The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 25

Wedding Bells.

There was no reason why the marriage should not take place very soon. Mr. Granger said so; Mr. Lovel agreed with him, half reluctantly as it were, and with the air of a man who is far from eager to precipitate events. There was no imaginable reason for delay.

Upon this point Mr. and Mrs. Oliver were as strong as Daniel Granger himself. A union in every way so propitious could not be too speedily made secure. Matthew Oliver was full of demonstrative congratulation now when he dined at Mill Cottage.

“Who would have guessed when I brought you home from the station that morning, and we drove through the park, that you were going to be mistress of it so soon, Clary?” he exclaimed triumphantly. “Do you remember crying when you heard the place was sold? I do, poor child; I can see your piteous face at this moment. And now it is going to be yours again. Upon my word, Providence has been very good to you, Clarissa.”

Providence had been very good to her. They all told her the same story. Amongst her few friends there was not one who seemed to suspect that this marriage might be a sacrifice; that in her heart of hearts there might be some image brighter than Daniel Granger’s.

She found herself staring at these congratulatory friends in blank amazement sometimes, wondering that they should all look at this engagement of hers from the same point of view, all be so very certain of her happiness.

Had she not reason to be happy, however? There had been a time when she had talked and thought of her lost home almost as Adam and Eve may have done when yet newly expelled from Paradise, with the barren world in all its strangeness before them. Was it not something to win back this beloved dwelling-place — something to obtain comfort for her father’s age — to secure an income which might enable her to help her brother in the days to come? Nor was the man she had promised to marry obnoxious to her. He had done much towards winning her regard in the patient progress of his wooing. She believed him to be a good and honourable man, whose affection was something that a woman might be proud of having won — a man whom it would be a bitter thing to offend. She was clear-sighted enough to perceive his superiority to her father — his utter truthfulness and openness of character. She did feel just a little proud of his love. It was something to see this big strong man, vigorous in mind as in body, reduced to so complete a bondage, yet not undignified even in his slavery.

What was it, then, which came between her and the happiness which that congratulatory chorus made so sure of? Only the image of the man she had loved — the man she had rejected for honour’s sake one bleak October evening, and whom she had never ceased to think of since that time. She knew that Daniel Granger was, in all likelihood, a better and a nobler man than George Fairfax; but the face that had been with her in the dimly-lighted railway-carriage, the friendly voice that had cheered her on the first night of her womanhood, were with her still.

More than once, since that wintry afternoon when Mr. Granger had claimed her as his own for the first time — taking her to his breast with a grave and solemn tenderness, and telling her that every hope and desire of his mind was centred in her, and that all his life to come would be devoted to securing her happiness — more than once since that day she had been tempted to tell her lover all the truth; but shame kept her silent. She did not know how to begin her confession. On that afternoon she had been strangely passive, like a creature stunned by some great surprise; and yet, after what she had said to her father, she had expected every day that Mr. Granger would speak.

After a good deal of discussion among third parties, and an undeviating urgency on the part of Mr. Granger himself, it was arranged that the wedding should take place at the end of May, and that Clarissa should see Switzerland in its brightest aspect. She had once expressed a longing for Alpine peaks and glaciers in her lover’s presence, and he had from that moment, determined that Switzerland should be the scene of his honeymoon. They would go there so early as to avoid the herd of autumnal wanderers. He knew the country, and could map out the fairest roads for their travels, the pleasantest resting-places for their repose. And if Clarissa cared to explore Italy afterwards, and spend October and November in Rome, she could do so. All the world would be bright and new to him with her for his companion. He looked forward with boyish eagerness to revisiting scenes that he had fancied himself weary of until now. Yes; such a love as this was indeed a renewal of youth.

To all arrangements made on her behalf Clarissa was submissive. What could a girl, not a quite twenty, urge against the will of a man like Daniel Granger, supported by such powerful allies as father, and uncle and aunt, and friends? She thanked him more warmly than usual when he proposed the Swiss tour. Yes; she had wished very much to see that country. Her brother had gone there on a walking expedition when he was little more than a boy, and had very narrowly escaped with his life from the perils of the road. She had some of his Alpine sketches, in a small portfolio of particular treasures, to this day.

Mrs. Oliver revelled in the business of the trosseau. Never since the extravagant days of her early youth had she enjoyed such a feast of millinery. To an aunt the provision of a wedding outfit is peculiarly delightful. She has all the pomp and authority of a parent, without a parent’s responsibility. She stands in loco parentis with regard to everything except the bill. No uneasy twinge disturbs her, as the glistening silk glides through the shopman’s hands, and ebbs and flows in billows of brightness on the counter. No demon of calculation comes between her and the genius of taste, when the milliner suggests an extra flounce of Marines, or a pelerine of Honiton.

A trip to London, and a fortnight or so spent in West-end shops, would have been very agreeable to Mrs. Oliver; but on mature reflection she convinced herself that to purchase her niece’s trosseau in London would be a foolish waste of power. The glory to be obtained in Wigmore or Regent-street was a small thing compared with the kudos that would arise to her from the expenditure of a round sum of money among the simple traders of Holborough. Thus it was that Clarissa’s wedding finery was all ordered at Brigson and Holder’s, the great linendrapers in Holborough market-place, and all made by Miss Mallow, the chief milliner and dressmaker of Holborough, who was in a flutter of excitement from the moment she received the order, and held little levees amongst her most important customers for the exhibition of Miss Lovel’s silks and laces.

Towards the end of April there came a letter of congratulation from Lady Laura Armstrong, who was still in Germany; a very cordial and affectionate letter, telling Clarissa that the tidings of her engagement had just reached Baden; but not telling her how the news had come, and containing not a word of allusion to Lady Geraldine or George Fairfax.

