The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 29

“If i Should Meet Thee —”

Mr. Wooster’s villa was almost perfection in its way; but there was something of that ostentatious simplicity whereby the parvenu endeavours sometimes to escape from the vulgar glitter of his wealth. The chairs and tables were of unpolished oak, and of a rustic fashion. There were no pictures, but the walls of the dining-room were covered with majolica panels of a pale gray ground, whereon sported groups of shepherds and shepherdesses after Boucher, painted on the earthenware with the airiest brush in delicate rose-colour; the drawing-room and breakfast-room were lined with fluted chintz, in which the same delicate grays and rose-colours were the prevailing hues. The floors were of inlaid woods, covered only by a small Persian carpet here and there. There was no buhl or marquetery, not a scrap of gilding or a yard of silk or satin, in the house; but there was an all-pervading coolness, and in every room the perfume of freshly-gathered flowers.

Mr. Wooster told his fashionable acquaintance that in winter the villa was a howling wilderness by reason of damp and rats; but there were those of his Bohemian friends who could have told of jovial parties assembled there in November, and saturnalias celebrated there in January; for Mr. Wooster was a bachelor of very liberal opinions, and had two sets of visitors.

To-day the villa was looking its best and brightest. The hothouses had been almost emptied of their choicest treasures in order to fill jardinières and vases for all the rooms. Mr. Wooster had obeyed Lady Laura, and there was nothing but tea, coffee, and ices to be had in the house; nor were the tea and coffee dispensed in the usual business-like manner, which reduces private hospitality to the level of a counter at a railway station. Instead of this, there were about fifty little tables dotted about the rooms, each provided with a gem of a teapot and egg-shell cups and saucers for three or four, so that Mr. Wooster’s feminine visitors might themselves have the delight of dispensing that most feminine of all beverages. This contrivance gave scope for flirtation, and was loudly praised by Mr. Wooster’s guests.

The gardens of the villa were large — indeed, the stockbroker had pulled down a fine old family mansion to get a site for his dainty little dwelling. There was a good stretch of river-frontage, from which the crowd could watch the boats flash by; now the striped shirts shooting far ahead to the cry of “Bravo, Brazenose!” anon the glitter of a line of light-blue caps, as the Etonian crew answered to the call of their coxswain, and made a gallant attempt to catch their powerful opponents; while Radley, overmatched and outweighted, though by no means a bad crew, plodded hopelessly but pluckily in the rear. Here Clarissa strolled for some time, leaning on her husband’s arm, and taking a very faint interest in the boats. It was a pretty sight, of course; but she had seen so many pretty sights lately, and the brightness of them had lost all power to charm her. She looked on, like a person in a picture-gallery, whose eyes and brain are dazed by looking at too many pictures. Mr. Granger noticed her listlessness, and was quick to take alarm. She was paler than usual, he thought.

“I’m afraid you’ve been overdoing it with so many parties, Clary,” he said; “you are looking quite tired to-day.”

“I am rather tired. I shall be glad to go back to Arden.”

“And I too, my dear. The fact is, there’s nothing in the world I care less for than this sort of thing: but I wanted you to have all the enjoyment to be got out of a London season. It is only right that you should have any pleasure I can give you.”

“You are too good to me,” Clarissa answered with a faint sigh.

Her husband did not notice the sigh; but he did remark the phrase, which was one she had used very often — one that wounded him a little whenever he heard it.

“It is not a question of goodness, my dear,” he said. “I love you, and I want to make you happy.”

Later in the afternoon, when the racing was at its height, and almost all Mr. Wooster’s visitors had crowded to the terrace by the river, Clarissa strolled into one of the shrubbery walks, quite alone. It was after luncheon; and the rattle of plates and glasses, and the confusion of tongues that had obtained during the banquet, had increased the nervous headache with which she had begun the day. This grove of shining laurel and arbutus was remote from the river, and as solitary just now as if Mr. Wooster’s hundred or so of guests had been miles away. There were rustic benches here and there: and Clarissa seated herself upon one of them, which was agreeably placed in a recess amongst the greenery. She was more than usually depressed to-day, and no longer able to maintain that artificial vivacity by which she had contrived to conceal her depression. Her sin had found her out. The loveless union, entered upon so lightly, was beginning to weigh her down, as if the impalpable tie that bound her to her husband had been the iron chain that links a galley-slave to his companion.

