A great event befell George Fairfax in the spring of the new year. He received a summons to Lyvedon, and arrived there only in time to attend his uncle’s death bed. The old man died, and was buried in the tomb of his forefathers — a spacious vaulted chamber beneath Lyvedon church — and George Fairfax reigned in his stead. Since his brother’s death he had known that this was to be, and had accepted the fact as a matter of course. His succession caused him very little elation. He was glad to have unlimited ready-money, but, in the altered aspect of his life, Le did not care much for the estate. With Geraldine Challoner for his wife, the possession of such a place as Lyvedon would have been very agreeable to him. He could have almost resigned himself to the ordinary country gentleman’s life: to be a magnate in the county; to attend at petty sessions, and keep himself well posted in parochial questions; to make himself a terror to the soul of poachers, and to feel that his youth was over. But now it was different. He had no wife, nor any prospect of a wife. He had no definite plans for his future. For a long time he had been going altogether the wrong way; leading a roving, desultory kind of existence; living amongst men whose habits and principles were worse than his own.
He sent for his mother, and installed her as mistress of Lyvedon. The place and the position suited her to admiration. He spent a month in dawdling about the neighbourhood, taking stock of his new possessions, now and then suggesting some alteration or improvement, but always too lazy to carry it out; strolling in the park with a couple of dogs and a cigar, or going fly-fishing along the bank of a little winding river; driving in an open carriage with his mother; yawning over a book or a newspaper all the evening, and then sitting up till late into the night, writing letters which might just as easily have been written in the day. His manner made his mother anxious. Once, with a sigh, she ventured to say how much she regretted the breaking-off his engagement to Lady Geraldine.
“You were so admirably adapted for each other,” she said.
“Yes, mother, admirably adapted, no doubt; but you see we did not love each other.” He felt a little pang of remorse as he said this, for it misgave him that Geraldine had loved him. “It would have been like those chestnut ponies you drive; they go very well together, and look superb, but they are always snapping at each other’s heads. I don’t mean to say that Geraldine and I would have quarrelled — one might as well try to quarrel with a rock — but we shouldn’t have got on. In short, I have a prejudice in favour of marrying a woman I could love.”
“And yet I thought you were so much attached to her.”
“I was — in the way of friendship. Her society had become a kind of habit with me. I do really like her, and shall always consider her one of the handsomest and cleverest women I know; but it was a mistake to ask her to marry me, and might have been a fatal one. You will say, of course, that a man ought not to make that kind of mistake. I quite agree with you there; but I made it, and I think it infinitely better to pull up even at an awkward point than to make two lives miserable.”
Mrs. Fairfax sighed, and shook her head doubtfully.
“O, George, George, I’m afraid there was some newer fancy — some secret reason for your conduct to poor Geraldine,” she said in a reproachful tone.
“My dear mother, I have a dozen fancies in a month, and rarely know my own mind for a week at a stretch; but I do know that I never really loved Geraldine Challoner, and that it is better for me to be free from an ill-advised engagement.”
Mrs. Fairfax did not venture to press the question any farther. She had her suspicions, and her suspicions pointed to Clarissa. But Clarissa now being married and fairly out of the way, she had some faint hope that her son would return to his old allegiance, and that she might even yet have Geraldine Challoner for her daughter. In the meantime she was fain to be patient, and to refrain from any irritating persistence upon a subject that was very near to her heart.
So far as her own interests were concerned, it would have been a pleasant thing for Mrs. Fairfax that her son should remain a bachelor. The sovereignty of Lyvedon was a pure and perfect delight to her. The place was the home of her childhood; and there was not a thicket in the park, or a flower-bed in the garden, that was not familiar and dear to her. Every corner of the sombre old rooms — in which the furniture had been unchanged for a century — had its tender associations. All the hopes and dreams of her long-vanished youth came back to her, faint and pale, like faded flowers shut in the leaves of a book. And in the event of her son’s marriage, she must of course resign all this — must make a new home for herself outside the walls of Lyvedon; for she was not a woman to accept a secondary place in any household. Considering the question merely from a selfish point of view, she had every reason to be satisfied with the existing state of things; but it was not of herself she thought. She saw her son restless and unsettled, and had a secret conviction that he was unhappy. There had been much in the history of his past life that had troubled her; and for his future her chief hope had been in the security of a judicious marriage. She was a woman of strong religious feeling, and had shed many bitter tears and prayed many prayers on account of this beloved son.
