The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 34

Austin’s Prospects.

The picture made rapid progress. For his very life — though the finishing of his work had been the signal of his doom, and the executioner waiting to make a sudden end of him when the last touch was laid upon the canvas, Austin Lovel could not have painted slowly. The dashing offhand brush was like a young thoroughbred, that could not be pulled, let the jockey saw at his mouth as he might. And yet the painter would have liked much to prolong this easy intercourse with his sister. But after Clarissa’s portrait was finished, there was Miss Granger to be painted; and then they would want a picture of that unapproachable baby, no doubt; and after that, perhaps, Mr. Granger might consent to have his massive features perpetuated. Austin considered that the millionaire should be good for three hundred guineas or so; he had promised two hundred, and the painter was spending the money by anticipation as fast as he could.

He came every other morning to the Rue de Morny, and generally stayed to luncheon; and those mornings spent in his company were very pleasant to Clarissa — as pleasant as anything could be which involved deception; there was always the sting of that fact. Miss Granger was rarely absent for ten minutes together on these occasions; it was only some lucky chance which took her from the room to fetch some Berlin wool, or a forgotten skein of floss silk for the perennial spaniels, and afforded the brother and sister an opportunity for a few hurried words. The model villagers almost faded out of Miss Granger’s mind in this agreeable society. She found herself listening to talk about things which were of the earth earthy, and was fain to confess herself interested in the conversation. She dressed as carefully to receive the painter as if he had been, to use her particular phraseology, “a person in her own sphere;” and Mr. Tillott would have thought his chances of success at a very low point, if he could have seen her in Austin Lovel’s presence.

That gentleman himself was not slow to perceive the impression he had made.

“It’s rather a pity I’m married, isn’t it, Clary?” he said to his sister one day, when Sophia, whose habits had not been quite so methodical of late, had gone in search of some white beads for the spaniels, some of which were of a beady nature. “It would have been a great chance for me, wouldn’t it?”

What do you mean, Austin?”

“Miss Granger,” answered the painter, without looking up from his work, “I think she rather likes me, do you know; and I suppose her father will give her fifty thousand or so when she marries, in spite of young Lovel. He seems to have no end of money. It would have been an uncommonly good thing, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t think it’s any use talking of it, Austin, however good it might have been; and I don’t think Sophia would have suited you as a wife.”

“Not suited me — bosh! Any woman with fifty thousand pounds would have suited me. However, you’re right — there’s no good in talking of that. I’m booked. Poor little woman, she’s a good wife to me; but it’s rather a pity. You don’t know how many chances I might have had but for that entanglement.”

“I wish, Austin, for your poor wife’s sake, you’d let me tell my husband who you are. This concealment seems so hard upon her, as well as a kind of wrong to Daniel. I can do so little to serve her, and I might do so much, if I could own her as my sister-in-law. I don’t think Daniel could help liking you, if he knew everything.”

“Drop that, if you please, Clarissa,” said Austin, with a darkening countenance. “I have told you that your husband and I can never be friends, and I mean it. I don’t want to be degraded by any intercession of yours. That’s a little too much even for me. It suits my purpose well enough to accept Mr. Granger’s commissions; and of course it’s very agreeable to see you; but the matter must end there.”

Miss Granger returned at this moment; but had she stayed away for an hour, Clarissa could scarcely have pressed the question farther. In the old days when they had been boy and girl together, Austin seven years her senior, Clarissa had always been just a little afraid of her brother; and she was afraid of him now.

The very fact of his somewhat dependent position made her more fearful of offending him. She was anxious about his future anxious too about his present mode of life; but she dared not question closely upon either subject. Once, when she had ventured to ask him about his plan of life, he answered in his careless off-hand way —

“My dearest Clary, I have no plans. I like Paris; and if I am not particularly successful here, I don’t suppose I should be more successful anywhere else. I mean to stay here as long as I can hold out. I know a good many people, and sometimes get a stroke of luck.”

“But you are ruining your health. Austin, I fear, with — late hours, and — and — parties.”

“Who told you I keep late hours? The Parisians, as a rule, don’t go to bed at curfew. I don’t suppose I’m worse than my neighbours. If I didn’t go out, Clary, and keep myself in the minds of my patrons, I might rot in a garret. You don’t know how soon a man is forgotten — even a man who has made his mark more positively than I have; and then you see, my dear, I like society, and have no taste for the domestic hearth, except for variety, once in a way, like dining on a bouillon after a week’s high feeding. Yes, come what may, I shall stay in Paris — as long as I can.”

There was something in the tone of the last words that alarmed Clarissa.

“You — you — are not in debt, are you, Austin?” she asked timidly.

“No — no — I’m not in debt; but I owe a good deal of money.”

Clarissa looked puzzled.

“That is to say, I have no vulgar debts — butcher and baker, and so on; but there are two or three things, involving some hundreds, which I shall have to settle some of these days or else ——”

“Or else what, Austin?”

“Cut Paris, Clary, that’s all.”

Clarissa turned pale. Austin began to whistle a popular café-chantant air, as he bent over his palette, squeezing little dabs of Naples yellow out of a leaden tube. Some hundreds! — that was a vague phrase, which might mean a great deal of money; it was a phrase which alarmed Clarissa; but she was much more alarmed by the recklessness of her brother’s tone.

“But if you owe money, you must pay it, Austin,” she said; “you can’t leave a place owing money.”

The painter shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s not an agreeable thing to do,” he said, “but it has been done. Of the two, it’s pleasanter than staying in a place where you owe money.”

“Of course I shall do all I can to help you, dear,” said his sister. “There will be a hundred and twenty-five pounds due to me at Christmas, and I’ll give you the hundred.”

“You’re a first-rate girl, Clary, but I think that fellow Granger might give you more pin-money. Five hundred a year is a beggarly pittance for a man of his means.”

“It is more than I fancied I could ever want; and Daniel allows papa five hundred a year, you know Austin.”

“Humph! that makes a thousand — no great things for a millionaire. A pretty girl, married to a man of that stamp, ought to have unlimited command of money,” replied her brother. “It’s the only compensation,” he said to himself afterwards.

“I don’t like to hear you say these things, Austin. My husband is very kind to me. I’m afraid I’m not half as grateful as I ought to be.”

“Gratitude be ——!” He did not finish the ejaculation.

“Gratitude from a Lovel of twenty to a Granger of fifty! My dear Clary, that’s too good a joke! The man is well enough — better than I expected to find him: but such a girl as you is a prize for which such a man could not pay too highly.”

It was rarely they had the opportunity for so long a conversation as this; and Austin was by no means sorry that it was so. He had very pressing need of all the money his sister could give him; but he did not care to enter into explanations about the state of his affairs.

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