“I have been very wicked,” she said to herself; “and he is so good to me! If I could only teach myself to love him.”

She knew now that the weakness which had made her so plastic a creature in her father’s hands had been an injustice to her husband; that it was not herself only she had been bound to consider in this matter. It was one thing to fling away her own chances of happiness; but it was another thing to jeopardise the peace of the man she married.

She was meditating on these things with a hopeless sense of confusion — a sense that her married life was like some dreadful labyrinth, into which she had strayed unawares, and from which there was no hope of escape — when she was startled by an approaching footstep, and, looking up suddenly, saw George Fairfax coming slowly towards her, just as she had seen him in Marley Wood that summer day. How far away from her that day seemed now!

They had not met since that night in the orchard, nearly two years ago. She felt her face changing from pale to burning red, and then growing pale again. But by a great effort she was able to answer him in a steady voice presently when he spoke to her.

“What a happiness to see you again, my dear Mrs. Granger!” he said in his lightest tone, dropping quietly down into the seat by her side. “I was told you were to be here to-day, or I should not have come; I am so heartily sick of all this kind of thing. But I really wanted to see you.”

“You were not at the luncheon, were you?” asked Clarissa, feeling that she must say something, and not knowing what to say.

“No; I have only been here half-an-hour or so. I hunted for you amongst that gaping crowd by the river, and then began a circuit of the grounds. I have been lucky enough to find you without going very far. I have some news for you, Mrs. Granger.”

“News for me?”

“Yes; about your brother — about Mr. Austin Lovel.”

That name banished every other thought. She turned to the speaker eagerly.

“News of him — of my dear Austin? O, thank you a thousand times, Mr. Fairfax! Have you heard where he is, and what he is doing? Pray, pray tell me quickly!” she said, tremulous with excitement.

“I have done more than that: I have seen him.”

“In England — in London?” cried Clarissa, making a little movement as if she would have gone that moment to find him.

“No, not in England. Pray take things quietly, my dear Mrs. Granger. I have a good deal to tell you, if you will only listen calmly.”

“Tell me first that my brother is well — and happy, and then I will listen patiently to everything.”

“I think I may venture to say that he is tolerably well; but his happiness is a fact I cannot vouch for. If he does find himself in a condition so unusual to mankind, he is a very lucky fellow. I never met a man yet who owned to being happy; and my own experience of life has afforded me only some few brief hours of perfect happiness.”

He looked at her with a smile that said as plainly as the plainest words, “And those were when I was with you, Clarissa.”

She noticed neither the look nor the words that went before it. She was thinking of her brother, and of him only.

“But you have seen him,” she said. “If he is not in England, he must be very near — in Paris perhaps. I heard you were in Paris.”

“Yes; it was in Paris that I saw him.”

“So near! O, thank God, I shall see my brother again! Tell me everything about him, Mr. Fairfax — everything.”

“I will. It is best you should have a plain unvarnished account. You remember the promise I made you at Hale? Well, I tried my utmost to keep that promise. I hunted up the man I spoke of — a man who had been an associate of your brother’s; but unluckily, there had been no correspondence between them after Mr. Lovel went abroad; in short, he could tell me nothing — not even where your brother went. He had only a vague idea that it was somewhere in Australia. So, you see, I was quite at a standstill here. I made several attempts in other directions, but all with the same result; and at last I gave up all hope of ever being of any use to you in this business.”

“You were very kind to take so much trouble.”

“I felt quite ashamed of my failure; I feel almost as much ashamed of my success; for it was perfectly accidental. I was looking at some water-coloured sketches in a friend’s rooms in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré— sketches of military life, caricatures full of dash and humour, in a style that was quite out of the common way, and which yet seemed in some manner familiar to me. My friend saw that I admired the things. ‘They are my latest acquisitions in the way of art,’ he said; they are done by a poor fellow who lives in a shabby third-floor near the Luxembourg — an Englishman called Austin. If you admire them so much, you might as well order a set of them. It would be almost an act of charity.’ The name struck me at once — your brother’s Christian name; and then I remembered that I had been shown some caricature portraits which he had done of his brother-officers — things exactly in the style of the sketches I had been looking at. I asked for this Mr. Austin’s address, and drove off at once to find him, with a few lines of introduction from my friend. ‘The man is proud,’ he said, ‘though he carries his poverty lightly enough.’”

