Clarissa left the Rue de Morny at three o’clock that day. She had a round of calls to make, and for that reason had postponed her visit to her brother’s painting-room to a later hour than usual. The solemn dinner, which she shared with Miss Granger in stately solitude, took place at half-past seven, until which hour she considered her time at her own disposal.
Sophia spent that particular afternoon at home, illuminating the new gothic texts for her schoolrooms at Arden. She had been seated at her work about an hour after Clarissa’s departure, when the door opened behind her, and her father walked into the room.
There had been no word of his return in his latest letter; he had only said generally in a previous epistle, that he should come back directly the business that had called him to Yorkshire was settled.
“Good gracious me, papa, how you startled me!” cried Miss Granger, dabbing at a spot of ultramarine which had fallen upon her work. It was not a very warm welcome; but when she had made the best she could of that unlucky blue spot, she laid down her brush and came over to her father, to whom she offered a rather chilly kiss. “You must be very tired, papa,” she remarked, with striking originality.
“Well, no; not exactly tired. We had a very fair passage; but the journey from Calais is tedious. It seems as if Calais oughtn’t to be any farther from Paris than Dover is from London. There’s something lop-sided in it. I read the papers all the way. Where’s Clarry?”
“Clarissa has gone to pay some visits.”
“Why didn’t you go with her?”
“I rarely do go with her, papa. Our sets are quite different; and I have other duties.”
“Duties, pshaw! Messing with those paint-brushes; you don’t call that duty, I hope? You had much better have gone out with your stepmother.”
“I was not wanted, papa. Mrs. Granger has engagements which do not in the least concern me. I should only be in the way.”
“What do you mean by that, Sophia?” asked her father sternly. “And what do you mean by calling my wife Mrs. Granger?”
“There are some people so uncongenial to each other, papa, that any pretence of friendship can be only the vilest hypocrisy,” replied Sophia, turning very pale, and looking her father full in the face, like a person prepared to do battle.
“I am very sorry to hear this, Sophia,” said Mr. Granger. “for if this is really the case, it will be necessary for you to seek some other home. I will have no one in my house who cannot value my wife.”
“You would turn me out of doors, papa?”
“I should certainly endeavour to provide you with a more congenial — congenial, that was the word you used, I think — more congenial home.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Sophia. “Then I suppose you quite approve of all my stepmother’s conduct — of her frequent, almost daily visits to such a person as Mr. Austin?”
“Clarissa’s visits to Austin! What, in heaven’s name, do you mean?”
“What, papa! is it possible you are ignorant of the fact? I thought that, though my stepmother never talked to me of her visits to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard, you of course knew all about them. Though I hardly supposed you would encourage such an intimacy.”
“Encourage such an intimacy! You must be dreaming, girl. My wife visit a portrait-painter — a single man?”
“He is not a single man, papa. There is a wife, I understand; though he never mentioned her to us. And Clarissa visits them almost every day.”
“I don’t believe it. What motive could she have for cultivating such people?”
“I can’t imagine — except that she is fond of that kind of society, and of painting. She may have gone to take lessons of Mr. Austin. He teaches, I know.”
Daniel Granger was silent. It was not impossible; and it would have been no crime on his wife’s part, of course. But the idea that Clarissa could have done such a thing without his knowledge and approval, offended him beyond measure. He could hardly realize the possibility of such an act.
“There is some misapprehension on your part, Sophia, I am convinced,” he said. “If Clarissa had wished to take drawing lessons from Austin, she would have told me so.”
“There is no possibility of a mistake on my part, papa. I am not in the habit of making statements which I cannot support.”
“Who told you of these visits? Clarissa herself?”
“O dear, no; Clarissa is not in the habit of telling me her affairs. I heard it from Warman; not in reply to any questioning of mine, I can assure you. But the thing has been so frequent, that the servants have begun to talk about it. Of course, I always make a point of discouraging any speculations upon my stepmother’s conduct.”
The servants had begun to talk; his wife’s intimacy with people of whom he knew scarcely anything had been going on so long as to provoke the gossip of the household; and he had heard nothing of it until this moment! The thought stung him to the quick. That domestic slander should have been busy with her name already; that she should have lived her own life so entirely without reference to him! Both thoughts were alike bitter. Yet it was no new thing for him to know that she did not love him.
He looked at his watch meditatively.
“Has she gone there this afternoon, do you think?” he asked.
“I think it is excessively probable. Warman tells me she has been there every afternoon during your absence.”
“She must have taken a strange fancy to these people. Austin’s wife is some old schoolfellow of Clary’s perhaps.”
Miss Granger shook her head doubtfully.
“I should hardly think that,” she said.
“There must be some reason — something that we cannot understand. She may have some delicacy about talking to me of these people; there may be something in their circumstances to —”
“Yes,” said Miss Granger, “there is something, no doubt. I have been assured of that from the first.”
“What did you say the address was?”
“The Rue du Chevalier Bayard, Number 7.”
Mr. Granger left the room without another word. He was not a man to remain long in doubt upon any question that could be solved by prompt investigation. He went out into the hall, where a footman sat reading Galignani in the lamplight.
“Has Mrs. Granger’s carriage come back, Saunders?” he asked.
“Yes, sir; the carriage has been back a quarter of an hour. I were out with my mistress.”
“Where is Mrs. Granger? In her own rooms?”
“No, sir; Mrs. Granger didn’t come home in the carriage. We drove her to the Shangs Elysy first, sir, and afterwards to the Rue du Cavalier Baynard; and Mr. Fairfax, he came down and told me my mistress wouldn’t want the carriage to take her home.”
“Mr. Fairfax — in the Rue du Chevalier Bayard!”
“Yes, sir; he’s an intimate friend of Mr. Hostin’s, I believe. Leastways, we’ve seen him there very often.”
George Fairfax! George Fairfax a frequent guest of those people whom she visited! That slumbering demon, which had been sheltered in Daniel Granger’s breast so long, arose rampant at the sound of this name. George Fairfax, the man he suspected in the past; the man whom he had done his best to keep out of his wife’s pathway in the present, but who, by some fatality, was not be avoided. Had Clarissa cultivated an intimacy with this Bohemian painter and his wife only for the sake of meeting George Fairfax without her husband’s knowledge? To suppose this was to imagine a depth of depravity in the heart of the woman he loved. And he had believed her so pure, so noble a creature. The blow was heavy. He stood looking at his servant for a moment or so, paralysed; but except that one blank gaze, he gave no sign of his emotion. He only took up his hat, and went quietly out. “His looks was orful!” the man said afterwards in the servants’ hall.
Sophia came out of the drawing-room to look for her father, just a little disturbed by the thought of what she had done. She had gone too far, perhaps. There had been something in her father’s look when he asked her for that address that had alarmed her. He was gone; gone there, no doubt, to discover his wife’s motives for those strange visits. Miss Granger’s heart was not often fluttered as it was this evening. She could not “settle to anything,” as she said herself, but wandered up into the nursery, and stood by the dainty little cot, staring absently at her baby brother as he slept.
“If anything should happen,” she thought — and that event which she vaguely foreshadowed was one that would leave the child motherless —“I should make it my duty to superintend his rearing. No one should have power to say that I was jealous of the brother who has robbed me of my heritage.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50