The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

Father and Daughter.

While Mr. Oliver went back to the Rectory, cheered by the prospect of possible grouse, Clarissa entered her new home, so utterly strange to her in its insignificance. The servant, Martha, who was a stranger to her, but who had a comfortable friendly face, she thought, led her into a room at the back of the cottage, with a broad window opening on to a lawn, beyond which Clarissa saw the blue mill-stream. It was not a bad room at all: countrified-looking and old-fashioned, with a low ceiling and wainscoted walls. Miss Level recognised the ponderous old furniture from the breakfast-room at Arden — high-backed mahogany chairs of the early Georgian era, with broad cushioned seats covered with faded needlework; a curious old oval dining-table, capable of accommodating about six; and some slim Chippendale coffee-tables and cheffoniers, upon which there were a few chipped treasures of old Battersea and Bow china. The walls were half-lined with her father’s books — rare old books in handsome bindings. His easy-chair, a most luxurious one, stood in a sheltered corner of the hearth, with a crimson silk banner-screen hanging from the mantelpiece beside it, and a tiny table close at hand, on which there were a noble silver-mounted meerschaum, and a curious old china jar for tobacco. The oval table was neatly laid for breakfast, and a handsome brown setter lay basking in the light of the fire. Altogether, the apartment had a very comfortable and home-like look.

“The tea’s made, miss,” said the servant; “and I’ve a savoury omelette ready to set upon the table. Perhaps you’d Like to step upstairs and take off your things before you have your breakfast? Your papa begged you wouldn’t wait for him. He won’t be down for two hours to come.”

“He’s quite well, I hope?”

“As well as he ever is, miss. He’s a bit of an invalid at the best of times.”

Remembering what Mr. Oliver had said, Clarissa was not much disturbed by this intelligence. She was stooping to caress the brown setter, who had been sniffing at her dress, and seemed anxious to inaugurate a friendship with her.

“This is a favourite of papa’s, I suppose?” she said.

“O Lord, yes, miss. Our master do make a tremenjous fust about Ponto. I think he’s fonder of that dumb beast than any human creature. Eliza shall show you your room, miss, while I bring in the teapot and such-like. There’s only me and Eliza, who is but a bit of a girl; and John Thomas, the groom, that brought your boxes in just now. It’s a change for your pa from the Court, and all the servants he had there; but he do bear it like a true Christian, if ever there was one.”

Clarissa Lovel might have wondered a little to hear this — Christianity not being the dominant note in her father’s character; but it was only like her father to refrain from complaint in the hearing of such a person as honest Martha. A rosy-faced girl of about fifteen conducted Miss Lovel to a pleasant bedroom, with three small windows; one curiously placed in an angle of the room, and from which — above a sweep of golden-tinted woodland — Clarissa could see the gothic chimneys of Arden Court. She stood at this window for nearly ten minutes, gazing out across those autumnal woods, and wondering how her father had nerved himself for the sacrifice.

She turned away from the little casement at last with a heavy sigh, and began to take off her things. She bathed her face and head in cold water, brushed out her long dark hair, and changed her thick merino travelling-dress for a fresher costume. While she was doing these things, her thoughts went back to her companion of last night’s journey; and, with a sudden flush of shame, she remembered his embarrassed look when she had spoken of her father as the owner of Arden Court. He had been to Arden, he had told her, yet had not seen her father. She had not been particularly surprised by this, supposing that he had gone to the Court as an ordinary sight-seer. Her father had never opened the place to the public, but he had seldom refused any tourist’s request to explore it.

But now she understood that curious puzzled look of the stranger’s, and felt bitterly ashamed of her error. Had he thought her some barefaced impostor, she wondered? She was disturbed in these reflections by the trim rosy-cheeked house-maid, who came to tell her that breakfast had been on the table nearly a quarter of an hour. But in the comfortable parlour downstairs, all the time she was trying to do some poor justice to Martha’s omelette, her thoughts dwelt persistently upon the unknown of the railway-carriage, and upon the unlucky mistake which she had made as to her father’s position.

“He could never guess the truth,” she said to herself. “He could never imagine that I was going home, and yet did not know that my birthplace had been sold.”

He was so complete a stranger to her — she did not even know his name — so it could surely matter very little whether he thought well or ill of her. And yet she could not refrain from torturing herself with all manner of annoying suppositions as to what he might think. Miss Lovel’s character was by no means faultless, and pride was one of the strongest ingredients in it. A generous and somewhat lofty nature, perhaps, but unschooled and unchastened as yet.