“Poor Austin!” sighed Clarissa.

“I need not weary you with minute details. I found this Mr. Austin, and at once recognized your brother; though he is much altered — very much altered. He did not know me until afterwards, when I told him my name, and recalled our acquaintance. There was every sign of poverty: he looked worn and haggard; his clothes were shabby; his painting-room was the common sitting-room; his wife was seated by the open window patching a child’s frock; his two children were playing about the room.”

“He is married, then? I did net even know that.”

“Yes, he is married; and I could see at a glance that an unequal marriage has been one among the causes of his ruin. The woman is well enough — pretty, with a kind of vulgar prettiness, and evidently fond of him. But such a marriage is moral death to any man. I contrived to get a little talk with him alone — told him of my acquaintance with you and of the promise that I had made to you. His manner had been all gaiety and lightness until then; but at the mention of your name he fairly broke down. ‘Tell her that I have never ceased to love her,’ he said; ‘tell her there are times when I dare not think of her.’”

“He has not forgotten me, then. But pray go on; tell me everything.”

“There is not much more to tell. He gave me a brief sketch of his adventures since he sold out. Fortune had gone against him. He went to Melbourne, soon after his marriage, which he confessed was the chief cause of his quarrel with his father; but in Melbourne, as in every other Australian city to which he pushed his way, he found art at a discount. It was the old story: the employers of labour wanted skilled mechanics or stalwart navigators; there was no field for a gentleman or a genius. Your brother and his wife just escaped starvation in the new world, and just contrived to pay their way back to the old world. There were reasons why he should not show himself in England, so he shipped himself and his family in a French vessel bound for Havre, and came straight on to Paris, where he told me he found it tolerably easy to get employment for his pencil. ‘I give a few lessons,’ he said, ‘and work for a dealer; and by that means we just contrive to live. We dine every day, and I have a decent coat, though you don’t happen to find me in it. I can only afford to wear it when I go to my pupils. It is from-hand-to-mouth work; and if any illness should strike me down, the wife and little ones must starve.’”

“Poor fellow! poor fellow! Did you tell him that I was rich, that I could help him?”

“Yes,” answered Mr. Fairfax, with an unmistakable bitterness in his tone; “I told him that you had married the rich Mr. Granger.”

“How can I best assist him?” asked Clarissa eagerly. “Every penny I have in the world is at his disposal. I can give him three or four hundred a year. I have five hundred quite in my own control, and need not spend more than one. I have been rather extravagant since my marriage, and have not much money by me just now, but I shall economise from henceforward; and I do not mind asking Mr. Granger to help my brother.”

“If you will condescend to take my advice, you will do nothing of that kind. Even my small knowledge of your brother’s character is sufficient to make me very certain that an appeal to Mr. Granger is just the very last thing to be attempted in this case.”

“But why so? my husband is one of the most generous men in the world, I think.”

“To you, perhaps, that is very natural. To a man of Mr. Granger’s wealth a few thousands more or less are not worth consideration; but where there is a principle or a prejudice at stake, that kind of man is apt to tighten his purse-strings with a merciless hand. You would not like to run the risk of a refusal?”

“I do not think there is any fear of that.”

“Possibly not; but there is your brother to be considered in this matter. Do you think it would be pleasant for him to know that his necessities were exposed to such a — to a brother-in-law whom he had never seen?”

“I do not know,” said Clarissa thoughtfully; “I fancied that he would be glad of any helping hand that would extricate him from his difficulties. I should be so glad to see him restored to his proper position in the world.”

“My dear Mrs. Granger, it is better not to think of that. There is a kind of morass from which no man can be extricated. I believe your brother has sunk into that lower world of Bohemianism from which a man rarely cares to emerge. The denizens of that nethermost circle lose their liking for the upper air, can scarcely breathe it, in fact. No, upon my word, I would not try to rehabilitate him; least of all through the generosity of Mr. Granger.”

“If I could only see him,” said Clarissa despondingly.

