The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 49

Beginning Again.

Mr. Lovel had taken his daughter to Spa, finding that she was quite indifferent whither she went, so long as her boy went with her. It was a pleasant sleepy place out of the season, and he liked it; having a fancy that the mineral waters had done wonders for him. He had a villa on the skirts of the pine-wood, a little way beyond the town; a villa in which there was ample room for young Lovel and his attendants, and from which five minutes’ walk took them into shadowy deeps of pine, where the boy might roll upon the soft short grass.

By and by, Mr. Lovel told Clarissa they could go farther afield, travel wherever she pleased, in fact; but, for the present, perfect rest and quiet would be her best medicine. She was not quite out of the doctor’s hands yet; that fever had tried her sorely, and the remnant of her cough still clung to her. At first she had a great terror of George Fairfax discovering her retreat. He had found her at Brussels; why should he not find her at Spa? For the first month of her residence in the quiet inland watering-place she hardly stirred out of doors without her father, and sat at home reading or painting day after day, when she was longing to be out in the wood with her baby and nurse.

But when the first four weeks had gone by, and left her unmolested, Mrs. Granger grew bolder, and wandered out every day with her child, and saw the young face brighten daily with a richer bloom, as the boy gained strength, and was almost happy. The pine-wood was very pretty; but those slender trees, shooting heavenwards, lacked the grandeur of the oaks and beeches of Arden, and very often Clarissa thought of her old home with a sigh. After all, it was lost to her; twice lost, by a strange fatality, as it seemed.

In these days she thought but seldom of George Fairfax. In very truth she was well-nigh cured of her guilty love for him. Her folly had cost her too dear; “almost the loss of my child,” she said to herself sometimes.

There are passions that wear themselves out, that are by their very nature self-destroying — a lighted candle that will burn for a given time, and then die out with ignominious smoke and sputtering, not the supernal lamp that shines on, star-like, for ever. Solitude and reflection brought this fact home to Clarissa, that her love, fatal as it had been, was not eternal. A woman’s heart is scarcely wide enough to hold two great affections; and now baby reigned supreme in the heart of Clarissa. She had plenty of money now at her disposal; Mr. Granger having fixed her allowance at three thousand a year, with extensive powers should that sum prove insufficient; so the Bohemian household under the shadow of St. Gudule profited by her independence. She sent her brother a good deal of money, and received very cheery letters in acknowledgment of her generosity, with sometimes a little ill-spelt scrawl from Bessie, telling her that Austin was much steadier in Brussels than he had been in Paris, and was working hard for the dealers, with whom he was in great favour. English and American travellers, strolling down the Montagne de la Cour, were caught by those bright “taking” bits, which Austin Lovel knew so well how to paint. An elderly Russian princess had bought his Peach picture, and given him a commission for portraits of a brood of Muscovian bantlings. In one way and another he was picking up a good deal of money; and, with the help of Clarissa’s remittances, had contrived to arrange some of those awkward affairs in Paris.

“Indeed, there is very little in this world that money won’t settle,” he wrote to his sister; “and I anticipate that enlightened stage of our criminal code when wilful murder will be a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. I fancy it in a police report: ‘The fine was immediately paid, and Mr. Greenacre left the court with his friends.’ I have some invitation to go back to my old quarters in the only city I love; there is a Flemish buffet in the Rue du Chevalier Bayard that was a fortune to me in my backgrounds; but the little woman pleads so earnestly against our return, that I give way. Certainly, Paris is a dangerous place for a man of my temperament, who has not yet mastered the supreme art of saying no at the right moment. I am very glad to hear you are happy with your father and the little one. I wish I had him here for a model; my own boys are nothing but angles. Yet I would rather hear of you in your right position with your husband. That fellow Fairfax is a scoundrel; I despise myself for ever having asked him to put his name to a bill; and, still more, for being blind to his motives when he was hanging about my painting-room last winter. You have had a great escape, Clary; and God grant you wisdom to avoid all such perilous paths in time to come. Preachment of any kind comes with an ill grace from me, I know; but I daresay you remember what Portia says: ‘If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces;’ and every man, however fallen, has a kind of temple in his breast, wherein is enshrined the image of his nearest and dearest. Let my garments be never so besmirched and bedraggled, my sister’s robes must be spotless.”

There was comfort in these good tidings of her brother — comfort for which Clarissa was very grateful to Providence. She would have been glad to go to Brussels to see him, but had that ever-present terror of coming athwart the pathway of George Fairfax; nor could she go on such an errand without some kind of explanation with her father. She was content to abide, therefore, among the quiet pine-woods and umbrageous avenues, which the holiday world had not yet invaded, and where she was almost as free to wander with her boy as amidst the beloved woods of Arden Court.