After a very feeble attempt at breakfast, Clarissa went out into the garden, closely attended by Ponto, who seemed to have taken a wonderful fancy to her. She was very glad to be loved by something on her return home, even a dog. She went out through the broad window, and explored garden and orchard, and wandered up and down by the grassy bank of the stream. She was fain to own that the place was pretty: and she fancied how well she might have loved it, if she had been born here, and had never been familiar with the broad terraces and verdant slopes of Arden Court. She walked in the garden till the village-church clock struck ten, and then went hastily in, half-afraid lest her father should have come down to the parlour in her absence, and should be offended at not finding her ready to receive him.

She need not have feared this. Mr. Lovel was rarely offended by anything that did not cause him physical discomfort.

“How do you do, my dear?” he said, as she came into the room, in very much the same tone he might have employed had they seen each other every day for the last twelve months. “Be sure you never do that again, if you have the faintest regard for me.”

“Do what, papa?”

“Leave that window open when you go out. I found the room a perfect ice-house just now. It was very neglectful of Martha to allow it. You’d better use the door at the end of the passage in future, when you go into the garden. It’s only a little more trouble, and I can’t stand open windows at this time of year.”

“I will be sure to do so, papa,” Clarissa answered meekly. She went up to her father and kissed him, the warmth and spontaneity of their greeting a little diminished by this reproof about the window; but Clarissa had not expected a very affectionate reception, and was hardly disappointed. She had only a blank hopeless kind of feeling; a settled conviction that there was no love for her here, and that there had never been any.

“My dear father,” she began tenderly, “my uncle told me about the sale of Arden. I was so shocked by the news — so sorry — for your sake.”

“And for your own sake too, I suppose,” her father answered bitterly. “The less this subject is spoken of between us in future, the better we shall get on together, Clarissa.”

“I will keep silence, papa.”

“Be sure you do so,” Mr. Lovel said sternly; and then, with a sudden passion and inconsistency that startled his daughter, he went on: “Yes, I have sold Arden — every acre. Not a rood of the land that has belonged to my race from generation to generation since Edward IV. was king, is left to me. And I have planted myself here — here at the very gates of my lost home — so that I may drain the bitter cup of humiliation to the dregs. The fools who call themselves my friends think, that because I can endure to live here, I am indifferent to all I have lost; that I am an eccentric bookworm — an easy-going philosophical recluse, content to dawdle away the remnant of my days amongst old books. It pleases me to let them think so. Why, there is never a day that yonder trader’s carriage, passing my windows, does not seem to drive over my body; not a sound of a woodman’s axe or a carpenter’s hammer in the place that was mine, that does not go straight home to my heart!”

“O, papa, papa!”

“Hush, girl! I can accept pity from no one — from you least of all.”

“Not from me, papa — your own child?”

“Not from you; because your mother’s reckless extravagance was the beginning of my ruin. I might have been a different man but for her. My marriage was fatal, and in the end, as you see, has wrecked me.”

“But even if my mother was to blame, papa — as she may have been — I cannot pretend to deny the truth of what you say, being so completely ignorant of our past history — you cannot be so cruel as to hold me guilty?”

“You are too like her, Clarissa,” Mr. Lovel answered, in a strange tone. “But I do not want to speak of these things. It is your fault; you had no right to talk of Arden. That subject always raises a devil in me.”

He paced the room backwards and forwards for a few minutes in an agitated way, as if trying to stifle some passion raging inwardly.

He was a man of about fifty, tall and slim, with a distinguished air, and a face that must once have been very handsome, but perhaps, at its best, a little effeminate. The face was careworn now, and the delicate features had a pinched and drawn look, the thin lips a half-cynical, half-peevish expression. It was not a pleasant countenance, in spite of its look of high birth; nor was there any likeness between Marmaduke Lovel and his daughter. His eyes were light blue, large and bright, but with a cold look in them — a coldness which, on very slight provocation, intensified into cruelty; his hair pale auburn, crisp and curling closely round a high but somewhat narrow forehead.

He came back to the breakfast-table presently, and seated himself in his easy-chair. He sipped a cup of coffee, and trifled listlessly with a morsel of dried salmon.

“I have no appetite this morning,” he said at last, pushing his plate away with an impatient gesture; “nor is that kind of talk calculated to improve the flavour of a man’s breakfast. How tall you have grown, Clarissa, a perfect woman; remarkably handsome too! Of course you know that, and there is no fear of your being made vain by anything I may say to you. All young women learn their value soon enough. You ought to make a good match, a brilliant match — if there were any chance for a girl in such a hole as this. Marriage is your only hope, remember, Clarissa. Your future lies between that and the drudgery of a governess’s life. You have received an expensive education — an education that will serve you in either case; and that is all the fortune I can give you.”

