The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 24

“It Means Arden Court.”

The time went by, and Daniel Granger pursued his wooing, his tacit undemonstrative courtship, with the quiet persistence of a man who meant to win. He came to Mill Cottage almost every evening throughout the late autumn and early winter months, and Clarissa was fain to endure his presence and to be civil to him. She had no ground for complaint, no opportunity for rebellion. His visits were not made ostensibly on her account, though friends, neighbours, and servants knew very well why he came, and had settled the whole business in their gossiping little coteries. Nor did he take upon himself the airs of a lover. He was biding his time, content to rejoice in the daily presence of the woman he loved; content to wait till custom should have created a tie between them, and till he could claim her for his wife by right of much patience and fidelity. He had an idea that no woman, pure and true as he believed this woman to be, could shut her heart against an honest man’s love, if he were only patient and faithful, single-minded and unselfish in his wooing.

George Fairfax kept his word. From the hour of that bitter parting he made no sign of his existence to Clarissa Lovel. The Armstrongs were still in Germany when December came, and people who had any claim upon Lady Laura’s hospitality lamented loudly that there were to be no gaieties at the Castle this year. It was the second Christmas that the family had been absent. Mr. Fairfax was with them at Baden most likely, Clarissa thought; and she tried to hope that it was so.

Christmas came, and Miss Lovel had to assist at Miss Granger’s triumphs. That young lady was in full force at this time of year, dealing out blankets of the shaggiest and most uncompromising textures — such coverings as might have suited the requirements of a sturdy Highlander or a stalwart bushranger sleeping in the open air, but seemed scarcely the pleasantest gifts for feeble old women or asthmatic old men — and tickets representative of small donations in kind, such as a quart of split-peas, or a packet of prepared groats, with here and there the relief of a couple of ounces of tea. Against plums and currants and candied peel Miss Granger set her face, as verging on frivolity. The poor, who are always given to extravagance, would be sure to buy these for themselves: witness the mountain of currants embellished with little barrows of citron and orange-peel, and the moorland of plums adorned with arabesques of Jamaica ginger in the holly-hung chandler’s shop at Arden. Split-peas and groats were real benefits, which would endure when the indigestible delights of plum-pudding were over. Happily for the model villagers, Mr. Granger ordered a bullock and a dozen tons of coal to be distributed amongst them, in a large liberal way that was peculiar to him, without consulting his daughter as to the propriety of the proceeding. She was very busy with the beneficent work of providing her special protégées with the ugliest imaginable winter gowns and frocks. Clarissa, who was eager to contribute something to this good work, had wounded her fingers desperately in the manufacture of these implacable fabrics, which set her teeth on edge every time she touched them. Mr. Lovel would not even allow them to be in the room where he sat.

“If you must work at those unspeakably odious garments, Clarissa,” he said, “for pity’s sake do it out of my presence. Great Heavens! what cultivator of the Ugly could have invented those loathsome olive-greens, or that revolting mud-colour? evidently a study from the Thames at low water, just above Battersea-bridge. And to think that the poor — to whom nature seems to have given a copyright in warts and wens and boils — should be made still more unattractive by such clothing as that! If you are ever rich, Clarissa, and take to benevolence, think of your landscape before you dress your poor. Give your old women and children scarlet cloaks and gray petticoats, and gratify your men with an orange neckerchief now and then, to make a patch of colour against your russet background.”

There were dinner-parties at Arden Court that winter, to which Mr. Lovel consented to take his daughter, obnoxious as he had declared all such festivities to be to him. He went always as a concession to his host’s desires, and took care to let Daniel Granger know that his going was an act of self-sacrifice; but he did go, and he gave his daughter a ten-pound note, as a free-will offering, for the purchase of a couple of new dresses.

