The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 43

Clarissa’s Elopement.

Mr. Fairfax came a little after noon — came with a calm grave aspect, as of a man who had serious work before him. With all his heart he wished that the days of duelling had not been over; that he could have sent his best friend to Daniel Granger, and made an end of the quarrel in a gentlemanlike way, in some obscure alley at Vincennes, or amidst the shadowy aisles of St. Germains. But a duel nowadays is too complete an anachronism for an Englishman to propose in cold blood. Mr. Fairfax came to his enemy’s house for one special purpose. The woman he loved was in Daniel Granger’s power; it was his duty to explain that fatal meeting in Austin’s rooms, to justify Clarissa’s conduct in the eyes of her husband. It was not that he meant to surrender his hope of their future union — indeed, he hoped that the scene of the previous evening would bring about a speedy separation between husband and wife. But he had placed her in a false position; she was innocent, and he was bound to assert her innocence.

He found Daniel Granger like a man of iron, fully justifying that phrase of Lady Laura’s —“Carré par la base.” The ignominy of his own position came fully home to him at the first moment of their meeting. He remembered the day when he had liked and respected this man: he could not despise him now.

He was conscious that he carried the mark of last night’s skirmish in an unpleasantly conspicuous manner. That straight-out blow of Daniel Granger’s had left a discoloration of the skin — what in a meaner man might have been called a black eye. He, too, had hit hard in that brief tussle; but no stroke of his had told like that blow of the Yorkshireman’s. Mr. Granger bore no trace of the encounter.

The two men met with as serene an air as if they had never grappled each other savagely in the twilight.

“I considered it due to Mrs. Granger that I should call upon you,” George Fairfax began, “in order to explain her part in the affair of last night.”

“Go on, sir. The old story, of course — Mrs. Granger is spotless; it is only appearances that are against her.”

“So far as she is concerned, our meeting yesterday afternoon was an accident. She came there to see another person.”

“Indeed I Mr. Austin the painter, I suppose? — a man who painted her portrait, and who had no farther acquaintance with her than that. A very convenient person, it seems, since she was in the habit of going to his rooms nearly every afternoon; and I suppose the same kind of accident as that of yesterday generally brought you there at the same time.”

“Mrs. Granger went to see her brother.”

“Her brother?”

“Yes, Austin Lovel; otherwise Mr. Austin the painter. I have been pledged to him to keep his identity a secret; but I feel myself at liberty to break my promise now — in his sister’s justification.”

“You mean, that the man who came to this house as a stranger is my wife’s brother?”

“I do.”

“What duplicity! And this is the woman I trusted!”

“There was no voluntary duplicity on your wife’s part. I know that she was most anxious you should be told the truth.”

You know! Yes, of course; you are in my wife’s confidence — an honour I have never enjoyed.”

“It was Austin who objected to make himself known to you.”

“I scarcely wonder at that, considering his antecedents. The whole thing has been very cleverly done, Mr. Fairfax, and I acknowledge myself completely duped. I don’t think there is any occasion for us to discuss the subject farther. Nothing that you could say would alter my estimation of the events of last night. I regret that I suffered myself to be betrayed into any violence — that kind of thing is behind the times. We have wiser remedies for our wrongs nowadays.”

“You do not mean that you would degrade your wife in a law court!” cried Mr. Fairfax. “Any legal investigation must infallibly establish her innocence; but no woman’s name can escape untainted from such an ordeal.”

“No, I am not likely to do that. I have a son, Mr. Fairfax. As for my wife, my plans are formed. It is not in the power of any one living to alter them.”

“Then it is useless for me to say more. On the honour of a gentleman, I have told you nothing but the truth. Your wife is innocent.”

“She is not guiltless of having listened to you. That is quite enough for me.”

“I have done, sir,” said George Fairfax gravely, and, with a bow and a somewhat cynical smile, departed.

