- CHAPTER III. MRS. NORREYS' BOSOM FRIEND.
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MRS. NORREYS' BOSOM FRIEND.
MRS. ARUNDEL—Eliza Arundel, as was her real name—Elise, as she would be called—the wife of "poor old Jack " and the bosom friend of Mrs. Norreys, was rather an ample friend to take to any one's bosom. Metaphorically speaking however, she was "all that" to my unwary heroine; c'est-à-dire she was the recipient of all her news, personal and otherwise, the correspondent of her confidential letter-writing (ah! what worse than folly lies in that confidential letter-writing!), and the adviser in all her little purchases, as well as all her little scrapes. Mrs. Arundel was a very fine-looking woman of, at this time, perhaps eight-and-twenty or thirty years of age. She was tall and fair, and well-covered, with a plump white neck and bust, of which she | | 21 always showed as much as civilized society permits a lady to do (and civilized society permits a good deal in these days). She had full light-blue eyes, and rather heavily-cut features, particularly about the lower part of her face, where the jaw was large and square, and the chin massive. But she was fine decidedly; some people might think too fine; but every one has their enemies. She was a great contrast to "poor old Jack," who was anything but fine, having a stumpy, not to say podgy, figure, and a bullet head, but who was one of the mildest, most inoffensive men withal, and had laid himself down through life with the greatest good-will to be trampled on, and ignored, and insulted, by his huge, white Juggernaut of an Eliza, appearing, moreover, blissfully unconscious all the while that her heavy yoke was on him, or that it was anything out of the common way, if it was. There were some children of this ill-fated Jack, who were treated much in the same manner as himself—at least they were kept in the nursery all day long, whilst he was kept in the background; and perhaps of the two, the children felt it the least. But whether he felt it or not, God only knows, for Jack Arundel lived and died, and made no sign. He had been married for ten years to Juggernaut, and during that time she had always followed in the track of the Royal Bays, and was as well known in it as the Colonel himself, to whom, indeed, Major Arundel was only second in command. Juggernaut had seen many a youngster enter the corps, who had sprouted his whiskers, gone into debt, sold his commission—married, perhaps, or died; and yet she still remained stationary to shake hands with his successor. Many she had known intimately, for she was a woman fond of men's society, and to not a few had her white neck and arms, her languishing eyes, and reputation not entirely free from the onus of an undue love for flirtation, proved the means of inoculation with that fever which all must take, sooner or later, and which proves fatal to so small a number. Cecil Craven had been one of these victims: indeed, some five years before, when Elise Arundel had not been quite so developed, and Captain Craven had had nothing better to do, a little scandal (which amounted to rather more than rumour) had sprung up in the 3rd relative to her intimacy with that | | 22 gentleman. Whether there was really any truth in the statement never came to light. The report arose, was talked of privately, and commented upon until it reached the ears of its subject, when a good deal was dropped on her part had been carried on before—at least outwardly. Then the scandal died a natural death; people got tired of discussing it when no fresh food was given them to discuss upon; somebody else did something else naughty, and they had no more time to devote to the flirtation of Mrs. Arundel with Captain Craven. Whether Eliza Arundel had forgotten it in company with her kind friends, as this story develops you will discover for yourselves; one thing is certain, that Cecil Craven had not, for the remembrance of it came rather unpleasantly before him sometimes when he was talking with Rachel Norreys; and he had wished to himself, more than once, that the two ladies were not quite so intimate with one another.
If, however, Mrs. Arundel shared the remembrance with him, she took good care not to let him see that she did so; and as for Rachel, she had no idea that he had ever professed to be more than a friend to her friend. She had often remarked to him, as a trait of goodness in her dear Elise, how perfectly free she seemed from jealousy at their predilection for one another's company, even appearing to further their intimacy as much as she could by contriving meetings for them, and bringing them together as often as it was in her power. And Cecil Craven, though he was not a clever man, had shown his sense upon such occasions by holding his tongue and keeping his opinions to himself. On the evening in question, he happened to be the first to present himself in Mrs. Arundel's drawing-room.
"Ah! signer," she exclaimed, as she came forward to meet him, in all the glories of a blue silk dress, out of which appeared almost as much of her body as there was in, "something told me you would not be behindhand this evening. Now it is no good looking round the room, because I haven t hidden her anywhere. She has not come yet: patience, mon ami, patience."
