It was dusk when Clarissa’s carriage drove into the Rue du Chevalier Bayard — the dull gray gloaming of February — and the great bell of Notre Dame was booming five. She had been paying visits of duty, talking banalities in fashionable drawing-rooms, and she was weary. She seemed to breathe a new life as she approached her brother’s dwelling. Here there would be the free reckless utterance of minds that harmonised, of souls that sympathised:— instead of stereotyped little scraps of gossip about the great world, or arid discussion of new plays and famous opera-singers.
She did not stop to ask any questions of the complacent porter. It was not her habit to do so. She had never yet failed to find Austin, or Austin’s wife, at home at this hour. She went swiftly up the darksome staircase, where never a lamp was lighted to illumine the stranger, only an occasional candle thrust out of a doorway by some friendly hand. In the dusk of this particular evening there was not so much as a glimmer.
The outer door was ajar — not such an uncommon thing as to occasion any surprise to Clarissa. She pushed it open and went in, across a dingy lobby some four feet square, on which abutted the kitchen, and into the salon. This was dark and empty; but one of the folding-doors leading into the painting-room was open, and she saw the warm glow of the fire shining on the old Flemish cabinets and the brazen chandelier. That glow of firelight had a comfortable look after the desolation and darkness of the salon.
She went into the painting-room. There was a tall figure standing by one of the windows, looming gigantic through the dusk — a figure she knew very well, but not Austin’s. She looked quickly round the room, expecting to see her brother lounging by the chimney-piece, or wandering about somewhere in his desultory way; but there was no one else, only that tall figure by the window.
The silence and emptiness of the place, and his presence, startled her a little.
“Good-evening, Mr. Fairfax,” she said. “Isn’t Austin here?”
“Not at this moment. How do you do, Mrs. Granger?” and they shook hands. So commonplace a meeting might almost have disappointed the sentimental porter.
“And Bessie?” Clarissa asked.
“She too is out of the way for the moment,” replied George Fairfax, glancing out of the window. “You came in your carriage, I suppose, Mrs. Granger? If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll just ran and see if — if Austin has come in again.”
He went quickly out of the room and downstairs, not to look for Austin Lovel, who was on his way to Brussels by this time, but to tell Mrs. Granger’s coachman she had no farther use for the carriage, and would not be home to dinner. The man looked a little surprised at this order, but Mr. Fairfax’s tone was too peremptory to be unauthorised; so he drove homeward without hesitation.
Clarissa was seated in her favourite easy-chair, looking pensively at the wood-fire, when George Fairfax came back. She heard his returning footsteps, and the sharp click of a key turning in the outer door. This sound set her wondering. What door was that being locked, and by whom?
Mr. Fairfax came into the painting-room. It was the crisis of his life, he told himself. If he failed to obtain some promise from her to-night — some definite pledge of his future happiness — he could never hope to succeed.
“Time and I against any two,” he had said to himself sometimes in relation to this business. He had been content to bide his time; but the golden opportunity had come at last. If he failed to-night, he failed forever.
“Is he coming?” Clarissa asked, rather anxiously. There was something ominous in the stillness of the place, and the absence of any sign of life except George Fairfax’s presence.
“Not immediately. Don’t alarm yourself,” he said hurriedly, as Clarissa rose with a frightened look. “There is nothing really wrong, only there are circumstances that I felt it better to break to you gently. Yet I fear I am an awkward hand at doing that, at the best. The fact is, your brother has left Paris.”
“Yes, only a couple of hours ago.” And then Mr. Fairfax went on to tell the story of Austin’s departure, making as light of it as he could, and with no word of that letter which had been given him to deliver.
The news was a shock to Clarissa. Very well did she remember what her brother had told her about the probability of his being compelled to “cut Paris.” It had come, then, some new disgrace, and banished him from the city he loved — the city in which his talents had won for him a budding reputation, that might have blossomed into fame, if he had only been a wiser and a better man. She heard George Fairfax in silence, her head bowed with shame. This man was her brother, and she loved him so dearly.
“Do you know where they have gone?” she asked at last.
“To Brussels. He may do very well there, no doubt, if he will only keep himself steady — turn his back upon the rackety society he is so fond of — and work honestly at his art. It is a place where they can live more cheaply, too, than they could here.”
“I am so sorry they are gone without a word of parting. It must have been very sudden.”
“Yes. I believe the necessity for the journey arose quite suddenly; or it may have been hanging over your brother for a long time, and he may have shut his eyes to the fact until the last moment. He is such a fellow for taking things easily. However, he did not enter into explanations with me.”
