It was about half an hour before noon on the following day when Clarissa arrived at Brussels, and drove straight to her brother’s lodging, which was in an obscure street under the shadow of St. Gudule. Austin was at work in a room opening straight from the staircase — a bare, shabby-looking chamber — and looked up from his easel with profound astonishment on beholding Mrs. Granger with her maid and baby.
“Why, Clary, what in the name of all that’s wonderful, brings you to Brussels?” he exclaimed.
“I have come to live with you for a little while, Austin, if you will let me,” she answered quietly. “I have no other home now.”
Austin Lovel laid down his palette, and came across the room to receive her.
“What does it all mean, Clary? — Look here, young woman,” he said to Jane Target; “you’ll find my wife in the next room; and she’ll help you to make that youngster comfortable. — Now, Clary,” he went on, as the girl curtseyed and vanished through the door that divided the two rooms, “what does it all mean?”
Clarissa told him her story — told it, that is to say, as well as she could tell a story which reflected so much discredit upon herself.
“I went to the Rue du Chevalier Bayard at 5 on Tuesday — as I promised, you know, Austin — and found Mr. Fairfax there. You may imagine how surprised I was when I heard you were gone. He did not tell me immediately; and he detained me there — talking to me.”
The sudden crimson which mounted to her very temples at this juncture betrayed her secret.
“Talking to you!” cried Austin; “you mean making love to you! The infernal scoundrel!”
“It was — very dishonourable!”
“That’s a mild way of putting it. What! he hung about my rooms when I had gone, to get you into a trap, as it were, at the risk of compromising you in a most serious manner! You never gave him any encouragement, did you, Clarissa?”
“I never meant to do so.”
“You never meant! But a woman must know what she is doing. You used to meet him at my rooms very often. If I had dreamt there was any flirtation between you, I should have taken care to put a stop to that. Well, go on. You found Fairfax there, and you let him detain you, and then ——?”
“My husband came, and there was a dreadful scene, and he knocked Mr. Fairfax down.”
“Naturally. I respect him for doing it.”
“And for a few minutes I thought he was dead,” said Clarissa with a shudder; and then she went on with her story, telling her brother how Daniel Granger had threatened to separate her from her child.
“That was hard lines,” said Austin; “but I think you would have done better to remain passive. It’s natural that he should take this business rather seriously at first: but that would wear off in a short time. What you have done will only widen the breach.”
“I have got my child,” said Clarissa.
“Yes; but in any case you must have had him. That threat of Granger’s was only blank cartridge. He could not deprive you of the custody of your son.”
“He will try to get a divorce, perhaps. He thinks me the vilest creature in the world.”
“A divorce — bosh! Divorces are not obtained so easily. What a child you are, Clarissa!”
“At any rate, he was going to take me back to papa in disgrace. I could not have endured that. My father would think me guilty, perhaps.”
Again the tell-tale crimson flushed Clarissa’s face. The memory of that September evening at Mill Cottage flashed across her mind, and her father’s denunciation of George Fairfax and his race.
“Your father would be wise enough to defend his child, I imagine,” replied Austin, “although he is not a person whose conduct I would pretend to answer for. But this quarrel between you and your husband must be patched up, Clary.”
“That will never be.”
“It must be — for your son’s sake, if not for yours. You pretend to love that boy, and are yet so blind to his interests? He is not the heir to an entailed estate, remember. Granger is a self-made man, and if you offend him, may leave Arden Court to his daughter’s children.”
She had robbed her son of his birthright, perhaps. For what? Because she had not had the strength to shut her heart against a guilty love; because, in the face of every good resolution she had ever made, she had been weak enough to listen when George Fairfax chose to speak.
“It seems very hard,” she said helplessly.
“It would be uncommonly hard upon that child, if this breach were not healed. But it must be healed.”
“You do not know half the bitter things Mr. Granger said. Nothing would induce me to humiliate myself to him.”
“Not the consideration of your son’s interests?”
“God will protect my son; he will not be punished for any sin of his mother’s.”
“Come now, Clary, be reasonable. Let me write to Granger in my own proper character, telling him that you are here.”
“If you do that, I will never forgive you. It would be most dishonourable, most unkind. You will not do that, Austin?”
“Of course I will not, if you insist upon it. But I consider that you are acting very foolishly. There must have been a settlement, by the way, when you married. Do you remember anything about it?”
