Late in the autumn of that year, Mr. Granger and his household took up their abode in Paris. Clarissa had expressed a wish to winter in that brilliant city, and Daniel Granger had no greater desire than to please her. But, in making any concession of this kind, he did it in such a quiet unobtrusive way, that his wife was scarcely aware how entirely her wishes had been studied. He was too proud a man to parade his affection for her; he kept a check upon himself rather, and in a manner regulated his own conduct by the standard of hers. There was never any show of devotion on his part. The world might have taken them for a couple brought together by convenience, and making the best of their loveless union.
So, with regard to the gratification of her wishes, it seemed always that the thing which Clarissa desired, happened to suit his own humour, rather than that he sacrificed all personal feeling for her pleasure. In this Parisian arrangement it had been so, and his wife had no idea that it was entirely on her account that Daniel Granger set up his tent in the Faubourg St. Honoré.
The fair Sophia had, however, a very shrewd suspicion of the fact, and for some weeks prior to the departure from Arden, existed in a state of suppressed indignation, which was not good for the model villagers; her powers of observation were, if possible, sharpened in the matter of cobwebs; her sense of smell intensified in relation to cabbage-water. Nor did she refrain from making herself eminently disagreeable to her stepmother.
“I should not have supposed you would so soon be tired of Arden Court,” she remarked pleasantly, during that dreary quarter of an hour after dinner which Mr. Granger and his wife and daughter were wont to pass in the contemplation of crystallized apricots and hothouse grapes, and the exchange of the baldest commonplaces in the way of conversation; Perhaps if Clarissa and her husband had been alone on such occasions that air of ceremony might have vanished. The young wife might have drawn her chair a little nearer her husband’s, and there might have been some pleasant talk about that inexhaustible source of wonder and delight, the baby. But with Miss Granger always at hand, the dessert was as ceremonious as if there had been a party of eighteen, and infinitely more dreary, lacking the cheery clatter and buzz of company. She ate five hothouse grapes, and sipped half a glass of claret, with as solemn an air as if she had been making a libation to the gods.
Mr. Granger looked up from his plate when his daughter made this remark about Arden, and glanced inquiringly at his wife, with a shadow of displeasure in his face. Yielding and indulgent as he had been to her, there was in his composition something of the stuff that makes a tyrant. His wife must love the things that he loved. It would have been intolerable to him to suppose that Mrs. Granger could grow weary of the house that he had beautified.
“I am not tired of the Court,” Clarissa answered with a sad smile. “There are too many recollections to make it dear to me.”
Daniel Granger’s face flushed ever so slightly at this speech.
It was the past, then, and not the present, that rendered the place dear to her.
“I could never grow tired of Arden,” she went on; “but I think it will be very nice to spend a winter in Paris.”
“Lady Laura Armstrong has put that notion into your head, no doubt,” said Miss Granger, with the faintest suspicion of a sneer. She was not very warmly attached to the lady of Hale Castle nowadays, regarding her as the chief promoter of Mr. Granger’s marriage.
“Lady Laura has said that they enjoyed themselves very much in Paris the winter before last,” Clarissa answered frankly; “and has promised me plenty of introductions. She even promises that she and Mrs. Armstrong will come over for a week or two, while we are there.”
“And poor Lady Geraldine Challoner?”
Miss Granger always exhibited a profound pity for Lady Geraldine, and never lost any opportunity of dwelling upon Mr. Fairfax’s bad conduct.
“No; I don’t suppose Lady Geraldine would go with them,” Clarissa answered, colouring a little. The name of Geraldine Challoner was always painful to her. “She doesn’t care about going anywhere.”
“Perhaps she would not care to run the risk of meeting Mr. Fairfax,” suggested Sophia.
Mr. Granger looked up again, with that shadow of displeasure upon his countenance.
“She would not be more likely to meet him in Paris than at Hale,” replied Clarissa. “He has gone to Germany.”
“Yes, for the autumn, he said. Depend upon it, he will spend the winter in Paris. I have always observed that those dissipated kind of men prefer Paris to London.”
“I don’t think you have any right to call Mr. Fairfax dissipated, Sophia,” said her father, with an offended air; “and I don’t think that his movements can be of the smallest consequence to you, nor those of the Hale Castle people either? Clarissa and I have determined to spend two or three months in Paris, and we are not in the slightest degree dependent upon our English friends for our enjoyment there. If you are disinclined to accompany us, and would rather remain at Arden ——”
“O, papa, papa!” cried Sophia, with an injured look, “don’t say that; don’t allow me to think I have grown quite indifferent to you.”
