The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 17

“’Tis Deepest Winter in Lord Timor’s Purse.”

Before nightfall — before the evening which was to have been enlivened by a dinner-party and a carpet-dance, and while bride and bridegroom should have been speeding southwards to that noble Kentish mansion which his uncle had lent George Fairfax — before the rooks flew homeward across the woods beyond Hale — there had been a general flight from the Castle. People were anxious to leave the mourners alone with their grief, and even the most intimate felt more or less in the way, though Mr. Armstrong entreated that there might be no hurry, no inconvenience for any one.

“Poor Laura won’t be fit to be seen for a day or two,” he said, “and of course I shall have to go up to town for the funeral; but that need make no difference. Hale is large enough for every one, and it will be a comfort to her by-and-by to find her friends round her.”

Through all that dreary day Lady Laura wandered about her morning-room, alternately sobbing and talking of her father to those chosen friends with whom she held little interviews.

Her sisters Louisa and Emily were with her for the greater part of the time, echoing her lamentations like a feeble chorus. Geraldine kept her room, and would see no one — not even him who was to have been her bridegroom, and who might have supposed that he had the chiefest right to console her in this sudden affliction.

Clarissa spent more than an hour with Lady Laura, listening with a tender interest to her praises of the departed. It seemed as if no elderly nobleman — more or less impecunious for the last twenty years of his life — had ever supported such a load of virtues as Lord Calderwood had carried with him to the grave. To praise him inordinately was the only consolation his three daughters could find in the first fervour of their grief. Time was when they had been apt to confess to one another that papa was occasionally rather “trying,” a vague expression which scarcely involved a lapse of filial duty on the part of the grumbler. But to hear them to-day one would have supposed that they had never been tried; that life with Lord Calderwood in a small house in Chapel-street, Mayfair, had been altogether a halcyon existence.

Clarissa listened reverently, believing implicitly in the merits of the newly lost, and did her best to console her kind friend during the hour Mr. Armstrong allowed her to spend with Lady Laura. At the end of that time he came and solemnly fetched her away, after a pathetic farewell.

“You must come to me again, Clary, and very, very soon,” said my lady, embracing her. “I only wish Fred would let you stay with me now. You would be a great comfort.”

“My dearest Lady Laura, it is better not. You have your sisters.”

“Yes, they are very good; but I wanted you to stay, Clary. I had such plans for you. O, by the bye, the Grangers will be going back to-day, I suppose. Why should they not take you with them in their great travelling carriage? — Frederick, will you arrange for the Grangers to take Clarissa home?” cried Lady Laura to her husband, who was hovering near the door. In the midst of her grief my lady brightened a little; with the idea of managing something, even so small a matter as this.

“Of course, my dear,” replied the affectionate Fred. “Granger shall take Miss Lovel home. And now I must positively hurry her away; all this talk and excitement is so bad for you.”

“I must see the Fermors before they go. You’ll let me see the Fermors, Fred?”

“Well, well, I’ll bring them just to say good-bye — that’s all — Come along, Miss Lovel.”

Clarissa followed him through the corridor.

“O, if you please, Mr. Armstrong,” she said, “I did not like to worry Lady Laura, but I would so much rather go home alone in a fly.”

“Nonsense! the Grangers can take you. You could have Laura’s brougham, of course; but if she wants you to go with the Grangers, you must go. Her word is law; and she’s sure to ask me about it by-and-by. She’s a wonderful woman; thinks of everything.”

They met Mr. and Miss Granger presently, dressed for the journey.

“O, if you please, Granger, I want you to take Miss Lovel home in your carriage. You’ve plenty of ‘room, I know.”

Sophia looked as if she would have liked to say that there was no room, but her father’s face quite flushed with pleasure.

“I shall be only too happy,” he said, “if Miss Lovel will trust herself to our care.”

“And perhaps you’ll explain toiler father what has happened, and how sorry we are to lose her, and so on.”

“Certainly, my dear Armstrong. I shall make a point of seeing Mr. Lovel in order to do so.”

So Clarissa had a seat in Mr. Granger’s luxurious carriage, the proprietor whereof sat opposite to her, admiring the pale patrician face, and wondering a little what that charm was which made it seem to him more beautiful than any other countenance he had ever looked upon. They did not talk much, Mr. Granger only making a few stereotyped remarks about the uncertainties of this life, or occasionally pointing out some feature of the landscape to Clarissa. The horses went at a splendid pace Their owner would have preferred a slower transit.

“Remember, Miss Lovel,” he said, as they approached the village of Arden, “you have promised to come and see us.”

“You are very good; but I go out so little, and papa is always averse to my visiting.”

