The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 15

Chiefly Paternal.

The preparations for the wedding went on. Clarissa’s headache did not develop into a fever, and she had no excuse for flying from Hale Castle. Her father, who had written Lady Laura Armstrong several courteous little notes expressing his gratitude for her goodness to his child, surprised Miss Lovel very much by appearing at the Castle one fine afternoon to make a personal acknowledgment of his thankfulness. He consented to remain to dinner, though protesting that he had not dined away from home — except at his brother-in-law’s — for a space of years.

“I am a confirmed recluse, my dear Lady Laura, a worn-out old bookworm, with no better idea of enjoyment than a good fire and a favourite author,” he said; “and I really feel myself quite unfitted for civilised society. But you have a knack at commanding, and to hear is to obey; so if you insist upon it, and will pardon my morning-dress, I remain.”

Mr. Lovel’s morning-dress was a suit of rather clerical-looking black from a fashionable West-end tailor — a costume that would scarcely outrage the proprieties of a patrician dinner-table.

“Clarissa shall show you the gardens between this and dinner-time,” exclaimed Lady Laura. “It’s an age since you’ve seen them, and I want to know your opinion of my improvements. Besides, you must have so much to say to her.”

Clarissa blushed, remembering how very little her father ever had to say to her of a confidential nature, but declared that she would be very pleased to show him the gardens; so after a little more talk with my lady they set out together.

“Well, Clary,” Mr. Lovel began, with his kindest air, “you are making a long stay of it.”

“Too long, papa. I should be so glad to come home. Pray don’t think me ungrateful to Lady Laura, she is all goodness; but I am so tired of this kind of life, and I do so long for the quiet of home.”

“Tired of this kind of life! Did ever any one hear of such a girl! I really think there are some people who would be tired of Paradise. Why, child, it is the making of you to be here! If I were as rich as — as that fellow Granger, for instance; confound Croesus! — I couldn’t give you a better chance. You must stay here as long as that good-natured Lady Laura likes to have you; and I hope you’ll have booked a rich husband before you come home. I shall be very much disappointed if you haven’t.”

“I wish you would not talk in that way, papa; nothing would ever induce me to marry for money.”

For money; no, I suppose not,” replied Mr. Lovel testily; “but you might marry a man with money. There’s no reason that a rich man should be inferior to the rest of his species. I don’t find anything so remarkably agreeable in poor men.”

“I am not likely to marry foolishly, papa, or to offend you in that way,” Clarissa answered with a kind of quiet firmness, which her father inwardly execrated as “infernal obstinacy;” “but no money in the world would be the faintest temptation to me.”

“Humph! Wait till some Yorkshire squire offers you a thousand a year pin-money; you’ll change your tone then, I should hope. Have you seen anything of that fellow Granger, by the way?”

“I have seen a good deal of Mr. and Miss Granger, papa. They have been staying here for a fortnight, and are here now.”

“You don’t say so! Then I shall be linked into an intimacy with the fellow. Well, it is best to be neighbourly, perhaps. And how do you like Mr. Granger?”

“He is not a particularly unpleasant person, papa; rather stiff and matter-of-fact, but not ungentlemanly; and he has been especially polite to me, as if he pitied me for having lost Arden.”

In a general way Mr. Lovel would have been inclined to protest against being pitied, either in his own person or that of his belongings, by such a man as Daniel Granger. But in his present humour it was not displeasing to him to find that the owner of Arden Court had been especially polite to Clarissa.

“Then he is really a nice fellow, this Granger, eh, Clary?” he said airily.

“I did not say nice, papa.”

“No, but civil and good-natured, and that kind of thing. Do you know, I hear nothing but praises of him about Arden; and he is really doing wonders for the place. Looking at his work with an unjaundiced mind, it is impossible to deny that. And then his wealth! — something enormous, they tell me. How do you like the daughter, by the way?”

This question Mr. Lovel asked with something of a wry face, as if the existence of Daniel Granger’s daughter was not a pleasing circumstance in his mind.

“Not particularly, papa. She is very good, I daresay, and seems anxious to do good among the poor; and she is clever and accomplished, but she is not a winning person. I don’t think I could ever get on with her very well.”

“That’s a pity, since you are such near neighbours.”

“But you have always avoided any acquaintance with the Grangers, papa,” Clarissa said wonderingly.

“Yes, yes, naturally. I have shrunk from knowing people who have turned me out of house and home, as it were. But that sort of thing must come to an end sooner or later. I don’t want to appear prejudiced or churlish; and in short, though I may never care to cross that threshold, there is no reason Miss Granger and you should not be friendly. You have no one at Arden of your own age to associate with, and a companion of that kind might be useful. Has the girl much influence with her father, do you think?”

