- CHAPTER XXII. SEALED HEARTS.
|<< chapter 21||< chapter 1||chapter 23 >||chapter 37 >>|
WHEN Rachel entered her room that evening for the purpose of dressing, she found it already occupied by Mrs. Craven's lady's-maid. The black tulle dress, looped up in every direction by clusters of white roses, which she was about to wear, lay spread out upon the bed, and that individual was busily engaged picking out a puffing here, smoothing a refractory bow of ribbon there, and crimping all the leaves of the artificial flowers afresh between her professional fingers. Rachel had brought no maid with her to Craven Court, and had been used, whilst there, to wait upon herself; but her surprise at the novelty of the apparition before her was soon quenched by the apparition herself, who intimated, in an extremely minced and lady-like tone, "that Mrs. Craven had desired her to ask if she could be of any service to Mrs. Norreys in dressing."
Mrs. Craven might have desired her to ask the question, but she had certainly not desired her to remain, whether required or not, which was, however, what the lady's-maid insisted upon doing, notwithstanding that Rachel affirmed that she always did her own hair, and that the housemaid was perfectly competent to lace her dress.
"Scarcely such a dress as this, ma'am, I think," observed the officious lady's-maid; "at least, I should be sorry to see it trusted to her hands—quite a work of hart, ma'am. I've been admiring it for the last half-hour—made in the | | 246 very latest fashion—and a sweet fit, I'm sure, from the look of it."
Which, considering it had arrived only that afternoon at the Court, fresh from the hands of Miss Clarke, who had before procured Rachel's measure, was not, to say the least of it, a thing to marvel at.
But since Miss Tagg appeared to wish to do the honours of Miss Clarke's "work of hart," Rachel made no further objection to her remaining for that purpose; and as she deftly proceeded to lace the dress, commencing, in the orthodox Parisian fashion, at the bottom, and having arrived at the top hole, patiently going over the same ground again and again, to be certain that the two sides of the silken bodice were closely connected, using the point of her scissors on her last tour—when the lace was drawn so tight that no mortal fingers could have taken hold of it, Miss Tagg disclosed the reason for her extreme attention to Mrs. Norreys' wants on that particular evening.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," she said, after she had given one or two slight coughs to clear her throat and command the lady's attention, "but have I understood rightly from Mrs. Watson, the housekeeper, that you are in want of a lady's-maid yourself?"
Now the question had been mooted previous to Rachel's leaving the Abbey Lodge. She had engaged no personal attendant since her dismissal of Caroline Wilson; and on her first arrival in England the maid who did double duty for Mrs. Norreys and her daughter had also attended upon her; but on that disinterested individual giving a slight hint relative to higher wages, Mrs. Norreys had thought it better in every respect, and more redundant to her recognised importance as the wife of her only son, that Rachel should engage a lady's-maid of her own. And therefore, being on the look-out for one, and having mentioned the fact to Mrs. Craven, that lady had commented upon the iniquity of London servants as compared with the innocence of those from the country, and said, at the same time, that she would ask her housekeeper—"a most estimable creature, my dear, whom I have had for years"—to inquire if there were any such women about Weybridge in want of service | | 247 And Rachel had answered, "Very well," too greatly occupied with more important things to have much care about the matter.
Now she answered Miss Tagg's present inquiry with almost as much languor in her tone—"Yes, I am looking out for one. Why do you ask?"
"Because I have a sister, ma'am, a very accomplished young person, who I think would just suit you. She can plait'air beautiful (she learnt from Truefitt himself), and make dresses for all the world as well as the one I've just laced upon you; and your situation is the very thing she's been looking for. She's younger than I am, ma'am, but not so very young, either;"—which was an alternative within the bounds of conjecture, as Miss Tagg's years verged upon forty.
"If she will call on me in town," replied Rachel, carelessly, "I can speak to her. I suppose you know my address."
Over which indifferent reply, Miss Tagg, answering in the affirmative, fell into ecstacies, saying she was certain that her sister Mary Ann and Mrs. Norreys would suit each other exactly, and that she should wait upon her as soon as ever she returned to Brompton.
