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

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<< chapter 6 chapter 37 >>

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DR. BROWNE did not fulfil Dr. Harris's prediction that he would not last more than three days from the time that the news of his approaching death was broken to his daughter. He survived it for a week. He was excessively feeble—so much so that for the last forty-eight hours he could scarcely be said to live; but yet he was alive. In his younger days he had been a man of great muscular power and with an iron constitution, and his hold on life in consequence was very tenacious. He had wrestled with the Great Enemy for weeks longer than a more ordinary mortal would have done; but the struggling was over at last, and he succumbed. No one told him that the change was so near, but he seemed to know it by intuition. Perhaps he guessed it by the pertinacity with which Rachel dung to his side, refusing to leave it even for her meals, or if, persuaded by his entreaties she did so, returning in such haste and with such tell-tale eyes, that her | | 73 father knew she had only gone away to cry. He may have read the truth in the earnest gaze so often fixed upon him. as if she feared he might fade away and vanish then and there, and leave her to her dreaded loneness before she had realized that he was going; or in her low and gentle voice when she addressed him, so different from her former tone of vivacity. Any way, he knew it; and Rachel felt that he did so, although he never openly mentioned the fact to her—perhaps because there seemed something sacred in the hushed grief depicted in her face, or that he shrunk in his weak state from changing her forced calmness into one of those storms of passion in which he had so often seen her indulge in the days gone by. Once he had thought of doing so, for he commenced to say, "Rachel, my child, I want to tell you something;" but she had stopped him with a rain of tears, and sobbing out—

"Oh! don't, papa!—I cannot bear it—I know it all—but do not say the words!"—had fallen on his breast, and hidden her face there, as if with sunshine she would shut out the truth. There had been friends to see her daily during that sad week. Eliza Arundel, of course, with a pompous show of affection, and overrunning with terms of commiseration, making the sick-room rather too noisy with her presence, and Rachel, relieved for her father's sake (notwithstanding that she loved her), when she withdrew it for her usual drive. And later in the evening, when the dews had fallen, and darkness was on the house over which the angel of death was hovering, a heavier but more subdued step would steal into the verandah, and call on Rachel's name, to hear how his old comrade was that night, and, strange to say, tears would come at the kindly pressure of the husband's hand, which the wife's loud tones of pity and assurances of affection never possessed the power of raising; and in after-days Rachel always connected her best comfort of that time with poor old Jack Arundel; and when she thought of her lost father, gratefully intertwined the two memories together. Not that Cecil Craven was slow to sympathize with her, or backward in expressing his feelings; but he did not possess the same quiet tact in showing it, and which made Major Arundel's visits after dark almost as congenial to her as might have been a | | 74 woman's tears. Poor Captain Craven was very desirous to be of use, and very solicitous that he should be employed; but he had never been accustomed to a sick-room, and his tread was, to say the least of it, apparent, and his touch clumsy. But though he always appeared sadly out of place there, and was invariably in the way whenever Rachel wanted anything, and had to shift his position and apologize, yet he could look very commiserating with his soft, sleepy blue eyes, and his moustaches seemed to have drooped even lower than usual during the last week. And Rachel liked to feel a friend was near her, though he only slept his time away in the verandah, and was sorry when duty or the mess-table called him away, and glad when he joined her solitary meals, and kept her from brooding the whole time upon her coming troubles; so that when the last day came, and Dr. Browne, after lying for nearly forty-eight hours in a species of stupor, suddenly roused himself, and turned his eyes, looking more like his own eyes than they had done for weeks past, upon Rachel, her exclamation of pleasure brought Cecil Craven in from the verandah to learn the cause.

"He is better, Cecil,—I am sure he is,—isn't he, Caroline?" she said, appealing, in her pleased surprise, to the woman to whom she had scarcely spoken in her distress. But Mrs. Wilson only shook her head, and was respectfully silent; and Cecil Craven said, "Be brave, dear Rachel; this is the time for it."

