Mr. Granger went back to Yorkshire; and Clarissa’s days were at her own disposal. They were to leave Paris at the beginning of March. She knew it was only for a very short time that she would be able to see her brother. It was scarcely natural, therefore, that she should neglect such an opportunity as this. There was so much in Austin’s life that caused her uneasiness; he seemed in such sore need of wiser counsel than his poor empty-headed little wife could give him; and Clarissa believed that she had some influence with him: that if he would be governed by the advice of any creature upon earth, that counsellor was herself.
So she spent her mornings in baby-worship, and went every afternoon to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard, where it happened curiously that Mr. Fairfax came even oftener than usual just at this time. In the evening she stayed at home — not caring to keep her engagements in society without her husband’s escort — and resigned herself to the edifying companionship of Miss Granger, who was eloquent upon the benighted condition of the Parisian poor as compared with her model villagers. She described them sententiously as a people who put garlic in everything they ate, and never read their Bibles.
“One woman showed me a book with little pictures of saints printed upon paper with lace edges,” said Sophia, “as if there were any edification to be derived from lace edges; and such a heathen book too — Latin on one side and French on the other. And there the poor forsaken creatures sit in their churches, looking at stray pictures and hearing a service in an unknown tongue.”
Daniel Granger had been away nearly a week; and as yet there was no announcement of his return; only brief business-like letters, telling Clarissa that the drainage question was a complicated one, and he should remain upon the spot till he and Forley could see their way out of the difficulty. He had been away nearly a week, when George Fairfax went to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard at the usual hour, expecting to find Austin Lovel standing before his easel with a cigar in his mouth, and Clarissa sitting in the low chair by the fire, in the attitude he knew so well, with the red glow of the embers lighting up gleams of colour in her dark velvet dress, and shining on the soft brown hair crowned with a coquettish little seal-skin hat — a toque, as they called it on that side of the Channel.
What was his astonishment to find a pile of trunks and portmanteaus on the landing, Austin’s easel roughly packed for removal, and a heap of that miscellaneous lumber without which even poverty cannot shift its dwelling! The door was open; and Mr. Fairfax walked straight into the sitting-room, where the two boys were eating some extemporised meal at a side-table under their mother’s supervision; while Austin lounged with his back against the chimney-piece, smoking. He was a man who would have smoked during the culminating convulsions of an earthquake.
“Why, Austin, what the — I beg your pardon, Mrs. Austin — what does this mean?”
“It means Brussels by the three-fifteen train, my dear Fairfax, that’s all.”
“Brussels? With those children and that luggage? What, in Heaven’s name, induces you to carry your family off like this, at an hour’s notice?”
“It is not an hour’s notice; they’ve had an hour and three-quarters. As to my reasons for this abrupt hegira — well, that involves rather a long story; and I haven’t time to tell it to-day. One thing is pretty clear — I can’t live in Paris. Perhaps I may be able to live in Brussels. I can’t very well do worse than I’ve done here — that’s one comfort.”
At this Bessie Lovel began to cry — in a suppressed kind of way, like a woman who is accustomed to cry and not to be taken much notice of. George Fairfax flung himself into a chair with an impatient gesture. He was at once sorry for this man and angry with him; vexed to see any man go to ruin with such an utter recklessness, with such a deliberate casting away of every chance that might have redeemed him.
“You have got into some scrape, I suppose,” he said presently.
“Got into a scrape!” cried Austin with a laugh, tossing away the end of one cigar and preparing to light another. “My normal condition is that of being in a scrape. Egad! I fancy I must have been born so. — For God’s sake don’t whimper, Bessie, if you want to catch the three-fifteen train! I go by that, remember, whoever stays behind. — There’s no occasion to enter into explanations, Fairfax. If you could help me I’d ask you to do it, in spite of former obligations; but you can’t. I have got into a difficulty — pecuniary, of course; and as the law of liability in this city happens to be a trifle more stringent than our amiable British code, I have no alternative but to bid good-bye to the towers of Notre Dame. I love the dear, disreputable city, with her lights and laughter, and music and mirth; but she loves not me. — When those boys have done gorging themselves, Bessie, you had better put on your bonnet.”
“His wife cast an appealing glance at George Fairfax, as if she felt she had a friend in him who would sustain her in any argument with her husband. Her face was very sad, and bore the traces of many tears.
“If you would only tell me why we are going, Austin,” she pleaded, “I could bear it so much better.”
“Nonsense, child! Would anything I could tell you alter the fact that we are going? Pshaw, Bessie! why make a fuss about trifles? The packing is over: that was the grand difficulty, I thought. I told you we could manage that.”
“It seems so hard — running away like criminals.”
Austin Lovel’s countenance darkened a little.
“I can go alone,” he said.
