Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

Woman Against Woman, an electronic edition

by Florence Marryat [Marryat, Florence, 1837-1899]

date: [18--]
source publisher: Gall & Inglis
collection: Genre Fiction

Table of Contents

<< chapter 4 chapter 37 >>

Display page layout


IT was some time before Rachel rose from that self-abased attitude, and prepared to seek her bed: she had too much to think about, too much to weep over, to allow the tempest of her grief to expend itself quickly. When at length it was exhausted, and she tried to compose herself to sleep, her eyelids were hot and swollen, and her whole body feverish, so that the night was well advanced before she succeeded in attaining her object; and when she did sleep, it was heavily; and although she was half conscious several times during the early morning, of a footstep moving about her room, she never roused herself entirely until the sun was shining brightly into the half-closed Venetian shutters of her window, and so fervently as to warn her at once that, whatever the hour, it was late compared to her usual time of rising.

But still she lay, for a few minutes, unwilling to move. Her eyelids felt stiff, her eyes half their usual size; and there | | 46 was a languor pervading her whole frame, which made her search for the cause. Then the remembrance of her last night's trouble, of her husband's return, and her father's illness, all flashed upon her, and with it came entire wakefulness, and she rose quickly and threw on her dressing-gown, with the intention of going to Dr. Browne's room. It was her custom to do so directly she waked, to learn what kind of a night he had passed. But as she prepared to cross the drawing-room, she heard voices on the opposite side of the house, and paused. The villa which Dr. Browne occupied was built very similar to most houses in warm climates. It consisted of some five or six rooms, all large and airy, but built on the same floor, and opening one into the other, by means of more doors and windows than we in England, making "draughts" the bêtes-noirs of our existence, could conceive it possible to live amongst. Of these apartments the two centre ones were the drawing and dining-rooms, and the bedrooms were at the sides. All round the house there ran a broad verandah, sheltering the windows of the various rooms, without which they would have been insupportable in the hottest part of the day, even without the aid of their green jalousies. The window-sills were very low, and the large windows usually stood wide open, even at night, so that the verandah itself, with its pleasant screen of overhanging creepers, and its array of little tables and lounging chairs, seemed almost like part of the rooms which opened upon it. But to gain access to the side of the villa which Dr. Browne with his attendants occupied, Rachel must cross the drawing-room; and there were other voices to be heard beside those of her father and Caroline Wilson; and she was in her dressing-gown, and so she stopped to listen. Soon she distinguished the tones of Dr. Harris, the other regimental surgeon, and that of some one else blended with it, and they alarmed her. Why was Dr. Harris there so early? He was used to call about twelve every morning, but it could not be that time yet. Her watch lay on the toilet-table, but in her distress of the previous night she had forgotten to wind it up, and it was useless. And so she rang a hand-bell which tood [sic] there violently, and it brought Caroline Wilson in another minute to her side; her apparently imperturbable | | 47 features bearing no trace that she had any remembrance of the words with which her mistress had separated from her the evening before.

"Caroline," said Rachel, anxiously; "who is in papa's room? Is anything the matter?"

"Only Dr. Harris, ma'am, and Captain Craven. The Doctor passed rather a restless night, and so Barnes and I thought it advisable for Dr. Harris to see him earlier than usual this morning."

"What o'clock is it?"

"Just gone ten, ma'am. Will you please to have your breakfast in here? You've had a long sleep, ma'am; and yet you weren't to say up late last night."

Rachel appeared to take no notice of the interest expressed in the foregoing words, but followed up her former question with another.

"What does Dr. Harris say about papa, Caroline?"

"I have not heard the doctor make any remark, ma'am, at least not to me. He told Barnes that master must have plenty of stimulants."

"Why did Captain Craven come with Dr. Harris?"

The woman's lips pursed together in a moment.

"That I am sure I cannot venture to say, ma'am. I can't account for any of Captain Craven's movements, his comings or his goings; he walked in at the same time as Dr. Harris did."

Rachel was vexed with herself for having asked the question.

"I must see Dr. Harris," she continued. "Ask him, Caroline, before he goes, to step in here to speak to me."

"Yes, ma'am. Wont you let me bring you some breakfast into your room?"

