Part 2 out of 10
that he was not such a fool as he looked. Nor, in the ordinary attributes
of a country gentleman, was the master of Hale Castle behind his compeers.
He rode like Assheton Smith, never missed his bird in the open, and had a
manly scorn of battues; was great in agriculture, and as good a judge of
a horse as any man in Yorkshire. His literary attainments were, perhaps,
limited to a comprehensive knowledge of the science of farriery, a profound
study of _Buff's Guide_, and a familiar acquaintance with _Bell's Life_ and
two or three weekly newspapers devoted to the agricultural interest; but
as he had the happiness to live amongst a race which rather cultivates the
divine gift of ignorance, his shortcomings awakened no scorn.
When he was known to have made a bad book for the Leger or the Great Ebor,
his friends openly expressed their contempt for his mental powers; but no
one despised him because an expensive university training had made him
nothing more than a first-rate oarsman, a fair billiard-player, and a
distinguished thrower of the hammer. He was just what a country gentleman
should be in the popular idea--handsome, broad-shouldered, long-limbed,
with the fist and biceps of a gladiator, and a brain totally unburdened by
the scholiast's dry-as-dust rubbish: sharp and keen enough where the things
that interested him were in question, and never caring to look beyond them.
To this gentleman Lady Laura introduced Clarissa.
"Fred, this is Miss Lovel--Clarissa Lovel--and you and she are to like each
other very much, if you please. This is my husband, Clarissa, who cares
more for the cultivation of short-horns--whatever kind of creatures those
brutes may be--and ugly little shaggy black Highland cattle, than for my
society, a great deal; so you will see very little of him, I daresay, while
you are at the Castle. In London he is obliged to be shut-up with me now
and then; though, as he attends nearly all the race-meetings, I don't see
very much of him even there; but here he escapes me altogether."
"Upon my word, Laura--upon my word, you know, Miss Lovel, there's not a
syllable of truth in it," exclaimed the gentleman with the light whiskers.
"My wife's always illuminating old Missals, or rending Italian, or
practising the harmonium, or writing out lists of things for her Dorcas
club, or something of that sort; and a fellow only feels himself in the way
if he's hanging about her. She's the busiest woman in the world. I don't
believe the prime minister gets through more work or receives more letters
than she does. And she answers 'em all too, by Jove; she's like the great
Duke of Wellington."
"Do you happen to take a lively interest in steam-ploughs and
threshing-machines, and that kind of thing, Clarissa?" asked Lady Laura.
"I'm afraid not. I never even saw a steam-plough; and I believe if I were
to see one, I should think it a most unpicturesque object."
"I am sorry to hear that. Fred would have been so delighted with you,
if you'd shown agricultural proclivities. We had a young lady from
Westmoreland here last year who knew an immense deal about farming. She
was especially great upon pigs, I believe, and quite fascinated Fred by
tramping about the home farm with him in thick boots. I was almost jealous.
But now let me introduce you to some of my friends, Clarissa."
Hereupon Miss Lovel had to bow and simper in response to the polite bows
and simpers of half a dozen ladies. Mrs. Weldon Dacre and three Miss
Dacres, Rose, Grace, and Amy, tall and bony damsels, with pale reddish
hair, and paler eyebrows and eyelashes, and altogether more "style" than
beauty; Mrs. Wilmot, a handsome widow, whom Frederick Armstrong and his
masculine friends were wont to call "a dasher;" Miss Fermor, a rather
pretty girl, with a piquant nose and sparkling hazel eyes; and Miss
Barbara Fermor, tall and slim and dark, with a romantic air. The gentlemen
were a couple of officers--Major Mason, stout, dark, hook-nosed, and
close-shaven; Captain Westleigh, fair, auburn-moustached and whiskered--
and a meek-looking gentleman, of that inoffensive curate race, against
which Clarissa had been warned by her father.
She found herself very quickly at home among these people. The Miss Fermors
were especially gifted in the art of making themselves delightful to
strangers; they had, indeed, undergone such training in a perpetual career
of country-house visiting, that it would have gone hard with them had they
not acquired this grace. The three tall pale Dacres, Rose, Grace, and Amy,
were more conventional, and less ready to swear alliance with the stranger;
but they were not disagreeable girls, and improved considerably after a
few days' acquaintance, showing themselves willing to take the bass in
pianoforte duets, sing a decent second, exhibit their sketch-books and
photographic collections in a friendly manner, and communicate new stitches
and patterns in _point de Russe_ or _point d'Alencon_.
After luncheon Miss Lovel went off with Captain Westleigh and Miss
Fermor--Lizzie, the elder and livelier of the two sisters--to take her
first lesson in croquet. The croquet-ground was a raised plateau to the
left of the Italian garden, bounded on one side by a grassy slope and the
reedy bank of the river, and on the other by a plantation of young firs; a
perfect croquet-ground, smooth as an ancient bowling-green, and unbroken
by invading shrub or flower-bed. There were some light iron seats on the
outskirts of the ground here and there, and that was all.
Clarissa received her lesson, and (having been lucky enough to send her
ball through the hoop now and then) was pronounced to have a natural genius
for croquet. It was a pleasant, idle afternoon, passed amidst so bright and
fair a scene, that the beauty of her surroundings alone was enough to give
Clarissa's life a new zest--a day which the mind recalls in the stormier
periods of after-life, wondering at its gracious peace, its utter freedom
from care or thought. Too soon came the time when there could be no more of
such girlish happiness for Clarissa, such perfect respite from thought of
to-morrow, or regret for yesterday.
By-and-by came dressing for dinner, and then an assemblage of visitors
in the drawing-room--county people from neighbouring parks and halls and
courts--mingling pleasantly with the Castle guests, and then dinner in the
great dining-room; a splendid chamber, with a music-gallery at one end, and
with the earliest crystal chandeliers ever used in England, and given by
Queen Elizabeth to the Lord of Hale, for its chief decorations. At eight
o'clock these crystal chandeliers glittered with the light of many
wax-candles, though there was still the soft glow of sunset in the gardens
beyond the great gothic windows.
That first visit to a great country house was like a new page in life to
Clarissa. She had not wearied of her quiet existence at Mill Cottage, her
books, her art, her freedom from the monotonous tasks and dull restraints
of school; but she felt that if life could always be like this, it would be
something very sweet and joyous. Captain Westleigh had contrived to take
her in to dinner.
"I was determined to do it," he told her confidentially, as they sat down;
"so I made a rush across to you when I saw Lady Laura's eye upon you,
with a malicious intention of billeting you upon young Halkin, the great
cloth-manufacturer's son. I know Lady Laura so well; she will be trying to
plant all those rich manufacturing fellows upon you; she has quite a mania
for that sort of people."
The Captain made himself very pleasant all through that long ceremonial of
dinner. If the brilliant things which he said were not quite the newest in
the world, they were at least new to Clarissa, who rewarded his efforts to
please her by seeming very much amused, and flattered, and stimulated him
to new flights by her appreciation. He told her all about the people round
her, making her feel less like a stranger in a foreign country; and that
pageant-like dinner, long as it was, did not seem at all too long to be
After dinner there was a little music and singing at one end of the
drawing-room, to which people listened or not, as they pleased; a
friendly whist-table established at the other end, at which four elderly,
grey-whiskered, and bald-headed country gentlemen played gravely for an
hour or so; and a good deal of desultory strolling out through the open
windows to the terrace for the contemplation of the moonlit gardens, with
perhaps a spice of flirtation. Lady Laura was never quite happy unless she
saw something like flirtation going on among her younger visitors. She was
pleased to see Captain Westleigh's attention to Clarissa, though she would
rather that James Halkin had occupied the ground. But, alas! Mr. Halkin,
stiff and solemn as a policeman on duty, was standing by the chair of the
very palest and least beautiful of the Miss Dacres, mildly discussing a
collection of photographs of Alpine scenery. They had both been over the
same country, and were quite enthusiastic when they came to peaks and
mountain gorges that they remembered.
"I was there with another fellow, and he nearly slipped just on that edge
there. It was as near as a----" Mr. Halkin was going to say "a toucher,"
but it occurred to him that that vague expression was scarcely permissible
in conversation with a lady--"the nearest thing you ever saw in your life,
in fact. If it hadn't been for his alpen-stock, it would have been all over
with him; and the guides told us there'd been a fellow killed there the
year before. We stopped at Rigot's--I think the dearest hotel I was ever
at; but they gave us some very fair still champagne--very fair indeed."
Lady Laura took occasion to warn Clarissa against the Captain when they
separated for the night, in the corridor upon which my lady's rooms opened.
"Very nice, isn't he, dear? Come into my dressing-room for a few minutes'
talk;" and my lady led Clarissa into another charming chamber, all blue
silk and satin-wood, like the morning room. "Yes, he is very nice, and he
really seemed quite _epris_. Poor Herbert Westleigh! I've known him for
years. He belongs to one of the oldest families in Somersetshire, and is a
capital fellow, as my husband says; but a person not to be thought of by
you, Clarissa. There are a crowd of brothers, and I doubt if Herbert has
a hundred a year beyond his pay. Did you notice that Mr. Halkin, a rather
sandy-haired young man with a long nose? That young fellow will come into
thirty thousand a year by-and-by."
"Yes, Lady Laura, I did notice him a little when he was talking to one of
the Miss Dacres. He seemed very stupid."
"Stupid, my dear Clarissa! Why, I have been told that young man made a
good deal of character at Oxford. But I daresay you are taken by Herbert
Westleigh's rattling way. Now remember, my dear, I have warned you."
"There is no occasion for any warning, Lady Laura. Believe me, I am in no
danger. I thought Captain Westleigh was very kind, and I liked him because
he told me all about the other people; that is all."
"Very well, dear. You will see a good many people here; there is an
advantage in that--one influence neutralises another. But I should really
like you to take some notice of that Mr. Halkin. He will be a good deal
here, I daresay. His family live at Selbrook Hall, only four miles off. The
father and mother are the plainest, homeliest people, but very sensible;
live in a quiet unpretending style, and can't spend a quarter of their
income. When I speak of thirty thousand a year, I don't reckon the
accumulations that young man will inherit. He is the only son. There is a
sister; but she is lame and a confirmed invalid--not likely to live many
years, I think."
Clarissa smiled at Lady Laura's earnestness.
"One would think you were in league with papa, dear Lady Laura. He says I
am bound to marry a rich man."
"Of course; it is a solemn duty when a girl is handsome and not rich. Look
at me: what would my life have been without Fred, Clarissa? There were five
of us, child: five daughters to be married, only think of that; and there
are still three unmarried. One of my sisters is coming here to-morrow. I do
so hope you will get on with her; but she is rather peculiar. I am glad to
say she is engaged at last--quite an old affair, and I think an attachment
on both sides for some time past; but it has only lately come to a definite
engagement. The gentleman's prospects were so uncertain; but that is all
over now. The death of an elder brother quite alters his position, and he
will have a very fine estate by-and-by. He is coming here, too, in a few
days, and I'm sure I hope the marriage will take place soon. But I must not
keep you here chattering, at the risk of spoiling your fresh looks."
And with a gracious good-night Lady Laura dismissed her new _protegee_.
