The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 30

The Heir of Arden.

Clarissa wrote to her brother — a long letter full of warmth and tenderness, with loving messages for his children, and even for the wife who was so much beneath him. She enclosed three ten-pound notes, all that remained to her of a quarter’s pin-money; and O, how bitterly she regretted the frivolous extravagances that had reduced her exchequer to so low a condition! Toward the close of her letter she came to a standstill. She had begged Austin to write to her, to tell her all he could about himself, his hopes, his plans for the future; but when it came to the question of receiving a letter from him she was puzzled. From the first day of her married life she had made a point of showing all her letters to her husband, as a duty, just as she had shown them to her father; who had very rarely taken the trouble to read them, by the way. But Daniel Granger did read his wife’s letters, and expected that they should be submitted to him. It would be impossible to reserve from him any correspondence that came to her in the common way. So Clarissa, though not given to secrecy, was on this occasion fain to be secret. After considerable deliberation, she told her brother to write to her under cover to her maid, Jane Target, at Arden Court. The girl seemed a good honest girl, and Mrs. Granger believed that she could trust her.

They went back to Arden a day or two afterwards; and Miss Granger returned with rapture to her duties as commander-in-chief of the model villagers. No martinet ever struck more terror into the breasts of rank and file than did this young lady cause in the simple minds of her prize cottagers, conscience-stricken by the knowledge that stray cobwebs had flourished and dust-bins run to seed during her absence. There was not much room for complaint, however, when she did arrive. The note of warning had been sounded by the servants of the Court, and there had been a general scrubbing and cleansing in the habitations of New Arden — that particular Arden which Mr. Granger had built for himself, and the very bricks whereof ought to have been stamped with his name and titles, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon. For a week before Miss Granger’s coming there had been heard the splashing of innumerable pails of water, and the scrubbing of perpetual scrubbing-brushes; windows had been polished to the highest degree of transparency; tin tea-kettles had been sandpapered until they became as silver; there had been quite a run upon the village chandler for mottled soap and hearthstone.

So, after a rigorous inspection, Miss Granger was obliged to express her approval — not an unqualified approval, by any means. Too much praise would have demoralized the Ardenites, and lowered the standard of perfection.

“I like to be able to say that my papa’s village is the cleanest village in England,” she said; “not one of the cleanest, but the cleanest. Why have you turned the back of that tea-kettle to the wall, Mrs. Binks? I’m afraid it’s smoky. Now there never need be a smoky kettle. Your place looks very nice, Mrs. Binks; but from the strong smell of soap, I fancy it must have been cleaned very lately. I hope you have not been neglecting things while I’ve been away. That sort of thing would militate against your obtaining my prize for domestic cleanliness next Christmas.”

Mrs. Binks did not know what “militate” meant, unless it might be something in connection with the church militant, of which she had heard a great deal; but she was not a mild-tempered woman, and she grew very red in the face at this reproof.”

“Well, miss, if to toil and scrub early and late, with a husband and five children to do for, and to keep the place pretty much as you see it now, though I don’t say as it ain’t a little extry perhaps, in honour of your coming back — if that ain’t hard work and cleanliness, and don’t deserve a prize of two pound at the year’s end, I don’t know what do. It’s hard-earned money, Miss Granger, when all’s said and done.”

Sophia turned the eyes of reproof upon Mrs. Binks.

“I did not think it was the money you cared for,” she said; “I thought it was the honour you valued most.”

She pointed to a card framed and glazed over the mantelpiece — a card upon which, with many nourishes and fat initial letters in red ink, the model schoolmaster had recorded the fact, that Mrs. Binks, at the preceding Christmas distributions, had obtained Miss Granger’s annual reward for domestic cleanliness.

“Well, of course, miss, I set store by the card. It’s nice to see one’s name wrote out like that, and any strangers as chance to come in the summer time, they takes notice; but to a hard-working man’s wife two pound is a consideration. I’m sure I beg your parding humbly, miss, if I spoke a bit short just now; but it is trying, when one has worked hard, to have one’s work found fault with.”