He had done what he felt himself bound to do. He had no ardent wish to patch up the broken union between Clarissa and her husband. From the first hour in which he heard of her marriage, he had held it in jealous abhorrence. He had very little compunction about what had happened. It must bring matters to a crisis, he thought. In the meantime, he would have given a great deal to be able to communicate with Clarissa, and began accordingly to deliberate how that might best be done.

He did not deliberate long; for while he was meditating all manner of roundabout modes of approach, he suddenly remembered how Austin Lovel had told him he always wrote to his sister under cover to her maid. All he had to do, therefore, was to find out the maid’s name.

That would be easy enough, Mr. Fairfax imagined, if his servant was good for anything. The days of Leporello are over; but a well-bred valet may still have some little talent for diplomacy.

“My fellow has only to waylay one of Granger’s grooms,” Mr. Fairfax said to himself, “and he can get the information I want readily enough.”

There was not much time to be lost, he thought. Mr. Granger had spoken of his plans with a certain air of decision. Those plans involved some change of residence, no doubt. He would take his wife away from Paris; punish her by swift banishment from that brilliant city; bury her alive at Arden Court, and watch her with the eyes of a lynx for the rest of his life.

“Let him watch you never so closely, or shut you in what prison he may, I will find a door of escape for you, my darling,” he said to himself.

The mistress and maid were busy meanwhile, making arrangements for a sudden flight. There was very little packing to be done; for they could take nothing, or scarcely anything, with them. The great difficulty would be, to get the child out of the house. After a good deal of deliberation they had decided the manner in which their attempt was to be made. It was dusk between five and six; and at dusk Jane was to go to the nursery, and in the most innocent manner possible, carry off the boy for half-an-hour’s play in his mother’s dressing-room. It was, fortunately, a usual thing for Clarissa to have him with her at this time, when she happened to be at home so early. There was a dingy servants’ staircase leading from the corridor to the ground-floor; and down this they were to make their escape unobserved, the child bundled up in a shawl, Jane Target having slipped out beforehand and hired a carriage, which was to wait for them a little way off in a side-street. There was a train leaving Paris at seven, which would take them to Amiens, where they could sleep that night, and go on to Brussels in the morning. Once in Brussels, they must contrive somehow to find Austin Lovel.

Of her plans for the future — how she was to live separated from her husband, and defying him — Clarissa thought nothing. Her mind was wholly occupied by that one consideration about her child. To secure him to herself was the end and aim of her existence.

It was only at Jane’s suggestion that she set herself to calculate ways and means. She had scarcely any ready money — one five-pound note and a handful of silver comprised all her wealth. She had given her brother every sixpence she could spare. There were her jewels, it is true; jewels worth three or four thousand pounds. But she shrank from the idea of touching these.

While she sat with her purse in her hand, idly counting the silver, and not at all able to realise the difficulties of her position, the faithful Jane came to her relief.

“I’ve got five-and-twenty pounds with me, ma’am; saved out of my wages since I’ve been in your service; and I’m sure you’re welcome to the money.”

Jane had brought her little hoard with her, intending to invest some part of it in presents for her kindred — a shawl for her mother, and so on; but had been disappointed, by finding that the Parisian shops, brilliant as they were, contained very much the same things she had seen in London, and at higher prices. She had entertained a hazy notion that cashmere shawls were in some manner a product of the soil of France, and could be bought for a mere trifle; whereby she had been considerably taken aback when the proprietor of a plate-glass edifice on the Boulevard des Italiens asked her a thousand francs for a black cashmere, which she had set her mind upon as a suitable covering for the shoulders of Mrs. Target.

“You dear good girl!” said Clarissa, touched by this new proof of fidelity; “but if I should never be able to pay you the money!”

“Stuff and nonsense, ma’am! no fear of that; and if you weren’t, I shouldn’t care. Father and mother are comfortably off; and I’m not going to work for a pack of brothers and sisters. I gave the girls new bonnets last Easter, and sent them a ribbon apiece at Christmas; and that’s enough for them. If you don’t take the money, ma’am, I shall throw it in the fire.”

