- CHAPTER VI. AN ARRIVAL AT ABBEY LODGE.
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AN ARRIVAL AT ABBEY LODGE.
SCATTERED here and there about Old Brompton, far removed from the newer part of the town, and the noisy traffic of Knightsbridge, may still be seen some few houses whose foundation stones were laid when all that surrounded them was fair, open, smiling country. They are generally grave, substantial-looking buildings, standing back from the road, in gardens of their own, enclosed by high walls, and appearing shy and sensitive and reserved, like well-bred people who find themselves in an atmosphere of vulgarity which is foreign to their nature. Many of them are in a state of decay and dilapidation, being too large to be kept up except by families of liberal income, and such families preferring a locality more contiguous to the West End. But there are others which are still inhabited by descendants of the man who built them first, when acres of pasture-land and pleasure-garden (long since swallowed up in the great march of civilization, and exchanged for the coin of the building companies) stretched out on either side of them, and there were no shops nearer than Piccadilly, and omnibuses were things unknown.| | 59
Abbey Lodge, the residence of Raymond Norreys' mother was one of these. In it had she and her husband lived all the years of their married life, as his father and mother had done before him, and his grandfather and grandmother before that. There are some families in whom an attachment to locality appears as strongly marked as it is in some animals, as there are others whose only pleasure seems to consist in constant roving about the world. But the Norreys certainly belonged to the former class. They had viewed the rise of the Brompton empire with horror; the inauguration of omnibuses and cab-stands had nearly paralysed them; the shops springing up upon every side had destroyed their appetites for months. But they had never dreamt of deserting their old home in consequence. Nothing short of its tumbling down about their ears would have made them do so, and there was not much chance of the Abbey Lodge behaving in that manner, for a more solid structure of grey stone has seldom been seen. Cries of "Charing Cross," and "Bank, sir," of fresh fish and ripe cherries, might go on outside; sounds of cursing and swearing, of solicitations for alms, or importunity for purchase, might commingle with the busy noises of the street, but as soon as one had passed through the blocked iron gate of Abbey Lodge into the still old-fashioned garden beyond, the roar of the thoroughfare became deadened and dull, and an air of well-bred composure prevailed over everything. Mrs. Norreys was very particular about that gate. No persuasions from son or daughter could induce her to have it done away with, and a carriage sweep cut to the hall-door. She was resolute in her determination to preserve the privacy of the Abbey Lodge intact. If friends called to see her, they must consent to wait at the iron gate until it had been duly unlocked, and then leave their carriages, and walk up the long paved and covered pathway which led to the house. She would have no gate of hers standing open to admit every sunburnt tramp with baby on back who had a basket to sell; every grinning image boy; and, worse than all, every organ-man who chose to extort money from her, by professing not to understand plain English until he had obtained it. Even covering in the pathway had appeared to her an unholy modernizing of the | | 60 old place; and it was not until her daughter Christine had sprung into womanhood and caught a great many colds, by running backwards and forwards at night to the carriage, whilst it waited to convey her to various places of entertainment, that Mrs. Norreys' motherly solicitude had over balanced her dread of change, and induced her, since she would not have the carriage drawn up to the house, to make the house draw up a little closer to the carriage—otherwise the Abbey Lodge was unaltered, from the day that her husband had brought her home there as a bride, excepting that thirty years had heightened its solid beauties by increasing their age. The name which had been given to the house suited it well. Whether it had been so called from its style of architecture, which was decidedly Norman, or whether it had been built on the site where a real abbey once stood (a very probable circumstance), had not been handed down amongst its records, but it appeared more as if it had been erected for the use of some dignitary of the church than anything else, and in the style of the building, whose servant he was. It had heavy mullioned windows, with their arches in the form of hands folded in prayer, and little diamond latticed panes, which Mrs. Norreys would as soon have thought of committing sacrilege, as exchanging for plate-glass windows. The hall door, of solid oak, worn dark by time and use, was of the same date and style as the windows, and clamped across the outside with massive iron bars, as if there were, indeed, the Holiest of Holies within. But of all old-fashioned things, perhaps an old-fashioned garden is the one most calculated to strike with envy a modern taste; and the few acres—not above four—which remained in the possession of Abbey Lodge, were essentially so. The wall which surrounded it was