“Who on earth was that man you were talking to, Clary?” asked the Reverend Mathew Oliver, when he had seen his niece’s luggage carried off to a fly, and was conducting her to that vehicle. “Is it any one you know?”
“O, no, uncle; only a gentleman who travelled in the same carriage with me from London. He was very kind.”
“You seemed unaccountably familiar with him,” said Mr. Oliver with an aggrieved air; “you ought to be more reserved, my dear, at your age. A young lady travelling alone cannot be too careful. Indeed, it was very wrong of your father to allow you to make this long journey alone. Your aunt has been quite distressed about it.”
Clarissa sighed faintly; but was not deeply concerned by the idea of her aunt’s distress. Distress of mind, on account of some outrage of propriety on the part of her relatives, was indeed almost the normal condition of that lady.
“I travelled very comfortably, I assure you, uncle Oliver,” Clarissa replied. “No one was in the least rude or unpleasant. And I am so glad to come home — I can scarcely tell you how glad — though, as I came nearer and nearer, I began to have all kinds of fanciful anxieties. I hope that all is well — that papa is quite himself.”
“O, yes, my dear; your papa is — himself,” answered the parson, in a tone that implied that he did not say very much for Mr. Lovel in admitting that fact. “Your papa is well enough in health, or as well as he will ever acknowledge himself to be. Of course, a man who neither hunts nor shoots, and seldom gets out of bed before ten o’clock in the day, can’t expect to be remarkably robust. But your father will live to a good old age, child, rely upon it, in spite of everything.”
“Am I going straight home, uncle?”
“Well, yes. Your aunt wished you to breakfast at the Rectory; but there are your trunks, you see, and altogether I think it’s better for you to go home at once. You can come and see us as often as you like.”
“Thank you, uncle. It was very kind of you to meet me at the station. Yes, I think it will be best for me to go straight home. I’m a little knocked up with the journey. I haven’t slept five minutes since I left Madame Marot’s at daybreak yesterday.”
“You’re looking rather pale; but you look remarkably well in spite of that — remarkably well. These six years have changed you from a child into a woman. I hope they gave you a good education yonder; a solid practical education, that will stand by you.”
“I think so, uncle. We were almost always at our studies. It was very hard work.”
“So much the better. Life is meant to be hard work. You may have occasion to make use of your education some day, Clary.”
“Yes,” the girl answered with a sigh; “I know that we are poor.”
“I suppose so; but perhaps you hardly know how poor.”
“Whenever the time comes, I shall be quite ready to work for papa,” said Clarissa; yet she could not help wondering how the master of Arden Court could ever bring himself to send out his daughter as a governess; and then she had a vague childish recollection that not tens of pounds, but hundreds, and even thousands, had been wanted to stop the gaps in her father’s exchequer.
They drove through Holborough High Street, where there was the faint stir and bustle of early morning, windows opening, a housemaid kneeling on a doorstep here and there, an occasional tradesman taking down his shutters. They drove past the fringe of prim little villas on the outskirts of the town, and away along a country road towards Arden; and once more Clarissa saw the things that she had dreamed of so often in her narrow white bed in the bleak dormitory at Belforêt. Every hedge-row and clump of trees from which the withered leaves were drifting in the autumn wind, every white-walled cottage with moss-grown thatch and rustic garden, woke a faint rapture in her breast. It was home. She remembered her old friends the cottagers, and wondered whether goody Mason were still alive, and whether Widow Green’s fair-haired children would remember her. She had taught them at the Sunday-school; but they too must have grown from childhood to womanhood, like herself, and were out at service, most likely, leaving Mrs. Green’s cottage lonely.
She thought of these simple things, poor child, having so little else to think about, on this, her coming home. She was not so foolish as to expect any warm welcome from her father. If he had brought himself just to tolerate her coming, she had sufficient reason to be grateful. It was only a drive of two miles from Holborough to Arden. They stopped at a lodge-gate presently; a little gothic lodge, which was gay with scarlet geraniums and chrysanthemums, and made splendid by railings of bronzed ironwork. Everything had a bright new look which surprised Miss Lovel, who was not accustomed to see such, perfect order or such fresh paint about her father’s domain.
