LOVELS OF ARDEN
BY THE AUTHOR OF
"LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET," "AURORA FLOYD," "VIXEN," "ISHMAEL," ETC., ETC., ETC.
CHEAP UNIFORM EDITION OF MISS BRADDON'S NOVELS.
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MISS BRADDON'S NOVELS
"LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET," "VIXEN," "ISHMAEL," ETC.
"No one can be dull who has a novel by Miss Braddon in hand. The most tiresome journey is beguiled, and the most wearisome illness is brightened, by any one of her books."
"Miss Braddon is the Queen of the circulating libraries."—The World.
N.B.—There are now 43 Novels always in print. For full list see back of cover, or apply for a Catalogue, to be sent (post free).
I. COMING HOME II. BEGINNING THE WORLD III. FATHER AND DAUGHTER IV. CLARISSA IS "TAKEN UP" V. AT HALE CASTLE VI. AND THIS IS GEORGE FAIRFAX VII. DANGEROUS GROUND VIII. SMOULDERING FIRES IX. LADY LAURA DIPLOMATISES X. LADY LAURA'S PREPARATIONS XI. DANIEL GRANGER XII. MR. GRANGER IS INTERESTED XIII. OPEN TREASON XIV. THE MORNING AFTER XV. CHIEFLY PATERNAL XVI. LORD CHALDERWOOD IS THE CAUSE OF INCONVENIENCE XVII. "'TIS DEEPEST WINTER IN LORD TIMON'S PURSE" XVIII. SOMETHING FATAL XIX. MR. GRANGER IS PRECIPITATE XX. MODEL VILLAGERS XXI. VERY FAR GONE XXII. TAKING THE PLEDGE XXIII. "HE'S SWEETEST FRIEND, OR HARDEST FOE" XXIV. "IT MEANS ARDEN COURT" XXV. WEDDING BELLS XXVI. COMING HOME XXVII. IN THE SEASON XXVIII. MR. WOOSTER XXIX. "IF I SHOULD MEET THEE—" XXX. THE HEIR OF ARDEN XXXI. THE NEAREST WAY TO CARLSRUHE XXXII. AUSTIN XXXIII. ONLY A PORTRAIT-PAINTER XXXIV. AUSTIN'S PROSPECTS XXXV. SISTERS-IN-LAW XXXVI. "AND THROUGH THE LIFE HAVE I NOT WRIT MY NAME?" XXXVII. STOLEN HOURS XXXVIII. "FROM CLARISSA" XXXIX. THAT IS WHAT LOVE MEANS XL. LYING IN WAIT XLI. MR. GRANGER'S WELCOME HOME XLII. CAUGHT IN A TRAP XLIII. CLARISSA'S ELOPEMENT XLIV. UNDER THE SHADOW OF ST. GUDULE XLV. TEMPTATION XLVI. ON THE WING XLVII. IN TIME OF NEED XLVIII. "STRANGERS YET" XLIX. BEGINNING AGAIN L. HOW SUCH THINGS END
The lamps of the Great Northern Terminus at King's Cross had not long been lighted, when a cab deposited a young lady and her luggage at the departure platform. It was an October twilight, cold and gray, and the place had a cheerless and dismal aspect to that solitary young traveller, to whom English life and an English atmosphere were somewhat strange.
She had been seven years abroad, in a school near Paris; rather an expensive seminary, where the number of pupils was limited, the masters and mistresses, learned in divers modern accomplishments, numerous, and the dietary of foreign slops and messes without stint.
Dull and gray as the English sky seemed to her, and dreary as was the aspect of London in October, this girl was glad to return to her native land. She had felt herself very lonely in the French school, forgotten and deserted by her own kindred, a creature to be pitied; and hers was a nature to which pity was a torture. Other girls had gone home to England for their holidays; but vacation after vacation went by, and every occasion brought Clarissa Lovel the same coldly worded letter from her father, telling her that it was not convenient for him to receive her at home, that he had heard with pleasure of her progress, and that experienced people with whom he had conferred, had agreed with him that any interruption to the regular course of her studies could not fail to be a disadvantage to her in the future.
"They are all going home except me, papa," she wrote piteously on one occasion, "and I feel as if I were different from them, somehow. Do let me come home to Arden for this one year. I don't think my schoolfellows believe me when I talk of home, and the gardens, and the dear old park. I have seen it in their faces, and you cannot think how hard it is to bear. And I want to see you, papa. You must not fancy that, because I speak of these things, I am not anxious for that. I do want to see you very much. By-and-by, when I am grown up, I shall seem a stranger to you."
To this letter, and to many such, letters, Mr. Lovel's reply was always the same. It did not suit his convenience that his only daughter should return to England until her education was completed. Perhaps it would have suited him better could she have remained away altogether; but he did not say as much as that; he only let her see very clearly that there was no pleasure for him in the prospect of her return.
And yet she was glad to go back. At the worst it was going home. She told herself again and again, in those meditations upon her future life which were not so happy as a girl's reveries should be,—she told herself that her father must come to love her in time. She was ready to love him so much on her part; to be so devoted, faithful, and obedient, to bear so much from him if need were, only to be rewarded with his affection in the end.
So at eighteen years of age Clarissa Lovel's education was finished, and she came home alone from a quiet little suburban village just outside Paris, and having arrived to-night at the Great Northern Station, King's Cross, had still a long journey before her.
Mr. Lovel lived near a small town called Holborough, in the depths of Yorkshire; a dreary little town enough, but boasting several estates of considerable importance in its neighbourhood. In days gone by, the Lovels had been people of high standing in this northern region, and Clarissa had yet to learn how far that standing was diminished.
She had been seated about five minutes in a comfortable corner of a first-class carriage, with a thick shawl over her knees, and all her little girlish trifles of books and travelling, bags gathered about her, and she had begun to flatter herself with the pleasing fancy that she was to have the compartment to herself for the first stage of the journey, perhaps for the whole of the journey, when a porter flung open the door with a bustling air, and a gentleman came in, with more travelling-rugs, canes, and umbrellas, russia leather bags, and despatch boxes, than Clarissa had ever before beheld a traveller encumbered with. He came into the carriage very quietly, however, in spite of these impedimenta, arranged his belongings in a methodical manner, and without the slightest inconvenience to Miss Lovel, and then seated himself next the door, upon the farther side of the carriage.
Clarissa looked at him rather anxiously, wondering whether they two were to be solitary companions throughout the whole of that long night journey. She had no prudish horror of such a position, only a natural girlish shyness in the presence of a stranger.
The traveller was a man of about thirty, tall, broad-shouldered, with long arms, and powerful-looking hands, ungloved, and bronzed a little by sun and wind. There was the same healthy bronze upon his face, Clarissa perceived, when he took off his hat, and hung it up above him; rather a handsome face, with a long straight nose, dark blue eyes with thick brown eyebrows, a well cut mouth and chin, and a thick thatch of crisp dark brown hair waving round a broad, intelligent-looking forehead. The firm, full upper lip was half-hidden by a carefully trained moustache; and in his dress and bearing the stranger had altogether a military air: one could fancy him a cavalry soldier. That bare muscular hand seemed made to grasp the massive hilt of a sabre.
His expression was grave—grave and a little proud, Clarissa thought; and, unused as she was to lonely wanderings in this outer world, she felt somehow that this man was a gentleman, and that she need be troubled by no fear that he would make is presence in any way unpleasant to her, let their journey together last as long as it would.
She sank back into her corner with a feeling of relief. It would have been more agreeable for her to have had the carriage to herself; but if she must needs have a companion, there was nothing obnoxious in this one.
For about an hour they sped on in silence. This evening train was not exactly an express, but it was a tolerably quick train, and the stoppages were not frequent. The dull gray twilight melted into a fair tranquil night. The moon rose early; and the quiet English landscape seemed very fair to Clarissa Lovel in that serene light. She watched the shadowy fields flitting past; here and there a still pool, or a glimpse of running water; beyond, the sombre darkness of wooded hills; and above that dark background a calm starry sky. Who shall say what dim poetic thoughts were in her mind that night, as she looked at these things? Life was so new to her, the future such an unknown country—a paradise perhaps, or a drear gloomy waste, across which she must travel with bare bleeding feet. How should she know? She only knew that she was going home to a father who had never loved her, who had deferred the day of her coming as long as it was possible for him decently to do so.
The traveller in the opposite corner of the carriage glanced at Miss Lovel now and then as she looked out of the window. He could just contrive to see her profile, dimly lighted by the flickering oil lamp; a very perfect profile, he thought; a forehead that was neither too high nor too low, a small aquiline nose, a short upper lip, and the prettiest mouth and chin in the world. It was just a shade too pensive now, the poor little mouth, he thought pityingly; and be wondered what it was like when it smiled. And then he began to arrange his lines for winning the smile he wanted so much to see from those thoughtful lips. It was, of course, for the gratification of the idlest, most vagabond curiosity that he was eager to settle this question: but then on such a long dreary journey, a man may be forgiven for a good deal of idle curiosity.
He wondered who his companion was, and how she came to be travelling alone, so young, so pretty, so much in need of an escort. There was nothing in her costume to hint at poverty, nor does poverty usually travel in first-class carriages. She might have her maid lurking somewhere in the second-class, he said to himself. In any case, she was a lady. He had no shadow of doubt about that.
She was tall, above the ordinary height of women. There was a grace in the long flowing lines of her figure more striking than the beauty of her face. The long slim throat, the sloping shoulder, not to be disguised even by the clumsy folds of a thick shawl—these the traveller noted, in a lazy contemplative mood, as he lolled in his corner, meditating an easy opening for a conversation with his fair fellow-voyager.
He let some little time slip by in this way, being a man to whom haste was almost unknown. This idle artistic consideration of Miss Level's beauty was a quiet kind of enjoyment for him. She, for her part, seemed absorbed in watching the landscape—a very commonplace English landscape in the gentleman's eyes—and was in no way disturbed by his placid admiration.
He had a heap of newspapers and magazines thrown pell-mell into the empty seat next him; and arousing himself with a faint show of effort presently, he began to turn these over with a careless hand.
The noise of his movements startled Clarissa; she looked across at him, and their eyes met. This was just what he wanted. He had been curious to see her eyes. They were hazel, and very beautiful, completing the charm of her face.
