- CHAPTER IV. HOW SHE BECAME MRS. NORREYS.
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HOW SHE BECAME MRS. NORREYS.
BUT Cecil Craven and Rachel Norreys had passed arm-in-arm from Mrs. Arundel's garden to the public road beyond, without so much as a thought of the jealousy and distrust which followed their exit. The way they had to traverse was a very short one: a couple of hundred yards or so down a steep path, cut in the side of the rock, would bring them to Dr. Browne's villa, and put an end to their communion. Perhaps they both remembered the brief distance with regret as they stepped into the moonlighted pathway, and saw all Gibraltar lying beneath them, wrapt in a grand silence. The whole station seemed asleep: look on which side they chose, there was nothing living to be descried or heard, except, perhaps, the measured tread of a sentry some little distance below them, or the distant bleat of a goat on the heights above as she roused herself to the semi-consciousness that whilst she slept her kid had strayed from her side. The air was balmy, but cool, and the scent of a few night-flowers too heavy by day, appeared refreshingly sweet now, in the absence of the sunshine. It was a night tor a long walk, a | | 33 night for unlimited confidences; a night for tears which had no sting in them; for kisses which were all truth—a night, in short, for love, and love alone. Cecil Craven appeared to feel the influence of the surrounding atmosphere, for as he found himself alone with Rachel Norreys, he repeated the question he had asked her beneath the verandah, and this time with increased emphasis, and an accent of greater entreaty. "What made you cry, Rachel? tell me all about it."
It was so good to feel the pressure of his strong arm, as he spoke, and to know that he had said before, he was ready to defend her, if need be, until death: it was so sweet, so new, to hear the interested voice in which he asked the question; to look up, and, by the moonlight, see his kind eyes bent upon her face as he waited for her answer; to feel that he was young like herself, and that he understood and sympathized with her. And so she told him all; the contents of her husband's letter to her father (her own she had not yet read); her dread of his arrival, of his taking her away from all she cared for; of her never, never being able to love him as a wife ought to do.
"For I have even forgotten his face," she wound up with; "it is like being married to a perfect stranger; and oh, Captain Craven, I am so wretched when I think of it."
They had finished their short journey as she spoke, and entered Dr. Browne's garden. Cecil Craven drew her under the shadow of the broad verandah, upon which her bedroom window looked, and stood against the open sill, lest their conversation should disturb her father, who slept on the opposite side of the house.
"Rachel," he said, as he held the girl before him, "each hour makes me reproach myself more that I ever made that fatal promise; but in trouble or difficulty of any kind, you know where your place ought to be."
"No, no!" she exclaimed, shrinking from him. "I have no right."
"No right!" he echoed; "no one has better; the right of justice and of love. Rachel, I will never take that plea from you; when you wish it, when you are ready, and the world's tussle is becoming too hard for you, remember that | | 34 my home, wherever it may be, and my affections, are open to you."
"Oh, that it might be!" she sighed.
"It is," he answered, emphatically; "and if you will not share the home I now inhabit, I will make one for you. I owe you so much, Rachel, if no more, for the wrong——"
"It is not yours," she interrupted, hastily; "you are not bound to pay off others' debts."
"Yes, I am, when it is my pleasure as well as duty. Only say, Rachel, that you will trust me; that you do trust me, and I will be contented."
"I do trust you, Captain Craven."
"Why 'Captain Craven?' Cannot you call me by my name?"
"It seems so soon—so strange," she whispered.
"But you acknowledge my right to ask it?"
"Then say it, Rachel, and I shall better feel that you belong to me."
"Good-night, Cecil," and she gave him one of her hands as the said the words, and attempted to take her guitar from him with the other. But he held it behind his back.
"Not without a pledge of my right," he exclaimed, as he bent his face towards hers. But she started backwards, and coloured violently.
"Oh, no," she said; "not that."
"Why not that, with the other?" he asked.
"Because the other is enough," she replied, but, recovering her composure, added archly, "for to-night."
"Then you shan't have your guitar," he rejoined.
"Then you may carry it home with you," she said, and entered the house, laughing as she spoke. And after a moment's pause, he put the instrument through the open window into the bedroom, and took his way again through the garden, whistling as he went.
She prepared to enter her room after this little passage of arms, almost gaily. She was too young and too imaginative to be left face to face with the anticipation of trouble long: a laugh, however slight, did her good, and acted like a cordial on her drooping spirits. A lamp was burning in her | | 35 bedroom; and when she first entered the verandah, she had glanced in to see that it was empty, and thought it was so. Now, however, she proved herself to have been mistaken; for as she turned the handle of the door, a tall, gaunt figure rose up from a chair which was concealed from the outside by the bed-furniture, and silently attended her pleasure. It was Caroline Wilson, the waiting-woman.