Mrs. Arundel had an odious habit continually interspersing her conversation with French and Italian words, | | 23 which she considered very refined and elegant, and a proof of the society she had mixed in. In reality, however, she knew little or nothing of either language, and the few hack phrases which she compelled to do duty upon all occasions were the extent of her knowledge. Cecil Craven knew them so well, that he could almost have told beforehand which of her stock-in-trade she was about to use. He was accustomed to her remarks, and was always annoyed at them; but on the present occasion he bit his lips, and appeared doubly so.
"Thank you for your advice, my dear Mrs. Arundel," he said, in answer, and rather coolly; "but you had better have kept it for some one who needs it more. Having succeeded in reaching your presence, my impatience is an at end. What have you been doing with yourself this afternoon?"
"Ah, you may well ask. What have you been doing, that you forgot your promise this morning to bring me those back numbers of the 'Cornhill Magazine' from the mess? I expected you every hour."
Cecil Craven started. He had really forgotten all about it. He was not quick enough to frame an excuse for himself, and so he only looked guiltily conscious. He attempted at last to stammer out a reply; but the lady interrupted him, by laying her full white hand upon his mouth.
"Now, Craven, don't commit yourself. I have no doubt you were better employed. The days are past for that sort of thing. There was a time——"
She looked at him with a most languishing glance as she uttered the word; but his eyes were cast down, and did not meet hers. Then he said, shortly,—
"I say, where's Arundel?"
Her face changed immediately, and she attempted to cover her annoyance by an affectation of great gaiety.
"Jack?—why, the dear old boy's smoking a pipe, of course, after his dinner. You will find him in the dining-room, if you want him, Captain Craven."
"I do wish to say a word to him, Mrs. Arundel, if you'll excuse me for leaving you. I'll be back directly."
"Pray don't hurry yourself," she replied, sarcastically.
But the tone was lost upon him; for he availed himself of her permission without so much as turning his eyes again in | | 24 the direction of her figure; and when he had left the room, the look she sent after him was almost one of hate. People do not talk to themselves aloud in real life, or very seldom so; they do not stand in the centre of a room and soliloquize, in order generously to let the public know what they are thinking about, and to throw a light upon their subsequent actions; but they do hold communion with their own hearts, and the conversation is audible enough to themselves, and as impressive as if it had been uttered. In Eliza Arundel's heart were running at that moment sentences very akin in meaning to the following, although not a word passed her angry, trembling lips:—
"You have not forgotten what has passed between us, Cecil Craven, although you try to make me believe that you have done so, because you have taken a fancy in another direction, and are tired of our intimacy. You delight in making me jealous; but you shall never have the pleasure of seeing that I am so again. It is useless trying to win you back at present—I only injure my own cause by the attempt; but wait until I have you in my power, and then see if it was worth your while to throw my regard on one side directly it suited your convenience to do so."
There was no doubt her thoughts ran somewhat in this strain, though it would be rash roundly to assert that she would have used these identical words, as there is no doubt that she hated to watch the intimacy between Cecil Craven, and her particular friend, and yet apparently did all she could to further it.
"Amica mia!" she enthusiastically exclaimed, half an hour later, as Rachel, all white muslin and green ribbons, with her guitar in one hand and her hat in the other, ran into the room, and was folded in her arms, "I have been dying for you to come; for of course, a certain gentleman found Jack and smoking more conducive to his enjoyment than the drawing-room, since somebody had not arrived. However, we shall see him in again before long now, or I am very much mistaken. How is the dear pater to-night, carissima mia?'
"No better, I am afraid, Elise. He seemed as weak as a child when we put him to bed. The weather is so hot and so trying.| | 25
"And yourself, petite, how wags the world with you? I have not seen you all to-day. I thought you were lost, or had eloped with a party who shall be nameless."
"Oh, Elise, don't!" implored Rachel, whilst a vivid blush mounted up to her forehead, and spread itself over all her features.
"Pardon, chérie, j'ai tort. I forgot that such things were only done, not spoken of. Have you any news?"
"Yes, indeed," sighed Rachel, "bad news for me. What do you think, dear Elise—the 'Agincourt' was expected at home the beginning of this month?"
"Ciel!" exclaimed Mrs. Arundel, in a tone of horror, "ma pauvre petite. But you are joking, Rachel, surely!"