“I hope I may marry well, papa, for your sake; but —”

“Never mind me. You have only yourself to think about.”

“But I never could marry any one I did not esteem, if the match were ever such a brilliant one.”

“Of course not. All schoolgirls talk like that; and in due course discover how very little esteem has to do with matrimony. If you mean that you would like to marry some penniless wretch of a curate, or some insolvent ensign, for love, I can only say that the day of your marriage will witness our final parting. I should not make any outrageous fuss or useless opposition, rely upon it. I should only wish you good-bye.”

Clarissa smiled faintly at this speech. She expected so little from her father, that his hardest words did not wound her very deeply, nor did they extinguish that latent hope, “He will love me some day.”

“I trust I may never be so imprudent as to lose you for ever, like that, papa.. I must shut my heart resolutely against curates.”

“If bad reading is an abomination to you, you have only to open your ears. I have some confidence in you, Clary,” Mr. Lovel went on, with a smile that was almost affectionate. “You look like a sensible girl; a little impulsive, I daresay; but knowledge of the world — which is an uncommonly hard world for you and me — will tone that down in good time. You are accomplished, I hope. Madame Marot wrote me a most flourishing account of your attainments; but one never knows how much to believe of a schoolmistress’s analysis.”

“I worked very hard, papa; all the harder because I was so anxious to come home; and I fancied I might shorten my exile a little by being very industrious.”

“Humph! You give yourself a good character. You sing and play, I suppose?”

“Yes, papa. But I am fonder of art than of music.”

“Ah, art is very well as a profession; but amateur art — French plum-box art — is worse than worthless. However, I am glad you can amuse yourself somehow; and I daresay, if you have to turn governess by-and-by, that sort of thing will be useful. You have the usual smattering of languages, of course?”

“Yes, papa. We read German and Italian on alternate days at Madame Marot’s.”

“I promessi Sposi, and so on, no doubt. There is a noble Tasso in the bookcase yonder, and a fine old Petrarch, with which you may keep up your Italian. You might read a little to me of an evening sometimes. I should not mind it much.”

“And I should like it very much, papa,” Clarissa answered eagerly.

She was anxious for anything that could bring her father and herself together — that might lessen the gulf between them, if by ever so little.

And in this manner Miss Lovel’s life began in her new home. No warmth of welcome, no word of fatherly affection, attended this meeting between a father and daughter who had not met for six years. Mr. Lovel went back to his books as calmly as if there had been no ardent impetuous girl of eighteen under his roof, leaving Clarissa to find occupation and amusement as best she might. He was not a profound student; a literary trifler rather, caring for only a limited number of books, and reading those again and again. Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, Southey’s Doctor. Montaigne, and Swift, he read continually. He was a collector of rare editions of the Classics, and would dawdle over a Greek play, edited by some learned German, for a week at a time, losing himself in the profundity of elaborate foot-notes. He was an ardent admirer of the lighter Roman poets, and believed the Horatian philosophy the only true creed by which a man should shape his existence. But it must not be supposed that books brought repose to the mind and heart of Marmaduke Lovel. He was a disappointed man, a discontented man, a man given to brooding over the failure of his life, inclined to cherish vengeful feelings against his fellow-men on account of that failure. Books to him were very much what they might have been to some fiery-tempered ambitious soldier of fortune buried alive in a prison, without hope of release — some slight alleviation of his anguish, some occasional respite from his dull perpetual pain; nothing more.

Clarissa’s first day at Mill Cottage was a very fair sample of the rest of her life. She found that she must manage to spend existence almost entirely by herself — that she must expect the smallest amount of companionship from her father.

“This is the room in which I generally sit,” her father said to her that first morning after breakfast; “my books are here, you see, and the aspect suits me. The drawing-room will be almost entirely at your disposal. We have occasional callers, of course; I have not been able to make these impervious country people comprehend that I don’t want society. They sometimes pester me with invitations to dinner, which no doubt they consider an amazing kindness to a man in my position; invitations which I make a point of declining. It will be different with you, of course; and if any eligible people — Lady Laura Armstrong or Mrs. Renthorpe for instance — should like to take you up, I shall not object to your seeing a little society. You will never find a rich husband at Mill Cottage.”

“Please do not speak of husbands, papa. I don’t want to be married, and I shouldn’t care to go into society without you.”

“Nonsense, child; you will have to do what is best for your future welfare. Remember that my death will leave you utterly unprovided for — absolutely penniless.”