Clarissa wondered not a little at the distinction with which her father and herself were treated by every one who met them at Mr. Granger’s house. She did not know that a good deal of this attention was given to the future mistress of Arden Court, and that, in the eyes of county people and Holborough gentry alike, she stood in that position. She did not know that her destiny was a settled business in every one’s mind except her own: that her aunt Oliver and the Rector, quite as much as her father, looked upon her marriage with Daniel Granger as inevitable. Mr. Lovel had been careful not to alarm his daughter by any hint of his convictions. He was very well satisfied with the progress of affairs. Daniel Granger was too securely caught for there to be any room for fear of change on his part, and Daniel Granger’s mode of carrying on the siege seemed to Mr. Lovel an excellent one. Whatever Clarissa’s feelings might have been in the beginning, she must needs succumb before such admirable patience, such almost sublime devotion.

Christmas passed, and the new year and all festivities belonging to the season, and a dreary stretch of winter remained, bleak and ungenial, enlivened only by Christmas bills, the chill prelude of another year of struggle. Towards the end of January, Marmarduke Lovel’s health broke down all of a sudden. He was really ill, and very fretful in his illness. Those creditors of his became desperately pressing in their demands; almost every morning’s post brought him a lawyer’s letter; and, however prostrate he might feel, he was obliged to sit up for an hour or so in the day, resting his feverish head upon his hand, while he wrote diplomatic letters for the temporary pacification of impatient attorneys.

Poor Clarissa had a hard time of it in these days. Her father was a difficult patient, and that ever-present terror of insolvency, and all the pains and perils attendant thereupon, tormented her by day and kept her awake at night. Every ring at the cottage gate set her heart beating, and conjured up the vision of some brutal sheriff’s officer, such as she had read of in modern romance. She nursed her father with extreme tenderness. He was not confined to his room for any length of time, but was weak and ill throughout the bleak wintry months, with a racking cough and a touch of low fever, lying prostrate for the greater part of the day on a sofa by the fire, and only brightening a little in the evening when Mr. Granger paid his accustomed visit. Clarissa tended him all through these melancholy days, when the rain beat against the windows and the dull gray sky looked as if it would never more be illuminated by a gleam of sunshine; tended him with supreme patience, and made heroic efforts to cheer and sustain his spirits, though her own heart was very heavy. And it came to pass that, in these most trying days, Daniel Granger repeated the avowal of his love, not urging his suit with any hazardous impatience, but offering to wait as long as Clarissa pleased for his sentence. And then, in the midst of the girl’s distress at the renewal of this embarrassing declaration, her father spoke to her, and told her plainly that she was, in all honour, bound to become Mr. Granger’s wife. She had suffered him to devote himself to her, with a devotion rare in a man of his age and character. She had allowed the outer world to take the business for granted. It would be a cruel wrong done to this man, if she were to draw back now and leave him in the lurch.

“Draw back, papa!” she cried with unmitigated surprise and alarm; “but what have I done to give you or Mr. Granger, or any one else, the slightest justification for supposing I ever thought of him, except as the most commonplace acquaintance?”

“That pretence of unconsciousness is the merest affectation, Clarissa. You must have known why Mr. Granger came here.”

“I thought he came to see you, papa, just like any other acquaintance.”

“Nonsense, child; one man does not dance attendance upon another like that — crying off from important dinner-parties in order to drink tea with his neighbour, and that kind of thing. The case has been clear enough from the beginning, and you must have known how it was — especially as Granger made some declaration to you the first time you went to the Court. He told me what he had done, in a most honourable manner. It is preposterous to pretend, after that, you could mistake his intentions. I have never worried you about the business; it seemed to me wisest and best to let matters take their natural course; and I am the last of men to play the domestic tyrant in order to force a rich husband upon my daughter; but I never for a moment doubted that you understood Mr. Granger’s feelings, and were prepared to reward his patience.”

“It can never be, papa,” Clarissa said decisively; “I would not commit such a sin as to marry a man I could not love. I am grateful to Mr. Granger, of course, and very sorry that he should think so much more of me than I deserve, but ——”

“For God’s sake don’t preach!” cried her father fretfully. “You won’t have him; that’s enough. The only road there was to extrication from my difficulties is shut up. The sheriff’s officers can come to-morrow. I’ll write no more humbugging letters to those attorneys, trying to stave off the crisis. The sooner the crash comes the better; I can drag out the rest of my existence somehow, in Bruges or Louvain. It is only a question of a year or two, I daresay.”

