The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 45

Temptation.

It was Sunday; and Clarissa had been nearly a week in Brussels — a very quiet week, in which she had had nothing to do but worship her baby, and tremblingly await any attempt that might be made to wrest him from her. She lived in hourly fear of discovery, and was startled by every step on the staircase and fluttered by every sudden opening of a door, expecting to see Daniel Granger on the threshold.

She went to church alone on this first Sunday morning. Austin was seldom visible before noon, dawdling away the bleaker morning hours smoking and reading in bed. Bessie had a world of domestic business on her hands, and the two boys to torment her while she attempted to get through it. So Clarissa went alone to St. Gudule. There were Protestant temples, no doubt, in the Belgian city wherein she might have worshipped; but that solemn pile drew her to itself with a magnetic attraction. She went in among the gay-looking crowd — the old women in wondrous caps, the sprinkling of soldiers, the prosperous citizens and citizenesses in their Sunday splendour — and made her way to a quiet corner remote from the great carved-oak pulpit and the high altar — a shadowy corner behind a massive cluster of columns, and near a little wooden door in one of the great portals, that opened and shut with a clanging noise now and then, and beside which a dilapidated-looking old man kept watch over a shell-shaped marble basin of holy water, and offered a brush dipped in the sacred fluid to devout passers-by. Here she could kneel unobserved, and in her ignorant fashion, join in the solemn service, lifting up her heart with the elevation of the host, and acknowledging her guiltiness in utter humility of spirit.

Yet not always throughout that service could she keep her thoughts from wandering. Her mind had been too much troubled of late for perfect peace or abstraction of thought to be possible to her. The consideration of her own folly was very constantly with her. What a wreck and ruin she had made of her life — a life which from first to last had been governed by impulse only!

“If I had been an honourable woman, I should never have married Daniel Granger,” she said to herself. “What right had I to take so much and give so little — to marry a man I could not even hope to love for the sake of winning independence for my father, or for the sake of my old home?”

Arden Court — was not that the price which had made her sacrifice tolerable to her? And she had lost it; the gates of the dwelling she loved were closed upon her once again — and this time for ever. How the memory of the place came back to her this chill March morning! — the tall elms rocking in the wind, the rooks’ nests tossing in the topmost branches, and the hoarse cawing of discontented birds bewailing the tardiness of spring.

“It will be my darling’s home in the days to come,” she said to herself; but even this thought brought no consolation. She dared not face her son’s future. Would it not involve severance from her? Now, while he was an infant, she might hold him; but by-and-by the father’s stern claim would be heard. They would take the boy away from her — teach him to despise and forget her. She fancied herself wandering and watching in Arden Park, a trespasser, waiting for a stolen glimpse of her child’s face.

“I shall die before that time comes,” she thought gloomily.

Some such fancy as this held her absorbed when the high mass concluded, and the congregation began to disperse. The great organ was pealing out one of Mozart’s Hallelujahs. There was some secondary service going on at either end of the church. Clarissa still knelt, with her face hidden in her hands, not praying, only conjuring up dreadful pictures of the future. Little by little the crowd melted away; there were only a few worshippers murmuring responses in the distance; the last chords of the Hallelujah crashed and resounded under the vaulted roof; and at last Clarissa looked up and found herself almost alone.

She went out, but shrank from returning immediately to her child. Those agitating thoughts had affected her too deeply. She walked away from the church up towards the park, hoping to find some quiet place where she might walk down the disturbance in her mind, so as to return with a calm smiling face to her darling. It was not a tempting day for any purposeless pedestrian. The sky had darkened at noon, and there was a drizzling rain coming down from the dull gray heavens. The streets cleared quickly now the services were over; but Clarissa went on, scarcely conscious of the rain, and utterly indifferent to any inconvenience it might cause her.

She was in the wide open place near the park, when she heard footsteps following her, rapidly, and with a purpose, as it seemed. Some women have a kind of instinct about these things. She knew in a moment, as if by some subtle magnetism, that the man following her was George Fairfax.

“Clarissa,” said a voice close in her ear; and turning quickly, she found herself face to face with him.

“I was in the church,” he said, “and have followed you all the way here. I waited till we were clear of the narrow streets and the crowd. O, my darling, thank God I have found you! I only knew yesterday that you had left Paris; and some happy instinct brought me here. I felt sure you would come to Austin. I arrived late last night, and was loafing about the streets this morning, wondering how I should discover your whereabouts, when I turned a corner and saw you going into St. Gudule. I followed, but would not disturb your orisons, fair saint. I was not very far off, Clarissa — only on the other side of the pillar.”

“Was it kind of you to follow me here, Mr. Fairfax?” Clarissa asked gravely. “Have you not brought enough trouble upon me as it is?”

“Brought trouble upon you! Yes, that seems hard; but I suppose it was my fate to do that, and to make amends for it afterwards, dearest, in a life that shall know no trouble.”

“I am here with my son, Mr. Fairfax. It was the fear of being separated from him that drove me away from Paris. If you have one spark of generous feeling, you will not pursue me or annoy me here. If my husband were to see us together, or were to hear of our being seen together, he would have just grounds for taking my child away from me.”