“Poor Austin! What a wretched life!”
Clarissa rose and moved slowly towards the folding-doors. George Fairfax stopped her at the threshold, and quietly closed the door.
“Don’t go yet, Clarissa. I want to speak to you.”
His tone told her what was coming — the scene in the conservatory was to be acted over again. This was the first time they had been actually alone since that too-well-remembered night.
She drew herself up haughtily. A woman’s weakness makes her desperate in such a case as this.
“I have no time to talk now, Mr. Fairfax. I am going home.”
“Not yet, Clarissa. I have waited a long time for this chance. I am determined to say my say.”
“You will not compel me to listen to you?”
“Compel is a very hard word. I beseech you to hear me. My future life depends on what I have to say, and on your answer.”
“I cannot hear a word! I will not remain a moment!”
“The door yonder is locked, Clarissa, and the key in my pocket. Brutal, you will say. The circumstances of our lives have left me no option. I have watched and waited for such an opportunity as this; and now, Clarissa, you shall hear me. Do you remember that night in the orchard, when you drove me away by your coldness and obstinacy? And yet you loved me! You have owned it since. Ah, my darling, how I have hated myself for my dulness that night! — hated myself for not having seized you in my arms, if need were, and carried you off to the end of the world to make you my wife. What a fool and craven I must have been to be put off so easily!”
“Nothing can be more foolish than to discuss the past, Mr. Fairfax,” replied Clarissa, in a low voice that trembled a little. “You have made me do wrong more than once in my life. There must be an end of this. What would my husband think, if he could hear you? what would he think of me for listening to you? Let me pass, if you please; and God grant that we may never meet again after to-night!”
“God grant that we may never part, Clarissa! O, my love, my love, for pity’s sake be reasonable! We are not children to play fast and loose with our lives. You love me, Clary. No sweet-spoken pretences, no stereotyped denials, will convince me. You love me, my darling, and the world is all before us. I have mapped-out our future; no sorrow or discredit shall ever come nigh you — trust a lover’s foresight for that. Whatever difficulties may lie in our pathway are difficulties that I will face and conquer — alone. You have only to forget that you have ever been Daniel Granger’s wife, and leave Paris with me to-night.”
“Mr. Fairfax! are you mad?”
“Never more reasonable — never so much in earnest. Come with me, Clarissa. It is not a sacrifice that I ask from you: I offer you a release. Do you think there is any virtue or beauty in your present life, or any merit in continuing it? From first to last, your existence is a lie. Do you think a wedding-ring redeems the honour of a woman who sells herself for money? There is no slavery more degrading than the bondage of such an alliance.”
“Open the door, Mr. Fairfax, and let me go!”
His reproaches stung her to the quick; they were so bitterly true.
“Not till you have heard me, my darling — not till you have heard me out.”
His tone changed all at once, softening into ineffable tenderness. He told her of his love with words of deeper passion than he had ever spoken yet — words that went home to the heart that loved him. For a moment, listening to that impassioned pleading, it seemed to Clarissa that this verily was life indeed — that to be so loved was in itself alone the perfect joy and fulness of existence, leaving nothing more to be desired, making shame as nothing in the balance. In that one moment the guilty heart was well-nigh yielding; the bewildered brain could scarcely maintain the conflict of thought and feeling. Then suddenly this mental agony changed to a strange dulness, a mist rose between Clarissa and the eager face of her lover. She was nearer fainting than she had ever been in her life before.
George Fairfax saw her face whiten, and the slender figure totter ever so slightly. In a moment a strong arm was round her. The weary head sank on his shoulder.
“My darling,” he whispered, “why not leave Paris to-night? It cannot be too soon. Your husband is away. We shall have a start of two or three days, and avoid all risk of pursuit.”
“Not quite,” said a voice close behind him; and looking round, George Fairfax saw one of the folding-doors open, and Daniel Granger standing on the threshold. The locked outer door had availed the traitor nothing. Mr. Granger had come upstairs with the porter, who carried a bunch of duplicate keys in his pocket.
Clarissa gave a sudden cry, which rose in the next instant to a shrill scream. Two men were struggling in the doorway, grappling each other savagely for one dreadful minute of confusion and agony. Then one fell heavily, his head crashing against the angle of the doorway, and lay at full length, with his white face looking up to the ceiling.
This was George Fairfax.
Clarissa threw herself upon her knees beside the prostrate figure.
“George! George!” she cried piteously.
It was the first time she had ever uttered his Christian name, except in her dreams; and yet it came to her lips as naturally in that moment of supreme agony as if it had been their every-day utterance.