The dreary sigh with which Mr. Lovel concluded this speech went to Clarissa’s heart. It can scarcely be said that she loved him very dearly, but she pitied him very much. To his mind, no doubt, it seemed a hard thing that she should set her face against a change of fortune that would have ensured ease and comfort for his declining years. She knew him weighed down by embarrassments which were very real — which had been known to her before Daniel Granger’s appearance as a wooer. There was no pretence about the ruin that menaced them; and it was not strange that her father, who had been loath to move beyond the very outskirts of his lost domain, should shrink with a shuddering dread from exile in a dismal Belgian town.

After that one bitter speech and that one dreary sigh, Mr. Lovel made no overt attempt to influence his daughter’s decision. He had a more scientific game to play, and he knew how to play it. Peevish remonstrances might have availed nothing; threats or angry speeches might have provoked a spirit of defiance. Mr. Lovel neither complained nor threatened; he simply collapsed. An air of settled misery fell upon him, an utter hopelessness, that was almost resignation, took possession of him. There was an unwonted gentleness in his manner to his daughter; he endured the miseries of weakness and prostration with unaccustomed patience; meekness pervaded all his words and actions, but it was the meekness of despair. And so — and so — this was how the familiar domestic drama came to be acted once more — the old, old story to be repeated. It was Robin Gray over again. If the cow was not stolen, the sheriff’s officers were at the door, and, for lack of a broken arm, Marmaduke Lovel did not want piteous silent arguments. He was weak and ill and despairing, and where threats or jesuitical pleading would have availed little, his silence did much; until at last, after several weary weeks of indecision, during which Mr. Granger had come and gone every evening without making any allusion to his suit, there came one night when Clarissa fell on her knees by her father’s sofa, and told him that she could not endure the sight of his misery any longer, and that she was willing to be Daniel Granger’s wife. Marmaduke Lovel put his feeble arms round his daughter’s neck, and kissed her as he had never kissed her before; and then burst into tears, with his face hidden upon her shoulder.

“It was time, Clarissa,” he said at last. “I could not have kept the brokers out another week. Granger has been offering to lend me money ever since he began to suspect my embarrassments, but I could not put myself under an obligation to him while I was uncertain of your intentions: it will be easy to accept his help now; and he has made most liberal proposals with regard to your marriage settlements. Bear witness, Clary, that I never mentioned that till now. I have urged no sordid consideration upon you to bring about this match; although, God knows, it is the thing I desire most in this world.”

“No, no, papa, I know that,” sobbed Clarissa. And then the image of George Fairfax rose before her, and the memory of those bitter words, “It means Arden Court.”

What would he think of her when he should come to hear that she was to be Daniel Granger’s wife? It would seem a full confirmation of his basest suspicions. He would never know of her unavailing struggles to escape this doom — never guess her motives for making this sacrifice. He would think of her, in all the days to come, only as a woman who sold herself for the sake of a goodly heritage.

Once having given her promise, there was no such thing as drawing back for Clarissa, even had she been so minded. Mr. Lovel told the anxious lover that his fate was favourably decided, warning him at the same time that it would be well to refrain from any hazardous haste, and to maintain as far as possible that laudable patience and reserve which had distinguished his conduct up to this point.

“Clarissa is very young,” said her father; “and I do not pretend to tell you that she is able to reciprocate, as fully as I might wish, the ardour of your attachment. One could hardly expect that all at once.”

“No, one could hardly expect that,” Mr. Granger echoed with a faint sigh.

“As a man of the world, you would not, I am sure, my dear Granger, overlook the fact of the very wide difference in your ages, or expect more than is reasonable. Clarissa admires and esteems you, I am sure, and is deeply grateful for a devotion to which she declares herself undeserving. She is not a vain frivolous girl, who thinks a man’s best affection only a tribute due to her attractions. And there is a kind of regard which grows up in a girl’s heart for a sensible man who loves her, and which I believe with all my soul to be better worth having than the romantic nonsense young people take for the grand passion. I make no profession, you see, my dear Granger, on my daughter’s part; but I have no fear but that Clarissa will learn to love you, in good time, as truly as you can desire to be loved.”

