The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 26

Coming Home.

The leaves were yellowing in the park and woods round Arden Court, and the long avenue began to wear a somewhat dreary look, before Mr. Granger brought his young wife home. It was October again, and the weather bleaker and colder than one had a right to expect in October. Mr. Lovel was at Spa, recruiting his health in the soft breezes that blow across the pine-clad hills, and leading a pleasant elderly-bachelor existence at one of the best hotels in the bright little inland watering-place. The shutters were closed at Mill Cottage, and the pretty rustic dwelling was left in the care of the honest housekeeper and her handmaiden, the rosy-faced parlour-maid, who dusted master’s books and hung linen draperies before master’s bookcases with a pious awe.

Miss Granger had spent some part of her father’s honeymoon in paying visits to those friends who were eager to have her, and who took this opportunity of showing special attention to the fallen heiress. The sense of her lost prestige was always upon her, however, and she was scarcely as grateful as she might have been for the courtesy she received. People seemed never weary of talking about her father’s wife, whose sweetness, and beauty, and other interesting qualities, Miss Granger found herself called upon to discuss continually. She did not bow the knee to the popular idol, however, but confessed with a charming candour that there was no great sympathy between her stepmother and herself.

“Her education has been so different from mine,” she said, “that it is scarcely strange if all our tastes are different. But, of course, I shall do my duty towards her, and I hope and pray that she may make my father happy.”

But Miss Granger did not waste all the summer months in visiting. She was more in her element at the Court. The model children in the new Arden poor-schools had rather a hard time of it during Mr. Granger’s honeymoon, and were driven through Kings and Chronicles at a more severe pace than usual. The hardest and driest facts in geography and grammar were pelted like summer hail upon their weak young brains, and a sterner demand was made every day upon their juvenile powers of calculation. This Miss Granger called giving them a solid foundation; but as the edifice destined to be erected upon this educational basis was generally of the humblest — a career of carpentering, or blacksmithing, or housemaiding, or plain-cooking, for the most part — it is doubtful whether that accurate knowledge of the objective case or the longitude of the Sandwich Islands which Miss Granger so resolutely insisted upon, was ever of any great service to the grown-up scholar.

In these philanthropic labours she had always an ardent assistant in the person of Mr. Tillott, whose somewhat sandy head and florid complexion used to appear at the open door of the schoolroom very often when Sophia was teaching. He did really admire her, with all sincerity and singleness of heart; describing her, in long confidential letters to his mother, as a woman possessed of every gift calculated to promote a man’s advancement in this world and the next. He knew that her father’s second marriage must needs make a considerable change in her position. There would be an heir, in all probability, and Sophia would no longer be the great heiress she had been. But she would be richly dowered doubtless, come what might; and she was brought nearer to the aspirations of a curate by this reduction of her fortune.

Miss Granger accepted the young priest’s services, and patronised him with a sublime unconsciousness of his aspirations. She had heard it whispered that his father had been a grocer, and that he had an elder brother who still carried on a prosperous colonial trade in the City. For anything like retail trade Miss Granger had a profound contempt. She had all the pride of a parvenu, and all the narrowness of mind common to a woman who lives in a world of her own creation. So while Mr. Tillott flattered himself that he was making no slight impression upon her heart, Miss Granger regarded him as just a little above the head gardener and the certificated schoolmaster.

October came, and the day appointed for the return of the master of Arden Court; rather a gloomy day, and one in a succession of wet and dismal days, with a dull gray sky that narrowed the prospect, and frequent showers of drizzling rain. Miss Granger had received numerous letters from her father during his travels, letters which were affectionate if brief; and longer epistles from Clarissa, describing their route and adventures. They had done Switzerland thoroughly, and had spent the last month in Rome.

The interior of the old house looked all the brighter, perhaps, because of that dull sky and, and those sodden woods without. Fires were blazing merrily in all the rooms; for, whatever Miss Granger’s secret feelings might be, the servants were bent on showing allegiance to the new power, and on giving the house a gala aspect in honour of their master’s return. The chief gardener, with a temporary indifference to his own interests, had stripped his hothouses for the decoration of the rooms, and great vases of exotics made the atmosphere odorous, and contrasted pleasantly with the wintry fires.