“You have not grown indifferent to me; but I don’t want to take you away from home against your wish.”
“My wish is to be anywhere with you, papa; anywhere— even though you may feel me an incumbrance. I could endure the humiliation of feeling that, so long as I was allowed to remain with you.”
Mr. Granger gave a sigh that was almost a groan, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, it occurred to him that it would be a pleasant thing if his only daughter were to fall in love with some fortunate youth, and desire to marry him. A curate even. There was Tillott. Why shouldn’t she marry Tillott? He, Daniel Granger, would give his child a handsome portion, and they could go through life inspecting model cottages, and teaching village children the works and ways of all those wicked kings of Israel, who made groves and set up the idols of their heathen neighbours; a pure and virtuous and useful life, without question, if tempered with come consideration for the feelings of the model cottagers, and some mercy for the brains of the humble scholars.
In the interval between this little after-dinner scene and the departure from Arden, Mr. Granger invited Mr. Tillott to dinner two or three times, and watched him with the eyes of anxiety as he conversed with Sophia. But although the curate was evidently eager to find favour in the sight of the damsel, the damsel herself showed no sign of weakness. Mr. Granger sighed, and told himself that the lamp of hope burned dimly in this quarter.
“She really ought to marry,” he said to himself. “A girl of her energetic indefatigable nature would be a treasure to some man, and she is only wasting herself here. Perhaps in Paris we shall meet some one;” and then there arose before Mr. Granger the vision of some foreign adventurer, seeking to entangle the wealthy English “meess” in his meshes. Paris might be a dangerous place; but with such, a girl as Sophia, there could be no fear; she was a young woman who might be trusted to walk with unfaltering steps through the most tortuous pathways of this life, always directing herself aright, and coming in at the finish just at that very point at which a well brought-up young person should arrive.
Mr. Granger made his Parisian arrangements on the large scale which became him as a landed gentleman of unlimited wealth. A first floor of some ten spacious rooms was selected in one of the bran-new stone mansions in a bran-new street in the fashionable Faubourg; a house that seemed to have been built for the habitation of giants; a house made splendid by external decoration in carved stonework, garlands of stone-fruit and flowers, projecting lion-heads, caryatides, and so on: no gloomy porte-cochère, but a street-door, through which a loaded drag might have been driven without damage to the hats of the outside passengers. A house glorified within by egg-and-dart mouldings, white enamelled woodwork and much gilding; but a house in which the winter wind howled as in a primeval forest, and which required to be supplied with supplementary padded crimson-velvet doors before the spacious chambers could be made comfortable. Here Mr. Granger took up his abode, with ten of his Arden Court servants quartered on a floor above. The baby had a nursery loosing into the broad bare street, where some newly-planted sticks of the sycamore species shivered in the north-east wind; and the baby took his matutinal airings in the Tuileries Gardens, and his afternoon drives in the Bois, while every movement of his infant existence was watched or directed by the tenderest of mothers. The chief nurse, who had lived with more fashionable mistresses, for whom the duties of the nursery were subordinate to the business of society, pronounced Mrs. Granger “fidgety”; a very sweet lady, but too fond of interfering about trifles, and not reposing boundless confidence in the experience of her nurse.
