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 7 chapter 37 >>

Display page layout


IT is not to be supposed that, even in her distress for her father's death. Rachel could entirely lose sight of the fact, | | 82 that Raymond Norreys might arrive in England any day, and claim her as his wife. Indeed, when the shock of the first-named grief was a little subdued, the second appeared to gather in intensity, and the two to change places. That which had just passed seemed in the retrospect as if it had been looked forward to for ages, and it was but in the natural course of events that it should happen; whilst this, coming on her with stealthy tread, took an unexpected and sudden form, and the nearer it drew, the less she felt prepared to meet it. She was not without a latent idea, that should Raymond arrive in England first, he would pursue her to Gibraltar; and her one great wish and prayer now was, that the relief transport might make its appearance previously, and that she might be permitted to travel home in company with her friends. But the days gradually crept onwards, and yet no transport was signalled to be in sight.

Rachel did not rise from her bed on the day following her fainting fit. She wished to do so, but Dr. Harris would not hear of it, and she felt too prostrate to resist his will. But on the third day she was up, and busy packing her clothes for the voyage, with many a sigh over the numerous mementoes of his affection with which her poor father had laden her. But, otherwise, herself again, and as shy as ever of letting the outer world guess at her inner feelings.

One circumstance occurred that day which very much disturbed her. She shook off the feeling at first, and called it "nonsense," but she found it returning again and again until she was fain to confess to herself that she was thoroughly annoyed and puzzled by it.

As she was leaving her room for the dinner table, she encountered in the drawing-room, which was empty, Caroline Wilson. At first, simply surprised that she should have followed her there, but supposing that she had some favour to ask or communication to make, Rachel demanded her business, and not in the most cordial tone.

"None with you, ma'am; I am waiting now upon Mrs. Arundel."

"Have you come as her maid?" said Rachel, with surprise.

"Yes ma'am," responded Mrs. Wilson. "I have been | | 83 engaged to enter Mrs. Arundel's service as soon as I left yours, for some time past."

Her former mistress made no reply at first, but passed on and left her, then returning a few paces, she said, haughtily:

"Well, I don't require your services in my room, Caroline, and I beg you do not attend me there. You must know well enough that the memories connected with yourself are not pleasant ones to me."

Mrs. Wilson dropped the most respectful of curtsies.

"Certainly, ma'am; I will acquaint Mrs. Arundel with your wishes, and she will doubtless order me to attend to them." And with a second inclination she left the room.

Rachel was the first recruit for the dinner service, and she had time for thought before the others joined her. She could not understand what she had just learnt. Did Elise believe her, or did she not? For months she had been the depository for all Rachel's grievances with regard to this servant; for her tales of Mrs. Wilson's cunning artifice and smooth hypocrisy; of her dishonourable actions, her quiet insolence, and her vindictive tongue; and Elise had sympathized with Rachel for being obliged to retain such a woman about her, and appeared disgusted with her character and goings on. And yet she had engaged her to be her own servant, and that without any reference to Rachel, and some time before her father's death; probably at the very moment she was listening to, and joining in abuse of her, from and with the friend in whom she professed to have entire confidence. Rachel did not think so badly of Elise as to suppose this was an intentional or premeditated affront on her part; she cared for her too much. But the fact remained, and it wounded her in her present state of mind to think that she should not have been treated with perfect openness, and that one of the few friends she had left was not exactly what she had imagined her to be.

She felt sore and tender on the subject, and had no rest until the dinner was over, and she could ease her own honest heart by giving her friend an opportunity of clearing herself from the imputation of double dealing, which the circumstances at present wrongly (as Rachel believed) threw upon her.

But Mrs. Arundel was only prepared to laugh it off as a matter not worth mentioning.

| | 84

"You are not serious, surely, amica mia, in asking an explanation for such a very simple thing. I wanted a servant—I have had to put up with a half-caste, as you know, ever since I have been here—and you are about to dismiss yours. What more natural than that I should offer to take her off your hands, voilà tout?"

"But you did not offer to take her off my hands, Elise, or I should have reminded you what a bad servant she is."

"Pardon, chérie, she can dress hair, can she not? and alter a dress if necessary; and surely you would not be the one to speak against her good qualities as a nurse."

"As to the first two accomplishments," replied Rachel, "I can say nothing. I disliked her too much from the first day we had her, ever to allow her to touch me; she obeys her orders of course, or no one would keep her; but she does more than she is told. She is intensely officious, and very prying and curious, and——"

"I think I have heard all that before, carissima, or something like it. Caroline herself has not a few tales against a certain little lady's temper, and——"

"And you can listen to a servant's recital of my faults, true or not, Elise? I did not think so meanly of you. There is not a gentlewoman in the land who would dare to say a second word to me against yourself."

