- CHAPTER XIII. THE WIDOW AT ARUNDEL.
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THE WIDOW AT ARUNDEL.
WHEN Rachel rushed up the little stairs which led to Mrs. Arundel's lodgings in Farnborough, her heart overflowing with sympathy in her friend's distress, and only anxious to pour out its wells of comfort for her need, she certainly met with quite as much reciprocity of feeling as she had anticipated. Indeed, if the grief of a widow can be exaggerated, Mrs. Arundel's, at first sight, certainly did appear to be still more violent than was necessary to the occasion; for as soon as she caught sight of Rachel advancing, her eyes brimful of tears to greet her, she threw herself upon a sofa, uttered a loud shriek, and betwixt a fit of fainting and a fit of hysteria (as it' she could not quite make up her mind which to indulge herself in, and so made a cross of the two) conjured some person or persons unknown to shoot her, to bring her poison, or to strike her dead: and so startled and astonished her friend by this unusual reception, that Rachel stood in the centre of the room helplessly staring at her, until Mrs. Arundel, thinking they had both had enough of it, was sufficiently considerate to from her position, in which she was displaying a good deal more of her lower extremities than was necessary, and fall upon the bosom of her visitor. Then, as the latter was about timidly to suggest a few simple words of consolation, such as—
"Dear Elise, I am so grieved and sorry for you. We only landed at Southampton this morning; and we came here at once——"
The new-made widow interrupted her with such a torrent of regrets, and sobs, and self-commiserations, that poor Rachel felt quite incapable of coping with the violence of such an affliction.
"Oh, my dear child! wasn't he good?—wasn't he kind?—wasn't he sensible?" (Each question accompanied by a sob that was half a scream.) "Did ever woman lose such a husband before? Was ever a wretch to be pitied like myself? What shall I do without him, without his guidance, his counsel | | 137 —his direction?" (which, considering that poor old Jack, far from guiding, directing, or counselling any one of his house-hold, had not even been permitted to do the same offices for himself, did strike Rachel, even in a moment like the present, as rather a ludicrous idea). "And left alone, too, a poor weak creature, as I am, used to the protection of another (and such another! oh, Rachel!) with those dear, sweet, fatherless children to look after, and think for! Ah! what a thing it is to be a widow!"
In the excitement of her grief, and the difficulty of choosing sufficiently powerful phrases by which to express her feelings, Mrs. Arundel appeared to have totally forgotten her French and Italian, and to have forsworn any but her mother tongue. But the real cause of the omission was that her hack sentences had been culled for the necessities of polite society alone, not for occasions like the present; so, not having any on hand that would have suited the difficulty, with feminine tact she dropped them altogether.
This kind of scene went on for a long time, for the two women were alone; but when Mrs. Arundel's tears and sobs, self-reproaches and condolences, had a little subsided, and Rachel ventured to broach another topic, and to suggest that she had come with the intention of staying a couple of days or so in Farnborough, the thoughts of the widow took another turn.
"Oh, my dearest creature! how good of you; how like yourself! but I am sure I don't know where I shall put you."
This was a view of the case that had not occurred to Rachel, and she looked nearly as dumb-foundered as her friend.
"I didn't think of that," she stammered. "I quite forgot, Elise, that you would be in lodgings: I am afraid I shall inconvenience you."
"Oh! not at all, my dear," was Mrs. Arundel's response, although it sounded conventional; "the only thing is, you mustn't mind putting up with me for a night or so, and Emily" (that was Mrs. Arundel's eldest child) "must sleep on the floor; we have only two bed-rooms here, dear Rachel. Even Caroline is gone into the married quarters with her | | 138 husband for the present, but she comes up in the day time to look after the children."