Yes, it was a pleasant life, certainly; a life that drifted smoothly onward
with the tide, and to all seeming unshadowed by one sorrowful thought or
care. And yet, no doubt, with but a few youthful exceptions, every guest at
Hale Castle had his or her particular burden to carry, and black Care sat
behind the gentlemen as they rode to small country meetings or primitive
cattle-fairs. To Clarissa Lovel the state of existence was so new, that it
was scarcely strange she should be deluded by the brightness and glitter of
it, and believe that these people could have known no sorrow.
She found herself looking forward with unwonted interest to the arrival of
Lady Laura's sister, Lady Geraldine Challoner. To a girl who has never had
a lover--to whom the whole science of love is yet a profound inscrutable
mystery--there is apt to be something especially interesting in the idea
of an engagement. To her the thought of betrothal is wondrously solemn.
A love-match too, and an attachment of long standing--there were the
materials for a romance in these brief hints of Lady Laura's. And then,
again, her sister described this Lady Geraldine as a peculiar person, with
whom it was rather doubtful whether Clarissa would be able to get on. All
this made her so much the more anxious to see the expected guest; and in
the morning's drive, and the afternoon's croquet, she thought more of Lady
Geraldine than of the landscape or the game.
Croquet was over--Clarissa had taken part in a regular game this
afternoon--and the players were strolling about the gardens in couples, in
an idle half-hour before the first dinner-bell, when Miss Lovel met Lady
Laura with another lady. They were sauntering slowly along one of the
sunny gravel walks--there was every charm in this Italian garden except
shade--and stopped on seeing Clarissa.
"Now, Geraldine, I shall be able to introduce you to my favourite, Clarissa
Lovel," said Lady Laura; "Captain Westleigh you know of old."
The Captain and Lady Geraldine shook hands, declaring that they were quite
old friends--had known each other for ages, and so on; and Clarissa had a
few moments' pause, in which to observe the young lady.
She was tall and slim, her sister's junior by perhaps five years, but not
more; very fair, with bright auburn hair--that golden-tinted hair, of which
there seems to be so much more nowadays than was to be seen twenty years
ago. She was handsome--very handsome--Clarissa decided at once; but it
seemed to her rather a cold, hard style of beauty; the straight nose, the
mouth, and chin chiselled with a clearness and distinctness that was almost
sharpness; the large luminous blue eyes, which did not seem to possess much
capacity for tenderness.
Lady Laura was very proud of this sister, and perhaps just a little afraid
of her; but of course that latter fact was not obvious to strangers;
she was only a shade less volatile than usual in Geraldine's presence.
Geraldine was the beauty of the Challoner family, and her career had been
a failure hitherto; so that there was much rejoicing, in a quiet way,
now that Lady Geraldine's destiny was apparently decided, and in an
She was sufficiently gracious to Clarissa, but displayed none of that
warmth which distinguished Lady Laura's manner to her new friend; and when
the sisters had turned aside into another path, and were out of hearing,
Geraldine asked rather sharply why "that girl" was here?
"My dear Geraldine, she is perfectly charming. I have taken the greatest
fancy to her."
"My dear Laura, when will you leave off those absurd fancies for
"Clarissa Lovel is not a stranger; you must remember how intimate papa used
to be with her father."
"I only remember that Mr. Lovel was a very selfish person, and that he has
lost his estate and gone down in the world. Why should you trouble yourself
about his daughter? You can only do the girl harm by bringing her here; she
will have to go out as a governess, I daresay, and will be writing to you
whenever she is out of a situation to ask some favour or other, and boring
you to death. I cannot think how you can be so inconsiderate as to entangle
yourself with that kind of acquaintance."
"I don't mean Clarissa to be a governess; I mean her to make a good
"O, of course it is very easy to say that," exclaimed Lady Geraldine
scornfully; "but you have not been so fortunate as a match-maker hitherto.
Look at Emily and Louisa."
"Emily and Louisa were so intractable and difficult to please, that I could
do nothing for them; and now I look upon them as confirmed old maids. But
it is a different thing with Clarissa. She is very sensible; and I do not
think she would stand in her own light if I could bring about what I wish.
And then she is so lovely. Emily and Louisa were good-looking enough half a
dozen years ago, but this girl is simply perfect. Come, Geraldine, you can
afford to praise her. Is she not lovely?"
"Yes, I suppose she is handsome," the other answered icily.
"You suppose she is handsome! It is really too bad of you to be prejudiced
against a girl I wanted you to like. As if this poor little Clarissa could
do anybody any harm! But never mind, she must do without your liking. And
now tell me all about George Fairfax. I was so glad to hear your news,
dear, so thoroughly rejoiced."
"There is no occasion for such profound gladness. I could have gone on
existing very well as Geraldine Challoner."
"Of course; but I had much rather see you well married, and your own
mistress; and this is such a good match."
"Yes; from a worldly point of view, I suppose, the affair is
unexceptionable," Geraldine Challoner answered, with persistent
indifference; simulated indifference, no doubt, but not the less provoking
to her sister. "George will be rich by-and-by, and he is well enough off
now. We shall be able to afford a house in one of the streets out of Park
Lane--I have a rooted detestation for both Belgravia and Tyburnia--and a
carriage, and so on; and I shall not be worried as I have been about my
"And then you are very fond of him, Geraldine," Lady Laura said, softly.
There were still little romantic impulses in the matron's heart, and this
studied coldness of her sister's tone wounded her.
"Yes, of course that is the beginning of the business. We like each other
very well," Lady Geraldine replied, still with the same unenthusiastic air.
"I think there has always been some kind of liking between us. We suit each
other very well, you see; have the same way of thinking about most things,
take the same view of life, and so on."
Lady Laura gave a faint sigh of assent. She was disappointed by her
sister's tone; for in the time past she had more than once suspected that
Geraldine Challoner loved George Fairfax with a passionate half-despairing
love, which, if unrequited, might make the bane of her life. And, lo! here
was the same Geraldine discussing her engagement as coolly as if the match
had been the veriest marriage of convenience ever planned by a designing
dowager. She did not understand how much pride had to do with this
reticence, or what volcanic depths may sometimes lie beneath the Alpine
snows of such a nature as Geraldine Challoner's.
In the evening Lady Geraldine was the centre of a circle of old friends and
admirers; and Clarissa could only observe her from a distance, and wonder
at her brilliancy, her power to talk of anything and everything with an air
of unlimited wisdom and experience, and the perfect ease with which she
received the homage offered to her beauty and wit. The cold proud face
lighted up wonderfully at night, and under the softening influence of so
much adulation; and Lady Geraldine's smiles, though wanting in warmth
at the best, were very fascinating. Clarissa wondered that so radiant a
creature could have been so long unmarried, that it could be matter for
rejoicing that she was at last engaged. It must have been her own fault,
of course; such a woman as this could have been a duchess if she pleased,
Lizzy Fermor came up to her while she was admiring the high-bred beauty.
"Well, Miss Lovel, what do you think of her?"
"Lady Geraldine? I think she is wonderfully handsome--and fascinating."
"Do you? Then I don't think you can know the meaning of the word
'fascination.' If I were a man, that woman would be precisely the last
in the world to touch my heart. O yes, I admit that she is very
handsome--classic profile, bright blue eyes, complexion of lilies and
roses, real golden hair--not dyed, you know--and so on; but I should as
soon think of falling in love with a statue of snow as with Lady Geraldine
Challoner. I think she has just about as much heart as the statue would
"Those people with cold manners have sometimes very warm hearts," Clarissa,
remonstrated, feeling that gratitude to Lady Laura made it incumbent on her
to defend Lady Laura's sister.
"Perhaps; but that is not the case with her. She would trample upon a
hecatomb of hearts to arrive at the object of her ambition. I think she
might have made more than one brilliant marriage since she has been
out--something like ten years, you know--only she was too cold, too
obviously mercenary. I am very sorry for George Fairfax."
"Do you know him?"
"Yes, and he is a very noble fellow. He has been rather wild, I believe;
but of course we are not supposed to know anything about that; and I have
heard that he is the most generous-hearted of men. I know Lady Geraldine
has contrived to keep him dangling about her whenever he was in England
for the last six or eight years; but I thought it was one of those old
established flirtations that would never come to anything--a kind of
institution. I was quite surprised to hear of their engagement--and very
"But Lady Geraldine is very much attached to him, is she not?"
"O yes, I daresay she likes him; it would be almost difficult for any
one to avoid liking him. She used to do her utmost to keep him about her
always, I know; and I believe the flirtation has cost her more than one
chance of a good marriage. But I doubt if we should have ever heard of this
engagement if Reginald Fairfax had not died, and left his brother the heir
"Is Lyvedon a very grand place?"
"It is a fine estate, I believe; a noble old house in Kent, with
considerable extent of land attached to it. The place belongs now to Sir
Spencer Lyvedon, an old bachelor, whose only sister is George Fairfax's
mother. The property is sure to come to Mr. Fairfax in a few years. He is
to be here to-morrow, they say; and you will see him, and be able to judge
for yourself whether Lady Geraldine is worthy of him."
There was a little excursion proposed and planned that evening for the next
day--a drive to Marley Wood, a delicious bit of forest about seven miles
from the Castle, and a luncheon in the open air. The party was made up
on the spot. There were ladies enough to fill two carriages; a couple
of servants were to go first with the luncheon in a waggonette, and the
gentlemen were to ride. Everybody was delighted with the idea. It was one
of those unpremeditated affairs which are sure to be a success.
"I am glad to have something to do with myself," said Lady Geraldine. "It
is better than dawdling away one's existence at croquet."
"I hope you are not going to be dull here, Geraldine," replied Lady Laura.
"There are the Helston races next week, and a flower-show at Holborough."
"I hate small country race-meetings and country flower-shows; but of course
I am not going to be dull, Laura. The Castle is very nice; and I shall hear
all about your last new _protegees_, and your Dorcas societies, and your
model cottages, and your architect, and your hundred-and-one schemes for
the benefit of your fellow-man. It is not possible to be dull in the
presence of so much energy."
* * * * *
AND THIS IS GEORGE FAIRFAX.
The next day was lovely. There seemed, indeed, no possibility of variation
in the perfection of this summer weather; and Clarissa Lovel felt her
spirits as light as if the unknown life before her had been all brightness,
unshadowed by one dread or care. The party for Marley Wood started about an
hour after breakfast--Lady Laura, Mrs. Dacre, Barbara Fermor, and Clarissa,
in one carriage; two Miss Dacres, Lady Geraldine, and Mrs. Wilmot in the
other; Lizzy Fermor and Rose Dacre on horseback; with a small detachment of
gentlemen in attendance upon them. There were wide grassy waste lands
on each side of the road almost all the way to the wood, on which the
equestrian party could disport themselves, without much inconvenience
from the dust of the two carriages. Once arrived at the wood, there were
botanising, fern-hunting, sketching, and flirtation without limit. Lady
Laura was quite happy, discussing her Dorcas societies and the ingratitude
of her model cottagers, with Mrs. Dacre; Lady Geraldine sat at the foot
of a great shining beech, with her white dress set off by a background of
scarlet shawl, and her hat lying on the grass beside her. She seemed
too listless to ramble about with the rest of the party, or to take the
faintest interest in the conversation of any of the gentlemen who tried to
talk to her. She amused herself in a desultory way with a drawing-book and
a volume of a novel, and did not appear to consider it incumbent on her to
take notice of any one.