The beloved son in the meanwhile dawdled away life in a very unsatisfactory manner. He found the roads and lanes about Lyvedon remarkable for nothing but their dust. There were wild flowers, of course — possibly nightingales and that sort of thing; but he preferred such imported bouquets, grown on the flowery slopes of the Mediterranean, as he could procure to order at Covent Garden; and the song of nightingales in the dusky after dinner-time made him melancholy. The place was a fine old place and it was undoubtedly a good thing to possess it; but George Fairfax had lived too wild a life to find happiness in the simple pleasures of a Kentish squire. So, after enduring the placid monotony of Lyvedon for a couple of months, he grew insufferably weary all at once, and told his mother that he was going to the Black Forest.
“It’s too early to shoot capercailzies,” he said; “but I daresay I shall find something to do. I am nothing but a bore to you here, mother; and you can amuse yourself, while I’m gone, in carrying out any of the improvements we’ve discussed.”
Mrs. Fairfax assured her son that his presence was always a delight to her, but that, of course, there was nothing in the world she desired so much as his happiness, and that it had been a pain to her to see him otherwise than happy.
“I had hoped that the possession of this place would have given you so much occupation,” she said, “that you would have gone into parliament and made a position for yourself.”
“My dear mother, I never had any affection for politics; and unless a man could be a modern Pitt, I don’t see the use of that kind of thing. Every young Englishman turns his face towards the House of Commons, as the sunflower turns to the sun-god; and see what a charming level of mediocrity we enjoy in consequence thereof.”
“Anything that would occupy your mind, George,” remonstrated Mrs. Fairfax.
“The question is, whether I have any mind to be occupied, mother,” replied the young man with a laugh. “I think the average modern intellect, when it knows its own capacity, rarely soars above billiards. That is a science; and what can a man be more than scientific?”
“It is so easy to laugh the subject down in that way, George,” returned the mother with a sigh. “But a man has duties to perform.”
“Surely not a man with an estate like this, mother! I can never understand that talk about the duties of a rich man, except to pay his income-tax properly. A fellow with a wife and children, and no income to speak of, has duties, of course — imprimis, the duty of working for his belongings; but what are the privileges of wealth, if one may not take life as one pleases?”
“Oh, George, George, I used to hope such great things of you!”
“The fond delusion common to maternity, my dearest mother. A brat learns his A B C a shade quicker than other children, or construes Qui fit Maecenas with tolerable correctness; and straightway the doting mother thinks her lad is an embryo Canning. You should never have hoped anything of me, except that I would love you dearly all my life. You have made that very easy to me.”
Mr. Fairfax took his portmanteau and departed, leaving his servant to carry the rest of his luggage straight to Paris, and await his master’s arrival at one of the hotels in the Rue de Rivoli. The master himself took a somewhat circuitous route, and began his journey to the Black Forest by going down to Holborough.
“I can take a steamer from Hull to Hamburg,” he said to himself, “and push on from there to Carlsruhe.”
He wanted to see Clarissa again. He knew that she was at Arden Court, and that Lady Laura Armstrong was not at Hale Castle. He wanted to see her; his ulterior views were of the vaguest; but that passionate yearning to see her, to hear the sweet winning voice, to look into the soft hazel eyes, was strong upon him. It was a year since the day he dined in Clarges-street; and in all that year he had done his uttermost to forget her, had hated himself for the weakness which made her still dearer to him than any other woman; and then, alike angry with her and with himself, had cried, with Wilmot Earl of Rochester —
“Such charms by nature you possess,
’Twere madness not to love you.”