“Unless I thought that she had some affection for me, I would never ask her to be my wife,” said Mr. Granger.

“Wouldn’t you?” thought Mr. Lovel. “My poor Granger, you are farther gone than you suppose!”

“You can give me your solemn assurance upon one point, eh, Lovel?” said the master of Arden Court anxiously; “there is no one else in the case? Your daughter’s heart is quite free? It is only a question as to whether I can win it?”

“Her heart is entirely free, and as pure as a child’s. She is full of affection, poor girl, only yearning to find an outlet for it. She ought to make you a good wife, Daniel Granger. There is nothing against her doing so.”

“God grant she may!” replied Mr. Granger solemnly; “God knows how dearly I love her, and what a new thing this love is to me!”

He took heed of his future father-in-law’s counsel, and said nothing more about his hopes to Clarissa just yet awhile. It was only by an undefinable change in his manner — a deeper graver tenderness in his tone — that she guessed her father must have told him her decision.

From this day forth all clouds vanished from the domestic sky at Mill Cottage. Mr. Lovel’s debts were paid; no more threatening letters made his breakfast-table a terror to him; there were only agreeable-looking stamped documents in receipt of payment, with little apologetic notes, and entreaties for future favours.

Mr. Granger’s proposals respecting a settlement were liberal, but, taking into consideration the amount of his wealth, not lavish. He offered to settle a thousand a year upon his wife — five hundred for her own use as pin-money, five hundred as an annuity for her father. He might as easily have given her three thousand, or six thousand, as it was for no lack of generous inclination that he held his hand; but he did not want to do anything that might seem like buying his wife. Nor did Marmaduke Lovel give the faintest hint of a desire for larger concessions from his future son-in-law: he conducted the business with the lofty air of a man above the consideration of figures. Five hundred a year was not much to get from a man in Granger’s position; but, added to his annuity of three hundred, it would make eight — a very decent income for a man who had only himself to provide for; and then of course there would be no possibility of his ever wanting money, with such a son-in-law to fall back upon.

Mr. Granger did not lose any time in making his daughter acquainted with the change that was about to befall her. He was quite prepared to find her adverse to his wishes, and quite prepared to defend his choice; and yet, little subject as he was to any kind of mental weakness, he did feel rather uncomfortable when the time came for addressing Miss Granger.

It was after dinner, and the father and daughter were sitting alone in the small gothic dining-room, sheltered from possible draughts by mediaeval screens of stamped leather and brazen scroll-work, and in a glowing atmosphere of mingled fire and lamp light, making a pretty cabinet-picture of home life, which might have pleased a Flemish painter.

“I think, Sophia,” said Mr. Granger — “I think, my dear, there is no occasion for me to tell you that there is a certain friend and neighbour of yours who is something more to me than the ordinary young ladies of your acquaintance.”

Miss Granger seemed as if she were trying to swallow some hard substance — a knotty little bit of the pineapple she had just been eating, perhaps — before she replied to this speech of her father’s.

“I am sure, papa, I am quite at a loss to comprehend your meaning,” she said at last. “I have no near neighbour whom I can call my friend, unless you mean Mrs. Patterly, the doctor’s wife, who has taken such a warm interest in my clothing-club, and who has such a beautiful mind. But you would hardly call her a young lady.”

“Patterly’s wife! no, I should think not!” exclaimed Mr. Granger impatiently: “I was speaking of Clarissa Lovel.”

Miss Granger drew herself up suddenly, and pinched her lips together as if they were never to unclose again. She did open them nevertheless, after a pause, to say in an icy tone —

“Miss Lovel is my acquaintance, but not my friend.”

“Why should she not be your friend? She is a very charming girl.”

“Oh, yes, I have no doubt of that, papa, from your point of view; that is to say, she is very pretty, and thinks a great deal of dress, and is quite ready to flirt with any one who likes to flirt with her — I’m sure you must have seen that at Hale Castle — and fills her scrap-book with portraits of engaged men; witness all those drawings of Mr. Fairfax. I have no doubt she is just the kind of person gentlemen call charming; but she is no friend of mine, and she never will be.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” said her father sternly; “for she is very likely to be your stepmother.”

