- CHAPTER XV. WHAT SHALL HER HUSBAND DO WITH HER?
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WHAT SHALL HER HUSBAND DO WITH HER?
THE dinner passed off very agreeably, and excepting for this fresh reserve springing up between Raymond and herself, Rachel would almost have enjoyed her evening. A hint had been given to Mr. Alexander Macpherson not to make his appearance on that particular occasion, and so they were quite alone. When her husband had left her standing by that mountain of presents, refusing even the thanks she proffered for them, poor Rachel had felt terribly guilty. The same doubt which had attacked her in the morning with respect to the love of her mother and sister-in-law returned upon her now. What right had she, who gave him nothing, to accept all this from Raymond? she, who had wounded his self-love and pride to that degree that he shrank from her simple kiss as if she were some poisonous thing to sting him. These offerings had been collected for his wife—not for her, who was a dependent on his bounty. As this last thought struck for the first time the girl's proud heart, her delicate nostrils dilated, her breath came quick and hard, and she tapped the ground repeatedly with her impatient foot. It was a bitter truth for a pride like Rachel's to swallow; but she felt it to be truth; and from the hour that it struck home to her heart, she almost loathed the bread she eat and the clothing that she wore.| | 159
"I cannot wear those dresses," she thought. "I am thankful they are coloured; Christine can take them. Did I attempt to put them on, and parade their bravery to the world, they would drop off me where I stood, and reveal me as I am—a fraud! a cheat! a subterfuge! Does Raymond think that I am a beggar, that he thrusts these gifts upon me, and will take no thanks? Why even a beggar thanks for what he asks for, and I did not ask for these. Heaven knows I ask for nothing. Oh, thank God, my father's dead!" And for the moment that remembrance drove out all others from her mind.
"I cannot keep these things," she said at last, decisively though, to herself. "They were not bought for me; I feel I have no claim to them. If Christine will not, at the least share them, I shall do what he suggested, throw them on one side."
And so, after the dinner was removed, and she found herself for a moment alone in the drawing-room with her husband, she said to him, hurriedly, and with an evident effort:—
"Raymond, may I share the things you gave me with Christine? There are too many for me, and you should give your sister something;" and he had answered almost as hurriedly—
"Do just as you like with them, Rachel; they are yours to keep, or give away;" and then, as if fearful his words appeared cold, he added, with an appearance of greater interest, "Christine will doubtless be pleased if you give her some of them; she is disposed to think very kindly of you already."
"Thank you, Raymond,"she replied, and resolved that her sister-in-law should choose what she most admired from the mass, and that the rest should be put safely away under lock and key, until she felt she had a better claim to them than now.
"And if that time never arrives for me," she said to herself, "some one may come after me for whom it may; for if this kind of thing goes on for long, I believe that it will kill me, and I hope," she added passionately, "that it may."
Christine re-entered the drawing-room, bearing with her | | 160 the guitar-case which her brother remembered to have seen amongst his wife's luggage. The instrument had been placed in it by other hands than Rachel's, for she had never seen, and scarcely thought of it, since the evening she had sung to it last, at Mrs. Arundel's. The sight of it brought back many a painful memory to her heart; but she was getting used to such trials now, and bore them better than she had done.
"See what I have found, Rachel," exclaimed her sister-in-law, as she advanced towards her. "Raymond pleads guilty to total ignorance of whether you sing or do not sing, and refers me to yourself for an answer; but I think this case is a better solver of the question than either of you."
"If it is not empty," said Rachel, quietly.
"We will soon settle that matter," replied Christine, "for I took the liberty of having it opened for you. There, what is that?" she asked triumphantly, as she lifted the lid of the case, and held aloft Rachel's guitar, with all its strings flown and hanging helplessly down from the frets.
Something in its desolate aspect touched poor Rachel more than the sight of itself had done. She took it from the hands of Christine as if it had been a living creature, and the tears rose in her eyes, and dropped thence upon the disabled instrument as she busied herself in restringing it. Raymond perceived the effect it had upon her, and spoke to his sister as if it was all her fault.