Miss Granger sat in the principal drawing-room, with her embroidery-frame before her, determined not to be flurried or disturbed by the bride’s return. She sat at a respectful distance from the blazing logs, with a screen interposed carefully between her complexion and the fire, the very image of stiffness and propriety; not one of her dull-brown hairs ruffled, not a fold of her dark green-silk dress disarranged.

The carriage was to meet the London express at Holborough station at half-past four, and at a little before five Miss Granger heard the sound of wheels in the avenue. She did not even rise from her embroidery-frame to watch the approach of the carriage, but went on steadily stitch by stitch at the ear of a Blenheim spaniel. In a few minutes more she heard the clang of doors thrown open, then the wheels upon the gravel in the quadrangle, and then her father’s voice, sonorous as of old. Even then she did not fly to welcome him, though her heart beat a little faster, and the colour deepened in her cheeks.

“I am nothing to him now,” she thought.

She began to lay aside her wools, however, and rose as the drawing-room door opened, to offer the travellers a stately welcome.

Clarissa was looking her loveliest, in violet silk, with a good deal of fur about her, and with an air of style and fashion which was new to her, Miss Granger thought. The two young women kissed each other in a formal way, and then Mr. Granger embraced his daughter with some show of affection.

“How lovely the dear old place looks!” cried Clarissa, as the one triumph and glory of her marriage came home to her mind: she was mistress of Arden Court. “Everything is so warm and bright and cheerful, such an improvement upon foreign houses. What a feast of fires and flowers you have prepared to welcome us, Sophia!”

She wished to say something cordial to her step-daughter, and she did really believe that the festive aspect of the house was Miss Granger’s work.

“I have not interfered with the servants’ arrangements,” that young lady replied primly; “I hope you don’t find so many exotics oppressive in these hot rooms? I do.”

“O dear, no; they are so lovely,” answered Clarissa, bending over a pyramid of stephanotis, “one can scarcely have too many of them. Not if the perfume makes your head ache, however; in that case they had better be sent away at once.”

But Miss Granger protested against this with an air of meek endurance, and the flowers were left undisturbed.

“Well, Sophy, what have you been doing with yourself all this time?” Mr. Granger asked in a cheerful voice; “gadding about finely, according to your letters.”

“I spent a week with the Stapletons, and ten days with the Trevors, and I went to Scarborough with the Chesneys, as you expressed a wish that I should accept their invitation, papa,” Miss Granger replied dutifully; “but I really think I am happier at home.”

“I’m very glad to hear it, my dear, and I hope you’ll find your home pleasanter than ever now. — So you like the look of the old place, do you, Clary?” he went on, turning to his wife; “and you don’t think we’ve quite spoilt it by our renovation?”

“O no, indeed. There can be no doubt as to your improvements. And yet, do you know, I was so fond of the place, that I am almost sorry to miss its old shabbiness — the faded, curtains, and the queer Indian furniture which my great-uncle Colonel Radnor, brought home from Bombay. I wonder what became of those curious old cabinets?”

“I daresay they are still extant in some lumber-room in the roof, my dear. Your father took very little of the old furniture away with him, and there was nothing sold. We’ll explore the garrets some day, and look for your Indian cabinets. — Will you take Clarissa to her rooms, Sophy, and see what she thinks of our arrangements?”

Miss Granger would gladly have delegated this office to a servant; but her father’s word was law; so she led the way to a suite of apartments which Daniel Granger had ordered to be prepared for his young wife, and which Clarissa had not yet been allowed to see. They had been kept as a pleasant surprise for her coming home.

Had she been a princess of the blood royal, she could not have had finer rooms, or a more perfect taste in the arrangement of them. Money can do so much, when the man who dispenses it has the art of intrusting the carrying out of his desires to the best workmen.

Clarissa was delighted with everything, and really grateful for the generous affection which had done so much to gratify her.

“It is all a great deal too handsome,” she said.

“I am glad you like the style in which they have carried out papa’s ideas,” replied Miss Granger; “for my own part, I like plainer furniture, and more room for one’s work; but it is all a matter of taste.”