"Mary Ann is living in Eccleston Square now, ma'am, and I will write to her by this very night's post. Her present lady, the Honourable Mrs. Waldegrave Walthrop (own sister to Lord Ducies, ma'am), wouldn't part with her for any amount of money; but that end of the town don't seem to suit Mary Ann's system, and she'd rather serve for lower wages than risk her 'ealth. Well, ma'am, I'm sure black and white couldn't be made to look better than your dress do tonight; and the roses are most tasteful. Good evening, ma'am." And with that Miss Tagg curtsied herself out of the room.
But as soon as her own mistress's toilet was completed Miss Tagg found her way to the servants' hall, replete with the news that her sister was about to apply for the. situation of lady's-maid to young Mrs. Norreys, and there wasn't no manner of doubt but what she'd get it; for Mary Ann's figger alone was enough to make every one take to her as saw her. But Miss Tagg had better have been more discreet. Several of the servants heard and remembered her assertion, and | | 248 amongst the rest Martha Wilson. This girl had been in a very sulky mood for the last week—about that time since her turn for going out on Sunday had come round, and the housekeeper, according to the promise made to Caroline Wilson, had informed her that she was to have no leave thenceforward, except what she spent at Laburnum Cottage with her mother.
Martha was not like other girls. She did not fly, on receipt of this news, openmouthed to accuse her mother of having brought about her captivity. She knew as well as possible that it was Mrs. Wilson's doing, not Mrs. Watson's, and her heart felt very rebelliously indignant at the check put upon her actions, but she had foreseen something of the sort, and calculated against it. She had gone to her mother's on that afternoon and several subsequent evenings without once mentioning the subject of the housekeeper's prohibition to her; and Caroline Wilson, a little afraid herself of those black eyes—which looked most dangerous when sullenly quiet—had not ventured to be the first to broach the matter; but her daughter had made up her mind long ago, and only waited a favourable opportunity to put her designs into execution. She had left the barracks because she would not submit to espionage, and she thought as little about leaving her situation for the same reason; only, the next time she took flight her mother should not be the companion of her wanderings. Therefore, as Miss Tagg boasted of Mrs. Norreys' interest in her sister, and her want of a lady's-maid, Martha Wilson had both her ears open, although she took care to keep her mouth shut.
As Rachel, unconscious of the revolution the few words she had uttered before Miss Tagg were creating below, was standing thoughtfully before the pier-glass, surveying the effect of her completed costume, a knock sounded at the door, and Mrs. Craven, also robed in slight mourning (for she had assumed such in compliment to her friend's decease), entered the room. In her hand she held a morocco jewel-case; but her first exclamation was in praise of Rachel's appearance.
"My dear child—forgive me for saying so—but you look uncommonly pretty! I am almost afraid, if I put a | | 249 touch more to you, that I may spoil the effect that Tagg has produced; but I did come with the intention of asking you to wear these to-night;" and she placed the morocco case, which was rather bulky, in Rachel's hand as she spoke.
One touch of the spring, and the cover flew back, revealing on their dainty bed a magnificent set of carbuncles and diamonds—gems well suited to a dark complexion like that of Rachel. There they lay, looking as if they were never intended to be disturbed—comb, earrings, necklace, brooch, and a pair of bracelets—hundreds of pounds embedded in a quarter of a yard of white satin. Rachel was but a girl after all, and her eyes sparkled with pleasure as she saw the pretty, womanly toys.