It was not pleasant to share the stuffy and not over well-furnished little bed-room which Mrs. Arundel inhabited, nor to feel that in order to enjoy that privilege poor little Emily was unceremoniously turned out upon the floor; but Rachel had invited herself, and there was no help for it, at all event for a night or two. But as the day went on, she felt, in many other things, that she was sadly in the way. Mrs. Arundel, widowed, in second-rate apartments, and just come off a journey, was a very different person to Mrs. Arundel, the wife of the major of the 3rd Royal Bays, and in possession of one of the prettiest houses at Gibraltar. The rooms were small and inconvenient; the dinner provided was scanty, and not of the daintiest order (a guest not having been expected); the children, three in number, and two of them boys, of an awkward, mischievous age, were constantly in the sitting-room, whilst their mother was as constantly out of it, conferring with Caroline Wilson, fighting with the lodging-house woman, or vainly endeavouring to find some article not yet unpacked, or to reduce the chaos of the sleeping apartments into something like order. So that Rachel, sitting in company with the children (a species of companionship the girl's quick, turbulent nature rendered especially obnoxious to her), or lying, when day was ended, by the side of her friend, trying in vain to extract sleep from the combined aids of a July night and a feather bed, wondered, more than once, if the obligation she had put herself under to Raymond, in accepting his permission to stay at Farnborough, had been worth the gain she had derived from it. She had come with the laudable and affectionate desire to try and comfort her friend under the violence of so dreadful a shock as Rachel thought her bereavement must have caused her. But after that first outburst of extravagant and overdone despair, the "friend" seemed to be too much occupied with her boxes, and her dinners, and her landlady, to have any time to spare for receiving comfort. Indeed, when Rachel began to study her a little more leisurely, she appeared very much the same as she had always done before; and it seemed to her friend that it was only when Mrs. Arundel | | 139 was a little cross, or a little tired, that her mind reverted to her "irreparable loss," and that she treated Rachel to another but smaller edition of her hybrid attack. Once the wife thought of writing to her husband, to tell him to fetch her; once even of following him, and giving her own reasons for the act; but each time the fear that he might misconstrue her motive into a desire to rejoin himself, rose uppermost, and prevented the accomplishment of her thought. It was on Tuesday he had left her there; on Thursday, at latest (so she argued), he would come to fetch her thence, and she would be ready to go. Elise, indeed, strengthened her in this resolution by her own expressed astonishment at Rachel having stayed at Farnborough before she had visited her husband's family.
"Such a charming fellow, my dear!" (Mrs. Arundel's invariable appellation for a man she admired); "how you can part with him for a day, I can't think! Why, half the women you meet would give their eyes for such a husband. I really shall begin to quarrel with you, if you don't appreciate him better. Fancy letting the poor dear man go home by himself; I'm quite ashamed of you, petite."
"But Elise," faltered Rachel, "to come to you, and at such a time; Raymond himself was anxious I should stop here."
"Ah, mon Dieu! yes," exclaimed Mrs. Arundel, gradually rising into the shrieking stage. "Such a time, indeed! Oh, Rachel, may you never know what such a loss is—such an irreparable loss."
And the widow ground the last adjective through her teeth as if she had gravel in her mouth, and thereupon showed such strong symptoms of the hybrid coming on, that her listener hastened to change the subject. She said that she thought that Mr. Norreys intended fetching her away on Thursday, when she would be ready to return with him; and Mrs. Arundel did not press her to stay any longer. She seemed too occupied with plans of her own, but what such plans were Rachel had not been able to learn. She naturally supposed that, widowed as she now was, and having no further reason for staying in the vicinity of the 3rd Royal Bays, Elise would leave regimental quarters and settle somewhere near her own or husband's friends, wherever they might be. | | 140 And she (also naturally) broached the question to her, and asked whereabouts she now thought of residing. But Elise Arundel invariably put her off. At one time she had really not decided yet—it was impossible for her to tell; at another she had hex husband's family (the only friends her fatherless children possessed) to consult before making any plans for them or herself; and therefore Rachel of course pressed the question no further. And yet Caroline Wilson appeared to be in the confidence of her mistress, for the two were constantly whispering together, and making such remarks as, "Have that box directed, Caroline: you know where it is to go;" or, "Shall I pack the black box, ma'am: the one which is to remain here?" and so on;—confidences in which Rachel felt she had no share, and feeling so, was wounded to the quick. On the second day that she was at Farnborough, Cecil Craven walked in to see her. She was alone in the sitting-room, or nearly so, Mrs. Arundel's youngest child, a boy of seven years old, being her only companion. She flushed with pleasure at his entrance, and rose hastily to greet him; and as he took her hands in his, he bent and kissed her. She had never felt so glad before to see him—to read the proofs of his affectionate interest in her in his eyes, or feel them in the pressure of his hands. Her whole heart went out in her answering look, as she exclaimed—
"Dearest Cecil, how glad I am to see you!"
"And I also," he replied: "I am very hard worked just now, and have only been once over to the Court; but I thought it would be strange if I didn't contrive to snatch a few hours from duty to see my——" And then he bent his mouth to her ear, and whispered the rest of the sentence, for Mrs. Arundel's little boy was gaping and gazing at their proceedings; and Rachel coloured and smiled, and cast down the long lashes to shade her beaming eyes, and looked very happy and very pretty.