"No, indeed, I am not," replied poor Rachel, who scorned to desert her native language in ordinary converse, "it is too true: we received the letters by this afternoon's mail. Oh, Elise! what shall I do? What a miserable, wretched girl I am! I feel as if I should like to drown myself."
She threw her arms around her friend's neck as she spoke, and cried.
"Oh, my dear Rachel!" said Mrs. Arundel, forgetting her French in her desire to stop the girl's tears, "I dare say Mr. Norreys will turn out a very charming fellow, and you will get on very nicely together. Dear me! a handsome young husband coming home is nothing to cry about. I wish I was half so lucky myself."
"Oh, how can you talk in that way, Elise, when you know all? I feel as if I could not live until the ship comes home,—as if there was nothing to live for."
"Tais-toi, chérie, tais-toi," said her friend as she tapped the girl's back with her fan; "you must learn not to talk of such things, whatever you may think. You are a silly child—you must let all that little business rest between you and me," (Rachel raised her eyes inquiringly at this juncture, but Mrs. Arundel went on speaking, and gave her no time to put in a word)—"come, dry your eyes—I hear the gentleman coming—corragio, arnica mia."
She did not tell the girl to be brave, and look forward to the expected advent of her husband as a future of love and happiness for herself. She did not tell her that, whatever | | 26 that future might prove, her duty in it could not be otherwise than plain. She did not caution her (where it was evident she considered caution necessary) against cherishing an unlawful affection, and laying up a remorse for herself which might never die. If she had, what might she not have saved her from—what trouble, already advancing in the unknown hereafter towards the heart of Rachel Norreys might not, at such friendly warning, have turned its steps another way and never borne a closer inspection! But Eliza Arundel did none of this. On the contrary, her first appeal, on the entrance of her husband and Captain Craven, was to the latter gentleman to come to her aid, and attempt the consolation of "cette pauvre pétite."
"Really, Captain Craven, you must come and help me to scold this naughty little thing, who is crying her eyes out about nothing at all, at least that I can see; but you are a privileged person, I know, and perhaps she may tell you more than she has me. Come, go along both of you, and have a good talk in the verandah. I know you don't want me, and what's more, I don't want you; for I am going to have my old Jack all alone this evening, and give him a good scolding for something he has done naughty. Now, Major Arundel, what have you to say for yourself?"
It was Mrs. Arundel's way sometimes, when she wished to be facetious, to affect the playful tyrant over poor old Jack, but as that gentleman enjoyed an unvarying supply of the real article in private, he never seemed to care much about the imitation. And on the present occasion his feebly-expressed desire to know the reason why he should be dragged away from the presence of his guests against his will, was so vehemently backed by both Rachel and Captain Craven, that unitedly they gained the day.
Rachel had lifted her glowing face, upon which the tears had quickly dried with shame at their discovery, from the shoulder of her friend as soon as ever she heard the first appeal to Captain Craven on her behalf. The girl was annoyed that it should be so; she might tell him as much as she chose herself, but she could not understand why Elise should wish to draw general attention to the fact of her distress and its cause. She thought that women were intended to hide | | 27 such things for one another. During Mrs. Arundel's next words she stood apart, a little proudly, and disclaimed eagerly all wish or need of consolation from any one; and when her friend attempted to force her to a private interview with Cecil Craven as if he possessed the right as well as the means of comforting her, the protest she put in against any such arrangement had sufficient vehemence in it, to be almost indignant.
"Just as you like, my dears," said Mrs. Arundel, when Cecil Craven's entreaty that the party should not be separated, was added to that of the others; "just as you like; please yourselves and you please me. I only proposed what I thought most agreeable for us all;" but there was a touch of offence, of what is commonly termed "huffiness," in her manner as she said the words, which showed that her temper was one easily upset, and that her affirmation of the pleasure of her friends making her own was not entirely true.