“Clarissa,” exclaimed George Fairfax, with intensity, “let us make an end of all folly and beating about the bush at once and for ever. I do not say that I am not sorry for what happened the other night — so far as it caused annoyance to you — but I am heartily glad that matters have been brought to a crisis. The end must have come sooner or later, Clary — so much the better if it has come quickly. There is only one way to deal with the wretched mistake of your marriage, and that is to treat it as a thing that has never been. There are places enough in the world, Clary, in which you and I are nameless and unknown, and we can be married in one of those places. I will run all risks of a criminal prosecution and seven, years at Portland. You shall be my wife, Clarissa, by as tight a knot as Church and State can tie.”

She looked at him with a half scornful smile.

“Do you think you are talking to a child?” she said.

They had been standing in the chill drizzling rain all this time, unconscious, and would have so stood, perhaps, if a shower of fire and brimstone had been descending upon Brussels. But at this juncture Mr. Fairfax suddenly discovered that it was raining, and that Clarissa’s shawl was growing rapidly damper.

“Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “what a brute I am. I must find you some kind of shelter.”

There was a café near at hand, the café attached to the Théâtre du Pare, with rustic out-of-door constructions for the accommodation of its customers. Mr. Fairfax conducted Clarissa to one of these wooden arbours, where they might remain till the rain was over, or till he chose to bring her a carriage. He did not care to do that very soon. He had a great deal to say to her. This time he was resolved not to accept defeat.

A solitary waiter espied them promptly, having so little to do in this doleful weather, and came for orders. Mr. Fairfax asked for some coffee, and waited in silence while the man brought a little tray with cups and saucers and a great copper coffee-pot, out of which he poured the black infusion with infinite flourish.

“Bring some cognac,” said Mr. Fairfax; and when the spirit had been brought, he poured half a wine-glassful into a cup of coffee, and entreated Clarissa to drink it as an antidote to cold.

“You were walking ever so long in the rain,” he said.

She declined the nauseous dose.

“I am not afraid of catching cold,” she said; “but I shall be very glad if you will let that man fetch me a fly. I ought to have been at home half an hour ago.”

“At home! Is it permissible to ask where you live?”

“I would rather not tell you my address. I hope, if my being here had anything to with your coming to Brussels, that you will go back to Paris at once.”

“I shall never go back to Paris unless I enter its gates with you some day. I am going to the East, Clary; to Constantinople, and Athens, and all the world of fable and story, and you are going with me — you and young Lovel. Do you know there is one particular spot in the island of Corfu which I have pitched upon for the site of a villa, just such a fairy place as you can sketch for me — your own architecture — neither gothic nor composite, neither classic nor rustic, only le style Clarisse; not for our permanent dwelling — to my mind, nothing but poverty should ever chain a man to one habitation — but as a nest to which we might fly now and then, when we were weary of roaming.”

He was talking lightly, after his nature, which was of the lightest, but for a purpose, also, trying to beguile Clarissa from serious considerations, to bring a smile to the pale sad face, if he could. In vain; the hazel eyes looked straight forward with an unwonted fixedness, the lips were firmly set, the hands clasped rigidly.

After this, his tone grew more earnest; again he pleaded, very much as he had pleaded before, but with a stronger determination, with a deeper passion, painting the life that might be for those two in the warmest, brightest colours that his fancy could lend it. What had she to care for? he argued. Absolutely nothing. She had broken with her husband, whom George Fairfax knew by his own experience to be implacable in his resentment. And oh, how much to gain! A life of happiness; all her future spent with the man who loved her; spent wherever and however she pleased. What was he but her slave, to obey her?

She was not unmoved by his pleading. Unmoved? These were words and tones that went home to her heart of hearts. Yes, she could imagine the life he painted so well. Yes, she knew what the future would seem to her, if it were to be spent with him. She loved him dearly — had so loved him ever since that night in the railway-carriage, she thought. When had his image really been absent from her since that time?

He insisted that she should hear him to the end, and she submitted, not unwillingly, perhaps. She had no thought of yielding; but it was sweet to her to hear his voice — for the last time, she told herself; this must be the last time. Even while he pleaded and argued and demonstrated that the wisest thing in the world she could do was to run away with him, she was meditating her plan of escape. Not again must they meet thus. She had a certain amount of strength of mind, but it was not inexhaustible, and she felt her weakness.

“You forget that I have a son,” she said at last, when he urged her to speak.

“He shall be my son. Do you think I do not love that rosy yearling? He shall inherit Lyvedon, if you like; there is no entail; I can do what I please with it. Yes, though I had sons of my own he should be first, by right of any wrong we may do him now. In the picture I have made of our future life, I never omitted that figure, Clarissa. Forget your son! No, Clary; when I am less than a father to him, tell me that I never loved you.”

This was the man’s way of looking at the question; the boy’s future should be provided for, he should have a fine estate left him by way of solatium. The mother thought of what her son would think of her, when he grew old enough to consider her conduct.