“George! George!” she cried again, bending down to gaze at the white blank face dimly visible in the firelight; and then, with a still sharper anguish, “He is dead!”
The sight of that kneeling figure, the sound of that piteous imploring voice, was well-nigh maddening to Daniel Granger. He caught his wife by the arm, and dragged her up from her knees with no tender hand.
“You have killed him,” she said.
“I hope I have.”
Whatever latent passion there was in this man’s nature was at white heat now. An awful fury possessed him. He seemed transformed by the intensity of his anger. His bulky figure rose taller; his full gray eyes shone with a pitiless light under the straight stern brows.
“Yes,” he said, “I hope I have killed your lover.”
“Your lover — the man with whom you were to have left Paris to-night. Your lover — the man you have met in this convenient rendezvous, day after day for the last two months. Your lover — the man you loved before you did me the honour to accept the use of my fortune, and whom you have loved ever since.”
“Yes,” cried Clarissa, with a wild hysterical laugh, “my lover! You are right. I am the most miserable woman upon earth, for I love him.”
“I am glad you do not deny it. Stand out of the way, if you please, and let me see if I have killed him.”
There were a pair of half-burned wax candles on the mantelpiece. Mr. Granger lighted one of them, and then knelt down beside the prostrate figure with the candle in his hand. George Fairfax had given no sign of life as yet. There had not been so much as a groan.
He opened his enemy’s waistcoat, and laid his hand above the region of the heart. Yes, there was life still — a dull beating. The wretch was not dead.
While he knelt thus, with his hand upon George Fairfax’s heart, a massive chain, loosened from its moorings, fell across his wrist. Attached to the chain there was a locket — a large gold locket with a diamond cross — one of the ornaments that Daniel Granger had given to his wife.
He remembered it well. It was a very trifle among the gifts be had showered upon her; but he remembered it well. If this had been the one solitary gem he had given to his wife, he could not have been quicker to recognise it, or more certain of its identity.
He took it in the palm of his hand and touched the spring, holding the candle still in the other hand. The locket flew open, and he saw the ring of silky brown hair and the inscription, “From Clarissa.”
He looked up at his wife with a smile — such a smile! “You might have afforded your lover something better than a secondhand souvenir,” he said.
Clarissa’s eyes wandered from the still white face, with its awful closed eyes, only to rest for a moment on the unlucky locket.
“I gave that to my sister-in-law,” she said indifferently. “Heaven only knows how he came by it.” And then, in a different tone, she asked, “Why don’t you do something for him? Why don’t you fetch some one? Do you want him to die?”
“Yes. Do you think anything less than his death would satisfy me? Don’t alarm yourself; I am not going to kill him. I was quite ready to do it just now in hot blood. But he is safe enough now. What good would there be in making an end of him? There are two of you in it.”
“You can kill me, if you like,” said Clarissa “Except for my child’s sake, I have little wish to live.”
“For your child’s sake!” echoed her husband scornfully. “Do you think there is anything in common between my son and you, after to-night.”
He dropped the locket on George Fairfax’s breast with a contemptuous gesture, as if he had been throwing away a handful of dirt. That folly had cost dearly enough.
“I’ll go and fetch some one,” he said. “Don’t let your distraction make you forget that the man wants all the air he can get. You had better stand away from him.”
Clarissa obeyed mechanically. She stood a little way off, staring at that lifeless figure, while Daniel Granger went to fetch the porter. The house was large, and at this time in the evening for the most part untenanted, and Austin’s painting-room was over the arched carriage-way. Thus it happened that no one had heard that fall of George Fairfax’s.
Mr. Granger explained briefly that the gentleman had had a fall, and was stunned — would the porter fetch the nearest doctor? The man looked a him rather suspiciously. The lovely lady’s arrival in the gloaming; a locked door; this middle-aged Englishman’s eagerness to get into the rooms; and now a fall and the young Englishman is disabled. The leaf out of a romance began to assume a darker aspect. There had been murder done, perhaps, up yonder. The porter’s comprehensive vision surveyed the things that might be — the house fallen into evil repute by reason of this crime, and bereft of lodgers. The porter was an elderly man, and did not care to shift his household gods.
“What have they come to do up there?” he asked. “I think I had better fetch the sergent de ville.”
“You are quite at liberty to do that, provided you bring a doctor along with him,” replied Daniel Granger coolly, and then turned on his heel and walked upstairs again.
He roamed through the empty rooms with a candle in his hand until he found a bottle of water, some portion of which he dashed into his enemy’s face, kneeling by his side to do it, but with a cool off-hand air, as if he were reviving a dog, and that a dog upon, which he set no value.
