- CHAPTER XII. A RETURN TO ENGLAND.
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A RETURN TO ENGLAND.
THE transport, containing the relief for the 3rd Royal Bays, had anchored to time on the morning following the arrival of the mail-steamer at Gibraltar, and the left wing of that regiment, under the command of Major Arundel, had hustled its into boxes, and been hustled itself on board ship, in the space of forty-eight hours afterwards, an incredibly short time, when all that has to be said, written, and done, before some five hundred men and their possessions can be packed together and packed off is taken into consideration. Although it is only what occurs every time that a regiment changes its quarters, it is what the regularity, in which an army like our own is kept, alone could accomplish. Every little punctilious ceremony enjoined by military etiquette, and which to the eyes of the uninitiated appears unnecessarily strict, aids in its daily practice to keep up that habit of regular and instantaneous obedience which forms the ground-work of the admirable discipline in which the British soldier is maintained.
Rachel Norreys did not see much of her old friends during this period. All whom she most cared for belonged to the left wing, and they were too busy to call on her, and the consciousness of the unnatural contract which had taken place between her husband and herself made her feel shy of seeking them. Cecil Craven, indeed, came to see her both evenings before they started, and so did Mrs. Arundel, just to say "good-bye," but even then their mouths were full of their | | 125 own anticipations and doings, and Rachel felt now as if she held no part in them.
Raymond took her on board the transport, too, the third day, to see them start, but they all laughed at the idea of her feeling anything but merry at the brief separation, and so she had to choke back the tears which the circumstances under which they parted would have called forth, and appear as cheerful as the rest. Elise Arundel, indeed, took an opportunity of whispering that she thought her a very lucky girl, and that Mr. Norreys was one of the best-looking young fellows she had seen for a long day; and even Cecil Craven appeared quite taken with Rachel's husband, and bade him a most hearty farewell. Poor old Jack was the only one to linger behind the others, as she was preparing to return on shore with Raymond, to wring the girl's tender hand until it ached, as he bid "God bless her!" again and again, and told her how pleased he should be to see her once more at home, little thinking that the home in which they must meet would be one on which his earthly eyes could never open.
But when Rachel had left them all, at last, and returned to the hotel with her husband, she felt more astray and less at ease than ever. There was a restraint between Raymond and herself, which all his kindness to her could not remove, and he was essentially kind: not like a lover, not even like a brother; he had never spoken of his love—never brought one evidence of his affection or his wrong too palpably before her, nor alluded to the conversation which took place between them the first night they met since the moment it had been concluded. He would not even have kissed her, had she not, in sheer shame of shaking hands with the man whose name she bore, lifted her face to him morning and evening, and then his kiss fell lightly on her forehead or her cheek—never on her lips. During the two days that elapsed before the mail-steamer from Malta came in, he was all that the fondest and most careful brother could have been to Rachel, without any show of a brother's affection. He waited on her, anticipating her wants; he consulted her wishes in every particular, and only seemed to live to give her pleasure; at the same time that his attentions were so unobtrusive that they bore no particle of reproach in their fulfilment. He was not | | 126 melancholy, nor bore any signs about him of an injured man; on the contrary, he was very cheerful, and several times left her for an hour to herself, whilst he made acquaintance with the many strollers and sailors on the wharf, with whom he seemed a universal favourite. Indeed his capacity for making friends appeared perfectly marvellous to Rachel, who, being of a prouder nature herself, though not more reserved, would watch him with astonishment from the hotel window, as she saw him fly from one new acquaintance to another, hail-fellow-well-met with people he had never seen four-and-twenty hours before, and causing every one he came across to catch the infection of his own mirthfulness. And once or twice, when she saw him returning to her side with a slower step (not thinking she observed him) and down-cast, thoughtful eyes, she caught herself almost wishing that she had not been the means of destroying the best enjoyment of so gladsome a nature.