So unexpected, so unusual a sight, was this apparition, that Rachel almost exclaimed aloud as it first met her view. Then as the individuality of the creation before her struck her senses, and the knowledge that the woman must have overheard all the bantering conversation which had taken place in the verandah dawned upon her mind, her surprise turned to indignation, and her indignation knew no bounds.
"What on earth are you doing here, Caroline?" she said, angrily: "who told you to sit up for me to-night?"
"No one, ma'am," was the mild reply; "but I thought I might be of service to you whilst undressing."
"When you know that I never require you, dressing or undressing, and have never let you touch me yet! I don't believe it. I believe you have been employing your time opening all my drawers and pulling about my things. I will not have it, Caroline—I will stand it no longer. I have given orders that my room is to be held private, and I will have no one sneaking about the house and acting as spy upon every occasion. You have guessed my mind upon the subject before this, and now you know it."
The servant had stood perfectly quiet during this harangue without moving so much as a muscle of her face. Now she stooped and picked up a handkerchief Rachel had let fall during her heated words, and returned it to her mistress with a half-curtsey before she made her respectful answer.
"I am very sorry, ma'am," she said, " that I should have been so unfortunate as to offend you by my over-desire to save you trouble. I had no intention of making you angry, nor had I received any direct orders this evening not to sit up for you. Your own bedroom was the most suitable place, I thought, for me to await your return; and if I had not fallen to sleep in my chair I should have risen to apprize you of my presence as soon as I heard your step in the garden. | | 36 But if you really have so bad an opinion of me, ma'am, perhaps I had better leave your service; but on account of the little likelihood that is of the poor doctor lasting much longer, I——"
"There, there!" interrupted Rachel, "that will do; I don't need services, and you can go to bed. When I do want you, you may be sure I shall always let you know."
What the woman had last said, smote her bitterly. Every one seemed to add their confirmation to the dread she entertained of her father's approaching death. She had forgotten him—that dear sick father—when she had spoken so sharply to her waiting-woman. She had quite forgotten (how could she have done so?) that ho had said only this evening that Caroline Wilson was necessary to his comfort. Go! of course she must not go, not if Rachel had to ask her herself to stay. And, after all, she may have been hasty; she had no proofs that the woman was doing anything but what she considered her duty, in sitting up for her mistress's return. Oh, she was hasty, a great deal too much so, her father had always said it; how sorry she felt when she thought of it, and yet she could not disconnect a dark and disagreeable doubt with Caroline Wilson's sinister eyes, and unnaturally respectful demeanour; and with the doubt came back the remembrance that she must have overheard the conversation between Cecil Craven and herself in the verandah. She did not believe she had been asleep; she did not look the least as if she had been asleep; she must have overheard it, she was confident; and then Rachel fell to attempting to recal exactly what had been said, and to surmise what use this woman could make of her knowledge, if she was disposed to make any use of it at all.
As she sat before the looking-glass thinking thus, whilst her rippling chestnut hair fell in a perfect glory over her white dressing-gown, her eye fell upon the letter which she had received that afternoon and thrown aside unopened, which she had pushed beneath the stand of the toilet-glass impatiently, and now, almost as impatiently, drew forth again, as a corner of the thin blue envelope caught her eye.
It had been forwarded to Gibraltar under cover by her | | 37 mother-in-law, to whose care it had been sent, and the address, written in a free manly hand, ran thus:—
There was nothing to provoke any feeling but that of admiration in the writing, which, if one can judge character by such signs, betokened an off-hand and decided one; yet the girl to whom it was addressed scarcely glanced at the superscription on the cover, but tore it open and dashed through its contents as if they were not worth time or consideration.
They were as follows:—
"We have been lying idle here for so many months, that I can scarcely believe that we have received our sailing-orders at last, and that by this time to-morrow we shall be on our way home; but it is really true, and as we are all very busy in consequence, I have only time to write a few lines, that the good news may go to you by the next mail. When you receive this, I ought to be more than half way to you, and I hope it may find the 3rd in England again, and that the first face of welcome I see in Abbey Lodge may be that of my pretty Rachel; for though we have been separated for so many cruel years, I have never forgotten it, dearest, nor ceased to long for the moment when I shall see it again.