"For me!" she exclaimed; "really for me!" She had been used to receive a great many presents, this spoilt young lady, but she had never possessed anything so valuable as this before. She had been accustomed to have pretty much her own way with her poor fond father; and those of her female friends who liked to be ill-natured were wont to say that it was rather wonderful where all the money came from that supplied the fanciful dresses and ornaments for which Dr. Browne's daughter had been celebrated for always having a plentiful supply. Not out of the good doctor's pay, certainly; for besides these luxuries Rachel always drove a pair of ponies and kept a riding- horse—and not only since her marriage, for from an infant she had invariably been dressed, attended to, and indulged in the same lavish manner. Dr. Browne's friends said he was a fool to do it, but he attached no importance to what any one said, and went on his way rejoicing. Cecil Craven had also been in the habit of making Rachel occasional little offerings, such as brooches and rings, to mark her high-days and holidays as they came round, but nothing like this splendid set of precious stones; no one, with all their worship, had ever so endowed her little ladyship before, and the first sight of it charmed her. But the next moment she had pushed them gently away, and made use of the same strange words that had fallen from her lips once before when talking with Cecil Craven.
"Oh, no! Mrs. Craven; don't give them to me. I have no right—indeed I have not!"| | 250
The eyes of her hostess dilated with amazement.
"No right! dear Rachel. What do you mean? Have I not a right to do as I will with them? You have every right, dear child; the best of rights, in your dear father's name. It is a long time since I made you a present, Rachel—not, I think, since the last big doll that you coveted in the Baker Street Bazaar; and these trinkets are but playthings for children of a larger growth, after all. Come, let me have the pleasure of putting them on you."
Rachel took the delicate hand, which came so near her face, and kissed it. Her deer-like eyes went upwards to meet the other's glance as she did so, and, encountering it all affection, she said, earnestly—
"Thank you, then, so much. I will take them, since you wish it, for your sake and my father's sake; not for myself, who have no claim to such indulgence on your part." But Mrs. Craven folded the drooping figure to her breast, and stopped her speech.
"Hush!—hush!" she answered, softly. "My love, you have the highest claims upon me, though you do not know it." She was alluding, doubtless, to the deep attachment which the father of the girl had borne her, and which had only ended with his life; but whether Rachel knew her claims or not, she no longer made any refusal to receive the gift proffered for her acceptance. She bent forward her graceful head and neck for Mrs. Craven's convenience, whilst the latter hung the delicate ears and throat with the sparkling jewels, fastened them on the glowing breast, and round about the smooth and slender arms.
"We must leave the comb alone for this evening," she said, laughing, as she concluded her task, "for it will not agree with Miss Clarke's white roses. Turn yourself to the pier-glass, Rachel, and see what you look like."
A little queen, if stateliness of bearing could make her one. Upon her throat and arms, and in her ears, the brilliant combinations of diamonds and carbuncles flashed and glittered till they lighted up the dark skin upon which they lay, and forced it to reflect back their ruby light. And as Rachel contemplated this vision of herself she blushed with pleasure, until her cheeks and eyes rivalled the jewels with which she was adorned.| | 251
Mrs. Craven came and stood behind the girl, so that their figures were reflected together in the glass. Seen thus, side by side, and robed in the same manner of costume, the two women did not appear so very unlike one another. Mrs. Craven was the taller, and of the two the fairer skinned, but yet there seemed a semblance, though it was but slight. Doubtless it was derived from the air of command so natural to each, from the good "points" which characterized them both, and the small hands and feet which marked their breeding; for otherwise, and if one came to analyze the two, they were as different as possible from one another.
"They are positively charming," murmured Rachel, alluding to the effect her ornaments presented in the mirror.
"And so are you, my dear," returned her hostess. "I am so glad you like them, but I must leave you now, and be on duty in the drawing-room." And Mrs. Craven kissed her, and went away to receive her expected guests.