“I hope you may live till I am almost an old woman, papa.”

“Not much chance of that; and even if I did, I should not care to have you on my hands all that time. A good marriage is the natural prospect of a good-looking young woman, and I shall be much disappointed if you do not marry well, Clarissa.”

The pale cold blue eyes looked at her with so severe a glance, as Mr. Lovel said this, that the girl felt she must expect little mercy from her father if her career in life did not realise his hopes.

“In short,” he continued, “I look to you to redeem our fallen fortunes. I don’t want the name of Lovel to die out in poverty and obscurity. I look to you to prevent that, Clarissa.”

“Papa,” said Clarissa, almost trembling as she spoke, “it is not to me you should look for that. What can a girl do to restore a name that has fallen into obscurity? Even if I were to marry a rich man, as you say, it would be only to take another name, and lose my own identity in that of my husband. It is only a son who can redeem his father’s name. There is some one else to whom you must look ——”

“What!” cried her father vehemently, “have you not been forbidden to mention that name in my hearing? Unlucky girl, you seem to have been born on purpose to outrage and pain me.”

“Forgive me, papa; it shall be the last time. But O, is there no hope that you will ever pardon ——”

“Pardon,” echoed Mr. Lovel, with a bitter laugh; “it is no question of pardon. I have erased that person’s image from my mind. So far as I am concerned, there is no such man in the world. Pardon! You must induce me to reinstate him in my memory again, before you ask me to pardon.”

“And that can never be, papa?”

“Never!”

The tone of that one word annihilated hope in Clarissa’s mind. She had pushed the question to its utmost limit, at all hazards of offending her father. What was it that her brother Austin had done to bring upon himself this bitter sentence of condemnation? She remembered him in his early manhood, handsome, accomplished, brilliant; the delight and admiration of every one who knew him, except her father. Recalling those days, she remembered that between her father and Austin there had never been any show of affection. The talents and brilliant attributes that had won admiration from others seemed to have no charm in the father’s eye. Clarissa could remember many a sneering speech of Mr. Lovel’s, in which he had made light of his son’s cleverness, denouncing his varied accomplishments as trivial and effeminate, and asking if any Englishman ever attained an honourable distinction by playing the piano, or modelling in clay.

“I would rather have my son the dullest plodder that ever toiled at the bar, or droned bald platitudes from a pulpit, than the most brilliant drawing-room idler, whose amateur art and amateur music ever made him the fashion of a single season, to leave him forgotten in the next. I utterly despise an accomplished man.”

Austin Lovel had let such speeches as this go by him with a languid indifference, that testified at once to his easy temper and his comfortable disregard of his father’s opinion. He was fond of his little sister Clary, in rather a careless way, and would suffer her companionship, juvenile as she was at that time, with perfect good nature, allowing her to spoil his drawing paper with her untutored efforts, and even to explore the sacred mysteries of his colour-box. In return for this indulgence, the girl loved him with intense devotion, and believed in Him as the most brilliant of mankind.

Clarissa Lovel recalled those departed days now with painful tenderness. How kind and gracious Austin had been to her! How happy they had been together! sometimes wandering for a whole day in the park and woods of Arden, he with his sketching apparatus, she with a volume of Sir Walter Scott, to read aloud to him while he sketched, or to read him to sleep with very often. And then what delight it had been to sit by his side while he lay at full length upon the mossy turf, or half-buried in fern — to sit by him supremely happy, reading or drawing, and looking up from her occupation every now and then to glance at the sleeper’s handsome face in loving admiration.

Those days had been the happiest of her life. When Austin left Arden, he seemed always to carry away the brightness of her existence with him; for without him her life was very lonely — a singularly joyless life for one so young. Then, in an evil hour, as she thought, there came their final parting. How well she remembered her brother loitering on the broad terrace in front of Arden Court, in the dewy summer morning, waiting to bid her good-bye! How passionately she had clung to him in that farewell embrace, unable to tear herself away, until her father’s stern voice summoned her to the carriage that was to take her on the first stage of her journey!

“Won’t you come to the station with us, Austin?” she pleaded.

“No, Clary,” her brother answered, with a glance at her father. “He does not want me.”

And so they had parted; never to meet any more upon this earth perhaps, Clarissa said to herself, in her dismal reveries to-day. “That stranger in the railway-carriage spoke of his having emigrated. He will live and die far away, perhaps on the other side of the earth, and I shall never see his bright face again. O, Austin, Austin, is this the end of all our summer days in Arden woods long ago!”

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