"What the deuce do you mean, Christine, by bringing things here before you are asked for them?"
Poor Christine was dreadfully taken aback by this reproof; her brother had never spoken to her like that before, and she thought she had done such a clever thing in finding the guitar case. Rachel saw her discomfiture, and hastened to relieve it. Good heavens! was she to be the means of disturbance to more members of this family than one?
"It is not of the slightest consequence, Raymond," she said, firmly. "I am very glad to see my guitar again, and very much obliged to Christine for bringing it, only I have not sung to it since, since——"
She did not finish her sentence, but her hearers could guess the rest | | 161 "Oh! forgive me, dear Rachel," exclaimed Christine, "and let me put it back into its case. Another night, when you are stronger——"
"I shall never be strong enough to think of him without pain, Christine. I would rather sing at once, thank you; it is only the first effort that is trying."
And Raymond could not help, as he listened to her, wondering at and admiring the strong courageous spirit which reigned in so tender a breast. When she had tuned her guitar, and placed her fingers on the strings, the first chords they appeared naturally to form were those of the little song she had sung by the request of her friend Elise, on the evening she touched it last, "La Desolazione," and she commenced to sing it. The nature of the song has been described before, and it lost none of its pathos from the interpretation which Rachel's saddened feelings put on it to-night.
Christine, whose musical tastes had been (like all other branches of her education) most scrupulously superintended, and who had not been permitted to have any but the most innocent of songs in her portfolio, was positively enchanted by the combined effect which the wild passionate words of "La Desolazione" and the strains of the guitar had upon her. The tears were standing in her bright dark eyes as Rachel concluded, and the first thing she said was, "Oh! do sing it again!" And when it was ended for the second time, she turned to Raymond and exclaimed—
"Isn't it lovely, Raymond?"
"Yes; I like it very much," he replied.
He was very susceptible to the influence of music, particularly just at that time, when his spirits were feigned, and he had felt his wife's singing more than he chose to express.
Rachel thought she must say something in reply to this joint approval of her efforts, and so she remarked—
"I think the words are particularly well adapted to the music," and commenced repeating them:—
Ritorna, ch'io bramo, vederti e morir!'"
"What are they in English?" asked Raymond; "I do not understand Italian."| | 162
"Oh, you goose!" laughed his sister; "they only mean—
(I suppose 'aspiration' would be the word, Rachel?)
"I am no judge," he replied, with a touch of bitterness in his tone. "I have had very little experience of such pressing invitations. I don't suppose people often feel what they sing." And as he spoke, Rachel felt her face crimson with shame at the unintentional reproach, for she knew that he was thinking that very little pathos or passion had been breathed into her longings for his return, whatever her songs might imply. Raymond seemed absent after this little episode, and as if he were wrapt in his own thoughts; and when Mrs. Norreys rejoined her daughters, he rose and sallied forth into the night air, no one knew whither.
The evening went slower after his departure. Rachel sung several more songs, and Christine gave a specimen of her skill upon the piano; and then wine and biscuits appeared, and after that the bell rang for evening prayers, and still the son of the house had not returned. His mother fidgeted at his absence, and wondered at the reason; but Rachel thought that she could guess it plainly enough. However, the bed-time of the inhabitants of Abbey Lodge was never deferred, whoever was from home, and therefore, as soon as prayers were over, Mrs. Norreys and Christine handed Rachel a candlestick, and, taking up their own, bade her an affectionate good-night.