Clarissa consented to accept the use of the money. She would be able to repay it, of course. She had a vague idea that she could earn money as a teacher of drawing in some remote continental city, where they might live very cheaply. How sweet it would be to work for her child! much sweeter than to be a millionaire’s wife and dress him in purple and fine linen that cost her nothing.

She spent some hours in looking over and arranging her jewels. From all of these she selected only two half-hoop diamond rings, as a reserve against the hour of need. These and these only of Daniel Granger’s gifts would she take with her. She made a list of her trinkets, with a nota bene stating her appropriation of the two rings, and laid it at the top of her principal jewel-case. After this, she wrote a letter to her husband — a few lines only, telling him how she had determined to take her child away with her, and how she should resist to the last gasp any attempt to rob her of him.

“If I were the guilty wretch you think me,” she wrote, “I would willingly surrender my darling, rather than degrade him by any association with such a fallen creature. But whatever wrong I have committed against you — and that wrong was done by my marriage — I have not forfeited the right to my child’s affection.”

This letter written, there was nothing more to be done. Jane packed a travelling-bag with a few necessary items, and that was all the luggage they could venture to carry away with them.

The afternoon post brought a letter from Brussels, addressed to Miss Jane Target, which the girl brought in triumph to her mistress.

“There’ll be no bother about finding Mr. Austin, ma’am,” she cried. “Here’s a letter!”

The letter was in Austin’s usual brief careless style, entering into no explanations; but it told the quarter in which he had found a lodging; so Clarissa was at least sure of this friendly shelter. It would be a poor one, no doubt; nor was Austin Lovel by any means a strong rock upon which to lean in the hour of trouble. But she loved him, and she knew that he would not turn his back upon her.

The rest of the day seemed long and dreary. Clarissa wandered into the nursery two or three times in order to assure herself, by the evidence of her own eyes, of her boy’s safety. She found the nursemaid busy packing, under Mrs. Brobson’s direction.

The day waned. Clarissa had not seen her husband since that meeting in the corridor; nor had she gone into any of the rooms where Miss Granger might be encountered.

That young lady, painfully in the dark as to what had happened, sat at her table in the window, diligently illuminating, and wondering when her father would take her into his confidence. She had been told of the intended journey on the next day, and that she and her brother were to go back to Arden Court, under the protection of the servants, while Mr. Granger and his wife went elsewhere, and was not a little puzzled by the peculiarity of the arrangement. Warman was packing, complaining the while at having to do so much in so short a time, and knew nothing of what had occurred in the Rue du Chevalier Bayard, after the dismissal of the carriage by Mr. Fairfax.

“There must have been something, miss,” she said, “or your pa would never have taken, this freak into his head — racing back as if it was for a wager; and me not having seen half I wanted to see, nor bought so much as a pincushion to take home to my friends. I had a clear month before me, I thought, so where was the use of hurrying; and then to be scampered and harum-scarumed off like this! It’s really too bad.”

“I have no doubt papa has good reasons for what he is doing, Warman,” answered Miss Granger, with dignity.

“O, of course, miss; gentlefolks has always good reasons for their goings-on!” Warman remarked snappishly, and then “took it out” of one of Miss Granger’s bonnets during the process of packing.

Twilight came at last, the longed-for dusk, in which the attempt was to be made. Clarissa had put on one of her darkest plainest dresses, and borrowed a little black-straw bonnet of her maid’s. This bonnet and her sealskin jacket she deferred putting on until the last; for there was always the fear that Mr. Granger might come in at some awkward moment. At half-past five Jane Target went to the nursery and fetched the year-old heir of Arden Court.

He was always glad to go to his mother; and he came to-night crowing and laughing, and kicking his little blue shoes in boisterous rapture. Jane kept guard at the door while Clarissa put on her bonnet and jacket, and wrapped up the baby — first in a warm fur-lined opera-jacket, and then in a thick tartan shawl. They had no hat for him, but tied up his pretty flaxen head in a large silk handkerchief, and put the shawl over that. The little fellow submitted to the operation, which he evidently regarded in the light of an excellent joke.