"Since we parted I have often made myself wretched by the thought that had I only foreseen that five years would elapse before I could return to claim you for my wife, I never should have been guilty of the injustice of binding you to me by marriage; but since they are now so nearly over, I will try to think that ' all's well that ends well,' and to look forward to nothing but a long spell of happiness with my dear girl. And now, my darling, I have not a moment more to spare. I hope this will be the last letter I shall write to you for a long time to come, and that when we next | | 38 find ourselves apart, I shall have a better right than I have now to sign myselfyour devoted husband, "RAYMOND NORREYS.
"P.S. I am bringing home such lots of pretty things for my dear wife from China and the Cape, and all manner of queer places.
But the promise of "lots of pretty things" did not seem to have the effect upon Rachel that it would have done upon most girls of her age. Indeed, it is doubtful if her eyes ever travelled as far as the postscript, so fixed were they upon the latter sentence, and signature of the letter, her "devoted husband"—her husband—his wife. Although for five years she had known the fact, she had never seemed to grasp the meaning of the words until now. With it arose a sickly fear and dread—almost a great disgust. She sat for a few minutes motionless, looking at the reflection of her own face, from which all colour had fled, in the glass, and at first it seemed possible to mould her future for herself, and with the thought, her impulse was to tear her letter into a dozen pieces.
"His wife!" she exclaimed. "Never!—not for a thousand worlds. I will not be his wife. I will tell him so directly we meet. I will beg my bread first!—I will——"
But here a sense of the impotency of her rage, of the impossibility (however fine it sounded theoretically) of a woman born and brought up as a lady begging her bread,—of the onus that would attach to her, bearing the name she did, if she refused to fulfil her duty—all broke upon the mind of the bewildered girl at once, and altered her demeanour. She rose from her chair half frightened at her discovery—looked at her own reflection in the glass with eyes full of the deepest compassion—took one step forward, as if she were half-blind—and then, gaining the bedside, sunk on her knees upon the floor, and sobbed as if her heart would break. Ah! it Raymond Norreys could only have seen her then, he who, having reached England with a "fair wind and flowing tide," was at that very moment impatiently awaiting the paying-off of his ship at Spithead, anxious for nothing | | 39 but liberty to rush to Gibraltar and fold the woman in his arms who was now by her actions silently cursing the destiny which had linked her fate with his. For it seemed, indeed on looking backward, as if Destiny had behaved worse than usual in linking these two so firmly together before they scarcely knew the nature of the obligations they took upon themselves. She had been extremely young at the time, as dates have already shown—only sixteen, and he, the husband, but five years older than herself. And it had happened on this wise:—
Dr. Browne had been stationed with his regiment at Portsmouth, and had placed Rachel at a finishing school at South-sea, that he might see his little girl as often as he felt inclined. A school, which was like too many others of the same class, where a few flimsy accomplishments were taken in, at the cost of a large annual expenditure, and the natural modesty of the pupils; for no one who has not searched into the subject, and paid it great and personal attention, can have any conception of the folly, the indelicacy, and the wrong which go on among a number of young people brought together from mixed society and homes, and left, during the hours not devoted to study, to amuse themselves.
The finishing establishment to which Rachel Norreys was consigned was no better than the generality of such. Dr. Browne loved the girl devotedly, but he was not keen-sighted enough to espy the evils to which she would be subjected—nor, indeed, are nine parents out of ten in the present day. The convenience of the arrangement is all that they think of; and the topics to which I allude are not precisely such as a young girl chooses upon which to make a confidante of her mother or father. So Rachel received instruction from various masters in drawing, dancing, and music; attended classes for French, and German, and Italian; and spent six hours at least out of the twelve in discussing love and marriage, lovers and husbands, liaisons and elopements, and other equally interesting but perhaps less mentionable subjects, with the young ladies of the school, who were only too pleased to have a fresh mind to sully, and to be witness to the blushing surprise, the exclamations of horror, the impossibility of belief which innocent Rachel first gave expression | | 40 to, and to see it gradually replaced by an entire conversion, and a capability of talking upon any subject without blushing at all. Not that I mean to intimate that my heroine became immodest (for the adjective in its extreme sense is a hard one) under the process; she only experienced what almost every school-girl is subjected to, that is to say, she had her eyes opened long before the world and her senses would have opened them for her. And the consequence of such violence is, that the next necessity for young ladies, after talking of lovers, is to possess lovers themselves; and Rachel Browne was about the only girl in the school so unprovided when Raymond Norreys became acquainted with her, and it must be said, for his age, laid very spirited siege to the unused citadel of her heart.