"A cup of coffee—nothing more. I couldn't eat." And then her servant took her departure, and the girl was left alone to spend the moments in suspense until Dr. Harris should make his appearance, and one way or another set her doubts at rest, for she was determined she must know the truth; she could not fight any longer against the sickly doubt and dread which assailed her every time her father spoke of himself, or others spoke of him. And so she arranged | | 48 her habiliments a little more carefully, and set her room in order, and tried to beguile the time until the door of her father's bedroom should unclose again. It seemed a long time first, but at last the welcome sound was audible. She heard the door open, the gentlemen come out and when they had advanced into the drawing-room, they were evidently stopped by the voice of Caroline Wilson, which said—

"May I ask how you find my poor master to-day, sir?"

The answer was given in so low a tone that the eager listener could not catch the words.

"Miss Rachel wants to speak to you, sir, before you go; she is still in her bedroom. That way, if you please."

And then the steady tread of Dr. Harris approached her door, and she know it would soon be over. Dr. Harris was a younger man than Dr. Browne, but considered much higher in his profession. He was very skilled and very kind, and Rachel had perfect faith in him. So that when she caught sight of the sorrowfully-grave expression of his face, and felt the sympathetic pressure of his hand, as he took his seat beside her on the sofa, she guessed what the answer to her question would be, and her hands went up immediately to shut the light of day out from her face. There was no need for Dr. Harris to ask why she wished to see him, he knew it as soon as he saw the inquiring glance in the eyes with which she turned to greet him; he did not even profess to do so; to gain himself time for his sad news, he only said—

"Try not to grieve about it, Mrs. Norreys, more than you can help. You have others to think of as well as yourself."

"Oh, Dr. Harris! is it really, really true, then? Is he so very ill as ho said himself he was?"

Dr. Harris knew the character he had to deal with: he felt this was no weak foolish creature who would swallow a compassionate lie until the last, and consent to be deceived till Death was actually in the house. And if she had been one on whom it was easy to practice deception, Rachel Norreys' disposition was not of that order to bear the shock of a sudden grief with impunity to itself. She was too nervous—by which is meant, not that she was timid (the general accepta- | | 49 tion of the term), but that her nerves were too finely strung to bear a great wrench; she was not a woman to sit down patiently with sorrow and look it in the face, and so Dr. Harris knew that for physical as well as other reasons, it was best she should be told at once the worst that was in store for her.

"He is very ill," was therefore the only reply he made to her question.

"Dr. Harris, is he dying? Tell me the truth; I can bear anything sooner than this suspense, only tell me the truth quickly, and put me out of my pain."

"I will tell you, Mrs. Norreys, because I know you have a brave heart and can bear anything that Heaven sends you: I deeply grieve to say it, but it is only too true—your father is dying. I did not lose hope myself until this morning, but so rapid a change has taken place during the night that I must not deceive myself or you any more. He cannot last much longer now."

Rachel was looking at him as if she waited for the fiat of her own life or death from his lips. Hers were parted with suspense, and her face, swollen and haggard from the indulgence of her tears the night before, seemed to have lost all trace of its usual vivacity or youth.

"How long?" she gasped, rather than said.

"Two or three days," was the compassionate answer, "not more, Mrs. Norreys, perhaps not so much. Now cry, there's a dear girl, and it will do you good."

He had children of his own, and as he saw the look of silent agony steal over Rachel's face, he could not help wondering if, some ten years hence, his boys and girls, with the capability of men and women for suffering, should be listening to the same decree respecting himself, with the same mute expression of hopelessness creeping over their merry faces But Rachel ignored his advice.

"Please leave me," she said, faintly; "I am very much obliged to you. I thank you very much, but I must be alone or this will kill me."

Her tones were too earnest, too real to be disregarded, and simply pressing the hand he held before releasing it, Dr. Harris rose without further comment, and left the room. As | | 50 he passed into the verandah, Captain Craven started up from a chair upon which he had been lounging.

"Have you told her?" he inquired, anxiously.

"Yes," was the whispered reply.

"And how does she bear it?"

"Just as you might imagine such a deep-feeling heart would bear it—without a word. I'd almost as soon have had the task of putting a knife into her throat. God help her, poor child!"

"Are you going home now, Harris?"

"Yes, I can be of no use here. I shall be back in a couple of hours. Where are you bound to?"

"I shall stay here for a little while," said Cecil Craven, reseating himself; "I don't feel as if I could leave the house just yet."

"All right, good-bye;" and then he was left alone to grieve for the young heart grieving within. And she was grieving: she sat like a statue of stone; not even the knowledge that her father's life was fast slipping away, and that soon she should no longer have the power of seeking his presence, could enable her to shake off the torpor which had crept over her at the confirmation of the news which she had dreaded. Dead—in two or three days at furthest—her father—her loving, indulgent, gentle father—dead!