Clarissa and Barbara Fermor wandered away into the heart of the wood,
attended by the indefatigable Captain Westleigh, and sketched little bits
of fern and undergrowth in their miniature sketch-books, much to the
admiration of the Captain, who declared that Clarissa had a genius for
landscape. "As you have for croquet and for everything else, I think," he
said; "only you are so quiet about your resources. But I am very glad you
have not that grand sultana manner of Lady Geraldine Challoner's. I really
can't think how any man can stand it, especially such a man as George
"Why 'especially'?" asked Miss Fermor, curiously.
"Well, I don't know exactly how to explain my meaning to a lady--because
he has knocked about the world a good deal--seen a great deal of life, in
short. _Il a vecu_, as the French say. He is not the kind of man to be any
woman's slave, I should think; he knows too much of the sex for that. He
would take matters with rather a high hand, I should fancy. And then Lady
Geraldine, though she is remarkably handsome, and all that kind of thing,
is not in the first freshness of her youth. She is nearly as old as
George, I should say; and when a woman is the same age as a man, it is
her misfortune to seem much older. No, Miss Fermor, upon my word, I don't
consider them fairly matched."
"The lady has rank," said Barbara Fermor.
"Yes, of course. It will be Mr. and Lady Geraldine Fairfax. There are some
men who care for that kind of thing; but I don't suppose George is one of
them. The Fairfaxes are of a noble old Scotch family, you know, and hold
themselves equal to any of our nobility."
"When is Mr. Fairfax expected at the Castle?"
"Not till to-night. He is to come by the last train, I believe. You may
depend Lady Geraldine would not be here if there were any chance of his
arriving in the middle of the day. She will keep him up to collar, you
maybe sure. I shouldn't like to be engaged to a woman armed with the
experience of a decade of London seasons. It must be tight work!"
A shrill bell, pealing gaily through the wood, summoned them to luncheon;
a fairy banquet spread upon the grass under a charmed circle of beeches;
chicken-pies and lobster-salads, mayonaise of salmon and daintily-glazed
cutlets in paper frills, inexhaustible treasure of pound-cake and
strawberries and cream, with a pyramid of hothouse pines and peaches in
the centre of the turf-spread banquet. And for the wines, there were no
effervescent compounds from the laboratory of the wine-chemist--Lady
Laura's guests were not thirsty cockneys, requiring to be refreshed by
"fizz"--but delicate amber-tinted vintages of the Rhineland, which seemed
too ethereal to intoxicate, and yet were dangerous. And for the more
thirsty souls there were curiously compounded "cups:" hock and seltzer;
claret and soda-water, fortified with curacoa and flavoured artistically
with burrage or sliced pine-apple.
The banquet was a merry one; and it was nearly four o'clock when the ladies
had done trifling with strawberries and cream, and the gentlemen had
suspended their homage to the Rhineland. Then came a still more desultory
wandering of couples to and fro among the shadowy intricacies of the
wood; and Clarissa having for once contrived to get rid of the inevitable
Captain, who had been beguiled away to inspect some remote grotto under
convoy of Barbara Fermor, was free to wander alone whither she pleased. She
was rather glad to be alone for a little. Marley Wood was not new to her.
It had been a favourite spot of her brother Austin's, and the two had spent
many a pleasant day beneath the umbrage of those old forest-trees; she,
sitting and reading, neither of them talking very much, only in a spasmodic
way, when Austin was suddenly moved by some caprice to pour out his
thoughts into the ear of his little sister--strange bitter thoughts they
were sometimes; but the girl listened as to the inspirations of genius.
Here he had taught her almost all that she had ever learned of landscape
art. She had only improved by long practice upon those early simple
lessons. She was glad to be alone, for these old memories were sad ones.
She wandered quite away from the rest, and, sitting down upon a bank that
sloped towards a narrow streamlet, began to sketch stray tufts and clusters
of weedy undergrowth--a straggling blackberry-branch, a bit of ivy creeping
sinuously along the uneven ground--in an absent desultory way, thinking of
her brother and the days gone by. She had been alone like this about half
an hour, when the crackling of the brambles near her warned her of an
approaching footstep. She looked up, and saw a stranger approaching her
through the sunlight and shadows of the wood--a tall man, in a loose, gray
A stranger? No. As he came nearer to her, the face seemed very familiar;
and yet in that first moment she could not imagine where she had seen him.
A little nearer, and she remembered all at once. This was her companion
of the long railway journey from London to Holborough. She blushed at
the recollection, not altogether displeased to see him again, and yet
remembering bitterly that cruel mistake she had made about Arden Court. She
might be able to explain her error now, if he should recognise her and stop
to speak; but that was scarcely likely. He had forgotten her utterly, no
doubt, by this time.
She went on with her sketching--a trailing spray of Irish ivy, winding away
and losing itself in a confusion of bramble and fern, every leaf sharply
defined by the light pencil touches, with loving pre-Raphaelite care--she
went on, trying to think that it was not the slightest consequence to
her whether this man remembered their brief acquaintance of the
railway-carriage. And yet she would have been wounded, ever so little,
if he had forgotten her. She knew so few people, that this accidental
acquaintance seemed almost a friend. He had known her brother, too; and
there had been something in his manner that implied an interest in her
She bent a little lower over the sketch-book, doing her uttermost not to be
seen, perhaps all the more because she really did wish for the opportunity
of explaining that mistake about Arden Court. Her face was almost hidden
under the coquettish gray hat, as she bent over her drawing; but the
gentleman came on towards her with evident purpose. It was only to make an
"I am looking for a picnic party," he said. "I discovered the _debris_ of a
luncheon yonder, but no human creature visible. Perhaps you can kindly
tell me where the strayed revellers are to be found; you are one of them,
Clarissa looked up at him, blushing furiously, and very much ashamed of
herself for the weakness, and then went on with her drawing in a nervous
way, as she answered him,--
Yes, I am with Lady Laura Armstrong's party; but I really cannot tell you
where to look for them all. They are roaming about in every direction, I
"Good gracious me!" cried the gentleman, coming a good deal
nearer--stepping hastily across the streamlet, in fact, which had divided
him from Clarissa hitherto. "Have I really the pleasure of speaking to
Miss Lovel? This is indeed a surprise. I scarcely expected ever to see you
"Nor I to see you," Clarissa answered, recovering herself a little by this
time, and speaking with her accustomed frankness. "And I have been very
anxious to see you again."
"Indeed!" cried the gentleman eagerly.
"In order to explain a mistake I made that night in the railway-carriage,
in speaking of Arden Court. I talked of the place as if it had still
belonged to papa; I did not know that he had sold it, and fancied I was
going home there. It was only when I saw my uncle that I learnt the truth.
You must have thought it very strange."
"I was just a little mystified, I confess, for I had dined at the Court
with Mr. Granger."
"Papa had sold the dear old place, and, disliking the idea of writing such
unpleasant news, had told me nothing about the sale. It was not wise, of
course; but he felt the loss of Arden so keenly, I can scarcely wonder that
he could not bring himself to write about it."
"It would have been better to have spared you, though," the unknown
answered gravely. "I daresay you were as fond of the old home as ever your
father could have been?"
"I don't think it would be possible for any one to love Arden better than
I. But then, of course, a man is always prouder than a woman--"
"I am not so sure of that," the stranger muttered parenthetically.
"--And papa felt the degradation involved in the loss."
"I won't admit of any degradation in the case. A gentleman is none the less
a gentleman for having spent his fortune rather recklessly, and the old
blood is no less pure without the old acres. If your father were a wise
man, he might be happier now than he has ever been. The loss of a great
estate is the loss of a bundle of cares."
"I daresay that is very good philosophy," Clarissa answered, smiling,
beguiled from painful thoughts by the lightness of his tone; "but I doubt
if it applies to all cases--not to papa's, certainly."
"You were sketching, I see, when I interrupted you. I remember you told me
that night of your fondness for art. May I see what you were doing?"
"It is hardly worth showing you. I was only amusing myself, sketching at
random--that ivy straggling along there, or anything that caught my eye."
"But that sort of thing indicates so much. I see you have a masterly touch
for so young an artist. I won't say anything hackneyed about so fair a one;
for women are showing us nowadays that there are no regions of art closed
against them. Well, it is a divine amusement, and a glorious profession."
There was a little pause after this, during which Clarissa looked at her
watch, and finding it nearly five o'clock, began to put up her pencils and
"I did not think that you knew Lady Laura Armstrong," she said; and then
blushed for the speech, remembering that, as she knew absolutely nothing
about himself or his belongings, the circumstance of her ignorance on this
one point was by no means surprising.
"No; nor did I expect to meet you here," replied the gentleman. "And yet I
might almost have done so, knowing that you lived at Arden. But, you see,
it is so long since we met, and I----"
"Had naturally forgotten me."
"No, I had not forgotten you, Miss Lovel, nor would it have been natural
for me to forget you. I am very glad to meet you again under such agreeable
auspices. You are going to stay at the Castle a long time, I hope. I am
booked for an indefinite visit."
"O no, I don't suppose I shall stay very long. Lady Laura is extremely
kind; but this is my first visit, and she must have many friends who have a
greater claim upon her hospitality."
"Hale Castle is a large place, and I am sure Lady Laura has always room for
"She is very, very kind. You have known her a long time, perhaps?"
"Yes. I have been intimate with the Challoners ever since I was a boy.
Lady Laura was always charming; but I think her marriage with Fred
Armstrong--who worships the ground she walks on--and the possession of Hale
Castle have made her absolutely perfect."
"And you know her sister, Lady Geraldine, of course?"
"O yes, I know Geraldine."
"Do you know Mr. Fairfax, the gentleman to whom she is engaged?"
"Well, yes; I am supposed to have some knowledge of that individual."
Something in his smile, and a certain significance in his tone, let in a
sudden light upon Clarissa's mind.
"I am afraid I am asking very foolish questions," she said. "You are Mr.
"Yes, I am George Fairfax. I forgot that I had omitted to you my name that
"And I had no idea that I was speaking to Mr. Fairfax. You were not
expected till quite late this evening."
"No; but I found my business in London easier to manage than I had supposed
it would be; so, as in duty bound, I came down here directly I found myself
free. When I arrived at the Castle, I was told of this picnic, and rode off
at once to join the party."
"And I am keeping you here, when you ought to be looking for your friends."
"There is no hurry. I have done my duty, and am here; that is the grand
point. Shall we go and look for them together?"
"If you like. I daresay we shall be returning to the Castle very soon."
They sauntered slowly away, in and out among the trees, towards a grassy
glade, where there was more open space for walking, and where the afternoon
sun shone warmly on the smooth turf.
"I hope you get on very well with Geraldine?" Mr. Fairfax said presently.
It was almost the same phrase Lady Laura had used about her sister.
"I have seen so little of her yet," Clarissa answered, rather embarrassed
by this inquiry. "I should like to know her very much; but she only arrived
yesterday, and we have scarcely spoken half-a-dozen words to each other
"You will hardly like her at first, perhaps," Mr. Fairfax went on,
doubtfully. "People who don't know much of her are apt to fancy her cold
and proud; but to those whom she really likes she is all that is charming,
and I don't think she can fail to like you."
"You are very kind to say so. I hope she may like me. Do you know, I have
been so much interested in Lady Geraldine from the first, before I saw her
even--partly, perhaps, because her sister told me about her engagement. You
will think that very romantic and silly, I daresay."
"Not at all; a young lady is bound to be interested in that kind of thing.