And then she knew that this was only a temporary rousing, permitted by the bounty of heaven, before her father lay down again to sleep for ever. She was brave—she did not cry out, nor lament over her brief hope, so suddenly extinguished; she only crept nearer, and knelt by the dying man's side, and slipped her arm gently beneath his neck, so that his head might rest upon her bosom. Her face was very pale, and her heart beat loudly, but her eyes were dry as she fixed them on those of her father. He knew her and smiled,—just such a peaceful, happy smile as a child gives when it is sinking safely to sleep in its mother's arms. And then he turned his eyes towards the figure of Caroline Wilson, standing at the foot of his bed, and lifting his feeble hand with an effort, slightly waved it.

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"Papa wishes you to leave the room, Caroline," said Rachel, quickly.

"I don't think my master can mean that," rejoined the servant, in rather an offended tone.

"Go," said the sick man, convulsively. There was no mistaking his meaning this time, and she left, with a remark on "some people's gratitude" hovering on her tongue.

Then Dr. Browne turned his eyes—again growing languid—upon Rachel's face, and whispered, "Any one else here?"

"Only Cecil, papa; you don't mind Cecil, do you?"

"I want him," he replied, slowly. His words were not indistinct, but each one was forced out with a kind of gasp, as if the tongue was forgetting how to speak. Then Cecil Craven came nearer, and took the hand of his old friend, which was cold and clammy, and utterly powerless in his grasp.

"I am here, Dr. Browne, close to you."

"Cecil—you have—not—forgotten—swear again—you will never—repeat it—swear."

"I do, sir," repeated Cecil Craven, solemnly.

"Rachel, too! Swear, my child."

"I have sworn, father," she said; "I will keep my oath."

"Again—again," he murmured.

"As I hope for heaven!" she exclaimed, with all the warmth of her enthusiastic nature. "Father, may I never see you again—never meet the look of your dear eyes—never feel the clasp——. Oh!" cried the girl, breaking down as the thought of her coming loss pressed upon her, "what shall I do without you?"

The father's eyes—so soon to become insensible and dull—were fixed upon hers, by an influence almost magnetic.

"Love her, Cecil," he said, "love her and protect her always—my child—my Rachel!"

Then she laid her wet cheek against his, and called herself by every name she could imagine, for her weak selfishness and want of bravery.

"Forgive me, father," she said, entreatingly, "I am calm now. I am ready to bear anything. Life is not so long, and when we meet again, we shall wonder that we fretted so at the short separation; is it not so, darling?"

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But he could not answer her, the power of speech was gone. For nearly an hour she knelt, as she had first placed herself, with her father's head upon her bosom, her arms fondly twined around him. The evening—it was evening time—wore on, the dying head grew heavier and heavier, chilling with the damps of coming death each fibre in her warm young breast. The dying eyes were dull and blank—and no longer seemed as though they looked at anything the hands and feet were cold, and a profound stillness reigned on everything around. Every now and then, Rachel's trembling voice might be heard, addressing a fond word to the inanimate figure before her, but her sentences generally dead away in tears: at intervals Cecil Craven whispered a little comfort, or pressed her hand, almost as cold as her dying father's, in his own warm clasp. Once, Caroline Wilson entered the room, but was dismissed again by him, with such a rebuke that she did not soon forget it. And then the hour was nearly gone, and Dr. Harris's tread was heard advancing up the garden path to pay his evening visit. Captain Craven rose, as noiselessly as his intractile conformation would permit him to do, and meeting the new-comer in the verandah, gave him in a few words to understand how the case lay. The two gentlemen re-entered together. Rachel never turned her head at Dr. Harris's approach, but kept her eyes still steadily fixed on those of her father. But the medical man stepped at once to the bedside and lifted the heavy burden from off her bosom to its former resting-place. She attempted to remonstrate with him, but his first words were decisive.

"That is not your father, dear Mrs. Norreys; he is better off than even in your arms."

Then she experienced a second shock, almost as great as it she had not been watching and waiting for this, and this only, for the last week. She suffered Dr. Harris to take the dead form from her embrace; she heard his words and understood them, but she did not move from her kneeling posture.

Not, that is to say, until Cecil Craven put his arms around her and tried to raise her, and whispered something in her ear, which seemed to put new life into her frame.

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"Cecil," she said, in a burst of tears, as she rose without assistance, and permitted his arms to entwine her figure and support it. "Cecil—what were his last words? I cannot remember. I did not think he would never speak again."