He went up to London early one morning, and straight from London to Holborough, where he arrived late in the evening. He slept at the chief inn of the place; and in the golden summer noontide set out for Arden Court — not to make a formal visit, but rather to look about him in a somewhat furtive way. He did not care to make his advent known to Daniel Granger just yet; perhaps, indeed, he might find it expedient to avoid any revelation of himself to that gentleman. He wanted to find out all he could of Clarissa’s habits, so that he might contrive an interview with her. He had seen the announcement of the baby’s birth, and oh, what a bitter pang the commonplace paragraph had given him! Never before had the fact that she was another man’s wife come home to him so keenly. He tried to put the subject out of his thoughts, to forget that there had been a son born to the house of Granger; but often in the dreary spring twilight, walking among the oaks of Lyvedon, he had said to himself, “Her child ought to have been heir to this place.”
He went in at the lodge gate, and strolled idly into the park, not being at all clear as to how he was to bring about what he wanted. The weather was lovely — weather in which few people, untrammelled by necessity, would have cared to remain indoors. There was just the chance that Mrs. Granger might be strolling in the park herself, and the still more remote contingency that she might be alone. He was quite prepared for the possibility of meeting her accompanied by the lynx-eyed Miss Granger; and was not a man to be thrown off his guard, or taken at a disadvantage, come what might.
The place wore its fairest aspect: avenues of elms, that had begun to grow when England was young; gigantic oaks dotted here and there upon the undulating open ground, reputed a thousand years old; bright young plantations of rare fir and pine, that had a pert crisp newness about them, like the air of a modern dandy; everywhere the appearance of that perfect care and culture which is the most conclusive evidence of unlimited wealth.
George Fairfax looked round him with a sigh. The scene he looked upon was very fair. It was not difficult to understand how dear association might have made so beautiful a spot to such a girl as Clarissa. She had told him she would give the world to win back her lost home; and she had given — something less than the world — only herself. “Paris is worth a mass,” said the great Henry; and Clarissa’s perjury was only one more of the many lies which men and women have told to compass their desires.
He kept away from the carriage-roads, loitering in the remoter regions of the park, and considering what he should do. He did not want to present himself at the Court as a formal visitor. In the first place, it would have been rather difficult to give any adequate reason for his presence in Holborough; and in the second, he had an unspeakable repugnance to any social intercourse with Clarissa’s husband.
How he was ever to see her in the future without that hideous hypocrisy of friendliness towards Daniel Granger, he knew not; but he knew that it would cost him dearly to take the hand of the man who had supplanted him.
He wandered on till he came to a dell where the ground was broken a good deal, and where the fern seemed to grow more luxuriantly than in any other part of the park. There was a glimpse of blue water at the bottom of the slope — a narrow strip of a streamlet running between swampy banks, where the forget-me-nots and pale water-plants ran riot. This verdant valley was sheltered by some of the oldest hawthorns George Fairfax had ever seen — very Methuselahs of trees, whose grim old trunks and crooked branches time had twisted into the queerest shapes, and whose massive boles and strange excrescences of limb were covered with the moss of past generations. It was such a valley as Gustave Doré would love to draw; a glimpse of wilderness in the midst of cultivation.
There were not wanted figures to brighten the landscape. A woman dressed in white sat under one of the hawthorns, with a baby on her lap; and a nursemaid, in gayer raiment, stood by, looking down at the child.
How well George Fairfax remembered the slight girlish figure, and the day when he had come upon it unawares in Marley Wood! He stood a few paces off, and listened to the soft sweet voice.
Clarissa was talking to her baby in the unintelligible mother-language inspired by the occasion. A baby just able to smile at her, and coo and crow and chuckle in that peculiarly unctious manner common to babies of amiable character; a fair blue-eyed baby, big and bonny, with soft rings of flaxen hair upon his pink young head, and tender little arms that seemed meant for nothing so much as to be kissed.
After a good deal of that sweet baby-talk, there was a little discussion between the mistress and maid; and then the child was wrapped up as carefully as if destruction were in the breath of the softest June zephyr. Mr. Fairfax was afraid the mother was going away with the child, and that his chance would be lost; but it was not so. The maid tripped off with the infant, after it had been brought back two or three times to be half smothered with kisses — kisses which it seemed to relish in its own peculiar way, opening its mouth to receive them, as if they had been something edible. The baby was carried away at last, and Clarissa took up a book and began to read.
