The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 21

Very Far Gone.

It was a little after six when they came to the gateway of the Court, at which point Mr. Tillott made his adieux. Mr. Granger would have been very glad to ask him to dinner, had he not promised Mr. Lovel that they would be quite alone; so he made up for any apparent inhospitality towards the curate by a hearty invitation for the following Sunday.

There was nearly an hour and a half before dinner; but Sophia carried off her guest to her own rooms at once, for the revision of her toilet, and detained her in those upper regions until just before the ringing of the second bell, very much to the aggravation of Mr. Granger, who paced the long drawing-room in dismal solitude, waiting for Mr. Lovel’s arrival.

In her own rooms Miss Granger became a shade more gracious to Clarissa. The exhibition of her sanctum sanctorum was always pleasing to her. It was the primmest of apartments, half study, half office; and Sophia, one of whose proudest boasts was of her methodical habits, here displayed herself in full force. It seemed as if she had inherited all the commercial faculties of her father, and having no other outlet for this mercantile genius, was fain to expend her gifts upon the petty details of a woman’s life. Never had Clarissa seen such a writing-table, with so many pigeon-holes for the classification of documents, and such ranges of drawers with Brahma locks. Miss Granger might have carried on a small banking business with less paraphernalia than she employed in the conduct of her housekeeping and philanthropy.

“I am my own housekeeper,” she told Clarissa triumphantly, “and know the consumption of this large establishment to an ounce. There is no stint of anything, of course. The diet in the servant’s hall is on the most liberal scale, but there is no waste. Every cinder produced in the house is sifted; every candle we burn has been in stock a twelvemonth. I could not pretend to teach my cottagers economy if I did not practise it myself. I rule everything by the doctrine of averages — so much consumed in one month, so much necessarily required in another; and I reduce everything to figures. Figures cannot deceive, as I tell Mrs. Plumptree, my cook, when she shows me a result that I cannot understand or accept. And there are my books.”

Miss Granger waved her hand towards a row of most uncompromising-looking volumes of the ledger or day-book species. The delight which she displayed in these things was something curious to behold. Every small charity Miss Granger performed, every shortcoming of the recipients thereof, was recorded in those inexorable volumes. She had a book for the record of the church-going, a book for the plain needlework, and was wont to freeze the young blood of her school-children by telling them at the end of the year how many inches of cambric frilling they had hemmed, and how many times they had missed afternoon service. To them she appeared a supernatural creature — a kind of prophetess, sent upon earth for their correction and abasement.

On a solid ecclesiastical-looking oak table in one of the windows Miss Granger had a row of brass-bound money-boxes, inscribed, “For the Home Mission,” “For the Extra Curate Society,” and so on — boxes into which Miss Granger’s friends and visitors were expected to drop their mite. Clarissa felt that if she had been laden down with shillings, she could not for her very life have approached those formidable boxes to drop one in under Miss Granger’s ken; but, of course, this was a morbid fancy. On another table there were little piles of material for plain work; so prim, so square, so geometrically precise, that Clarissa thought the flannel itself looked cold — a hard, fibrous, cruel fabric, that could never be of use to mortal flesh except as an irritant.

Miss Granger’s bedroom and dressing-room were like Miss Granger’s morning-room. No frivolous mediaevalism here, no dainty upholsterer’s work in many-coloured woods, but solid mahogany, relieved by solemn draperies of drab damask, in a style which the wise Sophia called unpretentious. The chief feature in one room was a sewing-machine that looked like a small church organ, and in the other a monster medicine-chest, from the contents of which Miss Granger dealt out doses of her own concoction to her parishioners. Both of these objects she showed to Clarissa with pride, but the medicine-chest was evidently the favourite.

Having improved the time after this manner till twenty minutes past seven, with a very brief interval devoted to the duties of the toilet, the two young ladies went down to the drawing-room, where the lamps were lighted, and Mr. Lovel just arrived.

That gentleman had the honour of taking Miss Granger in to dinner, and did his utmost to render himself agreeable to her in a quiet undemonstrative way, and to take the gauge of her mental powers. She received his attentions graciously enough — indeed it would not have been easy for any one to be ungracious to Marmaduke Lovel when he cared to please — but he could see very clearly that she suspected the state of affairs, and would be, to the last degree, antagonistic to his own and his daughter’s interests. He saw how close a watch she kept upon her father all through the dinner, and how her attention was distracted every now and then when he was talking to Clarissa.