The lad—at this time a promising youth, nothing more—was known to Dr. Browne, and had often met Rachel at his house on a Saturday afternoon—the good doctor little suspecting that the flirtation he saw them carry on was anything but a boy's and girl's nonsense.
He had been acquainted with the parents of Raymond Norreys in times gone by, and liked the young fellow for the sake of his father, who was dead, and whom he greatly resembled. Raymond, who had entered the Royal Navy at his own request, and who had already made one cruise, was passing the interval of his being appointed to another ship in studying navigation (or something still more important, perhaps) in one of the training-vessels in Portsmouth harbour. But much of his time was spent on shore, and much in loitering about Dr. Browne's house; yet, until one bright morning in July, when the news came upon him like a thunder-clap, the doctor had had no more idea that Raymond Norreys' love for his daughter was likely to prove a serious affair, than any one else would do from the few words which have already been written on the subject here. But on that morning the proprietress of the establishment at which Rachel was imbibing so many foolish and wrong ideas drove up to Dr. Browne's house in a hackney cab, accompanied by her sister, a couple of teachers and an unlimited supply of pocket-hand-kerchiefs and smelling-salts, and burst upon him with the awful intelligence that his daughter had been pronounced | | 41 "missing" from her house that morning, and that no one knew where she was gone; but that some of her companions frightened at her temerity at really carrying out what she had threatened to do, had confessed that they had heard her say she was going to have a runaway marriage with Mr. Raymond Norreys.
In a brief retrospect like the present it is impossible and unnecessary to describe the scene which followed such a disclosure. Dr. Browne was a man of action. It was not then ten o'clock; he knew the only thing to be done was to follow the fugitives, so he only allowed himself time to consign the fainting lady proprietress to an unmentionable place to her face, which so surprised her that she quite recovered from the swoon she was just about to indulge in, before he rushed frantically from the house; and was at the railway station in less than no time, making inquiries on all sides. Here his task became easy. The young lady and gentleman had been observed by several of the officials; their destination, some fifty miles off, was known; and all poor Dr. Browne had to do was to sit down and wait for the next train.
When it started it conveyed him, in less than three hours after he had first heard the news, to a small country place, with only one church in it and one inn. He went to the latter first, and found the newly-married couple sitting very close together on a horse-hair sofa, and awaiting the appearance of the dinner they had ordered. The meeting was not a very formidable one. Dr. Browne had only to open the inn-parlour door, and to show his kind, sad face inside it, when there was a cry almost of joy, a bound forward, and a slight figure was folded in his arms, saying, "Oh, papa, I am so sorry! I will never do it again! Oh, papa, darling, do forgive me!"—and the tacit forgiveness came almost as she spoke in a shower of kisses from the dear lips above her hidden face. But it was to the young husband that the father refused to hold out a hand, or to speak, except in tones of the greatest severity.
"Do you know what you have done, sir, in sneaking in this manner into an honourable man's house, and stealing the best thing he had there? Are you aware that you have sullied this child's name in a manner that years may not wipe out?"| | 42
But the lad would not be cowed: he looked infinitely proud as he replied,—
"I am not aware how I can sully the name of Browne by exchanging it for that of Norreys, sir—though I acknowledge have been very wrong in persuading Rachel to this step. Yet she is my wife now—and no woman need be ashamed of being so."
God bless the boy! He might have been fifty, and a duke into the bargain, to seen the flashing of his eager eyes as the words passed his lips.
Dr. Browne's heart relented towards him as he watched his manly bearing, but he would not show it.
"Your wife!" he repeated. "Do you know, Mr. Norreys, that my daughter is under age, and, having been married without the consent of parents or guardians, can have her marriage put aside, if I choose to do so."
Raymond grew pale, and took a step forward.
"But you will not choose it, sir: you will not have it dis-annulled. I am of age, Dr. Browne. I will guard her faithfully if you will trust her to me."
"And why couldn't you have come to me like an honest lad, and told me so to my face, instead of persuading this child to outrage every law of obedience and decency, and to run away from a lather who never said no! to her slightest wish, as if he was a tyrant——" But here he was interrupted by Rachel's sobs as she clasped him tighter round the neck.
"Don't, papa; don't say that! I will go back with you, papa. I will live at home with you for ever; only don't say words like those."
Dr. Browne replied, tenderly, "Will you go back with me, Rachel?—will you give up this boy for your old father again?"
