The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 16

Lord Calderwood is the Cause of Inconvenience.

The preparations for the wedding went on gaily, and whatever inclination to revolt may have lurked in George Fairfax’s breast, he made no sign. Since his insolent address that night in the corridor he had scarcely spoken to Clarissa; but he kept a furtive watch upon her notwithstanding, and she knew it, and sickened under it as under an evil influence. He was very angry with her — she was fully conscious of that — unjustifiably, unreasonably angry. More than once, when Mr. Granger was especially attentive, she had encountered a withering glance from those dark gray eyes, and she had been weak enough, wicked enough perhaps, to try and make him perceive that Mr. Granger’s attentions were in no way pleasant to her. She could bear anything better than that he should think her capable of courting this man’s admiration. She told herself sometimes that it would be an unspeakable relief to her when the marriage was over, and George Fairfax had gone away from Hale Castle, and out of her life for evermore; and then, while she was trying to believe this, the thought would come to her of what her life would be utterly without him, with no hope of ever seeing him again, with the bitter necessity of remembering him only as Lady Geraldine’s husband. She loved him, and knew that she loved him. To hear his voice, to be in the same room with him, caused her a bitter kind of joy, a something that was sweeter than common pleasure, keener than common pain. His presence, were he ever so silent or angry, gave colour to her life, and to realise the dull blankness of a life without him seemed impossible.

While this silent struggle was going on, and the date of the marriage growing nearer and nearer, Mr. Granger’s attentions became daily more marked. It was impossible even for Clarissa, preoccupied as she was by those other thoughts, to doubt that he admired her with something more than common admiration. Miss Granger’s evident uneasiness and anger were in themselves sufficient to give emphasis to this fact. That young lady, mistress of herself as she was upon most occasions, found the present state of things too much for her endurance. For the last ten years of her life, ever since she was a precocious damsel of twelve, brought to a premature state of cultivation by an expensive forcing apparatus of governesses and masters, she had been in the habit of assuring herself and her confidantes that her father would never marry again. She had a very keen sense of the importance of wealth, and from that tender age, of twelve or so upwards, she had been fully aware of the diminution her own position would undergo in the event of a second marriage, and the advent of a son to the house of Granger. Governesses and maidservants had perhaps impressed this upon her at some still earlier stage of her existence; but from this time upwards she had needed nothing to remind her of the fact, and she had watched her father with an unwearying vigilance.

More than once, strong-minded and practical as he was, she had seen him in danger. Attractive widows and dashing spinsters had marked him for their prey, and he had seemed not quite adamant; but the hour of peril had passed, and the widow or the spinster had gone her way, with all her munitions of war expended, and Daniel Granger still unscathed. This time it was very different. Mr. Granger showed an interest in Clarissa which he had never before exhibited in any member of her sex since he wooed and won the first Mrs. Granger; and as his marriage had been by no means a romantic affair, but rather a prudential arrangement made and entered upon by Daniel Granger the elder, cloth manufacturer of Leeds and Bradford, on the one part, and Thomas Talloway, cotton-spinner of Manchester, on the other part, it is doubtful whether Miss Sophy Talloway had ever in her ante-nuptial days engrossed so much of his attention.

Having no one else at Hale to whom she could venture to unbosom herself, Miss Granger was fain to make a confidante of her maid, although she did not, as a general rule, affect familiarity with servants. This maid, who was a mature damsel of five-and-thirty or upwards, and a most estimable Church-of-England person, had been with Miss Granger for a great many years; had curled her hair for her when she wore it in a crop, and even remembered her in her last edition of pinafores. Some degree of familiarity therefore might be excused, and the formal Sophia would now and then expand a little in her intercourse with Warman.

One night, a very little while before Lady Geraldine’s wedding-day, the cautious Warman, while brushing Miss Granger’s hair, ventured to suggest that her mistress looked out of spirits. Had she said that Sophia looked excessively cross, she would scarcely have been beside the mark.

“Well, Warman,” Miss Granger replied, in rather a shrewish tone, “I am out of spirits. I have been very much annoyed this evening by papa’s attentions to — by the designing conduct of a young lady here.”

“I think I can guess who the young lady is, miss,” Warman answered shrewdly.

“O, I suppose so,” cried Sophia, giving her head an angry jerk which almost sent the brush out of her abigail’s hand; “servants know everything.”

“Well, you see, miss, servants have eyes and ears, and they can’t very well help using them. People think we’re inquisitive and prying if we venture to see things going on under our very noses; and so hypocrisy gets be almost part of a servant’s education, and what people call a good servant is a smooth-faced creature that pretends to see nothing and to understand nothing. But my principles won’t allow of my stooping to that sort of thing, Miss Granger, and what I think I say. I know my duty as a servant, and I know the value of my own immortal soul as a human being.”