"May I offer you some of these things?" he said. "I have a reading lamp in one of my bags, which I will light for you in a moment. I won't pledge myself for your finding the magazines very amusing, but anything is better than the blankness of a long dreary journey."
"Thank you, you are very kind; but I don't care about reading to-night; I could not give you so much trouble."
"Pray don't consider that. It is not a question of a moments trouble. I'll light the lamp, and then you can do as you like about the magazines."
He stood up, unlocked one of his travelling-bags, the interior of which glittered like a miniature arsenal, and took out a lamp, which he lighted in a rapid dexterous manner, though without the faintest appearance of haste, and fixed with a brass apparatus of screws and bolts to the arm of Clarissa's seat. Then he brought her a pile of magazines, which she received in her lap, not a little embarrassed by this unexpected attention. He had called her suddenly from strange vague dreams of the future, and it was not easy to come altogether back to the trivial commonplace present.
She thanked him graciously for his politeness, but she had not smiled yet.
"Never mind," the traveller said to himself; "that will come in good time."
He had the easiest way of taking all things in life, this gentleman; and having established Clarissa with her lamp and books, sank lazily back into his corner, and gave himself up to a continued contemplation of the fair young face, almost as calmly as if it had been some masterpiece of the painter's art in a picture gallery.
The magazines were amusing to Miss Lovel. They beguiled her away from those shapeless visions of days to come. She began to read, at first with very little thought of the page before her, but, becoming interested by degrees, read on until her companion grew tired of the silence.
He looked at his watch—the prettiest little toy in gold and enamel, with elaborate monogram and coat of arms—a watch that looked like a woman's gift. They had been nearly three hours on their journey.
"I do not mean to let you read any longer," he said, changing his seat to one opposite Clarissa. "That lamp is very well for an hour or so, but after that time the effect upon one's eyesight is the reverse of beneficial. I hope your book is not very interesting."
"If you will allow me to finish this story," Clarissa pleaded, scarcely lifting her eyes from the page. It was not particularly polite, perhaps, but it gave the stranger an admirable opportunity for remarking the dark thick lashes, tinged with the faintest gleam of gold, and the perfect curve of the full white eyelids.
"Upon my soul, she is the loveliest creature I ever saw," he said to himself; and then asked persistently, "Is the story a long one?"
"Only about half-dozen pages more; O, do please let me finish it!"
"You want to know what becomes of some one, or whom the heroine marries, of course. Well, to that extent I will be a party to the possible injury of your sight."
He still sat opposite to her, watching her in the old lazy way, while she read the last few pages of the magazine story. When she came to the end, a fact of which he seemed immediately aware, he rose and extinguished the little reading lamp, with an air of friendly tyranny.
"Merciless, you see," he said, laughing. "O, la jeunesse, what a delicious thing it is! Here have I been tossing and tumbling those unfortunate books about for a couple of hours at a stretch, without being able to fix my attention upon a single page; and here are you so profoundly absorbed in some trivial story, that I daresay you have scarcely been conscious of the outer world for the last two hours. O, youth and freshness, what pleasant things they are while we can keep them!"
"We were not allowed to read fiction at Madame Marot's," Miss Lovel answered simply. "Anything in the way of an English story is a treat when one has had nothing to read but Racine and Telemaque for about six years of one's life."
"The Inimical Brothers, and Iphigenia; Athalie, as performed before Louis Quatorze, by the young ladies of St. Cyr, and so on. Well, I confess there are circumstances under which even Racine might become a bore; and Telemaque has long been a synonym for dreariness and dejection of mind. You have not seen Rachel? No, I suppose not. She was a great creature, and conjured the dry bones into living breathing flesh. And Madame Marot's establishment, where you were so hardly treated, is a school, I conclude?"
"Yes, it is a school at Belforet, near Paris. I have been there a long time, and am going home now to keep house for papa."
"Indeed! And is your journey a long one? Are we to be travelling companions for some time to come?"
"I am going rather a long way—to Holborough."
"I am very glad to hear that, for I am going farther myself, to the outer edge of Yorkshire, where I believe I am to do wonderful execution upon the birds. A fellow I know has taken a shooting-box yonder, and writes me most flourishing accounts of the sport. I know Holborough a little, by the way. Does your father live in the town?"
"O, no; papa could never endure to live in a small country town. Our house is a couple of miles away—Arden Court; perhaps you know it?"
"Yes, I have been to Arden Court," the traveller answered, with rather a puzzled air. "And your papa lives at Arden?—I did not know he had any other daughter," he added in a lower key, to himself rather than to his companion. "Then I suppose I have the pleasure of speaking to Miss—"
"My name is Lovel My father is Marmaduke Level, of Arden Court."
The traveller looked at her with a still more puzzled air, as if singularly embarrassed by this simple announcement. He recovered himself quickly, however, with a slight effort.
"I am proud and happy to have made your acquaintance, Miss Lovel," he said; "your father's family is one of the best and oldest in the North Riding."
After this, they talked of many things; of Clarissa's girlish experiences at Belforet; of the traveller's wanderings, which seemed to have extended all over the world.
He had been a good deal in India, in the Artillery, and was likely to return thither before long.
"I had rather an alarming touch of sunstroke a year ago," he said, "and was altogether such a shattered broken-up creature when I came home on sick leave, that my mother tried her hardest to induce me to leave the service; but though I would do almost anything in the world to please her, I could not bring myself to do that; a man without a profession is such a lost wretch. It is rather hard upon her, poor soul; for my elder brother died not very long ago, and she has only my vagabond self left. 'He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.'"
"I have no mother," Clarissa said mournfully; "mine died when I was quite a little thing. I always envy people who can speak of a mother."
"But, on the other hand, I am fatherless, you see," the gentleman said, smiling. But Clarissa's face did not reflect his smile.
"Ah, that is a different thing," she said softly.
They went on talking for a long while, talking about the widest range of subjects; and their flight across the moonlit country, which grew darker by-and-by, as that tender light waned, seemed swifter than. Clarissa could have imagined possible, had the train been the most desperate thing in the way of an express. She had no vulgar commonplace shyness, mere school-girl as she was, and she had, above all, a most delightful unconsciousness of her own beauty; so she was quickly at home with the stranger, listening to him, and talking to him with a perfect ease, which seemed to him a natural attribute of high breeding.
"A Lovel," he said to himself once, in a brief interval of silence; "and so she comes of that unlucky race. It is scarcely strange that she should be beautiful and gifted. I wonder what my mother would say if she knew that my northern journey had brought me for half-a-dozen hours tete-a-tete with a Lovel? There would be actual terror for her in the notion of such an accident. What a noble look this girl has!—an air that only comes after generations of blue blood untainted by vulgar admixture. The last of such a race is a kind of crystallisation, dangerously, fatally brilliant, the concentration of all the forces that have gone before."
At one of their halting-places, Miss Lovel's companion insisted upon bringing her a cup of coffee and a sponge-cake, and waited upon her with a most brotherly attention. At Normanton they changed to a branch line, and had to wait an hour and a half in that coldest dreariest period of the night that comes before daybreak. Here the stranger established Clarissa in a shabby little waiting-room, where he made up the fire with his own hands, and poked it into a blaze with his walking-stick; having done which, he went out into the bleak night and paced the platform briskly for nearly an hour, smoking a couple of those cigars which would have beguiled his night journey, had he been alone.
He had some thoughts of a third cigar, but put it back into his case, and returned to the waiting-room.
"I'll go and have a little more talk with the prettiest woman I ever met in my life," he said to himself. "It is not very likely that we two shall ever see each other again. Let me carry away the memory of her face, at any rate. And she is a Lovel! Will she be as unfortunate as the rest of her race, I wonder? God forbid!"
Clarissa was sitting by the fire in the dingy little waiting-room, with one elbow resting on the arm of her chair, her chin leaning on her hand, and her eyes fixed thoughtfully upon a dull red chasm in the coals. She had taken off her gray felt hat, and she looked older without it, the traveller thought, in spite of her wealth of waving dark brown hair, gathered into a great coil of plaits at the back of the graceful head. Perhaps it was that thoughtful expression which made her look older than she had seemed to him in the railway carriage, the gentleman argued with himself; a very grave anxious expression for a girl's face. She had indeed altogether the aspect of a woman, rather than of a girl who had just escaped from boarding-school, and to whom the cares of life must needs be unknown.
She was thinking so deeply, that she did not hear the opening of the door, or her fellow-traveller's light footstep as he crossed the room. He was standing on the opposite side of the fireplace, looking down at her, before she was aware of his presence. Then she raised her head with a start; and he saw her blush for the first time. "You must have been absorbed in some profound meditation, Miss Lovel," he said lightly.
"I was thinking of the future."
"Meaning your own future. Why, at your age the future ought to be a most radiant vision."
"Indeed it is not that. It is all clouds and darkness. I do not see that one must needs be happy because one is young. There has been very little happiness in my life yet awhile, only the dreary monotonous routine of boarding-school."
"But all that is over now, and life is just beginning for you. I wish I were eighteen instead of eight-and-twenty."
"Would you live your life over again?"
The traveller laughed.
"That's putting a home question," he said. "Well, perhaps not exactly the same life, though it has not been a bad one. But I should like the feeling of perfect youth, the sense of having one's full inheritance of life lying at one's banker's, as it were, and being able to draw upon the account a little recklessly, indifferent as to the waste of a year or two. You see I have come to a period of existence in which a man has to calculate his resources. If I do not find happiness within the next five years, I am never likely to find it at all. At three-and-thirty a man has done with a heart, in a moral and poetic sense, and begins to entertain vague alarms on the subject of fatty degeneration."
Clarissa smiled faintly, as if the stranger's idle talk scarcely beguiled her from her own thoughts.
"You said you had been at Arden," she began rather abruptly; "then you must know papa."
"No, I have not the honour to know Mr. Lovel," with the same embarrassed air which he had exhibited before in speaking of Arden Court. "But I am acquainted—or I was acquainted, rather, for he and I have not met for some time—with one member of your family, a Mr. Austin Lovel."
"My brother," Clarissa said quickly, and with a sudden shadow upon her face.
"Your brother; yes, I supposed as much."