very high; the trees full grown and umbrageous, particularly the mulberry and walnut trees, which stood at intervals upon the close-shaven velvet turf, upon which, as yet, no unhallowed game of croquet had been played, desecrating its unbroken London noise, there as a certain nuisance called London | | 61 smoke, which laughs at high walls, and thick walls, and even at bolts and bars, and comes stealing over everything within ten miles of its influence. And it was too provoking to people who loved flowers as Mrs. Norreys and her daughter did, to see them spring up, only to turn black and wither; so all their cherished blossoms were kept in the large greenhouse which covered nearly one side of the Abbey Lodge. With a snug brougham, and horses in the stable, which was adjacent, though quite detached from the dwelling-house, one man-servant only, indoors (the rest of their establishment consisting of maids), Mrs. Norreys and her daughter had lived a quiet but very comfortable existence during the period of the son and brother's absence at sea. It had been a great trial for the mother to part with her only boy for such an uncertain profession as the navy; but it had been his father's before him, and he was bent upon it, so that she had tried not to regret it, until the imprudent marriage occurred, which had seemed to divide them more than the sea could ever do, and which, she could not help believing still, would never have taken place had they not been separated so early. But Raymond's grandfather and great-grandfather had both been merchants in the City, which accounted for the liberal income which Mrs. Norreys now enjoyed, and which no one in their senses could ever have suspected to be derived from the royal revenues; and some of their family had chosen to look down upon them for the same, and to have a sneer at trade whenever they chanced to meet them; and Raymond's father was proud and foolish enough to feel the empty taunt, and to refuse, in consequence, to follow the same pursuit. He had not been too proud to use the money earned by trade, however; that, perhaps, would have been too much to expect of anybody; but he declined to make any more by the same means, and entered. the Royal Navy as soon as he was eligible for it. And Raymond had inherited his father's ideas and followed his father's example; for it was true that the trade from which they derived their income was the first that had entered the family; and even the great-grandfather and the grandfather had been a little ashamed of themselves, notwithstanding that they felt it to be the best and only course for them to pursue.| | 62
For there was a baronetcy in the Norreys' family, and the branch of it who laughed at the City merchants was no less than the branch appertaining to Sir Archibald Norreys, of Woolcombe Rise in the county of Berkshire. It had all grown out of the fact, so unfair, and yet so common amongst English landowners, that whilst the elder brother of the great-grandfather of Raymond Norreys, who was the first to disgrace his family by entering into trade, became "Sir Henry," with the addition of the Berkshire estates, which were strictly entailed in the male line, his younger brother, brought up in the same habits, and accustomed to the same luxuries, was left with the Abbey Lodge, and nothing wherewith to keep it up. Then the great difference between their positions in life divided the brothers, and the introduction of trade by a Norreys, as a means of making bread, divided them still more; and since that time there had never been wanting a young Sir Henry or Sir Charles to step into the baronet's shoes as soon as he deceased. At the present time, the reigning power was Sir Archibald, a contemporary of Raymond's father, but as unknown to him as Raymond was to Sir Archibald's son and heir, who was reported to be a fine grown, handsome young man. He was the only heir to the title and estate, before Raymond Norreys himself; for his father had been an only child, and had no uncles living. But although it would be folly to deny that Raymond Norreys had never thought upon the probability of such a contingency as his eventually becoming a baronet, he certainly had no more calculated upon its ever being his luck to step into the family title than had the smallest ship-boy on board the "Agincourt;" for his father had ever discountenanced such imaginings, and the gap between the elder and younger branches of the family had widened and widened, until they appeared to be no longer of the same blood. Sir Archibald scarcely knew that such a young fellow as Raymond Norreys was in existence, whilst to the descendants of the poor young merchant, the acres of Woolcombe Rise were unknown grounds. They never heard anything about their grand relations, except through the medium of the newspapers; and had, indeed,almost forgotten that their family consisted of their than themselves and their immediate kith and kin.| | 63
It was at the close of a long hot day in the middle of June, when the evening shadows had fallen so considerably as to make a couple of figures, pacing up and down beneath the shade of the trees in the Abbey Lodge garden, appear indistinctly grey, that Mrs. Norreys, alarmed for her daughter's delicate health and aptitude for catching cold, ventured herself beyond the covered pathway, in order to call her into the house.