“How nice everything looks!” she said.
“Yes,” answered her uncle, with a sigh; “the place is kept well enough nowadays.”
A woman came out to open the gates — a brisk young person, who was a stranger to Clarissa, not the feeble old lodge-keeper she remembered in her childhood. The change, slight as it was, gave her a strange chill feeling.
“I wonder how many people that I knew are dead?” she thought.
They drove into the park, and here too, even in this autumn season, Clarissa perceived traces of care and order that were strange to her. The carriage road was newly gravelled, the chaos of underwood among the old trees had disappeared, the broad sweeps of grass were smooth and level as a lawn, and there were men at work in the early morning, planting rare specimens of the fir tribe in a new enclosure, which filled a space that had been bared twenty years before by Mr. Lovel’s depredations upon the timber.
All this bewildered Clarissa; but she was still more puzzled, when, instead of approaching the Court the fly turned sharply into a road leading across a thickly wooded portion of the park, through which there was a public right of way leading to the village of Arden.
“The man is going wrong, uncle!” she exclaimed.
“No, no, my dear; the man is right enough.”
“But indeed, uncle Oliver, he is driving to the village.”
“And he has been told to drive to the village.”
“Not to the Court?”
“To the Court! Why, of course not. What should we have to do at the Court at half-past seven in the morning?”
“But I am going straight home to papa, am I not?”
And then, after staring at his niece’s bewildered countenance for a few moments, Mr. Oliver exclaimed — —
“Why, surely, Clary, your father told you ——”
“Told me what, uncle?”
“That he had sold Arden.”
“Sold Arden! O, uncle, uncle!”
She burst into tears. Of all things upon this earth she had loved the grand old mansion where her childhood had been spent. She had so little else to love, poor lonely child, that it was scarcely strange she should attach herself to lifeless things. How fondly she had remembered the old place in all those dreary years of exile, dreaming of it as we dream of some lost friend. And it was gone from her for ever! Her father had bartered away that most precious birthright.
“O, how could he do it! how could he do it!” she cried piteously.
“Why, my dear Clary, you can’t suppose it was a matter of choice with him. ‘Needs must when’— I daresay you know the vulgar proverb. Necessity has no law. Come, come, my dear, don’t cry; your father won’t like to see you with red eyes. It was very wrong of him not to tell you about the sale of Arden — excessively wrong. But that’s just like Marmaduke Lovel; always ready to shirk anything unpleasant, even to the writing of a disagreeable letter.”
“Poor dear papa! I don’t wonder he found it hard to write about such a thing; but it would have been better for me to have known. It is such a bitter disappointment to come home and find the dear old place gone from us. Has it been sold very long?”
“About two years. A rich manufacturer bought it — something in the cloth way, I believe. He has retired from business, however, and is said to be overwhelmingly rich. He has spent a great deal of money upon the Court already, and means to spend more I hear.”
“Has he spoiled it — modernised it, or anything of that kind?”
“No; I am glad to say that he — or his architect perhaps — has had the good taste to preserve the mediaeval character of the place. He has restored the stonework, renewing all the delicate external tracery where it was lost or decayed, and has treated the interior in the same manner. I have dined with Mr. Granger once or twice since the work was finished, and I must say the place is now one of the finest in Yorkshire — perhaps the finest, in its peculiar way. I doubt if there is so perfect a specimen of gothic domestic architecture in the county.”
“And it is gone from us for ever!” said Clarissa, with a profound sigh.
“Well, my dear Clary, it is a blow, certainly; I don’t deny that. But there is a bright side to everything; and really your father could not afford to live in the place. It was going to decay in the most disgraceful manner. He is better out of it; upon my word he is.”