And I hope your interest in Lady Geraldine was not lessened when you did
"It could scarcely be that. No one could help admiring her."
"Yes, she is very handsome, there is no question about that; she has been
an acknowledged beauty ever since she came out. I think I can catch a
glimpse of her yonder among the trees; I see a white dress and a scarlet
shawl. Geraldine always had a penchant for scarlet draperies."
"Yes, that is Lady Geraldine."
They hastened their steps a little, and came presently to the circle of
beeches where they had lunched, and where most of the party were now
assembled, preparing for the return journey. Lady Geraldine was sauntering
to and fro with Major Mason, listening with a somewhat indifferent air to
that gentleman's discourse.
She caught sight of her lover the moment he appeared; and Clarissa saw the
statuesque face light up with a faint flush of pleasure that brightened it
wonderfully. But however pleased she might be, Lady Geraldine Challoner was
the last of women to demonstrate her pleasure in her lover's arrival by any
overt act. She received him with the tranquil grace of an empress, who sees
only one courtier more approach the steps of her throne. They shook hands
placidly, after Mr. Fairfax had shaken hands and talked for two or three
minutes with Lady Laura Armstrong, who welcomed him with considerable
The major dropped quietly away from Lady Geraldine's side, and the plighted
lovers strolled under the trees for a little, pending the signal for the
"So you know Miss Lovel?" Geraldine said, with an icy air of surprise, as
soon as she and George Fairfax were alone.
"I can hardly say that I know her; our acquaintance is the merest
accident," answered Mr. Fairfax; and then proceeded to relate his railway
"How very odd that she should travel alone!"
"Scarcely so odd, when you remember the fact of her father's poverty. He
could not be supposed to find a maid for his daughter."
"But he might be supposed to take some care of her. He ought not to have
allowed her to travel alone--at night too."
"It was careless and imprudent, no doubt. Happily she came to no harm. She
was spared from any encounter with a travelling swell-mobsman, who would
have garotted her for the sake of her watch and purse, or an insolent
bagman, who would have made himself obnoxiously agreeable on account of her
"I suppose she has been in the habit of going about the world by herself.
That accounts for her rather strong-minded air."
"Do you find her strong-minded? I should have thought her quite gentle and
"I really know nothing about her; and I must not say anything against her.
She is Laura's last _protegee_; and you know, when my sister takes any one
up, it is always a case of rapture."
After this the lovers began to talk about themselves, or rather George
Fairfax talked about himself, giving a detailed account of his proceedings
since last they had met.
"I went down to see my uncle," he said, "the day before yesterday. He is at
Lyvedon, and I had a good look at the old house. Really it is the dearest
old place in the world, Geraldine, and I should like above all things to
live there by-and-by, when the estate is ours. I don't think we are likely
to wait very long. The poor old man is awfully shaky. He was very good to
me, dear old boy, and asked all manner of kind questions about you. I think
I have quite won his heart by my engagement; he regards it as a pledge of
"I am glad he is pleased," replied Lady Geraldine, in a tone that was just
a shade more gracious than that in which she had spoken of Clarissa.
The summons to the carriages came almost immediately. Mr. Fairfax conducted
his betrothed to her seat in the barouche, and then mounted his horse to
ride back to the Castle beside her. He rode by the side of the carriage
all the way, indifferent to dust; but there was not much talk between the
lovers during that homeward progress, and Clarissa fancied there was a
cloud upon Mr. Fairfax's countenance.
* * * * *
Life was very pleasant at Hale Castle. About that one point there could be
no shadow of doubt. Clarissa wondered at the brightness of her new
existence; began to wonder vaguely by-and-by what it was that made it seem
brighter every day. There was the usual round of amusements
--dinner-parties, amateur concerts, races, flower-shows, excursions
to every point of interest within a day's drive, a military ball
at the garrison-town twenty miles off, perennial croquet, and gossip, and
afternoon tea-drinking in arbours or marquees in the gardens, and unlimited
flirtation. It was impossible for the most exacting visitor to be dull.
There was always something.
And to Clarissa all these things possessed the charm of freshness. She was
puzzled beyond measure by the indifference, real or simulated, of the girls
who had seen half-a-dozen London seasons; the frequent declarations that
these delights only bored them, that this or that party was a failure.
George Fairfax watched her bright face sometimes, interested in spite of
himself by her freshness.
"What a delicious thing youth is!" he said to himself. "Even if that girl
were less completely lovely than she is, she would still be most charming.
If Geraldine were only like that--only fresh and candid and pure, and
susceptible to every new emotion! But there is an impassable gulf of ten
years between them. Geraldine is quite as handsome--in her own particular
style--and she talks much better than Clarissa Lovel, and is more clever,
no doubt; and yet there are some men who would be bewitched by that girl
before they knew where they were."
Very often after this Mr. Fairfax fell a-musing upon those apocryphal men
who might be subjugated by the charms of Miss Lovel.
When did he awaken to the fatal truth that those charms were exercising a
most potent influence upon his own mind? When did he open his eyes for the
first time to behold his danger?
Not yet. He was really attached to Geraldine Challoner. Her society had
been a kind of habit with him for several years of his life. She had been
more admired than any woman he knew, and it was, in some sort, a triumph to
have won her. That he never would have won her but for his brother's death
he knew very well, and accepted the fact as a matter of course; a mere
necessity of the world in which they lived, not as evidence of a mercenary
spirit in the lady. He knew that no woman could better discharge the duties
of an elevated station, or win him more social renown. To marry Geraldine
Challoner was to secure for his house the stamp of fashion, for every
detail of his domestic life a warrant of good taste. She had a kind of
power over him too, an influence begun long ago, which had never yet been
oppressive to him. And he took these things for love. He had been in love
with other women during his long alliance with Lady Geraldine, and had
shown more ardour in the pursuit of other flames than he had ever evinced
in his courtship of her; but these more passionate attachments had come,
for the most part, to a sorry end; and now he told himself that Geraldine
suited him better than any other woman in the world.
"I have outgrown all foolish notions," he said to himself, believing that
the capacity was dead within him for that blind unreasoning passion which
poets of the Byronic school have made of love. "What I want is a wife; a
wife of my own rank, or a little above me in rank; a wife who will be true
and loyal to me, who knows the world well enough to forgive my antecedents,
and to be utterly silent about them, and who will help me to make a
position for myself in the future. A man must be something in this world.
It is a hard thing that one cannot live one's own life; but it seems
His mother had helped not a little to the bringing about of this
engagement. She knew that her son's bachelor life had been at best a wild
one; not so bad as it was supposed to be, of course, since nothing in this
world ever is so bad as the rest of the world supposes it; and she was very
anxious to see him safely moored in the sheltered harbour of matrimony. She
was a proud woman, and she was pleased that her son should have an earl's
daughter for his wife; and beyond this there was the fact that she liked
Lady Geraldine. The girl who had been too proud to let the man she loved
divine the depth of her feeling, had not been too proud to exhibit her
fondness for his mother. There had grown up a warm friendship between these
two women; and Mrs. Fairfax's influence had done much, almost unknown
to her son, to bring about this result of his chronic flirtation with
Just at present he was very well satisfied with the fact of his engagement,
believing that he had taken the best possible means for securing his future
happiness; an equable, quiet sort of happiness, of course--he was nearly
thirty, and had outlived the possibility of anything more than that. It
would have bored him to suppose that Geraldine expected more from him
than this tranquil kind of worship. Perhaps the lady understood this, and
schooled herself to a colder tone than was even natural to her, rather than
be supposed for one moment to be the more deeply attached of the two.
Thus it happened that Mr. Fairfax was not severely taxed in his capacity of
plighted lover. However exacting Lady Geraldine may have been by nature,
she was too proud to demand more exclusive attention than her betrothed
spontaneously rendered; indeed, she took pains to let him perceive that he
was still in full enjoyment of all his old bachelor liberty. So the days
drifted by very pleasantly, and George Fairfax found himself in Clarissa
Lovel's society perhaps a little oftener than was well for either of those
He was very kind to her; he seemed to understand her better than other
people, she thought; and his companionship was more to her than that of
any one else--a most delightful relief after Captain Westleigh's incessant
frivolity, or Mr. Halkin's solemn small-talk. In comparison with these
men, he appeared to such wonderful advantage. Her nature expanded in his
society, and she could talk to him as she talked to no one else.
He used to wonder at her eloquence sometimes, as the beautiful face glowed,
and the dark hazel eyes brightened; he wondered not a little also at the
extent of her reading, which had been wide and varied during that quiet
winter and spring-time at Mill Cottage.
"What a learned lady you are!" he said, smiling at her enthusiasm one day,
when they had been talking of Italy and Dante; "your close knowledge of the
poet puts my poor smattering to shame. Happily, an idler and a worldling
like myself is not supposed to know much. I was never patient enough to be
a profound reader; and if I cannot tear the heart out of a book, I am apt
to throw it aside in disgust. But you must have read a great deal; and yet
when we met, less than a year ago, you confessed to being only a schoolgirl
fresh from grinding away at Corneille and Racine."
"I have had the advantage of papa's help since then," answered Clarissa,
"and he is very clever. He does not read many authors, but those he does
care for he reads with all his heart. He taught me to appreciate Dante, and
to make myself familiar with the history of his age, in order to understand
"Very wise of him, no doubt. And that kind of studious life with your papa
is very pleasant to you, I suppose, Miss Lovel?"
"Yes," she answered thoughtfully; "I have been quite happy with papa. Some
people might fancy the life dull, perhaps, but it has scarcely seemed so to
me. Of course it is very different from life here; but I suppose one would
get tired of such a perpetual round of pleasure as Lady Laura provides for
"I should imagine so. Life in a country house full of delightful people
must be quite intolerable beyond a certain limit. One so soon gets tired of
one's best friends. I think that is why people travel so much nowadays. It
is the only polite excuse for being alone."
The time came when Clarissa began to fancy that her visit had lasted long
enough, and that, in common decency, she was bound to depart; but on
suggesting as much to Lady Laura, that kindly hostess declared she could
not possibly do without her dearest Clarissa for ever so long.
"Indeed, I don't know how I shall ever get on without you, my dear," she
said; "we suit each other so admirably, you see. Why, I shall have no one
to read Tasso with--no one to help me with my Missal when you are gone."
Miss Lovel's familiar knowledge of Italian literature, and artistic tastes,
had been altogether delightful to Lady Laura; who was always trying to
improve herself, as she called it, and travelled from one pursuit to
another, with a laudable perseverance, but an unhappy facility for
forgetting one accomplishment in the cultivation of another. Thus by
a vigorous plunge into Spanish and Calderon this year, she was apt to
obliterate the profound impression created by Dante and Tasso last year.
Her music suffered by reason of a sudden ardour for illumination; or art
went to the wall because a London musical season and an enthusiastic
admiration of Halle had inspired her with a desire to cultivate a more
classic style of pianoforte-playing. So in her English reading, each new
book blotted out its predecessor. Travels, histories, essays, biographies,
flitted across the lady's brain like the coloured shadows of a
magic-lantern, leaving only a lingering patch of picture here and there.
To be versatile was Lady Laura's greatest pride, and courteous friends had
gratified her by treating her as an authority upon all possible subjects.