Life thus spent was very peaceful — peaceful, and just a little monotonous. Mr. Lovel sipped his chocolate, and trifled with his maintenon cutlet, at 11 A.M., with an open volume of Burton or Bentley beside his cup, just as in the old days of Clarissa’s girlhood. It was just like the life at Mill Cottage, with that one ever fresh and delicious element — young Lovel. That baby voice lent a perpetual music to Clarissa’s existence; the sweet companionship of that restless clambering infant seemed to her the perfection of happiness.

And yet — and yet — there were times when she felt that her life was a failure, and lamented somewhat that she had so wrecked it. She was not hard of heart; and sometimes she thought of Daniel Granger with a remorseful pang, that cams upon her sharply in the midst of her maternal joys; thought of all that he had done for love of her — the sublime patience wherewith he had endured her coldness, the generous eagerness he had shown in the indulgence of her caprices; in a word, the wealth of wasted love he had lavished on an ungrateful woman.

“It is all over now,” she said to herself sadly. “It is not every woman who in all her lifetime can win so great a love as I have lost.”

The tranquil sensuous life went on. There were hours in it which her child could not fill — long hours, in which that marvellous blossom folded its petals, slumbering sweetly through the summer noontide, and was no better company than a rose-bud. Clarissa tried to interest herself in her old studies; took up her Italian, and read Dante with her father, who was a good deal more painstaking in his explanations of obscure idioms and irregular verbs for the benefit of Mrs. Granger with a jointure of three thousand per annum, than he had been wont to show himself for the behoof of Miss Lovel without a sixpence. She drew a great deal; but somehow these favourite pursuits had lost something of their charm. They could not fill her life; it seemed blank and empty in spite of them.

She had her child — the one blessing for which she had prayed — about which she had raved with such piteous bewailings in her delirium; but there was no sense of security in the possession. She was full of doubts and fears about the future. How long would Daniel Granger suffer her to keep her treasure? Must not the day come when he would put forth his stronger claim, and she would be left bereaved and desolate?

Scarcely could she dare to think of the future; indeed, she did her uttermost to put away all thought of it, so fraught was it with terror and perplexity; but her dreams were made hideous by scenes of parting — weird and unnatural situations, such as occur in dreams; and her health suffered from these shadowy fears. Death, too, had been very near her boy; and she watched him with a morbid apprehension, fearful of every summer breeze that ruffled his flaxen hair.

She was tired of Spa, and secretly anxious to cross the frontier, and wander through Germany, away to the further-most shores of the Danube; but was fain to wait patiently till her father’s medical adviser — an English physician, settled at Spa — should pronounce him strong enough to travel.

“That hurried journey to the Isle of Wight sent me back prodigiously,” Mr. Lovel told his daughter. “It will take me a month or two to recover the effects of those abominable steamers. The Rhine and the Danube will keep, my dear Clary. The castled crag of Drachenfels can be only a little mouldier for the delay, and I believe the mouldiness of these things is their principal charm.”

So Clarissa waited. She had not the courage to tell her father of those shapeless terrors that haunted her by day, and those agonising dreams that visited her by night, which she fancied might be driven away by movement and change of scene; she waited, and went on suffering, until at last that supreme egotist, Marmaduke Lovel, was awakened to the fact, that his daughter was looking no better than when he first brought her to Belgium — worse rather, incontestably worse. He took alarm immediately. The discovery moved him more than he could have supposed anything outside himself could have affected him.

“What?” he asked himself. “Is my daughter going to languish and fade, as my wife faded? Is she too to die of a Fairfax?”

The English physician was consulted; hummed and ha’d a little, prescribed a new tonic; and finding, after a week or two, that this produced no result, and that the pulse was weaker and more fitful, recommended change of air and scene — a remedy which common-sense might have suggested in the first instance.

“We will start for Cologne to-morrow morning. Tell Target to pack, Clary. You shall sleep under the shadow of the great cathedral to-morrow night.”

Clarissa thanked her father warmly, and then burst into tears.

“Hysteria,” murmured the physician.

“I shall get away from that dreadful room,” she sobbed, “where I have such hideous dreams;” and then went away to set Jane Target to work.

“I don’t quite like the look of that,” the doctor said gravely, when she was gone. “Those distressing dreams are a bad sign. But Mrs. Granger is yet very young, and has an excellent constitution, I believe. Change of scene, and the amusement of travelling, may do all we want.”

He left Mr. Lovel very thoughtful.