Clarissa could not see this. To lose Arden Court seemed to her unmitigated woe. She would rather have lived the dreariest, loneliest life in one corner of the grand old house, than have occupied a modern palace. It was as if all the pleasant memories of her childhood had been swept away from her with the loss of her early home. This was indeed beginning the world; and a blank dismal world it appeared to Clarissa Lovel, on this melancholy October morning.
They stopped presently before a low wooden gate, and looking out of the window of the fly, Miss Lovel saw a cottage which she remembered as a dreary uninhabited place, always to let; a cottage with a weedy garden, and a luxuriant growth of monthly roses and honeysuckle covering it from basement to roof; not a bad sort of place for a person of small means and pretensions, but O, what a descent from the ancient splendour of Arden Court! — that Arden which had belonged to the Lovels ever since the land on which it stood was given to Sir Warren Wyndham Lovel, knight, by his gracious master King Edward IV., in acknowledgment of that warrior’s services in the great struggle between Lancaster and York.
There were old-fashioned casement windows on the upper story, and queer little dormers in the roof. Below, roomy bows had been added at a much later date than the building of the cottage. The principal doorway was sheltered by a rustic porch, spacious and picturesque, with a bench on each side of the entrance. The garden was tolerably large, and in decent order, and beyond the garden was a fine old orchard, divided from lawn and flower-beds only by a low hedge, full of bush-roses and sweet brier. It was a very pretty place in summer, not unpicturesque even at this bleak season; but Clarissa was thinking of lost Arden, and she looked at Mill Cottage with mournful unadmiring eyes. There had been a mill attached to the place once. The old building was there still, indeed, converted into a primitive kind of stable; hence its name of Mill Cottage. The stream still ran noisily a little way behind the house, and made the boundary which divided the orchard from the lands of the lord of Arden. Mill Cottage was on the very edge of Arden Court. Clarissa wondered that her father could have pitched his tent on the borders of his lost heritage.
“I think I would have gone to the other end of the world, had I been in his place,” she said to herself.
An elderly woman-servant came out, in answer to the flyman’s summons; and at her call, a rough-looking young man emerged from the wooden gate opening into a rustic-looking stable-yard, where the lower half of the old mill stood, half-hidden by ivy and other greenery, and where there were dovecotes and a dog-kennel.
Mr. Oliver superintended the removal of his niece’s trunks, and then stepped back into the fly.
“There’s not the slightest use in my stopping to see your father, Clary,” he said; “he won’t show for a couple of hours at least. Good-bye, my dear; make yourself as comfortable as you can. And come and see your aunt as soon as you’ve recovered from your long journey, and keep up your spirits, my dear. — Martha, be sure you give Miss Lovel a good breakfast. — Drive back to the Rectory, coachman. — Good-bye, Clarissa;” and feeling that he had shown his niece every kindness that the occasion required, Mr. Oliver bowled merrily homewards. He was a gentleman who took life easily — a pastor of the broad church — tolerably generous and good to his poor; not given to abnormal services or daily morning prayer; content to do duty at Holborough parish church twice on a Sunday, and twice more in the week; hunting a little every season, in a black coat, for the benefit of his health, as he told his parishioners; and shooting a good deal; fond of a good horse, a good cellar, a good dinner, and well-filled conservatories and glass-houses; altogether a gentleman for whom life was a pleasant journey through a prosperous country. He had, some twenty years before, married Frances Lovel; a very handsome woman — just a little faded at the time of her marriage — without fortune. There were no children at Holborough Rectory, and everything about the house and gardens bore that aspect of perfect order only possible to a domain in which there are none of those juvenile destroyers.
“Poor girl,” Mr. Oliver muttered to himself, as he jogged comfortably homewards, wondering whether his people would have the good sense to cook ‘those grouse’ for breakfast. “Poor Clary, it was very hard upon her; and just Like Marmaduke not to tell her.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50