"Christine, my dear, it is past nine o'clock, and the evening is very chilly. Pray do not stay out any longer, or else let me send you a shawl to put on!"
"No, never mind, mamma dear, we will come in at once."
"No—send for the shawl," urged her companion;" it is quite warm yet."
"I don't myself think there is much danger of catching cold to-night," replied Christine, laughing; "but I would rather go in, because mamma will be anxious, whether I am wrapt up or not. Come, Alick."
She ran across the lawn as she spoke, and her companion followed her, though slowly. When she stepped into the lighted hall, and laid her garden hat on one side, she appeared simply a nice-looking girl of two-and-twenty, with dark eyes and hair, and a fresh complexion, but there was an appearance of bonhomie about her features that was very grateful to turn to in a world like this, where too many faces frown instead of smiling on us.
As Christine passed into the dining-room, which they used of an evening when they were alone, and sitting down upon a low stool by her mother's side, twined her arms about her fondly, it was evident there was a great deal of love and confidence between these two, as there always should be between mother and daughter; and Mrs. Norreys, sitting in the placid lamplight, looked just such a mother as a daughter should ever have to turn to. She was a woman of fifty, or more years, and her hair was grey, but she still retained the complexion of a girl, and her quiet eyes seemed as though they never could have flashed with anger, or expressed any feeling antagonistic to the dictates of a pure and gentle heart.| | 64
"Where is Alick?" she asked, as Christine settled herself beside her.
"Outside, I suppose," was the reply: "he followed me, I believe. Alick!"
"Well," said rather a sulky voice from the hall door steps.
"Where are you? Why don't you come in-doors?"
"Thank you, I prefer being where I am."
"What is the matter, my dear?" inquired Mrs. Norreys, of her daughter.
Christine shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't know; something has put him out again, I suppose."
Mrs. Norreys sighed, and was silent.
The fact is, Mr. Alick Macpherson stood in too important a position in the household for his little tempers (which occurred rather oftener than was pleasant) to be witnessed with indifference. For he was supposed to be engaged to marry Christine Norreys, although from his own want of means (he held some appointment in the War Office), it was improbable that the marriage would take place for some time. Yet Christine loved him, and was ready to humour this worst phase of his character, never considering in what, if not checked, it might end.
She was on the doorstep now before another five minutes had elapsed, trying to coax him to do what ought to have been his pleasure.
"Come, dear Alick," she said, in a woman's wheedling way, "don't sit on those cold stones; I am sure you cannot be comfortable. Come in-doors, and I'll play to you."
But Mr. Macpherson neither moved nor spoke.
"What is it, dearest?" she said, as she bent down and laid her cheek against the top of his head. "Is it anything I've done?"
At first he insisted in asserting that it was "nothing;" but when she had and coaxed and fondled it out of him, it appeared that His Royal Highness had taken offence because she preferred complying with her mother's request, and coming in from the garden, to running the risk of taking cold by staying out to make love to him under the mulberry and walnut trees.| | 65
"Oh, what a naughty boy!" cried Christine, when she had extracted this confession from him; "what a naughty, sulky, jealous child it is, when you know, dear Alick, that I would rather be with you than anywhere else, but I only did it to please poor mamma. You wont be naughty, Alick, will you? You'll come in now, and let us have a pleasant hour together before you go?"
A good deal more in the same strain and to the same purpose, and Mr. Alexander Macpherson at last consented to abjure solitude, and to make one of the party in-doors. Under the lamplight he appeared a fine-looking young Scotchman enough, though scarcely worth the amount of trouble it had taken to get him there. He was tall and well-favoured, with the light-reddish hair, blue eyes, and high cheek-bones which form the characteristic features of his race, and tell tales, too often true, of a hot temper. In addition to this, his bearing was gentlemanly when he chose it should be so, and his age was about twenty-four.