“I doubt whether he would come to England, even for the happiness of seeing you. If you were in Paris, now, I daresay it might be managed. We could bring about a meeting. But I feel quite sure that your brother would not care to make himself known to Mr. Granger, or to meet your father. There is a deadly feud between those two; and I should think it likely Mr. Lovel has prejudiced your husband against his son.”

Clarissa was fain to admit that it was so. More than once she had ventured to speak of her brother to Daniel Granger, and on each occasion had quickly perceived that her husband had some fixed opinion about Austin, and was inclined to regard her love for him as an amiable weakness that should be as far as possible discouraged.

“Your father has told me the story of his disagreement with his son, my dear Clarissa,” Daniel Granger had said in his gravest tone, “and after what I have heard, I can but think it would be infinitely wise in you to forget that you had ever had a brother.”

This was hard; and Clarissa felt her husband’s want of sympathy in this matter as keenly as she could have felt any overt act of unkindness.

“Will you give me Austin’s address” she asked, after a thoughtful pause. “I can write to him, at least, and send him some money, without consulting any one. I have about thirty pounds left of my last quarter’s money, and even that may be of use to him.”

“Most decidedly. The poor fellow told me he had been glad to get ten napoleons for half-a-dozen sketches: more than a fortnight’s hard work. Would it not be better, by the way, for you to send your letter to me, and allow me to forward it to your brother? and if you would like to send him fifty pounds, or a hundred, I shall be only too proud to be your banker.”

Clarissa blushed crimson, remembering that scene in the orchard, and her baffled lover’s menaces. Had he forgiven her altogether, and was this kind interest in her affairs an unconscious heaping of coals of fire on her head? Had he forgiven her so easily? Again she argued with herself, as she had so often argued before, that his love had never been more than a truant fancy, a transient folly, the merest vagabondage of an idle brain.

“You are very good,” she said, with a tinge of hauteur, “but I could not think of borrowing money, even to help my brother. If you will kindly tell me the best method of remitting money to Paris.”

Here, Mr. Fairfax said, there was a difficulty; it ought to be remitted through a banker, and Mrs. Granger might find this troublesome to arrange, unless she had an account of her own. Clarissa said she had no account, but met the objection by suggesting bank notes; and Mr. Fairfax was compelled to own that notes upon the Bank of England could be converted into French coin at any Parisian money-changer’s.

He gave Clarissa the address, 13, Rue du Chevalier Bayard, near the Luxembourg.

“I will write to him to-night,” she said, and then rose from the rustic bench among the laurels. “I think I must go and look for my husband now. I left him some time ago on account of a headache. I wanted to get away from the noise and confusion on the river-bank.”

“Is it wise to return to the noise and confusion so soon?” asked Mr. Fairfax, who had no idea of bringing this interview to so sudden a close.

He had been waiting for such a meeting for a long time; waiting with a kind of sullen patience, knowing that it must some sooner or later, without any special effort of his; waiting with a strange mixture of feelings and sentiments — disappointed passion, wounded pride, mortified vanity, an angry sense of wrong that had been done to him by Clarissa’s marriage, an eager desire to see her again, which was half a lover’s yearning, half an enemy’s lust of vengeance.

He was not a good man. Such a life as he had led is a life that no man can lead with impunity. To say that he might still be capable of a generous action or unselfish impulse, would be to say much for him, given the story of his manhood. A great preacher of to-day has declared, that he could never believe the man who said he had never been tempted. For George Fairfax life had been crowded with temptations; and he had not made even the feeblest stand against the tempter. He had been an eminently fortunate man in all the trifles which make up the sum of a frivolous existence; and though his successes had been for the most part small social triumphs, they had not been the less agreeable. He had never felt the sting of failure until he stood in the Yorkshire orchard that chill October evening, and pleaded in vain to Clarissa Lovel. She was little more than a schoolgirl, and she rejected him. It was us if Lauzun, after having played fast-and-loose with that eldest daughter of France who was afterwards his wife, had been flouted by some milliner’s apprentice, or made light of by an obscure little soubrette in Molière’s troop of comedians. He had neither forgotten nor forgiven this slight; and mingled with that blind unreasoning passion, which he had striven in vain to conquer, there was an ever-present sense of anger and wrong.