Everything was now ready. Clarissa carried her baby, Jane went before with the bag, leading the way down the darksome servants’ staircase, where at any moment they might meet one of Mr. Granger’s retainers. Luckily, they met no one; the descent only occupied about two minutes; and at the bottom of the stairs, Clarissa found herself in a small square stone lobby, lighted by a melancholy jet of gas, and pervaded by the smell of cooking. In the next moment Jane — who had made herself mistress of all minor details — opened a door, and they were out in the dull quiet street — the side-street, at the end of which workmen were scalping away a hill.

A few doors off they found the carriage, which Jane had secured half an hour before, and a very civil driver. Clarissa told the driver where to go, and then got in, with her precious burden safe in her arms.

The precious burden set up a wail at this juncture, not understanding or approving these strange proceedings, and it was as much as his mother could do to soothe him. A few yards round the corner they passed a man, who looked curiously at the vehicle. This was George Fairfax, who was pacing the street in the gloaming in order to reconnoitre the dwelling of the woman he loved, and who let her pass him unaware. His own man was busy at the same time entertaining one of Mr. Granger’s footmen in a neighbouring wine-shop, in the hope of extracting the information his master required about Mrs. Granger’s maid. They reached the station just five minutes before the train left for Amiens; and once seated in the railway-carriage, Clarissa almost felt as if her victory was certain, so easily had the first stage been got over. She kissed and blessed Jane Target, whom she called her guardian angel; and smothered her baby with kisses, apostrophising him with all manner of fond foolishness.

Everything favoured her. The flight was not discovered until nearly three-quarters of an hour after Clarissa had eloped with her baby down that darksome stair. Mrs. Brobson, luxuriating in tea, toast, and gossip before the nursery fire, and relieved not a little by the absence of her one-year-old charge, had been unconscious of the progress of time. It was only when the little clock upon the chimney-piece chimed the half-hour after six, that she began to wonder about the baby.

“His mar’s had him longer than ever,” she said; “you’d better go and fetch him, Liza. She’ll be wanting to dress for dinner, I dessay. I suppose she’s going down to dinner to-night, though there is something up.”

“She didn’t go down to breakfast, nor yet to lunch,” said Eliza, who had her information fresh and fresh from one of the footmen; “and Mr. Granger’s been a-walking up and down the droring-room as if he was a-doing of it for a wager, William Baker says. Mr. Fairfax come this morning, and didn’t stop above a quarter of a hour; but William was outside the droring-room door all the time, and there was no loud talking, nor quarrelling, nor nothink.”

“That Fairfax is a villain,” replied Mrs. Brobson. “I don’t forget the day he kissed baby in Arden Park. I never see any good come of a single gentleman kissing a lady’s baby, voluntary. It isn’t their nature to do it, unless they’ve a hankering after the mar.”

“Lor, Brobson, how horful!” cried Eliza. And in this pleasant converse, the nurse and her subordinate wasted another five minutes.

The nursemaid frittered away a few more minutes in tapping gingerly at the dressing-room door, until at last, emboldened by the silence, she opened it, and, peering in, beheld nothing but emptiness. Mrs. Granger had gone to the drawing-room perhaps; but where was baby? and where was Jane Target? The girl went in search of her favourite, William Baker. Were Mrs. Granger and baby in the drawing-room? No; Mr. Baker had been in attendance all the afternoon. Mrs. Granger had not left her own apartments.

“But she’s not there,” cried Eliza, aghast; “nor Target either. I’ve been looking for baby.”

She ran back to the dressing-room; it was still empty, and the bedroom adjoining. Mr. Granger’s dressing-room was beyond that, and he was there writing letters. At this door — this sacred door, the threshold whereof she had never crossed — Eliza the nursemaid tapped nervously.

“O, if you please, sir, have you got Master Lovel?”

“No,” cried Daniel Granger, starting up from his desk. “What made you think him likely to be here?”

“I can’t find him, please, sir. I’ve been looking in Mrs. Granger’s dressing-room, and everywhere almost. Jane Target fetched him for his ma close upon a hour ago; and Mrs. Brobson sent me for him, and I fancied as you might have got him with you, sir.”

