Granger followed the slender girlish figure with curious eyes. Nothing could have been more unexpected than this meeting with Marmaduke Lovel’s daughter. He had done his best, in the first year or so of his residence at the Court, to cultivate friendly relations with Mr. Lovel, and had most completely failed in that well-meant attempt. Some men in Mr. Granger’s position might have been piqued by this coldness. But Daniel Granger was not such a one; he was not given to undervalue the advantage of his friendship or patronage. A career of unbroken prosperity, and a character by nature self-contained and strong-willed, combined to sustain his belief in himself. He could not for a moment conceive that Mr. Lovel declined his acquaintance as a thing not worth having. He therefore concluded that the banished lord of Arden felt his loss too keenly to endure to look upon his successor’s happiness, and he pitied him accordingly. It would have been the one last drop of bitterness in Marmaduke Lovel’s cup to know that this man did pity him. Having thus failed in cultivating anything approaching intimacy with the father, Mr. Granger was so much the more disposed to feel an interest — half curious, half compassionate — in the daughter. From the characterless ranks of young-ladyhood this particular damsel stood out with unwonted distinctness. He found his mind wandering a little as he tried to talk with Lady Laura. He could not help watching the graceful figure yonder, the slim white-robed figure standing out so sharply against the dark background of carved oaken bookshelves.

Clarissa selected a couple of volumes to carry away with her presently, and then came back to her seat by Lady Laura’s sofa. She did not want to appear rude to Mr. Granger, or to disoblige her kind friend, who for some reason or other was evidently anxious she should remain, or she would have been only too glad to run away to her own room.

The talk went on. My lady was confidential after her manner communicating her family affairs to Daniel Granger as freely as she might have done if he had been an uncle or an executor. She told him about her sister’s approaching marriage and George Fairfax’s expectations.

“They will have to begin life upon an income that I daresay you would think barely sufficient for bread and cheese,” she said.

Mr. Granger shook his head, and murmured that his own personal requirements could be satisfied for thirty shillings a week.

“I daresay. It is generally the case with millionaires. They give four hundred a year to a cook, and dine upon a mutton-chop or a boiled chicken. But really Mr. Fairfax and Geraldine will be almost poor at first; only my sister has fortunately no taste for display, and George must have sown all his wild oats by this time. I expect them to be a model couple, they are so thoroughly attached to each other.”

Clarissa opened one of her volumes and bent over it at this juncture. Was this really true? Did Lady Laura believe what she said? Was that problem which she had been perpetually trying to solve lately so very simple, after all, and only a perplexity to her own weak powers of reason? Lady Laura must be the best judge, of course, and she was surely too warm-hearted a woman to take a conventional view of things, or to rejoice in a mere marriage of convenience. No, it must be true. They really did love each other, these two, and that utter absence of all those small signs and tokens of attachment which Clarissa had expected to see was only a characteristic of good taste. What she had taken for coldness was merely a natural reserve, which at once proved their superior breeding and rebuked her own vulgar curiosity.

From the question of the coming marriage, Lady Laura flew to the lighter subject of the ball.

“I hope Miss Granger has brought a ball-dress; I told her all about our ball in my last note.”

“I believe she has provided herself for the occasion,” replied Mr. Granger. “I know there was an extra trunk, to which I objected when my people were packing the luggage. Sophia is not usually extravagant in the matter of dress. She has a fair allowance, of course, and liberty to exceed it on occasion; but I believe she spends more upon her school-children and pensioners in the village than on her toilet.”

“Your ideas on the subject of costume are not quite so wide as Mr. Brummel’s, I suppose,” said my lady. “Do you remember his reply, when an anxious mother asked him what she ought to allow her son for dress?”

Mr. Granger did not spoil my lady’s delight in telling an anecdote by remembering; and he was a man who would have conscientiously declared his familiarity with the story, had he known it.

“‘It might be done on eight hundred a year, madam,’ replied Brummel, ‘with the strictest economy.’”

Mr. Granger gave a single-knock kind of laugh.

“Curious fellow, that Brummel,” he said. “I remember seeing him at Caen, when I was travelling as a young man.”

And so the conversation meandered on, my lady persistently lively in her pleasant commonplace way, Mr. Granger still more commonplace, and not at all lively. Clarissa thought that hour and a half in the library the longest she had ever spent in her life. How different from that afternoon in the same room when George Fairfax had looked at his watch and declared the Castle bell must be wrong!

That infallible bell rang at last — a welcome sound to Clarissa, and perhaps not altogether unwelcome to Lady Laura and Mr. Granger, who had more than once sympathised in a smothered yawn.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31