When Clarissa rose from the bench, he rose too, and laid his hand lightly on her arm with a detaining gesture.

“If you knew how long; I have been wishing for this meeting, you would not be so anxious to bring it to a close,” he said earnestly.

“It was very good of you to wish to tell me about poor Austin,” she said, pretending to misunderstand him, “and I am really grateful. But I must not stay any longer away from my party.”

“Clarissa — a thousand pardons — Mrs. Granger”— there is no describing the expression he gave to the utterance of that last name — a veiled contempt and aversion that just stopped short of actual insolence, because it seemed involuntary —“why are you so hard upon me? You have confessed that you wanted to escape the noise yonder, and yet to avoid me you would go back to that. Am I so utterly obnoxious to you?”

“You are not at all obnoxious to me; but I am really anxious to rejoin my party. My husband will begin to wonder what has become of me. Ah, there is my stepdaughter coming to look for me.”

Yes, there was Miss Granger, slowing advancing towards them. She had been quite in time to see George Fairfax’s entreating gestures, his pleading air. She approached them with a countenance that would have been quite as appropriate to a genteel funeral — where any outward demonstration of grief would be in bad taste — as it was to Mr. Wooster’s fête, a countenance expressive of a kind of dismal resignation to the burden of existence in a world that way unworthy of her.

“I was just coming back to the river, Sophia,” Mrs. Granger said, not without some faint indications of embarrassment. “I’m afraid Mr. — I’m afraid Daniel must have been looking for me.”

“Papa has been looking for you,” Miss Granger replied, with unrelenting stiffness. —“How do you do, Mr. Fairfax?” shaking hands with him in a frigid manner. —“He quite lost the last race. When I saw that he was growing really anxious, I suggested that he should go one way, and I the other, in search of you. That is what brought me here.”

It was as much as to say, Pray understand that I have no personal interest in your movements.

“And yet I have not been so very long away,” Clarissa said, with a deprecating smile.

“You may not have been conscious of the lapse of time You have been long. You said you would go and rest for a quarter of an hour or so; and you have been resting more than an hour.”

“I don’t remember saying that; but you are always so correct, Sophia.”

“I make a point of being exact in small things. We had better go round the garden to look for papa. — Good-afternoon, Mr. Fairfax.”

“Good-afternoon, Miss Granger.”

George Fairfax shook hands with Clarissa.

“Good-bye, Mrs. Granger.”

That was all, but the words were accompanied by a look and a pressure of the hand that brought the warm blood into Clarissa’s cheeks. She had made for herself that worst enemy a woman can have — a disappointed lover.

While they were shaking hands, Mr. Granger came in sight at the other end of the walk; so it was only natural that Mr. Fairfax, who had been tolerably intimate with him at Hale Castle, should advance to meet him. There were the usual salutations between the two men, exchanged with that stereotyped air of heartiness which seems common to Englishmen.

“I think we had better get home by the next train, Clarissa,” said Mr. Granger; “5.50. I told them to have the brougham ready for us at Paddington from half-past six.”

“I am quite ready to go,” Clarissa said.

“Your headache is better, I hope.”

“Yes; I had almost forgotten it.”

Miss Granger gave an audible sniff, which did not escape George Fairfax.

“What! suspicious already?” he said to himself.

“You may as well come and dine with us, Mr. Fairfax, if you have nothing better to do,” said Mr. Granger, with his lofty air, as much as to say, “I suppose I ought to be civil to this young man.”

“It is quite impossible that I could have anything better to do,” replied Mr. Fairfax.

“In that case, if you will kindly give your arm to my daughter, we’ll move off at once. I have wished Mr. Wooster good-afternoon on your part, Clary. I suppose we may as well walk to the station.”

“If you please.”

And in this manner they departed, Miss Granger just touching George Fairfax’s coat-sleeve with the tips of her carefully-gloved fingers; Clarissa and her husband walking before them, arm in arm. Mr. Fairfax did his utmost to make himself agreeable during that short walk to the station; so much so that Sophia unbent considerably, and was good enough to inform him of her distaste for these frivolous pleasures, and of her wonder that other people could go on from year to year with an appearance of enjoyment.

