The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 48

“Strangers Yet.”

Lady Laura went back to Portland-place in an hour; but Geraldine Challoner stayed all night with the sick child. God was very merciful to Clarissa; the angel of death passed by. In the night the fever abated, if only ever so little; and Dr. Ormond’s report next day was a cheering one. He did not say the little one was out of danger; but he did say there was hope.

Lady Geraldine proved herself an accomplished nurse. The sick child seemed more tranquil in her arms than even in his mother’s. The poor mother felt a little pang of jealousy as she saw that it was so; but bore the trial meekly, and waited upon Geraldine with humble submission.

“How good you are!” she murmured once, as she watched the slim white hands that had played chess with George Fairfax adjusting poultices —“how good you are!”

“Don’t say that, my dear Mrs. Granger. I would do as much for any cottager’s child within twenty miles of Hale; it would be hard if I couldn’t do it for my sister’s friend.”

“Have you always been fond of the poor?” Clarissa asked wonderingly.

“Yes,” Geraldine answered, with a faint blush; “I was always fond of them. I can get on with poor people better than with my equals sometimes, I think; but I have visited more amongst them lately, since I have gone less into society — since papa’s death, in fact. And I am particularly fond of children; the little things always take to me.”

“My baby does, at any rate.”

“Have you written or telegraphed to Mr. Granger?” Lady Geraldine asked gravely.

“No, no, no; there can be no necessity now. Dr. Ormond says there is hope.”

“Hope, yes; but these little lives are so fragile. I implore you to send to him. It is only right.”

“I will think about it, by and by, perhaps, if he should grow any worse; but I know he is getting better. O, Lady Geraldine, have some pity upon me! If my husband finds out where I am, he will rob me of my child.”

The words were hardly spoken, when there was a loud double-knock at the door below, a delay of some two minutes, and then a rapid step on the stair — a step that set Clarissa’s heart beating tumultuously. She sat down by the bed, clinging to it like an animal at bay, guarding her cub from the hunter.

The door was opened quickly, and Daniel Granger came into the room. He went straight to the bed, and bent down to look at his child.

The boy had been light-headed in the night, but his brain was clear enough now. He recognised his father, and smiled — a little wan smile, that went to the strong man’s heart.

“My God, how changed he is!” exclaimed Mr. Granger. “How long has he been ill?”

“Very little more than a week, sir,” Jane Target faltered from the background.

“More than a week! and I am only told of his illness to-day, by a telegram from Lady Laura Armstrong! I beg your pardon, Lady Geraldine; I did not see you till this moment. I owe it to your sister’s consideration that I am here in time to see my boy before he dies.”

“We have every hope of saving him,” said Geraldine.

“And what a place I find him in! He has had some kind of doctor attending him, I suppose?”

“He has had a surgeon from the neighbourhood, who seems both kind and clever, and Dr. Ormond.”

Mr. Granger seated himself at the foot of the bed, a very little way from Clarissa, taking possession of his child, as it were.

“Do you know, Mrs. Granger, that I have scarcely rested night or day since you left Paris, hunting for my son?” he said. And this was the first time he acknowledged his wife’s presence by word or look.

Clarissa was silent. She had been betrayed, she thought — betrayed by her own familiar friend; and Daniel Granger had come to rob her of her child. Come what might, she would not part with him without a struggle.

After this, there came a weary time of anxious care and watching. The little life trembled in the balance; there were harassing fluctuations, a fortnight of unremitting care, before a favourable issue could be safely calculated upon. And during all that time Daniel Granger watched his boy with only the briefest intervals for rest or refreshment. Clarissa watched too; nor did her husband dispute her right to a place in the sick-room, though he rarely spoke to her, and then only with the coldest courtesy.

Throughout this period of uncertainty, Geraldine Challoner was faithful to the duty she had undertaken; spending the greatest part of her life at Clarissa’s lodgings, and never wearying of the labours of the sick-room. The boy grew daily fonder of her; but, with a womanly instinct, she contrived that it should be Clarissa who carried him up and down the room when he was restless — Clarissa’s neck round which the wasted little arm twined itself.