"I never said I permitted it, petite."

"No, but you can take her into your service after it, and keep her about your own person. What can the woman think but that you agree with her, and side against me?"

Elise Arundel lifted her white shoulders in contempt.

"What does it signify what a servant thinks or does not think?" she said.

"Nothing to me," rejoined Rachel, "as I have often shown her; but I thought you cared for me too much, Elise, to have a person about you who you know I hate, and who, you strongly suspect, hates me."

"Oh, fal lal nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Arundel, in a do-away-with-the-matter style. "I am sure Mrs. Wilson knows her duty a great deal too well to hate you, or any lady who has employed her. And as for yourself, darling, it's only a prejudice on your part against the poor woman, a little | | 85 jealousy, I am afraid, because the poor dear pater thought a good deal about her. Now, confess, is it not so?"

But Rachel was silent.

"Come, my dear girl," continued her bosom friend, in a coaxing voice, as she came nearer to Rachel and commenced caressing her. "Look at the matter in a reasonable light. I couldn't have gone on board ship very well without a servant, and all those children upstairs to look after, and it was convenient for me, to say the least of it, to get Caroline Wilson. Come, chérie, make it up with your own Elise, or you will make her look as miserable as yourself." And she coaxed and wheedled the pale lips into giving her a half smile and a kiss, and then the matter was supposed to be amicably settled between them.

"Only promise me, Elise, that that creature is not allowed to come about my bedroom, or I shall have to vacate your house, and go to Mrs. Marsh or Mrs. Williams."

For the offers of harbourage to the orphaned girl had been many and pressing, and she had as little reason as most in a foreign settlement to complain of want of hospitality or kindness. But her own particular friend was vehement in her assurances that nothing and nobody should be allowed to vex or disturb her dear Rachel as long as she chose to remain with them; and entreated her again and again to think no more of the unlucky circumstance than she herself had done in bringing it about. And Rachel promised, meaning what she said, and tried hard in consequence, to believe that her dear Elise was perfectly sincere, and that it had been an unfortunate necessity, and nothing more, that had compelled her to engage Caroline Wilson as her personal attendant. For two days after that she never saw the woman, even about the house, and caught herself wondering more than once where she was hidden, or what had become of her. But yet, her name alone was so odious to Rachel, that she never mentioned the subject, or her surprise at it, although she could not forget that Caroline Wilson was near her. She never entered her room, where the different articles about to be put into her trunks, lay in many a confused medley, without running her eye quickly over the various groups to see if they had been moved, or in any way meddled with. | | 86 She never woke in the night and heard the slightest noise, the breeze, may be, getting up from the sea, and rattling the laths of the Venetians against one another, or the cry of some large bat or night-bird attracted by the light which she burned, without sitting up in bed and holding her breath, and listening to hear the rustle of a dress or the creaking of a shoe.

She often reproached herself for these suspicions; called herself weak, unjust, and unnecessarily wary; but still they returned, and still, as every night drew on, she felt that she was not safe from scrutiny, and perhaps theft.

Once as she roused herself suddenly from sleep, with her father's name upon her lips, she was confident that she had heard a sound, as of some article dropped upon the floor, and, at the same time, saw the glimmer of something white, which passed by her side and was gone. She could only have fancied or dreamt it, however, for, springing out of bed, she found her room empty and her lamp extinguished, and (when she had lighted it again) everything in its place as usual. No—stay—here was a workbox overturned, but that may have been done before she went to rest, for she had retired early that night, and very weary. As she stooped to replace the fallen box, she heard the handle of the door on the opposite side of the house turned once or twice, and apparently ineffectually. She sprung to her own door at once, and saw (oh! how Rachel hated herself for the misgiving which had prompted her to believe it Caroline Wilson), only her dear Elise trying to regain her bedroom, the portals of which were not in such satisfactory order as could have been desired. When she saw Rachel's figure, white-robed like her own, she gave a little start, and then re-advanced to the table. In one hand she held a lighted taper, and in the other a pocket handkerchief.

"My dear child," she exclaimed, "I hope I have not frightened you. I have been suffering agonies all night with the toothache, and not liking to disturb dear Jack, came out to try and find the laudanum for myself, and the wind has blown my stupid door to, and I cannot open it."

"Have you got the laudanum?" demanded Rachel, thinking that or the greatest consequence.

| | 87

"Well, no, I cannot find it"

"I thought you kept all your medicines in the chest in your bedroom."