Nothing delighted her so much as to be appealed to with a preliminary,
"Now, you who read so much, Lady Laura, will understand this;" or, "Dear
Lady Laura, you who know everything, must tell me why," etc.; or to be told
by a painter, "You who are an artist yourself can of course see this, Lady
Laura;" or to be complimented by a musician as a soul above the dull mass
of mankind, a sympathetic spirit, to whom the mysteries of harmony are a
In that luxurious morning-room of Lady Laura's Clarissa generally spent the
first two hours after breakfast. Here the children used to come with French
and German governesses, in all the freshness of newly-starched cambric and
newly-crimped tresses, to report progress as to their studies and general
behaviour to their mother; who was apt to get tired of them in something
less than a quarter of an hour, and to dispatch them with kisses and
praises to the distant schoolrooms and nurseries where these young exotics
were enjoying the last improvements in the forcing system.
Geraldine Challoner would sometimes drop into this room for a few minutes
at the time of the children's visit, and would converse not unkindly with
her nephews and nieces; but for her sister's accomplishments she displayed
a profound indifference, not to say contempt. She was not herself given to
the cultivation of these polite arts--nothing could ever induce her to sing
or play in public. She read a good deal, but rarely talked about books--it
was difficult indeed to say what Lady Geraldine did talk about--yet in
the art of conversation, when she chose to please, Geraldine Challoner
infinitely surpassed the majority of women in her circle. Perhaps this may
have been partly because she was a good listener; and, in some measure, on
account of that cynical, mocking spirit in which she regarded most things,
and which was apt to pass for wit.
Clarissa had been a month at Hale Castle already; but she stayed on at the
urgent desire of her hostess, much too happy in that gay social life to
oppose that lady's will.
"If you really, really wish to have me, dear Lady Laura," she said; "but
you have been so kind already, and I have stayed so long, that I begin to
feel myself quite an intruder."
"You silly child! I do really, really wish to have you. I should like to
keep you with me always, if I could. You suit me so much better than any of
my sisters; they are the most provoking girls in the world, I think, for
being uninterested in my pursuits. And your Italian is something wonderful.
I have not opened my dictionary since we have been reading together. And
beyond all that, I have a very particular reason for wishing you to be here
"Why next month, Lady Laura?"
"I am not going to tell you that."
"But you quite mystify me."
"I mean to mystify you. No, it's not the least use asking questions, Clary;
but mind, you must not tease me any more about running away: that is
In all this time Clarissa had not found herself any nearer to that desired
result of getting on well with Geraldine Challoner. That, lady seemed quite
as far away from her after a month's acquaintance as she had seemed at the
very first. It was not that Lady Geraldine was uncivil. She was polite,
after her manner, to Clarissa, but never cordial; and yet she could not
fail to see that George Fairfax admired and liked Miss Lovel, and she might
have been supposed to wish to think well of any one he liked.
Was she jealous of Clarissa? Well, no, it scarcely seemed possible to
associate the fever of jealousy with that serene temperament. She had an
air of complete security in all her intercourse with George Fairfax, which
was hardly compatible with doubt or the faintest shadow of suspicion.
If ever she did speak of Miss Lovel to her lover, or to any one else, she
talked of her as a pretty country girl, and seemed to consider her as far
removed, by reason of her youth and obscure position, from herself, as if
they had been inhabitants of two separate worlds.
Mr. Lovel had been invited to several dinner-parties at the Castle during
his daughter's visit, but was not to be drawn from his seclusion. He had no
objection, however, that Clarissa should stay as long as Lady Laura cared
to retain her, and wrote very cordially to that effect.
What a pleasant, idle, purposeless life it was, and how rapidly it drifted
by for Clarissa! She wondered to find herself so happy; wondered what the
charm was which made life so new and sweet, which made her open her eyes on
the morning sunshine with such a glad eagerness to greet the beginning
of another day, and filled up every hour with such a perfect sense of
She wondered at this happiness only in a vague dreamy way, not taking much
trouble to analyse her feelings. It was scarcely strange that she should be
completely happy in a life so different from her dull existence at home.
The freshness and beauty of all these pleasant things would be worn off in
time, no doubt, and she would become just like those other young women,
with their experience of many seasons, and their perpetual complaint of
being bored; but just now, while the freshness lasted, everything delighted
Clarissa had been more than six weeks at the Castle, while other visitors
had come and gone, and the round of country-house gaieties had been
unbroken. The Fermors still lingered on, and languidly deprecated the
length of their visit, without any hint of actual departure. Captain
Westleigh had gone back to his military duties, very much in love with
Miss Lovel. He plaintively protested, in his confidences with a few chosen
friends, against a Providence which had made them both penniless.
"I don't suppose I shall ever meet such a girl again," he would declare
piteously. "More than once I was on the point of making her an offer; the
words were almost out, you know; for I don't go in for making a solemn
business of the thing, with a lot of preliminary palaver. If a fellow
really likes a girl, he doesn't want to preach a sermon in order to let her
know it; and ever so many times, when we've been playing croquet, or when
I've been hanging about the piano with her of an evening, I've been on the
point of saying, 'Upon my word, Miss Lovel, I think we two are eminently
suited to each other, don't you?' or something plain and straightforward
of that kind; and then I've remembered that her father can't give her a
sixpence, which, taken in conjunction with my own financial condition,
would mean starvation!"
"And do you think she liked you?" a curious friend would perhaps inquire.
"Well, I don't know. She might do worse, you see. As a rule, girls
generally do like me. I don't see why there should be any difference in her
Nor did the Captain for a moment imagine that Clarissa would have rejected
him, had he been in a position to make an offer of his hand.
Lady Geraldine was a fixture at Hale. She was to stay there till her
marriage, with the exception, perhaps, of a brief excursion to London for
millinery purposes, Lady Laura told Clarissa. But the date of the marriage
had not yet been settled--had been, indeed, only discussed in the vaguest
manner, and the event seemed still remote.
"It will be some time this year, I suppose," Lady Laura said; "but beyond
that I can really say nothing. Geraldine is so capricious; and perhaps
George Fairfax may not be in a great hurry to give up his bachelor
privileges. He is very different from Fred, who worried me into marrying
him six weeks after he proposed. And in this case a long engagement seems
so absurd, when you consider that they have known each other for ten years.
I shall really be very glad when the business is over, for I never feel
quite sure of Geraldine."
* * * * *
With the beginning of August there came a change in the weather. High
winds, gloom, and rain succeeded that brilliant cloudless summer-time,
which had become, as it were, the normal condition of the universe;
and Lady Laura's guests were fain to abandon their picnics and forest
excursions, their botanical researches and distant-race meetings--nay, even
croquet itself, that perennial source of recreation for the youthful mind,
had to be given up, except in the most fitful snatches. In this state
of things, amateur concerts and acted charades came into fashion. The
billiard-room was crowded from breakfast till dinner time. It was
a charmingly composite apartment--having one long wall lined with
bookshelves, sacred to the most frivolous ephemeral literature, and a grand
piano in an arched recess at one end of the room--and in wet weather was
the chosen resort of every socially-disposed guest at Hale. Here Clarissa
learned to elevate her pretty little hand into the approved form of bridge,
and acquired some acquaintance with the mysteries of cannons and pockets.
It was Mr. Fairfax who taught her billiards. Lady Geraldine dropped into
the room now and then, and played a game in a dashing off-hand way with her
lover, amidst the admiring comments of her friends; but she did not come
very often, and Mr. Fairfax had plenty of time for Clarissa's instruction.
Upon one of these wet days he insisted upon looking over her portfolio of
drawings; and in going through a heap of careless sketches they came upon
something of her brother Austin's. They were sitting in the library,--a
very solemn and splendid chamber, with a carved oak roof and deep mullioned
windows,--a room that was less used than any other apartment in the Castle.
Mr. Fairfax had caught Miss Lovel here, with her portfolio open on the
table before her, copying a drawing of Piranesi's; so there could be no
better opportunity for inspecting the sketches, which she had hitherto
refused to show him.
That sketch of Austin's--a group of Arab horsemen done in pen and ink--set
them talking about him at once; and George Fairfax told Clarissa all he
could tell about his intercourse with her brother.
"I really liked him so much," he said gently, seeing how deeply she was
moved by the slightest mention of that name. "I cannot say that I ever knew
him intimately, that I can claim to have been his friend; but I used at
one time to see a good deal of him, and I was very much impressed by
his genius. I never met a young man who gave me a stronger notion of
undisciplined genius; but, unhappily, there was a recklessness about him
which I can easily imagine would lead him into dangerous associations. I
was told that he had quarrelled with his family, and meant to sell out, and
take to painting as a profession,--and I really believe that he would have
made his fortune as a painter; but when I heard of him next, he had gone
abroad--to the colonies, some one said. I could never learn anything more
precise than that."
"I would give the world to know where he is," said Clarissa mournfully;
"but I dare not ask papa anything about him, even if he could tell me,
which I doubt very much. I did try to speak of him once; but it was no
use--papa would not hear his name."
"That seems very hard; and yet your father must have been proud of him and
fond of him once, I should think."
"I am not sure of that. Papa and Austin never seemed to get on quite well
together. There was always something--as if there had been some kind of
hidden resentment, some painful feeling in the mind of each. I was too
young to be a competent judge, of course; but I know, as a child, I had
always a sense that there was a cloud between those two, a shadow that
seemed to darken our lives."
They talked for a long time of this prodigal son; and this kind of
conversation seemed to bring them nearer to each other than anything else
that had happened within the six weeks of their acquaintance.
"If ever I have any opportunity of finding out your brother's whereabouts,
Miss Lovel, you may be sure that I will use every effort to get you some
tidings of him. I don't want to say anything that might lead to your being
disappointed; but when I go to town again, I will hunt up a man who used to
be one of his friends, and try to learn something. Only you must promise me
not to be disappointed if I fail."
"I won't promise that; but I promise to bear my disappointment quietly, and
to be grateful to you for your goodness," Clarissa answered, with a faint
They went on with the inspection of the drawings, in which Mr. Fairfax
showed himself deeply interested. His own manipulative powers were of the
smallest, but he was an excellent critic.
"I think I may say of you what I said of your brother just now--that you
might make a fortune, if you were to cultivate art seriously."
"I wish I could make a fortune large enough to buy back Arden Court,"
Clarissa answered eagerly.
"You think so much of Arden?"
"O yes, I am always thinking of it, always dreaming of it; the dear old
rooms haunt me sleeping and waking. I suppose they are all altered now. I
think it would almost break my heart to see them different."
"Do you know, I am scarcely in a position to understand that fervent love
for one's birthplace. I may be said to have no birthplace myself. I
was born in lodgings, or a furnished house--some temporary ark of that
kind--the next thing to being born on board ship, and having Stepney for
one's parish. My father was in a hard-working cavalry regiment, and the
early days of my mother's married life were spent in perpetual wanderings.
They separated, when I was about eight years old, for ever--a sad story,
of course--something worse than incompatibility of temper on the husband's
side; and from that time I never saw him, though he lived for some years.