George Fairfax opened his eyes, very slowly, and groaned aloud.
“O God, my head!” he said. “What a blow!”
He had a sensation of lying at the bottom of a steep hill — on a sharp inclined plane, as it were, with his feet uppermost — a sense of suffocation, too, as if his throat had been full of blood. There seemed to him to be blood in his eyes also; and he could only see things in a dim cloudy way — a room — what room he could not remember — one candle flaring on the mantelpiece, and the light of an expiring fire.
Of the things that had happened to him immediately before that struggle and that fall, he had, for the time being, no memory. But by slow degrees it dawned upon him that this was Austin Lovel’s painting-room.
“Where the devil are you, Austin?” he asked impatiently.
“Can’t you pick a fellow up?”
A grasp stronger than ever Austin Lovel’s had been, dragged him to his feet, and half led, half pushed him into the nearest chair. He sat there, staring blankly before him. Clarissa had moved away from him, and stood amid the deep shadows at the other end of the studio, waiting for her doom. It seemed to her to matter very little what that doom should be. Perfect ruin had come upon her. The porter came in presently with a doctor — a little old grey-headed man, who wore spectacles, and had an ancient doddering manner not calculated to inspire beholders with any great belief in his capacity.
He bowed to Mr. Granger in on old-fashioned ceremonious way, and went over to the patient.
“A fall, I believe you say, monsieur!” he said.
“Yes, a fall. He struck his head against the angle of that doorway.”
Mr. Granger omitted to state that it was a blow between the eyes from his clenched fist which had felled George Fairfax — a blow sent straight out from the powerful shoulder.
“There was no seizure — no fit of any kind, I hope?”
The patient had recovered himself considerably by this time, and twitched his wrist rather impatiently from the little doctor’s timid grasp.
“I am well enough now,” he said in a thick voice. “There was no occasion to send for a medical man. I stumbled at the doorway yonder, and knocked my head in falling — that’s all.”
The Frenchman was manipulating Mr. Fairfax’s cranium with cautious fingers.
“There is a considerable swelling at the back of the skull,” he said. “But there appears to have been another blow on the forehead. There is a puffiness, and a slight abrasion of the skin.”
Mr. Fairfax extricated his head from this investigation by standing up suddenly out of reach of the small doctor. He staggered a little as he rose to his feet, but recovered himself after a moment or so, and stood firmly enough, with his hand resting on the back of the chair.
“If you will be good enough to accept this by way of fee,” he said, slipping a napoleon into the doctor’s hand, “I need give you no farther trouble.”
The old man looked rather suspiciously from Mr. Fairfax to Mr. Granger and then back again. There was something queer in the business evidently, but a napoleon was a napoleon, and his fees were neither large nor numerous. He coughed feebly behind his hand, hesitated a little, and then with a sliding bow slipped from the room.
The porter lingered, determined to see the end of the romance, at any rate.
It was not long.
“Are you ready to come away?” Daniel Granger asked his wife, in a cold stern voice. And then, turning to George Fairfax, he said, “You know where to find me, sir, when you wish to settle the score between us.”
“I shall call upon you to-morrow morning, Mr. Granger.”
Clarissa looked at George Fairfax piteously for a moment, wondering if he had been much hurt — if there were any danger to be feared from the effects or that crushing fall. Never for an instant of her life had she meant to be false to her husband; but she loved this man; and her secret being discovered now, she deemed that the bond between her and Daniel Granger was broken. She looked at George Fairfax with that brief yearning look, just long enough to see that he was deadly pale; and then left the room with her husband, obeying him mechanically They went down the darksome staircase, which had grown so familiar to Clarissa, out into the empty street. There was a hackney carriage waiting near the archway — the carriage that had brought Mr. Granger. He put his wife into it without a word, and took his seat opposite to her; and so they drove home in profound silence.
Clarissa went straight to her room — the dressing-room in which Daniel Granger had talked to her the night before ha went to England. How well she remembered his words, and her own inclination to tell him everything! If she had only obeyed that impulse — if she had only confessed the truth — the shame and ignominy of to-night would have been avoided. There would have been no chance of that fatal meeting with George Fairfax; her husband would have sheltered her from danger and temptation — would have saved her from herself.