“It is only natural that she should set her face against the business,” he said to himself; “no woman in her position could be expected to act otherwise; but it strikes me that Granger is not a man likely to be influenced by domestic opposition. He is the kind of man to take his own way, I fancy, in defiance of an opposing universe — a very difficult man to govern. He seems over head and ears in love, however, and it will be Clarissa’s own fault if she doesn’t do what she likes with him. Heaven grant she may prove reasonable! Most women would be enchanted with such an opportunity, but with a raw school-girl there is no knowing. And that fellow Fairfax’s influence may work against us, in spite of her protestations last night.”

This was the gist of Mr. Level’s disjointed musings during the progress of the dinner; but he took care not to neglect Miss Granger even for a moment, and he gave her very little time to listen to her father’s conversation with Clarissa.

The dinner ceremonial was performed in a manner which seemed perfection, even to the fastidious taste of Marmaduke Lovel. There was not the faintest indication of ostentation. Daniel Granger’s father had been rich before him; he had been born in the commercial purple, as it were, and none of these things were new to him. Before the Arden Court days he had occupied a handsome modern country house southward, near Doncaster. He had only expanded his style of living after the purchase of the Court, that was all. He had good taste too, and a keen sense of the incongruous. He did not affect the orchids and frivolous floral decorations, the fragile fairy-like glass, with which Lady Laura Armstrong brightened her dinner-table; but, on the other hand, his plate, of which he exhibited no vulgar profusion, was in the highest art, the old Indian china dinner-service scarcely less costly than solid silver, and the heavy diamond-cut glass, with gold emblazonment of crest and monogram, worthy to be exhibited behind the glazed doors of a cabinet. There was no such abomination as gas in the state chambers of Arden Court. Innumerable candles, in antique silver candelabra, gave a subdued brightness to the dining-room. More candles, in sconces against the walls, and two pairs of noble moderator-lamps, on bronze and ormolu pedestals six feet high, lighted the drawing-room. In the halls and corridors there was the same soft glow of lamplight. Only in kitchens and out-offices and stables was the gas permitted to blaze merrily for the illumination of cooks and scullions, grooms and helpers.

Miss Granger only lingered long enough to trifle with a cluster of purple grapes before giving the signal for withdrawal Her father started up to open the dining-room door, with a little sudden sigh. He had had Clarissa all to himself throughout the dinner, and had been very happy, talking about things that were commonplace enough in themselves, but finding a perfect contentment in the fact that he was talking to her, that she listened to him and smiled upon him graciously, with a sweet self-possession which put him quite at his ease. She had recovered from that awkward scene of the morning, and had settled in her own mind that the business was rather absurd than serious. She had only to take care that Mr. Granger never had any second opportunity for indulging in such folly.

He held the door open as Clarissa and his daughter went out of the room — held it till that slim girlish figure had vanished at the end of the corridor, and then came back to his seat with another sigh.

“Very far gone,” Mr. Lovel thought, smiling ever so little, as he bent over his claret-glass, pretending to admire the colour of the wine.

It was really wonderful. That vague dream which had grown out of Lady Laura’s womanly hints, that pleasant phantom which she had conjured up in Mr. Lovel’s mental vision a month or two ago, in the midsummer afternoon, had made itself into a reality so quickly as to astound a man too Horatian in his philosophy to be easily surprised. The fish was such a big one to be caught so easily — without any exercise of those subtle manoeuvres and Machiavellian artifices in which the skilful angler delights — nay, to pounce open-eyed upon the hook, and swallow it bodily!

Mr. Granger filled his glass with such a nervous hand, that half the claret he poured out ran upon the shining oak table. He wiped up the spilt wine clumsily enough, with a muttered denunciation of his own folly, and then made a feeble effort to talk about indifferent things.

It was of no use; with every appearance of courtesy and interest Mr. Lovel contrived not to help him. One subject after another fell flat: the state of the Conservative party, the probability of a war — there is always a probability of war somewhere, according to after-dinner politicians — the aspect of the country politically and agriculturally, and so on. No, it was no use; Daniel Granger broke down altogether at last, and thought it best to unbosom himself.

“There is something that I think you have a right to know, Mr. Lovel,” he said, in an awkward hesitating way; “something which I should scarcely like you to learn from your daughter’s lips, should she think it worth her while to mention it, before you have heard it from mine. The fact is, in plain English”— he was playing with his dessert-knife as he spoke, and seemed to be debating within himself whereabouts upon the dinning-table he should begin to carve his name —“the fact is, I made an abject fool of myself this morning. I love your daughter — and told her so.”

Mr. Lovel gave a little start, the faintest perceptible movement, expressive of a gentle astonishment.

“I need hardly tell you that you have taken me entirely by surprise,” he said in his quietest tone.