“I really don’t see what else one can do with one’s life, Miss Granger,” her companion answered lightly. “Of course, if a man had the genius of a Beethoven, or a Goethe, or a Michael Angelo — or if he were ‘a heaven-born general,’ like Clive, it would be different; he would have some purpose and motive in his existence. But for the ruck of humanity, what can they do but enjoy life, after their lights?”

If all the most noxious opinions of Voltaire, and the rest of the Encyclopedists, had been expressed in one sentence, Miss Granger could not have looked more horrified than she did on hearing this careless remark of Mr. Fairfax’s.

She gave a little involuntary shudder, and wished that George Fairfax had been one of the model children, so that she might have set him to learn the first five chapters in the first book of Chronicles, and thus poured the light of what she called Biblical knowledge upon his benighted mind.

“I do not consider the destiny of a Michael Angelo or a Goethe to be envied,” she said solemnly. “Our lives are given us for something better than painting pictures or writing poems.”

“Perhaps; and yet I have read somewhere that St. Luke was a painter,” returned George Fairfax.

“Read somewhere,” was too vague a phrase for Miss Granger’s approval.

“I am not one of those who set much value on tradition,” she said with increased severity. “It has been the favourite armour of our adversaries.”

“Our adversaries?”

“Yes, Mr. Fairfax. Of ROME!”

Happily for George Fairfax, they were by this time very near the station. Mr. and Mrs. Granger had walked before them, and Mr. Fairfax had been watching the tall slender figure by the manufacturer’s side, not ill-pleased to perceive that those two found very little to say to each other during the walk. In the railway-carriage, presently, he had the seat opposite Clarissa, and was able to talk to her as much as he liked; for Mr. Granger, tired with staring after swift-flashing boats in the open sunshine, leaned his head back against the cushions and calmly slumbered. The situation reminded Mr. Fairfax of his first meeting with Clarissa. But she was altered since then: that charming air of girlish candour, which he had found so fascinating, had now given place to a womanly self-possession that puzzled him not a little. He could make no headway against that calm reserve, which was yet not ungracious. He felt that from first to last in this business he had been a fool. He had shown his cards in his anger, and Clarissa had taken alarm.

He was something less than a deliberate villain: but he loved her; he loved her, and until now fate had always given him the thing that he cared for. Honest Daniel Granger, sleeping the sleep of innocence, seemed to him nothing more than a gigantic stumbling-block in his way. He was utterly reckless of consequences — of harm done to others, above all — just as his father had been before him. Clarissa’s rejection had aroused the worst attributes of his nature — an obstinate will, a boundless contempt for any human creature not exactly of his own stamp — for that prosperous trader, Daniel Granger, for instance — and a pride that verged upon the diabolic.

So, during that brief express journey, he sat talking gaily enough to Clarissa about the Parisian opera-houses, the last new plays at the Gymnase and the Odéon, the May races at Chantilly, and so on; yet hatching his grand scheme all the while. It had taken no definite shape as yet, but it filled his mind none the less.”

“Strange that this fellow Granger should have been civil,” he said to himself. “But that kind of man generally contrives to aid and abet his own destruction.”

And then he glanced at this fellow Granger, sleeping peacefully with his head in an angle of the carriage, and made a contemptuous comparison between himself and the millionaire. Mr. Granger had been all very well in the abstract, before he became an obstacle in the path of George Fairfax. But things were altered now, and Mr. Fairfax scrutinized him with the eyes of an enemy.

The dinner in Clarges-street was a very quiet affair. George Fairfax was the only visitor, and the Grangers were “due” at an evening party. He learned with considerable annoyance that they were to leave London at the end of that week, whereby he could have little opportunity of seeing Clarissa. He might have followed her down to Yorkshire, certainly; but such a course would have been open to remark, nor would it be good taste for him to show himself in the neighbourhood of Hale Castle while Geraldine Challoner was there. He had an opportunity of talking confidentially to Clarissa once after dinner, when Mr. Granger, who had not fairly finished his nap in the railway-carriage, had retired to a dusky corner of the drawing-room and sunk anew into slumber, and when Miss Granger seemed closely occupied in the manufacture of an embroidered pincushion for a fancy fair. Absorbing as the manipulation of chenille and beads might be, however, her work did not prevent her keeping a tolerably sharp watch upon those two figures by the open piano: Clarissa with one hand wandering idly over the keys, playing some random passage, pianissimo, now and then; George Fairfax standing by the angle of the piano, bending down to talk to her with an extreme earnestness.