“I am not aware that I found fault with your work, Mrs. Sinks,” Sophia replied with supreme dignity; “I merely remarked that it appeared to have been done hastily. I don’t approve of spasmodic industry.”

And with this last crushing remark, Miss Granger sailed out of the cottage, leaving the luckless Mrs. Binks to repent her presumption at leisure, and to feel that she had hazarded her hopes of Christmas bounties, and enhanced the chances of her detested rival of three doors off, Mrs. Trotter, a sanctimonious widow, with three superhuman children, who never had so much as a spot on their pinafores, and were far in advance of the young Binkses in Kings and Chronicles; indeed the youngest Trotter had been familiar with all the works of Hezekiah before the eldest Binks had grasped the abstract idea of Saul.

For Clarissa the change to Arden Court was a pleasant one. That incessant succession of London gaieties had wearied her beyond measure. Here, for a little time before her visitors began to arrive, she lived her own life, dreaming away a morning over a sketch-book, or reading some newly-published volume in a favourite thicket in the park. There was a good deal of time, of course, that she was obliged to devote to her husband, walking or driving or riding with him, in rather a ceremonial manner, almost as she might have done had she belonged to that charmed circle whose smallest walk or drive is recorded by obsequious chroniclers in every journal in the united kingdom. Then came six brilliant weeks in August and September, when Arden Court was filled with visitors, and Clarissa began to feel how onerous are the duties of a châtelaine. She had not Lady Laura Armstrong’s delight in managing a great house. She was sincerely anxious that her guests might be pleased, but somewhat over-burdened by the responsibility of pleasing them. It was only after some experience that she found there was very little to be done, after all. With a skilful combination of elements, the result was sure to be agreeable. Morning after morning the cheerful faces gathered round the breakfast-table; and morning after morning vast supplies of dried salmon, fresh trout, grilled fowl, and raised pie — to say nothing of lighter provender, in the way of omelets, new-laid eggs, hot buttered cakes of various descriptions, huge wedges of honeycomb, and jars of that Scotch marmalade, so dear to the hearts of boating-men — vanished like smoke before a whirlwind. Whatever troubles these nomads may have had were hidden in their hearts for the time being. A wise custom prevailed in Mr. Granger’s establishment with regard to the morning letters, which were dealt out to each guest with his or her early cup of tea, and not kept back for public distribution, to the confusion of some luckless recipient, who feels it difficult to maintain an agreeable smirk upon his countenance while he reads, that unless such or such an account is settled immediately, proceedings will be taken without delay.

Lady Laura came, as she had promised, and gave her dearest Clarissa lessons in the art of presiding over a large establishment, and did her utmost to oust Miss Granger from her position of authority in the giving out of stores and the ordering of grocery. This, however, was impossible. Sophia clung to her grocer’s book as some unpopular monarch tottering on his insecure throne might cling to his sceptre. If she could not sit in the post of honour at her father’s dinner-table, as she had sat so long, it was something to reign supreme in the store-room; if she found herself a secondary person in the drawing-room, and that unpunctilious callers were apt to forget the particular card due to her, she could at least hold on by the keys of those closets in which the superfine china services for Mr. Granger’s great dinners were stored away, with chamois leather between all the plates and dishes. She had still the whip-hand of the housekeeper, and could ordain how many French plums and how many muscatel raisins were to be consumed in a given period. She could bring her powers of arithmetic to bear upon wax-candles, and torment the souls of hapless underlings by the precision of her calculations. She had an eye to the preserves; and if awakened suddenly in the dead of the night could have told, to a jar, how many pots of strawberry, and raspberry, and currant, and greengage were ranged on the capacious shelves of that stronghold of her power, the store-room.

Even Lady Laura’s diplomacy failed here. The genius of a Talleyrand would not have dislodged Miss Granger.