“She is not a girl, papa, she is a young woman. I don’t suppose she is more than two or three-and-twenty, but no one would ever think of calling Miss Granger a girl.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“I scarcely know how to answer it. Mr. Granger seems kind to his daughter, and she talks as if she had a great deal of influence over him; but one does not see much of people’s real feelings in a great house like this. It is ‘company’ all day long. I daresay Mr. and Miss Granger are very fond of one another, but — but — they are not so much to each other as I should like you and me to be, papa,” Clarissa added with a sudden boldness.

Mr. Lovel coughed, as if something had stuck in his throat.

“My dear child, I have every wish to treat you fairly — affectionately, that is to say,” he replied, after that little nervous cough; “but I am not a man given to sentiment, you see, and there are circumstances in my life which go far to excuse a certain coldness. So long as you do not ask too much of me — in the way of sentiment, I mean — we shall get on very well, as we have done since your return from school. I have had every reason to be satisfied.”

This was not much, but Clarissa was grateful even for so little.

“Thank you, papa,” she said in a low voice; “I have been very anxious to please you.”

“Yes, my dear, and I hope — nay, am sure — that your future conduct will give me the same cause for satisfaction; that you will act wisely, and settle the more difficult questions of life like a woman of sense and resolution. There are difficult questions to be solved in life, you know, Clary; and woe betide the woman who lets her heart get the better of her head!”

Clarissa did not quite understand the drift of this remark, but her father dismissed the subject in his lightest manner before she could express her bewilderment.

“That’s quite enough serious talk, my dear,” he said; “and now give me the carte du pays. Who is here besides these Grangers? and what little social comedies are being enacted? Your letters, though very nice and dutiful, are not quite up to the Horace–Walpole standard, and have not enlightened me much about the state of things.”

Clarissa ran over the names of the Castle guests. There was one which she felt would be difficult to pronounce, but it must needs come at last. She wound up her list with it: “And — and there are Lady Geraldine Challoner, and the gentleman she is going to marry — Mr. Fairfax.”

To her extreme surprise, the name seemed to awaken some unwonted emotion in her father’s breast.

“Fairfax!” he exclaimed; “what Fairfax is that? You didn’t tell me whom Lady Geraldine was to marry when you told me you were to officiate as bridesmaid. Who is this Mr. Fairfax?”

“He has been in the army, papa, and has sold out. He is the heir to some great estate called Lyvedon, which he is to inherit from an uncle.”

“His son!” muttered Mr. Lovel.

“Do you know Mr. Fairfax, papa?”

“No, I do not know this young man. But I have known others — members of the same family — and have a good reason for hating his name. He comes of a false, unprincipled race. I am sorry for Lady Geraldine.”

“He may not have inherited the faults of his family, papa.”

“May not!” echoed Mr. Lovel contemptuously; “or may. I fancy these vices run in the blood, child, and pass from father to son more surely than a landed estate. To lie and betray came natural to the man I knew. Great Heaven! I can see his false smile at this moment.”

This was said in a low voice; not to Clarissa, but to himself; a half-involuntary exclamation. He turned impatiently presently, and walked hurriedly back towards the Castle.

“Let us go in,” he said. “That name of Fairfax has set my teeth on edge.”

“But you will not be uncivil to Mr. Fairfax, papa?” Clarissa asked anxiously.

“Uncivil to him! No, of course not. The man is Lady Laura’s guest, and a stranger to me; why should I be uncivil to him?”

Nor would it have been possible to imagine by-and-by, when Mr. Lovel and George Fairfax were introduced to each other, that the name of the younger man was in any manner unpleasant to the elder. Clarissa’s father had evidently made up his mind to be agreeable, and was eminently successful in the attempt. At the dinner-table he was really brilliant, and it was a wonder to every one that a man who led a life of seclusion could shine forth all at once with more than the success of a professed diner-out. But it was to Mr. Granger that Marmaduke Lovel was most particularly gracious. He seemed eager to atone, on this one occasion, for all former coldness towards the purchaser of his estate. Nor was Daniel Granger slow to take advantage of his urbane humour. For some reason or other, that gentleman was keenly desirous of acquiring Mr. Lovel’s friendship. It might be the commoner’s slavish worship of ancient race, it might be some deeper motive, that influenced him, but about the fact itself there could be no doubt. The master of Arden was eager to place his coverts, his park, his library, his hot-houses, his picture-gallery — everything that he possessed — at the feet of his ruined neighbour. Yet even in his eagerness to confer these benefits there was some show of delicacy, and he was careful not to outrage the fallen man’s dignity.

Mr. Lovel listened, and bowed, and smiled; pledged himself to nothing; waived off every offer with an airy grace that was all his own. A prime minister, courted by some wealthy place-hunter, could not have had a loftier air; and yet he contrived to make Mr. Granger feel that this was the inauguration of a friendship between them; that he consented to the throwing down of those barriers which had kept them apart hitherto.