George Fairfax waited till the maid had been gone about ten minutes, and then came slowly down the hollow to the spot where Clarissa was seated. The rustle of the fern startled her; she looked up, and saw him standing by her side. It was just a year since he had surprised her in Mr. Wooster’s garden at Henley. She had thought of him very much in that time, but less since the birth of her boy. She turned very pale at sight of him; and when she tried to speak, the words would not come: her lips only moved tremulously.
“I hope I did not alarm you very much,” he said, “by the suddenness of my appearance. I thought I heard your voice just now, speaking to some one”— he had not the heart to mention her baby —“and came down here to look for you. What a charming spot it is!”
She had recovered her self-possession by this time, and was able to answer him quite calmly. “Yes, it is very pretty. It was a favourite spot of Austin’s. I have at least a dozen sketches of it done by him. But I did not know you were in Yorkshire, Mr. Fairfax.”
She wondered whether he was staying at Hale; and then it flashed upon her that there had been a reconciliation between him and Lady Geraldine.
“I have not been long in Yorkshire. I am merely here en passant, in short. My only excuse for approaching you lies in the fact that I have come to talk to you about your brother.”
“About Austin!” exclaimed Clarissa, with a look of alarm. “There is nothing wrong — he is well, I hope?”
“Pray don’t alarm yourself. Yes, he is tolerably well, I believe; and there is nothing wrong — nothing that need cause you any immediate concern at least. I am going to Paris, and I thought you might be glad to send some message.”
“You are very kind to think of that; yes, I shall be glad to send to him. He is not a good correspondent, and I get very anxious about him sometimes. What you said just now seemed to imply that there was something wrong. Pray be candid with me, Mr. Fairfax.”
He did not answer her immediately; in fact, for the moment he scarcely was conscious of her words. He was looking at the beautiful face — looking at it with a repressed passion that was deeper and more real than any he had ever felt in his life. His thoughts wandered away from Austin Level. He was thinking what he would have given, what peril he would have dared, to call this woman his own. All this lower world seemed nothing to him when weighed against her; and in such a moment a man of his stamp rarely remembers any other world.
“There is something wrong,” repeated Clarissa with increasing anxiety. “I entreat you to tell me the truth!”
“Yes, there is something wrong,” he answered vaguely; and then, wrenching his mind away from those wild speculations as to what he would or would not do to win Daniel Granger’s wife, he went on in another tone: “The truth is, my dear Mrs. Granger, I was in Paris last winter, and saw something of your brother’s mode of life; and I cannot say that I consider it a satisfactory one. You have sent him a good deal of money since I saw you last, I daresay? Pray understand that there is nothing intrusive or impertinent in my question. I only wish to be some use to you, if I can.”
“I am sure of that. Yes; I have sent him what I could — about four hundred pounds — since last June; and he has been very grateful, poor fellow! He ought to know that he is welcome to every shilling I have. I could send him much more, of course, if I cared to ask my husband for money.”
“It is wiser to trust to your own resources. And I doubt if the command of much money would be a positive benefit to your brother. You have asked me to be candid; and I shall obey you, even at the hazard of giving you pain. There is a kind of constitutional weakness in your brother’s nature. He is a man open to every influence, and not always governed by the best influences. I saw a good deal of him when I was last in Paris, and I saw him most in the fastest society, amongst people who petted him for the sake of his genius and vivacity, but who would turn their backs upon him to-morrow if he were no longer able to amuse them; the set into which an artist is so apt to fall when his home influences are not strong enough to keep him steady, and when he has that lurking disposition to Bohemianism which has been the bane of your brother’s life. I speak entirely without reserve, you see.”
“I am grateful to you for doing so. Poor Austin! if he had only chosen more wisely! But his wife is fond of him, you say?”