“I like to feel that I am of some use to papa,” she remarked very often, with the air of a household Antigone. “He has new outlets for his money now, and it is more than ever my duty as a daughter to protect him from the wastefulness of servants. With all my care, there are some things in Mrs. Plumptree’s management which I do not understand. I’m sure what becomes of all the preserved-ginger and crystallized apricots that I give out, is a mystery that no one could fathom. Who ever eats preserved-ginger? I have taken particular notice, and could never see any one doing it. The things are not eaten; they disappear.”

Lady Laura suggested that, with such a fortune as Mr. Granger’s, a little waste more or less was hardly worth thinking of.

“I cannot admit that,” Miss Granger replied solemnly. “It is the abstract sinfulness of waste which I think of. An under-butler who begins by wasting preserved-ginger may end by stealing his master’s plate.”

The summer went by. Picnics and boating parties, archery meetings and flower-shows, and all the familiar round of country pleasures repeated themselves just as they had done at Hale Castle two years ago; and Clarissa wondered at the difference in her own mind which made these things so different. It was not that all capacity for enjoyment was dead in her. Youth is too bright a thing to be killed so easily. She could still delight in a lovely landscape, in exquisite flowers, in that art which she had loved from her childhood — she could still enjoy good music and pleasant society; but that keen sense of happiness which she had felt at Hale, that ardent appreciation of small pleasures, that eager looking forward to the future — these were gone. She lived in the present. To look back to the past was to recall the image of George Fairfax, who seemed somehow interwoven with her girlhood; to look forward to the future was to set her face towards a land hidden in clouds and darkness. She had positively nothing to hope for.

Mr. Granger took life very calmly. He knew that his wife did not love him; and he was too proud a man to lay himself out to win her love, even if he had known how to set about a task so incongruous with the experience of his life. He was angry with himself for having ever been weak enough to think that this girlish creature — between whom and himself there stretched a gulf of thirty years — could by any possibility be beguiled into loving him. Of course, she had married him for his money. There was not one among his guests who would not have thought him a fool for supposing that it could be otherwise, or for expecting more from her than a graceful fulfilment of the duties of her position.

He had little ground for complaint. She was gentle and obedient, deferential in her manner to him before society, amiable always; he only knew that she did not love him — that was all. But Daniel Granger was a proud man, and this knowledge was a bitter thing to him. There were hours in his life when he sat alone in his own room — that plainly-furnished chamber which was half study, half dressing-room — withdrawing himself from his guests under pretence of having business-letters to write to his people at Bradford and Leeds; sat with his open desk before him, and made no attempt to write; sat brooding over thoughts of his young wife, and regretting the folly of his marriage.

Was it true that she had never cared for any one else? He had her father’s word for that; but he know that Marmaduke Lovel was a selfish man, who would be likely enough to say anything that would conduce to his own advantage. Had her heart been really true and pure when he won her for his wife? He remembered those sketches of George Fairfax in the portfolio, and one day when he was waiting for Clarissa in her morning-room he took the trouble to look over her drawings. There were many that he recollected having seen that day at Mill Cottage, but the portraits of Mr. Fairfax were all gone. He looked through the portfolio very carefully, but found none of those careless yet life-like sketches which had attracted the attention of Sophia Granger.

“She has destroyed them, I suppose,” he said to himself; and the notion of her having done so annoyed him a little. He did not care to question her about them. There would have been an absurdity in that, he thought: as if it could matter to him whose face she chose for her unstudied sketches — mere vagabondage of the pencil.

Upon rare occasions Marmaduke Lovel consented to take a languid share in the festivities at Arden. But although he was very well pleased that his daughter should be mistress of the house that he had lost, he did not relish a secondary position in the halls of his forefathers; nor had the gaieties of the place any charm for him. He was glad to slip away quietly at the beginning of September, and to go back to Spa, where the waters agreed with his rheumatism — that convenient rheumatism which was an excuse for anything he might choose to do.