So, you see, the words 'home' and 'father' are for me very little more than
sentimental abstractions. But with my mother I have been quite happy. She
has indeed been the most devoted of women. She took a house at Eton when
my brother and I were at school there, and superintended our home studies
herself; and from that time to this she has watched my career with
unchanging care. It is the old story of maternal kindness and filial
shortcomings. I have given her a world of trouble; but I am not the less
fond of her, or the less grateful to her." He stopped for a few moments,
with something like a sigh, and then went on in a lighter tone: "You can
see, however, that having no ancestral home of my own, I am hardly able to
understand the depth of your feeling for Arden Court. There is an old place
down in Kent, a fine old castellated mansion, built in the days of Edward
VI., which is to be mine by-and-by; but I doubt if I shall ever value it as
you do your old home. Perhaps I am wanting in the poetic feeling necessary
for the appreciation of these things."
"O no, it is not that," Clarissa answered eagerly; "but the house you
speak of will not have been your home. You won't have that dim, dreamy
recollection of childhood spent in the old rooms; another life, the life of
another being almost, it seems, as one looks back to it. I have only
the faintest memory of my mother; but it is very sweet, and it is all
associated with Arden Court. I cannot conjure up her image for a moment
without that background. Yes, I do wish for fortune, for that one reason. I
would give the world to win back Arden."
She was very much in earnest. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes brightened
with those eager words. Never perhaps had she looked lovelier than at that
moment. George Fairfax paused a little before he answered her, admiring the
bright animated face; admiring her, he thought, very much as he might have
admired some beautiful wayward child. And then he said gravely:
"It is dangerous to wish for anything so intensely. There are wishes the
gratification whereof is fatal. There are a dozen old stories in the
classics to show that; to say nothing of all those mediaeval legends in
which Satan is complaisant to some eager wisher."
"But there is no chance of my wish being gratified. If I could work my
fingers to the bone in the pursuit of art or literature, or any of the
professions by which women win money, I should never earn the price of
Arden; nor would that hateful Mr. Granger be disposed to sell a place which
gives him his position in the county. And I suppose he is fond of it,
after a fashion. He has spent a fortune upon improvements. Improvements!"
repeated Clarissa contemptuously; "I daresay be has improved away the very
spirit of the place."
"You cherish a strong dislike for this gentleman, it seems, Miss Lovel."
"I am wicked enough to dislike him for having robbed us of Arden. Of course
you will say that any one else might have bought the place. But then I can
only reply, that I should have disliked any other purchaser just the same;
a little less though, perhaps, if he had been a member of some noble old
family--a man with a great name. It would have been some consolation to
think that Arden was promoted."
"I am afraid there is a leaven of good old Tory spirit in your composition,
"I suppose papa is a Tory. I know he has a profound contempt for what he
calls new people--very foolish, of course, I quite feel that; but I think
he cannot help remembering that he comes of a good old race which has
fallen upon evil days."
"You remember my telling you that I had been to Arden Court. Mr. Granger
gave a state dinner once while I was staying here, and I went with Fred and
Lady Laura. I found him not by any means a disagreeable person. He is just
a little slow and ponderous, and I should scarcely give him credit for
a profound or brilliant intellect; but he is certainly sensible,
well-informed, and he gave me the idea of being the very essence of truth."
"I daresay he is very nice," Clarissa answered with a subdued sigh. "He has
always been kind and attentive to papa, sending game and hothouse fruit,
and that kind of thing; and he has begged that we would use the park as if
it were our own; but I have never crossed the boundary that divides my new
home from my old one. I couldn't bear to see the old walks now."
They talked for a good deal longer, till the clanging of the Castle bell
warned Clarissa that it was time to dress for dinner. It is amazing how
rapidly time will pass in such serious confidential talk. George Fairfax
looked at his watch with an air of disbelief in that supreme authority the
Castle bell, which was renowned for its exact observance of Greenwich time.
That blusterous rainy August afternoon had slipped away so I quickly.
"It is a repetition of my experience during that night journey to
Holborough," Mr. Fairfax said, smiling. "You have a knack of charming away
the hours, Miss Lovel."
It was the commonest, most conventional form of compliment, no doubt; but
Clarissa blushed a little, and bent rather lower over the portfolio, which
she was closing, than she had done before. Then she put the portfolio under
her arm, murmured something about going to dress, made George Fairfax a
gracious curtsey, and left him.
He did not hurry away to make his own toilet, but walked up and down the
library for some minutes, thinking.
"What a sweet girl she is!" he said to himself; "and what a pity her
position is not a better one! With a father like that, and a brother who
has stamped himself as a scapegrace at the beginning of life, what is to
become of her? Unless she marries well, I see no hopeful prospect for her
future. But of course such a girl as that is sure to make a good marriage."
Instead of being cheered by this view of the case, Mr. Fairfax's brow grew
darker, and his step heavier.
"What does it matter to me whom she chooses for her husband?" he asked
himself; "and yet no man would like to see such a girl throw herself away
for mercenary reasons. If I had known her a few months ago! If! What is the
history of human error but a succession of 'ifs'? Would it have been better
for me or for her, that we had learned to know each other while I was free?
The happiest thing for _me_ would have been never to have met her at all.
I felt myself in some kind of danger that night we met in the
railway-carriage. Her race is fatal to mine, I begin to think. Any
connection in that quarter would have galled my mother to the quick--broken
her heart perhaps; and I am bound to consider her in all I do. Nor am I a
schoolboy, to fancy that the whole colour of my life is to be governed by
such an influence as this. She is only a pretty woman, with a low sweet
voice, and gentle winning ways. Most people would call Geraldine the
handsomer of the two. Poor child! She ought to seem no more than a child to
me. I think she likes me, and trusts me. I wish Geraldine were kinder to
her; I wish-----"
He did not particularise that last wish, even to himself, but went away to
dress, having wasted the first quarter of the three-quarters that elapsed
between the first and second bell at Hale Castle.
Throughout that evening, which was an unusually quiet and domestic evening
for Hale, he did not talk any more to Clarissa. It might even have been
thought that he scrupulously, and of a fixed purpose, avoided her.
He devoted himself to chess with Lady Geraldine; a game he played
indifferently, and for which he cherished a profound aversion. But chess
was one of Geraldine Challoner's strong points; and that aristocratic
beauty never looked more regal than when she sat before a chess-table, with
one thin white hand hovering gently above the carved ivory pieces.
Mr. Fairfax lost four or five games in succession, excusing his own
careless play every time by some dexterous compliment to his betrothed.
More than once he stifled a yawn--more than once his glances wandered away
to the group near the piano, amidst which Clarissa was seated, listening to
Lizzy Fermor's brilliant waltzes and mazurkas, with an open music-book
on her lap, turning over the leaves now and then, with rather a listless
pre-occupied air, Mr. Fairfax thought.
That evening did certainly seem very dreary to Clarissa, in spite of Miss
Fermor's dashing music and animated chatter. She missed that other talk,
half playful, half earnest, with which George Fairfax had been wont to
beguile some part of every evening; finding her out, as if by a subtle
instinct, in whatever corner of the room she happened to be, and always
devoting one stray half-hour of the evening to her society. To-night all
things came to an end: matrons and misses murmured their good-nights and
sailed away to the corridor, where there was a regiment of small silver
candlesticks, emblazoned with the numerous quarterings of Armstrong and
Challoner; and George Fairfax only rose from the chess-table as Lady
Laura's guests abandoned the drawing-room. Geraldine bade her lover
good-night with her most bewitching smile--a smile in which there was even
some faint ray of warmth.
"You have given me some very easy victories," she said, as they shook
hands, "and I won't flatter you by saying you have played well. But it was
very good of you to sit so long at a game which I know you detest, only to
"A very small sacrifice, surely, my dear Geraldine. We'll play chess every
night, if you like. I don't care much for the game in the abstract, I
admit; but I am never tired of admiring your judicious play, or the
exquisite shape of your hands."
"No, no; I don't want to try you with such severe training. I saw how tired
you were more than once to-night, and how your eyes wandered away to those
noisy girls by the piano, like an idle boy who is kept at his lessons when
his companions are at play."
Mr. Fairfax's sunburnt countenance reddened a little at this reproof.
"Was I inattentive?" he asked; "I did not know that. I was quite aware of
my bad play, and I really believe I was conscientious."
And so they wished each other good-night and parted. Geraldine Challoner
did not go at once to her own room. She had to pass her sister's quarters
on her way, and stopped at the door of the dressing-room.
"Are you quite alone, Laura?" she asked, looking in.
A maid was busy unweaving a splendid pyramid of chestnut plaits which had
crowned the head of her mistress; but she of course counted for nothing,
and could be dismissed at any moment.
"And there will not be half-a-dozen people coming in to gossip?" Lady
Geraldine asked in rather a fretful tone, as she flung herself into an
arm-chair near the dressing-table.
"Not a soul; I have wished every one good-night. I was rather tired, to
tell the truth, and not inclined for talk. But of course I am always glad
of a chat with you, Geraldine.--You may go, Parker; I can finish my hair
The maid retired, as quietly as some attendant spirit.
Lady Laura took up a big ivory brush and began smoothing the long chestnut
locks in a meditative way, waiting for her sister to speak. But Lady
Geraldine seemed scarcely in the mood for lively conversation; her fingers
were twisting themselves in and out upon the arm of her chair in a nervous
way, and her face had a thoughtful, not to say moody, expression.
Her sister watched her for some minutes silently.
"What is the matter, Geraldine?" she inquired at last. "I can see there is
"There is very much that is wrong," the other answered with a kind of
suppressed vehemence. "Upon my word, Laura, I believe it is your destiny
to stand in my light at every stage of my life, or you would scarcely have
happened to have planted that girl here just at this particular time."
"What girl?" cried Lady Laura, amazed at this sudden accusation.
"Good gracious me, Geraldine! what has my poor Clarissa done to offend
"Your poor Clarissa has only set her cap at George Fairfax; and as she
happens to be several years younger than I am, and I suppose a good deal
prettier, she has thoroughly succeeded in distracting his attention--his
regard, perhaps--from myself."
Laura Armstrong dropped the hair-brush, in profound consternation.
"My dear Geraldine, this is the merest jealous folly on your part. Clarissa
is the very last girl in the world who would be guilty of such meanness as
to try and attract another woman's lover. Besides, I am sure that George's
attachment to yourself--"
"Pray, don't preach about that, Laura!" her sister broke in impatiently. "I
must be the best judge of his attachment; and you must be the very blindest
of women, if you have not seen how your newest pet and _protegee_ has
contrived to lure George to her side night after night, and to interest him
by her pretty looks and juvenile airs and graces."
"Why, I don't believe George spoke to Miss Lovel once this evening; he was
playing chess with you from the moment he came to the drawing-room after
"To-night was an exceptional case. Mr. Fairfax was evidently on duty. His
manner all the evening was that of a man who has been consciously culpable,
and is trying to atone for bad behaviour. And your favourite was wounded by
his desertion--I could see that."
"She did seem a little depressed, certainly," Lady Laura answered
thoughtfully; "I observed that myself. But I know that the girl has a noble
nature, and if she has been so foolish as to be just a little attracted by
George Fairfax, she will very; quickly awake to a sense of her folly. Pray
don't give yourself the faintest uneasiness, Geraldine. I have my plans for
Clarissa Lovel, and this hint of yours will make me more anxious to put
them into execution. As for George, it is natural to men to flirt; there's
no use in being angry with them. I'm sure that wretched Fred of mine has
flirted desperately, in his way."
Lady Geraldine gave her shoulders a contemptuous shrug, expressive of a
most profound indifference to the delinquencies of Mr. Armstrong.
"Your husband and George Fairfax are two very different people," she said.