“How you do preach, Warman! Who wants you to be a hypocrite?” exclaimed Sophia impatiently. “It’s always provoking to hear that one’s affairs have been talked over by a herd of servants, but I suppose it’s inevitable. And pray, what have they been saying about papa?”

“Well, miss, I’ve heard a good deal of talk of one kind and another. You see, your papa is looked upon as a great gentleman in the county, and people will talk about him. There’s Norris, Lady Laura’s own footman, who’s a good deal in the drawing-room — really a very intelligent-well-brought-up young man, and, I am happy to say, not a dissenter. Norris takes a good deal of notice of what’s going on, and he has made a good many remarks upon your par’s attention to Miss Lovel. Looking at the position of the parties, you see, miss, it would be such a curious thing if it was to be brought round for that young lady to be mistress of Arden Court.”

“Good gracious me, Warman!” cried Sophia aghast, “you don’t suppose that papa would marry again?”

“Well, I can’t really say, miss. But when a gentleman of your par’s age pays so much attention to a lady young enough to be his daughter, it generally do end that way.”

There was evidently no consolation to be obtained from Warman, nor was that astute handmaiden to be betrayed into any expression of opinion against Miss Lovel. It seemed to her more than probable that Clarissa Lovel might come before long to reign over the household at Arden, and this all-powerful Sophia sink to a minor position. Strong language of any kind was therefore likely to be dangerous. Hannah Warman valued her place, which was a good one, and would perhaps be still better under a more impulsive and generous mistress. The safest thing therefore was to close the conversation with one of those pious platitudes which Warman had always at her command.

“Whatever may happen, miss, we are in the hands of Providence,” she said solemnly; “and let us trust that things will be so regulated as to work for the good of our immortal souls. No one can go through life without trials, miss, and perhaps yours may be coming upon you now; but we know that such chastisements are intended for our benefit.”

Sophia Granger had encouraged this kind of talk from the lips of Warman, and other humble disciples, too often too be able to object to it just now; but her temper was by no means improved by this conversation, and she dismissed her maid presently with a very cool good-night.

On the third day before the wedding, George Fairfax’s mother arrived at the Castle, in order to assist in this important event in her son’s life. Clarissa contemplated this lady with a peculiar interest, and was not a little wounded by the strange coldness with which Mrs. Fairfax greeted her upon her being introduced by Lady Laura to the new arrival. This coldness was all the more striking on account of the perfect urbanity of Mrs. Fairfax’s manners in a general way, and a certain winning gentleness which distinguished her on most occasions. It seemed to Clarissa as if she recoiled with something like aversion at the sound of her name.

“Miss Lovel of Arden Court, I believe?” she said, looking at Lady Laura.

“Yes; my dear Clarissa is the only daughter of the gentleman who till lately was owner of Arden Court. It has passed into other hands now.”

“I beg your pardon. I did not know there had been any change.”

And then Mrs. Fairfax continued her previous conversation with Lady Laura, as if anxious to have done with the subject of Miss Lovel.

Nor in the three days before the wedding did she take any farther notice of Clarissa; a neglect the girl felt keenly; all the more so because she was interested in spite of herself in this pale faded lady of fifty, who still bore the traces of great beauty and who carried herself with the grace of a queen. She had that air du faubourg which we hear of in the great ladies of a departed era in Parisian society — a serene and tranquil elegance which never tries to be elegant, a perfect self-possession which never degenerates into insolence.

In a party so large as that now assembled at Hale, this tacit avoidance of one person could scarcely be called a rudeness. It might so easily be accidental. Clarissa felt it nevertheless, and felt somehow that it was not accidental. Though she could never be anything to George Fairfax, though all possibility even of friendship was at an end between them, she would have liked to gain his mother’s regard. It was an idle wish perhaps, but scarcely an unnatural one.

She watched Mrs. Fairfax and Lady Geraldine together. The affection between those two was very evident. Never did the younger lady appear to greater advantage than in her intercourse with her future mother-in-law. All pride and coldness vanished in that society, and Geraldine Challoner became genial and womanly.

“She has played her cards well,” Barbara Fermor said maliciously. “It is the mother who has brought about this marriage.”

If Mrs. Fairfax showed herself coldly disposed towards Clarissa, there was plenty of warmth on the parts of Ladies Emily and Louisa Challoner, who arrived at the Castle about the same time, and at once took a fancy to their sister’s protégée.

“Laura has told us so much about you, Miss Lovel,” said Lady Louisa, “and we mean to be very fond of you, if you will allow us; and, O, please may we call you Clarissa? It is such a sweet name!”