“Too fond of him, perhaps; for she is very much given to torment him with jealous outbreaks; and he is not a man to take that sort of thing pleasantly. She does not go into society with him: indeed, I doubt if half-a-dozen out of the people whom he lives amongst know that he has a wife. I found his social position considerably improved; thanks to your remittances, no doubt. He was still in the Rue du Chevalier Bayard — as, of course, you know — but had moved a stage lower down, and had furnished a painting-room in the stereotyped style — Flemish carved buffets, dingy tapestry from a passage behind the Rue Richelieu, and a sprinkling of bric-a-brac from the Quai Voltaire. The poor little woman and her children were banished; and he had a room full of visitors chattering round him while he painted. You know his wonderful facility. The atmosphere was cloudy with tobacco-smoke; and the men were drinking that abominable concoction of worm-wood with which young France cultivates madness and early doom.”
“It is not a pleasant picture,” said Clarissa with a profound sigh.
“No, my dear Mrs. Granger; but it is a faithful one. Mr. Lovel had won a certain reputation for his airy style of art, and was beginning to get better prices for his pictures; but I fancy he has a capacity for spending money, and an inability to save it, which would bring him always to the same level of comparative insolvency. I have known so many men like that; and a man who begins in that way so rarely ends in any other way.”
“What am I to do!” exclaimed Clarissa piteously; “what can I do to help him?”
“I am almost at a loss to suggest anything. Perhaps if you were on the spot, your influence might do something. I know he loves you, and is more moved by the mention of your name than by any sermon one could preach to him. But I suppose there is no chance of your being in Paris.”
“I don’t know. Mr. Granger talked some time ago of spending the autumn abroad, and asked me if I should like to see a New–Year’s day in Paris. I think, if I were to express a wish about it, he would take me there; and it would be such happiness to me to see Austin!” And then Mrs. Granger thought of her baby, and wondered whether the atmosphere of Paris would be favourable to that rare and beauteous blossom; whether the tops-and-bottoms of the French capital would agree with his tender digestive machinery, and if the cowkeepers of the Faubourg St. Honoré were an honest and unadulterating race. The very notion of taking the treasure away from his own nurseries, his own cow, his own goat-chaise, was enough to make her shudder.
“It would be the best chance for his redemption. A little womanly kindness and counsel from you to the wife might bring about a happier state of things in his home; and a man who can be happy at home is in a measure saved. It is hardly possible for your brother to mix much with the people amongst whom I saw him without injury to himself. They are people to whom dissipation is the very salt of life; people who breakfast at the Moulin Rouge at three o’clock in the afternoon, and eat ices at midnight to the music of the cascade in the Bois; people to be seen at every race-meeting; men who borrow money at seventy-five per cent to pay for opera-boxes and dinners at the Café Riche, and who manage the rest of their existence on credit.”
“But what could my influence do against such friends as these?” asked Clarissa in a hopeless tone.
“Who can say? It might do wonders. I know your brother has a heart, and that you have power to touch it. Take my advice, Mrs. Granger, and try to be in Paris as soon as you can.”
“I will,” she answered fervently. “I would do anything to save him.” She looked at her watch, and rose from the seat under the hawthorn. “It is nearly two o’clock,” she said, “and I must go back to the house. You will come to luncheon, of course?”
“Thanks — no. I have an engagement that will take me back to the town immediately.”
“But Mr. Granger will be surprised to hear that you have been here without calling upon him.”
“Need Mr. Granger hear of my coming?” George Fairfax asked in a low tone.
Clarissa flushed scarlet.
“I have no secrets from my husband, Mr. Fairfax,” she said, “even about trifles.”
“Ten thousand pardons! I scarcely want to make my presence here a secret; but, in short, I came solely to speak to you about a subject in which I knew you were deeply interested, and I had not contemplated calling upon Mr. Granger.”
They were walking slowly up the grassy slope as they talked; and after this there came a silence, during which Clarissa quickened her pace a little, George Fairfax keeping still by her side. Her heart beat faster than its wont; and she had a vague sense of danger in this man’s presence — a sense of a net being woven round her, a lurking suspicion that this apparent interest in her brother veiled some deeper feeling.
They came out of the hollow, side by side, into a short arcade of flowering limes, at the end of which there was a broad sweep of open grass. A man on a deep-chested strong-limbed gray horse was riding slowly towards them across the grass — Daniel Granger.