Mr. Granger came out of his room with the lamp in his hand, and came through the bedroom to his wife’s dressing-room, looking with that stern searching gaze of his into every shadowy corner, as if he thought Clarissa and her baby might be playing hide-and-seek there. But there was no one — the cheval-glass and the great glass door of the wardrobe reflected only his own figure, and the scared nursemaid peering from behind his elbow. He went on to the nursery, opening the doors of all the rooms as he passed, and looking in. There are some convictions that come in a minute. Before that search was finished, Daniel Granger felt very sure that his wife had left him, and had taken her child away with her.

In what manner and to what doom had she gone? Was her flight a shameful one, with George Fairfax for her companion? He knew now, for the first time, that in the depths of his mind there had been some lurking belief in her innocence, it was so supreme an agony to him to imagine that she had taken a step which must make her guilt a certainty. He did not waste much time in questioning the verbose Brobson. The child was missing — that was quite clear — and his wife, and his wife’s maid. It was some small relief to him to know that she had taken the honest Yorkshire girl. If she had been going to ignominy, she would scarcely have taken any one who knew her past history, above all, one whom she had known in her childhood.

What was he to do? To follow her, of course, if by any means he could discover whither she had gone. To set the telegraph wires going, also, with a view to discovering her destination. He drove off at once to the chief telegraph office, and wrote a couple of messages, one to Mr. Lovel, at Spa — the other to Mr. Oliver, at Holborough Rectory; with a brief stern request to be informed immediately if his wife should arrive at either place. There was Lady Laura Armstrong, her most intimate friend, with whom she might possibly seek a refuge in the hour of her trouble; but he did not care to make any application in that quarter, unless driven to do so. He did not want to make his wrongs public.

From the telegraph office he drove to the Northern Railway Station, and made minute inquiries about the trains. There was a train by which she might have gone to Calais half an hour before he arrived there. He enlisted the services of an official, and promenaded the waiting-rooms and platforms, the dreary chambers in which travellers wait for their luggage, to and fro between the barriers that torment the soul of the impatient. He asked this man, and several other men, if a lady, with her baby and maid, had been observed to take their departure by any train within the last hour. But the men shrugged their shoulders hopelessly. Ladies and maids and babies came and went in flocks, and no one noticed them. There were always babies. Yes; one of the men did remember a stout lady in a red shawl, with a baby and a birdcage and a crowd of boxes, who had gone by the second-class. Is it that that was the lady monsieur was looking for, par hasard?

“She will go to her father,” Mr. Granger said to himself again and again; and this for the moment seemed to him such a certainty, that he had half made up his mind to start for Spa by the next train that would carry him in that direction. But the thought of George Fairfax — the possibility that his wife might have had a companion in her flight — arrested him in the next moment. “Better that I should stop to make sure of his whereabouts,” he thought; and drove straight to the Champs Elysées, where Mr. Fairfax had his bachelor quarters.

Here he saw the valet, who had not long returned from that diplomatic expedition to the neighbourhood of the Rue de Morny; but who appeared the very image of unconsciousness and innocence notwithstanding. Mr. Fairfax was dining at home with some friends. Would Mr. Granger walk in? The dinner was not served yet. Mr. Fairfax would be delighted to see him.

Mr. Granger refused to go in; but told the man he should be glad to see Mr. Fairfax there, in the ante-room, for a moment. He wanted to be quite sure that the valet was not lying.

Mr. Fairfax came out, surprised at the visit.

“I had a special reason for wishing to know if you were at home this evening,” said Daniel Granger. “I am sorry to have disturbed you, and will not detain you from your friends.”

And then the question flashed upon him —Was she there? No; that would be too daring. Any other refuge she might seek; but surely not this.

George Fairfax had flung the door wide open in coming out. Mr. Granger saw the dainty bachelor room, with its bright pictures shining in the lamp-light, and two young men in evening-dress lolling against the mantelpiece. The odours of an elaborate dinner were also perceptible. The valet had told the truth. Daniel Granger murmured some vague excuse, and departed.