As for his daughter, he washed his hands of all responsibility in connection with her. He felt as if he had provided for her in a most meritorious manner by the diplomacy which had brought about her marriage. Whether she was happy in her new life, was a question which he had never asked himself; but if any one else had propounded such a question, he would have replied unhesitatingly in the affirmative. Of course Clarissa was happy. Had she not secured for herself all the things that women most value? could she not run riot in the pleasures for which women will imperil their souls? He remembered his own wife’s extravagance, and he argued with himself, that if she could have had a perennial supply of fine dresses, and a perpetual round of amusement, she would speedily have forgotten Colonel Fairfax. It was the dulness of her life, and the dismal atmosphere of poverty, that had made her false.

So he went back to Spa, secure in the thought that he could make his home at Arden whenever he pleased. Perhaps at some remote period of old age, when his senses were growing dim, he might like to inhabit the familiar rooms, and feel no sting in the thought that he was a guest, and not the master. It would be rather pleasant to be carried to his grave from Arden Court, if anything about a man’s burial could be pleasant. He went back to Spa and led his own life, and in a considerable measure forgot that he had ever had a son and a daughter.

With September and October there came guests for the shooting, but George Fairfax was not among them. Mr. Granger had not renewed that careless invitation of his in Clarges-street. After supervising Clarissa’s existence for two or three weeks, Lady Laura had returned to Hale, there to reign in all her glory. Mr. and Mrs. Granger dined at the castle twice in the course of the autumn, and Clarissa saw Lady Geraldine for the first time since that fatal wedding-day.

There was very little alteration in the fair placid face. Geraldine Challoner was not a woman to wear the willow in any obvious manner. She was still coldly brilliant, with just a shade more bitterness, perhaps, in those little flashes of irony and cynicism which passed for wit. She talked rather more than of old, Clarissa thought; she was dressed more elaborately than in the days of her engagement to George Fairfax, and had altogether the air of a woman who means to shine in society. To Mrs. Granger she was polite, but as cold as was consistent with civility.

After a fortnight’s slaughter of the pheasants, there was a lull in the dissipations of Arden Court. Visitors departed, leaving Mr. Granger’s gamekeepers with a plethora of sovereigns and half-sovereigns in their corduroy pockets, and serious thoughts of the Holborough Savings Bank, and Mr. Granger’s chief butler with views that soared as high as Consols. All the twitter and cheerful confusion of many voices in the rooms and corridors of the grand old house dwindled and died away, until Mr. Granger was left alone with his wife and daughter. He was not sorry to see his visitors depart, though he was a man who, after his own fashion, was fond of society. But before the winter was over, an event was to happen at Arden which rendered quiet indispensable.

Late in December, while the villagers were eating Mr. Granger’s beef, and warming themselves before Mr. Granger’s coals, and reaping the fruit of laborious days in the shape of Miss Granger’s various premiums for humble virtue — while the park and woodland were wrapped in snow, and the Christmas bells were still ringing in the clear crisp air, God gave Clarissa a son — the first thing she had ever held in her arms which she could and might love with all her heart.

It was like some strange dream to her, this holy mystery of motherhood. She had not looked forward to the child’s coming with any supreme pleasure, or supposed that her life would be altered by his advent. But from the moment she held him in her arms, a helpless morsel of humanity, hardly visible to the uninitiated amidst his voluminous draperies, she felt herself on the threshold of a new existence. With him was born her future — it was a most complete realization of those sweet wise words of the poet —

“a child, more than all other gifts

That earth can offer to declining man,

Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts.”

Mr. Granger was enraptured. For him, too, even more than for his wife, this baby represented the future. Often and often, after some brilliant stroke of business which swelled the figures upon the left side of his bank-book to an abnormal amount, he had felt a dismal sense of the extinction that must befall his glory by-and-by. There was no one but Sophia. She would inherit a fortune thrice as large as any woman need desire, and would in all likelihood marry, and give her wealth to fill the coffers of a stranger, whose name should wipe out the name of Granger — or preserve it in a half-and-half way in some inane compound, such, as Granger–Smith, or Jones–Granger, extended afterwards into Jones–Granger-Jones, or Granger–Smith-Granger.