There were a good many English people in Paris this year whom the Grangers knew, and Lady Laura had insisted upon giving Clarissa introductions to some of her dearest friends among the old French nobility — people who had known Lord Calderwood in their days of exile — and more than one dearest friend among the newer lights of the Napoleonic firmament. Then there were a Russian princess and a Polish countess or so, whom Lady Laura had brought to Mrs. Granger’s receptions in Clarges-street: so that Clarissa and her husband found themselves at once in the centre of a circle, from the elegant dissipations whereof there was no escape. The pretty Mrs. Granger and the rich Mr. Granger were in request everywhere; nor was the stately Sophia neglected, although she took her share in all festivities with the familiar Sunday-school primness, and seemed to vivacious Gaul the very archetype of that representative young English lady who is always exclaiming “Shocking!” Even after her arrival in Paris, when she felt herself so very near him, after so many years of severance, Clarissa did not find it the easiest thing in the world to see her brother. Mr. and Mrs. Granger had only spent a couple of days in Paris during their honeymoon, and Daniel Granger planned a round of sight-seeing, in the way of churches, picture-galleries, and cemeteries, which fully occupied the first four or five days after their arrival. Clarissa was obliged to be deeply interested in all the details of Gothic architecture — to appreciate Ingres, to give her mind to Gérome — when her heart was yearning for that meeting which he had waited so long to compass. Mr. Granger, as an idle man, with no estate to manage — no new barns being built within his morning’s ride — no dilapidated cottages to be swept away — was not easily to be got rid of. He devoted his days to showing his wife the glories of the splendid city, which he knew by heart himself, and admired sufficiently in a sober business-like way. The evenings were mortgaged to society. Clarissa had been more than a week in Paris before she had a morning to herself; and even then there was Miss Granger to be disposed of, and Miss Granger’s curiosity to be satisfied.
Mr. Granger had gone to breakfast at the Maison Dorée with a mercantile magnate from his own country — a solemn commercial breakfast, whereat all the airy trifles and dainty compositions of fish, flesh, and fowl with which the butterfly youth of France are nourished, were to be set before unappreciative Britons. At ten o’clock Clarissa ordered her carriage. It was best to go in her own carriage, she thought, even at the risk of exciting the curiosity of servants. To send for a hired vehicle would have caused greater wonder; to walk alone was impossible; to walk with her nurse and child might have been considered eccentric.
She could not even take an airing, however, without some discussion with Miss Granger. That young lady was established in the drawing-room — the vast foreign chamber, which never looked like a home — illuminating a new set of Gothic texts for the adornment of her school. She sorely missed the occupation and importance afforded her by the model village. In Paris there was no one afraid of her; no humble matrons to quail as her severe eyes surveyed wall and ceiling, floor and surbase. And being of a temperament which required perpetual employment, she was fain to fall back upon illumination, Berlin-wool work, and early morning practice of pianoforte music of the most strictly mathematical character. It was her boast that she had been thoroughly “grounded” in the science of harmony; but although she could have given a reason for every interval in a sonata, her playing never sparkled into brilliancy or melted into tenderness, and never had her prim cold fingers found their way to a human soul.
“Are you going out so early?” this wise damsel asked wonderingly, as Clarissa came into the drawing-room in her bonnet and shawl.
“Yes, it is such a fine morning, and I think baby will enjoy it. I have not had a drive with him since we have been here.”
“No,” replied Sophia, “you have only had papa. I shouldn’t think he would be very much flattered if he heard you preferred baby.”
“I did not say that I preferred baby, Sophia. What a habit you have of misrepresenting me!”
The nurse appeared at this moment, carrying the heir of the Grangers, gloriously arrayed in blue velvet, and looking fully conscious of his magnificence.
“But I do like to have a drive with my pet-lamb, don’t I, darling?” said the mother, stooping to kiss the plump rosy cheek. And then there followed some low confidential talk, in the fond baby language peculiar to young mothers.
“I should have thought you would have been glad to get a morning alone, for once in a way,” remarked Sophia, coming over to the baby, and giving him a stately kiss. She liked him tolerably well in her own way, and was not angry with him for having come into the world to oust her from her proud position as sole heiress to her father’s wealth. The position had been very pleasant to her, and she had not seen it slip away from her without many a pang; but, however she might dislike Clarissa, she was not base enough to hate her father’s child. If she could have had the sole care and management of him, physicked and dieted him after her own method, and developed the budding powers of his infant mind by her favourite forcing system — made a model villager of him, in short — she might have grown even to love him. But these privileges being forbidden to her — her wisdom being set at naught, and her counsel rejected — she could not help regarding Lovel Granger as more or less an injury.
“I should have thought you would have been glad of a morning at home, Clarissa,” she repeated.
“Not such a fine morning as this, Sophy. It would be such a pity for baby to lose the sunshine; and I have really nothing to do.”
“If I had known a little sooner that you were going, I would have gone with you,” said Miss Granger.
Clarissa’s countenance fell. She could not help that little troubled look, which told Miss Granger that her society would not have been welcome.
“You would have had no objection to my coming with you, I suppose?” the fair Sophia said sharply. “Baby is not quite a monopoly.”