"Poor Austin! It is very sad. Papa and he are ill friends. There was some desperate quarrel between them a few years ago; I do not even know what about; and Austin was turned out of doors, never to come back any more. Papa told me nothing about it, though it was the common talk at Holborough. It was only from a letter of my aunt's that I learnt what had happened; and I am never to speak of Austin when I go home, my aunt told me."
"Very hard lines," said the stranger, with a sympathetic air. "He was wild, I suppose, in the usual way. Your brother was in a line regiment when I knew him; but I think I heard afterwards that he had sold out, and had dropped away from his old set, had emigrated, I believe, or something of that kind exactly the thing I should do, if I found myself in difficulties; turn backwoodsman, and wed some savage woman, who should rear my dusky race, and whose kindred could put me in the way to make my fortune by cattle-dealing; having done which, I should, of course, discover that fifty years of Europe are worth more than a cycle of Cathay, and should turn my steps homeward with a convenient obliviousness upon the subject of the savage woman."
He spoke lightly, trying to win Clarissa from her sad thoughts, and with the common masculine idea, that a little superficial liveliness of this kind can lighten the load of a great sorrow.
"Come, Miss Lovel, I would give the world to see you smile. Do you know that I have been watching for a smile ever since I first saw your face, and have not surprised one yet? Be sure your brother is taking life pleasantly enough in some quarter of the globe. We worthless young fellows always contrive to fall upon our feet."
"If I could believe that he was happy, if I could think that he was leading an honourable life anywhere, I should not feel our separation so much," the girl said mournfully; "but to be quite ignorant of his fate, and not to be allowed to mention his name, that is hard to bear. I cannot tell you how fond I was of him when we were children. He was seven years older than I, and so clever. He wanted to be a painter, but papa would not hear of that. Yet I think he might have been happier if he had been allowed to have his own way. He had a real genius for art."
"And you too are fond of art, I suppose?" hazarded the traveller, more interested in the young lady herself than in this reprobate brother of hers.
"Yes, I am very fond of it. It is the only thing I really care for. Of course, I like music to a certain extent; but I love painting with my whole heart."
"Happy art, to be loved by so fair a votary! And you dabble with brushes and colours, of course?"
"A true young lady's answer. If you were a Raffaelle in glace silk and crinoline, you would tell me no more than that. I can only hope that some happy accident will one day give me an opportunity of judging for myself. And now, I think, you had better put on your hat. Our train will be in almost immediately."
She obeyed him; and they went out together to the windy platform, where the train rumbled in presently. They took their places in a carriage, the gentleman bundling in his rugs and travelling-bags and despatch boxes with very little ceremony; but this time they were not alone. A plethoric gentleman, of the commercial persuasion, was sleeping laboriously in one corner.
The journey to Holborough lasted a little less than an hour. Miss Lovel and her companion did not talk much during that time. She was tired and thoughtful, and he respected her silence. As she drew nearer home, the happiness she had felt in her return seemed to melt away somehow, leaving vague anxieties and morbid forebodings in its stead. To go home to a father who would only be bored by her coming. It was not a lively prospect for a girl of eighteen.
The dull cold gray dawn was on the housetops of Holborough, as the train stopped at the little station. The traveller alighted, and assisted Clarissa's descent to the platform.
"Can I see about your luggage, Miss Lovel?" he asked; but looking up at that moment, the girl caught sight of a burly gentleman in a white neckcloth, who was staring in every direction but the right one.
"Thank you very much, no; I need not trouble you. My uncle Oliver is here to meet me—that stout gentleman over there."
"Then I can only say good-bye. That tiresome engine is snorting with a fiendish impatience to bear me away. Good-bye, Miss Lovel, and a thousand thanks for the companionship that has made this journey so pleasant to me."
He lifted his hat and went back to the carriage, as the stout gentleman approached Clarissa. He would fain have shaken hands with her, but refrained from that unjustifiable familiarity. And so, in the bleak early autumnal dawn, they parted.
* * * * *
BEGINNING THE WORLD.
"Who on earth was that man you were talking to, Clary?" asked the Reverend Mathew Oliver, when he had seen his niece's luggage carried off to a fly, and was conducting her to that vehicle. "Is it any one you know?"
"O, no, uncle; only a gentleman who travelled in the same carriage with me from London. He was very kind."
"You seemed unaccountably familiar with him," said Mr. Oliver with an aggrieved air; "you ought to be more reserved, my dear, at your age. A young lady travelling alone cannot be too careful. Indeed, it was very wrong of your father to allow you to make this long journey alone. Your aunt has been quite distressed about it."
Clarissa sighed faintly; but was not deeply concerned by the idea of her aunt's distress. Distress of mind, on account of some outrage of propriety on the part of her relatives, was indeed almost the normal condition of that lady.
"I travelled very comfortably, I assure you, uncle Oliver," Clarissa replied. "No one was in the least rude or unpleasant. And I am so glad to come home—I can scarcely tell you how glad—though, as I came nearer and nearer, I began to have all kinds of fanciful anxieties. I hope that all is well—that papa is quite himself."
"O, yes, my dear; your papa is—himself," answered the parson, in a tone that implied that he did not say very much for Mr. Lovel in admitting that fact. "Your papa is well enough in health, or as well as he will ever acknowledge himself to be. Of course, a man who neither hunts nor shoots, and seldom gets out of bed before ten o'clock in the day, can't expect to be remarkably robust. But your father will live to a good old age, child, rely upon it, in spite of everything."
"Am I going straight home, uncle?"
"Well, yes. Your aunt wished you to breakfast at the Rectory; but there are your trunks, you see, and altogether I think it's better for you to go home at once. You can come and see us as often as you like."
"Thank you, uncle. It was very kind of you to meet me at the station. Yes, I think it will be best for me to go straight home. I'm a little knocked up with the journey. I haven't slept five minutes since I left Madame Marot's at daybreak yesterday."
"You're looking rather pale; but you look remarkably well in spite of that—remarkably well. These six years have changed you from a child into a woman. I hope they gave you a good education yonder; a solid practical education, that will stand by you."
"I think so, uncle. We were almost always at our studies. It was very hard work."
"So much the better. Life is meant to be hard work. You may have occasion to make use of your education some day, Clary."
"Yes," the girl answered with a sigh; "I know that we are poor."
"I suppose so; but perhaps you hardly know how poor."
"Whenever the time comes, I shall be quite ready to work for papa," said Clarissa; yet she could not help wondering how the master of Arden Court could ever bring himself to send out his daughter as a governess; and then she had a vague childish recollection that not tens of pounds, but hundreds, and even thousands, had been wanted to stop the gaps in her father's exchequer.
They drove through Holborough High Street, where there was the faint stir and bustle of early morning, windows opening, a housemaid kneeling on a doorstep here and there, an occasional tradesman taking down his shutters. They drove past the fringe of prim little villas on the outskirts of the town, and away along a country road towards Arden; and once more Clarissa saw the things that she had dreamed of so often in her narrow white bed in the bleak dormitory at Belforet. Every hedge-row and clump of trees from which the withered leaves were drifting in the autumn wind, every white-walled cottage with moss-grown thatch and rustic garden, woke a faint rapture in her breast. It was home. She remembered her old friends the cottagers, and wondered whether goody Mason were still alive, and whether Widow Green's fair-haired children would remember her. She had taught them at the Sunday-school; but they too must have grown from childhood to womanhood, like herself, and were out at service, most likely, leaving Mrs. Green's cottage lonely.
She thought of these simple things, poor child, having so little else to think about, on this, her coming home. She was not so foolish as to expect any warm welcome from her father. If he had brought himself just to tolerate her coming, she had sufficient reason to be grateful. It was only a drive of two miles from Holborough to Arden. They stopped at a lodge-gate presently; a little gothic lodge, which was gay with scarlet geraniums and chrysanthemums, and made splendid by railings of bronzed ironwork. Everything had a bright new look which surprised Miss Lovel, who was not accustomed to see such, perfect order or such fresh paint about her father's domain.
"How nice everything looks!" she said.
"Yes," answered her uncle, with a sigh; "the place is kept well enough nowadays."
A woman came out to open the gates—a brisk young person, who was a stranger to Clarissa, not the feeble old lodge-keeper she remembered in her childhood. The change, slight as it was, gave her a strange chill feeling.
"I wonder how many people that I knew are dead?" she thought.
They drove into the park, and here too, even in this autumn season, Clarissa perceived traces of care and order that were strange to her. The carriage road was newly gravelled, the chaos of underwood among the old trees had disappeared, the broad sweeps of grass were smooth and level as a lawn, and there were men at work in the early morning, planting rare specimens of the fir tribe in a new enclosure, which filled a space that had been bared twenty years before by Mr. Lovel's depredations upon the timber.
All this bewildered Clarissa; but she was still more puzzled, when, instead of approaching the Court the fly turned sharply into a road leading across a thickly wooded portion of the park, through which there was a public right of way leading to the village of Arden.
"The man is going wrong, uncle!" she exclaimed.
"No, no, my dear; the man is right enough."
"But indeed, uncle Oliver, he is driving to the village."
"And he has been told to drive to the village."
"Not to the Court?"
"To the Court! Why, of course not. What should we have to do at the Court at half-past seven in the morning?"
"But I am going straight home to papa, am I not?"
And then, after staring at his niece's bewildered countenance for a few moments, Mr. Oliver exclaimed,——
"Why, surely, Clary, your father told you——"
"Told me what, uncle?"
"That he had sold Arden."
"Sold Arden! O, uncle, uncle!"
She burst into tears. Of all things upon this earth she had loved the grand old mansion where her childhood had been spent. She had so little else to love, poor lonely child, that it was scarcely strange she should attach herself to lifeless things. How fondly she had remembered the old place in all those dreary years of exile, dreaming of it as we dream of some lost friend. And it was gone from her for ever! Her father had bartered away that most precious birthright.
"O, how could he do it! how could he do it!" she cried piteously.
"Why, my dear Clary, you can't suppose it was a matter of choice with him. 'Needs must when'—I daresay you know the vulgar proverb. Necessity has no law. Come, come, my dear, don't cry; your father won't like to see you with red eyes. It was very wrong of him not to tell you about the sale of Arden—excessively wrong. But that's just like Marmaduke Lovel; always ready to shirk anything unpleasant, even to the writing of a disagreeable letter."