“If she doesn’t improve very speedily, I shall telegraph to Granger,” he said to himself.

He had no occasion to do this. Daniel Granger, after going half way to Marseilles, with a notion of exploring Algiers and Morocco, had stopped short, and made his way by road and rail — through sirocco, clouds of dust, and much inconvenience — to Liége, where he had lingered to recover and calm himself down a little before going to see his child.

Going to see his child — that was the sole purpose of his journey; not for a moment would he have admitted that it mattered anything to him that he was also going to see his wife.

It was between seven and eight o’clock, on a bright June evening — a flush of rosy light behind the wooded hills — and Clarissa was sitting on some felled timber, with her boy asleep in her arms. He had dropped off to sleep in the midst of his play; and she had lingered, unwilling to disturb him. If he went on sleeping, she would be able to carry him home presently, and put him to bed without awaking him. The villa was not a quarter of a mile away.

She was quite alone with her darling, the nurse being engaged in the grand business of packing. They were all to start the next morning after a very early breakfast. She was looking down at the young sleeper, singing to him softly — a commonplace picture perhaps, but a very fair one — a Madonna aux champs.

So thought Daniel Granger, who had arrived at Spa half an hour ago, made his inquiries at the villa, and wandered into the wood in quest of his only son. The mother’s face, with its soft smile of ineffable love, lips half parted, breathing that fragment of a tender song, reminded him of a picture by Raffaelle. She was nothing to him now; but he could not the less appreciate her beauty, spiritualised by sorrow, and radiant with the glory of the evening sunlight.

He came towards the little group silently, his footfall making no sound upon the moss-grown earth. He did not approach quite near, however, in silence, afraid of startling her, but stopped a little way off, and said gently —

“They told me I should most likely find you somewhere about here, with Lovel.”

His wife gave a little cry, and looked up aghast.

“Have you come to take him away from me?” she asked, thinking that her dreams had been prophetic.

“No, no, I am not going to do that; though you told me he was to be at my disposal, remember, and I mean to claim him sometimes. I can’t allow him to grow up a stranger to me. — God bless him, how well he is looking! Pray don’t look so frightened,” he went on, in an assuring voice, alarmed by the dead whiteness of Clarissa’s face; “I have only come to see my boy before ——. The fact is, I have some thoughts of travelling for a year or two. There is a rage for going to Africa nowadays, and I am not without interest in that sort of thing.”

Clarissa looked at him wonderingly. This sudden passion for foreign wanderings seemed to her very strange in him. She had been accustomed to suppose his mind entirely absorbed by new systems of irrigation, and model-village building, and the extension of his estate. His very dreams, she had fancied, were of the hedgerows that bounded his lands — boundaries that vanished day by day, as the lands widened, with now a whole farm added, and now a single field. Could he leave Arden, and the kingdom that he had created for himself, to roam in sandy deserts, and hob-and-nob with Kaffir chiefs under the tropic stars?

Mr. Granger seated himself upon the timber by his wife’s side, and bent down to look at his son, and to kiss him gently without waking him. After that fond lingering kiss upon the little one’s smooth cheek, he sat for some minutes in silence, looking at his wife.

It was only her profile he could see; but he saw that she was looking ill, worse than she had looked when they parted at Ventnor. The sight of the pale face, with a troubled look about the mouth, touched him keenly. Just in that moment he forgot that there was such a being as George Fairfax upon this earth; forgot the sin that his wife had sinned against him; longed to clasp her to his breast; was only deterred by a kind of awkward shyness — to which such strong men as he are sometimes liable — from so doing.

“I am sorry to see that you are not looking very well,” he said at last, with supreme stiffness, and with that peculiarly unconciliating air which an Englishman is apt to put on, when he is languishing to hold out the olive-branch.

“I have not been very well; but I daresay I shall soon be better, now we are going to travel.”

“Going to travel!”

“Yes, papa has made up his mind to move at last. We go to Cologne to-morrow. I thought they would have told you that at the house.”

“No; I only waited to ask where you — where the boy was to be found. I did not even stop to see your father.”

After this there came a dead silence — a silence that lasted for about five minutes, during which they heard the faint rustle of the pine branches stirred ever so lightly by the evening wind. The boy slept on, unconscious and serene; the mother watching him, and Daniel Granger contemplating both from under the shadow of his eyebrows.

The silence grew almost oppressive at last, and Mr. Granger was the first to break it.

“You do not ask me for any news of Arden,” he said.

Clarissa blushed, and glanced at him with a little wounded look. It was hard to be reminded of the paradise from which she had been exiled.