But poor Mrs. Arundel's toothache came on so violently at this juncture, that she could only put her handkerchief to her face and groan; and the sound of talking having disturbed her husband, his footsteps were heard approaching the scene of conference, and Rachel had nothing to do but to beat a hasty retreat to her bedroom again.

When there, although Mrs. Arundel's toothache, and the refractory door, were sufficient to account for the noise she heard, and the sea-breeze coming in at the window may have blown out her light, she still could not dismiss from her mind the foolish idea that the shadow she had seen flit past her bedside was not all due to her imagination, and that although she would not hint such a thing to her friend for worlds, Caroline Wilson had, in some mysterious manner, visited her room that night.

But her doubts on the subject received a far stronger confirmation a few days later, and in which they were assisted by the words of Mrs. Arundel herself. It was the day week of her father's death, and Elise had persuaded Rachel to take a short drive with Major Arundel in the pony-phaeton, excusing herself from accompanying them on the score of a bad headache and unusual lassitude. Rachel was glad to go. The company of poor old Jack was very congenial to her feelings, and, this being the first time she had left the house, the evening air unusually inviting. Major Arundel avoided the general thoroughfares, and drove her gently along some of the by-roads that led away from the town and its insignificant bustle into the quiet country, and there they talked of him who was gone, in a manner that, until then, Rachel had been unable to speak to any one in. They stayed out late in consequence, and they came home by a back path, anxious still to escape observation if possible, by which means they arrived at the stables before the house, and having left Major Arundel there with the pony-phaeton, Rachel walked quietly up the garden path alone, and her light step was through the sitting-rooms and in her own apartment, before any of the inmates of the house heard her enter. It was now dusk, | | 88 and, to her surprise, there was a light burning there, and a figure seated before the table, which rose up with a hasty cry as the turned the handle of the door, and discovered the startled face of Eliza Arundel. Her hand was full of papers—old letters, memoranda, and bills, and before her was Rachel's desk, wide open, and with half its contents turned out upon the table. She stood where she had risen, deadly pale,staring at Rachel as if she was an apparition, and seemed for the moment to have lost the use of her tongue.

Rachel looked at her rifled desk, at the overturned papers and scattered notes, and her thoughts flew at once to Caroline Wilson.

"Good heavens, Elise! then that woman Wilson has been at my papers after all."

As she heard the suggestion, a look of intense relief passed over the features of Eliza Arundel, and from pallor, her cheeks assumed a bright scarlet flush, as she quickly replied.

"Yes, my dear Rachel. What can you think of finding me thus amongst your belongings? but I had hoped to replace them before you arrived. My dear child, I am afraid it is true; some one has certainly been at your desk. As I passed by the verandah window, I heard a noise as of footsteps in your room, and knowing your dislike to anything being touched, I looked in, and only saw your desk left open, with all its contents lying about. I came round directly, but whoever it was had escaped, so I was about to re-arrange them. I have been trying to think who it could have been who had the impertinence to do it."

"Who it could have been," repeated Rachel, contemptuously, "who should it have been, but your delightful waiting-woman, Caroline Wilson? I told you what she was. She will open your desk in the same manner the first time it suits her convenience to do so. Don't take the trouble to re-arrange them, Elise; I can do that, and I will lock the desk up in one of my trunks to-night. She shall not get another look at it any way; so I hope she made the most of this one. How foolish of me to have left my keys about."

"Yes, it is very imprudent, dearest child," returned Mrs. Arundel, who had quite recovered now from the fright Rachel's sudden entrance had occasioned her; "you mustn't | | 89 do it again; but you are such a thoughtless little creature. Shall you dress for dinner to-night, darling?"

The "darling" thought she would not dress for dinner that evening if her dear Elise would excuse her, and then her friend left her alone. Rachel was more indignant than vexed about her desk having been opened; for there happened to be nothing of consequence in it, except a few old letters of her father's, and they were all safe. It was only what she had suspected all along of Caroline Wilson, and she should have been more on her guard against her. But she was really surprised, for she had imagined that the woman was not living in the house at the present moment. Whilst they were at dinner that evening, Cecil Craven walked in.

"Have you heard the news?" he inquired.

No: no one had heard any news.

"The relief transport is telegraphed."

"Is it, really?"

"Really and truly—mail-steamer, also. Now, ladies, you'll have enough to do."

This news was received by the members of the party with very different feelings. Major Arundel's thoughts flew immediately to the men under his command.