“Of course not. If you’ll put on your things now, Sophia, I’ll wait for you.”
It was a hard thing for Clarissa to make the offer, when she had been waiting so anxiously for this opportunity of seeing her brother. To be in the same city with him, and not see him, was more painful than to be divided from him by half the earth, as she had been. It was harder still to have to plot and plan and stoop to falsehood in order to compass a meeting. But she remembered the stern cold look in her husband’s face when she had spoken of Austin, and she could not bring herself to degrade her brother by entreating Daniel Granger’s indulgence for his past misdeeds, or Daniel Granger’s interest in his future fortunes.
Happily Sophia had made elaborate preparations for the Gothic texts, and was not inclined to waste so much trouble.
“I have got my colours all ready,” she said, “and have put everything out, you see. No, I don’t think I’ll go to-day. But another time, if you’ll be so kind as to let me know beforehand, I shall be pleased to go with my brother. I suppose you know there’s an east wind to-day, by-the-bye.”
The quarter whence the wind came, was a subject about which Clarissa had never concerned herself. The sun was shining, and the sky was blue.
“We have plenty of wraps,” she said, “and we can have the carriage closed if we are cold.”
“It is not a day upon which I should take an infant out,” Miss Granger murmured, dipping her brush in some Prussian-blue; “but of course you know best.”
“O, we shall take care of baby, depend upon it. Good-bye, Sophy.”
And Clarissa departed, anxious to avoid farther remonstrance on the part of her step-daughter. She told the coachman to drive to the Luxembourg Gardens, intending to leave the nurse and baby to promenade that favourite resort, while she made her way on foot to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard. She remembered that George Fairfax had described her brother’s lodging as near the Luxembourg.
They drove through the gay Parisian streets, past the pillar in the Place Vendôme, and along the Rue de la Paix, all shining with jewellers’ ware, and the Rue de Rivoli, where the chestnut-trees in the gardens of the Tuileries were shedding their last leaves upon the pavement, past the airy tower of St. Jacques, and across the bridge into that unknown world on the other side of the Seine. The nurse, who had seen very little of that quarter of the town, wondered what obscure region she was traversing, and wondered still more when they alighted at the somewhat shabby-looking gardens.
“These are the Luxembourg Gardens,” said Clarissa. “As you have been to the Tuileries every day, I thought it would be a change for you to come here.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” replied Mrs. Brobson, the chief nurse; “but I don’t think as these gardings is anyways equal to the Tooleries — nor to Regent’s Park even. When I were in Paris with Lady Fitz–Lubin we took the children to the Tooleries or the Bore de Boulong every day — but, law me! the Bore de Boulong were a poor place in those days to what it is now.”
Clarissa took a couple of turns along one of the walks with Mrs. Brobson, and then, as they were going back towards the gate, she said, as carelessly as she could manage to say: “There is a person living somewhere near here whom I want to see, Mrs. Brobson. I’ll leave you and baby in the gardens for half an hour or so, while I go and pay my visit.”
Mrs. Brobson stared. It was not an hour in the day when any lady she had ever served was wont to pay visits; and that Mrs. Granger of Arden Court should traverse a neighbourhood of narrow streets and tall houses, on foot and alone, to call upon her acquaintance at eleven o’clock in the morning, seemed to her altogether inexplicable.
“You’ll take the carriage, won’t you, ma’am?” she said, with undisguised astonishment.
“No, I shall not want the carriage; it’s very near. Be sure you keep baby warm, Mrs. Brobson.”
Clarissa hurried out into the street. The landau, with its pair of Yorkshire-bred horses, was moving slowly up and down, to the admiration of juvenile Paris, which looked upon Mr. Granger’s deep-chested, strong-limbed bays almost as a new order in the animal creation. Mrs. Granger felt that the eyes of coachman and footman were upon her as she turned the first corner, thinking of nothing for the moment, but how to escape the watchfulness of her own servants. She walked a little way down the street, and then asked a sleepy-looking waiter, who was sweeping the threshold of a very dingy restaurant, to direct her to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard. It was tous près, the man said; only a turn to the right, at that corner yonder, and the next turning was the street she wanted. She thanked him, and hurried on, with her heart beating faster at every step. Austin might be out, she thought, and her trouble wasted; and there was no knowing when she might have another opportunity. Even if he were at home, their interview must needs be brief: there was the nurse waiting and wondering; the baby exposed to possible peril from east winds.