It will be as well at this juncture to pause and answer the question which will naturally have risen in the minds of most readers of this story, "How was it that an open, honourable disposition like that of Rachel Norreys' could ever have found sufficient sympathy in that of Eliza Arundel to draw the two women so closely together in the bonds of friendship?" To those who have been thrown in military exile upon the companionship of a very few, the question scarcely needs a solution, and even to individuals who know nothing of such a life it is soon explainable. There are various forms of affection in this world, and one of the most common, and easiest mistaken for love, is that of attachment—such an attachment as subsisted, on one side at least, of this miscalled friendship. In a station like Gibraltar, for instance, where there are very few ladies, and very little indoor amusement, time passes heavily unless there are one or two houses, at which one is sufficiently intimate to run in and spend a few hours whenever one likes. And in the case of a girl like Rachel Norreys, without children or husband to occupy her time, and her father employed on his own duty most of the day, such a resource was almost essential. Circumstances had thus thrown her upon the society of Mrs. Arundel for the last three years, and the constant association | | 28 and close intimacy which resulted from it had led her to believe that she loved the woman, and that the woman loved her. Added to which, Eliza Arundel had the subtilty of the serpent, to enable her to maintain the credit of being harmless as the dove; and although Rachel was no simpleton to be easily hoodwinked, like all trusty people she was slow to believe others untrustworthy. And the friend she had faith in, was woman enough to know how far to raise her suspicions, and what salve to apply to the wound such raising might occasion. Amidst a large choice of acquaintance, Rachel's fancy would probably never have alighted upon Mrs. Arundel; but fate, solitude, and a heart ill at ease combined, had served to spread a net beneath her feet, which she, like many another of her sex before her, found it eventually impossible to disentangle herself from, without rending it and much of her life's happiness at the same time, to pieces.
But to return to the evening in question, an awkward silence followed for a time Mrs. Arundel's last words and look of offence; such a silence as must occasionally fall upon a small circle when private affairs are touched upon, and do not insure a general sympathy. Captain Craven tried to dispel the present feeling by taking up Rachel's guitar.
"Sing us something, Mrs. Norreys," he said, "if it will not be too much for you."
Rachel's manner refuted the idea of anything being too much for her. She wished to make every one present forget that she had ever shed a tear; particularly she wished to forget herself the means by which Mrs. Arundel had endeavoured to dry them. She took up her guitar, with an air of apparent pleasure in the anticipation of amusing them, and said she had no new songs, but Captain Craven was welcome to any of the old ones that he chose to name. He, of course, chose "any one Mrs. Norreys pleased," which was as good as saying, "none at all;" and then Mrs. Arundel put in her veto for "La Desolazione," a little melancholy thing by Giuseppe Lillo. It seemed hardly a friendly act to call for it, for there was a wild despairing tone breathed through the melody which, joined to the sad words, was not calculated to raise spirits already drooping. Rachel could not help thinking, as she heard the request, that Elise must re- | | 29 member that the very last time she had sung that song before her, she had been melted to tears at the sound of her own voice, and the thoughts which the melancholy words it uttered engendered. She gave one upward glance at the face of her friend, as much as to say, "Is this forgetfulness or malice?" and then blaming herself for the unkind suspicion, sat down to her task. It was a task; but she got through it bravely, and without so much as her bright eyes being dimmed; and that over, the rest came easy, and she sang song after song as long as she was requested to do so. Hers was not a powerful voice nor an artistic touch, but they were true, clear notes that were very sweet to listen to, and she accompanied herself upon the guitar quite as well as any amateur ever does upon that instrument. The fact is, she was nearly self-taught. She had commenced music in her school-days with an ardour that promised well for the perfection of the taste which she really possessed, but the style in which they had attempted to teach her had disgusted the girl altogether. Was this the art for which Beethoven and Mozart, and grand old Handel—not to mention scores of others, both ancient and modern—lived, and would almost have died? This, which they tried to translate for her through the medium of a few trumpery ballads, without rhythm in the melody or harmony in the chords, written for the use of young ladies' schools, chosen by the music mistress for the morality of the words alone, and without the slightest regard to the worth of the music? Was the result of all this practice only to consist of a few trumpery polkas and mazurkas—generally the composition of a brother, or father, or uncle of her teacher, whose relations chiefly figured in regimental bands or orchestras, and of whose productions she was used to have a good stock on hand—or her portfolio of vocal music never to contain other than such songs as "I love my happy childhood's