Both these ladies had passed that fearful turning-point in woman’s life, her thirtieth birthday, and had become only more gushing and enthusiastic with increasing years. They were very much like Lady Laura, had all her easy good-nature and liveliness, and were more or less afraid of the stately Geraldine.

“Do you know, we are quite glad she is going to be married at last,” Lady Emily said in a confidential tone to Clarissa; “for she has kept up a kind of frigid atmosphere at home that I really believe has helped to frighten away all our admirers. Men of the present day don’t like that sort of thing. It went out of fashion in England with King Charles I., I think, and in France with Louis XIV. You know how badly the royal household behaved coming home from his funeral, laughing and talking and all that: I believe it arose from their relief at thinking that the king of forms and ceremonies was dead. We always have our nicest little parties — kettle-drums, and suppers after the opera, and that sort of thing — when Geraldine is away; for we can do anything with papa.”

The great day came, and the heavens were propitious. A fine clear September day, with a cool wind and a warm sun; a day upon which the diaphanous costumes of the bridesmaids might be a shade too airy; but not a stern or cruel day, to tinge their young noses with a frosty hue, or blow the crinkles out of their luxuriant hair.

The bridesmaids were the Ladies Emily and Louisa Challoner, the two Miss Fermors, Miss Granger, and Clarissa — six in all; a moderation which Lady Laura was inclined to boast of as a kind of Spartan simplicity. They were all to be dressed alike, in white, with bonnets that seemed composed of waxen looking white heather and tremulous harebells, and with blue sashes to match the harebells. The dresses were Lady Laura’s inspiration: they had come to her almost in her sleep, she declared, when she had well-nigh despaired of realising her vague desires; and Clarissa’s costume was, like the ball-dress, a present from her benefactress.

The nine-o’clock breakfast — a meal that begun at nine and rarely ended till eleven — was hurried over in the most uncomfortable and desultory manner on this eventful morning. The principals in the great drama did not appear at all, and Clarissa and Miss Granger were the only two bridesmaids who could spare half an hour from the cares of the toilet. The rest breakfasted in the seclusion of their several apartments, with their hair in crimping-pins. Miss Granger was too perfect a being to crinkle her hair, or to waste three hours on dressing, even for a wedding. Lady Laura showed herself among her guests, for a quarter of an hour or so, in a semi-hysterical flutter; so anxious that everything should go off well, so fearful that something might happen, she knew not what, to throw the machinery of her arrangements out of gear.

“I suppose it’s only a natural feeling on such an occasion as this,” she said, “but I really do feel as if something were going to happen. Things have gone on so smoothly up to this morning — no disappointments from milliners, no stupid mistakes on the part of those railway people — everything has gone upon velvet; and now it is coming to the crisis I am quite nervous.”

Of course every one declared this was perfectly natural, and recommended his or her favourite specific — a few drops of sal-volatile — a liqueur-glass of dry curaçoa — red lavender — chlorodyne — and so on; and then Lady Laura laughed and called herself absurd, and hurried away to array herself in a pearl-coloured silk, half smothered by puffings of pale pink areophane and Brussels-lace flounces; a dress that was all pearly gray and rose and white, like the sky at early morning.

Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Granger, with some military men and country squires, took their breakfast as calmly as if a wedding were part of the daily business of life. Miss Granger exhibited a polite indifference about the great event; Miss Level was pale and nervous, not able to give much attention to Daniel Granger, who had contrived to sit next her that morning, and talked to her a good deal, with an apparent unconsciousness of the severe gaze of his daughter, seated exactly opposite to him.

Clarissa was glad to make her toilet an excuse for leaving Mr. Granger; but once in the sanctuary of her own room, she sat down in an absent manner, and made no attempt to begin dressing. Fosset, the maid, found her there at a quarter past ten o’clock — the ceremony was to take place at eleven — and gave a cry of horror at seeing the toilet uncommenced.

“Good gracious me, miss! what have you been thinking of? Your hair not begun nor nothing! I’ve been almost torn to bits with one and another — Miss Fermor’s maid bothering for long hair-pins and narrow black ribbon; and Jane Roberts — Lady Emily Challoner’s maid — who really never has anything handy, wanting half the things out of my work-box — or I should have been with you ever so long ago. My Lady would be in a fine way if you were late.”

“I think my hair will do very well as it is, Fosset,” Clarissa said listlessly.

“Lor, no, miss; not in that dowdy style. It don’t half show it off.”

Clarissa seated herself before the dressing-table with an air of resignation rather than interest, and the expeditious Fosset began her work. It was done very speedily — that wealth of hair was so easy to dress; there was no artful manipulation of long hair-pins and black ribbon needed to unite borrowed tresses with real ones. The dress was put on, and Clarissa was invited to look at herself in the cheval-glass.