"It will be hot work to get them all on board, Craven. I must go up to the colonel's after dinner and hear his orders."

Mrs. Arundel's mind was entirely occupied with the idea of how many trunks there were still to pack, and whether they were likely to get all the clothes home from the wash in time; whilst Rachel could only remember, with a warmer sensation of pleasure than she had experienced for the last few weeks, that the regiment must really embark in the course of a couple of days, and that there was now no doubt but that she should perform the voyage home, as she had so much wished to do, in the company of her regimental friends. She forgot Caroline Wilson and her dishonoured desk—she forgot even the parting which lay at the end of that voyage, and the probabilities of no other than her husband meeting her at Southampton or Gravesend; she only remembered, with a return of the old enthusiastic excitement and careless forgetfulness of everything unpleasant in the delight of the | | 90 moment, that what she had so long desired had nearly come to pass, and that there could be no doubt of its fulfilment.

"Shall I tell Wilson to send up his wife to you to-night, my dear?" inquired Major Arundel, as he stood ready accoutred for his after-dinner visit to the colonel; "she will be useful to you in packing. We shall have to start by sunrise on Thursday next, if I am not much mistaken."

"Yes—do—if her own boxes are ready," answered Mrs. Arundel, growing very red as she said so.

But Rachel could have no suspicions in a quarter where she loved. These signs and signals rushed back upon her memory in after-hours, and bathed the past in a flood of daylight; but at the moment they bore no significance for her. She looked at her friend as the major took his departure, and said quietly, "Has Caroline been staying at her own house, Elise?"

"Yes," was the rather hesitating reply; "the fact is, I sent her home chiefly on your account" (which was a romance, for Mrs. Wilson had asked for and obtained leave to prepare the expected voyage; but it is just as well to credit ourselves with all the good we can in this world).

"Thank you, dear," said Rachel, as she stepped to Mrs. Arundel's side and kissed her. She felt quite grateful for this proof of Elise's solicitude that the feelings of her friend should be respected, even at the expense of her own convenience.

"But then," continued Rachel, "how could it have been her who opened my desk this afternoon?"

Mrs. Arundel's large blue eyes dilated wide with innocent amazement.

"How, indeed! Could it have been Mary, Rachel?" naming the children's nurse, a half-caste Portuguese girl.

"Scarcely," answered Rachel, "considering that she cannot read; and, putting that aside, could have no possible interest in my letters. Mrs. Wilson may have walked up from the barracks on purpose. She is quite capable of doing so. But pray let us change the subject, Elise; I dislike even talking to that woman. When is the transport likely to be in, Captain Craven?" she asked of that gentleman, who, not having accompanied Major Arundel to the colonel's, had been enjoying a cigar in the verandah.

| | 91

"Perhaps to-night; perhaps to-morrow morning," he replied. "She was signalled at six o'clock. If she makes sufficient way, she will anchor to-night; if not, she will put in the first thing to-morrow. The mail-steamer is in. Did you not hear the guns?"

"I am afraid none of the 3rd will have much interest to spare for the mail-steamer this time," said Mrs. Arundel; "we shall be able to answer our letters in person. I must leave you, Rachel, to do the honours of coffee to Captain Craven to-night, for if there is one order to give, there are fifty. Send me a cup into my room, dear, and don't expect to see me again this evening."

"I shall come and help you by-and-by," was the reply, as Mrs. Arundel left them to themselves.

"I am so sorry I never found your gold stud, Cecil," said Rachel, drawing her chair close to his, as soon as they were alone, and speaking low; "but I searched for it everywhere without success. It is the most extraordinary thing where it can have rolled away to."

"Never mind," said Cecil Craven, with that true politeness which tries to set every one at their ease. "I dare say I dropped it somewhere out of doors. I am a very careless fellow. Don't think anything more about it, Rachel;" and he laid his hand on hers as he spoke.

"I beg your pardon; is this Major Arundel's house?" said a voice from the verandah.

They turned their heads simultaneously in that direction, and saw the figure of a man standing on the threshold, wrapped in a rough coat, and with a naval cap over his eyes, which, when he distinguished the figure of a lady in the lighted room, he immediately doffed.

"This is Major Arundel's, but he is not at home," replied Captain Craven. "Do you want anything with him?"

"I have just arrived by the mail-steamer," said the stranger, advancing into the room with a slight bow; "I came here to see Mrs. Norreys, who, I understand, is on a visit to Mrs. Arundel. If this is the case, will you kindly let her know that her husband, Raymond Norreys, is waiting to see her?"

<< chapter 7 chapter 37 >>