The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 12

Mr. Granger is Interested.

When Clarissa went to the great drawing-room dressed for dinner, she found Lizzie Fermor talking to a young lady whom she at once guessed to be Miss Granger. Nor was she allowed to remain in any doubt of the fact; for the lively Lizzie beckoned her to the window by which they were seated, and introduced the two young ladies to each other.

“Miss Granger and I are quite old friends,” she said, “and I mean you to like each other very much.”

Miss Granger bowed stiffly, but pledged herself to nothing. She was a tall young woman of about two-and-twenty, with very little of the tender grace of girlhood about her; a young woman who, by right of a stately carriage and a pair of handsome shoulders, might have been called fine-looking. Her features were not unlike her father’s; and those eyes and eyebrows of Daniel Granger’s, which would have looked so well under a judicial wig, were reproduced in a modified degree in the countenance of his daughter. She had what would be generally called a fine complexion, fair and florid; and her hair, of which she had an abundant quantity, was of an insipid light brown, and the straightest Clarissa had ever seen. Altogether, she was a young lady who, invested with all the extraneous charms of her father’s wealth, would no doubt be described as attractive, and even handsome. She was dressed well, with a costly simplicity, in a dark-blue corded silk, relieved by a berthe of old point lace, and the whiteness of her full firm throat was agreeably set off by a broad band of black velvet, from which there hung a Maltese cross of large rubies.

The two young ladies went on with their talk, which was chiefly of gaieties they had each assisted at since their last meeting, and people they had met.

Clarissa, being quite unable to assist in this conversation, looked on meekly, a little interested in Miss Granger, who was, like herself, an only daughter, and about whose relations with her father she had begun to wonder. Was he very fond of this only child, and in this, as in all else, unlike her own father? He had spoken of her that afternoon several times, and had even praised her, but somewhat coldly, and with a practical matter-of-course air, almost as Mr. Lovel might have spoken of his daughter if constrained to talk of her in society.

Miss Granger said a good deal about the great people she had met that year. They seemed all to be more or less the elect of the earth: but she pulled herself up once or twice to protest that she cared very little for society; she was happier when employed with her schools and poor people —that was her real element.

“One feels all the other thing to be so purposeless and hollow,” she said sententiously. “After a round of dinners and dances and operas and concerts in London, I always have a kind of guilty feeling. So much time wasted, and nothing to show for it. And really my poor are improving so wonderfully. If you could see my cottages, Miss Fermor!” (she did not say, “their cottages.”) “I give a prize for the cleanest floors and windows, an illuminated ticket for the neatest garden-beds. I don’t suppose you could get a sprig of groundsel for love or money in Arden village. I have actually to cultivate it in a corner of the kitchen-garden for my canaries. I give another prize at Christmas for the most economical household management, accorded to the family which has dined oftenest without meat in the course of the year; and I give a premium of one per cent upon all investments in the Holborough savings-bank — one and a half in the case of widows; a complete suit of clothes to every woman who has attended morning and evening service without missing one Sunday in the year, the consequence of which has been to put a total stop to cooking on the day of rest. I don’t believe you could come across so much as a hot potato on a Sunday in one of my cottages.”

“And do the husbands like the cold dinners?” Miss Fermor asked rather flippantly.

“I should hope that spiritual advantage would prevail over temporal luxury, even in their half-awakened minds,” replied Miss Granger. “I have never inquired about their feelings on the subject. I did indeed hear that the village baker, who had driven a profitable trade every Sunday morning before my improvements, made some most insolent comments upon what I had done. But I trust I can rise superior to the impertinence of a village baker. However, you must come to Arden and see my cottages, and judge for yourself; and if you could only know the benighted state in which I found these poor creatures ——”

Lizzie Fermor glanced towards Clarissa, and then gave a little warning look, which had the effect of stopping Miss Granger’s disquisition.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Lovel,” she said; “I forgot that I was talking of your own old parish. But you were a mere child, I believe, when you left the Court, and of course could not be capable of effecting much improvement.”

“We were too poor to do much, or to give prizes,” Clarissa answered; “but we gave what we could, and — and I think the people were fond of us.”

Miss Granger looked as if this last fact were very wide from the question.

“I have never studied how to make the people fond of me,” she said. “My constant effort has been to make them improve themselves and their own condition. All my plans are based upon that principle. ‘If you want a new gown, cloak, and bonnet at Christmas,’ I tell the women, ‘you must earn them by unfailing attendance at church. If you wish to obtain the money-gift I wish to give you, you must first show me something saved by your own economy and self-sacrifice.’ To my children I hold out similar inducements — a prize for the largest amount of plain needlework, every stitch of which I make it my duty to examine through a magnifying glass; a prize for scrupulous neatness in dress; and for scripture knowledge. I have children in my Sunday-schools who can answer any question upon the Old–Testament history from Genesis to Chronicles.”