"Love her, Cecil,'" he whispered; "'love her and protect her always.' And I will, Rachel, so help me God!"

She turned her face to his, and calling him by a name too low to be distinguished, suffered him to press his lips upon her forehead, and passed from him to the privacy of her own room. And there she stayed until the evening of the next day, when her father's funeral was to take place. No one saw her during that interval, for she would not even admit Caroline Wilson into her presence, nor open the door at the continuous entreaties of Cecil Craven, that she would at least swallow a glass of wine. When the funeral was over; when she knew by the familiar sound of the three volleys fired over the grave that that which had been her father, but which she had refused to look at when once she was assured that it was no longer him, was hidden away out of her sight, and that her eyes could not encounter it, by breaking through her solitude; she unlocked the door of her own accord, and walking into the drawing-room, told Mrs. Wilson to bring her bread and a glass of wine. When it was set before her, she drank one—two, glasses of the sherry patronized by the mess of the 3rd Royal Bays, and felt after it, for the first time that day, that she could trust her voice to speak without breaking down.

The sight of Mrs. Wilson as she stood near her, every now and then passing a finger over moist eyes, aggravated Rachel, and dispersed even the desire for tears in her own. What right had this woman to profess to mourn for her father; she who had served them both, for money only? And there was not a shadow of sympathy in Rachel's voice as she coldly gave her the orders, necessary for her to receive.

"I am going to Mrs. Arundel's to-night. You can pack up my boxes, and send them over there."

"At once, ma'am?"

"Whenever they are ready. I shall go there as soon as—as they return." The last words came out with an effort, and Rachel applied herself to pouring out wine until it over- | | 78 flowed the glass. She would not give this woman even the opportunity of pitying her. Then she added:

"I wish to tell you, Caroline, that I shall not require your services after to-night. What wages are due to you?"

The servant did not express the least surprise at her summary dismissal. She had expected no less.

"The committee will pay me what is due, ma'am, when it sits. I may consider myself free, then, to enter on any new lady's service to-morrow?"

"Oh! have you got another service?" said Rachel. "I am glad of it." She did not feel sufficient interest in the woman to ask the name of the mistress she had engaged herself to. "Yes; you can go as soon as you have despatched my boxes to Major Arundel's."

"Thank you, ma'am."

Not another word passed between them, of either question or command. Soon afterwards, Cecil Craven and Dr. Harris entered the room, each with a piece of crape round his arm, and his sword-knot muffled in the same material, and asked if Rachel was ready to accompany them to her friend's house; for it had been a thing agreed by letter between the ladies that morning that Rachel should go and stay with Mrs. Arundel as soon as the funeral was over. There was no need for her to be in the house, for beyond her own personal effects everything that had belonged to Dr. Browne was placed under a seal, and put in the charge of a certain number of his brother officers, who constituted a committee for settling all his claims and selling all his property. And as the regiment expected to leave Gibraltar so soon, it was doubly necessary that this should be looked after at once. With the exception of her father's watch and chain, his sword, desk, and private papers, which were handed over to his daughter, together with a lock of his hair, thoughtfully enclosed in the desk by Dr. Harris (how thoughtful and good the medical profession can be in times of distress, let those left alone in foreign countries best testify), everything was to be brought to the hammer at once, and the proceeds to be placed to Rachel's account, as was desired by her father's will. Further than this he had nothing to leave her, for private fortune he had none, and his savings had never been | | 79 savings long. All the furniture, books and ornaments; the contents of the stables must be included. Even the pretty galloway which she had always ridden, and which was so especial a favourite of hers, must be knocked down to the highest bidder, only to be re-sold, probably, for the benefit of some lady rider belonging to the relief corps. Not that Rachel cared much about it; she was too sad and indifferent just at that moment to care about anything. She rose when Dr. Harris and Cecil Craven entered, and expressed herself ready to leave the house with them at once.

"I have given the order about my things," she said, "and they will follow me this evening."