“But he can’t be that any more after allowing you to stay at the Castle, or he will offend commoner folks, like Sophy and me, by his exclusiveness. Besides, he told me he wished Sophy and you to be good friends. I am sure he will let you come to us. When shall it be? Shall we say to-morrow, before luncheon — at twelve or one, say? I will show you what I’ve done for the house in the morning, and Sophy can take you over her schools and cottages in the afternoon.”

Sophia Granger made no attempt to second this proposition; but her father was so eager and decisive, that it seemed quite impossible for Clarissa to say no.

“If papa will let me come,” she said doubtfully.

“O, I’m quite sure he will not refuse, after what he was good enough to say to me,” replied Mr. Granger; “and if he does not feel equal to going about with us in the morning, I hope we shall be able to persuade him to come to dinner.”

They were at the little rustic gate before Mill Cottage by this time. How small the place looked after Hale Castle! but not without a prettiness of its own. The virginia creeper was reddening on the wall; the casement windows open to the air and sunshine. Ponto ran out directly the gate was opened — first to bark at the carriage, and then to leap joyously about Clarissa, overpowering her with a fond canine welcome.

“You’ll come in with us, Sophia?” asked Mr. Granger, when he had alighted, and handed Clarissa out of the carriage.

“I think not, papa. You can’t want me; and this dreadful morning has given me a wretched headache.”

“I thought there was something amiss. It would be more respectful to Mr. Lovel for you to come in. I daresay he’ll excuse you, however, when he hears you are ill.”

Clarissa held out her hand, which Miss Granger took with an almost obvious reluctance, and the two young ladies said “Good-bye” to each other, without a word from Sophia about the engagement for the next day.

They found Mr. Lovel in his favourite sitting-room; not dreaming over a Greek play or a volume of Bentley, as it was his custom to do, but seriously engaged with a number of open letters and papers scattered on the writing-table before him — papers that looked alarmingly like tradesmens’ bills. He was taken by surprise on the entrance of Clarissa and her companion, and swept the papers into an open drawer with rather a nervous hand.

“My dear Clarissa, this is quite unexpected! — How do you do, Mr. Granger? How very good of you to bring my little girl over to see me! Will you take that chair by the window? I was deep in a file of accounts when you came in. A man must examine his affairs sometimes, however small his household may be. — Well, Clary, what news of our kind friends at the Castle? Why, bless my soul, this is the wedding-day, isn’t it? I had quite forgotten the date. Has anything happened?”

“Yes, papa; there has been a great misfortune, and the wedding is put off.”

Between them, Mr. Granger and Clarissa explained the state of affairs at the Castle. Mr. Lovel seemed really shocked by the intelligence of the Earl’s death.

“Poor Calderwood! He and I were great friends thirty years ago. I suppose it’s nearly twenty since I last saw him. He was one of the handsomest men I ever knew — Lady Geraldine takes after him — and when he was in the diplomatic service had really a very brilliant career before him; but he missed it somehow. Had always rather a frivolous mind, I fancy, and a want of perseverance. Poor Calderwood! And so he is gone! How old could he have been? Not much over sixty, I believe. I’ll look into Debrett presently.”

As soon as he could decently do so after this, Mr. Granger urged his invitation for the next day.

“O, certainly, by all means. Clary shall come to you as early as you like. It will be a great relief for her from the dulness of this place. And — well — yes, if you insist upon it, I’ll join you at dinner. But you see what a perfect recluse I am. There will be no one else, I suppose?”

“You have only to say that you wish it, and there shall be no one else,” Mr. Granger replied courteously.

Never had he been so anxious to propitiate any one. People had courted him more or less all his life; and here he was almost suing for the acquaintance of this broken-down spendthrift — a man whom he had secretly despised until now.

On this assurance Mr. Lovel consented to dine with his neighbour for the first time; and Mr. Granger, having no excuse for farther lingering, took his departure, remembering all at once that he had such a thing as a daughter waiting for him in the carriage outside.

He went, and Clarissa took up the thread of her old life just where she had dropped it. Her father was by no means so gracious or agreeable to-day as he had been during his brief visit to Hale Castle. He took out his tradesmen’s letters and bills when Mr. Granger was gone, and went on with his examination of them, groaning aloud now and then, or sometimes stopping to rest his head on his hands with a dreary long-drawn sigh. Clarissa would have been very glad to offer her sympathy, to utter some word of comfort; but there was something in her father’s aspect which forbade any injudicious approach. She sat by the open window with a book in her hand, but not reading, waiting patiently in the hope that he would share his troubles with her by-and-by.