Clarissa gave a faint sigh, almost appalled by these wonders. She remembered the girls’ Sunday-school in her early girlhood, and her own poor little efforts at instruction, in the course of which she had seldom carried her pupils out of the Garden of Eden, or been able to get over the rivers that watered that paradise, as described by the juvenile inhabitants of Arden, without little stifled bursts of laughter on her own part; while, in the very midst of her most earnest endeavours, she was apt to find her brother Austin standing behind her, tempting the juvenile mind by the surreptitious offer of apples or walnuts. The attempts at teaching generally ended in merry laughter and the distribution of nuts and apples, with humble apologies to the professional schoolmistress for so useless an intrusion.

Miss Granger had no time to enlarge farther upon her manifold improvements before dinner, to which she was escorted by one of the officers from Steepleton, the nearest garrison town, who happened to be dining there that day, and was very glad to get an innings with the great heiress. The master of Arden Court had the honour of escorting Lady Laura; but from his post by the head of the long table he looked more than once to that remote spot where Clarissa sat, not far from his daughter. My lady saw those curious glances, and was delighted to see them. They might mean nothing, of course; but to that sanguine spirit they seemed an augury of success for the scheme which had been for a long time hatching in the matron’s busy brain.

“What do you think of my pet, Mr. Granger?” she asked presently.

Mr. Granger glanced at the ground near my lady’s chair with rather a puzzled look, half expecting to see a Maltese spaniel or a flossy-haired Skye terrier standing on its hind legs.

“What do you think of my pet and protégée, Miss Lovel?”

“Miss Lovel! Well, upon my word, Lady Laura, I am so poor a judge of the merits of young ladies in a general way; but she really appears a very amiable young person.”

“And is she not lovely?” asked Lady Laura, contemplating the distant Clarissa in a dreamy way through her double eye-glass. “I think it is the sweetest face I ever saw.”

“She is certainly very pretty,” admitted Mr. Granger. “I was struck by her appearance this afternoon in the library. I suppose there is something really out of the common in her face, for I am generally the most unobservant of men in such matters.”

“Out of the common!” exclaimed Lady Laura. “My dear sir, it is such a face as you do not see twice in a lifetime. Madame Recamier must have been something like that, I should fancy — a woman who could attract the eyes of all the people in the great court of the Luxembourg, and divide public attention with Napoleon.”

Mr. Granger did not seem interested in the rather abstract question of Clarissa’s possible likeness to Madame Recamier.

“She is certainly very pretty,” he repeated in a meditative manner; and stared so long and vacantly at a fricandeau which a footman was just offering him, that any less well-trained attendant must have left him in embarrassment.

The next few days were enlivened by a good deal of talk about the ball, in which event Miss Granger did not seem to take a very keen interest.

“I go to balls, of course,” she said; “one is obliged to do so: for it would seem so ungracious to refuse one’s friends’ invitations; but I really do not care for them. They are all alike, and the rooms are always hot.”

“I don’t think you will be able to say that here,” replied Miss Fermor. “Lady Laura’s arrangements are always admirable; and there is to be an impromptu conservatory under canvas the whole length of the terrace, in front of the grand saloon where we are to dance, so that the six windows can be open all the evening.”

“Then I daresay it will be a cold night,” said Miss Granger, who was not prone to admire other people’s cleverness. “I generally find that it is so, when people take special precautions against heat.”

Clarissa naturally found herself thrown a good deal into Sophia Granger’s society; but though they worked, and drove, and walked together, and played croquet, and acted in the same charades, it is doubtful whether there was really much more sympathy between these two than between Clarissa and Lady Geraldine. There was perhaps less; for Clarissa Lovel had been interested in Geraldine Challoner, and she was not in the faintest degree interested in Miss Granger. The cold and shining surface of that young lady’s character emitted no galvanic spark. It was impossible to deny that she was wise and accomplished; that she did everything well that she attempted; that, although obviously conscious of her own supreme advantages as the heiress to a great fortune, she was benignly indulgent to the less blessed among her sex — it was impossible to deny all this; and yet it was not any more easy to get on with Sophia Granger than with Lady Geraldine.

One day, after luncheon, when a bevy of girls were grouped round the piano in the billiard-room, Lizzie Fermor — who indulged in the wildest latitude of discourse — was audacious enough to ask Miss Granger how she would like her father to marry again.

The faultless Sophia elevated her well-marked eyebrows with a look of astonishment that ought to have frozen Miss Fermor. The eyebrows were as hard and as neatly pencilled as the shading in Miss Granger’s landscapes.

“Marry again!” she repeated, “papa! — if you knew him better, Miss Fermor, you would never speculate upon such a thing. Papa will never marry again.”

“Has he promised you that?” asked the irrepressible Lizzie.