The Rue du Chevalier Bayard was a street of tall gaunt houses that had seen better days — houses with porte-cochères, exaggerated iron knockers, and queer old lamps; dreary balconies on the first floor, with here and there a plaster vase containing some withered member of the palm tribe, or a faded orange-tree; everywhere and in everything an air of dilapidation and decay; faded curtains, that had once been fine, flapping in the open windows; Venetian shutters going to ruin; and the only glimpse of brightness or domestic comfort confined to the humble parlour of the portress, who kept watch and ward over one of the dismal mansions, and who had a birdcage hanging in her window, an Angora cat sunning itself on the stone sill, and a row of scarlet geraniums in the little iron balcony.
But this model portress did not preside over the house inhabited by Austin Lovel. There Clarissa found only a little deaf old man, who grinned and shook his head helplessly when she questioned him, and shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the staircase — a cavernous stone staircase, with an odour as of newly opened graves. She went up to the first-floor, past the entresol, where the earthy odour was subjugated by a powerful smell of cooking, in which garlic was the prevailing feature. One tall door on the first-floor was painted a pale pink, and had still some dingy indications of former gilding upon its mouldings. On this pink door was inscribed the name of Mr. Austin, Painter.
Clarissa rang a bell, and a tawdry-looking French servant, with big earrings and a dirty muslin cap, came to answer her summons. Mr. Austin was at home; would madame please to enter. Madame, having replied in the affirmative, was shown into a small sitting-room, furnished with a heterogeneous collection of cabinets, tables, and sofas, every one of which bore the stamp of the broker’s shop — things which had been graceful and pretty in their day, but from which the ormolu-moulding had been knocked off here, and the inlaid-wood chipped away there, and the tortoiseshell cracked in another place, until they seemed the very emblems of decay. It was as if they had been set up as perpetual monitors — monuments of man’s fragility. “This is what life comes to,” they said in their silent fashion. This faded rubbish in buhl and marqueterie was useful enough to Mr. Lovel, however; and on his canvas the faded furniture glowed and sparkled with all its original brightness, fresh as the still-life of Meissonier. There were a child’s toys scattered on the floor; and Clarissa heard a woman’s voice talking to a child in an adjoining room, on the other side of a pair of tall pink folding-doors. Then she heard her brother’s voice saying something to the servant; and at the sound she felt as if she must have fallen to the ground. Then one of the doors was opened, and a woman came in; a pretty, faded-looking woman, dressed in a light-blue morning wrapper that might very well have been cleaner; a woman with a great deal of dyed hair in an untidy mass at the back of her head; a woman whom Clarissa felt it must be a difficult thing to like.
This was her brother’s wife, of course. There was a boy of four or five years old clinging to his mother’s gown, and Clarissa’s heart yearned to the child. He had Austin’s face. It would be easy to love him, she thought.
“Mr. Austin is in his paintin’-room, madame,” said the wife, putting on a kind of company manner. “Did you wish to see him about a picture? Je parle très poo de Français, mais si ——”
“I am English,” Clarissa answered, smiling; “if you will kindly tell Mr. Austin a lady from England wishes to see him. What a, dear little boy! May I shake hands with him?”
“Give the lady your hand, Henery,” said the mother. “Not that one,” as the boy, after the invariable custom of childhood, offered his left —“the right hand.”
Clarissa took the sticky little paw tenderly in her pearl-gray glove. To think that her brother Austin Lovel should have married a woman who could call her son “Henery,” and who had such an unmistakable air of commonness!
The wife went back to the painting-room; and returned the next minute to beg the visitor to “step this way, if you please, ma’am.” She opened one of the folding-doors wide as she spoke, and Clarissa went into a large room, at the other end of which there stood a tall slim young man, in a short velvet coat, before a small easel.
It was her brother Austin; pale and a trifle haggard, too old in looks for his years, but very handsome — a masculine edition of Clarissa herself, in fact: the same delicate clearly-cut features, the same dark hazel eyes, shaded by long brown lashes tinged with gold. This was what Mrs. Granger saw in the broad noonday sunshine; while the painter, looking up from his easel, beheld a radiant creature approaching him, a woman in pale-gray silk, that it would have been rapture to paint; a woman with one of the loveliest faces he had ever seen, crowned with a broad plait of dark-brown hair, and some delicate structure of point-lace and pink roses, called by courtesy a bonnet.