They were in the boudoir, a perfect gem of a room, with satin-wood furniture and pale green-silk hangings; its only ornaments a set of priceless Wedgwood vases in cream colour and white, and a few water-coloured sketches by Turner, and Creswick, and Stanfield. The dressing-room opened out of this and was furnished in the same style, with a dressing-table that was a marvel of art and splendour, the looking-glass in a frame of oxydised silver, between two monster jewel-cases of ebony and malachite with oxydised silver mouldings. One entire side of this room was occupied by an inlaid maple wardrobe, with seven doors, and Clarissa’s monogram on all of them — a receptacle that might have contained the multifarious costumes of a Princess Metternich.

It would have been difficult for Clarissa not to be pleased with such tribute, ungracious not to have expressed her pleasure; so when Daniel Granger came presently to ask how she liked the rooms, she was not slow to give utterance to her admiration.

“You give me so much more than I deserve, Mr. Granger,” she said, after having admired everything; “I feel almost humiliated by your generosity.”

“Clarissa,” exclaimed her husband, putting his two hands upon her shoulders, and looking gravely down at her, “when will you remember that I have a Christian name? When am I to be something more to you than Mr. Granger?”

“You are all that is good to me, much too good,” she faltered. “I will call you Daniel, if you like. It is only a habit.”

“It has such a cold sound, Clary. I know Daniel isn’t a pretty name; but the elder sons of Grangers have been Daniels for the last two centuries. We were stanch Puritans, you know, in the days of old Oliver, and scriptural names became a fashion with us. Well, my dear, I’ll leave you to dress for dinner. I’m very glad you like the rooms. Here are the keys of your jewel-cases; we must contrive to fill them by and by. You see I have no family diamonds to reset for you.”

“You have given me more than enough jewelry already,” said Clarissa. And indeed Mr. Granger had showered gifts upon her with a lavish hand during his brief courtship.

“Pshaw, child! only a few trinkets bought at random. I mean to fill those cases with something better. I’ll go and change my coat. We dine half an hour earlier than usual to-day, Sophia tells me.”

Mr. Granger retired to his dressing-room on the other side of the spacious bed-chamber, perhaps the very plainest apartment in the house, for he was as simple in his habits as the great Duke of Wellington; a room with a monster bath on one side, and a battered oak office-desk on the other — a desk that had done duty for fifty years or so in an office at Leeds — in one corner a well-filled gunstand, in another a rack of formidable-looking boots — boots that only a strong-minded man could wear.

When she was quite alone, Clarissa sat down in one of the windows of her boudoir, and looked out at the park. How well she remembered the prospect! how often she had looked at it on just such darksome autumnal evenings long ago, when she was little more than a child! This very room had been her mother’s dressing-room. She remembered it deserted and tenantless, the faded finery of the furniture growing dimmer and duller year by year. She had come here in an exploring mood sometimes when she was quite a child, but she never remembered the room having been put to any use; and as she had grown older it had come to have a haunted air, and she had touched the inanimate things with a sense of awe, wondering what her mother’s life had been like in that room — trying to conjure up the living image of a lovely face, which was familiar to her from more than one picture in her father’s possession.

She knew more about her mother’s life now; knew that there had been a blight upon it, of which a bad unscrupulous man had been the cause. And that man was the father of George Fairfax.

“Papa had reason to fear the son, having suffered so bitterly from the influence of the father,” she said to herself; and then the face that she had first seen in the railway carriage shone before her once more, and her thoughts drifted away from Arden Court.

She remembered that promise which George Fairfax had made her — the promise that he would try and find out something about her brother Austin.

He had talked of hunting up a man who had been a close friend of the absent wanderer’s; but it seemed as if he had made no effort to keep his word. After that angry farewell in the orchard, Clarissa could, of course, expect no favour from him; but he might have done something before that. She longed so ardently to know her brother’s fate, to find some means of communication with him, now that she was rich, and able to help him in his exile. He was starving, perhaps, in a strange land, while she was surrounded by all this splendour, and had five hundred a year for pocket-money.

Her maid came in to light the candles, and remind her of the dinner-hour, while she was still looking out at the darkening woods. The maid was an honest country-bred young woman, selected for the office by Mrs. Oliver. She had accompanied her mistress on the honeymoon tour, and had been dazed and not a little terrified by the wonders of Swiss landscape and the grandeurs of fallen Rome.

