The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 50

How Such Things End.

After that reconciliation, which brought a wonderful relief and comfort to Clarissa’s mind — and who shall say how profoundly happy it made her husband? — Mr. and Mrs. Granger spent nearly a year in foreign travel. For his own part, Daniel Granger would have been glad to go back to Arden, now that the dreary burden was lifted off his mind, and his broken life pieced together again; but he did not want county society to see his wife till the bloom and brightness had come back to her face, nor to penetrate the mystery of their brief severance. To remain away for some considerable time was the surest way of letting the scandal, if any had ever arisen, die out.

He wrote to his daughter, telling her briefly that he and his wife had arranged all their little differences — little differences! Sophia gave a shrill scream of indignation as she went over this sentence in her father’s letter, scarcely able to believe her eyes at first — and they were going through Germany together with the intention of wintering at Borne. As Clarissa was still somewhat of an invalid, it would be best for them to be alone, he thought; but he was ready to further any plans for his daughter’s happiness during his absence.

Miss Granger replied curtly, that she was tolerably happy at Arden, with her “duties,” and that she had no desire to go roaming about the world in quest of that contented mind which idle and frivolous persons rarely found, go where they might. She congratulated her father upon the termination of a quarrel which she had supposed too serious to be healed so easily, and trusted that he would never have occasion to regret his clemency. Mr. Granger crushed the letter in his hand, and threw it over the side of the Rhine steamer, on which he had opened his budget of English correspondence, on that particular morning.

They had a very pleasant time of it in Germany, moving in a leisurely way from town to town, seeing everything thoroughly without hurry or restlessness. Young Lovel throve apace the new nurse adored him; and faithful Jane Target was a happy as the day was long, amidst all the foreign wonders that surrounded her pathway. Daniel Granger was contented and hopeful; happy in the contemplation of his wife’s fair young face, which brightened daily; in the society of his boy, who, with increasing intelligence, developed an ever-increasing appreciation of his father — the strong arms, that tossed him aloft and caught him so skilfully; the sonorous voice, that rang so cheerily upon his ear; the capacious pockets, in which there was wont to lurk some toy for his delectation.

Towards the middle of November they took up their winter quarters in Rome — not the November of fogs and drizzle, known to the denizens of London, but serene skies and balmy air, golden sunsets, and late-lingering flowers, that seemed loath to fade and vanish from a scene so beautiful. Clarissa loved this city of cities, and felt a thrill of delight at returning to it. She drove about with her two-year-old son, showing him the wonders and glories of the place as fondly as if its classic associations had been within the compass of his budding mind. She went on with her art-studies with renewed vigour, as if there had been a Raffaelle fever in the very air of the place, and made plans for copying half the pictures in the Vatican. There was plenty of agreeable society in the city, English and foreign; and Clarissa found herself almost as much in request as she had been in Paris. There were art-circles in which she was happiest, and where Daniel Granger held his own very fairly as a critic and connoisseur. And thus the first two winter months slipped away very pleasantly, till they came to January, in which month they were to return to Arden.

They were to return there to assist at a great event — an event the contemplation whereof was a source of unmitigated satisfaction to Mr. Granger, and which was more than pleasing to Clarissa. Miss Granger was going to be married, blest with her papa’s consent and approval, of course, and in a manner becoming a damsel whose first consideration was duty. After refusing several very fair offers, during the progress of her girlhood, she had at last suffered herself to be subjugated by the constancy and devotion of Mr. Tillott, the curate of New Arden.

It was not in any sense a good match. Mr. Tillott’s professional income was seventy-five pounds a year; his sole private means an allowance of fifty from his brother, who, Mr. Tillott admitted, with a blush, was in trade. He was neither handsome nor accomplished. The most his best friends could say of him was, that he was “a very worthy young man.” He was not an orator: he had an atrocious delivery, and rarely got through the briefest epistle, or collect even, without blundering over a preposition. His demeanour in pulpit and reading-desk was that of a prisoner at the bar, without hope of acquittal, and yet he had won Miss Granger — that prize in the matrimonial market, which many a stout Yorkshireman had been eager to win.