“I do not require any promise from him. I know him too well to have the slightest doubt upon the subject. Papa might have married brilliantly, again and again, since I was a little thing.” (It was rather difficult to fancy Miss Granger a “little thing” in any stage of her existence.) “But nothing has ever been more remote from his ideas than a second marriage. I have heard people regret it.”

You have not regretted it, of course.”

“I hope I know my duty too well, to wish to stand between papa and his happiness. If it had been for his happiness to marry — a person of a suitable age and position, of course — I should not have considered my own feelings in the matter.”

“Well, I suppose not,” replied Lizzie, rather doubtfully; “still it is nice to have one’s father all to oneself — to say nothing of being an heiress. And the worst of the business is, that when a widower of your papa’s age does take it into his head to marry, he is apt to fall in love with some chit of a girl.”

Miss Granger stared at the speaker with a gaze as stony as Antigone herself could have turned upon any impious jester who had hinted that Oedipus, in his blindness and banishment, was groping for some frivolous successor to Jocasta.

“My father in love with a girl!” she exclaimed. “What a very false idea you must have formed of his character, Miss Fermor, when you can suggest such an utter absurdity!”

“But, you see, I wasn’t speaking of Mr. Granger, only of widowers in general. I have seen several marriages of that kind — men of forty or fifty throwing themselves away, I suppose one ought to say, upon girls scarcely out of their teens. In some cases the marriage seems to turn out well enough; but of course one does sometimes hear of things not going on quite happily.”

Miss Granger was grave and meditative after this — perhaps half disposed to suspect Elizabeth Fermor of some lurking design on her father. She had been seated at the piano during this conversation, and now resumed her playing — executing a sonata of Beethoven’s with faultless precision and the highest form of taught expression; so much emphasis upon each note — careful rallentando here, a gradual crescendo there; nothing careless or slapdash from the first bar to the last. She would play the same piece a hundred times without varying the performance by a hair’s-breadth. Nor did she affect anything but classical music. She was one of those young ladies who, when asked for a waltz or a polka, freeze the impudent demander by replying that they play no dance music — nothing more frivolous than Mozart.

The day for the ball came, but there was no George Fairfax. Lady Geraldine had arrived at the Castle on the evening before the festival, bringing an excellent account of her father’s health. He had been cheered by her visit, and was altogether so much improved, that his doctors would have given him permission to come down to Yorkshire for his daughter’s wedding. It was only his own valetudinarian habits and extreme dread of fatigue which had prevented Lady Geraldine bringing him down in triumph.

Lady Laura was loudly indignant at Mr. Fairfax’s non-appearance; and for the first time Clarissa heard Lady Geraldine defend her lover with some natural and womanly air of proprietorship.

“After pledging his word to me as he did!” exclaimed my lady, when it had come to luncheon-time and there were still no signs of the delinquent’s return.

“But really, Laura, there is no reason he should not keep his word,” Geraldine answered, with her serene air. “You know men like to do these things in a desperate kind of way — as if they were winning a race. I daresay he has made his plans so as not to leave himself more than half-an-hour’s margin, and will reach the Castle just in time to dress.”

“That is all very well; but I don’t call that keeping his promise to me, to come rushing into the place just as we are beginning to dance; after travelling all night perhaps, and knocking himself up in all sorts of ways, and with no more animation or vivacity left in him than a man who is walking in his sleep. Besides, he ought to consider our anxiety.”

“Your anxiety, if you please, Laura. I am not anxious. I cannot see that George’s appearance at the ball is a matter of such vital importance.”

“But, my deal Geraldine, it would seem so strange for him to be away. People would wonder so.”

“Let them wonder,” Lady Geraldine replied, with a little haughty backward movement of her head, which was natural to her.

Amongst the cases and packages which had been perpetually arriving from London during the last week or so, there was one light deal box which Lady Laura’s second maid brought to Clarissa’s room one morning with her mistress’s love. The box contained the airiest and most girlish of ball-dresses, all cloudlike white tulle, and the most entrancing wreath of wild-roses and hawthorn, such a wreath as never before had crowned Miss Lovel’s bright-brown hair. Of course there was the usual amount of thanks and kissing and raptures.

“I am responsible to your father for your looking your best, you see, Clary,” Lady Laura said, laughing; “and I intend you to make quite a sensation to-night. The muslin you meant to wear is very pretty, and will do for some smaller occasion; but to-night is a field-night. Be sure you come to me when you are dressed. I shall be in my own rooms till the people begin to arrive; and I want to see you when Fosset has put her finishing touches to your dress.”

Clarissa promised to present herself before her kind patroness. She was really pleased with her dress, and sincerely grateful to the giver. Lady Laura was a person from whom it was easy to accept benefits. There was something bounteous and expansive in her nature, and her own pleasure in the transaction made it impossible for any but the most churlish recipient to feel otherwise than pleased.

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