They had all assembled at the piano, and were in the midst of Scotch ballads and Scotch jigs, called for by Mr. Macpherson (who, like most of his countrymen, was always ready to take up the gauntlet in support of everything that emanates from Scotland being better than similar produce from any other part of the world), when they were interrupted, but not startled, by a loud peal from the bell at the iron gate.
"Who can that be, mamma?" said Christine, speaking in the midst of variations on "There's nae luck about the house."
"Your dress, home from Elise, probably," was the careless reply as the man-servant passed through the open door on his way to answer the summons. But the indifference did not last long. The iron gate swung back upon its hinges: a voice was heard, loud and decisive, questioning and giving directions, and mother and daughter sprung to their feet simultaneously.
"Mamma, it must be Raymond!" broke from Christine.
"I really think so too," faltered Mrs. Norreys, and her lips turned very white and trembled; for the arrival of H.M.S. "Agincourt" in the Downs had been signalled more than a week before, and they had been expecting from day | | 66 to day since to hear that she had been paid off and to see Raymond burst into the room, with the certainty of a long holiday before him.
"It is!"shouted Christine, as the firm footsteps trod the paved pathway, and approached the house. She would have dashed into the hall as she spoke, but the mother touched her gently.
"Let me go first, dear." The words were low, and almost entreating, but at the sound Christine drew back directly. She felt that his mother had the first and best claim to welcome him home.
"Mother!" exclaimed a deep-toned voice, as she reached the hall, and a pair of arms were opened to receive her trembling form, whilst she could only lean against him, and murmur, "Oh, my boy!—my dearest boy! is it really you?"
But as Christine now advanced, thinking her time was come, he gave a sudden start, and left his mother, but stayed his steps a suddenly, saying, with a sigh, "How I had hoped to meet my Rachel here! Are there no letters for me, mother?"
His sister flew into his embrace, and he kissed her, though almost mechanically, looking round the while for his mother's answer.
"None, dear Raymond!—not since the last I forwarded to you.''
"Well—well! it doesn't much signify," he said, as he released Christine and walked into the dining-room, but there was a look of the blankest disappointment on his face, nevertheless. The two women followed, not knowing what to say to comfort him, but he scarcely seemed to notice their action; he drew a chair to the table, and placing his bag upon it, sat down, and leaned his head upon his hand.
"I suppose you have heard all about the poor doctor's illness?" remarked Mrs. Norreys, presently. "In his last to me he does not seem to have much hope of his own recovery."
"So Rachel tells me, poor child!" replied Raymond; "but sick men are apt to have fancies about themselves. When did you hear last from my wife?"| | 67
Mrs. Norreys looked at Christine, and Christine looked at her mother, but neither of them spoke—the truth being that Mrs. Raymond Norreys, although she knew her husband's relations, having spent some time at Abbey Lodge after his departure from England, had never much troubled either her mother or her sister-in-law with epistolary correspondence, and, at the present, months had elapsed since her last communication had arrived.
"The fact is, dear Raymond," said his mother, after a little while, "Rachel is young, and does not much care about letter-writing, I dare say: few young people do. She was very good last year, but her father's illness, and the life they lead at Gibraltar, and——"
"Well—well! but when did you last hear from her?" interrupted the young husband, with an impatient movement of the foot.
"Not since Christmas, I think; was it not so, Christine?" said Mrs. Norreys, almost timidly, as she appealed to her daughter's memory.
"Last Christmas!" laughed Raymond. "Then I must not come for news to you. Mother, if you will let me know which is to be my room, I'll just run up and make myself presentable, for I am in a dreadful state of disorder now, and I will tell you all you will want to know about myself when I come down again."
Mrs. Norreys proceeded to show him the room at once, to which his luggage had already been conveyed, and then returned, overbrimming with happiness, to see that a substantial repast was prepared to greet her son with when he should be ready to discuss it.
"He is sure to be hungry, Christine," she said; and the two women made themselves happy, as women can, by taking an immense deal of unnecessary trouble for the creature they loved, whilst Mr. Macpherson, who had felt very much in the way ever since the arrival of the son and brother of the house, crept out of the drawing-room, where he had been amusing himself in the dark by picking out Scotch tunes upon the piano, with one finger, well pleased at emancipation from his own company.
