- CHAPTER XIV. RACHEL'S NEW HOME.
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RACHEL'S NEW HOME.
ALTHOUGH Rachel Norreys was anxious to leave a house where she felt herself so much in the way as she had done at Mrs. Arundel's lodgings, yet, as soon as she was in the train again alone with Raymond, the same feeling of blankness and want of ease came over her that she had experienced when in his company before. And then, when she was left behind with him at Gibraltar, there had been a hope, however small, to comfort her, that of her meeting her friends again in England. But she had come to England, and she had met them (or one of them, at least), and she felt thoroughly disappointed at the result. Her hope seemed over—everything seemed over to the young impetuous creature as she leaned back in the railway carriage which was fast conveying her to the house which was henceforward to be her home. As she did so, how sad were her thoughts! Every incident that had occurred to trouble her during the last few months seemed to pass in revision before her during that brief journey, and mock her with the irrevocability of its nature. Her father's death—her husband's return—the change in Elise—the loss of her poor old friend, Jack Arundel—and, above all, the weight of a secret which she bore—a secret which was bowing down her joyous nature—overclouding the brightness of her young life, making her shrink from others, and even from herself, as if she walked the earth a living lie. These were dangerous thoughts for Rachel to indulge in—doubly so because her nature was quick, passionate, and determined; and her education had been such that recklessness with her appeared no evil. Her temper, too, with all its normal brightness, was capable, under real or fancied wrong, of dark and sudden clouds, which dimmed its sweetness, and sometimes obscured her very reason. And as she leaned back in the railway carriage and thought upon these things, she was not sulky, but despondent; so much so that life in prospective appeared to have lost all its good for her, and her Maker His great attribute.| | 149
Raymond Norreys watched her in sad surprise. She had seemed at first so pleased to exchange Farnborough for Brompton, that he had almost hoped that she had anticipated, however slightly, a return to his company; but now he felt he had deceived himself. Yet even smarting under this disappointment, and little things are hardest to bear with equanimity, Raymond let no symptom of such a feeling escape him by word or look. He allowed his wife to maintain her mood of reserve until he had placed in his mother's carriage, which was waiting for them at the Waterloo Station, and then, as they commenced to drive towards Abbey Lodge, he said to her, kindly and cheerfully—
"You found Mrs. Arundel better than you expected, did you not, Rachel?"
"Yes," she replied, "but it is all very miserable. I don't think she quite realizes her loss yet."
"I dare say not, poor thing," he answered; "you must have felt it too, dear Rachel, both for yourself and for her; but you will try not to let the recollection of it influence you. when we arrive at home, will you? My mother is anxiously expecting her new daughter, and it would grieve her so to think you were not happy."
At this address Rachel tried to rouse herself and look more cheerful. She was very unhappy, but she was not selfish, and she felt that she owed something—a double debt, indeed, to the man who sat beside her. She raised herself from her languid position, settled her dress, and gave a slight smile, as she replied—
"What would she feel if she thought that you were not so Raymond?"
"She cannot think it," he rejoined, quickly, "because it is not the truth. My happiness lies in yours, Rachel. You have it all in your hands. Let me see you contented, and I wish for nothing more."
She turned her face towards the,window, and dropped the conversation. She was always afraid to approach any but the most common-place subjects when she was alone with her husband.
A few minutes more brought them to Abbey Lodge. Rachel remembered the old house and garden well enough, | | 150 but the covered pathway had been an innovation of more modern date than her visit there.
"How very convenient," she said, as she alighted from the carriage, and prepared to traverse its protected length.
The remark was simple enough, but Raymond felt his foolish cheek grow hotter; the smallest praise, the lightest commendation from those lips, for anything connected, however remotely, with himself, made a rebellious hope, which he was daily striving to crush down and destroy, leap like a living thing beneath his breast.
The meeting between the new relatives was commonplace enough, as such meetings under ordinary circumstances usually are. Perhaps Mrs. Norreys and her daughter did not feel disposed to welcome the young wife quite so warmly as they would have done had she returned, in the first place, to Abbey Lodge with her husband; but, if so, they were careful not to exhibit any inclination of the kind. On the contrary, their greeting was cordial, though constrained, as it ever must be when strangers meet as near connexions. Mrs. Norreys' first idea, after kissing Rachel, and calling her "her daughter," was to commiserate her for having travelled in the heat of the day.
"I am afraid you must be quite knocked up, my dear; had you not better lie down for a short time before luncheon is served? I really should not have sent the carriage to the station if Raymond had not made so sure (from not hearing from you this morning) that you would return with him about this time."
"Well, mother, you see it is fortunate that you followed my advice," said Raymond, "or I should have been obliged to rattle home Rachel in a cab, and that would have fatigued her still more. Are you very tired?" he added, addressing his wife.