Perhaps those wintry days that began the new year were the purest, happiest of Daniel Granger’s life. He forgot that his wife did not love him. She seemed so much more his wife, seated opposite to him beside that quiet hearth, with her baby in her arms. She made such a lovely picture, bending over the child in her unconscious beauty. To sit and watch the two was an all-sufficient delight for him — sometimes withdrawing his mind from the present, to weave the web of his boy’s future.

“I shall send him to Westminster, Clary,” he said — it was a long time, by the way, since he had called his wife Clary, though she herself was hardly aware of the fact. “I shall certainly send him to Westminster. A provincial public school is all very well — my father sent me to one — but it’s not quite up to the mark. I should like him to be a good classical scholar, which I never was, though I was a decent mathematician. I used to do my Virgil with a crib — a translation, you know — and I never could get on with Greek. I managed to struggle through the New Testament, but stuck in the first book of Thucydides. What dreary work it was! I was glad when it was all over, and my father let me come into his office. But with this fellow it will be different. He will have no occasion to soil his hands with trade. He will be a country gentleman, and may distinguish himself in the House of Commons. Yes, Clary, there may be the material for a great man in him,” Mr. Granger concluded, with an almost triumphant air, as he touched the soft little cheek, and peered curiously into the bright blue eyes. They were something like his own eyes, he thought; Clarissa’s were hazel.

The mother drew the soft mass of muslin a little nearer to her heart. She did not care to think of her baby as a man, addressing a noisy constituency in Holborough market-place, nor even, as a Westminster boy, intent upon Virgil and cricket, Euclid and football. She liked to think of him as he was now, and as he would be for the next few years — something soft and warm and loving, that she could hold in her arms; beside whose bed she could watch and pray at night. Her future was bounded by the years of her son’s childhood. She thought already, with a vague pang, of the time when he should go out into the world, and she be no longer necessary to him.

The day came when she looked back to that interval of perfect quiet — the dimly-lighted rooms, the low wood fire, and her husband’s figure seated by the hearth — with a bitter sense of regret. Daniel Granger was so good to her in those days — so entirely devoted, in a quiet unobtrusive way — and she was so selfishly absorbed by the baby as to be almost unconscious of his goodness at the time. She was inclined to forget that the child belonged to any one but herself; indeed, had the question been brought home to her, she would have hardly liked to admit his father’s claim upon him. He was her own — her treasure beyond all price — given to her by heaven for her comfort and consolation.

Not the least among the tranquil pleasures of that period of retirement — which Clarissa spun out until the spring flowers were blooming in the meadows about Arden — was a comparative immunity from the society of Miss Granger. That young lady made a dutiful call upon her stepmother every morning, and offered a chilling forefinger — rather a strong-minded forefinger, with a considerable development of bone — to the infant. On the child not receiving this advance with rapture, Miss Granger was wont to observe that he was not so forward in taking notice as some of her model children; at which the young mother flamed up in defence of her darling, declaring that he did take notice, and that it was a shame to compare him to “nasty village children.”

“The ‘nasty village children’ have immortal souls,” Sophia replied severely.

“So they may; but they don’t take notice sooner than my baby. I would never believe that. He knows me, the precious darling;” and the little soft warm thing in voluminous muslin was kissed and squeezed about to extinction.