“No, no,” cried the wife piteously: “I’ll go with you. I don’t want to vex you, Austin. Haven’t I shared everything with you — everything? I would go with you if it was to prison — if it was to death. You know that.”
“I know that we shall lose the three-fifteen train if you don’t put on your bonnet.”
“Very well, Austin; I’m going. And Clarissa — what will she think of us? I’m so sorry to leave her.”
“O, by the way, George,” said Austin, “you might manage that business for me. My sister was to be here at five o’clock this afternoon. I’ve written her a letter telling her of the change in my plans. She was in some measure prepared for my leaving Paris; but not quite so suddenly as this. I was going to send the letter by a commissionnaire; but if you don’t mind taking it to the Rue de Morny, I’d rather trust it to you. I don’t want Clary to come here and find empty rooms.”
He took a sealed letter from the mantelpiece and handed it to George Fairfax, who received it with somewhat of a dreamy air, as of a man who does not quite understand the mission that is intrusted to him. It was a simple business enough, too — only the delivery of a letter.
Mrs. Lovel came out of the adjoining room dressed for the journey, and carrying a collection of wraps for the children. It was wonderful to behold what comforters, and scarves, and gaiters, and muffetees those juvenile individuals required for their equipment.
“Such a long cold journey!” the anxious mother exclaimed, and went on winding up the two children in woollen stuffs, as if they had been royal mummies. She pushes little papers of sandwiches into their pockets — sandwiches that would hardly be improved by the squeezing and sitting upon they must need undergo in the transit.
When this was done, and the children ready, she looked into the painting-room with a melancholy air.
“Think of all the furniture, Austin,” she exclaimed; “the cabinets and things!”
“Yes; there’s a considerable amount of money wasted there Bess; for I don’t suppose we shall ever see the things again, but there’s a good many of them not paid for. There’s comfort in that reflection.”
“You take everything go lightly,” she said with a hopeless sigh.
“There’s nothing between that and the Morgue, my dear. You’d scarcely like to see me framed and glazed there, I think.”
“Precisely. So let me take things lightly, while I can. Now, Bess, the time is up. Good-bye, George.”
“I’ll come downstairs with you,” said Mr. Fairfax, still in a somewhat dreamy state. He had put Austin’s letter into his pocket, and was standing at a window looking down into the street, which had about as much life or traffic for a man to stare at as some of the lateral streets in the Bloomsbury district — Caroline-place, for instance, or Keppel-street.
There was a great struggling and bumping of porters and coachman on the stairs, with a good deal more exclamation than would have proceeded from stalwart Englishmen under the same circumstances; and then Austin went down to the coach with his wife and children, followed by George Fairfax. The painter happened not to be in debt to his landlord — a gentleman who gave his tenants small grace at any time; so there was no difficulty about the departure.
“I’ll write to Monsieur Meriste about my furniture,” he said to the guardian of the big dreary mansion. “You may as well come to the station with us, George,” he added, looking at Mr. Fairfax, who stood irresolute on the pavement, while Bessie and the boys were being packed into the vehicle, the roof of which was laden with portmanteaus and the painter’s “plant.”
“Well — no; I think not. There’s this letter to be delivered, you see. I had better do that at once.”
“True; Clarissa might come. She said five o’clock, though; but it doesn’t matter. Good-bye, old fellow. I hope some of these days I may be able to make things square with you. Good-bye, Tell Clary I shall write to her from Brussels, under cover to the maid as usual.”
He called out to the coachman to go on; and the carriage drove off, staggering under its load. George Fairfax stood watching it till it was out of sight, and then turned to the porter.
“Those rooms up-stairs will be to let, I suppose?” he said.
“But certainly, monsieur.”
“I have some thoughts of taking them for — for a friend. I’ll just take another look round them now they’re empty. And perhaps you wouldn’t mind my writing a letter up-stairs — eh?”
He slipped a napoleon into the man’s hand — by no means the first that he had given him. New–Year’s day was not far past; and the porter remembered that Mr. Fairfax had tipped him more liberally than some of the lodgers in the house. If monsieur had a legion of letters to write, he was at liberty to write them. The rooms up yonder were entirely at his disposal; the porter laid them at his feet, as it were. He might have occupied them rent-free for the remainder of his existence, it would have been supposed from the man’s manner.
“If madame, the sister of Monsieur Austin, should come by-and-by, you will permit her to ascend,” said Mr. Fairfax. “I have a message for her from her brother.”
The porter retired into his den to meditate upon his good fortune. It was a rendezvous, of course, cunningly arranged on the day of the painter’s departure. It seemed to him like a leaf out of one of those flabby novels on large paper, with a muddy wood-cut on every sixteenth page, which he thumbed and pored over now and then of an evening.