“Now that everything is so happily settled, Clary,” wrote my lady, “without any finesse or diplomacy on my part, I don’t mind telling you that I have had this idea in my head from the very first day I saw you. I wanted you to win back Arden Court, the place you love so dearly; and as Mr. Granger, to my mind, is a very charming person, nothing seemed more natural than that my wishes should be realised. But I really did not hope that matters would arrange themselves so easily and so speedily. A thousand good wishes, dear, both for yourself and your papa. We hope to spend the autumn at Hale, and I suppose I shall then have the pleasure of seeing you begin your reign as mistress of Arden Court. You must give a great many parties, and make yourself popular in the neighbourhood at once. Entre nous, I think our friend Miss Granger is rather fond of power. It will be wise on your part to take your stand in the beginning of things, and then affairs are pretty sure to go pleasantly. Ever your affectionate

“LAURA ARMSTRONG.”

Not a word about George Fairfax. Clarissa wondered where he was; whether he was still angry with her, or had forgotten her altogether. The latter seemed the more likely state of affairs. She wondered about him and then reminded herself that she had no right even to wonder now. His was an image which must be blotted out of her life. She cut all those careless sketches out of her drawing-book. If it had only been as easy to tear the memory of him out of her mind!

The end of May came very quickly, and with it Clarissa’s wedding-day. Before that day Miss Granger made a little formal address to her future stepmother — an address worded with studious humility — promising a strict performance of duty on Miss Granger’s part in their new relations.

This awful promise was rather alarming to Clarissa, in whose mind Sophia seemed one of those superior persons whom one is bound to respect and admire, yet against whom some evil spark of the old Adam in our degraded natures is ever ready to revolt.

“Pray don’t talk of duty, my dear Sophia,” she answered in a shy tremulous way, clinging a little closer to Mr. Granger’s arm. It was at Mill Cottage that this conversation took place, a few days before the wedding. “There can scarcely be a question of duty between people of the same age, like you and me. But I hope we shall get to love each other more and more every day.”

“Of course you will,” cried Daniel Granger heartily. “Why should you not love each other? If your tastes don’t happen to be exactly the same just now, habitual intercourse will smooth down all that, and you’ll find all manner of things in which you can sympathise. I’ve told Sophy that I don’t suppose you’ll interfere much with her housekeeping, Clarissa. That’s rather a strong point with her, and I don’t think it’s much in your line.”

Miss Granger tightened her thin lips with a little convulsive movement. This speech seemed to imply that Miss Lovel’s was a loftier line than hers.

Clarissa remembered Lady Laura’s warning, and felt that she might be doing wrong in surrendering the housekeeping. But then, on the other hand, she felt herself quite unable to cope with Miss Granger’s account-books.

“I have never kept a large house,” she said. “I should be very sorry to interfere.”

“I was sure of it,” exclaimed Mr. Granger; “and you will have more time to be my companion, Clarissa, if your brain is not muddled with groceries and butcher’s-meat. You see, Sophia has such a peculiarly business-like mind.”

“However humble my gifts may be, I have always endeavoured to employ them for your benefit, papa,” Miss Granger replied with a frosty air.

She had come to dine at Mill Cottage for the first time since she had known of her father’s engagement. She had come in deference to her father’s express desire, and it was a hard thing for her to offer even this small tribute to Clarissa. It was a little family dinner — the Olivers, Mr. Padget, the rector of Arden, who was to assist cheery Matthew Oliver in tying the fatal knot, and Mr. and Miss Granger — a pleasant little party of seven, for whom Mr. Lovel’s cook had prepared quite a model dinner. She had acquired a specialty for about half-a-dozen dishes which her master affected, and in the preparation of these could take her stand against the pampered matron who ruled Mr. Granger’s kitchen at a stipend of seventy guineas a year, and whose subordinate and assistant had serious thoughts of launching herself forth upon the world as a professed cook, by advertisement in the Times—“clear soups, entrées, ices, &c.”

The wedding was to be a very quiet one. Mr. Lovel had expressed a strong desire that it should be so; and Mr. Granger’s wishes in no way clashed with those of his father-in-law.

“I am a man of fallen fortunes,” said Mr. Lovel, “and all Yorkshire knows my history. Anything like pomp or publicity would be out of place in the marriage of my daughter. When she is your wife it will be different. Her position will be a very fine one; for she will have some of the oldest blood in the county, supported by abundance of money. The Lycians used to take their names from their mothers. I think, if you have a son. Granger, you ought to call him Lovel.”

“I should be proud to do so,” answered Mr. Granger. “I am not likely to forget that my wife is my superior in social rank.”

“A superiority that counts for very little when unsustained by hard cash, my dear Granger,” returned Marmaduke Lovel lightly. He was supremely content with the state of affairs, and had no wish to humiliate his son-in-law.

So the wedding was performed as simply as if Miss Lovel had been uniting her fortunes with those of some fledgling of the curate species. There were only two bridesmaids — Miss Granger, who performed the office with an unwilling heart; and Miss Pontifex, a flaxen-haired young lady of high family and no particular means, provided for the occasion by Mrs. Oliver, at whose house she and Clarissa had become acquainted. There was a breakfast, elegant enough in its way — for the Holborough confectioner had been put upon his mettle by Mrs. Oliver — served prettily in the cottage parlour. The sun shone brightly upon Mr. Granger’s espousals. The village children lined the churchyard walk, and strewed spring flowers upon the path of bride and bridegroom — tender vernal blossoms which scarcely harmonised with Daniel Granger’s stalwart presence and fifty years. Clarissa, very pale and still, with a strange fixed look on her face, came out of the little church upon her husband’s arm; and it seemed to her in that hour as if all the life before her was like an unknown country, hidden by a great cloud.

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