"I was at Craven Court last week," commenced Cecil again; and then, observing the child's eyes still fixed upon them both, he deliberately rose, and taking the boy by the shoulder, put him outside the door, and closed it. "Come, my lad," he said, as he dismissed him, "you go to Caroline, there's a good child." And then reseating himself, went on, "I was at the | | 141 Court last week, Rachel, and my mother spoke a great deal to me about you." The girl's crimsoned face was lifted to his inquiringly, and almost with alarm. "You don't distrust me, do you?" he said, reproachfully. "No, Rachel; she started the subject herself, and was very anxious to learn all about you and your husband. It was she who asked me to meet you at Southampton yesterday; and she wants you and Norreys to go and stay at the Court as soon as you conveniently can."
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed, shrinking from him. "No, Cecil, I couldn't. Don't ask me."
"I don't ask you, dear," he said. "I would be the last to urge you to do anything repugnant to your feelings; but you have done so before, Rachel, and think of it, my dear—that is all."
"I couldn't," was all she replied; "indeed, I couldn't."
"It is a hard case to decide, in which there is no question of duty concerned," he said, presently, "especially when it is for another. But follow the dictates of your own will, Rachel. You are of too openly forgiving, too generous a nature, to let it lead you very wrong,—too full of pity for the misfortunes of others,"he added, lowering his voice, "to let your inclinations bias your charity."
She played with the hand which held her own, and was silent for a time; then she said, softly,—
"I will think of it, Cecil."
"What about her?" he demanded presently, intimating Mrs. Arundel, by pointing his thumb towards the sitting-room.
"How do you mean?" said Rachel, almost laughing.
"What is she going to do with herself?"
"That I cannot tell you," she replied, becoming earnest. "I am very anxious to know myself, and have tried to find out from dear Elise; but I do not think she has decided upon any plan at present."
"Well, I hope the report that I have heard about her is not true,—that's all."
"What is it?"
"That she intends settling down near Craven Court. My mother writes me word this morning that the lease of a little place, called 'Laburnum Cottage,' close to the Court gates, is | | 142 being treated for, by a widow lady of the name of Arundel, and wants to know if it is the same person. My mother appears quite anxious that it should be. She imagines our friend here to be a widow indeed,—up to her eyes in crape and bombazine, and a walking text-book. She'll find herself rather mistaken if they should happen to meet."
"Oh, Cecil!" exclaimed Rachel, "you haven't been setting Mrs. Craven against poor Elise, I hope, nor saying any of the wicked things about her that you used to give vent to occasionally at Gibraltar?"
But before he could reply to this question, the lady under discussion entered the room, looking very stout and hot, in her close black dress and jaunty widow's cap, and rather perturbed in her temper. Major Craven had not honoured her with a visit yet in her Farnborough lodgings, and she was annoyed at his coming to see Rachel as soon as she arrived; added to which, the little boy, having considered himself injured by his untimely expulsion from the sitting-room, had rushed open-mouthed to his mamma with the information that "Captain Craven had come and kissed Mrs. Norreys, and put him out of the room because he looked at them;"so that she had considered, for the credit of the house, that it became her duty to put a stop to such proceedings. Even as she entered, Rachael's hand still hung in Cecil Craven's, and she hastily withdrew it. with a blush, and rose to make room for her friend on the sofa.
"Pray, don't disturb yourself, my dear," said Mrs. Arundel, ensconcing herself in an arm-chair on the other side of the room, and commencing to fan violently. "I am sorry to interrupt your little tête-à-tête, but really I could not stay in the bedroom any longer."
"Why didn't you come in before, Elise?" said Rachel.
"Oh, my dear child, I knew better, of course, than not to let you have a few minutes alone with such a particular friend as Captain Craven—Major Craven, I beg his pardon." And the tone with which the widow bestowed her dead husband's title on the newly-made major was a sarcasm in itself.
"Norreys is coming for you to-morrow, I believe," said Cecil to Rachel, wishing to change the subject.
"Yes," interrupted Mrs. Arundel, without permitting Rachel time to answer the question. "Is she not a naughty | | 143 girl, Craven, to run away from a charming young husband like that, before he has rejoined her a fortnight? I would have turned her out of my house yesterday, and packed her after him, if I had only known it in time." And Mrs. Arundel shook her fan at Rachel with an archness that was very unpleasant, because it only seemed half-playful.