"Poor dear papa! I don't wonder he found it hard to write about such a thing; but it would have been better for me to have known. It is such a bitter disappointment to come home and find the dear old place gone from us. Has it been sold very long?"
"About two years. A rich manufacturer bought it—something in the cloth way, I believe. He has retired from business, however, and is said to be overwhelmingly rich. He has spent a great deal of money upon the Court already, and means to spend more I hear."
"Has he spoiled it—modernised it, or anything of that kind?"
"No; I am glad to say that he—or his architect perhaps—has had the good taste to preserve the mediaeval character of the place. He has restored the stonework, renewing all the delicate external tracery where it was lost or decayed, and has treated the interior in the same manner. I have dined with Mr. Granger once or twice since the work was finished, and I must say the place is now one of the finest in Yorkshire—perhaps the finest, in its peculiar way. I doubt if there is so perfect a specimen of gothic domestic architecture in the county."
"And it is gone from us for ever!" said Clarissa, with a profound sigh.
"Well, my dear Clary, it is a blow, certainly; I don't deny that. But there is a bright side to everything; and really your father could not afford to live in the place. It was going to decay in the most disgraceful manner. He is better out of it; upon my word he is."
Clarissa could not see this. To lose Arden Court seemed to her unmitigated woe. She would rather have lived the dreariest, loneliest life in one corner of the grand old house, than have occupied a modern palace. It was as if all the pleasant memories of her childhood had been swept away from her with the loss of her early home. This was indeed beginning the world; and a blank dismal world it appeared to Clarissa Lovel, on this melancholy October morning.
They stopped presently before a low wooden gate, and looking out of the window of the fly, Miss Lovel saw a cottage which she remembered as a dreary uninhabited place, always to let; a cottage with a weedy garden, and a luxuriant growth of monthly roses and honeysuckle covering it from basement to roof; not a bad sort of place for a person of small means and pretensions, but O, what a descent from the ancient splendour of Arden Court!—that Arden which had belonged to the Lovels ever since the land on which it stood was given to Sir Warren Wyndham Lovel, knight, by his gracious master King Edward IV., in acknowledgment of that warrior's services in the great struggle between Lancaster and York.
There were old-fashioned casement windows on the upper story, and queer little dormers in the roof. Below, roomy bows had been added at a much later date than the building of the cottage. The principal doorway was sheltered by a rustic porch, spacious and picturesque, with a bench on each side of the entrance. The garden was tolerably large, and in decent order, and beyond the garden was a fine old orchard, divided from lawn and flower-beds only by a low hedge, full of bush-roses and sweet brier. It was a very pretty place in summer, not unpicturesque even at this bleak season; but Clarissa was thinking of lost Arden, and she looked at Mill Cottage with mournful unadmiring eyes. There had been a mill attached to the place once. The old building was there still, indeed, converted into a primitive kind of stable; hence its name of Mill Cottage. The stream still ran noisily a little way behind the house, and made the boundary which divided the orchard from the lands of the lord of Arden. Mill Cottage was on the very edge of Arden Court. Clarissa wondered that her father could have pitched his tent on the borders of his lost heritage.
"I think I would have gone to the other end of the world, had I been in his place," she said to herself.
An elderly woman-servant came out, in answer to the flyman's summons; and at her call, a rough-looking young man emerged from the wooden gate opening into a rustic-looking stable-yard, where the lower half of the old mill stood, half-hidden by ivy and other greenery, and where there were dovecotes and a dog-kennel.
Mr. Oliver superintended the removal of his niece's trunks, and then stepped back into the fly.
"There's not the slightest use in my stopping to see your father, Clary," he said; "he won't show for a couple of hours at least. Good-bye, my dear; make yourself as comfortable as you can. And come and see your aunt as soon as you've recovered from your long journey, and keep up your spirits, my dear.—Martha, be sure you give Miss Lovel a good breakfast.—Drive back to the Rectory, coachman.—Good-bye, Clarissa;" and feeling that he had shown his niece every kindness that the occasion required, Mr. Oliver bowled merrily homewards. He was a gentleman who took life easily—a pastor of the broad church—tolerably generous and good to his poor; not given to abnormal services or daily morning prayer; content to do duty at Holborough parish church twice on a Sunday, and twice more in the week; hunting a little every season, in a black coat, for the benefit of his health, as he told his parishioners; and shooting a good deal; fond of a good horse, a good cellar, a good dinner, and well-filled conservatories and glass-houses; altogether a gentleman for whom life was a pleasant journey through a prosperous country. He had, some twenty years before, married Frances Lovel; a very handsome woman—just a little faded at the time of her marriage—without fortune. There were no children at Holborough Rectory, and everything about the house and gardens bore that aspect of perfect order only possible to a domain in which there are none of those juvenile destroyers.
"Poor girl," Mr. Oliver muttered to himself, as he jogged comfortably homewards, wondering whether his people would have the good sense to cook 'those grouse' for breakfast. "Poor Clary, it was very hard upon her; and just Like Marmaduke not to tell her."
* * * * *
FATHER AND DAUGHTER.
While Mr. Oliver went back to the Rectory, cheered by the prospect of possible grouse, Clarissa entered her new home, so utterly strange to her in its insignificance. The servant, Martha, who was a stranger to her, but who had a comfortable friendly face, she thought, led her into a room at the back of the cottage, with a broad window opening on to a lawn, beyond which Clarissa saw the blue mill-stream. It was not a bad room at all: countrified-looking and old-fashioned, with a low ceiling and wainscoted walls. Miss Level recognised the ponderous old furniture from the breakfast-room at Arden—high-backed mahogany chairs of the early Georgian era, with broad cushioned seats covered with faded needlework; a curious old oval dining-table, capable of accommodating about six; and some slim Chippendale coffee-tables and cheffoniers, upon which there were a few chipped treasures of old Battersea and Bow china. The walls were half-lined with her father's books—rare old books in handsome bindings. His easy-chair, a most luxurious one, stood in a sheltered corner of the hearth, with a crimson silk banner-screen hanging from the mantelpiece beside it, and a tiny table close at hand, on which there were a noble silver-mounted meerschaum, and a curious old china jar for tobacco. The oval table was neatly laid for breakfast, and a handsome brown setter lay basking in the light of the fire. Altogether, the apartment had a very comfortable and home-like look.
"The tea's made, miss," said the servant; "and I've a savoury omelette ready to set upon the table. Perhaps you'd Like to step upstairs and take off your things before you have your breakfast? Your papa begged you wouldn't wait for him. He won't be down for two hours to come."
"He's quite well, I hope?"
"As well as he ever is, miss. He's a bit of an invalid at the best of times."
Remembering what Mr. Oliver had said, Clarissa was not much disturbed by this intelligence. She was stooping to caress the brown setter, who had been sniffing at her dress, and seemed anxious to inaugurate a friendship with her.
"This is a favourite of papa's, I suppose?" she said.
"O Lord, yes, miss. Our master do make a tremenjous fust about Ponto. I think he's fonder of that dumb beast than any human creature. Eliza shall show you your room, miss, while I bring in the teapot and such-like. There's only me and Eliza, who is but a bit of a girl; and John Thomas, the groom, that brought your boxes in just now. It's a change for your pa from the Court, and all the servants he had there; but he do bear it like a true Christian, if ever there was one."
Clarissa Lovel might have wondered a little to hear this—Christianity not being the dominant note in her father's character; but it was only like her father to refrain from complaint in the hearing of such a person as honest Martha. A rosy-faced girl of about fifteen conducted Miss Lovel to a pleasant bedroom, with three small windows; one curiously placed in an angle of the room, and from which—above a sweep of golden-tinted woodland—Clarissa could see the gothic chimneys of Arden Court. She stood at this window for nearly ten minutes, gazing out across those autumnal woods, and wondering how her father had nerved himself for the sacrifice.
She turned away from the little casement at last with a heavy sigh, and began to take off her things. She bathed her face and head in cold water, brushed out her long dark hair, and changed her thick merino travelling-dress for a fresher costume. While she was doing these things, her thoughts went back to her companion of last night's journey; and, with a sudden flush of shame, she remembered his embarrassed look when she had spoken of her father as the owner of Arden Court. He had been to Arden, he had told her, yet had not seen her father. She had not been particularly surprised by this, supposing that he had gone to the Court as an ordinary sight-seer. Her father had never opened the place to the public, but he had seldom refused any tourist's request to explore it.
But now she understood that curious puzzled look of the stranger's, and felt bitterly ashamed of her error. Had he thought her some barefaced impostor, she wondered? She was disturbed in these reflections by the trim rosy-cheeked house-maid, who came to tell her that breakfast had been on the table nearly a quarter of an hour. But in the comfortable parlour downstairs, all the time she was trying to do some poor justice to Martha's omelette, her thoughts dwelt persistently upon the unknown of the railway-carriage, and upon the unlucky mistake which she had made as to her father's position.
"He could never guess the truth," she said to herself. "He could never imagine that I was going home, and yet did not know that my birthplace had been sold."
He was so complete a stranger to her—she did not even know his name—so it could surely matter very little whether he thought well or ill of her. And yet she could not refrain from torturing herself with all manner of annoying suppositions as to what he might think. Miss Lovel's character was by no means faultless, and pride was one of the strongest ingredients in it. A generous and somewhat lofty nature, perhaps, but unschooled and unchastened as yet.
After a very feeble attempt at breakfast, Clarissa went out into the garden, closely attended by Ponto, who seemed to have taken a wonderful fancy to her. She was very glad to be loved by something on her return home, even a dog. She went out through the broad window, and explored garden and orchard, and wandered up and down by the grassy bank of the stream. She was fain to own that the place was pretty: and she fancied how well she might have loved it, if she had been born here, and had never been familiar with the broad terraces and verdant slopes of Arden Court. She walked in the garden till the village-church clock struck ten, and then went hastily in, half-afraid lest her father should have come down to the parlour in her absence, and should be offended at not finding her ready to receive him.
She need not have feared this. Mr. Lovel was rarely offended by anything that did not cause him physical discomfort.
"How do you do, my dear?" he said, as she came into the room, in very much the same tone he might have employed had they seen each other every day for the last twelve months. "Be sure you never do that again, if you have the faintest regard for me."