But if there was any chance of Rachel wanting his attendance, he was always at her side. Ready to ride on horseback with her int he mornings (they had two rides together whilst in Gibraltar), with many a laugh at his own want of horsemanship (for what sailor, just come off a five years' cruise, ever rode well?) and expression of admiration for Rachel's firm Beat and skilful handling. Ready to drive her out in the evenings, or to consent to be driven, if she liked it better; to appear interested in the revision of her old haunts, and the few beauties of Gibraltar; still ready, when they alighted, to take her down to the water side, or to sit opposite to her at a dinner, the trouble of ordering which had not even fallen upon her, and tempt her to eat by every persuasion in his power. But the evenings were the trying times; when the dinner-table was cleared, and the lamps lighted, and there were no longer any active means of making the hours pass away. Then it was that Rachel could not feel in the least surprised if Raymond, after sitting awkwardly for a short while over his solitary wine, would rise and say he was going to have a cigar, unless she wanted him to do anything for her. And she would answer timidly, "No;" and he would stroll away down the wharf, to the boatmen, to the billiard-rooms; what mattered it? each one of them was kinder to him than | | 127 herself, and would not reappear (or she supposed so) until long after she had laid her tired head upon the pillow, and was asleep, or seemed to be.
But the weary days passed at last, and the mail-steamer came in, and during the short passage to England Rachel was so ill that she saw no one but the stewardess. Four or five times a day, indeed, was that functionary eagerly questioned by Raymond as to the state of his wife's health, and champagne and every luxury procurable was sent into the cabin for her use, but he did not venture there himself. Once, urged by the stewardess, who wondered at the lady's indifference whenever she recommended a visit from her "good gentleman" as likely to cheer her up, he did put his head into the cabin door, and say, "Rachel, is there nothing I can get, or do for you? nothing you can fancy?" but she had shrunk from his sight, answering, "No;" and he thought his presence was offensive to her, and had not repeated the experiment. But on the day they anchored in Southampton Docks, he did run down to her with the glad intelligence that Cecil Craven had come to meet them, and was on board—glad to him, because he hoped it might please Rachel, whom he found it so difficult to please. And it did please her for the moment: she was sitting ready dressed in her cabin, and she came out on hearing it, and ran up the companion-stairs quite lightly. But disappointment awaited her at the top. Cecil Craven had come at the request of his mother, but laden with the intelligence that has already been told, of poor Jack Arundel's sudden and unhappy death, and the news shook Rachel's weakened nerves excessively. She wept violently, connecting the kindly heart that had ceased to beat in him, with her own tender father's death, and her wish that she was with dear Elise was so often repeated that no one could have helped noticing it. And yet it surprised her and Cecil Craven not a little, when the young husband, having calmed her emotion as well as he could, said quietly, but with evident sincerity—"Rachel, if it would give you any comfort to go to your friend for a few days, I will take you to Farnborough on our way up to London, and leave you there." She almost stared, for she had had no idea that her desire, which had not amounted to a request, would have been | | 128 treated as such, and complied with; but the notion, once raised in her breast, became quite irresistible, and she eagerly begged that her husband would do as he had said.
"Oh, pray do,Raymond! I feel as if I must go to her! Poor Elise! how unhappy she must be! Ah! I can hardly believe it yet. Poor old Jack! How dreadful it appears even to think of!"
"Are you in earnest?" demanded Cecil Craven of Raymond Norreys, as the two men stood rather apart together.
"Yes—why not?" was the reply. "Rachel is very excitable and nervous; if she doesn't see Mrs. Arundel she will probably fret herself into a fever. They seem very much attached to one another."
"Oh, yes! so they are," replied Major Craven; but he did not seem any the more to favour the idea of Rachel going to Farnborough. The fact is, he would have much preferred to see the intimacy between these two ladies lessened by the circumstances which had occurred to separate them; but at present there seemed little chance of it, for when, after getting clear of the steamer at Southampton, they had started in the train and arrived at Farnborough, and he said before getting out to look after the luggage, "Well, Mrs. Norreys, are you quite determined?" her hurried "Oh, yes! indeed I am!" settled the question for that time at least.
Raymond was about to follow Major Craven, and help him in the exercise of his duties, when he felt Rachel's hand timidly laid upon his, and her voice say, "Raymond, you are sure you don't mind?"