"Not at all," she answered, "I am only dusty."
"You shall go to your room at once, my dear," interrupted Mrs. Norreys. "Christine, ring the bell, and desire Ellen to take up a jug of hot water to the Blue Room. Come, my dear Rachel, I will show you the way."
And then Rachel was forced to accompany her mother-in-law upstairs, and felt, for the first time on leaving the pre- | | 151 sence of her husband to go with a stranger, that she left behind her something that was becoming familiar to herself. The Blue Room was a very spacious apartment, with a most dignified-looking four-post bedstead in the centre of it, draped with ample blue hangings, and fitted with solid old-fashioned mahogany furniture—the best spare room in the house, indeed, and that had been unused for many a long day.
"I always resolved," said Mrs. Norreys, when Rachel made some remark about the surrounding magnificence, that when dear Raymond married, this room should be given up to his wife and himself, and be considered as their own. And so, my dear, remember," the old lady continued, patting her daughter-in-law kindly on the shoulder, "that so long as you choose to inhabit it, it is yours. I shall be glad to see it tenanted again; for it has never been used (this with a profound sigh) since Raymond's poor dear father died. He was laid out on this very bed, and no one has ever slept in it since."
Rachel timidly glanced towards the piece of furniture indicated. With her nervous and susceptible imagination, she had the greatest dread of supernatural horrors, and had often made herself quite ill during her lifetime with encouraging foolish fancies and child-like fears. She almost shuddered now, although it was broad daylight, as she looked at the bed where Death had been, and her mother-in-law misinterpreted the doubtful glance.
"My dear child, you need not be afraid that it is damp. I have taken good care of that, and I hope you will let me know if everything is not just as you like it. Will there be enough blankets here, do you think?"
"Plenty, Mrs. Norreys," answered poor Rachel, whose feverish little body could seldom bear much clothing of any sort upon it. "Everything is very nice and comfortable, thank you."
"There are plenty of pillows for you," continued the mother-in-law, beating up the articles in question with pride as she spoke; "and if you do not want them all, I know Raymond will; he likes his head very high: doesn't he?"
But Rachel was busy removing her walking things, the warmth of which seemed to have heightened the colour in her face, and did not appear to have heard the last remark of her mother-in-law.| | 152
"You must look at the dressing-room, my dear, next," said Mrs. Norreys, as she dragged the wearied girl down a small flight of steps into a lesser room adjoining the sleeping apartment, and opening from it. It was a very convenient dressing-room, indeed, with a nice writing-table and sofa in it for Raymond's use, and another door which led out upon the corridor. But the young wife's praise was not so cordial as Mrs. Norreys had hoped for, as she pointed out the various arrangements which had been made for her husband's comfort.
"You see, Rachel, Raymond can come here whenever he wishes to write, or to be quiet, and free himself from the chatter of you girls,—though I don't suppose that will be often," added Raymond's mother, gazing with admiration upon the released tresses of chestnut hair which, having become disordered by the removal of her hat, were lying in heavy coils about the youthful shoulders of Raymond's wife.
But at last Rachel grew terribly weary of all this explanatory twaddle. Mrs. Norreys was excessively kind and attentive; but all the little details with which she entertained her fretted the girl's spirit, already chafed by the circumstances of the morning. She did not leave her for a minute; she accompanied her as she moved from one side of the room to the other. She poured out the water in the basin, handed her the towel, drew down the window-blinds, and finally, insisted upon her laying down upon the bed where Raymond's father had been laid out, and "taking a sleep" before the luncheon-bell was due. A sleep!—when every nerve in her body was twitching with thrice its usual rapidity,—when she could hear the pulsation of her heart, and scarcely count its beating. As this proposition was urged upon her, Rachel seemed almost ready to break down, and with a faint remonstrance and a nervous movement of her mouth, she seated herself upon a chair, and Mrs. Norreys could see that she was trembling. The old lady could not understand the reason, but she saw the fact; and, thinking that her son might be the best doctor in the case, she said, hastily, "Well, my dear, I will leave you to do as you like," and thereupon vanished from the bedroom, and, seeking Raymond, told him that she thought his wife was a little nervous and upset from the journey, and that he had better go upstairs and see what his | | 153 presence would do for her. Alas! poor Raymond. He advanced a few steps into the passage, and then called Christine.
"Come with me, Chrissy," he whispered; "you women understand each other better than we men can do. Go in to Rachel and cheer her up. This is the commencement of the fulfilment of your promise to me."
"Will you not come also, Raymond?" she asked, in surprise, as he prepared to leave her at the bed-room door.