“I’ve been listening for your bell ever so long, ma’am,” said the girl; “you’ll scarcely have time to dress.”

There was time, however, for Mrs. Granger’s toilet, which was not an elaborate one; and she was seated by the drawing-room fire talking to her husband when the second dinner-bell rang.

They were not a very lively party that evening. The old adage about three not being company went near to be verified in this particular case. The presence of any one so thoroughly unsympathetic as Sophia Granger was in itself sufficient to freeze any small circle. But although they did not talk much, Clarissa and her husband seemed to be on excellent terms. Sophia, who watched them closely during that initiatory evening, perceived this, and told herself that her father had not yet discovered the mistake which he had made. That he would make such a discovery sooner or later was her profound conviction. It was only a question of time.

Thus it was that Clarissa’s new life began. She knew herself beloved by her husband with a quiet unobtrusive affection, the depth and wide measure whereof had come home to her very often since her marriage with a sense of obligation that was almost a burden. She knew this, and, knew that she could give but little in return for so much — the merest, coldest show of duty and obedience in recompense for all the love of this honest heart. If love had been a lesson to be learnt, she would have learned it, for she was not ungrateful, not unmindful of her obligations, or the vow that she had spoken in Arden Church; but as this flower called love must spring spontaneous in the human breast, and is not commonly responsive to the efforts of the most zealous cultivator, Clarissa was fain to confess to herself after five months of wedded life that her heart was still barren, and that her husband was little more to her than he had been at the very first, when for the redemption Of her father’s fortunes she had consented to become his wife.

So the time went on, with much gaiety in the way of feasting and company at Arden Court, and a palpable dulness when there were no visitors. Mr. and Mrs. Granger went out a good deal, sometimes accompanied by Sophia, sometimes without her; and Clarissa was elected by the popular voice the most beautiful woman in that part of the country. The people who knew her talked of her so much, that other people who had not met her were eager to see her, and made quite a favour of being introduced to her. If she knew of this herself, it gave her no concern; but it was a matter of no small pride to Daniel Granger that his young wife should be so much admired.

Was he quite happy, having won for himself the woman he loved, seeing her obedient, submissive, always ready to attend his pleasure, to be his companion when he wanted her company, with no inclination of her own which she was not willing to sacrifice at a moment’s notice for his gratification? Was he quite happy in the triumph of his hopes? Well, not quite. He knew that his wife did not love him. It might come some day perhaps, that affection for which he still dared to hope, but it had not come yet. He watched her face sometimes as she sat by his hearth on those quiet evenings when they were alone, and he knew that a light should have shone upon it that was not there. He would sigh sometimes as he read his newspaper by that domestic hearth, and his wife would wonder if he were troubled by any business cares — whether he were disturbed by any abnormal commotion among those stocks or consols or other mysterious elements of the financial world in which all rich men seemed more or less concerned. She did not ever venture to question him as to those occasional sighs; but she would bring the draught-board and place it at his elbow, and sit meekly down to be beaten at a game she hated, but for which Mr. Granger had a peculiar affection.

It will be seen, therefore, that Clarissa was at least a dutiful wife, anxious to give her husband every tribute that gratitude and a deep sense of obligation could suggest. Even Sophia Granger, always on the watch for some sign of weariness or shortcoming, could discover no cause for complaint in her stepmother’s conduct.

Mr. Lovel came back to Mill Cottage in December, much improved and renovated by the Belgian waters or the gaieties of the bright little pleasure place. The sense of having made an end of his difficulties, and being moored in a safe harbour for the rest of his life, may have done much towards giving him a new lease of existence. Whatever the cause may have been, he was certainly an altered man, and his daughter rejoiced in the change. To her his manner was at once affectionate and deferential, as if there had been lurking in his breast some consciousness that she had sacrificed herself for his welfare. She felt this, and felt that her marriage had given her something more than Arden Court, if it had won for her her father’s love. He spent some time at the Court, in deference to her wishes, during those dark winter months; and they fell hack on their old readings, and the evenings seemed gayer and happier for the introduction of this intellectual element, which was not allowed to prevail to such an extant as to overpower the practical Daniel Granger.

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