“I do wish you had a bit more colour in your cheeks to-day, miss,” Fosset said, with rather a vexed air. “Not that I’d recommend you any of their vinegar rouges, or ineffaceable blooms, or anything of that kind. But I don’t think I ever saw you look so pale. One would think you were going to be married, instead of Lady Geraldine. She’s as cool as a cucumber this morning, Sarah Thompson told me just now. You can’t put her out easily.”

The carriages were driving up to the great door by this time. It was about twenty minutes to eleven, and in ten minutes more the procession would be starting. Hale Church was within five minutes’ drive of the Castle.

Clarissa went fluttering down to the drawing-room, where she supposed people would assemble. There was no one there but Mr. Granger, who was stalking up and down the spacious room, dressed in the newest and stiffest of coats and waistcoats, and looking as if he were going to assist at a private hanging. Miss Lovel felt almost inclined to ran away at sight of him. The man seemed to pursue her somehow; and since that night when George Fairfax had offered her his mocking congratulations, Mr. Granger’s attentions had been particularly repugnant to her.

She could not draw back, however, without positive rudeness, and it was only a question of five minutes; so she went in and entered upon an interesting little conversation about the weather. It was still fine; there was no appearance of rain; a most auspicious day, really; and so on — from Mr. Granger; to which novel remarks Clarissa assented meekly.

“There are people who attach a good deal of significance to that kind of thing,” he said presently. “For my own part, if I were going to be married to the woman I loved, I should care little how black the sky above us might be. That sounds rather romantic for me, doesn’t it? A man of fifty has no right to feel like that.”

This he said with a half-bitter laugh. Clarissa was spared the trouble of answering by the entrance of more bridesmaids — Lady Louisa Challoner and Miss Granger — with three of the military men, who wore hothouse flowers in their buttonholes, and were altogether arrayed like the lilies of the field, but who had rather the air of considering this marriage business a tiresome interruption to partridge-shooting.

“I suppose we are going to start directly,” cried Lady Louisa, who was a fluttering creature of three-and-thirty, always eager to flit from one scene to another. “If we don’t, I really think we shall be late — and there is some dreadful law, isn’t there, to prevent people being married after eleven o’clock?”

“After twelve,” Mr. Granger answered in his matter of fact way. “Lady Geraldine has ample margin for delay.”

“But why not after twelve?” asked Lady Louisa with a childish air; “why not in the afternoon or evening, if one liked? What can be the use of such a ridiculous law? One might as well live in Russia.”

She fluttered to one of the windows and looked out.

“There are all the carriages. How well the men look! Laura must have spent a fortune in white ribbon and gloves for them — and the horses, dear things!”— a woman of Lady Louisa’s stamp is generally enthusiastic about horses, it is such a safe thing —“they look as if they knew it was a wedding. O, good gracious!”

“What is the matter. Lady Louisa?”

“A man from the railway — with a telegram — yes, I am sure it’s a telegram! Do you know, I have such a horror of telegrams! I always fancy they mean illness — or death — or something dreadful. Very absurd of me, isn’t it? And I daresay this is only a message about some delayed parcel, or some one who was to be here and can’t come, or something of that kind.”

The room was full of idle people by this time. Every one went to the open window and stared down at the man who had brought the telegram. He had given his message, and was standing on the broad flight of steps before the Castle door, waiting for the return of the official who had taken it. Whether the electric wires had brought the tidings of some great calamity, or a milliner’s apology for a delayed bonnet, was impossible to guess. The messenger stood there stolid and impenetrable, and there was nothing to be divined from his aspect.

But presently, while a vague anxiety possessed almost every one present, there came from the staircase without a sudden cry of woe — a woman’s shriek, long and shrill, ominous as the wail of the banshee. There was a rush to the door, and the women crowded, out in a distracted way. Lady Laura was fainting in her husband’s arms, and George Fairfax was standing near her reading a telegram.

People had not long to wait for the evil news. Lord Calderwood had been seized with a paralytic stroke — his third attack — at ten o’clock the previous night, and had expired at half-past eight that morning. There could be no wedding that day — nor for many days and weeks to come.

“O, Geraldine, my poor Geraldine, let me go to her!” cried Lady Laura, disengaging herself from her husband’s arms and rushing upstairs. Mr. Armstrong hurried after her.

“Laura, my sweet girl, don’t agitate yourself; consider yourself,” he cried, and followed, with Lady Louisa sobbing and wailing behind him. Geraldine had not left her room yet. The ill news was to find her on the threshold, calm and lovely in the splendour of her bridal dress.

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