At the thought of his gentleness, his patience, his childlike gratitude for simple offices done for him during his illness, the tears winch had refused to rise at the vision of her own despair, commenced to trickle down Rachel's cheeks—to fill her heavy swollen eyes again, making the feverish eyelids smart as they ran over them, to trickle slowly down the stained cheeks and to rest about the fallen mouth without so much as a hand raised to wipe them away. Caroline Wilson entered at this time with the ordered coffee, and seemed about to speak, but the look on her mistress's face stopped even her tongue, and she left the room again without a word. But her appearance roused another train of thought in Rachel's bosom, and self-reproach began to take the upper hand, as she wondered how she could ever have wasted a thought upon such folly as a servant's shortcomings, when this great grief (before which even that of her husband's return paled) | | 51 was marching down upon her—this grief, so vast, so awful, so immeasurably sharp. With the thought her stony stage was conquered. An echo of the fervent wish Dr. Harris had expressed for her, a great cry of "God help me!" from her lips, and then the tears came down like rain, and the shock had lost its first power. The exclamation reached the ears of Cecil Craven in the verandah; he had been listening anxiously for some token of distress before that, and he hailed the sound almost with pleasure. For though he could not understand the feverish excitability of Rachel's character, he could sympathize in it because it was hers, and Dr. Harris's word respecting her silent reception of his news had frightened him. But with the knowledge of her distress, a strong wish came on him to attempt her consolation; and so he crept closer to the closed Venetian shutters of her room, and peeped through them, calling softly.

"Rachel! dear Rachel! I am here."

She raised her head from the sofa-cushion as she heard his words, and through all her trouble felt thankful for the unexpected sympathy.

"Oh, Cecil!" she exclaimed, "it will kill me!"

Her voluntary mention of his Christian name encouraged him so far, that he pushed the blind more to one side, and thrust his handsome head into full view.

"I am so very sorry for you, Rachel!"

"I am sure you are," was her reply, "and it is so comforting to feel you are. God bless you for it!"

This was still more encouraging than the last remark, and consequently, Captain Craven, who never needed much encouragement to do anything where a pretty woman was concerned, lifted his right leg over the window-sill, followed it by his left, and entered Rachel's bedroom. At another time she would certainly have remonstrated with him on his forwardness, but this seemed no moment for an exhibition of prudery. She did put in a faint protest to the effect that he ought not to have come there, but before the words were well out of her mouth, her head was again buried in the cushion, and he was on the sofa beside her trying to get possession of her hand, and begging her, by everything he could think of, not to make him so miserable by the exhibition of her tears. | | 52 He looked very handsome and affectionate as he pleaded thus, and although his arguments did not possess much sense, and would not have borne much sifting, they sounded very comfortable to listen to. He was dressed in plain clothes, an indulgence not always obtainable in foreign stations; but beneath the loose, light material that his morning-coat was composed of, an observer might have seen that he wore no waistcoat, on account of the heat; and that a set of rather remarkable-looking gold studs, with his initials in a monogram engraved upon each, and a blue silk handkerchief knotted carelessly about his throat, were all the ornaments that his attire could boast of. His face was flushed, as if he had been much agitated himself inwardly, and his voice, when he spoke to Rachel, was very low and sympathetic. Commonplace words of comfort at such a moment would only have worried and annoyed her; but the continued entreaty that she would try to compose herself for his sake; that she would remember that she could not be unhappy without making him so also, bore with them such a pleasing conviction that she had here a friend—that she was not to be really left all alone—that, however much she grieved, she could not be entirely solitary in her sorrow, whilst such words lasted and were true—that her sobs gradually grew less and less, her tears dried, and she sat upright upon the sofa and ceased to catch her breath with every word she uttered.

"That's a dear girl," exclaimed Cecil Craven, with evident satisfaction, as he viewed the effect of his consolation; "now you will be good, wont you, and not cry again?"

"No, I shall not cry again," she replied, sadly. "I have cried myself out."

The young voice was so mournful; the young face looked so weary, that Captain Craven, yielding to a very natural impulse, bent his lips hers, and kissed her. She started and coloured, but she did not make the objection to such a proceeding that she had the night before. On the contrary, she said, with an intonation of grateful feeling that came very touchingly from the lips of one who had been accustomed to see men very much at her feet—

"Thank you, dear Cecil; I know you feel for me."

He was half sitting, half lounging over the sofa beside her | | 53 as she spoke, and at the same moment the bedroom door appeared to close very softly, as if the sea-breeze had gently blown it to.

Rachel raised her head to listen, like a graceful deer who is startled by the rustling of falling leaves.