George Fairfax went up-stairs. How supremely dismal the rooms looked in their emptiness, with the litter of packing lying about! — old boots and shoes in one corner; a broken parasol in another; battered fragments of toys everywhere; empty colour-tubes; old newspapers and magazines; a regiment of empty oil-flasks and wine-bottles in the den of a kitchen — into which Mr. Fairfax peered curiously, out of very weariness. It was only half-past three; and there was little hope of Clarissa’s arrival until five. He meant to meet her there. In the moment that Austin put the letter in his hand some such notion flashed into his mind. He had never intended to deliver the letter. How long he had waited for this chance — to see her alone, free from all fear of interruption, and to be able to tell his story and plead his cause, as he felt that he could plead!
He walked up and down the empty painting-room, thinking of her coming, meditating what he should say, acting the scene over in his brain. He had little fear as to the issue. Secure as she seemed in the panoply of her woman’s pride, he knew his power, and fancied that it needed only time and opportunity to win her. This was not the first time he had counted his chances and arranged his plan of action. In the hour he first heard of her marriage he had resolved to win her. Outraged love transformed itself into a passion that was something akin to revenge. He scarcely cared how low he might bring her, so long as he won her for his own. He did not stop to consider whether hers was a mind which could endure dishonour. He knew that she loved him, and that her married life had been made unhappy because of this fatal love.
“I will open the doors of her prison-house,” he said to himself, “poor fettered soul! She shall leave that dreary conventional life, with its forms and ceremonies of pleasure; and we will wander all over the earth together, only to linger wherever this world is brightest. What can she lose by the exchange? Not wealth. For the command of all that makes life delightful, I am as rich a man as Daniel Granger, and anything beyond that is a barren surplus. Not position; for what position has she as Mrs. Granger? I will take her away from all the people who ever knew her, and guard her jealously from the hazard of shame. There will only be a couple of years in her life which she will have to blot out — only a leaf torn out of her history.”
And the child? the blue-eyed boy that George Fairfax had stopped to kiss in Arden Park that day? It is one thing to contemplate stealing a wife from her husband — with George Fairfax’s class there is a natural antipathy to husbands, which makes that seem a fair warfare, like fox-hunting — but it is another to rob a child of its mother. Mr. Fairfax’s meditations came to a standstill at this point — the boy blocked the line.
There was only one thing to be done; put on the steam, and run down the obstacle, as Isambard Brunel did in the Box-tunnel, when he saw a stray luggage-truck between him and the light.
“Let her bring the boy with her, and he shall be my son,” he thought.
Daniel Granger would go in for a divorce, of course. Mr. Fairfax thought of everything in that hour and a half of solitary reflection. He would try for a divorce, and there would be no end of scandal — leading articles in some of the papers, no doubt, upon the immorality of the upper middle classes; a full-flavoured essay in the Saturday, proving that Englishwomen were in the habit of running away from their husbands. But she should be far away from the bruit of that scandal. He would make it the business of his life to shield her from the lightest breath of insult. It could be done. There were new worlds, in which men and women could begin a fresh existence, under new names; and if by chance any denizen of the old world should cross their path untimely — well, such unwelcome wanderers are generally open to negotiation. There is a good deal of charity for such offenders among the travelled classes, especially when the chief sinner is lord of such an estate as Lyvedon.
Yet, varnish the picture how one will, dress up the story with what flowers of fancy one may, it is at best but a patched and broken business. The varnish brings out dark spots in the picture; the flowers have a faded meretricious look, not the bloom and dew of the garden; no sophistry can overcome the inherent ugliness of the thing — an honest man’s name dishonoured; two culprits planning a future life, to be spent in hiding from the more respectable portion of their species; two outcasts, trying to make believe that the wildernesses beyond Eden are fairer than that paradise itself.
His mother — what would she feel when she came to know what he had done with his life? It would be a disappointment to her, of course; a grief, no doubt; but she would have Lyvedon. He had gone too far to be influenced by any consideration of that kind; he had gone so far that life without Clarissa seemed to him unendurable. He paced the room, contemplating this crisis of his existence from every point of view, till the gray winter sky grew darker, and the time of Clarissa’s coming drew very near. There had been some logs smouldering on the hearth when he came, and these he had replenished from time to time. The glow of the fire was the only thing that relieved the dreariness of the room.
Nothing could be more fortunate, he fancied, than the accident which had brought about this meeting. Daniel Granger was away. The flight, which was to be the preface of Clarissa’s new existence, could not take place too soon; no time need be wasted on preparations, which could only serve to betray. Her consent once gained, he had only to put her into a hackney-coach and drive to the Marseilles station. Why should they not start that very night? There was a train that left Paris at seven, he knew; in three days they might be on the shores of the Adriatic.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50