"Do what, papa?"
"Leave that window open when you go out. I found the room a perfect ice-house just now. It was very neglectful of Martha to allow it. You'd better use the door at the end of the passage in future, when you go into the garden. It's only a little more trouble, and I can't stand open windows at this time of year."
"I will be sure to do so, papa," Clarissa answered meekly. She went up to her father and kissed him, the warmth and spontaneity of their greeting a little diminished by this reproof about the window; but Clarissa had not expected a very affectionate reception, and was hardly disappointed. She had only a blank hopeless kind of feeling; a settled conviction that there was no love for her here, and that there had never been any.
"My dear father," she began tenderly, "my uncle told me about the sale of Arden. I was so shocked by the news—so sorry—for your sake."
"And for your own sake too, I suppose," her father answered bitterly. "The less this subject is spoken of between us in future, the better we shall get on together, Clarissa."
"I will keep silence, papa."
"Be sure you do so," Mr. Lovel said sternly; and then, with a sudden passion and inconsistency that startled his daughter, he went on: "Yes, I have sold Arden—every acre. Not a rood of the land that has belonged to my race from generation to generation since Edward IV. was king, is left to me. And I have planted myself here—here at the very gates of my lost home—so that I may drain the bitter cup of humiliation to the dregs. The fools who call themselves my friends think, that because I can endure to live here, I am indifferent to all I have lost; that I am an eccentric bookworm—an easy-going philosophical recluse, content to dawdle away the remnant of my days amongst old books. It pleases me to let them think so. Why, there is never a day that yonder trader's carriage, passing my windows, does not seem to drive over my body; not a sound of a woodman's axe or a carpenter's hammer in the place that was mine, that does not go straight home to my heart!"
"O, papa, papa!"
"Hush, girl! I can accept pity from no one—from you least of all."
"Not from me, papa—your own child?"
"Not from you; because your mother's reckless extravagance was the beginning of my ruin. I might have been a different man but for her. My marriage was fatal, and in the end, as you see, has wrecked me."
"But even if my mother was to blame, papa—as she may have been—I cannot pretend to deny the truth of what you say, being so completely ignorant of our past history—you cannot be so cruel as to hold me guilty?"
"You are too like her, Clarissa," Mr. Lovel answered, in a strange tone. "But I do not want to speak of these things. It is your fault; you had no right to talk of Arden. That subject always raises a devil in me."
He paced the room backwards and forwards for a few minutes in an agitated way, as if trying to stifle some passion raging inwardly.
He was a man of about fifty, tall and slim, with a distinguished air, and a face that must once have been very handsome, but perhaps, at its best, a little effeminate. The face was careworn now, and the delicate features had a pinched and drawn look, the thin lips a half-cynical, half-peevish expression. It was not a pleasant countenance, in spite of its look of high birth; nor was there any likeness between Marmaduke Lovel and his daughter. His eyes were light blue, large and bright, but with a cold look in them—a coldness which, on very slight provocation, intensified into cruelty; his hair pale auburn, crisp and curling closely round a high but somewhat narrow forehead.
He came back to the breakfast-table presently, and seated himself in his easy-chair. He sipped a cup of coffee, and trifled listlessly with a morsel of dried salmon.
"I have no appetite this morning," he said at last, pushing his plate away with an impatient gesture; "nor is that kind of talk calculated to improve the flavour of a man's breakfast. How tall you have grown, Clarissa, a perfect woman; remarkably handsome too! Of course you know that, and there is no fear of your being made vain by anything I may say to you. All young women learn their value soon enough. You ought to make a good match, a brilliant match—if there were any chance for a girl in such a hole as this. Marriage is your only hope, remember, Clarissa. Your future lies between that and the drudgery of a governess's life. You have received an expensive education—an education that will serve you in either case; and that is all the fortune I can give you."
"I hope I may marry well, papa, for your sake; but—"
"Never mind me. You have only yourself to think about."
"But I never could marry any one I did not esteem, if the match were ever such a brilliant one."
"Of course not. All schoolgirls talk like that; and in due course discover how very little esteem has to do with matrimony. If you mean that you would like to marry some penniless wretch of a curate, or some insolvent ensign, for love, I can only say that the day of your marriage will witness our final parting. I should not make any outrageous fuss or useless opposition, rely upon it. I should only wish you good-bye."
Clarissa smiled faintly at this speech. She expected so little from her father, that his hardest words did not wound her very deeply, nor did they extinguish that latent hope, "He will love me some day."
"I trust I may never be so imprudent as to lose you for ever, like that, papa.. I must shut my heart resolutely against curates."
"If bad reading is an abomination to you, you have only to open your ears. I have some confidence in you, Clary," Mr. Lovel went on, with a smile that was almost affectionate. "You look like a sensible girl; a little impulsive, I daresay; but knowledge of the world—which is an uncommonly hard world for you and me—will tone that down in good time. You are accomplished, I hope. Madame Marot wrote me a most flourishing account of your attainments; but one never knows how much to believe of a schoolmistress's analysis."
"I worked very hard, papa; all the harder because I was so anxious to come home; and I fancied I might shorten my exile a little by being very industrious."
"Humph! You give yourself a good character. You sing and play, I suppose?"
"Yes, papa. But I am fonder of art than of music."
"Ah, art is very well as a profession; but amateur art—French plum-box art—is worse than worthless. However, I am glad you can amuse yourself somehow; and I daresay, if you have to turn governess by-and-by, that sort of thing will be useful. You have the usual smattering of languages, of course?"
"Yes, papa. We read German and Italian on alternate days at Madame Marot's."
"I promessi Sposi, and so on, no doubt. There is a noble Tasso in the bookcase yonder, and a fine old Petrarch, with which you may keep up your Italian. You might read a little to me of an evening sometimes. I should not mind it much."
"And I should like it very much, papa," Clarissa answered eagerly.
She was anxious for anything that could bring her father and herself together—that might lessen the gulf between them, if by ever so little.
And in this manner Miss Lovel's life began in her new home. No warmth of welcome, no word of fatherly affection, attended this meeting between a father and daughter who had not met for six years. Mr. Lovel went back to his books as calmly as if there had been no ardent impetuous girl of eighteen under his roof, leaving Clarissa to find occupation and amusement as best she might. He was not a profound student; a literary trifler rather, caring for only a limited number of books, and reading those again and again. Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Southey's Doctor. Montaigne, and Swift, he read continually. He was a collector of rare editions of the Classics, and would dawdle over a Greek play, edited by some learned German, for a week at a time, losing himself in the profundity of elaborate foot-notes. He was an ardent admirer of the lighter Roman poets, and believed the Horatian philosophy the only true creed by which a man should shape his existence. But it must not be supposed that books brought repose to the mind and heart of Marmaduke Lovel. He was a disappointed man, a discontented man, a man given to brooding over the failure of his life, inclined to cherish vengeful feelings against his fellow-men on account of that failure. Books to him were very much what they might have been to some fiery-tempered ambitious soldier of fortune buried alive in a prison, without hope of release,—some slight alleviation of his anguish, some occasional respite from his dull perpetual pain; nothing more.
Clarissa's first day at Mill Cottage was a very fair sample of the rest of her life. She found that she must manage to spend existence almost entirely by herself—that she must expect the smallest amount of companionship from her father.
"This is the room in which I generally sit," her father said to her that first morning after breakfast; "my books are here, you see, and the aspect suits me. The drawing-room will be almost entirely at your disposal. We have occasional callers, of course; I have not been able to make these impervious country people comprehend that I don't want society. They sometimes pester me with invitations to dinner, which no doubt they consider an amazing kindness to a man in my position; invitations which I make a point of declining. It will be different with you, of course; and if any eligible people—Lady Laura Armstrong or Mrs. Renthorpe for instance—should like to take you up, I shall not object to your seeing a little society. You will never find a rich husband at Mill Cottage."
"Please do not speak of husbands, papa. I don't want to be married, and I shouldn't care to go into society without you."
"Nonsense, child; you will have to do what is best for your future welfare. Remember that my death will leave you utterly unprovided for—absolutely penniless."
"I hope you may live till I am almost an old woman, papa."
"Not much chance of that; and even if I did, I should not care to have you on my hands all that time. A good marriage is the natural prospect of a good-looking young woman, and I shall be much disappointed if you do not marry well, Clarissa."
The pale cold blue eyes looked at her with so severe a glance, as Mr. Lovel said this, that the girl felt she must expect little mercy from her father if her career in life did not realise his hopes.
"In short," he continued, "I look to you to redeem our fallen fortunes. I don't want the name of Lovel to die out in poverty and obscurity. I look to you to prevent that, Clarissa."
"Papa," said Clarissa, almost trembling as she spoke, "it is not to me you should look for that. What can a girl do to restore a name that has fallen into obscurity? Even if I were to marry a rich man, as you say, it would be only to take another name, and lose my own identity in that of my husband. It is only a son who can redeem his father's name. There is some one else to whom you must look——"
"What!" cried her father vehemently, "have you not been forbidden to mention that name in my hearing? Unlucky girl, you seem to have been born on purpose to outrage and pain me."
"Forgive me, papa; it shall be the last time. But O, is there no hope that you will ever pardon——"
"Pardon," echoed Mr. Lovel, with a bitter laugh; "it is no question of pardon. I have erased that person's image from my mind. So far as I am concerned, there is no such man in the world. Pardon! You must induce me to reinstate him in my memory again, before you ask me to pardon."
"And that can never be, papa?"
The tone of that one word annihilated hope in Clarissa's mind. She had pushed the question to its utmost limit, at all hazards of offending her father. What was it that her brother Austin had done to bring upon himself this bitter sentence of condemnation? She remembered him in his early manhood, handsome, accomplished, brilliant; the delight and admiration of every one who knew him, except her father. Recalling those days, she remembered that between her father and Austin there had never been any show of affection. The talents and brilliant attributes that had won admiration from others seemed to have no charm in the father's eye. Clarissa could remember many a sneering speech of Mr. Lovel's, in which he had made light of his son's cleverness, denouncing his varied accomplishments as trivial and effeminate, and asking if any Englishman ever attained an honourable distinction by playing the piano, or modelling in clay.