“Of course not. People always are surprised when a man of my age presumes to fall in love with a beautiful girl of eighteen or twenty. If I were to marry some worn-out woman of fashion, some battered widow, steeped to the lips in worldly wisdom, every one would call the match the most suitable thing possible. But if a man of fifty ventures to dream a brighter dream, he is condemned at once for a fool.”

“Pardon me, my dear Granger; I have no idea of looking at things in that light. I only remark that you surprise me, as you no doubt surprised my daughter by any avowal you may have made this morning.”

“Yes; and, I fear, disgusted her still more. I daresay I did my cause all the harm that it was possible to do it.”

“I must own that you were precipitate,” Mr. Lovel answered, with his quiet smile. He felt as if he had been talking to a schoolboy. In his own words the man was so “very far gone.”

“I shall know how to be more careful in future, if not wiser; but I suffered myself to be carried away by impulse this morning. It was altogether unworthy of — of my time of life.” This was said rather bitterly. “Frankly, now, Mr. Lovel: if in the future I were able to gain some hold upon your daughter’s affection — without that I would do nothing, no, so help me heaven, however passionately I might love her; if I could — if, in spite of the difference of our ages, I could win her heart — would you be in any way antagonistic to such a marriage?”

“On the contrary, my dear Granger.” Mr. Lovel had already something of the tone of a father-in-law. “Slight as our actual acquaintance has been, I think I know the estimable qualities of your character well enough from other sources to be able to say that such a marriage would be eminently pleasing to me. Nor is this all. I mean to be perfectly candid with you, Granger. My daughter and myself have both an almost romantic attachment to this place, and I freely own that it would be very delightful to me to see her mistress of her old home. But, at the same time, I give you my honour that nothing would induce me to govern her choice by the smallest exercise of parental influence. If you can win her, win her, and my best wishes shall go with your wooing; but I will utter no word to persuade her to be your wife.”

“I respect you for that resolution; I think I should have asked you to be neutral, if you hadn’t said as much. I couldn’t stand the idea of a wife driven into my arms by fatherly coercion. I suppose such things are done in modern society. No, I must win my treasure myself, or not at all. I have everything against me, no doubt, except a rival. There is no fear of that, is there, Lovel?”

“Not the slightest. Clarissa is the merest school-girl. Her visit to Lady Laura Armstrong was her first glimpse of the world. No, Granger, you have the field all before you. And you strike me as a man not likely to be vanquished by small difficulties.”

“I never yet set myself to do a thing which I didn’t accomplish in the long run,” answered Mr. Granger; “but then I never set myself to win a woman’s heart. My wife and I came together easily enough — in the way of business, as I may say — and liked each other well enough, and I regretted her honestly when she was gone, poor soul! but that was all. I was never ‘in love’ till I knew your daughter; never understood the meaning of the phrase. Of all the accidents that might have happened to me, this is the most surprising to myself. I can never cease to wonder at my own folly.”

“I do not know why you should call it a folly. You are only in the very middle of a man’s life; you have a fortune that exempts you from all care and labour, and of course at the same time leaves you more or less without occupation. Your daughter will marry and leave you in a year or two, no doubt. Without some new tie your future existence must needs be very empty.”

“I have felt that; but only since I have loved your daughter.”

This was all. The men came in with coffee, and put an end to all confidential converse; after which Mr. Granger seemed very glad to go back to the drawing-room, where Clarissa was playing a mazurka; while Sophia sat before a great frame, upon which some splendid achievement in Berlin woolwork, that was to be the glory of an approaching charity bazaar, was rapidly advancing towards completion. The design was a group of dogs, after Landseer, and Miss Granger was putting in the pert black nose of a Skye-terrier as the gentlemen entered. The two ladies were as far apart as they well could be in the spacious room, and had altogether an inharmonious air, Mr. Granger thought; but then he was nervously anxious that these two should become friends.

He went straight to the piano, and seated himself near Clarissa, almost with the air of having a right to take that place.

“Pray go on playing,” he said; “that seems very pretty music. I am no judge, and I don’t pretend to care for that classical music which every one talks about nowadays, but I know what pleases me.”

The evening was not an especially gay one; but it seemed pleasant enough to Mr. Granger, and he found himself wondering at its brevity. He showed Clarissa some of his favourite pictures. His collection of modern art was a fine one — not large, but very perfect in its way, and he was delighted to see her appreciation of his treasures. Here at least was a point upon which they might sympathise. He had been a good deal worried by Sophia’s obtuseness upon all artistic matters.