"Yes, I will—I will!" she exclaimed, convulsively, as she clung to him the tighter.
"And you, young gentleman—will you consent to this folly being as if it had never been, and let this girl return quietly home with me?"
"Never!" exclaimed Raymond Norreys. "She has told me that she loves me; she has become my wife of her own free will. I never give her up with mine."| | 43
Dr. Browne admired the spirit which dictated the words, though he professed to resent it.
"Then I shall apply to the law," he answered, "to restore my daughter to me."
" Rachel, you will not leave me," said the young man, as he tried to approach the girl, and to take her hand. The tones of her lover's voice roused her, and she attempted an appeal to her father. Energetic at sixteen as she was at one-and-twenty, she spoke and felt like a woman instead of a child.
"Papa, I love him: we have been very foolish and wicked—but I thought it such a fine thing to be married; and we knew you would never consent whilst I was so young. But don't separate us, papa; he is soon going away on a long voyage. Let me be his wife, and I will live at home with you, and still be your little daughter for all the years that he will be away."
Alas! womanly as were her words, she was too much of a child yet to know how long those years might prove, nor how her heart and mind might alter in that time. But Dr. Browne felt that they both waited for his fiat. They had been foolish, but they were children, and foolishness was bound up in their hearts; and, besides, he had never refused Rachel anything: yet he dared not decide by himself. He put his girl upon the sofa, with a sigh, and told Raymond Norreys that he wished to speak to him alone. As they left the inn together, he said: "Raymond, before I give you a definite answer, I must have counsel upon this subject. Rachel has other friends besides myself, and I should wish to have the advice of her family before I decide. Perhaps you also had better communicate with your mother, Raymond."
"Thank you; I am of age," was the only reply.
"Anyway, I should prefer your giving me your company until this matter is settled."
The young man's pride was touched at this request; but he remembered what might be the consequences if he objected to it, and therefore prepared to walk by Dr. Browne's side to the station. There they spent a miserable couple of hours together, whilst messages to parties unknown that must | | 44 have cost pounds in the conveyance, went fluttering up and sown the telegraphic wires, and Dr. Browne watched their departure and awaited their advent always in the same position, with his face buried in his hands, and in total silence. At length the last message had been received, and the elder gentleman intimated his intention of returning to the inn. When there he took his daughter into the shelter of his embrace, and thus addressed her lover:—
"Raymond Norreys, my daughter's relations perfectly coincide with me in the justice of the offer I am about to make you. You have tried to take her from us by stealth, but you have failed. Yet, in consideration of your youth, and the family from which you spring "(for the lad came of a first-rate stock), "we are disposed to overlook the offence on one condition—that you permit Rachel to return home quietly with me; that you join the ship to which you are appointed with all speed, and do not attempt to claim her as your wife until you return from this cruise."
"Not for a few weeks, sir!" exclaimed Raymond, his colour going and coming as he spoke. "May I not have my wife until I start? It is rather hard——"
"Rather hard!" interrupted the doctor; "when I have the power to take her from you altogether. "What do you mean?
"I suppose I must submit," the boy rejoined; "but I love her, and it is hard. Rachel, darling, you wont forget that you are my wife, although they tear you from me."
She turned as he spoke and rushed into his arms, and as he showered his young hot kisses upon her face and head and hands, Dr. Browne wished to heaven that he could feel it right to give them to one another. But his love for Rachel was great, and he remained firm.
"Now, Norreys," he said, "be a man, and let her go. You shall see her as often as you choose until you sail, and you'll be back again to claim her before you have a proper beard upon your chin."
Sorry comfort! but they had to accept it. The boy gave her up; and until he sailed for China and the Archipelago, a month afterwards, he never saw his wife except in her father's presence. Then she was sent to a school in London, where | | 45 she was known only by her maiden name; and it was not until the 3rd Royal Bays were under orders for Gibraltar that Dr. Browne had her home, and introduced her to his regiment as Mrs. Norreys. She was then only a girl of eighteen and yet the image of her young husband was already beginning to fade in her memory. The fact is, she had never loved him as he loved her. She had, as she told her father, "thought it fine to be married;"—something to crow about over the school-girls of her acquaintance; and as she crept upwards to woman's estate, the truth sorrowfully dawned upon her that she had made a great mistake. And it was an aggravation to the misery of her discovery (as every woman will acknowledge) to feel that Raymond still loved her, had always done so, and fully expected that she loved him in return. And this was what was rushing through her mind as she knelt sobbing by the bedside on the evening that we left her.
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