As she left the room Rachel felt uncommonly happy. It was a little thing perhaps (some caustic old critic will observe) about which to make a woman—represented to possess the highest feelings—happy. But few male critics know the ins and outs of a woman's heart. She may have troubles of the deepest kind, and feel them keenly; but it is not in nature to be for ever on the rack, neither could it survive it. A man in trouble seeks relief in play, or wine, or scenes of dissipation; and to women their trinkets, their dress, their dancing—and their flirtations, make up their sum of this world's vanities. Perhaps they feel all the acuter for indulging in them, as pain strikes sharper and the surgeon's knife cuts keener, when sense returns after the use of chloroform; but who, for that reason, would scorn the relief which temporary loss of suffering alone induces? In the first pleasure of finding herself the possessor of so unexpected and so valuable a gift, it is true that Rachel Norreys, with all her great capabilities for feeling and remembering her pain, forgot everything but that she did possess it. Mr. Northland's rudeness about which she had so vexed herself, Eliza Arundel's fading friendship, even her husband's coolness towards her, and her growing love for him, were all forgotten for the moment (only for the moment, mind), as Rachel thought how very nice she looked, and how much she should like Raymond | | 252 to see her. And so she ran out of her bedroom and tapped at his dressing-room door, and, on being answered, opened it, almost without thinking what she was about, and stood upon the threshold.
"Raymond, what do you think of me?"
The words had scarcely escaped her before she remembered where she was, and what an advance it had been on her part to go there, and she was positively covered with blushing confusion as she awaited her husband's reply. Raymond, who had expected to see his dress boots, for which he had just rung, thrust into the room, was almost as confused as herself, but she really did look charming, and as he came forward he could not help telling her so, though, as he said the words, he sighed. To hide her confusion, Rachel commenced a rapid account of how Mrs. Craven had given her the ornaments, and wasn't she very kind, and didn't Raymond admire them very much? and must they not be very valuable? and as she ran on thus, her husband mistook her evident embarrassment for a desire to cover some awkwardness about the jewels themselves.
"Who gave them you?" he rejoined, sharply. "Mrs. Craven, or Major Craven?"
"Mrs. Craven, Raymond," she replied, with wide-open eyes. "Cecil never gave me anything so valuable as this."
It was not the first time she had called Major Craven by his Christian name before her husband, but he chose to notice it as something out of the common way.
"If Cecil had," he replied, with something very like a sneer for Raymond Norreys, "I should have just chucked them all back in his face. Curse his impudence!"
Considering that Major Craven, since his own return, had made no offer even of a present to his wife, the above remark from my hero might have been by some considered irrelevant to the subject in hand; but it was a false move on his part, for Rachel, with a woman's quickness, detected signs in it at once of the feeling he most wished to keep from her knowledge—that he entertained jealousy. For under the influence of Mrs. Arundel's insinuations Raymond Norreys was becoming, little by little, jealous of his young wife. All her pleasure in her ornaments seemed gone then, and Rachel | | 253 descended to the drawing-room with all the old trouble come back upon her memory like a cloud, and sitting like a thing of Evil on her spirits. She looked very pretty, and she forced herself to talk and be agreeable, but all her vivacity was feigned. Lady Frances, in clouds of pink tulle and moss rosebuds, and very sanguine of bringing Major Craven to the point that evening, appeared, both at the dinner table and afterwards, by far the liveliest and most animated woman of the two. The dessert was not lingered over by the juniors amongst the gentlemen on that occasion, and by ten o'clock the music had begun and the dancing-room was pretty well filled. Rachel sat apart at first, declining all offers to dance, and silently watching the feet of Major Craven, Lady Frances, and Raymond Norreys, as they moved through the various figures. The latter appeared in the very best of spirits; his bright face and well-set form seemed to have made a great impression upon the young ladies of the party, who smiled most graciously upon him, and allowed him to do just exactly what he liked with their pencils and programmes.
"He seems happy enough," thought poor Rachel, as she watched a very warm flirtation he appeared to be carrying on with a faded-looking girl in blue, "and so do Cecil and Lady Frances. My God! why am I the only one left out?" And in her wounded pride and sense of desolation, her short spell of cheerfulness so soon eclipsed again, Rachel Norreys could have wept that evening as she had seldom wept before.