"The man-servant has been directed to sit up until Raymond comes in, my dear," remarked the former, as she saluted her daughter-in-law; "in the meanwhile, let me advise you not to permit his delayed return to keep you from your natural rest. Benson, turn off the gas." And thereupon the staid and immovable Benson, with habitual dexterity, caused the whole house, in the course of a minute, to be wrapped in darkness, so that if any one had had a fancy to stay in the sitting-room for a little while longer, they could not have indulged it. But Rachel was thankful for her husband's absence, and flew to her own room, lest she should | | 163 encounter him again before she had gained its sanctuary. There, by the aid of a pair of tall wax-candles, all looked cheerful enough, and she sat for some time thinking over the events of the day, which seemed so many in the retrospect. Presently she heard the hall-door open, and Raymond's footsteps ascending the staircase. He passed her door, and entered the dressing-room, closing his own after him gently, and turning the key. Rachel breathed freer when she heard him do so, although she felt an unaccountable longing just to be able to peep through the door which separated them, to see how he conducted himself—whether his face looked sad, and what he was going to do next. If she had had her wish, much of her prejudice against him would have melted away in womanly compassion for the hurt she had inflicted, and no other could heal. Raymond Norreys had entered his room softly, that his wife might not hear him, and then, taking off his coat and waistcoat, he had thrown himself into a chair, and lying back in it, had crossed his arms upon his breast and given himself up to thought. As he permitted it to have the dominion over him, an observer might have seen, from the violent and sudden changes that passed over his features, from the knitted brow, the compressed lips, the weary, languid eyes, and the heavy sighs which occasionally escaped him, that the demon that had gotten possession of him was by no means a welcome or a pleasant guest. In truth, Raymond Norreys was considering, now that he had brought the woman he called his wife under the protection of his mother's roof-tree, what on earth he was to do with her. This man was no fool—no weak, love-sick idiot, to be content to fawn all his life upon a girl who did not care for him, without expecting or hoping for a return. He had loved the child whom he had married with more than a boy's love; he had nourished and fostered during many years a passion for the creature of his imagination, which, since he had met her again, instead of dissolving itself into thin air, had seemed to grow out of her very coldness more vehement every day. But he felt that he had placed himself in a humiliating position by the agreement he had entered into with his wife; he doubted whether he had done his suit any good by that agreement; whether in a woman's eyes, it might not have appeared to be simplicity, | | 164 indifference, or a want of determination, instead of an offspring of the generosity from which it emanated. As Raymond bred this doubt, he grew impatient with himself. He had pandered to none of these; he knew it well. He had every qualification that a man ought to possess; and it had been an innate sense of chivalry which had grown up with him, a great idea of the unequal strength between the sexes, of the consideration due to a woman, especially one who possessed both youth and beauty: it was these feelings alone which had made him so gentle with her. He had passed his word to Rachel that he would never claim her as his wife until she came of her own free will and told him that she loved him. Suppose she never so came. At the bare idea the young man started in his chair and ground his teeth together. He had gained a little more insight into her character since that first interview: she was very thin-skinned and sensitive, he could see that—proud as Lucifer—and determined as well as proud. Suppose her pride should never permit her to come forward and make such an avowal—it was a great trial to have imposed upon one so organized as Rachel. He could not go dangling all his life after her, acting the part of cloak-bearer, cup-bearer, purse-bearer—in fact, to be her walking-stick, and nothing more. He was proud as well as herself, and the thought galled him. But then this girl possessed something else beside pride; something which could subdue her pride—than which nothing else would—and that was the capability of loving. No one could help seeing it who saw anything. It flashed out of her liquid, speaking eyes; it hung upon her ripe, tremulous mouth; it made itself known in the sensitiveness of her nervous little hand; in the sudden flushing of her cheek—the low, impassioned accents of her voice. Yes, she could love, and she should love!
As Raymond decided this point for the woman on the other side of the door to him, he drew himself up. He knew he was not entirely destitute of the qualities which women love in men; why should not Rachel succumb to them, as well as others?
She is a woman, therefore may be won."
But though he did not say the words, he thought them to his heart's core.
But how should he woo her? Not by continuing his present course of conduct. In the first place he did not think it would succeed; in the second, he did not choose to win her by that means. He believed that Rachel was a woman to be taken by force; he believed that he was a man so to take her. By his present course of action he might win her compassion—her girlish pity for his dumb suffering; but not her admiration—not her longing—nor despair. And he would have them all three; he felt he must have them all three before that bright, impulsive creature would humble herself before him and sue him for his love. His citadel was too shrewd to be taken by stratagem; too proud to yield to entreaty; he would march in and take it by the strength of his manhood alone.