“Queer!” muttered Mr. Fairfax as he went back to his friends.

“I’m afraid the man is going off his head; and yet he seemed cool enough to-day.”

From the Champs Elysees Mr. Granger drove to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard. There was another possibility to be considered: if Austin the painter were indeed Austin Lovel, as George Fairfax had asserted, it was possible that Clarissa had gone to him; and the next thing to be done was to ascertain his whereabouts. The ancient porter, whom Mr. Granger had left the night before in a doubtful and bewildered state of mind, was eating some savoury mess for his supper comfortably enough this evening, but started up in surprise, with his spectacles on his forehead, at Mr. Granger’s reappearance.

“I want to know where your lodger Mr. Austin went when he left here?” Mr. Granger demanded briefly.

The porter shrugged his shoulders.

“Alas, monsieur, that is an impossibility. I know nothing of Mr. Austin’s destination; only that he went away yesterday, at three o’clock, in a hackney-coach, which was to take him to the Northern Railway.”

“Is there no one who can tell me what I want to know?” asked Mr. Granger.

“I doubt it, monsieur. Monsieur Austin was in debt to almost every one except his landlord. He promised to write about his furniture — some of the movables in those rooms upstairs are his — cabinets, carved chairs, tapestries, and so on; but he said nothing as to where he was going.”

“He promised to write,” repeated Mr. Granger. “That’s an indefinite kind of promise. You could let me know, I suppose, if you heard anything?”

“But certainly,” replied the porter, who saw Mr. Granger’s fingers in his waistcoat pocket, and scented a fee, “monsieur should know immediately.”

Mr. Granger wrote his address upon a card, and gave it to the porter, with a napoleon.

“You shall have another when you bring me any information. Good-night.”

At home, Daniel Granger had to face his daughter, who had heard by this time of her stepmother’s departure and the abstraction of the baby.

“O, papa,” she exclaimed, “I do so feel for you!” and made as if she would have embraced her parent; but he stood like a rock, not inviting any affectionate demonstration.

“Thank you, my dear,” he said gravely; “but I can do very well without pity. It’s a kind of thing I’m not accustomed to. I am annoyed that Clarissa should have acted in — in this ill-advised manner; but I have no doubt matters will come right in a little time.”

“Lovel — my brother is safe, papa?” inquired Sophia, clasping her hands.

“I have every reason to believe so. He is with his mother.”

Miss Granger sighed profoundly, as much as to say, “He could not be in worse hands.”

“And I think, my dear,” continued her father, “that the less you trouble yourself about this business the bettor. Any interference on your part will only annoy me, and may occasion unpleasantness between us. You will go back to Arden, to-morrow, as I intended, with Warman, and one of the men to take care of your luggage. The rest of the establishment will follow in a day or so.”

“And you, papa?”

“My plans are uncertain. I shall return to Arden as soon as I can.”

“Dear old Arden!” exclaimed Sophia; “how I wish we had never left it! How happy I was for the first four years of my life there!”

This apostrophe Mr. Granger perfectly understood — it meant that, with the advent of Clarissa, happiness had fled away from Sophia’s dwelling-place. He did not trouble himself to notice the speech; but it made him angry nevertheless.

“There is a letter for you, papa,” said Miss Granger, pointing to a side-table; “a letter which Warman found upstairs.”

The lynx-eyed Warman, prying and peering about, had spied out Clarissa’s letter to her husband, half hidden among the frivolities on the dressing-table. Mr. Granger pounced upon it eagerly, full of hope. It might tell him all he wanted to know.

It told him nothing. The words were not consistent with guilt, unless Clarissa were the very falsest of women. But had she not been the falsest? Had she not deceived him grossly, unpardonably? Alas, he was already trying to make excuses for her — trying to believe her innocent, innocent of what society calls sin — yes, she might be that. But had he not seen her kneeling beside her lover? Had she not owned that she loved him? She had; and the memory of her words were poison to Daniel Granger.

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