Major Craven and Lady Frances Morgan had a right to appear happy, for it was at this identical party that Cecil obtained the young lady's leave to ask her noble mamma, the Countess of Riversdale, to bestow her pretty plump hand upon him in matrimony. Little has been said relative to more than the mere outside actions of this pair of lovers, and for a very good reason, that nothing more occurred with them than might be plainly seen by those who watched them. There are some people who have no "inside," and Lady Frances (if not Cecil Craven) was of that number. She was affectionate, and modest, and harmless; he was affectionate, and honourable, and easy-going; and beyond this, if more was looked for, the searcher's gain would not repay his trouble. Indeed, it is an undoubted fact, that the interest | | 254 that Cecil Craven felt for Rachel Norreys was the deepest that the things of this world had ever awakened in his heart, and that when with her, or thinking of her, he experienced as lively an emotion as he was capable of doing. And yet to see and speak to him or Lady Frances upon ordinary topics, no one would have pronounced either of them deficient in sense or intelligence; it was only when their minds were sounded upon deeper things than this life's frivolities, when one came to speak to them of death, and love, and immortality, that one found that the extent of their capabilities had been fathomed upon the first throwing out of the line. They were not widely different from hundreds of their kind who jostle us at every turn upon the field of life; they played their part at the rate of third and fourth fiddles in the world's great orchestra, and though not thrust prominently forward, still helped to maintain the harmony and well-being of the society they moved in. It would not do for every one to play solos. And although Cecil greatly admired the character of Rachel Norreys, he sometimes viewed the various phases in it with a kind of awe! occasionally he was almost afraid of her, as he had told her once at Gibraltar; and as a wife, the disposition of Frances Morgan suited his own far better. He was ready (however much he liked her), when he thought of Rachel, to exclaim with Byron—
And pity lovers rather more than seamen."
But, however unpleasant they may be at times, it is your stormy women, after all, that can love the best, although they are most dangerous when crossed. Depend upon it, the same energy which, wrongly displayed in one instance, makes our greatest love-pet think it worth while to state his objections to them in his rhyme, will haply bear them through many a tussle in this life, which weaker-minded women would sink under, and keep them faithful to many a love that the falterers amongst their sex would have too much shame, too many scruples, or too great a fear to cling to for better or for worse.
There are scores of Lady Frances Morgans on the earth. Every boarding-school is lined with them; but it is only | | 255 here and there, be her faults what they may, that we meet a Rachel Norreys.
However, Lady Frances was the one to engage Major Craven's fancy, or as much of it as was left to be engaged, after having been frittered away in all directions ever since he was sixteen, and he delivered it up to her safe keeping during a promenade, after the fifth waltz which they had danced together on that night. He was not very agitated over his avowal, nor she on her acceptance of the same. He delivered himself of one or two nervous laughs as he told his tale of love, but, nevertheless, seemed pretty certain of what her answer would be; and Lady Frances blushed a good deal, and said—"Oh, don't, Major Craven," and "I'm certain you can't mean what you say;" and then the formality was over, and she agreed that, subject to her mamma's approval, she would become Lady Frances Craven.
"Only, of course, you will write and ask mamma all about it," was her final stipulation; and Cecil answered, "Of course I shall, by to-morrow's post—so that's settled. Are you ready?" And encircling her waist again with his arm, whirled her off once more to make the circuit of the ballroom.
When that dance was over, and he had deposited his newly-made fiancée on a seat, Cecil Craven felt confused and heated, and almost depressed, as he rushed into the night air to try and cool himself. Was he already sorry for what he had done? Had he made a mistake, and arrived at the knowledge so soon?
Hardly so; and in his case he never came to look upon the step he took that night as a mistake. But there are moments in all our lives when we wish we were better, and higher, and wiser than we are. Perhaps, even in that first hour of the accepted lover's bliss, Cecil Craven, knowing that Lady Frances was the girl best suited to him as a wife, without a wish for change or a thought of wavering, yet experienced a something like regret that he was not worthier to be mated with something higher and more intellectual than what he felt that he aspired to.
Perhaps he even went so far as mentally to compare his own choice with that dark, boughtful, "stormy " girl who | | 256 sat near one of the open windows, pensively gazing out into the night. "But, pshaw!" he said, as he thought of it, "what could I do with a woman like that if I had her? She'd get sick of me in a week."