Daniel Granger watched the mother and child sometimes with haggard eyes, speculating on the future. If the boy lived, who was to have him? The mother, whose guilt or innocence was an open question — who had owned to being at heart false to her husband — or the father, who had done nothing to forfeit the right to his keeping? And yet to part them was like plucking asunder blossom and bud, that had grown side by side upon one common stem. In many a gloomy reverie the master of Arden Court debated this point.

He could never receive his wife again — upon that question there seemed to him no room for doubt. To take back to his home and his heart the woman who had confessed her affection for another man, was hardly in Daniel Granger’s nature. Had he not loved her too much already — degraded himself almost by so entire a devotion to a woman who had given him nothing, who had kept her heart shut against him?

“She married Arden Court, not me,” he said to himself; “and then she tried to have Arden Court and her old lover into the bargain. Would she have run away with him, I wonder, if he had had time to persuade her that day? Can any woman be pure, when a man dares ask her to leave her husband?”

And then the locket that man wore —“From Clarissa”— was not that damning evidence?

He thought of these things again and again, with a weary iteration — thought of them as he watched the mother walking slowly to and fro with her baby in her arms. That picture would surely live in his mind for ever, he thought. Never again, never any more, in all the days to come, could he take his wife back to his heart; but, O God, how dearly he had loved her, and how desolate his home would be without her! Those two years of their married life seemed to be all his existence; looking back beyond that time, his history seemed, like Viola’s, “A blank, my lord.” And he was to live the rest of his life without her. But for that ever-present anxiety about the child, which was in some wise a distraction, the thought of these things might have driven him mad.

At last, after those two weeks of uncertainty, there came a day when Dr. Ormond pronounced the boy out of danger — on the very high-road to recovery, in fact.

“I would say nothing decided till I could speak with perfect certainty,” he said. “You may make yourselves quite happy now.”

Clarissa knelt down and kissed the good old doctor’s hand, raining tears upon it in a passion of gratitude. He seemed to her in that moment something divine, a supernal creature who, by the exercise of his power, had saved her child Dr. Ormond lifted her up, smiling at her emotion.

“Come, come, my dear soul, this is hysterical,” he said, in his soothing paternal way, patting her shoulder gently as he spoke; “I always meant to save the little fellow; though it has been a very severe bout, I admit, and we have had a tussle for it. And now I expect to see your roses come back again. It has been a hard time for you as well as for baby.”

When Mr. Granger went out of the room with the physician presently, Dr. Ormond said gravely —

“The little fellow is quite safe, Mr. Granger; but you must look to your wife now.”

“What do you mean?”

“She has a nasty little hacking cough — a chest cough — which I don’t like; and there’s a good deal of incipient fever about her.”

“If there is anything wrong, for God’s sake see to her at once!” cried Daniel Granger. “Why didn’t you speak of this before?”

“There was no appearance of fever until to-day. I didn’t wish to worry her with medicines while she was anxious about the child; indeed, I thought the best cure for her would be the knowledge of his safety. But the cough is worse to-day; and I should certainly like to prescribe for her, if you will ask her to come in here and speak to me for a few minutes.”

So Clarissa went into the dingy lodging-house sitting-room to see the doctor, wondering much that any one could be interested in such an insignificant matter as her health, now that her treasure was safe. She went reluctantly, murmuring that she was well enough — quite well now; and had hardly tottered into the room, when she sank down upon the sofa in a dead faint.

Daniel Granger looked on aghast while they revived her.

“What can have caused this?” he asked.

“My dear sir, you are surely not surprised,” said Dr. Ormond. “Your wife has been sitting up with her child every night for nearly a month — the strain upon her, bodily and mental, has been enormous, and the reaction is of course trying. She will want a good deal of care, that is all. Come now,” he went on cheerfully, as Clarissa opened her eyes, to find her head lying on Jane Target’s shoulder, and her husband standing aloof regarding her with affrighted looks —“come now, my dear Mrs. Granger, cheer up; your little darling is safely over his troubles.”