It was a death-blow, but one that Sophia Granger had anticipated for a long time.

“You are going to marry Miss Lovel, papa — a girl two years younger than I am?”

“Yes, I am going to marry Miss Lovel, and I am very proud of her youth and beauty; but I do not admit her want of more solid charms than those, Sophia. I have watched her conduct as a daughter, and I have a most perfect faith in the goodness and purity of her heart.”

“Oh, very well, papa. Of course you know what is best for your own happiness. It is not for me to presume to offer an opinion; I trust I have too clear a sense of duty for that.” And here Miss Granger gave a sigh expressive of resignation under circumstances of profound affliction.

“I believe you have, Sophy,” answered her father kindly. “I believe that, however unwelcome this change may be to you at first — and I suppose it is only natural that it should be unwelcome — you will reconcile your mind to it fully when you discover that it is for my happiness. I am not ashamed to confess to you that I love Clarissa very fondly, and that I look forward to a happy future when she is my wife.”

“I hope, papa, that your life has not been unhappy hitherto — that I have not in any manner failed in my duties as a daughter.”

“Oh, dear no, child; of course not. That has nothing to do with the question.”

“Will it — the marriage — be very soon, papa?” asked Miss Granger, with another gulp, as if there were still some obstructive substance in her throat.

“I hope so, Sophy. There is no reason, that I can see, why it should not be very soon.”

“And will Mr. Lovel come to live with us?”

“I don’t know; I have never contemplated such a possibility. I think Mr. Lovel is scarcely the kind of person who would care to live in another man’s house.”

“But this has been his own house, you see, papa, and will seem to belong to him again when his daughter is the mistress of it. I daresay he will look upon us as interlopers.”

“I don’t think so, Sophia. Mr. Lovel is a gentleman, and a sensible man into the bargain. He is not likely to have any absurd ideas of that kind.”

“I suppose he is very much pleased at having secured such a rich husband for his daughter,” Miss Granger hazarded presently, with the air of saying something agreeable.

“Sophia!” exclaimed her father angrily, “I must beg that the question of money may never be mooted in relation to Miss Lovel and myself — by you above all people. I daresay there may be men and women in the world malignant enough to say — mean enough to suppose — that this dear girl can only consent to marry me because I am a rich man. It is my happiness to know her to be much too noble to yield to any sordid consideration of that kind. It is my happiness to know that her father has done nothing to urge this marriage upon her. She gives herself to me of her own free-will, not hurried into a decision by any undue persuasion of mine, and under no pressure from outer circumstances.”

“I am very glad to hear it, papa. I think I should have broken my heart, if I had seen you the dupe of a mercenary woman.”

Mr. Granger got up from his seat with an impatient air, and began to pace the room. His daughter had said very little, but that little had been beyond measure irritating to him. It galled him to think that this marriage should seem to her an astonishing — perhaps even a preposterous — thing. True that the woman he was going to marry was younger, by a year or two, than his own daughter. In his own mind there was so little sense of age, that he could scarcely understand why the union should seem discordant. He was not quite fifty, an age which he had heard men call the very meridian of life; and he felt himself younger now than he had ever been since he first assumed the cares of manhood — first grew grave with the responsibilities involved in the disposal of a great fortune. Was not this newly-born love, this sudden awakening of a heart that had slumbered so long, a renewal of youth? Mr. Granger glanced at his own reflection in a glass over a buffet, as he paced to and fro. The figure that he saw there bore no sign of age. It was a relief to him to discover that — a thing he had never thought of till that moment.

“Why should she not love me?” he asked himself. “Are youth and a handsome face the only high-road to a woman’s heart? I can’t believe it. Surely constancy and devotion must count for something. Is there another man in the world who would love her as well as I? who could say, at fifty years of age, This is my first love?”