He went on with his work for about an hour, and then tied the papers in a bundle with an impatient air.

“Arithmetic is no use in such a case as mine,” he said; “no man can make fifty pounds pay a hundred. I suppose it must end in the bankruptcy court. It will be only our last humiliation, the culminating disgrace.”

“The bankruptcy court! O, papa!” cried Clarissa piteously. She had a very vague idea as to what bankruptcy meant, but felt that it was something unutterably shameful — the next thing to a criminal offence.

“Better men than I have gone through it,” Mr. Lovel went on with a sigh, and without the faintest notice of his daughter’s dismay; “but I couldn’t stand Arden and Holborough after that degradation. I must go abroad, to some dull old town in the south of France, where I could have my books and decent wine, and where, as regards everything else, I should be in a living grave.

“But they would never make you bankrupt surely, papa;” Clarissa exclaimed in the same piteous tone.

They would never make me bankrupt!” echoed her father fretfully. “What do you mean by they? You talk like a baby, Clarissa. Do you suppose that tradesmen and bankers and bill-discounters would have more mercy upon me than upon other people? They may give me more time than they would give another man, perhaps, because they know I have some pride of race, and would coin my heart’s blood rather than adopt expedients that other men make light of; but when they know there is no more to be got out of me, they will do their worst. It is only a question of time.”

“Are you very much in debt, papa?” Clarissa asked timidly, anticipating a rebuff.

“No; that is the most confounded part of the business. My liabilities only amount to a few pitiful hundreds. When I sold Arden — and I did not do that till I was obliged, you may believe — the bulk of the purchase-money went to the mortgagees. With the residue — a paltry sum — I bought myself an annuity; a transaction which I was able to conclude upon better terms than most men of my age, on account of my precarious health, and to which I was most strongly urged by my legal advisers. On this I have existed, or tried to exist, ever since: but the income has not been sufficient even for the maintenance of this narrow household; if I lived in a garret, I must live like a gentleman, and should be always at the mercy of my servants. These are honest enough, I daresay, but I have no power of checking my expenditure. And then I had your schooling to pay for — no small amount, I assure you.”

“Thank heaven that is over, papa! And now, if you would only let me go out as a governess, I might be some help to you instead of a burden.”

“There’s time enough to think of that. You are not much of a burden to me at present. I don’t suppose you add many pounds a year to the expenses of this house. And if I have to face the inevitable, and see my name in the Gazette, we must begin life again upon a smaller scale, and in a cheaper place — some out-of-the-way corner of France or Belgium. The governess notion will keep till I am dead. You can always be of some use to me as a companion, if you choose.”

This was quite a concession. Clarissa came over to her father’s chair, and laid her hand caressingly upon his shoulder.

“My dear father,” she said in a low sweet voice, “you make me almost happy, in spite of our troubles. I wish for nothing better than to stay with you always. And by-and-by, if we have to live abroad, where you need not be so particular about our name, I may be able to help you a little — by means of art or music — without leaving home. I think I could be happy anywhere with you, papa, if you would only love me a little.”

That appeal touched a heart not easily moved. Marmaduke Lovel put his hand — such a slender feminine hand — into his daughter’s with an affectionate pressure.

“Poor child!” he said sadly. “It would be hard if I couldn’t love you a little. But you were born under an evil star, Clarissa; and hitherto perhaps I have tried to shut my heart against you. I won’t do that any more. Whatever affection is in me to give shall be yours. God knows I have no reason to withhold it, nor any other creature on this earth on whom to bestow it. God knows it is a new thing for me to have my love sued for.”

There was a melancholy in his tone which touched his daughter deeply. He seemed to have struck the key-note of his life in those few words; a disappointed unsuccessful life; a youth in which there had been some hidden cause for the ungenial temper of his middle age.

It was nearly six o’clock by this time, and Clarissa strolled into the garden with her father while the table was being laid for dinner. There were faint glimpses of russet here and there among the woods around Arden Court, but it still seemed summer time. The late roses were in full bloom in Mr. Lovel’s fertile garden, the rosy apples were brightening in the orchard, the plums purpling on a crumbling old red-brick wall that bounded the narrow patch of kitchen-garden. Yes, even after Hale Castle the place seemed pretty; and a pang went through Clarissa’s heart, as she thought that this too they might have to leave; even this humble home was not secure to them.

Father and daughter dined together very pleasantly. Clarissa had been almost happy by her father’s unwonted tenderness, and Mr. Lovel was in tolerable spirits, in spite of that dreary afternoon’s labour, that hopeless task of trying to find out some elastic quality in pounds, shillings, and pence.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/lovels_of_arden/chapter17.html

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