The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 27

In the Season.

In the spring Mr. Granger took his wife and daughter to London, where they spent a couple of months in Clarges-street, and saw a good deal of society in what may he called the upper range of middle-class life — rich merchants and successful professional men living in fine houses at the West-end, enlivened with a sprinkling from the ranks of the baronetage and lesser nobility. In this circle Mr. Granger occupied rather a lofty standing, as the owner of one of the finest estates in Yorkshire, and of a fortune which the common love of the marvellous exalted into something fabulous. He found himself more popular than ever since his marriage, as the husband of one of the prettiest women who had appeared that season. So, during the two months of their London life, there was an almost unbroken succession of gaieties, and Mr. Granger found himself yearning for the repose of Arden Court sometimes, as he waited in a crowded ball-room while his wife and daughter danced their last quadrille. It pleased him that Clarissa should taste this particular pleasure-cup — that she should have every delight she had a right to expect as his wife; but it pleased him not the less when she frankly confessed to him one day that this brilliant round of parties and party-giving had very few charms for her, and that she would be glad to go back to Arden.

In London Clarissa met Lady Laura Armstrong; for the first time since that September afternoon in which she had promised that no arts of George Fairfax’s should move her to listen to him. Lord Calderwood had been dead a year and a half, and my lady was resplendent once more, and giving weekly receptions in Mr. Armstrong’s great house in Portland-place — a corner house, with about a quarter of a mile of drawing-rooms, stretching back into one of the lateral streets. For Mr. and Mrs. Granger she gave a special dinner, with an evening party afterwards; and she took up a good deal of Clarissa’s time by friendly morning calls, and affectionate insistance upon Mrs. Granger’s company in her afternoon drives, and at her daily kettle-drums — drives and kettle-drums from which Miss Granger felt herself more or less excluded.

It was during one of these airings, when they had left the crowd and splendour of the Park, and were driving to Roehampton, that Clarissa heard the name of George Fairfax once more. Until this afternoon, by some strange accident as it seemed, Lady Laura had never mentioned her sister’s lover.

“I suppose you heard that it was all broken off?” she said, rather abruptly, and apropos to nothing particular.

“Broken off, Lady Laura?”

“I mean Geraldine’s engagement. People are so fond of talking about those things; you must have heard, surely, Clary.”

“No, indeed, I have heard nothing.

“That’s very curious. It has been broken off ever so long — soon after poor papa’s death, in fact. But you know what Geraldine is — so reserved — almost impenetrable, as one may say. I knew nothing of what had happened myself till one day — months after the breach had occurred, it seems — when I made some allusion to Geraldine’s marriage, she stopped me, in her cold, proud way, saying, ‘It’s just as well I should tell you that that affair is all off, Laura. Mr. Fairfax and I have wished each other good-bye for ever.’ That’s what I call a crushing blow for a sister, Clarissa. You know how I had set my heart upon that marriage.”

“I am very sorry,” faltered Clarissa. “They had quarrelled, I suppose.”

“Quarrelled! O, dear no; she had not seen him since she left Hale with Frederick and me, and they parted with every appearance of affection. No; there had been some letters between them, that was all. I have never been able to discover the actual cause of their parting. Geraldine refused to answer any questions, in a most arbitrary manner. It is a hard thing, Clarissa; for I know that she loved him.”

“And where is Lady Geraldine now?”

“At Hale, with my children. She has no regular home of her own now, you see, poor girl, and she did not care about another season in London — she has had enough of that kind of thing — so she begged me to let her stay at the Castle, and superintend the governesses, and amuse herself in her own way. Life is full of trouble, Clary!” and here the mistress of Hale Castle, and of some seventy thousand per annum, gave a despondent sigh.

“Have you seen Mr. Fairfax since you came from Germany?” asked Clarissa.

“Yes, I have met him once — some months ago. You may be sure that I was tolerably cool to him. He has been very little in society lately, and has been leading rather a wild life in Paris, I hear. A prudent marriage would have been his redemption; but I daresay it will end in his throwing himself away upon some worthless person.”

It was a relief to Clarissa to hear that George Fairfax was in Paris, though that was very near. But in her ignorance of his whereabouts she had fancied him still nearer, and in all her London festivities had been tormented by a perpetual dread of meeting him. Many times even she had imagined that she saw his face across the crowd, and had been relieved to find it was only a face that bore some faint resemblance to his.

He had kept his word, then, so far as the breaking of his engagement to Geraldine Challoner. He had been more in earnest than Clarissa had believed. She thought that she was sorry for this; but it is doubtful whether the regretful feeling in her heart was really sorrow for Lady Geraldine. She thought of George Fairfax a good deal after this conversation with Lady Laura — alas, when had she ceased to think of him! — and all the splendours and pleasures of her married life seemed to her more than ever worthless. What a hopeless entanglement, what a dismal mistake, her existence was! Had she sold herself for these things — for Arden Court and a town house, and unlimited millinery? No; again and again she told herself she had married Daniel Granger for her father’s sake, and perhaps a little from a desire to keep faith with Lady Laura.

This marriage had seemed to her the only perfect fulfilment of her promise that nothing should induce her to marry George Fairfax. But the sacrifice had been useless, since he had broken his engagement to Geraldine Challoner.

Sophia Granger’s lynx eyes perceived a change in her step mother about this time. Clarissa had never appeared especially enraptured by the gaieties of fashionable London; but then had come upon her of late a languor and weariness of spirit which she tried in vain to disguise by an assumed air of enjoyment. That simulated gaiety deluded her husband, but it could not deceive Miss Granger.

“She’s getting tired of her life already, even here where we have a perpetual round of amusements,” Sophia said to herself. “What will she be when we go back to Yorkshire?”

The time was close at hand for the return to Arden, when the thing which Clarissa had feared came to pass, and the hazard of London life brought her face to face with George Fairfax.

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