He had flattered her; with a slavish idolatry he followed her footsteps, and ministered to her caprices, admiring, applauding, and imitating all her works and ways, holding her up for ever as the pattern and perfection of womankind. Five times had Miss Granger rejected him; on some occasions with contumely even, letting him know that there was a very wide gulf between their social positions, and that although she might be spiritually his sister, she stood, in a worldly sense, on a very remote platform from that which it was his mission to occupy. Mr. Tillott swallowed every humiliation with a lowly spirit, that had in it some leaven of calculation, and bore up against every repulse; until at last the fair Sophia, angry with her father, persistently opposed to her stepmother, and out of sorts with the world in general, consented to accept the homage of this persevering suitor. He, at least, was true to her; he, at least, believed in her perfection. The stout country squires, who could have given her houses and lands, had never stooped to flatter her foibles; had shown themselves heartlessly indifferent to her dragooning of the model villagers; had even hinted their pity for the villagers under that martial rule. Tillott alone could sympathise with her, trudging patiently from cottage to cottage in bleak Christmas weather, carrying parcels of that uncomfortable clothing with which Miss Granger delighted to supply her pensioners.

Nor was the position which this marriage would give her, humble as it might appear, altogether without its charm. As Mr. Tillott’s wife, she would be a very great lady amongst small people; and Mr. Tillott himself would be invested with a reflected glory from having married an heiress. The curate stage would, of course, soon be past. The living of Arden was in Mr. Granger’s gift; and no doubt the present rector could be bought out somehow, after a year or so, and Mr. Tillott installed in his place. So, after due deliberation, and after the meek Tillott had been subjected to a trial of his faith which might have shaken the strongest, but which left him firm as a rock, Miss Granger surrendered, and acknowledged that she thought her sphere of usefulness would be enlarged by her union with Thomas Tillott.

“It is not my own feelings which, I consider,” remarked the maiden, in a tone which was scarcely flattering to her lover; “I have always held duty above those. I believe that New Arden is my proper field, and that it is a Providence that leads me to accept a tie which binds me more closely to the place. I could never have remained in this house after Mrs. Granger’s return.”

Upon this, the enraptured Tillott wrote a humble and explanatory letter to Mr. Granger, stating the blessing which had descended upon him in the shape of Sophia’s esteem, and entreating that gentleman’s approval of his suit.

It came by return of post, in a few hearty words.

“MY DEAR TILLOTT— Yes; with all my heart! I have always thought you a good fellow; and I hope and believe you will make my daughter a good husband. Mrs. Granger and I will be home in three weeks, in time to make all arrangements for the wedding. — Yours, &c.

“DANIEL GRANGER.”

“Ah,” said Miss Granger, when this epistle was shown her by her triumphant swain, “I expected as much. I have never been anything to papa since his marriage, and he is glad to get rid of me.”

The Roman season was at its height, when there arose a good deal of talk about a lady who did not belong to that world in which Mrs. Granger lived, but who yet excited considerable curiosity and interest therein.

She was a Spanish dancer, known as Donna Rita, and had been creating a furore in St. Petersburg, Paris, Vienna, all over the civilised world, in fact, except in London, where she was announced as likely to appear during the approaching season. She had taken the world by storm by her beauty, which was exceptional, and by her dancing, which made up in chic for anything it may have lacked in genius. She was not a Taglioni; she was only a splendid dark-haired woman, with eyes that reminded one of Cleopatra, a figure that was simply perfection, the free grace of some wild creature of the forest, and the art of selecting rare and startling combinations of colour and fabric for her dress.