" No,—thanks, my little sister. You will get on better alone." And he entered his dressing-room as he spoke.
Christine first knocked at the door, then, upon being answered, opened it gently, and went in.
Rachel was sitting as her mother-in-law had left her, despondent and weary; but she raised her head, and tried to smile pleasantly as she saw the bright face of Christine by her side.
The sister of Raymond Norreys had a happy disposition, like his own. She was very warm-hearted, too, and unreserved, and ready to love those who had any claim upon her. She advanced now without ceremony to Rachel, and, throwing her arms about her neck, exclaimed,—
"Dear Rachel, I hope that you will be happy amongst us. I feel as if I must love you, because you belong to Raymond; and you will learn to regard me as a sister also for his sake, will you not?"
The address was so honest, and the speaker appeared so much in earnest, that Rachel Norreys would have possessed a harder heart than she did to have passed it by in coldness. But she had a heart warm as Christine's own, and capable of far greater feeling, and the tenderness of her sister-in-law's words opened that wellspring of tears in her bosom which had been longing to overflow for the last hour. She returned the affectionate embrace; she tried to re-echo the sentiments, and give the necessary assurance to the question asked her; but something rose in her throat and choked her—something that in another moment fell in a violent storm of rain upon the bosom of her new friend.
"Oh, Christine! will you really love me?—really, really? I have so few left—I am so utterly alone'"| | 154
It was a strange speech to fall from the lips of a bride returning to her husband's home. Through the closed doors between them Raymond caught the outspoken, vehement words, and bit his lips to hear them. But Christine only answered the first part of the appeal.
"Love you, dear Rachel! How can you doubt it, when we have been looking for your arrival so long? Of course we shall, for Raymond's sake as well as your own."
Ah! that clause repeated. What right had she (so Rachel rapidly mentally asked herself) to take the love they offered her for "Raymond's sake,"—for the sake of Raymond "whom she loved,"—whom she loved not,—whom she had told she never should love? Would it be honest in her, under false pretences, to accept the regard offered her so freely for the sake of the affection which she bore her husband, when she was no wife of his,—no daughter to Mrs. Norreys,—no sister to Christine,—when even the name she used she had no right to? As these thoughts coursed themselves one after another through Rachel's mind, she gradually relaxed her encircling hold of Christine Norreys, dried the tears still lying on her wetted cheeks, and assumed altogether an air of less freedom, as if she remembered herself, and where she was.
"I have been very foolish, Christine. Pray forgive this outburst, and forget it. It is not a usual thing for me to 'carry my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at.'"
The quotation was not complimentary to her consoler, but the kind heart of Christine passed it over without comment.
"But here, dear Rachel!" she said; "you are at home, and can do as you like."
Oh, how Rachel longed to throw herself again upon that friendly bosom, and tell all her sorrow and its cause! But the same thought came into her head that had troubled it before, and laid a restraint upon her tongue.
"Yes, indeed," she said, rising and essaying to bathe her face and arrange her disordered hair, "after all the travelling I have had lately, it is pleasant to think that I shall not have to move again. I hate board-ship—do not you? and railways also, for that matter."
Christine rose also with a sigh. She had thought her new sister was really going to make a compact of friendship with | | 155 her; but the moment for confidence seemed to have passed as suddenly as it had arisen. She was sorry for the change in Rachel's manner for Raymond's sake; however, it was unreasonable to hope for anything more than every-day communications from her brother's wife, when she had not been in the house yet for more than an hour. The luncheon-bell soon after sending forth its clamorous invitation, brought the two girls down-stairs to the dining-room, where they found Mrs. Norreys presiding over a very plentiful mid-day meal. Everything at Abbey Lodge was conducted on the good old-fashioned style, when in gentlemen's families there was no such thing as stint in any one particular, and nothing appeared on the table or about the house that was not the best of its kind. The silver was silver—heavy, solid, and greatly emblazoned; the linen was damask, and woven by grandmothers and great-grandmothers of half-a-dozen generations back. The wine was old, and the servants knew their duties; and as everything spoke of comfort in the same degree, little more need be said upon the subject. The fact being, that Mrs. Norreys had the sense to prefer living within her income and enjoying the good things of this life without limit, to spending more money upon outside show and less upon indoor comfort.
But although there was no lack of luxury about Abbey Lodge, as far as eating, drinking, and living were concerned, another old-fashioned complaint had been inherited by Mrs. Norreys from her progenitors, which, although doubtless perfectly proper, is as doubtless exceedingly irksome to those people who have not been accustomed to it—I allude to a rigid punctuality being maintained on all matters appertaining to the household. Thus the prayer-bell at Abbey Lodge rang at eight o'clock every morning, summer and winter—the breakfast-bell at nine—that for luncheon and dinner at one and six—for prayers again at ten, after which no one—mistress, guest, or servant—was expected to remain out of bed longer than was necessary to disencumber themselves of their mortal clothing. As Mrs. Norreys enlarged over the luncheon-table upon the above rules of her house, for the edification of her daughter-in-law, Rachel listened with dismay to the long, prosy details, and Raymond rightly read the expression of her face.