"I would rather have my son the dullest plodder that ever toiled at the bar, or droned bald platitudes from a pulpit, than the most brilliant drawing-room idler, whose amateur art and amateur music ever made him the fashion of a single season, to leave him forgotten in the next. I utterly despise an accomplished man."
Austin Lovel had let such speeches as this go by him with a languid indifference, that testified at once to his easy temper and his comfortable disregard of his father's opinion. He was fond of his little sister Clary, in rather a careless way, and would suffer her companionship, juvenile as she was at that time, with perfect good nature, allowing her to spoil his drawing paper with her untutored efforts, and even to explore the sacred mysteries of his colour-box. In return for this indulgence, the girl loved him with intense devotion, and believed in Him as the most brilliant of mankind.
Clarissa Lovel recalled those departed days now with painful tenderness. How kind and gracious Austin had been to her! How happy they had been together! sometimes wandering for a whole day in the park and woods of Arden, he with his sketching apparatus, she with a volume of Sir Walter Scott, to read aloud to him while he sketched, or to read him to sleep with very often. And then what delight it had been to sit by his side while he lay at full length upon the mossy turf, or half-buried in fern—to sit by him supremely happy, reading or drawing, and looking up from her occupation every now and then to glance at the sleeper's handsome face in loving admiration.
Those days had been the happiest of her life. When Austin left Arden, he seemed always to carry away the brightness of her existence with him; for without him her life was very lonely—a singularly joyless life for one so young. Then, in an evil hour, as she thought, there came their final parting. How well she remembered her brother loitering on the broad terrace in front of Arden Court, in the dewy summer morning, waiting to bid her good-bye! How passionately she had clung to him in that farewell embrace, unable to tear herself away, until her father's stern voice summoned her to the carriage that was to take her on the first stage of her journey!
"Won't you come to the station with us, Austin?" she pleaded.
"No, Clary," her brother answered, with a glance at her father. "He does not want me."
And so they had parted; never to meet any more upon this earth perhaps, Clarissa said to herself, in her dismal reveries to-day. "That stranger in the railway-carriage spoke of his having emigrated. He will live and die far away, perhaps on the other side of the earth, and I shall never see his bright face again. O, Austin, Austin, is this the end of all our summer days in Arden woods long ago!"
* * * * *
CLARISSA IS "TAKEN UP."
For some time there was neither change nor stir in Clarissa Lovel's new life. It was not altogether an unpleasant kind of existence, perhaps, and Miss Lovel was inclined to make the best of it. She was very much her own mistress, free to spend the long hours of her monotonous days according to her own pleasure. Her father exacted very little from her, and received her dutiful attentions with an air of endurance which was not particularly encouraging. But Clarissa was not easily disheartened. She wanted to win her father's affection; and again and again, after every new discouragement, she told herself that there was no reason why she should not ultimately succeed in making herself as dear to him as an only daughter should be. It was only a question of time and patience. There was no reason that he should not love her, no possible ground for his coldness. It was his nature to be cold, perhaps; but those cold natures have often proved capable of a single strong attachment. What happiness it would be to win this victory of love!
"We stand almost alone in the world," she said to herself. "We had need be very dear to each other."
So, though the time went by, and she made no perceptible progress towards this happy result, Clarissa did not despair. Her father tolerated her, and even this was something; it seemed a great deal when she remembered her childhood at Arden, in which she had never known what it was to be in her father's society for an hour at a time, and when, but for chance meetings in corridors and on staircases, she would very often have lived for weeks under the same roof with him without seeing his face or hearing his voice.
Now it was all different; she was a woman now, and Mill Cottage was scarcely large enough to accommodate two separate existences, even had Mr. Lovel been minded to keep himself aloof from his daughter. This being so, he tolerated her, treating her with a kind of cold politeness, which might have been tolerably natural in some guardian burdened with the charge of a ward he did not care for. They rarely met until dinner-time, Clarissa taking her breakfast about three hours before her father left his room. But at seven they dined together, and spent the long winter evenings in each other's company, Clarissa being sometimes permitted to read aloud in German or Italian, while her father lay back in his easy-chair, smoking his meerschaum, and taking the amber mouthpiece from his lips now and then to correct an accent or murmur a criticism on the text. Sometimes, too, Mr. Lovel would graciously expound a page or two of a Greek play, or dilate on the subtilty of some learned foot-note, for his daughter's benefit, but rather with the air of one gentleman at his club inviting the sympathy of another gentleman than with the tone of a father instructing his child.
Sometimes, but very rarely, they had company. Mr. Oliver and his wife would dine with them occasionally, or the Vicar of Arden, a grave bachelor of five-and-thirty, would drop in to spend an hour or two of an evening. But besides these they saw scarcely any one. The small professional men of Holborough Mr. Lovel held in supreme contempt, a contempt of which those gentlemen themselves were thoroughly aware; the country people whom he had been accustomed to receive at Arden Court he shrank from with a secret sense of shame, in these days of his fallen fortunes. He had therefore made for himself a kind of hermit life at Mill Cottage; and his acquaintance had come, little by little, to accept this as his established manner of existence. They still called upon the recluse occasionally, and sent him cards for their state dinners, averse from any neglect of a man who had once occupied a great position among them; but they were no longer surprised when Mr. Lovel pleaded his feeble health as a reason for declining their hospitality. A very dull life for a girl, perhaps; but for Clarissa it was not altogether an unhappy life. She was at an age when a girl can make an existence for herself out of bright young fancies and vague deep thoughts. There was that in her life just now which fades and perishes with the passing of years; a subtle indescribable charm, a sense of things beyond the common things of daily life. If there had been a closer bond of union between her father and herself, if there had not been that dark cloud upon her brother's life, she might have made herself entirely happy; she might almost have forgotten that Arden was sold, and a vulgar mercantile stranger lord of those green slopes and broad ancient terraces she loved so well.
As it was, the loneliness of her existence troubled her very little. She had none of that eager longing for "society" or "fashion" wherewith young ladies who live in towns are apt to inoculate one another. She had no desire to shine, no consciousness of her own beauty; for the French girls at Madame Marot's had been careful not to tell her that her pale patrician face was beautiful. She wished for nothing but to win her father's love, and to bring about some kind of reconciliation between him and Austin. So the autumn deepened into winter, and the winter brightened into early spring, without bringing any change to her life. She had her colour-box and her easel, her books and piano, for her best companions; and if she did not make any obvious progress towards gaining her father's affection, she contrived, at any rate, to avoid rendering her presence in any way obnoxious to him.
Two or three times in the course of the winter Mrs. Oliver gave a little musical party, at which Clarissa met the small gentry of Holborough, who pronounced her a very lovely girl, and pitied her because of her father's ruined fortunes. To her inexperience these modest assemblies seemed the perfection of gaiety; and she would fain have accepted the invitations that followed them, from the wives of Holborough bankers and lawyers and medical men to whom she had been introduced. Against this degradation, however, Mr. Lovel resolutely opposed himself.
"No, Clarissa," he said, sternly; "you must enter society under such auspices as I should wish, or you must be content to remain at home. I can't have a daughter of mine hawked about in that petty Holborough set. Lady Laura will be at Hale Castle by-and-by, I daresay. If she chooses to take you up, she can do so. Pretty girls are always at par in a country house, and at the Castle you would meet people worth knowing."
Clarissa sighed. Those cordial Holborough gentry had been so kind to her, and this exclusiveness of her father's chilled her, somehow. It seemed to add a new bitterness to their poverty—to that poverty, by the way, of which she had scarcely felt the sharp edges yet awhile. Things went very smoothly at Mill Cottage. Her father lived luxuriously, after his quiet fashion. One of the best wine-merchants at the West-end of London supplied his claret; Fortnum and Mason furnished the condiments and foreign rarities which were essential for his breakfast-table. There seemed never any lack of money, or only when Clarissa ventured to hint at the scantiness of her school-wardrobe, on which occasion Mr. Lovel looked very grave, and put her off with two or three pounds to spend at the Holborough draper's.
"I should want so many new clothes if I went to the Castle, papa," she said, rather sadly one day, when her father was talking of Lady Laura Armstrong; but Mr. Lovel only shrugged his shoulders.
"A young woman is always well dressed in a white muslin gown," he said, carelessly. "I daresay a few pounds would get you all you want."
The Castle was a noble old place at Hale, a village about six miles from Holborough. It had been the family seat of the Earl of Roxham ever since the reign of Edward VI.; but, on the Roxham race dying out, some fifty years before this, had become the property of a certain Mr. Armstrong, a civilian who had made a great fortune in the East, in an age when great fortunes were commonly made by East-Indian traders. His only son had been captain in a crack regiment, and had sold out of the army after his father's death, in order to marry Lady Laura Challoner, second daughter of the Earl of Calderwood, a nobleman of ancient lineage and decayed fortunes, and to begin life as a country gentleman under her wise governance. The Armstrongs were said to be a very happy couple; and if the master of Hale Castle was apt to seem something of a cipher in his own house, the house was an eminently agreeable one, and Lady Laura popular with all classes. Her husband adored her, and had surrendered his judgment to her guidance with a most supreme faith in her infallibility. Happily, she exercised her power with that subtle tact which is the finest gift of woman, and his worst enemies could scarcely call Frederick Armstrong a henpecked husband.
The spring and early summer brought no change to Clarissa's life. She had been at home for the greater part of a year, and in all that time one day had resembled another almost us closely as in the scholastic monotony of existence at Madame Marot's. And yet the girl had shaped no complaint about the dulness of this tranquil routine, even in her inmost unspoken thoughts. She was happy, after a quiet fashion. She had a vague sense that there was a broader, grander kind of life possible to womanhood; a life as different from her own as the broad river that lost itself in the sea was different from the placid mill-stream that bounded her father's orchard. But she had no sick fretful yearning for that wider life. To win her father's affection, to see her brother restored to his abandoned home—these were her girlish dreams and simple unselfish hopes.