“I must ask you to get me a fly somehow, Mr. Fairfax,” she said quietly. “It is still raining, and I am really anxious to get home to Lovel. I am sorry you should have taken so much trouble about me; it is quite useless, believe me. I know that I have been very weak — guilty even — in many ways since I have known you; but that is all over now. I have paid the penalty in the loss of my husband’s esteem. I have nothing now to live for but my child.”

“And is that to be the end of everything, Mrs. Granger?” asked George Fairfax, with an angry look in his eyes. “Are we to part upon that? It is such an easy thing to lure a man on to a certain point, and then turn upon him and protest you never meant to go beyond that point. You have paid the penalty! Do you think I have paid no penalty? Was it a pleasant thing to me, do you suppose, to jilt Geraldine Challoner? I trampled honour in the dust for your sake, Clarissa. Do you know that there is a coolness between my mother and me at this moment, because of my absence from England and that broken-off marriage? Do you know that I have turned my back for ever upon a place that any man might be proud to call his home, for the sake of being near you? I have cast every consideration to the winds; and now that you have actually broken loose from your bondage, now that there is nothing to come between us and a happy future, you set up your son as an obstacle, and”— he concluded with a bitter laugh —“ask me to fetch you a fly!”

“I am sorry to wound you; but — but — I cannot bring dishonour upon my son.”

“Your son!” cried George Fairfax savagely. “An east wind may blow your son off the face of the earth to-morrow. Is a one-year-old baby to stand between a man and his destiny? Come, Clary, I have served my apprenticeship; I have been very patient; but my patience is exhausted. You must leave this place with me to-night.”

“Mr. Fairfax, will you get me a fly, or must I walk home?”

He looked at her fixedly for a few moments, intent upon finding out if she were really in earnest, if this cold persistence were unconquerable even by him. Her face was very pale, the eyes downcast, the mouth firm as marble.

“Clarissa,” he cried, “I have been fooled from first to last — you have never loved me!”

Those words took her off her guard; she lifted her eyes to meet his, eyes full of love and despair, and again he told himself success was only a question of time. His apprenticeship was not finished yet; he must be content to serve a little longer. When she had tasted the bitterness of her new life, its helplessness, its desolation, with only such a broken reed as Austin Lovel to lean upon, she would turn to him naturally for comfort and succour, as the fledgling flies back to its nest.

But if in the meantime Daniel Granger should relent and pursue her, and take her back to his heart with pardon and love? There was the possibility of that event; yet to press matters too persistently would be foolish, perilous even. Better to let her have her own way for a little, since he knew that she loved him.

He went to look for the depressed waiter, whom he dispatched in quest of a vehicle, and then returned to the rustic shelter, where Clarissa sat like a statue, watching the rain pouring down monotonously in a perpetual drizzle. They heard the wheels of the carriage almost immediately. Mr. Fairfax offered his arm to Clarissa, and led her out of the garden; the obsequious waiter on the other side holding an umbrella over her head.

“Where shall I tell the man to drive?” he asked.

“To St. Gudule.”

“But you don’t live in the cathedral, like Hugo’s Esmeralda. Am I not to know your address?”

“It is better not. Austin knows that you were the cause of my leaving Paris. If you came, there might be some misunderstanding.”

“I am not afraid of facing Austin.”

“But I am afraid of any meeting between you. I cannot tell you where I am living, Mr. Fairfax.”

“That seems rather hard upon me. But you will let me see you again, won’t you, Clary? Meet me here to-morrow at dusk — say at six o’clock. Promise to do that, and I will let you off.”

She hesitated, looking nervously to the right and left, like a hunted animal.

“Promise, Clary; it is not very much to ask.”

“Very well, then, I promise. Only please let the man drive off to St. Gudule, and pray don’t follow me.”

Mr. Fairfax grasped her hand. “Remember, you have promised,” he said, and then gave the coachman his orders. And directly the fly containing Clarissa had rattled off, he ran to the nearest stand and chartered another.

“Drive to St. Gudule,” he said to the man, “and when you see a carriage going that way, keep behind it, but not too near.”

It happened, however, that the first driver had the best horse, and, being eager to earn his fare quickly, had deposited Clarissa in the Place Gudule before George Fairfax’s charioteer could overtake him. She had her money ready to slip into the man’s hand, and she ran across the square and into the narrow street where Austin lived, and vanished, before Mr. Fairfax turned the corner of the square.

He met the empty vehicle, and dismissed his own driver thereupon in a rage. “Your horse ought to be suppressed by the legal authorities,” he said, as he gave the man his fare.

She must live very near the cathedral, he concluded, and he spent a dreary hour patrolling the narrow streets round about in the wet. In which of those dull-looking houses has she her dwelling? He could not tell. He walked up and down, staring up at all the windows with a faint hope of seeing her, but in vain; and at last went home to his hotel crestfallen and disappointed.

“She escapes me at every turn,” he said to himself. “There is a kind of fatality. Am I to grow old and gray in pursuing her, I wonder? I feel ten years older already, since that night when she and I travelled together.”

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