"Did any one open the door?" she asked, presently.

"Not that I know of," replied Captain Craven; "at least I didn't hear any one do so. I think it must have been the wind."

But she was not satisfied, and her colour rose.

"I think you had better go, Cecil," she said; "I shouldn't like any one to see you here. I ought not to have let you come in; but you have been such a comfort to me!"

"Let me stay, then," he pleaded, not caring to stir from his comfortable quarters.

"No, no! you must go now," was the answer. "See, I am not even dressed," she added, blushing, "and he may want me at any moment. Go, dear friend, and come again to me this evening."

He could not refuse to comply with her request, and therefore he stood up. As he did so, she said—

"You have dropped one of your studs; you had better look for it."

"Oh, yes, by Jove!" he said, observing the loss. "I shouldn't like to spoil this set; it was my mother's present. It must be on the sofa; perhaps you are sitting on it, Rachel."

She rose, and they searched for the missing stud, but could not see it anywhere.

"It may have rolled under the bed," he suggested, and prepared to go on all fours in order to ascertain if his suggestion was correct.

But Rachel heard the sound of footsteps coming across the sitting-room.

"Oh, do go, Cecil," she exclaimed; "never mind the stud now, I will look for it afterwards; there is somebody coming."

"One minute," he urged, commencing to grovel.

"No, not an instant," she rejoined, in terror, as she pulled at his coat-sleeve; "pray go at once.

The loss of a thousand studs would not have kept him then, for he saw she was really alarmed; so he leapt to his | | 54 feet and through the open window almost simultaneously, and not too soon, for the next moment a soft tap was heard at the door, and Caroline Wilson entered the room.

"An orderly has come from Mrs. Arundel, if you please, ma'am, and she wishes to know if you are going over there this morning, and your papa has asked for you several times since Dr. Harris went."

Rachel prepared to pass through the open door at once.

"Tell the orderly to wait," she said; "I shall be back directly, and will write a note," and with that she was gone, and in her father's room.

Mrs. Wilson having delivered the message to Mrs. Arundel's messenger through the open window, commenced, as a notable servant should, to employ the interval of her mistress's absence by setting her bedroom in order. The first object her eye lit, upon was the guitar.

"Ah, that has been returned, has it?" she thought to herself; "well, he didn't bring it with him this morning, any way, for I saw him come up the garden with Dr. Harris; there's more a-going on at times than one thinks for, I fancy, in this house.'' Having taken up the instrument and set it against another part of the wall with a vicious thump which can scarcely have been calculated to improve its tone, but probably was intended to improve its morality by showing it that it had no business to have been returned at all, she next proceeded to strip the bed, at the foot of which the sofa stood, and in the act some of the bedclothes trailing awkwardly upon the floor, Mrs. Wilson stooped to re-arrange them. Whilst so doing, she appeared to have found some object of interest, for she was a long time on her knees by the bedside, and when she finally resumed her original posture, it was with a look of undisguised triumph on her face and something small in her hand, which, having first well examined by aid of the light, she was very particular in wrapping in paper before she stowed it away in her pocket. In looking about for a piece with which to accomplish her object, she saw the torn sheets of Raymond Norreys' letter, which had been rent in four or five places, crumpled and defaced by passionate hands, and then contemptuously cast on one side to be trampled under foot as they might be. Caroline Wil- | | 55 son picked up one of the pieces, and smoothed out its creases. It happened to be the ending of the letter:—

"I shall write to you
"and that when we next
"ourselves apart, I shall have
"right than I have now to sign myself

"Your devoted husband, "RAYMOND NORREYS."

She had to read the words over several times, and slowly, before she could quite arrive at their meaning, for she was not a well-educated woman; but it was not the first attempt by many that she had made to master the same handwriting, and therefore she soon arrived at the truth.

"This is what we do with our husband's letters, is it?" she said to herself. "This is how we value them? Well, I don't think if I had looked all day I could have found a better piece of paper to wrap my findings in. The two together, small though they be, may turn up yet, when they are least expected to do so. If I'm not mistaken, Mrs. Norreys will come to be sorry some of these fine days that she hasn't treated me with greater civility; till then, I don't lose sight of my little perquisite," and she put the paper and its enclosure safely away as she mused. But her mental soliloquy was here interrupted by the re-entrance of her mistress, with a flushed face, but no further signs of emotion than when she had left the room. She had not touched on the subject of his approaching death with her father, for Dr. Harris had told her not to do so. The dying man was fully aware that he was dying; he had said so again and again for weeks past, but his strength was nearly all gone, and it was not thought advisable, since he had never directly put the question, to tell him that his end was so near at hand. So, besides a gentle reproof for her red eyes, no allusion had been made to the impending trouble, for which Rachel had been thankful, for she did not feel as if she could have borne any more violent emotion that morning. She was thoroughly exhausted and worn out by the strength of her own feelings. But she was annoyed on her return to find that Mrs. Wilson had thought proper to commence making her bed, and setting her room in order.

| | 56

"You knew I had not dressed or washed." she said, but not so sharply as she usually spoke to the individual in question. "You might have waited for my orders. You had better go to papa now, in case he wants you, and leave the room until I am out of it."