In all the months Clarissa Lovel had spent at Mill Cottage she had never crossed the boundary of that lost domain she loved so well. There was a rustic bridge across the mill-stream, and a wooden gate opening into Arden woods. Clarissa very often stood by this gate, leaning with folded arms upon the topmost bar, and looking into the shadowy labyrinth of beech and pine with sad dreamy eyes, but she never went beyond the barrier. Honest Martha asked her more than once why she never walked in the wood, which was so much pleasanter than the dusty high-road, or even Arden common, an undulating expanse of heathy waste beyond the village, where Clarissa would roam for hours on the fine spring days, with a sketch-book under her arm. The friendly peasant woman could not understand that obstinate avoidance of a beloved scene—that sentiment which made her lost home seem to Clarissa a thing to shrink from, as she might have shrunk from beholding the face of the beloved dead.
It was bright midsummer weather, a glorious prolific season, with the thermometer ranging between seventy and eighty, when Lady Laura Armstrong did at last make her appearance at Mill Cottage. The simple old-fashioned garden was all aglow with roses; the house half-hidden beneath the luxuriance of foliage and flowers, a great magnolia on one side climbing up to the dormer windows, on the other pale monthly roses, and odorous golden and crimson tinted honeysuckle. Lady Laura was in raptures with the place. She found Clarissa sitting in a natural arbour made by a group of old hawthorns and a wild plum-tree, and placed herself at once upon a footing of perfect friendliness and familiarity with the girl. Mr. Lovel was out—a rare occurrence. He had gone for a stroll through the village with Ponto.
"And why are you not with him?" asked Lady Laura, who, like most of these clever managing women, had a knack of asking questions. "You must be a better companion than Ponto."
"Papa does not think so. He likes walking alone. He likes to be quite free to dream about his books, I fancy, and it bores him rather to have to talk."
"Not a very lively companion for you, I fear. Why, child, how dismal your life must be!"
"O, no; not dismal. It is very quiet, of course; but I like a quiet life."
"But you go to a good many parties, I suppose, in Holborough and the neighbourhood? I know the Holborough people are fond of giving parties, and are quite famous for Croquet."
"No, Lady Laura; papa won't let me visit any one at Holborough, except my uncle and aunt, the Olivers."
"Yes; I know the Olivers very well indeed. Remarkably pleasant people."
"And I don't even know how to play croquet."
"Why, my poor benighted child, in what a state of barbarism this father of yours is bringing you up! How are you ever to marry and take your place in the world? And with your advantages, too! What can the man be dreaming about? I shall talk to him very seriously. We are quite old friends, you know, my dear, and I can venture to say what I like to him. You must come to me immediately. I shall have a houseful of people in a week or two, and you shall have a peep at the gay world. Poor little prison flower! no wonder you look thoughtful and pale. And now show me your garden, please, Miss Lovel. We can stroll about till your father comes home; I mean to talk to him at once."
Energy was one of the qualities of her own character for which Laura Armstrong especially valued herself. She was always doing something or other which she was not actually called upon by her own duty or by the desire of other people to do, and she was always eager to do it "at once." She had come to Mill Cottage intending to show some kindness to Clarissa Lovel, whose father and her own father, the Earl of Calderwood, had been firm friends in the days when the master of Arden entertained the county; and Clarissa's manner and appearance having impressed her most favourably, she was eager to do her immediate service, to have her at the Castle, and show her to the world, and get her a rich husband if possible.
In honest truth, this Lady Laura Armstrong was a kindly disposed, sympathetic woman, anxious to make the best of the opportunities which Providence had given her with so lavish a hand, and to do her duty towards her less fortunate neighbours. The office of Lady Bountiful, the position of patroness, suited her humour. Her active frivolous nature, which spurned repose, and yet never rose above trifles, found an agreeable occupation in the exercise of this kind of benign influence upon other people's lives. Whether she would have put herself seriously out of the way for the benefit of any of these people to whom she was so unfailingly beneficent, was a question which circumstances had never yet put to the test. Her benevolence had so far been of a light, airy kind, which did not heavily tax her bodily or mental powers, or even the ample resources of her purse.
She was a handsome woman, after a fair, florid, rather redundant style of beauty, and was profoundly skilled in all those arts of costume and decoration by which such beauty is improved. A woman of middle height, with a fine figure, a wealth of fair hair, and an aquiline nose of the true patrician type, her admirers said. The mouth was rather large, but redeemed by a set of flashing teeth and a winning smile; the chin inclined to be of that order called "double;" and indeed a tendency to increasing stoutness was one of the few cares which shadowed Lady Laura's path. She was five-and-thirty, and had only just begun to tell herself that she was no longer a girl. She got on admirably with Clarissa, as she informed her husband afterwards when she described the visit.
The girl was fascinated at once by that frank cordial manner, and was quite ready to accept Lady Laura for her friend, ready to be patronised by her even, with no sense of humiliation, no lurking desire to revolt against the kind of sovereignty with which her new friend took possession of her.
Mr. Lovel came strolling in by-and-by, with his favourite tan setter, looking as cool as if there were no such thing as blazing midsummer sunshine, and found the two ladies sauntering up and down the grassy walk by the mill-stream, under the shadow of gnarled old pear and quince trees. He was charmed to see his dear Lady Laura. Clarissa had never known him so enthusiastic or so agreeable. It was quite a new manner which he put on—the manner of a man who is still interested in life. Lady Laura began almost at once with her reproaches. How could he be so cruel to this dear child? How could he be so absurd as to bury her alive in this way?
"She visits no one, I hear," cried the lady; "positively no one."
"Humph! she has been complaining, has she?" said Mr. Lovel, with a sharp glance at his daughter.
"Complaining! O no, papa! I have told Lady Laura that I do not care about gaiety, and that you do not allow me to visit."
"Aut Caesar aut nullus—the best or nothing. I don't want Clarissa to be gadding about to all the tea-drinkings in Holborough; and if I let her go to one house, I must let her go to all"
"But you will let her come to me?"
"That is the best, my dear Lady Laura. Yes, of course she may come to you, whenever you may please to be troubled with her."
"Then I please to be troubled with her immediately. I should like to carry her away with me this afternoon, if it were possible; but I suppose that can't be—there will be a trunk to be packed, and so on. When will you come to me, Miss Lovel? Do you know, I am strongly tempted to call you Clarissa?"
"I should like it so much better," the girl answered, blushing.
"What! may I? Then I'm sure I will. It's such a pretty name, reminding one of that old novel of Richardson's, which everybody quotes and no one ever seems to have read. When will you come, Clarissa?"
"Give her a week," said her father; "she'll want a new white muslin gown, I daresay; young women always do when they are going visiting."
"Now, pray don't let her trouble herself about anything of that kind; my maid shall see to all that sort of thing. We will make her look her best, depend upon it. I mean this visit to be a great event in her life, Mr. Lovel, if possible."
"Don't let there be any fuss or trouble about her. Every one knows that I am poor, and that she will be penniless when I am gone. Let her wear her white muslin gown, and give her a corner to sit in. People may take her for one of your children's governesses, if they choose; but if she is to see society, I am glad for her to see the best."
"People shall not take her for one of my governesses; they shall take her for nothing less than Miss Lovel of Arden. Yes, of Arden, my dear sir; don't frown, I entreat you. The glory of an old house like that clings to those who bear the old name, even though lands and house are gone—Miss Lovel, of Arden, By the way, how do you get on with your neighbour, Mr. Granger?"
"I do not get on with him at all. He used to call upon me now and then, but I suppose he fancied, or saw somehow or other—though I am sure I was laboriously civil to him—that I did not care much for his visits; at any rate, he dropped them. But he is still rather obtrusively polite in sending me game and hot-house fruit and flowers at odd times, in return for which favours I can send him nothing but a note of thanks—'Mr. Level presents his compliments to Mr. Granger, and begs to acknowledge, with best thanks, &c."—the usual formula."
"I am so sorry you have not permitted him to know you," replied Lady Laura. "We saw a good deal of him last year—such a charming man! what one may really call a typical man—the sort of person the French describe as solid—-Carre par la base—a perfect block of granite; and then, so enormously rich!"
Lady Laura glanced at Clarissa, as if she were inspired with some sudden idea. She was subject to a sudden influx of ideas, and always fancied her ideas inspirations. She looked at Clarissa, and repeated, with a meditative air, "So enormously rich!"
"There is a grown-up daughter, too," said Mr. Lovel; "rather a stiff-looking young person. I suppose she is solid, too."
"She is not so charming as her father," replied Lady Laura, with whom that favourite adjective served for everything in the way of praise. To her the Pyramids and Niagara, a tropical thunderstorm, a mazourka by Chopin, and a Parisian bonnet, were all alike charming. "I suppose solidity isn't so nice in a girl," she went on, laughing; "but certainly Sophia Granger is not such a favourite with me as her father is. I suppose she will make a brilliant marriage, however, sooner or later, unattractive as she may be; for she'll have a superb fortune,—unless, indeed, her father should take it into his head to marry again."
"Scarcely likely that, I should think, after seventeen years of widowhood. Why, Granger must be at least fifty." "My dear Mr. Lovel, I hope you are not going to call that a great age."
"My dear Lady Laura, am I likely to do so, when my own fiftieth birthday is an event of the past? But I shouldn't suppose Granger to be a marrying man," he added meditatively; "such an idea has never occurred to me in conjunction with him." And here he glanced ever so slightly at his daughter. "That sort of granite man must take a great deal of thawing."
"There are suns that will melt the deepest snows," answered the lady, laughing. "Seriously, I am sorry you will not suffer him to know you. But I must run away this instant; my unfortunate ponies will be wondering what has become of me. You see this dear girl and I have got on so well together, that I have been quite unconscious of time; and I had ever so many more calls to make, but those must be put off to another day. Let me see; this is Tuesday, I shall send a carriage for you, this day week, Clarissa, soon after breakfast, so that I may have you with me at luncheon. Good-bye."
Lady Laura kissed her new protegee at parting. She was really fond of everything young and bright and pretty; and having come to Mr. Lovel's house intending to perform a social duty, was delighted to find that the duty was so easy and pleasant to her. She was always pleased with new acquaintances, and was apt to give her friendship on the smallest provocation. On the other hand, there came a time when she grew just a little weary of these dear sweet friends, and began to find them less charming than of old; but she was never uncivil to them; they always remained on her list, and received stray gleams from the sunlight of her patronage.