In the meanwhile, Raymond Norreys, instead of making | | 68 himself presentable as quickly as possible, sat down on the side of his bed, and began thinking. He had been prepared for the fact that he would not meet his young wife at the Abbey Lodge, for he knew that the 3rd Royal Bays had not reached England; and yet, notwithstanding the knowledge, he could not dispel certain feeling of disappointment at its realization.
For months past he had pleased his fancy by picturing to himself his return to England, and the bright, expressive face of Rachel, as he remembered it, enhanced by all the womanly graces which he had dreamed of her, as year by year attaining, being the first to shine upon him through that old oaken door when he should see it next.
He had hoped, until hope had seemed reality, that the first form his arms should enfold would be that slight young figure which used, even in his boyish days, to seem as nothing in his grasp, and which, they told him now, whilst it had rounded into shapelier and more finished curves, had lost nothing of its grace or suppleness.
His had been no boyish love, no fleeting youthful fancy, for the girl whom he had married. Indeed, it is doubtful if such a character as his, so determined in its course, so straight-forward and decided in its actions, could ever have been termed "boyish" in the general acceptation of the word; for there had never been anything simple, or weak, or wavering about Raymond Norreys. He was as energetic as Rachel herself—perhaps as excitable—although he had his feelings far better under control. Although neither of great height or bulk, there was a look and an air about him well calculated to strike a woman's imagination, because well calculated to control her will.
In figure he was of the middle size, perhaps five foot nine, or a little over, but there was not an ounce of superfluous flesh upon his body, and every muscle was firmly knit and well developed. The only feature about him which might have appeared to betoken want of strength was the size of his hands and feet, which, for a man, were small and very shapely. In after-days Mr. Alexander Macpherson was pleased to observe to his fiancée, contemplating at the same time his own gigantic ruby-knuckled fists with apparent satis- | | 69 faction, that Raymond's hands were only fit for a woman, and he wondered he had ever been able to go up the rigging with them. But there were some people in the world who could have testified that not only the rigging, but opponents, more sensible of his power, had succumbed to the grasp of those small wrists, thanks to the biceps which aided their hold, and the knowledge of the glorious art of self-defence which their possessor possessed. His head was small and well set upon his shoulders, which, with his chest, were broad for his general size. His hair, jet black, was thick and abundant; but he wore it so closely cut that its thickness was not observable, except to the touch: his eyes were invariably taken for the same colour, but they only turned so when he was excited or angry. In reality they were of a rich dark brown, so variable that their expression could change from a hard, stony, unlifelike gaze to one of velvet softness, as quickly as he could turn his look from the contemplation of a person he cared nothing about and let it rest upon the face of the creature he cherished most upon earth. But in this variableness lay their chief charm, for they were not large eyes, nor particularly handsome ones. They were deeply set, and rather close together, yet without imparting anything like a sly or sinister expression to his face, for the general idea his appearance conveyed was that of the most rigid straight-forwardness.
His nose was small, and his mouth, which from the regulations of the service was fully displayed, was like his eyes, inconstant, but essentially sweet in its seeming when its owner felt sweetly disposed. At present it was compressed, and did not show a single specimen of that phalanx of white and regular teeth with which this enumeration of the excellences of my hero may cease.
He was not perfect, far from it, but he was exceedingly gentlemanly and sensible-looking, and possessed none of those bearish attributes which it seems to be the fancy of authors to father upon their naval characters, but which are no more to be met with in a well-educated and well-bred officer in that service than a broad and unintelligible brogue is observable in an Irish or Scotch gentleman who has enjoyed the same advantages. At any rate, Raymond Norreys could lay | | 70 no claim to them: contrary, perhaps from a feeling that sailors are supposed to be ruder and noiser [sic] than the rest of society, he was invariably known to be very quiet when there; far more so than when at home, for his disposition was naturally very gay and often overrunning with spirits.
They did not appear likely to exceed the bounds of decorum, on this night of his return to the Abbey lodge, after five years' absence from it, for his demeanour, as he sat absorbed in his own thoughts, was almost mournful.