“For myself, I am a hermit by profession,” he said; “but I am anxious that my daughter should have friends, and I do not think she could have a more accomplished or agreeable companion than Miss Granger.”

He glanced towards that young lady with a smile — almost a triumphant smile — as he said this. She had been seated next him at dinner, and he had paid her considerable attention — attention which had not been received by her with quite that air of gratification which Mr. Level’s graceful compliments were apt to cause. He was not angry with her, however. He contemplated her with a gentle indulgence, as an interesting study in human nature.

“Well, Mr. Lovel,” said Lady Laura in a confidential tone, when he was wishing her good-night, “what do you think of Mr. Granger now?”

“I think he is a very excellent fellow, my dear Lady Laura; and that I am to blame for having been so prejudiced against him.”

“I am so glad to hear you say that!” cried my lady eagerly. She had drawn him a little way apart from the rest of her visitors, out of earshot of the animated groups of talkers clustered here and there. “And now I want to know if you have made any great discovery?” she added, looking at him triumphantly.

He responded to the look with a most innocent stare.

“A discovery, my dearest Lady Laura — you mystify me. What discovery is there for me to make, except that Hale Castle is the most delightful place to visit? — and that fact I knew beforehand, knowing its mistress.”

“But is it possible that you have seen nothing — guessed nothing? And I should have supposed you such a keen observer — such a profound judge of human nature.”

“One does not enlarge one’s knowledge of human nature by being buried amongst books as I have been. But seriously, Lady Laura, what is the answer to the enigma — what ought I to have guessed, or seen?”

“Why, that Daniel Granger is desperately in love with your daughter.”

“With Clarissa! Impossible! Why, the man is old enough to be her father.”

“Now, my dear Mr. Lovel, you know that is no reason against it. I tell you the thing is certain — palpable to any one who has had some experience in such matters, as I have. I wanted to bring this about; I had set my heart upon it before Clarissa came here, but I did not think it would be accomplished so easily. There is no doubt about his feelings, my dear Mr. Lovel; I know the man thoroughly, and I never saw him pay any woman attention before. Perhaps the poor fellow is scarcely conscious of his own infatuation yet, but the fact is no less certain. He has betrayed himself to me ever so many times by little speeches he has let fall about our dear Clary. I think even the daughter begins to see it.”

“And what then, my kind friend?” asked Mr. Lovel with an air of supreme indifference. “Suppose this fancy of yours to be correct, do you think Clarissa would marry the man?”

“I do not think she would be so foolish as to refuse him,” Lady Laura answered quickly; “unless there were some previous infatuation on her side.”

“You need have no apprehension of that,” returned Mr. Lovel sharply. “Clarissa has never had the opportunity for so much as a flirtation.”

Lady Laura remembered that scene on the balcony with a doubtful feeling.

“I hope she would have some regard for her own interest,” she said thoughtfully. “And if such an opportunity as this were to present itself — as I feel very sure it will — I hope your influence would be exerted on the right side.”

“My dear Lady Laura, my influence should be exercised in any manner you desired,” replied Mr. Lovel eagerly. “You have been so good to that poor friendless girl, that you have a kind of right to dispose of her fate. Heaven forbid that I should interfere with any plans you may have formed on her behalf, except to promote them.”

“It is so good of you to say that. I really am so fond of my dear Clary, and it would so please me to see her make a great marriage, such as this would be. If Mr. Granger were not a good man, if it were a mere question of money, I would not urge it for a moment; but he really is in every way unexceptionable, and if you will give me your permission to use my influence with Clary ——”

“My dear Lady Laura, as a woman, as a mother, you are the fittest judge of what is best for the girl. I leave her in your hands with entire confidence; and if you bring this marriage about, I shall say Providence has been good to us. Yes, I confess I should like to see my daughter mistress of Arden Court.”

Almost as he spoke, there arose before him a vision of what his own position would be if this thing should come to pass. Was it really worth wishing for at best? Never again could he be master of the home of his forefathers. An honoured visitor perhaps, or a tolerated inmate — that was all. Still, it would be something to have his daughter married to a rich man. He had a growing, almost desperate need of some wealthy friend who should stretch out a saving hand between him and his fast-accumulating difficulties; and who so fitted for this office as a son-in-law? Yes, upon the whole, the thing was worth wishing for.

He bade Lady Laura good-night, declaring that this brief glimpse of the civilised world had been strangely agreeable to him. He even promised to stay at the Castle again before long, and so departed, after kissing his daughter almost affectionately, in a better humour with himself and mankind than had been common to him lately.

“So that is young Fairfax,” he said to himself as he jogged slowly homeward in the Arden fly, the single vehicle of that kind at the disposal of the village gentility; “so that is the son of Temple Fairfax. There is a look of his father in his eyes, but not that look of wicked power in his face that there was in the Colonel’s — not that thorough stamp of a bold bad man. It will come, I suppose, in good time.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50