She burst into a flood of tears.

“They will take him away from me!” she sobbed.

“Take him away from you — nonsense! What are you dreaming of?”

“Death has been merciful; but you will be more cruel,” she cried, looking at her husband. “You will take him away.”

“Come, come, my dear lady, this is a delusion; you really must not give way to this kind of thing,” murmured the doctor, rather complacently. He had a son-in-law who kept a private madhouse at Wimbledon, and began to think Mrs. Granger was drifting that way. It was sad, of course, a sweet young woman like that; but patients are patients, and Daniel Granger’s wife would be peculiarly eligible.

He looked at Mr. Granger, and touched his forehead significantly. “The brain has been sorely taxed,” he murmured, confidentially; “but we shall set all that right by-and-by.” This with as confident an air as if the brain had been a clock.

Daniel Granger went over to his wife, and took her hand — it was the first time those two hands had met since the scene in Austin’s painting-room — looking down at her gravely.

“Clarissa,” he said, “on my word of honour, I will not attempt to separate you from your son.”

She gave a great cry — a shriek, that rang through the room — and cast herself upon her husband’s breast.

“O, God bless you for that!” she sobbed; “God bless —” and stopped, strangled by her sobs.

Mr. Granger put her gently back into her faithful hand-maiden’s arms. That was different. He might respect her rights as a mother; he could never again accept her as his wife.

But a time came now in which all thought of the future was swept away by a very present danger. Before the next night, Clarissa was raving in brain-fever; and for more than a month life was a blank to her — or not a blank, an age of confused agony rather, to be looked back upon with horror by-and-by.

They dared not move her from the cheerless rooms in Soho. Lovel was sent down to Ventnor with Lady Geraldine and a new nurse. It could do no harm to take him away from his mother for a little while, since she was past the consciousness of his presence. Jane Target and Daniel Granger nursed her, with a nursing sister to relieve guard occasionally, and Dr. Ormond in constant attendance.

The first thing she saw, when sense came back to her, was her husband’s figure, sitting a little way from-the bed, his face turned towards her, gravely watchful. Her first reasonable words — faintly murmured in a wondering tone — moved him deeply; but he was strong enough to hide all emotion.

“When she has quite recovered, I shall go back to Arden,” he said to himself; “and leave her to plan her future life with the help of Lady Geraldine’s counsel. That woman is a noble creature, and the best friend my wife can have. And then we must make some fair arrangement about the boy — what time he is to spend with me, and what with his mother. I cannot altogether surrender my son. In any case he is sure to love her best.”

When Clarissa was at last well enough to be moved, her husband took her down to Ventnor, where the sight of her boy, bright and blooming, and the sound of his first syllables — little broken scraps of language, that are so sweet to mothers’ ears — had a better influence than all Dr. Ormond’s medicines. Here, too, came her father, from Nice, where he had been wintering, having devoted his days to the pleasing duty of taking care of himself. He would have come sooner, immediately on hearing of Clarissa’s illness, he informed Mr. Granger; but he was a poor frail creature, and to have exposed himself to the north-cast winds of this most uncertain climate early in April would have been to run into the teeth of danger. It was the middle of May now, and May this year had come without her accustomed inclemency.

“I knew that my daughter was in good hands,” he said. Daniel Granger signed, and answered nothing.

Mr. Lovel’s observant eyes soon perceived that there was something amiss; and one evening, when he and Mr. Granger were strolling on the sands between Ventnor and Shanklin, he plainly taxed his son-in-law with the fact.

“There is some quarrel between Clary and you,” he said; “I can see that at a glance. Why, I used to consider you a model couple — perfectly Arcadian in your devotion — and now you scarcely speak to each other.”

“There is a quarrel that must last our lives,” Daniel Granger answered moodily, and then told his story, without reservation.

“Good heavens!” cried Mr. Lovel, at the end, “there is a curse upon that man and his race.”

And then he told his own story, in a very few words, and testified to his undying hatred of all the house of Fairfax.