She had hired a villa, and sent a small army of servants on before her to take possession of it — men and women of divers nations, who contrived to make their mistress notorious by their vagaries before she arrived to astonish the city by her own eccentricities. One day brought two pair of carriage horses, and a pair of Arabs for riding; the next, a train of carriages; a week after came the lady herself; and all Rome — English and American Rome most especially — was eager to see her. There was an Englishman in her train, people said. Of course, there was always some one —elle en mange cinq comme ça tous les ans, remarked a Frenchman.

Clarissa had no curiosity about this person. The idle talk went by her like the wind, and made no impression; but one sunny afternoon, when she was driving with her boy, Daniel Granger having an engagement to look at a new picture which kept him away from her, she met the Senora face to face — Donna Rita, wrapped in sables to the throat, with a coquettish little turban-shaped sable hat, a couple of Pomeranian dogs on her lap — half reclining in her barouche — a marvel of beauty and insolence. She was not alone. A gentleman — the Englishman, of course — sat opposite to her, and leant across the white bear-skin carriage-rug to talk to her. They were both laughing at something he had just said, which the Senora characterised as “pas si bête.

He looked up as the two carriages passed each other; for just one brief moment looked Clarissa Granger in the face; then, pale as death, bent down to caress one of the dogs.

It was George Fairfax.

It was a bitter ending; but such stories are apt to end so; and a man with unlimited means, and nothing particular to do with himself, must find amusement somehow. Clarissa remained in Rome a fortnight after this, and encountered the Senora several times — never unattended, but never again with George Fairfax.

She heard the story afterwards from Lady Laura. He had been infatuated, and had spent thousands upon “that creature.” His poor mother had been half broken-hearted about it.

“The Lyvedon estate spoiled him, my dear,” Lady Laura said conclusively. “He was a very good fellow till he came into his property.”

Mr. Fairfax reformed, however, a couple of years later, and married a fashionable widow with a large fortune; who kept him in a whirl of society, and spent their combined incomes royally. He and Clarissa meet sometimes in society — meet, touch hands even, and know that every link between them is broken.

And is Clarissa happy? Yes, if happiness can be found in children’s voices and a good man’s unchanging affection. She has Arden Court, and her children; her father’s regard, growing warmer year by year, as with increasing age he feels increasing need of some one to love him; her brother’s society now and then — for Mr. Granger has been lavish in his generosity, and all the peccadilloes of Austin’s youth have been extinguished from the memories of money-lenders and their like by means of Mr. Granger’s cheque-book.

The painter can come to England now, and roam his native woods unburdened by care; but though this is very sweet to him once in a way, he prefers a Continental city, with its café life, and singing and dancing gardens, where he may smoke his in the gloaming. He grows steadier as he grows older, paints better, and makes friends worth making; much to the joy of poor Bessie, who asks no greater privilege than to stand humbly by, gazing fondly while he puts on his white cravat, and sallies forth radiant, with a hot-house flower in his button-hole, to dine in the great world.

But this is only a glance into the future. The story ends in the orthodox manner, to the sound of wedding bells — Miss Granger’s — who swears to love, honour, and obey Thomas Tillott, with a fixed intention to keep the upper baud over the said Thomas in all things. Yet these men who are so slavish as wooers are apt to prove of sterner mould as husbands, and life is all before Mrs. Tillott, as she journeys in chariot and posters to Scarborough for her unpretentious honeymoon, to return in a fortnight to a bran-new gothic villa on the skirts of Arden, where one tall tree is struggling vainly to look at home in a barren waste of new-made garden. And in the servants’ hall and housekeeper’s room at Arden Court there is rejoicing, as when the elder Miss Pecksniff went away from the little village near Salisbury.

For some there are no marriage bells — for Lady Geraldine, for instance, who is content to devote herself unostentatiously to the care of her sister’s neglected children — neglected in spite of French and German governesses, Italian singing masters, Parisian waiting-maids, and half an acre or so of nursery and schoolroom — and to wider charities: not all unhappy, and thankful for having escaped that far deeper misery — the fate of an unloved wife.

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