"But you don't for a moment suppose there is anything serious in this
business?" Laura asked anxiously.
"How can I tell? I sometimes think that George has never really cared for
me; that he proposed to me because he thought his mother would like the
marriage, and because our names had often been linked together, and our
marriage was in a manner expected by people, and so on. Yes, Laura, I have
sometimes doubted if he ever loved me--I hate to talk of these things, even
to you; but there are times when one must confide in some one--and I have
been sorely tempted to break off the engagement."
She rose from her chair, and began to pace up and down the room in a quick
"Upon my honour, I believe it would be the happiest thing for both of us,"
Lady Laura looked at her sister with perfect consternation.
"My dearest Geraldine, you would surely never be so mad!" she exclaimed.
"You could not be so foolish as to sacrifice the happiness of your future
life to a caprice of the moment--a mere outbreak of temper. Pray, let there
be an end of such nonsense. I am sure George is sincerely attached to you,
and I am very much mistaken in you if you do not like him--love him--better
than you can ever hope to love any other man in this world."
"O yes; I like him well enough," said Geraldine Challoner impatiently; "too
well to endure anything less than perfect sincerity on his part."
"But, my dearest, I am sure that he is sincere," Laura answered soothingly.
"Now, my own Geraldine, do pray be reasonable, and leave this business to
me. As for Clarissa, I have plans for her, the realization of which would
set your mind quite at ease; but if I cannot put them into execution
immediately, the girl shall go. Of course you are the first consideration.
With regard to George, if you would only let me sound him, I am sure I
should get at the real state of his feelings and find them all we can
"Laura!" cried Geraldine indignantly, "if you dare to interfere, in the
smallest degree, with this business, I shall never speak to you again."
"My dear Geraldine!"
"Remember that, Laura, and remember that I mean what I say. I will not
permit so much as the faintest hint of anything I have told you."
"My dearest girl, I pledge myself not to speak one word," protested Lady
Laura, very much, alarmed by her sister's indignation.
Geraldine left her soon after this, vexed with herself for having betrayed
so much feeling, even to a sister; left her--not to repose in peaceful,
slumbers, but to walk up and down her room till early morning, and look
out at daybreak on the Castle gardens and the purple woods beyond, with a
haggard face and blank unseeing eyes.
George Fairfax meanwhile had lain himself down to take his rest in
tolerable good-humour with himself and the world in general.
"I really think I behaved very well," he said to himself; "and having
made up my mind to stop anything like a flirtation with that perilously
fascinating Clarissa, I shall stick to my resolve with the heroism of an
ancient Roman; though the Romans were hardly so heroic in that matter, by
the way--witness the havoc made by that fatal Egyptian, a little bit of a
woman that could be bundled up in a carpet--to say nothing of the general
predilection for somebody else's wife which prevailed in those days, and
which makes Suetonius read like a modern French novel. I did not think
there was so much of the old leaven left in me. My sweet Clarissa! I fancy
she likes me--in a sisterly kind of way, of course--and trusts me not a
little. And yet I must seem cold to her, and hold myself aloof, and wound
the tender untried heart a little perhaps. Hard upon both of us, but I
suppose only a common element in the initiatory ordinances of matrimony."
And so George Fairfax closed hie eyes and fell asleep, with the image of
Clarissa before him in that final moment of consciousness, whereby the same
image haunted him in his slumbers that night, alternately perplexing or
delighting him; while ever and anon the face of his betrothed, pale and
statue-like, came between him and that other face; or the perfect hand he
had admired at chess that night was stretched out through the darkness to
push aside the form of Clarissa Lovel.
That erring dreamer was a man accustomed to take all things lightly; not a
man of high principle--a man whose best original impulses had been weakened
and deadened not a little by the fellowship he had kept, and the life he
had led; a man unhappily destined to exercise an influence over others
disproportionate to the weight of his own character.
Lady Laura was much disturbed by her sister's confidence; and being of a
temperament to which the solitary endurance of any mental burden is almost
impossible, immediately set to work to do the very things which would have
been most obnoxious to Geraldine Challoner. In the first place she awakened
her husband from comfortable slumbers, haunted by no more awful forms than
his last acquisition in horseflesh, or the oxen he was fattening for the
next cattle-show; and determinedly kept him awake while she gave him a
detailed account of the distressing scene she had just had with "poor
Mr. Armstrong, whose yawns and vague disjointed replies were piteous to
hear, thought there was only one person in question who merited the epithet
"poor," and that person himself; but he made some faint show of being
"Silly woman! silly woman!" he mumbled at last. "I've always thought she
rides the high horse rather too much with Fairfax. Men don't like that sort
of thing, you know. Geraldine's a very fine woman, but she can't twist a
man round her fingers as you can, Laura. Why don't you speak to George
Fairfax, and hurry on the marriage somehow? The sooner the business is
settled the better, with such a restive couple as these two; uncommonly
hard to drive in double harness--the mare inclined to jib, and the other
with a tendency to shy. You're such a manager, Laura, you'd make matters
square in no time."
If Lady Laura prided herself on one of her attributes more than
another--and she did cherish a harmless vanity about many things--it was in
the idea that she was a kind of social Talleyrand. So on this particular
occasion, encouraged by simple Fred Armstrong, who had a rooted belief that
there never had existed upon this earth such a wonderful woman as his wife,
my lady resolved to take the affairs of her sister under her protection,
and to bring all things to a triumphant issue. She felt very little
compunction about breaking her promise to Geraldine.
"All depends upon the manner in which a thing is done," she said to herself
complacently, as she composed herself for slumber; "of course I shall act
with the most extreme delicacy. But it would never do for my sister's
chances in life to be ruined for want of a little judicious intervention."
* * * * *
LADY LAURA DIPLOMATISES.
The weather was fine next day, and the Castle party drove ten miles to
a rustic racecourse, where there was a meeting of a very insignificant
character, but interesting to Mr. Armstrong, to whom a horse was a source
of perennial delight, and a fair excuse for a long gay drive, and a picnic
luncheon in carriages and on coach-boxes.
Amongst Lady Laura's accomplishments was the polite art of driving. To-day
she elected to drive a high phaeton with a pair of roans, and invited
George Fairfax to take the seat beside her. Lady Geraldine had a headache,
and had not appeared that morning; but had sent a message to her sister,
to request that her indisposition, which was the merest trifle, might not
prevent Mr. Fairfax going to the races.
Mr. Fairfax at first seemed much inclined to remain at home, and perform
"Geraldine will come downstairs presently, I daresay," he said to Lady
Laura, "and we can have a quiet stroll in the gardens, while you are all
away. I don't care a straw about the Mickleham races. Please leave me at
home, Lady Laura."
"But Geraldine begs that you will go. She'll keep her room all day, I've no
doubt; she generally does, when she has one of her headaches. Every one
is going, and I have set my heart on driving you. I want to hear what you
think of the roans. Come, George, I really must insist upon it."
She led him off to the phaeton triumphantly; while Frederick Armstrong was
fain to find some vent for his admiration of his gifted wife's diplomacy
in sundry winks and grins to the address of no one in particular, as he
bustled to and fro between the terrace and the hall, arranging the mode and
manner of the day's excursion--who was to be driven by whom, and so on.
Clarissa found herself bestowed in a landau full of ladies, Barbara Fermor
amongst them; and was very merry with these agreeable companions, who gave
her no time to meditate upon that change in Mr. Fairfax's manner last
night, which had troubled her a little in spite of her better sense. He was
nothing to her, of course; an accidental acquaintance whom she might never
see again after this visit; but he had known her brother, and he had been
kind and sympathetic--so much so, that she would have been glad to think
that he was really her friend. Perhaps, after all, there was very little
cause that she should be perplexed or worried on account of his quiet
avoidance of her that one evening; but then Clarissa Lovel was young and
inexperienced, and thus apt to be hypersensitive, and easily disturbed
Having secured a comfortable _tete-a-tete _with Mr. Fairfax, Lady Laura
lost no time in improving the occasion. They were scarcely a mile from the
Castle before she began to touch upon the subject of the intended marriage,
lightly, and with an airy gaiety of manner which covered her real
"When is it to be, George?" she asked. "I really want to know something
positive, on account of my own engagement and Fred's, which must all hinge
more or less on this important business. There's no use in my talking to
Geraldine, for she is really the most impracticable of beings, and I can
never get her to say anything definite."
"My dear Lady Laura, I am almost in the same position. I have more than
once tried to induce her to fix the date for her marriage, but she has
always put the subject aside somehow or other. I really don't like to bore
her, you see; and no doubt things will arrange themselves in due course."
Lady Laura gave a little sigh of relief. He did not avoid the
question--that was something; nor did her interference seem in any manner
unpleasant to him. Indeed, nothing could be more perfect than his air of
careless good-humour, Lady Laura thought.
But she did not mean the subject to drop here; and after a little graceful
manipulation of the reins, a glance backward to see how far behind they had
left the rest of the caravan, and some slight slackening of the pace at
which they had been going, she went on.
"No doubt things would arrange themselves easily enough, if nothing
happened to interfere with our plans. But the fact is, my dear George, I am
really most uneasy about the state of poor papa's health. He has been so
sadly feeble for the last three or four years, and I feel that we may lose
him at any moment. At his age, poor dear soul, it is a calamity for winch
we must be prepared, but of course such an event would postpone our
marriage for a long time, and I should really like to see my sister happily
settled before the blow fell upon her. She has been so much with him, you
see, and is so deeply attached to him--it will be worse for her than for
any of us."
"I--I conclude so," Mr. Fairfax replied rather doubtfully. He could not
help wondering a little how his betrothed cared to leave a beloved father
in so critical a condition; but he knew that his future sister-in-law was
somewhat given to exaggeration, a high colouring of simple facts, as well
as to the friendly direction of other people's affairs, he was therefore
not surprised, upon reflection, that she should magnify her father's danger
and her sister's filial devotion. Nor was he surprised that she should be
anxious to hasten his marriage. It was natural to this impulsive matron to
be eager for something, some event involving fine dress and invitations,
elaborate dinners, and the gathering together of a frivolous crowd to be
astonished and delighted by her own cleverness and fascination. To have
a handsome sister to marry, and to marry well, was of course a great
opportunity for the display of all those powers in which Lady Laura took
And then George Fairfax had told himself that this marriage was the best
possible thing for him; and being so, it would be well that there should be
no unnecessary delay. He had perhaps a vague feeling that he was giving up
a good deal in sacrificing his liberty; but on the whole the sacrifice was
a wise one, and could not be consummated too quickly.
"I trust you alarm yourself needlessly about your father, my dear Lady
Laura," he said presently; "but, upon my word, you cannot be more anxious
to see this affair settled than I am. I want to spend my honeymoon at
Lyvedon, the quietest, most picturesque old place you can imagine, but not
very enjoyable when the leaves are falling. My good uncle has set his heart
on my borrowing his house for this purpose, and I think it would please
Geraldine to become acquainted with an estate which must be her own in a
"Unquestionably," cried Lady Laura eagerly; "but you know what Geraldine
is, or you ought to know--so foolishly proud and sensitive. She has known
you so long, and perhaps--she would never forgive me if she knew I had
hinted such a thing--had half-unconsciously given you her heart before she
had reason to be assured of your regard: and this would make her peculiarly
sensitive. Now do, dear George, press the question, and let everything be
settled as soon as possible, or I have an apprehension that somehow or
other my sister will slip through your fingers."