Vain regrets. The horror of that scene was still present with her — must remain so present with her till the end of her life, she thought. Those two men grappling each other, and then the fall — the tall figure crashing down with the force of a descending giant, as it had seemed to that terror-stricken spectator. For a long time she sat thinking of that awful moment — thinking of it with a concentration which left no capacity for any other thought in her mind. Her maid had come to her, and removed her out-of-door garments, and stirred the fire, and had set out a dainty little tea-tray on a table close at hand, hovering about her mistress with a sympathetic air, conscious that there was something amiss. But Clarissa had been hardly aware of the girl’s presence. She was living over again the agony of that moment in which she thought George Fairfax was dead.
This could not last for ever. She awoke by and by to the thought of her child, with her husband’s bitter words ringing in her ears —
“Do you think there is anything in common between my son and you, after to-night?”
“Perhaps they will shut me out of my nursery,” she thought.
The rooms sacred to Lovel Granger were on the same floor as her own — she had stipulated that it should be so. She went out into the corridor from which all the rooms opened. All was silent. The boy had gone to bed, of course, by this time; very seldom had she been absent at the hour of his retirement. It had been her habit to spend a stolen half-hour in the nursery just before dressing for dinner, or to have her boy brought to her dressing-room — one of the happiest half-hours in her day. No one barred her entrance to the nursery. Mrs. Brobson was sitting by the fire, making-believe to be busy at needlework, with the under-nurse in attendance — a buxom damsel, whose elbows rested on the table as she conversed with her superior. Both looked up in some slight confusion at Clarissa’s entrance. They had been talking about her, she thought, but with a supreme indifference. No petty household slander could trouble her in her great sorrow. She went on towards the inner room, where her darling slept, the head-nurse following obsequiously with a candle. In the night-nursery there was only the subdued light of a shaded lamp.
“Thank you, Mrs. Brobson, but I don’t want any more light,” Clarissa said quietly. “I am going to sit with baby for a little while. Take the candle away, please; it may wake him.”
It was the first time she had spoken since she had left the Rue du Chevalier Bayard. Her own voice sounded strange to her; and yet its tone could scarcely have betrayed less agitation.
“The second dinner-bell has rung, ma’am,” Mrs. Brobson said, with a timorously-suggestive air; “I don’t know whether you are aware.”
“Yes, I know, but I am not going down to dinner; I have a wretched headache. You can tell Target to say so, if they send for me.”
“Yes, ma’am; but you’ll have something sent up, won’t you?”
“Not yet; by and by, perhaps, I’ll take a cup of tea in my dressing-room. Go and tell Target, please, Mrs. Brobson; Mr. Granger may be waiting dinner.”
She was so anxious to get rid of the woman, to be alone with her baby. She sat down by the cot. O, inestimable treasure! had she held him so lightly as to give any other a place in her heart? To harbour any guilty thought was to have sinned against this white-souled innocent. If those clear eyes, which looked up from her breast sometimes with such angelic tenderness, could have read the secrets of her sinful heart, how could she have dared to meet their steadfast gaze? To-night that sleeping baby seemed something more to her than her child; he was her judge.
“O, my love, my love, I am not good enough to have you for my son!” she murmured, sobbing, as she knelt by his side, resting her tired head upon his pillow, thinking idly how sweet it would be to die thus, and make an end of all this evil.
She stayed with her child for more than an hour undisturbed, wondering whether there would be any attempt to take him away from her — whether there was any serious meaning in those pitiless words of Daniel Granger’s. Could he think for a moment that she would surrender him? Could he suppose that she would lose this very life of her life, and live?
At a little after nine o’clock, she heard the door of the outer nursery open, and a masculine step in the room — her husband’s. The door between the two nurseries was half open. She could hear every word that was spoken; she could see Daniel Granger’s figure, straight and tall and ponderous, as he stood by the table talking to Mrs. Brobson.
“I am going back to Arden the day after to-morrow, Brobson,” he said; “you will have everything ready, if you please.”
“O, certainly, sir; we can be ready. And I’m sure I shall rejoice to see our own house again, after all the ill-conveniences of this place.” And Mrs. Brobson looked round the handsomely-furnished apartment as if it had been a hovel. “Frenchified ways don’t suit me,” she remarked. “If, when they was furnishing their houses, they laid out more money upon water-jugs and wash-hand basins, and less upon clocks and candelabras, it would do them more credit; and if there was a chair to be had not covered with red velvet, it would be a comfort. Luxury is luxury; but you may overdo it.”
This complaint, murmured in a confidential tone, passed unnoticed by Daniel Granger.
“Thursday morning, then, Mrs. Brobson, remember; the train leaves at seven. You’ll have to be very early.”
“It can’t be too early for me.”
“I’m glad to hear that; I’ll go in and take a look at the child — asleep, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir; fast asleep.”