"All very judicious and proper, mother, I am sure," he | | 156 said, laughing, "but you are positively frightening my wife with the strictness of your rules; I don't fancy she has been used to such early hours in Gibraltar; have you Rachel?"
"A life in foreign climates is generally a desultory one, my dear Raymond," replied his mother; "but Rachel is not in Gibraltar any longer now, and she will I am sure be quite ready to comply with the regulations of our establishment."
The tone was not unkind, but it was infinitely proper; and the undisciplined heart, for whose edification Mrs. Norreys was holding forth, bounded with a feeling very akin to rebellion as it listened; but its owner had the sense to let it bound in silence.
After luncheon, exactly at three o'clock, the carriage was announced to be at the door.
"This is our hour for driving, my dear," said Mrs. Norreys; "you will accompany us?"
But here Rachel ventured to affirm that she was tired, and would rather stay at home; and her husband scorned the notion of a close carriage.
"No, thank you, mother, I stay with Rachel."
"Very well," said Mrs. Norreys, "it does not signify for to-day. Another time I hope your wife will be pleased to accompany Christine and myself in our afternoon drive."
And then Rachel knew that, hot or cold, wet or dry, that three o'clock drive would be a stereotyped matter of daily discussion between her mother-in-law and herself as long as she remained at the Abbey Lodge. But her afternoon did not pass unpleasantly. She commenced to unpack her boxes, and Raymond actually ventured to put his head in at the bedroom door, and ask if he should help her, with such a pleasant face, and looking so anxious to be made of use, that she could not have repulsed him. And very useful he was, uncording heavy trunks and arranging their contents in her chest of drawers and wardrobe for her; and then having all the empty cases cleared away again, so that her bedroom looked quite home-like and comfortable before Mrs. Norreys and Christine had returned from their drive. And Rachel had sat in an armchair the meanwhile, and directed him where to place the various articles; and he had been amusing her with stories of boardship and sea life, until | | 157 she was surprised to find herself laughing at his humorous fun, and feeling more cheerful than she had done for many a day past. And then, when her boxes were disposed of, he had brought in one of his own, and unpacked thence a number of the presents he had collected for her with so much care from the different places he had visited abroad. As Rachel saw them laid out upon the bed, and thought how much they must have cost, and how their purchaser must have thought of her wherever he was, her pretty white teeth came firmly down upon her trembling lower lip, as she tried to keep back the tears she was too proud to let him see her shed at this proof of his affection for her. But, do what she would, she could not help comparing his faithful remembrance with her own utter disregard of his feelings, and she felt full of compassion for his wasted love, and of humility for her own shortcomings. He did not seem to perceive her mood, however, but bundled his offerings out upon the bed, with the usual carelessness of men for finery, thinking little of them himself, and doubtful now, indeed, whether Rachel would think any more, since she could not value them for his sake. Such a miscellaneous heap, too, as appeared when at last they were all collected together!
There were articles in ivory and sandal-wood from Hong Kong; gauze dresses from Shanghai; carved peach-stone and mother-of-pearl bracelets from Canton; birds of paradise and silver ornaments from Singapore; painted boxes from Burmah; inlaid boxes from Bombay; ostrich feathers from the Cape; coral and lace from Malta; and kind thoughts hovering over each article from everywhere. And when they lay piled upon the coverlet, fans, bracelets, boxes, and card-cases, in one confused mass, all the comment Raymond made upon them, was—
"There they are, Rachel! if you don't like them, throw them away." "Like my love," was in his heart, but he was too generous to say it. As the girl heard his words, she rose from her chair and approached the bed, to admire his offerings.
"They are beautiful; I never saw such a lot of pretty things together before. Thank you, Raymond, so much!" and her husband, being still in a kneeling position on the | | 158 floor, she stooped and kissed him, as she would have kissed any intimate friend who had given her a present. But at her action the colour flew to the young man's face, and he rose hastily from his knees, saying:
"Don't do that again, child—for God's sake!" and left her, surrounded by her new acquisitions, as he spoke.
She was terribly hurt—no less by his words than his manner; and when they next met, felt twice as reserved towards him as she had done before; and he, for his part, seemed almost as if he were afraid that she would repeat the dose, or in some way allude to it. But they did not meet again until it was in the presence of his mother and sister.
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