Miss Granger was great upon the management of infancy, and was never tired of expounding her ideas to Clarissa. They were of a Spartan character, not calculated to make the period of babyhood a pleasant time to experience or to look back upon. Cold water and nauseous medicines formed a conspicuous part of the system, and where an ordinary nurse would have approached infancy with a sponge, Miss Granger suggested a flesh-brush. The hardest, most impracticable biscuits, the huskiest rusks, constituted Miss Granger’s notion of infant food. She would have excluded milk, as bilious, and would have forbidden sugar, as a creator of acidity; and then, when the little victim was about one and a half, she would have seated it before the most dry-as-dust edition of the alphabet, and driven it triumphantly upon the first stage on the high-road to Kings and Chronicles.

Among the model villagers Miss Granger had ample opportunity of offering advice of this kind, and fondly believed that her counsel was acted upon. Obsequious matrons, with an eye to Christmas benefactions, pretended to profit by her wisdom; but it is doubtful whether the model infants were allowed to suffer from a practical exposition of her Spartan theories.

Clarissa had her own ideas about the heir of the Grangers. Not a crumpled rose-leaf — had rose-leaves been flying about just then — must roughen her darling’s bed. The softest lawn, the downiest, most delicate woollens, were hardly good enough to wrap her treasure. She had solemn interviews with a regiment of nurses before she could discover a woman who seemed worthy to be guardian of this infant demigod. And Mr. Granger showed himself scarcely less weak. It almost seemed as if this boy was his first child. He had been a busy man when Sophia was born — too entirely occupied by the grave considerations of commerce to enter into the details of the nursery — and the sex of the child had been something of a disappointment to him. He was rich enough even then to desire an heir to his wealth. During the few remaining years of his first wife’s life, he had hoped for the coming of a son; but no son had been given to him. It was now, in his sober middle age, that the thing he had longed for was granted to him, and it seemed all the more precious because of the delay. So Daniel Granger was wont to sit and stare at the infant as if it had been something above the common clay of which infancy is made. He would gaze at it for an hour together, in a dumb rapture, fully believing it to be the most perfect object in creation; and about this child there sprung up between his wife and himself a sympathy that had never been before. Only deep in Clarissa’s heart there was a vague jealousy. She would have liked her baby to be hers alone. The thought of his father’s claim frightened her. In the time to come her child might grow to love his father better than her.

Finding her counsel rejected, Miss Granger would ask in a meek voice if she might be permitted to kiss the baby, and having chilled his young blood by the cool and healthy condition of her complexion, would depart with an air of long-suffering; and this morning visit being over, Clarissa was free of her for the rest of the day. Miss Granger had her “duties.” She devoted her mornings to the regulation of the household, her afternoons to the drilling of the model villagers. In the evening she presided at her father’s dinner, which seemed rather a chilling repast to Mr. Granger, in the absence of that one beloved face. He would have liked to dine off a boiled fowl in his wife’s room, or to have gone dinnerless and shared Clarissa’s tea-and-toast, and heard the latest wonders performed by the baby, but he was ashamed to betray so much weakness.

So he dined in state with Sophia, and found it hard work to keep up a little commonplace conversation with her during the solemn meal — his heart being elsewhere all the time.

That phase of gloom and despondency, through which, his mind had passed during the summer that was gone, had given place to brighter thoughts. A new dawn of hope had come for him with the birth of his child.

He told himself again, as he had so often told himself in the past, that his wife would grow to love him — that time would bring him the fruition of his desires. In the meanwhile he was almost entirely happy in the possession of this new blessing. All his life was coloured by the existence of this infant. He had a new zest in the driest details of his position as the master of a great estate. He had bought some two thousand acres of neighbouring land at different times since his purchase of Arden Court; and the estate, swollen by these large additions, was fast becoming one of the finest in the county.

There was not a tree he planted in the beginning of this new year which he did not consider with reference to his boy; and he made extensive plantations on purpose that he might be able to point to them by-and-by and say, “These trees were planted the year my son was born.” When he went round his stables, he made a special survey of one particularly commodious loose-box, which would do for his boy’s pony. He fancied the little fellow trotting by his side across farms and moorlands, or deep into the woods to see the newly-felled timber, or to plan a fresh clearing.

It was a pleasant day dream.

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