After this there came a long silence, during which Clarissa’s father was meditative.

“You cannot, of course, for a moment suppose that I can doubt my daughter’s innocence throughout this unfortunate business,” he said at last. “I know the diabolical persistency of that race too well. It was like a Fairfax to entangle my poor girl in his net — to compromise her reputation, in the hope of profiting by his treachery. I do not attempt to deny, however, that Clarissa was imprudent. We have to consider her youth, and that natural love of admiration which tempts women to jeopardise their happiness and character even for the sake of an idle flirtation. I do not pretend that my daughter is faultless; but I would stake my life upon her purity. At the same time I quite agree with you, Granger, that under existing circumstances, a separation — a perfectly amicable separation, my daughter of course retaining the society of her child — would be the wiser course for both parties.”

Mr. Granger had a sensation as of a volume of cold water dashed suddenly in his face. This friendly concurrence of his father-in-law’s took him utterly by surprise. He had expected that Mr. Lovel would insist upon a reconciliation, would thrust his daughter upon her husband at the point of the sword, as it were. He bowed acquiescence, but for some moments could find no words to speak.

“There is no other course open to me,” he said at last. “I cannot tell you how I have loved your daughter — God alone knows that — and how my every scheme of life has been built up from that one foundation. But that is all over now. I know, with a most bitter certainty, from her own lips, that I have never possessed her heart.”

“I can scarcely imagine that to be the case,” said Mr. Lovel, “even though Clarissa may have been betrayed into some passionate admission to that effect. Women will say anything when they are angry.”

“This was not said in anger.”

“But at the worst, supposing her heart not to have been yours hitherto, it might not be too late to win it even now. Men have won their wives after marriage.”

“I am too old to try my hand at that,” replied Mr. Granger, with a bitter smile. He was mentally comparing himself with George Fairfax, the handsome soldier, with that indescribable charm of youth and brightness about him.

“If you were a younger man, I would hardly recommend such a separation,” Mr. Lovel went on coolly; “but at your age — well, existence is quite tolerable without a wife; indeed there is a halcyon calm which descends upon a man when a woman’s influence is taken out of his life, that is, perhaps, better than happiness. You have a son and heir, and that, I should imagine, for a man of your position, is the chief end and aim of marriage. My daughter can come abroad with me, and we can lead a pleasant drowsy life together, dawdling about from one famous city or salubrious watering-place to another. I shall, as a matter of course, surrender the income you have been good enough to allow me; but, en revanche, you will no doubt make Clarissa an allowance suitable to her position as your wife.”

Mr. Granger laughed aloud.

“Do you think there can ever be any question of money between us?” he asked. “Do you think that if, by the surrender of every shilling I possess, I could win back my faith in my wife, I should hold the loss a heavy one?”

Mr. Lovel smiled, a quiet, self-satisfied smile, in the gloaming.

“He will make her income a handsome one,” he said to himself, “and I shall have my daughter — who is really an acquisition, for I was beginning to find life solitary — and plenty of ready money. Or he will come after her in three months’ time. That is the result I anticipate.”

They walked till a late moon had risen from the deep blue waters, and when they went back to the house everything was settled. Mr. Lovel answered for his daughter as freely as if he had been answering for himself. He was to take her abroad, with his grandson and namesake Lovel, attended by Jane Target and the new nurse, vice Mrs. Brobson, dismissed for neglect of her charge immediately after Clarissa’s flight. If the world asked any questions, the world must be told that Mr. and Mrs. Granger had parted by mutual consent, or that Mrs. Granger’s doctor had ordered continental travel. Daniel Granger could settle that point according to his own pleasure; or could refuse to give the world any answer at all, if he pleased.

Mr. Lovel told his daughter the arrangement that he had made for her next morning.

“I am to have my son?” she asked eagerly.

“Yes, don’t I tell you so? You and Lovel are to come with me. You can live anywhere you please; you will have a fair income, a liberal one, I daresay. You are very well off, upon my word, Clarissa, taking into consideration the fact of your supreme imprudence — only you have lost your husband.”