"My darling girl!" he said to himself, "I dare say my mother's lectures on propriety have been so strict, and her letters altogether so prosy and so much like sermons, that she has frightened my Rachel into dropping the correspondence altogether. And my dear girl's letters to me lately have not seemed so cheerful and happy as they should have been. I wonder if she misses me, and begins to fret at our long absence; it was a sin to condemn her brightness to five years' widowhood. My pretty bird! I wonder if her soft, sweet eyes are as bright as they used to be, and if she has quite forgotten all her arch, winning, naughty little ways! well, I shall soon judge for myself. Thank Heaven, Gibraltar is no distance." And then he fell to pondering on a certain expression which Rachel's eyes had worn when, on their mockery of a marriage day, she had turned from her father's embrace and rushed into his, and held him to her with those graceful, girlish arms, as if she could not let him go. He wondered if she would meet him again just in the same manner: he would like nothing better than to hold her so, and to be able to say to her,—"Rachel, no one can ever separate us again; I have fulfilled my part of the contract, I have come now to claim Yours." Would she blush, and hide her sweet face? Would she——
But his wonderings as to what she would do were here cut short by the voice of his sister Christine at the door inquiring if he were ready to come down to supper. And then he jumped up and smoothed his ruffled hair and washed his hands, and went downstairs very much the same as he had gone up. But now he was Raymond Norreys again; he had reasoned himself out of his irrational disappointment, and was ready to do his duty amongst his own people. He found | | 71 time to re-embrace his mother, and ask for her congratulations on their safe re-union; to observe his sister, so grown and altered in the years they had been parted as to be almost unrecognisable, and to be introduced by her, with many blushes, to Mr. Alexander Macpherson, of whom he had already heard. And when they sat down to supper there could hardly have been found a happier, merrier quartette in Brompton, although Mrs. Raymond Norreys was not sitting at her husband's right hand on the festive occasion. But a little communication which Raymond had to make to his mother and sister, and which he had carefully kept back until now, rather threw cold water on the last part of the entertainment.
"I suppose you will be writing to Gibraltar by the next mail, Raymond?" observed his mother about that time; "the steamer goes the day after to-morrow.
"No, I shan't," replied Raymond, but rather awkwardly, and blushing in his plate as he spoke; for this gentleman, although he had been seven years at sea, had not yet lost the power of blushing at times, and very well he looked when he did it. Mrs. Norreys was about to make some mild remonstrance when her son finished up his sentence—"because I shall be on board of her; I am going to Gibraltar by the next mail."
"Raymond!" cried his mother, and "Oh, Raymond, don't!" came in expostulatory tones from his sister, but he was quite decided.
"What is there to make such a fuss about?" he said, when their horror had a little subsided. "It is nothing of a trip, and I must go to bring my wife over. You forget, my dear mother, that however glad I am to get back to old England and home—and God only knows how glad I am,—that my first duty is towards Rachel, particularly if, as is likely from your accounts of my father-in-law's health, she may be in distress and alone. Besides which," he said, warming with his subject, and losing an habitual shyness he had to speak of any of his inmost feelings in public—"besides which, it is what I have been dreaming of, and longing for, for five long years. You would be none the better for my staying here, mother; for I fancy I should be anything but an agree- | | 72 able companion just now, for I should be hankering after Rachel day and night. I've got my leave here from the Admiralty," he concluded, slapping his waistcoat pocket. "They behaved like bricks, and sent it me immediately; and all I have to do is to take my berth, run over to Gib, and bring back my dear little wife to Abbey Lodge as soon as steam will do it all. I'm forgiven, mother, am I not?"
What could they do but forgive him, and admire him all the more for the devotion he showed to the girl he had married in his hot-headed youth! But he was so impatient and restless even during the few hours that intervened before he could start for Gibraltar, that, much as they loved him, his mother and sister were almost thankful when he was at last off. And so Raymond Norreys set out upon his way to claim his looked-for prize, with Hope making all the future one coming glory to him; and the name of Rachel the magic lullaby which alone could soothe his impatience, and the last word which was each night chased by slumber from his faithful lips.
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