He laid down his mahl-stick, and came to meet her, with a puzzled look on his face. Her beauty seemed familiar to him somehow, and yet he had no recollection of ever having seen her before. He saw the faded counterpart of that bright face every morning in his looking-glass.
She held out both her hands.
“Austin, don’t you know me?”
He gave a cry of pleased surprise, and caught her in his arms.
“Clarissa!” he exclaimed; “why, my darling, how lovely you have grown! My dear little Clary! How well I remember the sweet young face, and the tears, and kisses, and the slender little figure in its childish dress, that day your father carried you off to school! My own little Clary, what a happiness to see you! But you never told me you were coming to Paris.”
“No, dear, I kept that for a surprise. And are you really glad to see me, Austin?”
“Really glad! Is there any one in the world could make me gladder?”
“I am so happy to hear that. I was almost afraid you had half forgotten me. Your letters were so few, and so short.”
“Letters!” cried Austin Lovel, with a laugh; “I never was much of a hand at letter-writing; and then I hadn’t anything particularly pleasant to write about. You mustn’t gauge my affection by the length of my letters, Clary. And then I have to work deucedly hard when I am at home, and have very little time for scribbling.”
Clarissa glanced round the room while he was speaking. Every detail in her brother’s surroundings had an interest for her. Here, as in the drawing-room, there was an untidy air about everything — a want of harmony in all the arrangements. There were Flemish carved-oak cabinets, and big Japan vases; a mantelpiece draped with dusty crimson velvet, a broken Venetian glass above it, and a group of rusty-looking arms on each side; long limp amber curtains to the three tall windows, with festooned valances in an advanced state of disarrangement and dilapidation. There were some logs burning on the hearth, a pot of chocolate simmering among the ashes, and breakfast laid for one person upon a little table by the fire — the remnant of a perigord pie, flanked by a stone bottle of curaçoa.
She looked at her brother with anxious scrutinising eyes. No, George Fairfax had not deceived her. He had the look of a man who was going the wrong way. There were premature lines across the forehead, and about the dark brilliant eyes; a nervous expression in the contracted lips. It was the face of a man who burns the candle of life at both ends. Late hours, anxiety, dissipation of all kinds, had set their fatal seal upon his countenance.
“Dear Austin, you are as handsome as ever; but I don’t think you are looking well,” she said tenderly.
“Don’t look so alarmed, my dear girl,” he answered lightly; “I am well enough; that is to say, I am never ill, never knock under, or strike work. There are men who go through life like that — never ill, and never exactly well. I rarely get up in the morning without a headache; but I generally brighten considerably as the sun goes down. We move with a contrary motion, Helios and I.”
“I am afraid you work too hard, and sit up too late.”
“As to working hard, my dear, that is a necessity; and going out every night is another necessity. I get my commissions in society.”
“But you must have a reputation by this time, Austin; and commissions would come to you, I should think, without your courting them.”
“No, child; I have only a reputation de salon, I am only known in a certain set. And a man must live, you see. To a man himself that is the primary necessity. Your generosity set me on my legs last year, and tempted me to take this floor, and make a slight advance movement altogether. I thought better rooms would bring me better work — sitters for a new style of cabinet-portraits, and so on. But so far the rooms have been comparatively a useless extravagance. However, I go out a good deal, and meet a great many influential people; so I can scarcely miss a success in the end.”
“But if you sacrifice your health in the meantime, Austin.”
“Sacrifice my health! That’s just like a woman. If a man looks a trifle pale, and dark under the eyes, she begins to fancy he’s dying. My poor little wife takes just the same notions into her head, and would like me to stop at home every evening to watch her darn the children’s stockings.”
“I think your wife is quite right to be anxious, Austin; and it would be much better for you to stay at home, even to see stockings darned. It must be very dull for her too when you are out, poor soul.”
Mr. Lovel shrugged his shoulders with a deprecating air.
“C’est son metier,” he said. “I suppose she does find it rather dismal at times; but there are the children, you see — it is a woman’s duty to find all-sufficient society in her children. And now, Clary, tell me about yourself. You have made a brilliant match, and are mistress of Arden Court. A strange stroke of fortune that. And you are happy, I hope, my dear?”