"Well, Mrs. Norreys only came out of consideration for you," said Major Craven, rather curtly.
"Oh, I know that, the dear creature," replied Mrs. Arundel, fearful she had gone a little too far. "I know her devotion to me, and glad indeed I was to have her,—wasn't I, dear Rachel? Such a comfort as she has been to me!"
Rachel did not exactly see in what way; but she smiled at her friend, and said, "I hope so, dear;" and then, turning to Cecil, continued,—
"I had a note from my husband this afternoon, and he told me, if I should not be able to go to Brompton to-morrow, to send him a line; but I have not written, and therefore he is sure to be here."
"About what time?" asked Cecil.
"I do not know," she said; "I never asked him."
"I am sorry for that—I should like to have seen him again. However, it will not be long before I look you up at Brompton. And now I must be off to the camp again. Good-bye."
This farewell was directed towards both the ladies; but when he had left the room, and descended half the stairs, he called out, in rather an unceremonious manner, "I say, Mrs.Norreys."
Rachel was standing at the moment, and she left the room directly to see what he wanted with her. As she did so, Mrs. Arundel looked after her, and positively trembled with passion.
"He shan't do it in my house," she said to herself. "He may carry on as he likes with her elsewhere,—it was all very well at Gibraltar; but things are altered for both of us. I have borne a great deal from you, Cecil Craven; but I will not be insulted under my very eyes, and keep silence."
But all he had said to Rachel was,—"Don't forget the Court,—think about it,—for my sake;" and she had answered, | | 144 I will,—trust me," and she returned to the side of her "bosom friend" again.
That evening was not a very pleasant one to either of them. Mrs. Arundel was sulky, or something very like it, and Rachel preocupied [sic] and thoughtful. She was glad when it was time to go to bed; still more so when the sun rose again, and it was time to get up, and put the few articles she had used into her box, and await the coming of her husband. He arrived during the morning, earlier than she had expected him; but she was ready to go.
"Quite sure, Rachel?" he asked. "I can go on to the camp (Craven asked me to look him up), and give you another day with Mrs. Arundel if you particularly wish it."
And her foolish pride had risen uppermost, and she had almost let herself in for another day of torture; but good sense came to her aid and prevented it. She did, indeed, check the glad look of surprise which mounted into Raymond's face when she first denied any wish to stay longer at Farnborough, by laying the absence of her desire to the want of accommodation in the lodgings.
"I am putting Elise out, I can see," she said; "so I had better go to Brompton."
"Yes, I think you had, in that case," he answered; "but I am sorry for your disappointment, Rachel." Why did she not do, then, what her natural honesty dictated? Why did she not tell him at once why she was not so comfortable there, or so happy, as she expected to be at her own home? Because her pride set itself against her honesty, and knocked it down. This conversation took place at the lodging-house door, where Raymond having refused to go upstairs, Rachel had run down to speak to him. He was still diffident of intruding upon the sacredness of the widow's privacy, and had had no intention of being beguiled into the house; but when, on his refusing his wife's request to that effect, Mrs.Arundel, in all the pomposity of her weeds, appeared herself in the passage to urge, with many beaming smiles to back her entreaties, that he would walk upstairs, she positively astonished Raymond into compliance. So he did as she desired, and spent a most uncomfortable half-hour with her in the hot little sitting-room, which had no blinds to its Windows, and was furnished throughout with scarlet worsted | | 145 damask, whilst his wife was putting on her walking apparel, and having her box corded by the dirty lodging-house servant. However, it was over at last. Rachel was ready to start. Raymond had altered several of his opinions concerning the state of mind of newly-made widows, and there was nothing to detain them longer.
"God bless you, my darling Rachel!" exclaimed Mrs.Arundel, exhibiting a great degree of fervour now the hour of parting had arrived. "Good-bye, my sweet, sweet girl! I don't know what I should have done without you, dearest. Oh, the comfort your dear wife has been to me, Mr.Norreys. I sorely grudge giving her up to you again." And poor Raymond, easily gulled by the lady's apparent enthusiasm, bowed and smiled, and in himself was not at all surprised that any one should be sorry to part with such a friend as Rachel, and only gave one secret sigh to the thought that another held so firm a hold upon the heart he would have given worlds to know his own.
As soon as the husband and wife were fairly gone, Mrs.Arundel, tired of acting, turned to Caroline Wilson, the only person with whom she could afford to be natural.
"Well, Caroline," she exclaimed, with a gasp of relief, as she entered the bedroom, where that worthy was busily occupied in packing boxes and sorting wearing-apparel; "they are gone at last."