He went into the dimly-lighted chamber, not expecting to see that kneeling figure by the cot. He gave a little start at seeing it, and stood aloof, as if there had been infection that way. Whatever he might feel or think, he could scarcely order his wife away from her son’s bedside. Her son! Yes, there was the sting. However he might put her away from himself, he could not utterly sever that bond. He would do his best; but in the days to come his boy might revolt against him, and elect to follow that guilty mother.
He had loved her so fondly, he had trusted her so completely; and his anger against her was so much the stronger because of this. He could not forgive her for having made him so weak a dupe. Her own ignominy — and he deemed her the most shameful of women — was not so deep as his disgrace.
He stood aloof, looking at his sleeping boy, looking across the kneeling figure as if not seeing it, but with a smouldering anger in his eyes that betrayed his consciousness of his wife’s presence. She raised her haggard eyes to his face. The time would come when she would have to tell him her story — to make some attempt to justify herself — to plead for his pardon; but not yet. There was time enough for that. She felt that the severance between them was utter. He might believe, he might forgive her; but he would never give her his heart again. She felt that this was so, and submitted to the justice of the forfeiture. Nor had she loved him well enough to feel this loss acutely. Her one absorbing agony was the fear of losing her child.
Daniel Granger stood for a little while watching his son’s placid slumber, and then left the room without a word. What could he say to his wife? His anger was much too great for words; but there was something more than anger: there was a revulsion of feeling, that made the woman he had loved seem hateful to him — hateful in her fatal beauty, as a snake is hateful in its lithe grace and silvery sheen. She had deceived him so completely; there was something to his mind beyond measure dastardly in her stolen meetings with George Fairfax; and he set down all her visits to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard to that account. She had smiled in his face, and had gone every other day to meet her lover.
Clarissa stayed with her child all that night. The servants would wonder and speculate, no doubt. She knew that; but she could not bring herself to leave him. She had all manner of fantastic fears about him. They would steal him from her in the night, perhaps. That order of Daniel Granger’s about Thursday morning might be only a ruse. She laid herself down upon a sofa near the cot, and pretended to sleep, until the nurse had gone to bed, after endless fussings and rustlings and movings to and fro, that were torture to Mrs. Granger’s nerves; and then listened and watched all the night through.
No one came. The wintry morning dawned, and found her child still slumbering sweetly, the rosy lips ever so slightly parted, golden-tinted lashes lying on the round pink cheeks. She smiled at her own folly, as she sat watching him in that welcome daylight. What had she expected? Daniel Granger was not an ogre. He could not take her child from her.
Her child! The thought that the boy was his child very rarely presented itself to her. Yet it had been suggested rather forcibly by those bitter words of her husband’s: “Do you think there is anything in common between my son and you, after to-night?”
For Daniel Granger and herself there might be parting, an eternal severance; but there could be no creature so cruel as to rob her of her child.
She stayed with him during his morning ablutions; saw him splash and kick in the water with the infantine exuberance that mothers love to behold, fondly deeming that no baby ever so splashed or so kicked before; saw him arrayed in his pretty blue-braided frock, and dainty lace-bedizened cambric pinafore. What a wealth of finery and prettiness had been lavished upon the little mortal, who would have been infinitely happier dressed in rags and making mud-pies in a gutter, than in his splendid raiment and well-furnished nursery; an uninteresting nursery, where there were no cupboards full of broken wagons and head-less horses, flat-nosed dolls and armless grenadiers, the cast-off playthings of a flock of brothers and sisters — a very chaos of rapture for the fingers of infancy! Only a few expensive toys from a fashionable purveyor — things that went by machinery, darting forward a little way with convulsive jerks and unearthly choking noises, and then tumbling ignominiously on one side.
Clarissa stayed with the heir of Arden until the clock in the day-nursery struck nine, and then went to her dressing-room, looking very pale and haggard after her sleepless night. In the corridor she met her husband. He bent his head gravely at sight of her, as he might have saluted a stranger whom he encountered in his own house.
“I shall be glad to speak to you for a quarter of an hour, by and by,” he said. “What time would suit you best?” “Whenever you please. I shall be in my dressing-room,” she answered quietly; and then, growing desperate in her desire to know her fate, she exclaimed, “But O, Daniel, are we really to go back to Arden to-morrow?”
“We are not,” he said, with a repelling look. “My children are going back to-morrow. I contemplate other arrangements for you.”
“You mean to separate my baby and me?” she cried incredulously.
“This is neither the place nor the time for any discussion about that. I will come to your dressing-room by and by.”
“I will not be parted from my child!”
“That is a question which I have to settle.”