In the midst of his cogitations he ran against Mrs. Arundel. Every one was always running against Mrs. Arundel at Craven Court now; but Cecil had scarcely expected to find her at this time walking on the terrace in the dark.
"Is that you, Mrs. Arundel?" he exclaimed. "Why are you walking here in the dark? It's damp too—there's a heavy dew falling."
"I don't feel it," said the widow, with an air of pensive sadness. "I thought I should like, even though I have no heart to join in such gaiety, to walk up here, where I could see the dancing and hear the music. It is a melancholy pleasure, Craven. It reminds me so of olden times."
"Why, poor old Jack never danced, did he?" observed Cecil, who was not always very polite in his way of speaking to Mrs. Arundel.
"Oh, dear no! you know he didn't. I was hardly thinking of him in such a scene. Do you remember the dance the Williamses gave the first year we were at Gib, Cecil?"
He remembered the occasion well enough, as being one on which he had made a great fool of himself with regard to her; but he professed to have forgotten it.
"No, upon my word, I don't, Mrs. Arundel."
"Why do you never call me 'Elise' now?" she murmured. "Any other name seems so strange from your lips, Cecil."
"When we are in Turkey we must do as the turkeys do," he replied, trying to laugh off her searching question. "It is not the custom in England to call married ladies by their Christian names."
"Ah, well!" she sighed, "perhaps it is best so. But tell me, Craven, that you have not totally forgotten that happy time. You were happy, were you not?"
"I always have been so ever since I had the pleasure of your acquaintance, Mrs. Arundel," he replied, laughing.
"Can you laugh when recalling it?" she exclaimed, raising her voice considerably. "Cecil, you are cruel to me. You do it to try my poor wounded heart."| | 257
Mrs. Arundel only intended to be highly dramatic; but they were so near the open window of the dancing-room, and the night was so quiet, that her companion was dreadfully afraid that her words should be overheard.
"Good heavens! Elise," he said, "don't talk like that—some one may hear us. I will see you again soon—tomorrow or next day, but I must go now"—and vanished into the house as he spoke.
The widow was in the dark, and alone; but a smile of triumph curled her lip. She had really strolled out for the pleasure of the walk alone; she had little expected to turn up such a trump-card during her ramble.
"I have made him wince," she said to herself, "deny it if he can. Wait till I can get that little witch, Rachel, and that piece of pink-and-white goodness, Lady Frances, out of the way (and they both go within the week), and I expect I shall do what I choose with their preux-chevalier. What a commotion there will be in the Court when it comes to be known! I imagine his lady-mother will not much fancy having me for a daughter-in-law; but the alternative may be the worse for her. Nous verrons." And so meditating, Mrs. Arundel turned back upon her homeward path.
Cecil, delighted to have rid himself of her company—"the widow was getting so decidedly warm," as he said to himself—rushed into the dancing-room again, and walked straight up to Rachel Norreys, who had been sitting still of her own accord all the evening.
"Mrs. Norreys," he said, with his most finished bow, "I request the honour, etc. etc."
"But you can't have the honour nor the et ceteras, Major Craven," she replied, laughing; "because I have refused every one who has asked me to dance this evening."
"Oh! that's nothing," he exclaimed; "you can say that I am a privileged person, in the same regiment, and all that sort of thing."
"But Captain Crowe has asked me, and Mr. Fisher, and Mr. Weldon" (all of them brother officers of Cecil Craven), "and therefore that would be no excuse at all."
"Then tell the truth," he said, aloud.
"What is that?"| | 258
"That I am——" (and the rest of the truth he whispered in her ear).
"Don't, Cecil," Rachel said, almost angrily; and the brightest of colours mounted even to her forehead. "You are cruel to me."
The very words which some one else had just sounded in his ears outside the opened window. Raymond Norreys, standing near with his partner, heard them also, but was silent.
"Then you will dance with me, Mrs. Norreys," Cecil said, conclusively. From what he drew his evidence was not quite clear, but to Rachel any way it appeared satisfactory.
"Yes, if you really wish it," she said, and rose and joined him.