He would no longer let her see that her words or actions pained him; that he shrank from her caresses; that he was afraid to be left alone in her presence. He would treat her ever as he had yet done, with the greatest consideration and kindness; but with it should be mixed indifference—feigned, of course (how much feigned, he knew, as he thought of the difficulty of the task which lay before him)—but still true indifference to her. He would shake off his present feelings of apathy and moodiness. He would shine before her as he knew that he could shine, if he tried; she should see him at his best, and, at the same time, see that he was so not for her sake, but because it was his nature so to be. He would no longer forsake his own amusements or his own companions, though both should be indulged in moderately; and then, when Rachel saw him with this shade of melancholy, so foreign to his nature, cast aside—saw him in his true character, as Raymond Norreys—perhaps she might love him, until not to show her love became an impossibility to her.
If this did not come to pass, he would apply to be appointed to another ship; he would leave England again; he would | | 166 kill himself with cholera, or starvation, or drink, or any other legitimate means, and never see her face nor hear her voice in this life more.
And as Raymond came to a determination so sensible and consolatory as the above, he started from his chair, and pacing the room in one or two rapid turns, appeared to be much the easier from contemplating this possible contingency.
In the meanwhile the object of his musing had laid down to rest in the bed where his dead father had been laid out, and notwithstanding the fiercest arguments with herself, had been totally unable, as she did so, to disencumber her mind of the ghastly remembrance.
Rachel's nerves had been overstrung by the events and mental excitement of the day past, and that fact, added to her natural dread of anything connected with death (as associated with others) kept her keenly alive to the import of what her mother-in-law had told her concerning the bed she lay on having had no occupant since it last bore the weight of that rigid, silent body. As she ensconced herself beneath the clothes, she could not help wondering if the corpse had laid upon those very mattrasses, blankets, and coverlet, and as the thought struck her, drew herself away from their contact as if they were Death itself.
Then she fancied, since the lights had been extinguished, that the room had a damp, unearthly feeling about it, that she hangings of the bed smelt mouldy, and that something was moving and rustling behind their ample folds. It was all very well until Raymond had put out his candle; as long as she had that little line of light to watch, streaming beneath the door and through the keyhole, Rachel glanced towards it every time she felt her fears getting the better of her, and gained fresh courage from the knowledge that some living thing was near at hand.
But when the young man's colloquy ended, and he blew out his candle preparatory to throwing himself for the night upon the sofa in his room, the frightened girl felt as if she could bear it no longer. By that time she had worked her fears up to such a pitch that she fancied shadows were moving between her and the moonlight, and that ghastly, corpse-like faces glared upon her round the corners of the bed. As the light was extinguished in her husband's room, leaving the | | 167 friendly keyhole wrapt in darkness, Rachel, possessed with a sudden and unconquerable terror, darted from the bed, and crouching against the door which divided the apartments, leant her head against the inanimate wood, as if it were a human creature, to support and comfort her. It was well for Raymond's rest he could not divine that whilst he tried to compose himself to sleep a little pale cheek was pressed against the panels of his door, and scared eyes were gazing wide into the surrounding gloom, whilst the throbs of the heart of his terrified wife were almost audible in the stillness of the night. Well for his peace that he did not know that there she lay crouched upon the bedroom steps on this, the first night of her return home, shivering with fear, until very shame, at the contemplation of her weakness, drove her back to the couch she dreaded.
Ah! the worst phantom that haunted those silent rooms that night was the shadow of mutual and unnatural reserve which had raised itself between these two young hearts, and forbidden them to read each other's thoughts.
The ghosts which Rachel need have feared to be alone with were not the ghosts of the Past, but of the Present.
The ghosts of her own coldness, indifference, and hardness of heart towards a man who loved her faithfully, and which ghosts, say what she would, dogged her footsteps by day and by night, with Self-reproach and Self-pity (two phantoms very difficult to lay) following closely in their train.
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