She raised her hat, which was lying on the table, to her head, and passed out of the place which had been her home without another look at anything there. Not one glance at the bedroom so lately made vacant; not one at her own, the harbour, at one time, of so many innocent and happy thoughts. She seemed only too glad to leave them all behind her, and to shut out the sight, as she would wish to do the memory, of past pleasure. But when she stepped into the verandah, there was Barnes, faithful, honest Barnes, who had served the doctor ever since they had together joined the regiment, and who had very suspiciously red eyes, as he now came forward to carry his young mistress's cloak, and to see her put into the pony-chaise. With Caroline Wilson she had been cold; but coldness was no part of Rachel's character. She thrust out her little hand, and suffered it to become absorbed in the hairy, freckled fist of honest Barnes, as she tried to communicate something like a squeeze to his hardened palm.

"Oh, Barnes!" she said, sobbing as her eye met the signs of grief, so evident in his, "I am so much obliged to you for all you have done for him. God bless you, Barnes!" and then turning to Dr. Harris, she said, eagerly, "Dr. Harris, you must let Barnes have the watch and chain; I know he would have wished it; and you will always wear them, Barnes, wont you, for his sake and mine?" And then she hurried to the pony-chaise, followed by Barnes, who could not express his gratitude at first, but found courage to say in a low voice, as he folded the wraps about her feet,—

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"I shan't forget your goodness, miss: you're every inch like him, and I couldn't say better of you;" and then, fearing he had overstepped the bounds of military etiquette, suddenly drew himself up as if a poker had been thrust down his back, as Dr. Harris and Captain Craven stepped into the little carriage, and stood like a statue, with his hand raised to his forehead, until the pony had been put in motion, and turned the corner which led to Major Arundel's house.

Elise Arundel received her bosom friend with an exuberant display of affection, which was rather too officious to be soothing to a spirit so wounded as was Rachel's.

"Now, my dear girl," she said, as she followed her into the bedroom prepared for her reception, and Rachel expressed a wish to have "just one cup of tea, and then go to bed." "Now, my dearest Rachel, I cannot allow you to shut your-self up like that. It will do you harm, chérie, and make you worse. What I say is, when a thing's over, it's over; and it's no use remembering it longer than we need. You must join us at dinner; there will only be Craven and myself (and you don't call him a stranger, eh! petite méchante?), and after that you can go to bed if you like."

"But it is so soon," faltered Rachel.

"Tu ne m'aime pas," said Mrs. Arundel, with a shake of her head, intended to be reproachful.

"Oh, Elise!" remonstrated Rachel; "and now, when I have fewer friends than ever." And she commenced to give way again to her grief.

"Well, then, you will do as I ask you, carissima, for my sake, will you not? and you will feel much better after the little effort. Come, that is a settled thing."

And so poor Rachel was tormented into joining the family dinner on that first sad day of loneliness, and to listen—with dry eyes, indeed, for she was too proud to break down before servants, but with a brain on fire—to the ordinary regimental topics (often suddenly dropped when their details became at all connected with the events of the last two days) which formed the conversation, and in which Cecil Craven took a very meagre share. For he felt for Rachel, and could not bear to see her at the dinner-table, suffering as he knew that | | 81 she was. As he met her afterwards in the drawing-room, he said to her,—

"Why do you come out of your room, when I can see it is so painful to you?"

"Elise persuaded me to it," replied Rachel; "she thought it would do me good."

"Stuff and nonsense!" he replied; "go to bed now if you wish it."

"Will you make my excuses?" she asked, for their hostess was out of the room at the moment.

"Of course I will. Good-night."

She echoed the word, and left the room, thankful to be released. And when Mrs. Arundel pursued her a few minutes afterwards, with the evident intention of bringing her back to the drawing-room by main force, she found her friend stretched in a dead faint across the bed, and for the first time suspected that she had gone too far in forcing Rachel Norreys, strong as was her spirit, into keeping up the unnatural strain which her nerves had experienced during the past week.

She had broken down under the attempt. She had an immense stock of mental courage, but very little bodily strength with which to back it. Under excitement she could do anything, but the necessity for action withdrawn, and Rachel was feeble as a child.

Now, as she lay unconscious upon her bed, her slender limbs looking so unwomanly in their apparent lifelessness—her eye, through which the energetic spirit was used to shine and blazon, closed and inanimate—it would have been difficult to guess that in that delicate form there beat a heart large enough to encompass the love of the world, and courageous enough to fill the breast, and that without decreasing from his merit, of the bravest man that ever stepped this earth.

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