The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 35

Sisters-In-Law.

Clarissa did not forget the existence of the poor little wife in the Rue du Chevalier Bayard; and on the very first afternoon which she had to herself, Mr. Granger having gone to see some great cattle-fair a few miles from Paris, and Miss Granger being afflicted with a headache, she took courage to order her coachman to drive straight to the house where her brother lived.

“It is much better than making a mystery of it,” she thought.

“The man will think that I have come to see a milliner or some one of that kind.”

The footman would fain have escorted Mrs. Granger the way she should go, and held himself in readiness to accompany her into the house; but she waved him aside on the threshold of the darksome porte-cochère, out of which no coach ever came nowadays.

“I shan’t want you, Trotter,” she said. “Tell Jarvis to walk the horses gently up and down. I shall not be very long.”

The man bowed and obeyed, wondering what business his mistress could have in such a dingy street, “on the Surrey side of the water, too,” as he said to his comrade.

Austin was out, but Mrs. Lovel was at home, and it was Mrs. Lovel whom Clarissa had come chiefly to see. The same tawdrily-dressed maid admitted her to the same untidy sitting-room, a shade more untidy to-day, where Bessie Lovel was dozing in an easy-chair by the fire, while the two boys played and squabbled in one of the windows.

Mrs. Granger, entering suddenly, radiant in golden-brown moiré and sables, seemed almost to dazzle the eyes of Austin’s wife, who had not seen much of the brighter side of existence Her life before her marriage had been altogether sordid and shabby, brightness or luxury of any kind for her class being synonymous with vice; and Bessie Stanford the painter’s model had never been vicious. Her life since her marriage had been a life of trouble and difficulty, with only occasional glimpses of spurious kind of brilliancy. She lived outside her husband’s existence, as it were, and felt somehow that she was only attached to him by external links, as a dog might have been. He had a certain kind of affection for her, was conscious of her fidelity, and grateful for her attachment; and there an end. Sympathy between them there was none; nor had he ever troubled himself to cultivate her tastes, or attempted in the smallest degree to bring her nearer to him. To Bessie Lovel, therefore, this sister of her husband’s, in all the glory of her fresh young beauty and sumptuous apparel, seemed a creature of another sphere, something to be gazed upon almost in fear and trembling.

“I beg your parding!” she faltered, rubbing her eyes. She was apt, when agitated, to fall back upon the pronunciation of her girlhood, before Austin Lovel had winced and ejaculated at her various mutilations of the language. “I was just taking forty winks after my bit of dinner.”

“I am so sorry I disturbed you,” said Clarissa, in her gracious way. “You were tired, I daresay.”

“O, pray don’t mention it! I’m sure I feel it a great compliment your comin’. It must seem a poor place to you after your beautiful house in the Roo de Morny. Austin told me where you lived; and I took the liberty of walking that way one evening with a lady friend. I’m sure the houses are perfect palaces.”

“I wish you could come to my house as my sister-in-law ought,” replied Clarissa. “I wanted to confide in my husband, to bring about a friendship between him and my brother, if I could; but Austin tells me that is impossible. I suppose he knows best. So, you see, I am obliged to act in this underhand way, and to come to see you by stealth, as it were.”

“It’s very good of you to come at all,” answered the wife with a sigh. “It isn’t many of Austin’s friends take any notice of me. I’m sure most of ’em treat me as if I was a cipher. Not that I mind that, provided he could get on; but it’s dinners there, and suppers here, and never no orders for pictures, as you may say. He had next to nothing to do all the autumn; Paris being so dull, you know, with all the high people away at the sea. He painted Madame Caballero for nothing, just to get himself talked of among her set; and if it wasn’t for Mr. Granger’s orders, I don’t know where we should be. — Come and speak to your aunt, Henery and Arthur, like good boys.”

This to the olive-branches in the window, struggling for the possession of a battered tin railway-engine with a crooked chimney.

“She ain’t my aunt,” cried the eldest hope. “I haven’t got no aunt.”

“Yes, this is your aunt Clarissa. You’ve heard papa talk of her.”

“Yes, I remember,” said the boy sharply. “I remember one night when he talked of Arden Court and Clarissa, and thumped his forehead on the mantelpiece like that;” and the boy pantomimed the action of despair.

“He has fits of that kind sometimes,” said Bessie Lovel, “and goes on about having wasted his life, and thrown away his chances, and all that. He used to go on dreadful when we were in Australia, till he made me that nervous I didn’t know what to do, thinking he’d go and destroy himself some day. But he’s been better since we’ve been in Paris. The gaiety suits him. He says he can’t live without society.”

Clarissa sighed. Little as she knew of her brother’s life, she knew enough to be very sure that love of society had been among the chief causes of his ruin. She took one of her nephews on her lap, and talked to him, and let him play with the trinkets on her chain. Both the children were bright and intelligent enough, but had that air of premature sharpness which comes from constant intercourse with grown-up people, and an early initiation in the difficulties of existence.

She could only stay half an hour with her sister-in-law; but she could see that her visit of duty had gratified the poor little neglected wife. She had not come empty-handed, but had brought an offering for Bessie Lovel which made the tired eyes brighten with something of their old light — a large oval locket of massive dead gold, with a maltese cross of small diamonds upon it; one of the simplest ornaments which Daniel Granger had given her, and which she fancied herself justified in parting with. She had taken it to a jeweller in the Palais Royal, who had arranged a lock of her dark-brown hair, with a true-lover’s knot of brilliants, inside the locket, and had engraved the words “From Clarissa” on the back.

Mrs. Lovel clasped her hands in rapture as Clarissa opened the morocco case and showed her this jewel.

“For me!” she cried. “I never had anything half as beautiful in my life. And your ‘air, too!” She said “‘air” in her excitement. “How good of you to give it to me! I don’t know how to thank you.”

And the poor little woman made a rapid mental review of her wardrobe, wondering if she had any gown good enough to wear with that splendid jewel. Her purple silk — the one silk dress she possessed — was a little shiny and shabby by daylight, but looked very well by candle-light still, she thought. She was really delighted with the locket. In all her life she had had so few presents; and this one gift was worth three times the sum of them. But Clarissa spoke of it in the lightest, most careless way.

“I wanted to bring you some little souvenir,” she said, “and I thought you might like this. And now I must say good-bye, Bessie. I may call you Bessie, mayn’t I? And remember, you must call me Clarissa. I am sorry I am obliged to hurry away like this; but I expect Mr. Granger back rather early, and I want to be at home when he returns. Good-bye, dear!”

She kissed her brother’s wife, who clung to her affectionately, touched by her kindness; kissed the two little nephews also, one of whom caught hold of her dress and said —

“You gave me that money for toys the other day, didn’t you, aunt Clarissa?”

“Yes, darling.”

“But I didn’t have it to spend, though. Pa said he’d lay it out for me; and he brought me home a cart from the Boulevard; but it didn’t cost two napoleons. It was a trumpery cart, that went smash the first time Arthur and I stood in it.”

“You shouldn’t stand in a toy-cart, dear. I’ll bring you some toys the next time I come to see mamma.”

They were out on the landing by this time. Clarissa disengaged herself from the little fellow, and went quickly down the darksome staircase.

“Will that be soon?” the boy called over the banisters.

“I do hope I shall be able to keep it,” said Bessie Lovel presently, as she stood in the window gloating over her locket; whereby it will be seen that Austin’s wife did not feel so secure as she might have done in the possession of her treasure.

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