"Well," said Mr. Lovel interrogatively, when the mistress of Hale Castle had driven off, in the lightest and daintiest of phaetons, with a model groom and a pair of chestnut cobs, which seemed perfection, even in Yorkshire, where every man is a connoisseur in horseflesh. "Well, child, I told you that you might go into society if Lady Laura Armstrong took you up, but I scarcely expected her to be as cordial as she has been to-day. Nothing could have been better than the result of her visit; she seemed quite taken with you, Clary."
It was almost the first time her father had ever called her Clary. It was only a small endearment, but she blushed and sparkled into smiles at the welcome sound. He saw the smile and blush, but only thought she was delighted with the idea of this visit to the Castle. He had no notion that the placid state of indifference which he maintained towards her was otherwise than agreeable to her feelings. He was perfectly civil to her, and he never interfered with her pursuits or inclinations. What more could she want from a father?
Perhaps she assumed a new value in his eyes from the time of that visit of Lady Laura's. He was certainly kinder to her than usual, the girl thought, as they sat on the lawn in the balmy June evening, sipping their after-dinner coffee, while the moon rose fair and pale above the woods of Arden Court. He contemplated her with a meditative air now and then, when she was not looking his way. He had always known that she was beautiful, but her beauty had acquired a new emphasis from Lady Laura Armstrong's praises. A woman of the world of that class was not likely to be deceived, or to mistake the kind of beauty, likely to influence mankind; and in the dim recesses of his mind there grew up a new hope—very vague and shadowy; he despised himself for dwelling upon it so weakly—a hope that made him kinder to his daughter than he had ever been yet—a hope which rendered her precious to him all at once. Not that he loved her any better than of old; it was only that he saw how, if fortune favoured him, this girl might render him the greatest service that could be done for him by any human creature.
She might marry Daniel Granger, and win back the heritage he had lost. It was a foolish thought, of course; Mr. Lovel was quite aware of the supremity of folly involved in it. This Granger might be the last man in the world to fall in love with a girl younger than his daughter; he might be as impervious to beauty as the granite to which Laura Armstrong had likened him. It was a foolish fancy, a vain hope; but it served to brighten the meditations of Marmaduke Lovel—who had really very few pleasant subjects to think about—with a faint rosy glow.
"It is the idlest dream," he said to himself. "When did good luck ever come my way? But O, to hold Arden Court again—by any tie—to die knowing that my race would inherit the old gray walls!"
* * * * *
AT HALE CASTLE.
Mr. Lovel gave his daughter twenty pounds; a stretch of liberality which did not a little astonish her. She was very grateful for this unexpected kindness; and her father was fain to submit to be kissed and praised for his goodness more than was entirely agreeable to him. But he had been kinder to her ever since Lady Laura's visit, and her heart was very light under that genial influence. She thought he was beginning to love her, and that belief made her happy.
Nor was there anything but unqualified pleasure for her in the possession of twenty pounds—the largest sum she had ever had at her disposal. Although the solitude of her life and the troubles that overshadowed it had made her thoughtful beyond her years, she was still young enough to be able to put aside all thought, and to live in the present. It was very pleasant to go into Holborough, with those four crisp new five-pound notes in her purse, to ask her aunt's advice about her purchases. Mrs. Oliver was enraptured to hear of the visit to the Castle, but naturally a little despondent about the circumstances under which the visit was to be paid. That Clarissa should go to Lady Laura's without a maid was eminently distressing to her aunt.
"I really think you ought to take Peters," Mrs. Oliver said meditatively. "She is a most reliable person; and of course nobody need know that she is not your own maid. I can fully rely upon her discretion for not breathing a word upon the subject to any of the Castle servants."
Peters was a prim middle-aged spinster, with a small waist and a painfully erect figure, who combined the office of parlour-maid at the Rectory with that of personal attendant upon the Rector's wife—a person whom Clarissa had always regarded with a kind of awe—a lynx-eyed woman, who could see at a glance the merest hint of a stray hair-pin in a massive coil of plaits, or the minutest edge of a muslin petticoat, visible below the hem of a dress.
"O no, aunt; please don't think of such a thing!" the girl cried eagerly. "I could not go with a borrowed servant; and I don't want a maid at all; I am used to do everything for myself Besides, Lady Laura did not ask me to bring a maid."
"She would take that for granted. She would never expect Mr. Lovel's daughter to travel without a maid."
"But papa told her how poor he was."
"Very unnecessary, and very bad taste on his part, I think. But of course she would not suppose him to be too poor to maintain a proper establishment in a small way. People of that kind only understand poverty in the broadest sense."
Mrs. Oliver consented to forego the idea of sending Peters to the Castle, with a regretful sigh; and then the two ladies went out shopping—Clarissa in high spirits; her aunt depressed by a conviction, that she would not make her first entrance into society with the surroundings that befitted a Lovel of Arden Court.
There seemed so many things indispensable for this all-important visit. The twenty pounds were nearly gone by the time Miss Lovel's shopping was finished. A white muslin dress for ordinary occasions, some white gauzy fabric for a more important toilette, a golden-brown silk walking or dinner dress, a white areophane bonnet, a gray straw hat and feather, gloves, boots, slippers, and a heap of feminine trifles. Considerable management and discretion were required to make the twenty pounds go far enough: but Mrs. Oliver finished her list triumphantly, leaving one bright golden sovereign in Clarissa's purse. She gave the girl two more sovereigns at parting with her.
"You will want as much as that for the servants when you are coming away, Clary," she said imperatively, as Clarissa protested against this gift. "I don't suppose you will be called upon to spend a shilling for anything else during your visit, unless there should happen to be a charity sermon while you are at Hale. In that case, pray don't put less than half-a-crown in the plate. Those things are noticed so much. And now, good-bye, my dear. I don't suppose I shall see you again between this, and Tuesday. Miss Mallow will come to you to try-on the day after to-morrow at one o'clock, remember; be sure you are at home. She will have hard work to get your things ready in time; but I shall look in upon her once or twice, to keep her up to the mark. Pray do your best to secure Lady Laura's friendship. Such an acquaintance as that is all-important to a girl in your position."
Tuesday came very quickly, as it seemed to Clarissa, who grew a little nervous about this visit among strangers, in a great strange house, as it came nearer. She had seen the outside of the Castle very often: a vast feudal pile it seemed, seen across the bright river that flowed beneath its outward wall—a little darksome and gloomy at the best, Clarissa had thought, and something too grand to make a pleasant habitation. She had never seen the inner quadrangle, in all its splendour of modern restoration—sparkling freestone, fresh from the mason's chisel; gothic windows, glowing with rare stained glass; and the broad fertile gardens, with their terraces and banks of flowers, crowded together to make a feast of colour, sloping down to the setting sun.
It was still the same bright midsummer weather—a blue sky without a cloud, a look upon earth and heaven as if there would never be rain again, or anything but this glow and glory of summer. At eleven o'clock the carriage came from the Castle; Clarissa's trunks and travelling-bag were accommodated somehow; and the girl bade her father good-bye.
"I daresay I shall be asked to dinner while you are there," he said, as they were parting, "and I may possibly come; I shall be curious to see how you get on."
"O, pray do come, papa; I'm sure it will do you good."
And then she kissed him affectionately, emboldened by that softer manner which he had shown towards her lately; and the carriage drove off. A beautiful drive past fertile fields, far stretching towards that bright river, which wound its sinuous way through all this part of the country; past woods that shut in both sides of the road with a solemn gloom even at midday—woods athwart which one caught here and there a distant glimpse of some noble old mansion lying remote within the green girdle of a park.
It was something less than an hour's drive from Arden to Hale: the village-church clock and a great clock in the Castle stables were both striking twelve as the carriage drove under a massive stone arch, above which the portcullis still hung grimly. It was something like going into a prison, Clarissa thought; but she had scarcely time for the reflection, when the carriage swept round a curve in the smooth gravel road, and she saw the sunny western front of the Castle, glorious in all its brightness of summer flowers, and with a tall fountain leaping and sparkling up towards the blue sky.
She gave a little cry of rapture at sight of so much brightness and beauty, coming upon her all at once with a glad surprise. There were no human creatures visible; only the glory of fountain and flowers. It might have been the palace of the Sleeping Beauty, deep in the heart of the woodlands, for any evidence to the contrary, perceptible to Clarissa in this drowsy noontide; but presently, as the carriage drove up to the hall door, a dog barked, and then a sumptuous lackey appeared, and anon another, who, between them, took Miss Lovel's travelling-bag and parasol, prior to escorting her to some apartment, leaving the heavier luggage to meaner hands.
"The saloon, or my lady's own room, miss?" one of the grandiose creatures demanded languidly.
"I would rather see Lady Laura alone at first, if you please."
The man bowed, and conducted her up a broad staircase, lined with darksome pictures of battles by land and sea, along a crimson-carpeted corridor where there were many doors, to one particular portal at the southern end.
He opened this with a lofty air, and announced "Miss Lovel."
It was a very large room—all the rooms in this newly-restored part of the Castle were large and lofty (a great deal of the so-called "restoration" had indeed been building, and many of these splendid rooms were new, newer even than the wealth of Frederick Armstrong)—a large room, furnished with chairs and tables and cabinets of satin wood, with oval medallions of pale blue Wedgwood let into the panelled doors of the cabinets, and a narrow beading of lustreless gold here and there; a room with pale blue silken hangings, and a carpet of white wood-anemones scattered on a turquoise-coloured ground. There were no pictures; art was represented only by a few choice bronzes and a pair of Venetian mirrors.
Lady Laura was busy at a writing-table, filling in the blanks in some notes of invitation. She was always busy. On one table there were an easel and the appliances of illumination; a rare old parchment Missal lying open, and my lady's copy of a florid initial close beside it. On a small reading-desk there was an open Tasso with a couple of Italian dictionaries near at hand. Lady Laura had a taste for languages, and was fond of reviving her acquaintance with foreign classics. She was really the most indefatigable of women. It was a pity, perhaps, that her numerous accomplishments and her multifarious duties towards society at large left her so very little leisure to bestow upon her own children; but then, they had their foreign governesses, and maids—there was one poor English drudge, by the way, who seemed like a stranger in a far land—gifted in many tongues, and began to imbibe knowledge from their cradles. To their young imaginations the nursery wing of Hale Castle must have seemed remarkably like the Tower of Babel.