“I ought to be very happy,” Clarissa answered, with a faint sigh, thinking perhaps that, bright as her life might be, it was not quite the fulfilment of her vague girlish dreams — not quite the life she had fancied lying before her when the future was all unknown; “I ought to be very happy and very grateful to Providence; and, O Austin, my boy is the sweetest darling is the world!”
Austin Lovel looked doubtful for a moment, half inclined to think “my boy” might stand for Daniel Granger.
“You must see him, Austin,” continued his sister; “he is nearly ten months old now, and such a beauty!”
“O, the baby!” said Austin, rather coolly. “I daresay he’s a nice little chap, and I should like to see him very much, if it were practicable. But how about Granger himself? He is a good sort of fellow, I hope.”
“He is all goodness to me,” Clarissa answered gravely, casting down her eyes as she spoke; and Austin Lovel knew that the marriage which had given his sister Arden Court had been no love-match.
They talked for some time; talked of the old days when they had been together at Arden; but of the years that made the story of his life, Austin Lovel spoke very little.
“I have always been an unlucky beggar,” he said, in his careless way. “There’s very little use in going over old ground. Some men never get fairly on the high-road of life. They spend their existence wading across swamps, and scrambling through bushes, and never reach any particular point at the end. My career has been that sort of thing.”
“But you are so young, Austin,” pleaded Clarissa, “and may do so much yet.”
He shook his head with an air of hopelessness that was half indifference.
“My dear child, I am neither a Raffaelle nor a Dore,” he said, “and I need be one or the other to redeem my past But so long as I can pick up enough to keep the little woman yonder and the bairns, and get a decent cigar and an honest bottle of Bordeaux, I’m content. Ambition departed from me ten years ago.”
“O Austin, I can’t bear to hear you say that! With your genius you ought to do so much. I wish you would be friends with my husband, and that he could be of use to you.”
“My dear Clarissa, put that idea out of your mind at once and for ever. There can be no such thing as friendship between Mr. Granger and me. Do you remember what Samuel Johnson said about some one’s distaste for clean linen —‘And I, sir, have no passion for it!’ I confess to having no passion for respectable people. I am very glad to hear Mr. Granger is a good husband; but he’s much too respectable a citizen for my acquaintance.”
Clarissa sighed; there was a prejudice here, even if Daniel Granger could have been induced to think kindly of his brother-in-law.
“Depend upon it, the Prodigal Son had a hard time of it after the fatted calf had been eaten, Clary, and wished himself back among the swine. Do you think, however lenient his father might be, that his brother and the friends of the family spared him? His past was thrown in his face, you may be sure. I daresay he went back to his evil ways after a year or so. Good people maintain their monopoly of virtue by making the repentant sinner’s life a burden to him.”
Clarissa spoke of his wife presently.
“You must introduce me to her, Austin. She took me for a stranger just now, and I did not undeceive her.”
“Yes I’ll introduce you. There’s not much in common between you; but she’ll be very proud of your acquaintance. She looks upon my relations as an exalted race of beings, and myself as a kind of fallen angel. You mustn’t be too hard upon her, Clary, if she seems not quite the sort of woman you would have chosen for your sister-in-law. She has been a good wife to me, and she was a good daughter to her drunken old father — one of the greatest scamps in London, who used to get his bread — or rather his gin — by standing for Count Ugolino and Cardinal Wolsey, or anything grim and gray and aquiline-nosed in the way of patriarchs. The girl Bessie was a model too in her time; and it was in Jack Redgrave’s painting-room — the pre-Raphaelite fellow who paints fearfully and wonderfully made women with red hair and angular arms — I first met her. Jack and I were great chums at that time — it was just after I sold out — and I used to paint at his rooms. I was going in for painting just then with a great spurt, having nothing but my brush to live upon. You can guess the rest. As Bessie was a very pretty girl, and neither she nor I had a sixpence wherewith to bless ourselves, of course we fell in love with each other. Poor little thing, how pretty she used to look in those days, standing on Jack’s movable platform, with her hair falling loose about her face, and a heap of primroses held up in her petticoat! — such a patient plaintive look in the sweet little mouth, as much as to say, ‘I’m very tired of standing here; but I’m only a model, to be hired for eighteenpence an hour; go on smoking your cigars, and talking your slangy talk about the turf and the theatres, gentlemen. I count for nothing.’ Poor little patient soul! she was so helpless and so friendless, Clary. I think my love for her was something like the compassion one feels for some young feeble bird that has fallen out of its nest. So we were married one morning; and for some time lived in lodgings at Putney, where I used to suffer considerable affliction from Count Ugolino and two bony boys, Bessie’s brothers, who looked as if the Count had been acting up to his character with too great a fidelity. Ugolino himself would come prowling out of a Saturday afternoon to borrow the wherewithal to pay his week’s lodging, lest he should be cast out into the streets at nightfall; and it was a common thing for one of the bony boys to appear at breakfast-time with a duplicate of his father’s coat, pledged over-night for drink, and without the means of redeeming which he could not pursue his honourable vocation. In short, I think it was as much the affliction of the Ugolino family as my own entanglements that drove me to seek my fortunes on the other side of the world.”