"Major Arundel's orderly is still waiting for your answer, ma'am." was the mild expostulation.

"Oh, bother it!" exclaimed Rachel, with more impatience than elegance; "bring me my desk then." When it came, she hardly knew, on so little consideration, what to say. She wrote one note, and then tore it up. The fact is, she was not positive as to her interview with Cecil Craven having a private one, and she was diffident of not mentioning it to Mrs. Arundel, for fear the story might be repeated, and her silence on the subject make it appear more than it really was. She was already beginning (almost unconsciously to herself) to feel a little afraid of entirely trusting her bosom friend's good nature where Captain Craven was concerned. And so her second note spoke openly of the occurrence.

From Mrs. Norreys to Mrs. Arundel.


"I cannot go to see you this morning, or to-morrow, or perhaps not at all for some days. I dare say you have seen Dr. Harris by this time, and know all my misery. I feel I can never leave him again for the little while I shall have him with me. I even grudge the few minutes which this note takes me to write.

"Have you seen Captain Craven yet? He was so very kind and good to me this morning, and I scarcely know what I should have done without the comfort he gave me, for poor papa does not yet know Dr. Harris's opinion of his case, so I have to grieve alone. C. C. was naughty enough though to jump in at my bedroom window to talk to me, which he mustn't do again, but I was too unhappy to scold him. If you are near our house to-day, come in, dear Elise, and see your affectionate


It was not long before the orderly brought back an answer to her note.

| | 57

From Mrs. Arundel to Mrs. Norreys.


"Jack saw Harris at orderly hour this morning, and heard the sad news. How my heart bleeds for you, my dearest girl! But you are a naughty little puss to run to Master Cecil Craven for consolation. I have no doubt he was an immense comfort to you, and that he found a certain lady's bedroom a very pleasant billet; but that's a sort of game which you mustn't play at too often, Miss Rachel, or you'll find it dangerous. I shouldn't be at all surprised myself if Master C. C. presents himself at the window tomorrow morning again, armed with a fresh stock of consolation. You sly puss! I shall run in and see you, I dare say, this evening. Adio, bellissima. Keep up your spirits.

"Ever your loving "ELISE."

"Oh, how can Elise write such nonsense at such a time!" sighed poor Rachel, as she tore the effusion of her bosom friend in half, and threw it away. She felt that Mrs. Arundel's words were an insult to her present feelings; she wished she had never been so silly as to tell her anything about Cecil Craven. She might have guessed that she would not be able to enter into her view of the subject. She felt angry and sore that a joke could be made out of anything at such a miserable epoch of her existence, and so she tore up the note as her only means of expressing her want of sympathy with its contents, and almost hoped, for the first time, that her bosom friend would forget her promise, and not come to see her that evening. She tore up the note and threw it away; but why did she leave it on the floor? In her heedless impetuosity, Rachel Norreys had no forethought in little things; in another moment she had completed her dressing, and proceeded to join her father. The remembrance of her friend's words gave her annoyance, and therefore she imagined she was wise not to give them another thought if she could help it. Whilst in her bedroom she had looked everywhere for Cecil Craven's stud, but without success. That was another subject for worry; she was afraid that Caroline Wilson, notwithstanding her own careful search, might find it in some unexpected corner, and re- | | 58 cognise the owner. But neither of these little troubles occupied her much. How could they whilst she sat, as she did all day, by her father's side, and remembered, as she listened to his voice, how soon it would be hushed for ever? She would have thought about them both a little more, perhaps, could she seen the look of malice on the face of the waiting-woman, whose capability of revenge she had laughed at and denied, only the day before, as she picked up the severed halves of Mrs. Arundel's foolish note whilst she was finishing the arrangement of her mistress's bedroom, and having read them, put them away safely in company with Cecil Craven's missing stud, and a look in her own eyes which betokened danger.

<< chapter 4 chapter 37 >>