He had his opportunity, and he knew how to improve it. He was talking of her brother. That subject made a link between them that nothing else could have made. She forgot her distrust of George Fairfax when he spoke with friendly interest of Austin.

“Is the wife very vulgar?” Clarissa asked, when they had been talking some time.

“Not so especially vulgar. That sort of thing would be naturally toned down by her association with your brother. But she has an unmistakable air of Bohemianism; looks like a third-rate actress, or dancer, in short; or perhaps an artist’s model. I should not wonder if that were her position, by the way, when your brother fell in love with her. She is handsome still, though a little faded and worn by her troubles, poor soul and seems fond of him.”

“I am glad of that. How I should like to see him, and the poor wife, and the children — my brother’s children! I have never had any children fond of me.”

She thought of Austin in his natural position, as the heir of Arden Court, with his children playing in the old rooms — not as they were now, in the restored splendour of the Middle Ages, but as they had been in her childhood, sombre and faded, with here and there a remnant of former grandeur.

Mr. Granger woke presently, and George Fairfax wished him good-night.

“I hope we shall see you at the Court some day,” Clarissa’s husband said, with a kind of stately cordiality. “We cannot offer you the numerous attractions of Hale Castle, but we have good shooting, and we generally have a houseful in September and October.”

“I shall be most happy to make one of the houseful,” Mr. Fairfax said, with a smile — that winning smile which had helped him to make so many friends, and which meant so little. He went away in a thoughtful spirit.

“Is she happy?” he asked himself. “She does not seem unhappy; but then women have such a marvellous power of repression, or dissimulation, one can never be sure of anything about them. At Hale I could have sworn that she loved me. Could a girl of that age be absolutely mercenary, and be caught at once by the prospect of bringing down such big game as Daniel Granger? Has she sold herself for a fine house and a great fortune, and is she satisfied with the price? Surely no. She is not the sort of woman to be made happy by splendid furniture and fine dresses; no, nor by the common round of fashionable pleasures. There was sadness in her face when I came upon her unawares to-day. Yes, I am sure of that. But she has schooled herself to hide her feelings.”

“I wonder you asked Mr. Fairfax to Arden, papa,” said Miss Granger, when the visitor had departed.

“Why, my dear? He is a very pleasant young man; and I know he likes our part of the country. Besides, I suppose he will be a good deal at Hale this year, and that his marriage will come off before long. Lord Calderwood must have been dead year.”

“Lord Calderwood has been dead nearly two years,” replied Miss Granger. “I fancy that engagement between Mr. Fairfax and Lady Geraldine must have been broken off. If it were not so, they would surely have been married before now. And I observed that Mr. Fairfax was not with Lady Laura to-day. I do not know how long he may have been in the gardens,” Miss Granger added, with a suspicious glance at her stepmother, “but he certainly was not with Lady Laura during any part of the time.”

Clarissa blushed when Lady Geraldine’s engagement was spoken of. She felt as if she had been in some manner guilty in not having communicated the intelligence Lady Laura had given her. It seemed awkward to have to speak of it now.

“Yes,” she said, with a very poor attempt at carelessness, “the engagement is broken off. Lady Laura told me so some time ago.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Sophia. “How odd that you should not mention it!”

Daniel Granger looked first at his daughter, and then at his wife. There was something in this talk, a sort of semi-significance, that displeased him. What was George Fairfax, that either his wife or his daughter should be interested in him?

“Clarissa may not have thought the fact worth mentioning, my dear,” he said stiffly. “It is quite unimportant to us.”

He waived the subject away, as he might have done if it had been some small operation in commerce altogether unworthy of his notice; but in his secret heart he kept the memory of his wife’s embarrassed manner. He had not forgotten the portfolio of drawings among which the likeness of George Fairfax figured go prominently. It had seemed a small thing at the time — the merest accident; one head was as good to draw as another, and so on — he had told himself; but he knew now that his wife did not love him, and he wanted to know if she had ever loved any one else.

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