She waltzed divinely, and she dearly loved the exercise. Cecil Craven was also a good dancer, and they had often and often been partners together when abroad; but his waltzing was clumsy compared to that of Raymond Norreys, whose performance in that way had been pronounced by the belles of the evening to be "perfect." But seeing his wife refuse every offer she received, he had not thought to ask her for a partner. Now, as he watched her flying round and round in the close embrace of Cecil Craven, he resolved to keep the next waltz open for her. At all events, she would not think a dance too great a boon to give him. With this intention, as soon as the set was over, and Major Craven had placed her, flushed and panting, and looking more charming than he had ever seen her yet, upon a seat, Raymond advanced to Rachel, and asked her if she was engaged for the next waltz.
"Oh, no," she replied, thinking he was vexed at her dancing with Cecil after having refused so many others; "for none. Indeed I musn't dance any more. I ought not to have accepted Major Craven, but I am so fond of it, and it was such a temptation."
"I was going to ask you to dance with me," he said, looking rather disappointed.
Now Cecil had asked Rachel several times before in the evening, and Raymond had not been near her once, and she had felt the omission on his part so much, that it had been | | 259 at the bottom of her so persistently refusing to dance with my one else. For she had watched his steps with the keen eye of one who has a knowledge of the art, and knew that to waltz with him must be more than an ordinary pleasure. And his neglect in this respect haying hurt her feelings, she answered him now rather coolly—
"I will dance with you if you wish it, Raymond, but you must make my excuses if I get into a scrape with any one else about it." And thereupon he put down his name upon her unfilled card.
She anticipated waltzing with her husband, although she had appeared so indifferent upon the matter; but when the time came, and the intoxicating measure had already commenced, and he stood before her, waiting to take her on his arm, looking so distinguished (as she thought), and so graceful, and so different (remember that she loved him) to any one there, Rachel's courage failed.
She had never been in his arms—she who was his wife and bore his name—since the one time he had folded her there before he knew she could not love him. She had never felt the pressure of his hand about her waist, the lingering of his breath upon her cheek, or known the glance of his dark, changeable eyes to be so near her own, since she had parted from him as a child—never since she had been a woman—never, never since she had loved him!
Raymond Norreys was excited, but not in like measure with herself; he was thinking of the dance. She was thinking of him, and him alone, and it was too much for her.
As she felt the encircling of his arm about her figure, clasped one hand in his, and leant the other on his shoulder, Rachel turned sick and giddy; the room and the lights went round and round before her failing vision, and she rather gasped than said—
"Raymond, Raymond! for God's sake let me go, or I shall faint!"
He placed her on the sofa from which she had risen to dance with him; he brought her water, whilst officious matrons fanned her into life again, and when the room had ceased whirling, and the music re-possessed some meaning in her ears, and she could remember where she was, the revul- | | 260 sion ended in a burst of tears for which no reason could be extracted from her, but the heat and the unusual exercise of dancing, to which of late she had not been accustomed. Mrs. Craven soon hurrying to the spot, believed at once that the scene of gaiety had been too much for Rachel in her present state of nervousness, and urged her in a whisper to leave the ball-room. The weary girl was too glad to comply. She hoped that Raymond would follow, and force an explanation from her of her evident emotion, and for that purpose hung about the corridors and staircases till many hours afterwards, when the dance broke up, and they of the household were retreating to their beds.
But Raymond had wanted no such explanation—had thought he needed none. He had danced no more that night, but wandered out on the dark terraces, and lingered where the corks were flying, and tried to drown his sense of misery in the wine-cup.
"Hang it," he mentally exclaimed—only he used a much stronger and naughtier expression—"she could dance with that pink-and-white fellow there, with tow for hair, and appear to like it; but directly she stood up with me she must needs turn faint, or sham to. I suppose to dance with me is too much trouble. But I'll be——" (strong and naughty expression again) "if I'll stand this sort of thing much longer." By which soliloquy it will be seen that love had blinded the judgment of Mr. Raymond Norreys, as it has done that of many a wiser and better man before him.
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