“Very little. There was five hundred a year settled on me for pin money; and five hundred a year for papa, settled somehow. The reversion to come to me, I think they said. And — yes, I remember — If I had any children, the eldest son was to inherit Arden Court.”
“That’s lucky! I thought your father would never be such a fool as to let you marry without some arrangement of that sort.”
“Then my darling is safe, is he not?”
“Well, yes, I suppose so.”
“And you will not betray me, Austin?” said Clarissa imploringly.
“Betray you! If you put it in that way, of course not. But I should be acting more in your interests if I wrote to Granger. No good can come of the step you have taken. However, we must trust to the chapter of accidents,” added Austin, with a resumption of his habitual carelessness. “I needn’t tell you that you are heartily welcome to my hospitality, such as it is. Our quarters are rough enough, but Bessie will do what she can to make you comfortable; and I’ll put on a spurt and work hard to keep things together. I have found a dealer in the Montagne de la Cour, who is willing to take my sketches at a decent price. Look here, Clary, how do you like this little bit of genre? ‘Forbidden Fruit’— a chubby six-year-old girl, on tiptoe, trying to filch a peach growing high on the wall; flimsy child, and pre-Raphaelite wall. Peach, carnation velvet; child’s cheek to match the peach. Rather a nice thing, isn’t it?” asked Austin lightly.
Clarissa made some faint attempt to appear interested in the picture, which she only saw in a dim far-off way.
“I shall be very glad to see where you are going to put baby,” she said anxiously.
The bleak and barren aspect of the painting-room did not promise much for the accommodation or comfort of Mr. Lovel’s domicile.
“Where I am going to put baby! Ah, to be sure, you will want a room to sleep in,” said Austin, as if this necessity had only just struck him. “We’ll soon manage that; the house is roomy enough — a perfect barrack, in fact. There was a lace-factory carried on in it once, I believe. I daresay there’s a room on this floor that we can have. I’ll go and see about that, while you make yourself comfortable with Bessie. We have only two rooms — this and the next, which is our bedroom; but we shall do something better by and by, if I find my pictures sell pretty fast.”
He went off whistling an opera air, and by no means oppressed by the idea that he had a sister in difficulties cast upon his hands.
There was a room — a darksome chamber at the back of the house — looking into a narrow alley, where domestic operations of some kind seemed to be going on in every window and doorway, but sufficiently spacious, and with two beds. It was altogether homely, but looked tolerably clean; and Clarissa was satisfied with it, although it was the poorest room that had ever sheltered her. She had her baby — that was the grand point; and he rolled upon the beds, and crowed and chattered, in his half inarticulate way, with as much delight as if the shabby chamber had been an apartment in a palace.
“If he is happy, I am more than content!” exclaimed Mrs. Granger.
A fire was lighted in the stove, and Bessie brought them a second breakfast of coffee and rolls, and a great basin of bread and milk for young Lovel. The little man ate ravenously, and did not cry for Brobson — seemed indeed rather relieved to have escaped from the jurisdiction of that respectable matron. He was fond of Jane Target, who was just one of those plump apple-cheeked young women whom children love instinctively, and who had a genius for singing ballads of a narrative character, every verse embellished with a curious old-fashioned quavering turn.
After this refreshment — the first that Clarissa had taken with any approach to appetite since that luckless scene in her brother’s painting-room — Jane persuaded her mistress to lie down and rest, which she did, falling asleep peacefully, with her boy’s bright young head nestling beside her on the pillow. It was nearly dark when she awoke; and after dinner she went out for a walk with Austin, in the bright gas-lit streets, and along a wide boulevard, where the tall bare trees looked grim in the darkness. The freedom of this new life seemed strange to her, after the forms and ceremonies of her position as Daniel Granger’s wife, and Sophia Granger’s stepmother — strange, and not at all unpleasant.
“I think I could be very happy with you and Bessie always, Austin,” she said, “if they would only leave me in peace.”
“Could you, Clary? I’m sure I should be very glad to have you; but it would be rather hard upon Granger.”
“He was going to take me back to papa; he wanted to get rid of me.”
“He was in a passion when he talked about that, rely upon it.”
“He was as cold as ice, Austin. I don’t believe he was ever in a passion in his life.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50