“Do not make any mistake, Mr. Granger,” Clarissa said firmly, facing him with a dauntless look that surprised him a little — yet what cannot a woman dare, if she can betray the man who has loved and trusted her? “You may do what you please with me; but I will not submit to have my child taken from me.”
“I do not like talking in passages,” said her husband; “if you insist upon discussing this matter now, we had better go into your room.”
They were close to the dressing-room door. He opened it, and they went in. The fire was burning brightly, and the small round table neatly laid for breakfast. Clarissa had been in the habit of using this apartment as her morning-room. There were books and drawing-materials, a table with a drawing-board upon it, and a half-finished sketch.
She sank down into a chair near the fire, too weak to stand. Her husband stood opposite to her. She noticed idly that he was dressed with his usual business-like neatness, and that there was no sign of mental anguish in his aspect. He seemed very cold and hard and cruel as he stood before her, strong in his position as an injured man.
“I am not going to talk about last night any more than I am positively obliged,” he said; “nothing that I or you could say would alter the facts of the case, or my estimation of them. I have made my plans for the future. Sophia and Lovel will go back to Yorkshire to-morrow. You will go with me to Spa, where I shall place you under your father’s protection. Your future life will be free from the burden of my society.”
“I am quite willing to go back to my father,” replied Clarissa, in a voice that trembled a little. She had expected him to be very angry, but not so hard and cold as this — not able to deal with her wrong-doing in such a business-like manner, to dismiss her and her sin as coolly as if he had been parting with a servant who had offended him.
“I am ready to go to my father,” she repeated, steadying her voice with an effort; “but I will go nowhere without my child.”
“We will see about that,” said Mr. Granger, “and how the law will treat your claims; if you care to advance them — which I should suppose unlikely. I have no compunction about the justice of my decision. You will go nowhere without your child, you say? Did you think of that last night when your lover was persuading you to leave Paris?”
“What!” cried Clarissa aghast. “Do you imagine that I had any thought of going with him, or that I heard him with my free will?”
“I do not speculate upon that point; but to my mind the fact of his asking you to run away with him argues a foregone conclusion. A man rarely comes to that until he has established a right to make the request. All I know is, that I saw you on your knees by your lover, and that you were candid enough to acknowledge your affection for him. This knowledge is quite sufficient to influence my decision as to my son’s future — it must not be spent with Mr. Fairfax’s mistress.”
Clarissa rose at the word, with a shrill indignant cry. For a few moments she stood looking at her accuser, magnificent in her anger and surprise.
“You dare to call me that!” she exclaimed.
“I dare to call you what I believe you to be. What! I find you in an obscure house, with locked doors; you go to meet your lover alone; and I am to think nothing!”
“Never alone until last night, and then not with my consent, I went to see Mr. and Mrs. Austin — I did not know they had left Paris.”
“But their departure was very convenient, was it not? It enabled your lover to plead his cause, to make arrangements for your flight. You were to have three days’ start of me. Pshaw! why should we bandy words about the shameful business? You have told me that you love him — that is enough.”
“Yes,” she said, with the anger and defiance gone out of her face and manner, “I have been weak and guilty, but not as guilty as you suppose. I have done nothing to forfeit my right to my son. You shall not part us!”
“You had better tell your maid you are going on a journey to-morrow. She will have to pack your things — your jewels, and all you care to take.”
“I shall tell her nothing. Remember what I have said — I will not be separated from Lovel!”
“In that case, I must give the necessary orders myself,” said Mr. Granger coolly, and saying this he left the room to look for his wife’s maid.
Jane Target, the maid, came in presently. She was the young woman chosen for Clarissa’s service by Mrs. Oliver; a girl whose childhood had been spent at Arden, and to whose childish imagination the Levels of Arden Court had always seemed the greatest people in the world. The girl poured out her mistress’s tea, and persuaded her to take something. She perceived that there was something amiss, some serious misunderstanding between Clarissa and her husband. Had not the business been fully discussed in the Areopagus downstairs, all those unaccountable visits to the street near the Luxembourg, and Mr. Fairfax’s order to the coachman?
“Nor it ain’t the first time I’ve seen him there neither,” Jarvis had remarked; “me and Saunders have noticed him ever so many times, dropping in promiscuous like while Mrs. G. was there, Fishy, to say the least of it!”
Jane Target was very fond of her mistress, and would as soon have doubted that the sun was fire as suspected any flaw in Clarissa’s integrity. She had spoken her mind more than once upon this subject in the servants’ hall, and had put the bulky Jarvis to shame.