It was the first concession she had made to him since they had met; but as they had sped along, and drawn nearer to the place of stoppage, her heart had been misgiving her as to whether she were right in accepting his generous offer, and permitting him to go home to his mother's house without her—more than misgiving, indeed, for she knew that she was wrong; but she was too anxious to have her own way, and too proud to appear to wish to continue in Raymond's company; but, at the close, her heart nearly failed her. "Are you sure you do not mind my not going on to Brompton to-night?"
"Quite sure!" he said, cheerfully, "as long as you are | | 129 satisfied. It makes little difference to me, you know, Rachel," and he caught back a half-escaped sigh as he said so; "and I shall come and fetch you again in a few days. You will not wish to stay longer, I am sure, because my mother might think it strange; and that is to be avoided, if possible."
She almost wished that he would burst out into a storm of passion and abuse, and tell her that he hated and despised her—that he would give her, by ill-treatment of some sort, any excuse to feel that she was justified in not admiring his conduct; but this ready compliance with her wishes—and, worse still, this cheerful compliance, though she knew it was assumed—she felt at times was more than she could bear. She only said now, though, "Thank you; you are very good. I will come back again whenever you wish it." And then he had swung himself on to the platform, and gone to assist in the extrication of boxes she required from the general mass of luggage.
They had not much of a drive after they left the railway station, for Mrs. Arundel and her children were in lodgings close by in Farnborough; and when they had arrived at the door, Raymond Norreys kissed his wife, and drove back again to the station to continue his journey by the next train to London. He sympathized in the awful event that had made Mrs. Arundel a widow and her children orphans, but he felt he had no business within that hall-door; he would have been sadly out of place whilst the bosom friends were sobbing and embracing; and even Cecil Craven's entreaty that he would go into camp with him, and receive the hospitality of the 3rd mess, lost its weight, because he could not forget that his mother knew the day they were due at Southampton, and would fret still more at the delay in his re-appearance than she had done at the brevity of his previous visit. The cloudless sunshine with which the July day had been ushered in had subsided into a meaningless drizzle by the time that Raymond Norreys rung the bell at the iron gate on the occasion of his second arrival at the Abbey Lodge. The flagged pavement was completely wet, and even the covered pathway looked damp as he walked up it and neared the door of his home, not with the light, firm tread With which he had trod it before, but with a step so measured | | 130 that Christine never recongnised it as her brother's, and started from her occupation with such a cry of pleased surprise as he entered the room that she woke her mother from an afternoon nap, and put her into quite a fright. In the first hurry of embracing him, and expressing their delight at his return, Mrs. Norreys and Christine overlooked the absence of Rachel; but that could not be for long, and presently the expected question came——
"Why, my dear, where is your wife?"
"Not outside?" asked Christine, ready to run anywhere to welcome her new sister. But Raymond laid his hand upon her arm.
"No, dear Christine; she is not there. Rachel is not with me, dear mother. I left her at Farnborough."
"At Farnborough, Raymond?"
"Yes," he replied. "The regiment met with a sad loss coming over, in the death of Major Arundel, and his widow is a very intimate friend of my wife—in fact, just like her sister. Major Craven met us at Southampton this morning with the news, and it quite upset poor Rachel; and, naturally, she wished to go to her friend and comfort her, if possible. So I left her at Mrs. Arundel's, at Farnborough, as we passed the station; and I am going to fetch her again in a day or two; and that is all. And now, mother, give a fellow something to eat, for I have had nothing since breakfast this morning
He talked fast and gaily, in order to cover the awkwardness of making such an announcement to his relations, but they saw that his manner was assumed.
"I am very sorry to hear of Rachel's distress," said Mrs. Norreys, in her measured tones; "it is a sad coming home for the dear girl, and I daresay she felt it to be so; but I wish she had just come on to the Lodge for one night first, that we might have seen you together before she gave up her time to her friend. For, after all, the nearest friend can give little comfort in such a bereavement."
Raymond thought his mother would not have derived much gratification from seeing them together, but his sole desire in his answer appeared to be to lift the onus of Rachel's defection from off her shoulders to his own.| | 131
"It was my fault entirely that she stayed at Farnborough—my wish, in fact. Rachel has a very tender heart, and fretting would have done her no good. She will be the better for having seen Mrs. Arundel, and talking over this grief with her."