Austin Lovel opened one of the doors, and called his wife “Come here, Bessie; I’ve a pleasant surprise for you.”
Mrs. Lovel appeared quickly in answer to this summons. She had changed her morning dress for a purple silk, which was smartly trimmed, but by no means fresh, and she had dressed her hair, and refreshed her complexion by a liberal application of violet powder. She had a look which can only be described as “flashy”— a look that struck Clarissa unpleasantly, in spite of herself.
Her expressions of surprise did not sound quite so natural as they might have done — for she had been listening at the folding-doors during a considerable part of the interview; but she seemed really delighted by Mrs. Granger’s condescension, and she kissed that lady with much affection.
“I’m sure I do feel proud to know any relation of Austin’s,” she said, “and you most of all, who have been so kind to him. Heaven knows what would have become of us last winter, if it hadn’t been for your generosity.”
Clarissa laid her hand upon Bessie Lovel’s lips.
“You mustn’t talk of generosity between my brother and me,” she said; “all I have in the world is at his service. And now let me see my nephews, please; and then I must run away.”
The nephews were produced; the boy Clarissa had seen, and another of smaller growth — pale-faced, bright-eyed little fellows; They too had been subjected to the infliction of soap-and-water and hair-brushes, clean pinafores, and so on, since Mrs. Granger’s arrival.
She knelt down and kissed them both, with real motherly tenderness, thinking of her own darling, and the difference between his fortunes and theirs; and then, after a warm caress, she slipped a napoleon into each little warm hand, “to buy toys,” and rose to depart.
“I must hurry away now, Austin,” she said; “but I shall come again very soon, if I may. Good-bye, dear, and God bless you.”
The embrace that followed was a very fervent one. It had been sweet to meet again after so many years, and it was hard to leave him so soon — to leave him with the conviction that his life was a wreck. But Clarissa had no time to linger. The thought of the baby in the Luxembourg Gardens had been distracting her for ever so long. These stolen meetings must needs be short.
She looked at her watch when she got back to the street, and found, to her horror, that she had been very nearly an hour away from the nurse and her charge. The carriage was waiting at the gate, and she had to encounter the full fire of her servants’ gaze as she crossed the road and went into the gardens. Yes, there was the baby’s blue-velvet pelisse resplendent at the end of an avenue, Clarissa walked quickly to meet him.
“My darling!” she cried. “Has he been waiting for his mamma? I hope he has not been tired of the gardens, nurse?”
“Yes, ma’am, he have been tired,” replied Mrs. Brobson, with an outraged air. “There ain’t much in these gardens to keep a baby of his age amused for an hour at a stretch; and in a east wind too! It’s right down cutting at that corner.”
“Why didn’t you take him home in the carriage, nurse? It would have been better than running any risk of his catching cold.”
“What, and leave you without a conveyance, ma’am? I couldn’t have done that!”
“I was detained longer than I expected to stay. O, by the bye, you need not mention to Miss Granger that I have been making a call. The people I have been to see are — are in humble circumstances; and I don’t want her to know anything about it.”
“I hope I know my duty, ma’am,” replied Mrs. Brobson stiffly. That hour’s parading in the gardens, without any relief from her subordinate, had soured her temper, and inclined her to look with unfavourable eyes upon the conduct of her mistress. Clarissa felt that she had excited the suspicion of her servant, and that all her future meetings with her brother would involve as much plotting and planning as would serve for the ripening of a political conspiracy.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:47