That picture of his wife walking in the little avenue of limes, with George Fairfax by her side, haunted Mr. Granger with a strange distinctness in days to come — the slight white-robed figure against the background of sunlit greenery; the young man’s handsome head, uncovered, and stooping a little as he spoke to his companion.
The master of Arden Court dismounted, and led his horse by the bridle as he came forward to meet Mr. Fairfax. The two men shook hands; but not very warmly. The encounter mystified Daniel Granger a little. It was strange to find a man he had supposed to be at the other end of England strolling in the park with his wife, and that man the one about whom he had had many a dreary half-hour of brooding. He waited for an explanation, however, without any outward show of surprise. The business was simple and natural enough, no doubt, he told himself.
“Have you been to the house?” he asked; “I have been out all the morning.”
“No; I was on my way there, when I came upon Mrs. Granger in the most romantic spot yonder. I felt that I was rather early for a morning-call even in the depths of the country, and had strolled out of the beaten path to get rid of an hour or so.”
“I did not know you were in Yorkshire,” said Mr. Granger, not in the most cordial tone. “You are staying at Hale, I suppose?”
“No; Lady Laura is away, you know.”
“Ah — to be sure; I had forgotten.”
“I am spending a few days with a bachelor friend in Holborough. I am off to Germany before the week is out.”
Mr. Granger was not sorry to hear this. He was not jealous of George Fairfax. If anybody had suggested the possibility of his entertaining such a sentiment, that person would have experienced the full force of Daniel Granger’s resentment; but this was just the one man whom he fancied his wife might have cared for a little before her marriage. He was not a man given to petty jealousies; and of late, since the birth of his son, there had been growing up in his mind a sense of security in his wife’s fidelity — her affection even. The union between them had seemed very perfect after the advent of the child; and the master of Arden Court felt almost as if there were nothing upon this earth left for him to desire. But he was a little puzzled by the presence of George Fairfax, nevertheless.
Holborough was a small place; and he began to speculate immediately upon the identity of this bachelor friend of Mr. Fairfax’s. It was not a garrison town. The young men of the place were for the most part small professional men — half-a-dozen lawyers and doctors, two or three curates, a couple of bankers’ sons, an auctioneer or two, ranking vaguely between the trading and professional classes, and the sons of tradesmen. Among them all Mr. Granger could remember no one likely to be a friend of George Fairfax. It might possibly be one of the curates; but it seemed scarcely probable that Mr. Fairfax would come two hundred and fifty miles to abide three days with a curate. Nor was it the season of partridges. There was no shooting to attract Mr. Fairfax to the neighbourhood of Holborough. There was trout, certainly, to be found in abundance in brooks, and a river within a walk of the town; and Mr. Fairfax might be passionately fond of fly-fishing.
“You will come in and have some luncheon, of course,” Mr. Granger said, when they came to the gateway, where George Fairfax pulled up, and began to wish them good-bye. Not to ask the man to eat and drink would have seemed to him the most unnatural thing in the world.
“Thanks. I think I had better deny myself that pleasure,” Mr. Fairfax said doubtfully. “The day is getting on, and — and I have an engagement for the afternoon.” (“Trout, no doubt,” thought Mr. Granger.) “I have seen you, that is the grand point. I could not leave Yorkshire without paying my respects to you and Mrs. Granger.”
“Do you leave so soon?”
“To-morrow, I think.”
“A hurried journey for trout,” thought Mr. Granger.
He insisted upon the visitor coming in to luncheon. George Fairfax was not very obdurate. It was so sweet to be near the woman he loved, and he had not the habit of refusing himself the things that were sweet to him. They went into the small dining-room. The luncheon bell had rung a quarter of an hour ago, and Miss Granger was waiting for her parents, with an air of placid self-abnegation, by an open window.
There was a good deal of talk during luncheon, but the chief talker was George Fairfax. Clarissa was grave and somewhat absent. She was thinking of her brother Austin, and the gloomy account of him which she had just heard. It was hardly a surprise to her. His letters had been few and far between, and they had not been hopeful, or, at the best, brightened by only a flash of hopefulness, which was more like bravado, now and then. His necessity for money, too, had seemed without limit. She was planning her campaign. Come what might, she must contrive some means of being in Paris before long. Mr. Fairfax was going on to Carlsruhe, that was an advantage; for something in his manner to-day had told her that he must always be more or less than her friend. She had a vague sense that his eagerness to establish a confidence between her and himself was a menace of danger to her.