Then he changed the subject to that of the journey home, and described the discomforts of a mail steamer, but he did not once touch upon Gibraltar itself, nor the circumstances of his visit there.
"But what I want to know," said his mother, as later they sat around the dinner-table, "is, what you thought of Rachel when you first saw her, Raymond. Did you find her altered?"
"Not much grown," he answered; "but more womanly, certainly."
"But her face, Raymond?" urged his sister.
"I thought her face altered at first," he said, "but not afterwards, when the old expression began to play about it. She has the same beautiful changeable eyes she ever had, and the delicate little nose and mouth——"
"The same loving eyes, I hope, Raymond," observed his mother.
"Ten times more so, you mean, mamma," said Christine, laughing. "Alick and I will have to play second fiddle when this pair of lovers are reunited once more."
Raymond's eyes were grave, and his mouth did not relax into a smile.
"We will yield the palm to Scotland, Chrissy," was all he said.
But his mother remarked his avoidance of the subject, and wondered at it.
"Does Rachel play or sing now?" said Christine; "for the last time she came to Brompton she would do neither, and said she hated both."
"I really don't know," stammered Raymond; "I do not think we once started the subject of music."
"Had something better to talk about," she returned, archly.
He flushed over brow and check.
"Now I come to think of it, there is a guitar-case amongst | | 132 the luggage," he said. "You must make Rachel herself account for its appearance, Christine, when you meet.
"How long did you say your wife was likely to stay with her friends?" demanded Mrs. Norreys. There had been a coldness in her voice whilst speaking of Rachel during the last half hour that roused in his wife's behalf the husband's jealous nature
"She will stay as long as she has the slightest inclination for staying," he said, determinately. "I shall run over and see her the day after to-morrow, and if she is not quite ready to come home by that time, I promised Craven to look him up at the camp, where he can give me a shake-down till Rachel can return with me."
Then Mrs. Norreys knew, slight as the circumstance was, that the actions of her daughter-in-law were not to be canvassed before her son, or there was a chance of her losing them both. So she artistically changed the theme, and spoke of Dr. Browne's death (the news of which had been sent them before in a letter, carried by some friendly hand in the 3rd Royal Bays), and of the probability of a long stay on shore for Raymond, which last was a pleasant theme enough.
"I shan't remind the old birds at the Admiralty of my existence," her son said with regard to it; "and they are hardly likely to remember me, without—though if a good chance offered itself, it would not do for a poor lieutenant to refuse to take it up, or they would be for scratching my name off the list. However, we will not speculate on what may never happen, mother. I have just come off a long spell of duty, and I hope now I may reasonably look forward to a year or two of pleasure to make up for it." But even as the words left his lips, he sighed to think how different a coming home he had looked forward to. But when, upon the meal being ended, and Mrs. Norreys, for some house-hold reasons, absent, Raymond found himself alone in the drawing-room with his sister, he commenced to attack her immediately upon the coolness of his mother's tone when she spoke of his wife.
"My mother speaks as if Rachel was to blame for staying in Farnborough, when I particularly told her it was by my | | 133 wish that she did so. I cannot have any of my wife's actions questioned, Christine."
"I don't think mamma intended to question them," said his sister, timidly.
"It sounded like it," he replied. "Rachel has been in great distress lately, Christine, as you know, and she is young and not used to trouble. If on her arrival here, she would rather keep to herself (shut herself up, as you would call it), I hope she will be permitted to do so, without comment made or surprise expressed."
"Oh, Raymond!" said Christine, hurt at the tone he had assumed, "you speak as if you had any need to caution mamma and me against being unkind to Rachel."
"No, Christine, I didn't mean that," he said; and he put his arm fondly round her as he spoke, for he saw the tears stand in her eyes; "I am sure you will both receive her kindly; but my mother is old, you see, and particular—straight-laced in her ideas, in fact, and my wife has been brought up in a different school altogether. She has been very much spoilt by her late father (and you will acknowledge when you see her how hard it must be not to spoil her), and used to have her own way in everything, and I am afraid all the rules that are observed here—the strictness about early rising, and prayers and meals, will put her out at first, and she will feel them to be irksome."