Mr. Lovel was not very sorry when the fly from the Arden Inn was announced, and it was time to go home. The pictures were fine, no doubt, and the old house was beautiful in its restored splendour; but the whole business jarred upon Marmaduke Lovel’s sensitive nerves just a little, in spite of the sudden realization of that vague dream of his. This place might be his daughter’s home, and he return to it: but not as its master. The day of his glory was gone. He was doubtful if he should even care to inhabit that house as his daughter’s guest. He had to remind himself of the desperate condition of his own circumstances before he could feel duly grateful to Providence for his daughter’s subjugation of Daniel Granger.

He was careful to utter no word about her conquest on the way home, or during the quarter of an hour Clarissa spent with him before going to her room.

“You look pale and tired, my child,” he said, with a sympathetic air, turning over the leaves of a book as he spoke.

“The day was rather fatiguing, papa,” his daughter answered listlessly, “and Miss Granger is a tiring person. She is so strong-minded, that she makes one feel weak and helpless by the mere force of contrast.”

“Yes, she is a tiring person, certainly; but I think I had the worst of her at dinner and in the evening.”

“But there was all the time before dinner, papa. She showed us her cottages — O, how I pitied the poor people! though I daresay she is kind to them, in her way; but imagine any one coming in here and opening all our cupboards, and spying out cobwebs, and giving a little shriek at the discovery of a new loaf in our larder. She found out that one of her model cottagers had been eating new bread. She said it gave her quite a revulsion of feeling. And then when we went home she showed me her account-books and her medicine-chest. It was very tiring.”

“Poor child! and this young woman will have Arden Court some day — unless her father should marry again.”

Clarissa’s pale face flamed with sudden crimson.

“Which he is pretty sure to do, sooner or later,” continued Mr. Lovel, with an absent meditative air, as of a man who discusses the most indifferent subject possible. “I hope he may. It would be a pity for such a place to fall into such hands. She would make it a phalanstery, a nest for Dorcas societies and callow curates.”

“But if she does good with her money, papa, what more could one wish?”

“I don’t believe that she would do much good. There is a pinched hard look about the lower part of her face which makes me fancy she is mean. I believe she would hoard her money, and make a great talk and fuss about nothing. Yes, I hope Granger will marry again. The house is very fine, isn’t it, since its renovation?”

“It is superb, papa. Dearly as I love the place, I did not think it could be made so beautiful.”

“Yes, and everything has been done in good taste, too,” Mr. Lovel went on, in rather a querulous tone. “I did not expect to see that. But of course a man of that kind has only to put himself into the hands of a first-class architect, and if he is lucky enough to select an architect with an artistic mind, the thing is done. All the rest is merely a question of money. Good heavens, what a shabby sordid hole this room looks, after the place we have come from!”

The room was not so bad as to merit that look of angry disgust with which Mr. Lovel surveyed it. Curtains and carpet were something the worse for wear, the old-fashioned furniture was a little sombre; but the rich binding of the books and a rare old bronze here and there redeemed it from commonness — poor jetsam and flotsam from the wreck of the great house, but enough to give some touch of elegance to meaner things.

“O, papa,” Clarissa cried reproachfully, “the room is very nice, and we have been peaceful and happy in it. I don’t suppose all the splendour of Arden would have made us much happier. Those external things make so little difference.”

She thought of those evenings at Hale Castle, when George Fairfax had abandoned her to pay duty to his betrothed, and of the desolation of spirit that had come upon her in the midst of those brilliant surroundings.

Her father paced the little room as if it had been a den, and answered her philosophic remonstrance with an exclamation of contempt.

“That’s rank nonsense, Clarissa — copybook morality, which nobody in his heart ever believes. External things make all the difference — except when a man is writhing in physical pain perhaps. External things make the difference between a king and a beggar. Do you suppose that man Granger is no happier for the possession of Arden Court — of those pictures of his? Why, every time he looks at a Frith or Millais he feels a little thrill of triumph, as he says to himself, ‘And that is mine.’ There is a sensuous delight in beautiful surroundings which will remain to a man whose heart is dead to every other form of pleasure. I suppose that is why the Popes were such patrons of art in days gone by. It was the one legitimate delight left to them. Do you imagine it is no pleasure to dine every night as that man dines? no happiness to feel the sense of security about the future which he feels every morning? Great God, when I think of his position and of mine!”

Never before had he spoken so freely to his daughter; never had he so completely revealed the weakness of his mind.

She was sorry for him, and forbore to utter any of those pious commonplaces by which she might have attempted to bring him to a better frame of mind. She had tact enough to divine that he was best left to himself — left to struggle out of this grovelling state by some effort of his own, rather than to be dragged from the slough of despond by moral violence of hers.

He dismissed her presently with a brief good-night; but lying awake nearly two hours afterwards, she heard him pass her door on the way to his room. He too was wakeful, therefore, and full of care.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/lovels_of_arden/chapter21.html

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