“If I can only go to Austin myself,” she thought, “there need be no intermediary.”
Luncheon was over, and still Mr. Fairfax lingered — strangely indifferent to the waning of an afternoon which seemed peculiarly advantageous for fly-fishing, Mr. Granger thought. They went into the drawing-room, and Mr. Fairfax dawdled an hour away talking of Lyvedon, and giving a serio-comic description of himself in the novel character of a country gentleman. It was not till Mr. Granger had looked at his watch once or twice in a surreptitious manner, thinking of an engagement to meet his architect for the inspection of some dilapidated cottages on the newest part of his estate, that the visitor rose to depart. Daniel Granger had quite warmed to him by this time. His manner was so natural in its pleasant airiness: it was not easy to think there could be any lurking evil beneath such a show of candour.
“Can’t you stay and dine with us?” asked Mr. Granger; “or will you go back to Holborough and fetch your friend? We shall be very glad to know him, if we don’t know him already.”
If a blush had been possible to George Fairfax, this friendly speech would have raised it; but the capacity had departed from him before he left Eton. He did feel ashamed of himself, nevertheless.
“You are more than good,” he said, “but my friend seldom goes anywhere. Good-bye.”
He made his adieux with an agreeable abruptness, not caring to prolong the dinner question. Such men as he tell lies without stint upon occasion; but the men are few to whom it is actually congenial to lie. He was glad to get away even from the woman he loved, and the sense of shame was strong upon him as he departed.
If his mother, who was anxiously awaiting a letter from Paris or Carlsruhe, could have known of his presence here in this place, to which his father had come years ago to betray her! If she who loved him so fondly, and was so full of prayers and hopes for his future, could have seen him so utterly on the wrong road, what bitter shame and lamenting there would have been in the halls of Lyvedon that day — those deserted halls in which the lady sat alone among the sombre old-world grandeurs of oak and tapestry, and sighed for her absent son!
Instead of going straight back to the Holborough high-road, Mr. Fairfax struck across the woods by that path which led to the mill-stream and the orchard, where he had parted from Clarissa on that cheerless October night nearly three years ago. He knew that Mr. Lovel was away, and the cottage only tenanted by servants, and he had a fancy for looking at the place where he had been so angry and so miserable — the scene of that one rejection which had stung him to the very quick, the single humiliation of his successful career. It was only the morbid fancy of an idle man, who had an afternoon to dispose of somehow.
Half-way between the Court and the cottage, he heard the jingling of bells, and presently, flashing and gleaming among the trees, he saw a gaily-painted carriage drawn by a pair of goats, with plated harness that shone in the sun. Mixed with the joyous jingle of the bells, there came the sound of an infant’s laughter. It was the baby taking his after-dinner airing, attended by a couple of nurses. A turn in the path brought George Fairfax and the heir of Arden face to face.
A sudden impulse seized him — a sudden impulse of tenderness for her child. He took the little bundle of rosy babyhood and lace and muslin in his arms, and kissed the soft little face as gently as a woman, and looked into the innocent blue eyes, dilated to an almost impossible extent in a wondering stare, with unspeakable love and melancholy in his own. Great Heaven! if Clarissa had been his wife, this child his son, what a happy man he might have been, what a new charm there would have been in the possession of a fine estate, what a new zest in life, the savour of which seemed to have departed altogether of late!
He put the little one back into his cushioned seat in the goat-chaise with supreme care and gentleness, not ruffling so much as a plume in his dainty white satin hat.
“A fine boy, Mrs. Nurse,” he said, feeling in his waistcoat-pocket for bacsheesh; to which proposition the portly head-nurse, who had stared at him, aghast with horror, while had handled the infant, assented with enthusiasm.