“Do, ma’am, eat something!” she pleaded, when she had poured out the tea. “You had no dinner yesterday, and no tea, unless you had it in the nursery. You’ll be fit for nothing, if you go on like this.”
Fit for nothing! The phrase roused Clarissa from her apathy. Too weak to do battle for her right to the custody of her child, she thought; and influenced by this idea, she struggled through a tolerable breakfast, eating delicate petite pains which tasted like ashes, and drinking strong tea with a feverish eagerness.
The tea fortified her nerves; she got up and paced her room, thinking what she ought to do.
Daniel Granger was going to take her child from her — that was certain — unless by some desperate means she secured her darling to herself. Nothing could be harder or more pitiless than his manner that morning. The doors of Arden Court were to be shut against her.
“And I sold myself for Arden!” she thought bitterly. She fancied how the record of her life would stand by-and-by, like a verse in those Chronicles which Sophia was so fond of: “And Clarissa reigned a year and a half, and did that which was evil”— and so on. Very brief had been her glory; very deep was her disgrace.
What was she to do? Carry her child away before they could take him from her — secure him to herself somehow. If it were to be done at all, it must be done quickly; and who had she to help her in this hour of desperate need.
She looked at Jane Target, who was standing by the dressing-table dusting the gold-topped scent-bottles and innumerable prettinesses scattered there — the costly trifles with which women who are not really happy strive to create for themselves a factitious kind of happiness. The girl was lingering over her work, loth to leave her mistress unless actually dismissed.
Jane Target, Clarissa remembered her a flaxen-haired cottage girl, with an honest freckled face and a calico-bonnet; a girl who was always swinging on five-barred gates, or overturning a baby brother out of a primitive wooden cart — surely this girl was faithful, and would help her in her extremity. In all the world, there was no other creature to whom she could appeal.
“Jane,” she said at last, stopping before the girl and looking at her with earnest questioning eyes, “I think I can trust you.” “Indeed you can, ma’am,” answered Jane, throwing down her feather dusting-brush to clasp her hands impetuously. “There’s nothing in this world I would not do to prove myself true to you.”
“I am in great trouble, Jane.”
“I know that, ma’am,” the girl answered frankly.
“I daresay you know something of the cause. My husband is angry about — about an accidental meeting which arose between a gentleman and me. It was entirely accidental on my part; but he does not choose to believe this, and ——” The thought of Daniel Granger’s accusation flashed upon her in this moment in all its horror, and she broke down, sobbing hysterically.
The girl brought her mistress a chair, and was on her knees beside her in a moment, comforting her and imploring her to be calm.
“The trouble will pass away, ma’am,” said the maid, soothingly. “Mr. Granger will come to see his mistake. He can’t be angry with you long, I’m sure; he loves you so.”
“Yes, yes, he has been very good to me — better than I have ever deserved; but that is all over now. He won’t believe me — he will hardly listen to me. He is going to take away my boy, Jane.”
“Going to take away Master Lovel?”
“Yes; my darling is to go back to Arden, and I am to go to papa.”
“What!” cried Jane Target, all the woman taking fire in her honest heart. “Part mother and child! He couldn’t do that; or if he could, he shouldn’t, while I had the power to hinder him.”
“How are we to prevent him, Jane — you and I?”
“Let’s take the darling away, ma’am, before he can stop us.”
“You dear good soul!” cried Clarissa. “It’s the very thing I’ve been thinking of. Heaven knows how it is to be done; but it must be done somehow. And you will come with me, Jane? and you will brave all for me, you good generous girl?”
“Lor, ma’am, what do you think I’m frightened of? Not that stuck-up Mrs. Brobson, with her grand airs, and as lazy as the voice of the sluggard into the bargain. Just you make up your mind, mum, where you’d like to go, and when you’d like to start, and I shall walk into the nursery as bold as brass, and say I want Master Lovel to come and amuse his mar for half an hour; and once we’ve got him safe in this room, the rest is easy. Part mother and child indeed! I should like to see him do it! I warrant we’ll soon bring Mr. Granger to his senses.”
Where to go? yes, there was the rub. What a friendless creature Clarissa Granger felt, as she pondered on this serious question! To her brother? Yes, he was the only friend she would care to trust in this emergency. But how was she to find him? Brussels was a large place, and she had no clue to his whereabouts there. Could she feel even sure that he had really gone to Brussels?
Somewhither she must go, however — that was certain. It could matter very little where she found a refuge, if only she had her darling with her. So the two women consulted together, and plotted and planned in Clarissa’s sanctum; while Daniel Granger paced up and down the great dreary drawing-room, waiting for that promised visit from George Fairfax.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05