Mr. Fairfax looked wonderingly at his charioteer.
"Has she said anything to put this fancy into your head?" he asked, with
gravity rather than alarm.
"Said anything! O dear, no. Geraldine is the last person to talk about her
own feelings. But I know her so well," concluded Lady Laura with a solemn
After this there came a brief silence. George Fairfax was a little puzzled
by my lady's diplomacy, and perhaps just a little disgusted. Again and
again he told himself that this union with Geraldine Challoner was the very
best thing that could happen to him; it would bring him to anchor, at any
rate, and he had been such mere driftwood until now. But he wanted to feel
himself quite a free agent, and this pressing-on of the marriage by Lady
Laura was in some manner discordant with his sense of the fitness of
things. It looked a little like manoeuvring; yet after all she was quite
sincere, perhaps, and did really apprehend her father's death intervening
to postpone the wedding.
He would not remain long silent, lest she should fancy him displeased, and
proceeded presently to pay her some compliments upon the roans, and on her
driving; after which they rattled on pleasantly enough till they came to
the green slope of a hill, where there was a rude rustic stand and a railed
racecourse, with a sprinkling of carriages on one side and gipsy-tents on
Here Mr. Fairfax delivered over Lady Laura to her natural protector; and
being free to stroll about at his own pleasure, contrived to spend a very
agreeable day, devoting the greater part thereof to attendance upon the
landau full of ladies, amongst whom was Clarissa Lovel. And she, being
relieved from that harassing notion that she had in some unknown manner
offended him, and being so new to all the pleasures of life that even these
rustic races were delightful to her, was at her brightest, full of gay
girlish talk and merry laughter. He was not to see her thus many times
again, in all the freshness of her young beauty, perfectly natural and
Once in the course of that day he left his post by the landau, and went
for a solitary ramble; not amongst the tents, where black-eyed Bohemians
saluted him as "my pretty gentleman," or the knock-'em-downs and
weighing-machines, or the bucolic babble of the ring, but away across the
grassy slope, turning his back upon the racecourse. He wanted to think it
out again, in his own phrase, just as he had thought it out the day before
in the library at Hale.
"I am afraid I am getting too fond of her," he said to himself. "It's the
old story: just like dram-drinking. I take the pledge, and then go and
drink again. I am the weakest of mankind. But it cannot make very much
difference. She knows I am engaged--and--Lady Laura is right. The sooner
the marriage comes off, the better. I shall never be safe till the knot is
tied; and then duty, honour, feeling, and a dozen other motives, will hold
me to the right course."
He strolled back to his party only; a little time before the horses were
put in, and on this occasion went straight to the phaeton, and devoted
himself to Lady Laura.
"You are going to drive me home, of course?" he said. "I mean to claim my
"I hardly think you have any right to it, after your desertion of me. You
have been flirting with those girls in the landau all day."
"Flirting is one of the melancholy privileges of my condition. An engaged
man enjoys an immunity in that matter. When a criminal is condemned to
death, they give him whatever he likes to eat, you know. It is almost the
same kind of thing."
He took his place in the phaeton presently, and talked gaily enough all the
way home, in that particular strain required to match my lady's agreeable
rattle; but he had a vague sense of uneasiness lurking somewhere in his
mind, a half-consciousness that he was drifting the wrong way.
All that evening he was especially attentive to Lady Geraldine, whose
headache had left her with a pale and pensive look which was not without
its charm. The stately beauty had a softer air, the brightness of the blue
eyes was not so cold as it was wont to be. They played chess again, and Mr.
Fairfax kept aloof from Clarissa. They; walked together in the gardens for
a couple of hours next morning; and George Fairfax pressed the question of
his marriage with such a show of earnestness and warmth, that Geraldine's
rebellious pride was at once solaced and subdued, and she consented to
agree to any arrangement he and Lady Laura might make.
"My sister is so much more practical than I am," she said, "and I would
really rather leave everything to her and to you."
Lightly as she tried to speak of the future, she did on this occasion allow
her lover to perceive that he was indeed very dear to her, and that the
coldness which had sometimes wounded him was little more than a veil
beneath which a proud woman strove to hide her deepest feelings. Mr.
Fairfax rather liked this quality of pride in his future wife, even if it
were carried so far as to be almost a blemish. It would be the surest safe
guard of his home in the time to come. Such women are not prone to petty
faults, or given to small quarrels. A man has a kind of security from
trivial annoyances in an alliance with such a one.
It was all settled, therefore, in that two hours' stroll in the sunny
garden, where the roses still bloomed, in some diminution of their
midsummer glory, their sweetness just a little over powered by the spicy
odour of innumerable carnations, their delicate colours eclipsed here and
there by an impertinent early dahlia. Everything was settled. The very date
of the wedding was to be decided at once by Lady Laura and the bridegroom;
and when George Fairfax went back to the Castle, he felt, perhaps for the
first time in his life, that he really was an engaged man. It was rather a
solemn feeling, but not altogether an unpleasant one. He had seen more of
Geraldine Challoner's heart this morning than he had ever seen before. It
pleased him to discover that she really loved him; that the marriage was
to be something more to her than a merely advantageous alliance; that she
would in all probability have accepted him had he offered himself to her in
his brother's lifetime. Since his thirtieth birthday he had begun to feel
himself something of a waif and stray. There had been mistakes in his life,
errors he would be very glad to forget in an utterly new existence. It was
pleasant to know himself beloved by a proud and virtuous woman, a woman
whose love was neither to be easily won nor lightly lost.
He went back to the Castle more at ease with himself than he had felt for
some time. His future was settled, and he had done his duty.
* * * * *
LADY LAURA'S PREPARATIONS.
After that interview between Mr. Fairfax and his betrothed, there was no
time wasted. Laura Armstrong was enraptured at being made arbiter of the
arrangements, and was all haste and eagerness, impetuosity and animation.
The wedding was appointed for the second week in September, about five
weeks from the period of that garden _tete-a-tete_. Lady Geraldine was to
go to town for a week, attended only by her maid, to see her father, and to
give the necessary orders for her trousseau. The business of settlements
would be arranged between the family lawyers. There were no difficulties.
Lord Calderwood was not able to settle anything on his daughter, and
Mr. Fairfax was inclined to be very generous. There was no prospect of
squabbling or unpleasantness.
George Fairfax was to be away during this brief absence of his betrothed.
He had an engagement with an old friend and brother officer who was wont
to spend the autumn in a roughly comfortable shooting-box in the north of
Scotland, and whom he had promised to visit before his marriage; as a kind
of farewell to bachelorhood and bachelor friendship. There could be no
other opportunity for the fulfilment of this promise, and it was better
that Mr. Fairfax should be away while Lady Geraldine was in London. As the
period of his marriage became imminent, he had a vague feeling that he was
an object of general attention; that every feminine eye, at any rate, was
on him; and that the watch would be all the closer in the absence of his
betrothed No, he did not want to dawdle away a week (off duty) at Hale
Castle. Never before had he so yearned for the rough freedom of Major
Seaman's shooting-quarters, the noisy mirth of those rude Homeric feasts,
half dinner, half supper, so welcome after a long day's sport, with a quiet
rubber, perhaps, to finish with, and a brew of punch after a recondite
recipe of the Major's, which he was facetiously declared to bear tattooed
above the region of his heart. Mr. Fairfax had been two months at Hale when
Lady Geraldine left on that dutiful visit to her father, and necessary
interviewing of milliners and dressmakers; and he was, it is just
possible, a little tired of decorous country-house life, with its weekly
dinner-parties and perpetual influx of county families to luncheon, and its
unfailing croquet. He felt, too, that at such a time it would, be perhaps
safer for him to be away from Clarissa Lovel.
Was there any real danger for him in her presence? If he asked himself this
question nowadays, he was able to answer boldly in the negative. There
might have been a time of peril, just one perilous interval when he was in
some danger of stumbling; but he had pulled himself up in time, with an
admirable discretion, he thought, and now felt as bold as a lion. After
that morning with Lady Geraldine in the garden, he had never wavered. He
had not been less kind or polite to Miss Lovel; he had only made a point
of avoiding anything like that dangerous confidential friendship which had
been so nearly arising between them.
Of course every guest at the Castle knew all about the intended wedding
directly things had been finally arranged. Lady Laura was not given to the
keeping of secrets, and this important fact she communicated to all her
particular friends with a radiant face, and a most triumphant manner. The
two Fermor girls and Clarissa she invited to remain at Hale till after the
wedding, and to act as bridesmaids.
"My sisters Emily and Louisa will make two more," she said; "and that
pretty little Miss Trellis, Admiral Trellis's daughter, will be the
sixth--I shall have only six. We'll have a grand discussion about the
dresses to-morrow morning. I should like to strike out something original,
if it were possible. We shall see what Madame Albertine proposes. I have
written to ask her for her ideas; but a milliner's ideas are so _bornees._"
Lady Laura had obtained permission from her sister to enlist Clarissa in
the ranks of the bridesmaids.
"It would look so strange to exclude a pretty girl like that," she said.
Whereupon Geraldine had replied rather coldly that she did not wish to do
anything that was strange, and that Miss Lovel was at liberty to be one of
her bridesmaids. She had studiously ignored the confession of jealousy made
that night in her sister's dressing-room; nor had Laura ever presumed to
make the faintest allusion to it. Things had gone so well since, and there
seemed nothing easier than to forget that unwonted outbreak of womanly
Clarissa heard the approaching marriage discussed with a strange feeling, a
nameless undefinable regret. It seemed to her that George Fairfax was the
only person in her small world who really understood her, the only man
who could have been her friend and counsellor. It was a foolish fancy, no
doubt, and had very little foundation in fact; but, argue with herself as
she might against her folly, she could not help feeling that this marriage
was in somewise a calamity for her. She was quite sure that Lady Geraldine
did not like her, and that, as Lady Geraldine's husband, George Fairfax
could not be her friend. She thought of this a great deal in those busy
weeks before the wedding, and wondered at the heaviness of her heart in
these days. What was it that she had lost? As she had wondered a little
while ago at the brightness of her life, she wondered now at its darkness.
It seemed as if all the colour had gone out of her existence all at once;
as if she had been wandering for a little while in some enchanted region,
and found herself now suddenly thrust forth from the gates of that fairy
paradise upon the bleak outer world. The memory of her troubles came back
to her with a sudden sharpness. She had almost forgotten them of late--her
brother's exile and disgrace, her father's coldness, all that made her fate
dreary and hopeless. She looked forward to the future with a shudder. What
had she to hope for--now?
It was the last week in August when Lady Geraldine went up to London, and
George Fairfax hurried northward to his Friend's aerie. The trousseau had
been put in hand a day or two after the final settlement of affairs, and
the post had carried voluminous letters of instruction from Lady Laura to
the milliners, and had brought back little parcels containing snippings of
dainty fabrics, scraps of laces, and morsels of delicate silk, in order
that colours and materials might be selected by the bride. Everything was
in progress, and Lady Geraldine was only wanted for the adjustment of those
more important details which required personal supervision.
If Clarissa Lovel could have escaped from all this pleasant bustle and
confusion, from the perpetual consultations and discussions which Lady
Laura held with all her favourites upon the subject of the coming
marriage--if she could by any means have avoided all these, and above all
her honourable office of bridesmaid--she would most gladly have done so. A