The Lovels of Arden, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 46

On the Wing.

Clarissa hung over her baby with all manner of fond endearments.

“My darling! my darling!” she sobbed; “is it a hard thing to resist temptation for your sake?”

She had shed many bitter tears since that interview with George Fairfax, alone in the dreary room, while Level slept the after-dinner sleep of infancy, and while Mrs. Level and Jane Target gossipped sociably in the general sitting-room. Austin was out playing dominoes at the café of a Thousand Columns, with some Bohemianishly-disposed Bruxellois.

She had wept for the life that might have been, but which never could be. On that point she was decided. Not under the shadow of dishonour could she spend her days. She had her son. If she had been alone, utterly desolate, standing on some isolated rock, with nothing but the barren sea around her, she might perhaps have listened to that voice which was so very sweet to her, and yielded. But to take this dreadful leap which she was asked to take, alone, was one thing; to take it with her child in her arms, another. Her fancy, which was very vivid, made pictures of what her boy’s future might be, if she were to do this thing. She thought of him stung by the mention of his mother’s name, as if it were the foulest insult. She thought of his agony when he heard other men talk of their mothers, and remembered the blackness of darkness that shrouded his. She thought of the boyish intellect opening little by little, first with vague wonder, then fearful curiosity, to receive this fatal knowledge; and then the shame for that young innocent soul!

“O, not for worlds!” she cried, “O, not for worlds! God keep me from any more temptation!”

Not with mere idle prayers did she content herself. She knew her danger; that man was resolute, unscrupulous, revengeful even: and she loved him. She determined to leave Brussels. She would go and lose herself in the wide world of London; and then, after a little while, when all possibility of her movements being traced was over, she would take her child to some secluded country place, where there were woods and meadows, and where the little dimpled hands could gather bright spring flowers. She announced her intention to her brother that evening, when he came home at a latish hour from the Thousand Columns, elated by having won three francs and a half at dominoes — an amount which he had expended on cognac and syphons for himself and his antagonist.

He was surprised, vexed even, by Clarissa’s decision. Why had she come to him, if she meant to run away directly? What supreme folly to make such a journey for nothing! Why did she not go from Paris to London at once?

“I did not think of that, Austin; I was almost out of my senses that day, I think, after Daniel told me he was going to separate me from my boy; and it seemed natural to me to fly to you for protection.”

“Then why run away from me? Heaven knows, you are welcome to such a home as I can give. The quarters are rough, I know; but we shall improve that, by-and-by.”

“No, no, Austin, it is not that. I should be quite happy with you, only — only — I have a particular reason for going to London.”

“Clarissa!” cried her brother sternly, “has that man anything to do with this? Has he tried to lure you away from here, to your destruction?”

“No, no, no! you ought to know me better than that. Do you think I would bring dishonour upon my boy?”

Her face told him that she was speaking the truth.

“Very well, Clary,” he said with a sigh of resignation; “you must do as you please. I suppose your reason is a good one, though you don’t choose to trust me.”

So, by an early train next morning, Clarissa, with her nurse and child, left Brussels for Ostend — a somewhat dreary place wherein to arrive in early spring-time, with March winds blowing bleak across the sandy dunes.

They had to spend a night here, at a second-rate hotel on the Quay.

“We must go to humble-looking places, you know, Jane, to make our money last,” Clarissa said on the journey. They had travelled second-class; but she had given a five-pound note to her brother, by way of recompense for the brief accommodation he had given her, not telling him how low her stock was. Faithful Jane’s five-and-twenty pounds were vanishing. Clarissa looked at the two glittering circlets on her wedding finger.

“We cannot starve while we have these,” she thought; and once in London, she could sell her drawings. Natural belief of the school-girl mind, that water-coloured sketches are a marketable commodity!

Again in the dismal early morning — that sunrise of which poets write so sweetly, but which to the unromantic traveller is wont to seem a dreary thing — mother and nurse and child went their way in a great black steamer, redolent of oil and boiled mutton; and at nine o’clock at night — a starless March night — Clarissa and her belongings were deposited on St. Katharine’s Wharf, amidst a clamour and bustle that almost confused her senses.

She had meditated and debated and puzzled herself all through the day’s voyage, sitting alone on the windy deck, brooding over her troubles, while Jane kept young Lovel amused and happy below. Inexperienced in the ways of every-day life as a child — knowing no more now than she had known in her school-girl days at Belforêt — she had made her poor little plan, such as it was.

Two or three times during her London season she had driven through Soho — those weird dreary streets between Soho Square and Regent Street — and had contemplated the gloomy old houses, with a bill of lodgings to let here and there in a parlour-window; anon a working jeweller’s humble shop breaking out of a private house; here a cheap restaurant, there a French laundress; everywhere the air of a life which is rather a struggle to live than actual living. In this neighbourhood, which was the only humble quarter of the great city whereof she had any knowledge, Clarissa fancied they might find a temporary lodging — only a temporary shelter, for all her hopes and dreams pointed to some fair rustic retreat, where she might live happily with her treasure. Once lodged safely and obscurely, where it would be impossible for either her husband or George Fairfax to track her, she would spend a few shillings in drawing-materials, and set to work to produce a set of attractive sketches, which she might sell to a dealer. She knew her brother’s plan of action, and fancied she could easily carry it out upon a small scale.

“So little would enable us to live happily, Jane,” she said, when she revealed her ideas to her faithful follower.

“But O, mum, to think of you living like that, with such a rich husband as Mr. Granger, and him worshipping the ground you walk upon, as he did up to the very last; and as to his anger, I’m sure it was only tempory, and he’s sorry enough he drove you away by this time, I’ll lay.”

“He wanted to take away my child, Jane.”

They took a cab, and drove from Thames-street to Soho. Clarissa had never been through the City at night before, and she thought the streets would never end. They came at last into that quieter and dingier region; but it was past ten o’clock, and hard work to find a respectable lodging at such an hour. Happily the cabman was a kindly and compassionate spirit, and did his uttermost to help them, moving heaven and earth, in the way of policemen and small shopkeepers, until, by dint of much inquiry, he found a decent-looking house in a cul-de-sac out of Dean-street — a little out-of-the-way quadrangle, where the houses were large and stately, and had been habitations of sweetness and light in the days when Soho was young, and Monmouth the young man of the period.

To one of these houses the cabman had been directed by a good-natured cheesemonger, at a corner not far off; and here Clarissa found a second-floor — a gaunt-looking sitting-room, with three windows and oaken window-seats, sparsely furnished, but inexorably clean; a bedroom adjoining — at a rent which seemed moderate to this inexperienced wayfarer. The landlady was a widow — is it not the normal state of landladies? — cleanly and conciliating, somewhat surprised to see travellers with so little luggage, but reassured by that air of distinction which was inseparable from Mrs. Granger, and by the presence of the maid.

The cabman was dismissed, with many thanks and a princely payment; and so Clarissa began life alone in London.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50