“And I have lost Arden Court. Does not there seem a kind of retribution in that? I made a false vow for the love of Arden Court — and — and for your sake, papa.”

“False fiddlestick!” exclaimed Mr. Lovel, impatiently; “any reasonable woman might have been happy in your position, and with such a man as Granger; a man who positively worshipped you. However, you have lost all that. I am not going to lecture you — the penalty you pay is heavy enough, without any sermonising on my part. You are a very lucky woman to retain custody of your child, and escape any public exposure; and I consider that your husband has shown himself most generous.”

Daniel Granger and his wife parted soon after this; parted without any sign of compunction — there was a dead wall of pride between them. Clarissa felt the burden of her guilt, but could not bring herself to make any avowal of her repentance to the husband who had put her away from him — so easily, as it seemed to her. That touched her pride a little.

On that last morning, when the carriage was waiting to convey the travellers to Ryde, Mr. Granger’s fortitude did almost abandon him at parting with his boy. Clarissa was out of the room when he took the child up in his arms, and put the little arms about his neck. He had made arrangements that the boy was to spend so many weeks in every year with him — was to be brought to him at his bidding, in fact; he was not going to surrender his treasure entirely.

And yet that parting seemed almost as bitter as if it had been for ever. It was such an outrage upon nature; the child who should have been so strong a link to bind those two hearts, to be taken from him like this, and for no sin of his. Resentment against his wife was strong in his mind at all times, but strongest when he thought of this loss which she had brought upon him. And do what he would, the child would grow up with a divided allegiance, loving his mother best.

One great sob shook him as he held the boy in that last embrace, and then he set him down quietly, as the door opened, and Clarissa appeared in her travelling-dress, pale as death, but very calm.

Just at the last she gave her hand to her husband, and said gently — “I am very grateful to you for letting me take Lovel. I shall hold him always at your disposal.”

Mr. Granger took the thin cold hand, and pressed it gently.

“I am sorry there is any necessity for a divided household,” he said gravely. “But fate has been stronger than I. Good-bye.”

And so they parted; Mr. Granger leaving Ventnor later in the day, purposeless and uncertain, to moon away an evening at Ryde, trying to arrive at some decision as to what he should do with himself.

He could not go back to Arden yet awhile, that was out of the question. Farming operations, building projects, everything else, must go on without him, or come to a standstill. Indeed, it seemed to him doubtful whether he should ever go back to the house he had beautified, and the estate he had expanded: to live there alone — as he had lived before his marriage, that is to say, in solitary state with his daughter — must surely be intolerable His life had been suddenly shorn of its delight and ornament He knew now, even though their union had seemed at its best so imperfect, how much his wife had been to him.

And now he had to face the future without her. Good heavens! what a blank dismal prospect it seemed! He went to London, and took up his abode at Claridge’s, where his life was unspeakably wearisome to him. He did not care to see people he knew, knowing that he would have to answer friendly inquiries about his wife. He had nothing to do, no interest in life; letters from architect and builder, farm-bailiff and steward, were only a bore to him; he was too listless even to answer them promptly, but let them lie unattended to for a week at a time. He went to the strangers’ gallery when there was any debate of importance, and tried to give his mind to politics, with a faint idea of putting himself up for Holborough at the next election. But, as Phèdre says, “Quand ma bouche implorait le nom de la déesse, j’adorais Hippolyte;” so Mr. Granger, when he tried to think of the Irish–Church question, or the Alabama claims, found himself thinking of Clarissa. He gave lip the idea at last, convinced that public life was, for the most part, a snare and a delusion; and that there were plenty of men in the world better able to man the great ship than he. Two years ago he had been more interested in a vestry meeting than he was now in the most stirring question of the day.

Finally, he determined to travel; wrote a brief letter to Sophia, announcing his intention; and departed unattended, to roam the world; undecided whether he should go straight to Marseilles, and then to Africa, or whether he should turn his face northwards, and explore Norway and Sweden. It ended by his doing neither. He went to Spa to see his boy, from whom he had been separated something over two months.

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