home;" "Dear native land, good night;" or "Speak gently to the aged one," &c.? She had commenced her study of the art with an anticipation of pleasure in its pursuit, from which keener critics than her second-rate teachers would have prognosticated great things, and urged her on in consequence. But she closed it speedily, loathing the food they offered her, and refusing to learn any more; and if Rachel | | 30 expressed her disapprobation of a pursuit to Dr. Browne, that was quite sufficient. She was to be troubled with it no longer. So that when she had joined her father in Gibraltar, some three years before, she had considered herself almost ignorant of music. But there was something in the wild sounds of the guitar, and the impassioned strains of Spanish love songs, which struck a chord in Rachel's nature, and assimilated with it. From the first day she had heard the two, united, she had coveted a guitar and a knowledge of the Spanish language. And she was not long before she possessed both; and the slight remembrance which she retained of the lessons she had received coming back to her aid, she managed by means of it, added to a great deal of enthusiasm for her present pursuit, to make herself a very tolerable musician. She sang all sorts of songs now: Moorish serenades, Neapolitan barcaroles, Spanish chants, and Portuguese love-songs; melodies, most of them like herself, impassioned, wild, and flowing. As she sat this evening upon a low ottoman, her cheeks flushing and paling as her excitement rose and fell—her small hands in the prettiest of attitudes that pretty hands can assume—her flexible voice suiting itself so well to the character of each song she sang, she looked as though she ought never to be separated from her guitar, and probably few other situations would have offered so much display for the various changes which formed the characteristic feature of her mobile face. The evening was spent almost entirely in singing, for its unpleasant commencement seemed to have given a check to familiar conversation, and then eleven o'clock struck, and Rachel remembered that she had promised her father not to be home very late.
"You are off terribly early to-night, carissima," exclaimed Mrs. Arundel, when the fact was announced; "but you mustn't go alone; Captain Craven will see you home, I am sure."
But there had been an expression in Eliza Arundel's face lately, and a tone in her voice, when speaking of Captain Craven and Rachel together, that made the latter shrink from the offer.
"It is out of Captain Craven's way," she answered; "and I thought Major Arundel——"| | 31
"I shall be only too proud," commenced poor old Jack, rising as he spoke.
"And so shall I," responded Cecil Craven, as he laughed and rose also.
"What nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Arundel, almost as if she was annoyed. "Why on earth should you go, Jack, when here is Captain Craven all ready, and you have had such a hard day's work! It can make no difference which goes. Now can it, Rachel? Don't ask Jack, my dearest girl, he is so tired,"
"Not at all," commenced Major Arundel again, but Rachel interrupted him.
"I couldn't think of it," she said; "in fact, I don't want either of you. I can walk home perfectly well alone."
" There'sa challenge to your gallantry, Captain Craven," exclaimed Eliza Arundel, as she turned to him.
"I am ready to accept it, as I said before," he answered, gaily. "Mrs. Norreys knows that I would not allow her to return home by herself."
"That's right: of course not," was the reply; "so be off, both of you, and mind you go straight home, and don't mistake your way," she added, laughing, as she pretended to push them gently out into the verandah which surrounded the house.
"I cannot imagine, Eliza," said Major Arundel, in his measured tones, when, having dismissed her friends with a loud "Buona notte," she returned to him in the drawing-room. "why, if, as you say, Craven is flirting with that girl, you should always appear so anxious to leave them together. It isn't as if she was single; I could understand it then; but as matters stand, I should have thought it much kinder in you as a friend, to——"
He was proceeding in his slow, monotonous manner, to put forth his opinions, which were generally, for all their slowness, anything but foolish ones, when his wife stopped him with a contemptuous "Bah!" pronounced very short, and right in his face, as she stepped behind one of the curtains, and watched the pair in the verandah. They had stopped in order that Cecil Craven might relieve Rachel of her guitar, and as he slung it over one arm, he drew her hand through | | 32 the other. "Tell me what worries you, Rachel," he said as he did so. They were innocent words enough but he had said them a minute too soon. He had never called her anything but Mrs. Norreys in public before, and he mistook the surrounding stillness of the night for privacy. As he passed with Rachel's arm through his own, out of the gloom of the verandah into the moonlit garden, the face which Mrs. Arundel returned from the curtain upon her husband was darker than it need have been, notwithstanding the temerity with which he had exposed himself to her anger by making a remark. The biographer of their married life is not justified, perhaps in recording a positive assertion on the subject, but it is shrewdly suspected that poor old Jack had doubly earned his title to the commiserative adjectives his friends had prefixed to his name, before the next morning dawned upon Gibraltar.
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