“I— I beg your pardon. I hope everything is going on as you wish; the home farm, and all that kind of thing. Miss Granger — Sophia — is well, I hope?”

“Sophia is quite well, I believe. I have not seen her since I left Ventnor.”

“She has been away from Arden, then?”

“No; it is I who have not been there. Indeed, I doubt if I shall ever go there again — without you, Clarissa. The place is hateful to me.”

Again and again, with infinite iteration, Daniel Granger had told himself that reconciliation with his wife was impossible. Throughout his journey by road and rail — and above all things is a long journey conductive to profound meditation — he had been firmly resolved to see his boy, and then go on his way at once, with neither delay nor wavering. But the sight of that pale pensive face to-night had well-nigh unmanned him. Was this the girl whose brightness and beauty had been the delight of his life? Alas, poor child, what sorrow his foolish love had brought upon her! He began all at once to pity her, to think of her as a sacrifice to her father’s selfishness, his own obstinacy.

“I ought to have taken my answer that day at the Court, when I first told her my secret,” he said to himself. “That look of pained surprise, which came into her face when I spoke, might surely have been enough for me. Yet I persisted, and was not man enough to face the question boldly — whether she had any heart to give me.”

Clarissa rose, with the child still in her arms.

“I am afraid the dew is beginning to fall,” she said; “I had better take Lovel home.”

“Let me carry him,” exclaimed Mr. Granger; and in the next moment the boy was in his father’s strong arms, the flaxen head nestling in the paternal waistcoat.

“And so you are going to begin your travels to-morrow morning,” he said, as they walked slowly homeward side by side.

“Yes, the train leaves at seven. But you would like to see more of Lovel, perhaps, having come so far to see him. We can defer our journey for a day or two.”

“You are very good. Yes, I should like you to do that.”

“And with regard to what you were saying just now,” Clarissa said, in a low voice, that was not quite steady, “I trust you will not let the memory of any pain I may have given you influence your future life, or disgust you with a place to which you were so much attached as I know you were to Arden. Pray put me out of your thoughts. I am not worthy to be regretted by you. Our marriage was a sad mistake on your part — a sin upon mine. I know now that it was so.”

“A mistake — a sin! O, Clary, Clary, I could have been so happy, if you had only loved me a little — if you had only been true to me.

“I never was deliberately false to you. I was very wicked; yes, I acknowledge that. I did trifle with temptation. I ought to have avoided the remotest chance of any meeting with George Fairfax. I ought to have told you the truth, told you all my weakness; but — but I had not the courage to do that. I went to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard to see my brother.”

“Was that honest, Clarissa, to allow me to be introduced to your brother as a stranger?”

“That was Austin’s wish, not mine. He would not let me tell you who he was; and I was so glad for you to be kind to him, poor fellow! so glad to be able to see him almost daily; and when the picture was finished, and Austin had no excuse for coming to us any more, I went to see him very often, and sometimes met Mr. Fairfax in his painting-room; but I never went with any deliberate intention of meeting him.”

“No,” interjected Mr. Granger bitterly; “you only went, knowing that he was likely to be there!”

“And on that unhappy day when you found me there,” Clarissa went on, “I had gone to see my brother, having no idea that he had left Paris. I wanted to come away at once; but Mr. Fairfax detained me. I was very angry with him.”

“Yes, it appeared so, when he was asking you to run away with him. It is a hard thing for a man to believe in his wife’s honour, when things have come to such a pass as that, Clarissa.”

“I have told you the truth,” she answered gravely; “I cannot say any more.”

“And the locket — the locket I gave you, which I found on that man’s breast?”

“I gave that locket to my sister-in-law, Bessie Lovel. I wished to give her something, poor soul; and I had given Austin all my money. I had so many gifts of yours, Daniel”— that sudden sound of his Christian name sent a thrill through Mr. Granger’s veins —“parting with one of them seemed not to matter very much.”

There was a pause. They were very near the villa by this time. Mr. Granger felt as if he might never have an opportunity for speaking to his wife again, if he lost his chance now.

“Clarissa,” he said earnestly, “if I could forget all that happened in Paris, and put it out of my mind as if it had never been, could you forget it too?”

“With all my heart,” she answered.

“Then, my darling, we will begin the world again — we will begin life over again, Clarissa!”

So they went home together reconciled. And Mr. Lovel, looking up from Aimé Martin’s edition of Molière, saw that what he had anticipated had come to pass. His policy had proved as successful as it had been judicious. In less than three months Daniel Granger had surrendered. This was what came of Mr. Granger’s flying visit to his boy.

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