"Mamma will wish Rachel to do exactly as she pleases, I am sure," said Christine, gravely.
"It is not only that," he rejoined, petulantly; "of course she will act as she pleases, but I will not have her actions talked about. She is a wild, impetuous, beautiful little creature, Christine, but she is wayward at times. She has a will of her own, as everybody worth caring a snap about has, and I want you and my mother to remember that, and to let her be free, from others' comments as well as from others' ways. You have influence with your mother, Christine; tell her this from yourself and in other words; make her see the sense of it before she meets Rachel, and everything will go right."
Christine sighed, but she pressed her brother's hand, and promised him obedience. At this juncture the drawing-room door was opened, and a head thrust in, the owner of whom | | 134 seeing the confidential position the brother had assumed, as quickly withdrew it, and closed the door again.
"Who was that?" said Raymond.
"Only Alick," answered Christine; "he generally comes in of an evening when he is disengaged. He sees we are talking together, and does not wish to disturb us—go on, dear Raymond.
"I have not much more to say," he answered, "and will not keep you from him long—only this, Christine, that to your sisterly love and tenderness I commend my wife. If you have ever cared for me, thought of me, and prayed for me (as I know you have), extend to Rachel, for my sake, the same consideration. She is so dear to me, Christine, that I would shed the last drop of my blood to see her happy and contented; she is so much my darling, that to gain for her affection and esteem I would give up my own worldly share of it, and I look to you to give me pleasure in this respect. You are of the same sex as she is, the same age, probably with the same or very similar pursuits; and, above all, I have made you sisters. No one could be better fitted to be to Rachel what neither she nor yourself have ever possessed before. Be her sister, Christine—her loving, confidential friend. Let her always have your sympathy to rely upon, your bosom to turn to, when she requires them, either in trouble or in joy."
"She shall!" exclaimed Christine, fired with a spark from his enthusiasm; "but, Raymond, what are you to be? This is what Rachel should look for in your heart."
He started at the question, and was at first silent; then, summoning up his courage, he replied—
"I, Christine! I shall lie at her feet for a lifetime, and worship her!"
He did not say what she would be to him, or he to her; but his auditor was young, and did not notice the omission.
"You love her very much," she said, softly. "How dearly she must love you in return."
He rose hastily, but stooped again to kiss her.
"God bless you, dear Christine!" he said, "for your faith, and for your promise. Never part with either as you value my affection. Now I must not keep you any longer from Mr. | | 135 Macpherson, or he will not bless the day which gave me back my sister." And he took her hand, and raised her from the low stool upon which she had been sitting. But when the looked for Mr. Macpherson in the dining-room and study, he was not to be found.
"Mamma!" shouted Christine, from the foot of the stairs, "have you seen Alick?"
Mrs. Norreys emerged from her own bed-room. "No, my dear," was her answer; "I have seen no one. I was just coming down to seek you."
Then the servant was questioned, and he also denied having seen anything of Mr. Macpherson that evening. But, on a second examination of the dining-room, a scrap of paper was found on the mantelpiece, twisted into the form of a note, and addressed to Christine. The words in it were few:—
"I had come to pass the evening with you, but, as you seem better engaged, I have changed my mind, and am going to the Adelphi instead. Good night!"Yours, "A. M."
The girl stamped her foot as she read it, and then tore it up, and threw the fragments into the waste-paper basket.
"What is the matter?" asked both her mother and brother.
"Nothing of consequence," was her reply. "Alick had an engagement this evening, and could not wait long. He wrote me a few words to say as much."
She laughed lightly as she told them so, but her heart was anything but light. This constant show of temper on the part of her lover—this incessant petty jealousy—this little, mean system of reproach—where was it all to end?
Christine Norreys loved Alick Macpherson with all a woman's untiring devotion, but she had already commenced, when esteem was spoken of as an essential ingredient to lasting love, to shirk the subject even to her own heart, or to cry out that the saying was untrue.
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