“I am to give up the housekeeping, of course, papa, when you are married,” Miss Granger said presently, with that subdued air of resignation in which she had wrapped herself as in a garment since her father’s announcement.

“Give up the housekeeping!” he echoed a little impatiently; “I don’t see the necessity for that. Clarissa”— oh, how sweet it was to him to pronounce her name, and with that delicious sense of proprietorship! —“Clarissa is too young to care much for that sort of thing — dealing out groceries, and keeping account-books, as you do. Very meritorious, I am sure, my dear, and no doubt useful. No, I don’t suppose you’ll be interfered with, Sophy. In all essentials you will still be mistress. If Clarissa is queen, you will be prime minister; and you know it is the minister who really pulls the strings. And I do hope that in time you two will get to love each other.”

“I shall endeavour to do my duty, papa,” Miss Granger answered primly. “We cannot command our feelings.”

It was some feeble relief to her to learn that her grocery-books, her day-books by double-entry, and all those other commercial volumes dear to her heart, were not to be taken away from her; that she was still to retain the petty powers she had held as the sole daughter of Daniel Granger’s house and heart. But to resign her place at the head of her father’s table, to see Clarissa courted and caressed, to find faltering allegiance perhaps even among her model poor — all these things would be very bitter, and in her heart Sophia Granger was angry with her father for a line of conduct which she considered the last stage of folly. She loved him, after her own precise well-regulated fashion — loved him as well as a creature so self-conscious could be expected to love; but she could not easily forgive him for an act which seemed, in some sort, a fraud upon herself. She had been brought up to believe herself his sole heiress, to look upon his second marriage as an utter impossibility. How often had she heard him ridicule the notion when it was suggested to him by some jocose acquaintance! and it did seem a very hard thing that she should be pushed all at once from this lofty stand-point, and levelled to the very dust. There would be a new family, of course; a brood of sons and daughters to divide her heritage. Hannah Warman had suggested as much when discussing the probability of the marriage, with that friendly candour, and disposition to look at the darker side of the picture, which are apt to distinguish confidantes of her class.

“I am sure, papa,” Miss Granger whimpered by-and-by, not quite able to refrain from some expression of ill-temper, “I have scarcely had a pleasant evening since you have known the Lovels. You are always there, and it is very dull to be alone every night.”

“It has been your own fault in some measure, Sophy. You might have had Clarissa here, if you’d chosen to cultivate her friendship.”

“Our inclinations are beyond our control, papa. Nothing but your express commands, and a sense of duty, would induce me to select Miss Lovel for a companion. There is no sympathy between us.”

“Why should there not be? You cannot think her unamiable, nor question her being highly accomplished.”

“But it is not a question of playing, or singing, or painting, or talking foreign languages, papa. One selects a friend for higher qualities than those. There is Mary Anne Patterly, for instance, who can scarcely play the bass in a set of quadrilles, but whose admirable gifts and Christian character have endeared her to me. Miss Lovel is so frivolous. See how stupid and listless she seemed that day we took her over the schools and cottages. I don’t believe she was really interested in anything she saw. And, though she has been at home a year and a half, she has not once offered to take a class in either of the schools.”

“I daresay she sees the schools are well officered, my dear, and doesn’t like to interfere with your functions.”

“No, papa, it is not that. She has no vocation for serious things. Her mind is essentially frivolous; you will discover that for yourself by-and-by. I speak in perfect candour, you know, papa. Whatever your feelings about Miss Lovel may be, I am above concealing mine. I believe I know my duty; but I cannot stoop to hypocrisy.”

“I suppose not. But I must say, you might have taken this business in a pleasanter spirit, Sophia. I shall expect, however, to see you take more pains to overcome your prejudice against the young Indy I have chosen for my wife; and I shall be rather slow to believe in your affection for myself unless it shows itself in that manner.”

Miss Granger covered her face with her handkerchief, and burst into a flood of tears.

“Oh, papa, papa, it only needed that! To think that any one’s influence can make my father doubt my affection for him, after all these years of duty and obedience!”

Mr. Granger muttered something about “duty,” which was the very reverse of a blessing, and walked out of the room, leaving Sophia to her tears.

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