“I never nursed a finer, sir; and I was head-nurse to Lady Fitz–Lubin, which my lady had five boys, and not a girl between them; and Mrs. Granger does dote on him so. I never see a ma that rapt up in her child.”
Mr. Fairfax gave her half-a-sovereign, stooped down to kiss the baby again — it is doubtful if he had ever kissed a baby before — and then walked on, wondering at the new sensation. Such a little soft thing, that opened its mouth to be kissed, like a petted bird! And yet he could contemplate a future in which he should come between Clarissa and this child; he could dream of a possibility which should make its mother’s name a shame to this little one.
Mr. Granger kept his appointment with the architect, and came to the natural conclusion of a rich roan upon the subject of dilapidated buildings. After inspecting the lop-sided old cottages, with their deep roomy chimneys, in which the farm labourer loved to sit of a night, roasting his ponderous boots, and smoking the pipe of meditation, and their impossible staircases, which seemed to have been designed with a deliberate view to the breaking of legs and endangerment of spines, Mr. Granger made a wry face, and ordered that rubbish to be swept away.
“You can build me half-a-dozen upon the new Arden design,” he said; “red brick, with stone dressings; and be sure you put a tablet with the date in front of each.”
He was thinking of his son, anxious that there should be some notable improvement, some new building every year, to mark the progress of his boy’s existence.
The farm-labourers and their wives did not look so delighted as they might have been by this edict. These benighted souls liked the old cottages, lop-sided as they were — liked the crooked staircase squeezed into a corner of the living room below, the stuffy little dens above, with casement windows which only opened on one side, letting in the smallest modicum of air, and were not often opened at all. Cottages on the Now Arden model meant stone floors below and open rafters above, thorough draughts everywhere, and, worst of all, they meant weekly inspection by Miss Granger. The free sons and daughters of Hickly-on-the-Hill — this little cluster of houses which formed a part of Mr. Granger’s new estate — had rejoiced that they were not as the Ardenites; that they could revel in warmth and dirt, and eat liver-and-bacon for supper on a Saturday night, without any fear of being lectured for their extravagance by the omniscient Sophia on the following Monday, convicted of their guilt by the evidence of the grease in an unwashed frying-pan; that their children could sport on the hillside in garments that were guiltless of strings; that, in short, they were outside the circle of Miss Granger’s sympathies and could live their own lives. But that sweet liberty was all over now: with the red brick and stone dressings would come the Draconian laws of New Arden; no more corners for the comfortable accumulation of dirt, no more delicious little cupboards for the stowing away of rubbish. Everything was to be square and solid and stony. They heard Mr. Granger giving orders that the chimney was to be flush with the wall, and so on; the stove, an “Oxford front,” warranted to hold not more than a pound and a half of coal; no recesses in which old age could sit and croon, no cosy nook for the cradle of infancy.
After this interview with the architect, Mr. Granger rode home through Holborough. His way took him past that very hotel where George Fairfax was staying — the chief inn of the town, a fine old red-brick building that filled nearly one side of the market-place.
It happened that just as Mr. Granger rode along the High-street, where there were some half-a-dozen stragglers visible upon a wide expanse of pavement, and one carriage waiting at the draper’s, Mr. Fairfax walked up the broad steps of the hotel and entered — entered with the air of a man who lived there, Daniel Granger thought. And he had said that he was staying with a bachelor friend. Mr. Granger rode slowly past the principal part of the hotel to an archway at the end — an archway leading to livery stables, where the ostler was lounging. He stopped opposite this archway, and beckoned the man over to him.
“There was a gentleman went into the hotel just now,” he said; “did you see him?”
“Yes, sir, I seed him. Mr. Fairfax; him as was to have married Lady Laura Armstrong’s sister.”
“Is he staying in the house, do you know?”
“Yes, sir; came last night, down from London. Shall I take him your card, sir?”
“No, thank you, Giles; I won’t call upon him this afternoon, I only wanted to be sure. Good-day.”
He rode on. What was the meaning of this lie which George Fairfax had told him? Had it any meaning which it behoved him to fathom? It was strange, at the least — strange enough to make Mr. Granger very uncomfortable as he rode slowly back to the Court.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50