"Well, ma'am, and I should really think that it was about time, too. However Mrs. Norreys, calling herself a lady, can inconvenience another lady, like yourself, by coming upon her whilst in lodgings, and at such a time of distress and trouble, too, I can't think."
"Well, it certainly was inconvenient in the extreme," replied her mistress; "but it's over now; and I should think the reason of the visit was pretty plain. I shall not forget yesterday in a hurry. But I shall get into a scrape if I let such things go on here, Caroline. It really is not right, you know."
"Right, ma'am!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson, whose own youth not having passed entirely sans reproche was always virtuously indignant at the bare mention of other people's failings. "I should think not, indeed; for my part I don't understand such goings on, nor don't pretend to. I'm sure what I saw | | 146 whilst living at the doctor's was enough to make your hair stand on end; and I never should have held my tongue as I have done, if it had not been that Wilson threatened me with ever so if I mentioned it to any one but himself. But I know what I know; and Mrs. Norreys, she has put my temper up so often, speaking to me as if I was a dog rather than a Christian, that I should not mind telling of her any day, if the matter could be made worth my while, and kept a secret from Wilson; for Wilson is a terrible man, ma'am, when his temper is put up."
"A servant must inevitably see and hear a great deal that goes on in a house, Caroline; but when such things are likely to produce mischief in families, they are much better kept to one's self. Wilson is a worthy creature, and his wish for your silence is a right one."
Mrs. Arundel had put on an air of the most rigid discretion as she spoke, and pursed up her lips with becoming propriety; nevertheless she had perfectly made up her mind that Wilson's wish should be disregarded as soon as it should suit her convenience to make his wife speak, and that, perhaps, at no distant day. The waiting-woman read her determination as plainly as if it had been her own secret; but, prudent as she was artful, she made no remark upon the circumstance.
"Of course, ma'am, and such as you must know best. These boxes are ready now, ma'am, and I believe they are all that you intend to store."
"Yes, Caroline; and as you go home this evening, tell the man to send for them to-morrow morning, for I shall be glad to get them out of the house. I will leave word with the woman here to give them to him, because I am going over to Weybridge again myself, and may not be back till late."
"Will the cottage suit, do you think, ma'am?" inquired Caroline Wilson, with the old respectful manner.
"Yes, I imagine so; but the situation is what I am so charmed with—close to the Court, such an advantage! The landlord and I are disputing just now about terms, but I expect that I shall get my own way with him, as I am willing to take the house on a lease."
"Then you are sure the neighbourhood will suit you, ma'am?"| | 147
"Quite sure," replied Mrs. Arundel, and she smiled as she said so. She knew why it could not fail to suit her. Why she had chosen it before all other neighbourhoods. Because she had a great plan in her head, and till that succeeded, she must live near Weybridge, and when it succeeded, what would signify the lease of a trumpery cottage? But in the mean-while she kept her plans in the dark, and her own eyes open.
"That will do, Caroline, for this evening," said her mistress, later in the day; "and if Wilson should wish you to stay at home to-morrow, perhaps you will send up your daughter (that pretty girl is your daughter, is she not?) to have an eye to the children whilst I am away."
"Yes, ma'am, I will. Martha is my daughter, ma'am, and a fine girl, though I say it. I scarcely expected to find her so improved on my return. She was apprenticed to the dress-making business in London whilst we were at Gibraltar, ma'am. She will be only eighteen next December, but she's very clever with her needle."
"An uncommonly fine-looking young woman," repeated Mrs. Arundel; "and you must be very proud of her, Caroline. Well, then, I shall expect either her or yourself to be here tomorrow."
"Certainly, ma'am; good night." And Mrs. Wilson left the room, her eyes sparkling, and her cheek flushed with the pleasure she had experienced in hearing Mrs. Arundel sound the praises of her Martha. It was the only subject on which you could touch this woman's hard, revengeful, avaricious nature; her love for, and pride in, her daughter was her one vulnerable point.
Her mistress had also her vulnerable point; and though it was not so quickly discernible, it might easily have been guessed at, if the thought with which she settled herself to sleep that night could have been translated into words. For—
"Under his very eyes," her heart said; "almost beneath the same roof-tree; in the path he daily traverses; if I cannot by all my blandishments and tears, throw again over him some of the enchantment of the past, I will at least strive to mar his future. If I cannot have Cecil Craven, I who have the best right—the right of precedence—no other woman shall!"
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