- CHAPTER XXIII. MULTUM IN PARVO.
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MULTUM IN PARVO.
IT is often desirable in the course of a romance to crowd a vast amount of incident into a small amount of letterpress; for although a great deal may happen in a few weeks of time, if it does not immediately bear upon the subject in hand its recital in detail is best avoided. Yet links there are, connecting each portion of an acted life with its fellow incidents, | | 261 which must not be entirely lost sight of, even though the tale be but a fancy of the brain.
Two days after the dance and dinner-party, Raymond Norreys and his wife left Craven Court and returned to the Abbey Lodge. During that time Rachel had scarcely seen Mr. Northland, and had certainly not spoken to him. Cousin Gus appeared to be quite aware of the impropriety he had been guilty of, and studiously kept out of her way, even when the carriage was at the door to take them back to the railway station, and farewells were being liberally dispensed and warmly re-echoed. For when the actual moment for parting arrived, Rachel (with that same inconvenient perversity of human nature which has been alluded to before), although she had suffered so much in secret during her visit to the Court, felt sorry to leave it, and clung about the neck of Mrs. Arundel with almost the same degree of fervour with which she used to embrace that lady in the days of yore.
But still, she was really glad to return to the Abbey Lodge. When she arrived at its sombre iron gates, and saw the covered pathway, already beginning to look familiar in her eyes; and the walnut and mulberry trees, which had assumed their autumnal tints since she had seen them last; and, above all, when she caught sight of the bright, glowing face of Christine as she ran to meet them, bare-headed, regardless of her mother's warnings and the waning day, Rachel felt, for the first time, that the Abbey Lodge was home to her, and its inmates were her mother and her sister. And as she rushed into the hall, and received their united welcome, she said so without hesitation.
"Oh! I am so glad to see you both again," was her warm exclamation; "I am so glad to get home!"
The face of old Mrs. Norreys lighted up with a greater gleam of pleasure at the words than had ever been seen there as the result of any intercourse with her daughter-in-law before. She glanced round for Raymond, that her looks might signify her approbation to him also, but he was busy with the luggage, and had not heard his wife's remark. As for the two girls, they were almost as pleased to meet as if they had been really sisters.| | 262
"How have you enjoyed your visit, dear?" was naturally Christine's first question; and "Not very much, Christine; I was not half so happy there as I am here," was Rachel's ready answer, hailed with increased delight on the part of Mrs. Norreys and her daughter, if the shower of telegraphic glances which passed between them and spoke their mutual pleasure might be accepted as a sign. Yes! these two women loved her well, or were disposed to do so. Rachel felt the truth of this as soon as she found time to think about it; and felt also that, notwithstanding all the fidgetty rules and regulations, and the monotony of the days as they succeeded each other at the Abbey Lodge, she could live there, be happy, and love them in return for Raymond's sake and the regard they bore him.
No thought of self entered into her calculations then. Has it not been said that hers was a character which, once loving, would love well?
"Rachel, will you come in here for a minute? I want to speak to you."
It was a few days after their return to Brompton, and the voice was that of her husband, and issued from his dressing-room door. Rachel stopped short in her transit to the sitting-room, and complied with his request. She coloured with conscious pain as she entered the little apartment and saw the sofa where he laid himself down each night in discomfort to sleep, and the general disorder of the room, usual enough in a bachelor's chamber, but which should never be seen in that of a man who has a wife to keep things tidy for him. But Raymond's thoughts did not appear to be running in the same direction as her own, for he never glanced towards the interior of the room, nor seemed by word or look to wish to convey even a tacit reproach for her being so great a stranger there. Since he had returned from Craven Court he had not been out so much in the evenings; but his silence when amongst them at home was so unlike his general behaviour, that it seemed sometimes, not only to Rachel, but to his mother and sister, that his absence would have been a greater relief. He was sitting on the sofa as his wife entered his room, and she went towards him with the evident intention of taking a seat by his side. She often tried now to break | | 263 the ice between them by some such little graceful act of advancement, but something always seemed to intervene (untoward accidents, she used to call them) to frustrate her good endeavours. Now, as she approached the sofa, Raymond rose from it, as if to make room for her beside him; but instead of reseating himself, he took a chair, which removed him to the other side of the table. Rachel's eyes sought his with a tender reproach in them, the meaning of which (had he taken the trouble to meet their gaze) he would have found no difficulty in reading; but he never glanced towards her, except in an evasive manner—never, certainly, so as to meet her imploring eyes. He was the first to speak.
"Rachel, would you rather remain here, or go into a house of our own?" He had taken her so much by surprise, that at first she hardly knew what to answer him. "Of course, I don't mean a house exactly, because I cannot afford just now to take a whole house and furnish it—it would be folly in me, not knowing our plans for the future—but into furnished apartments. Would you not rather have rooms to yourself than live here with my mother and sister?"
He thought that, alone with Rachel, in a dwelling of their own, he would have, perhaps, a greater chance of winning her affections—of reading her real heart. But she imagined that Mrs. Norreys had intimated to Raymond that they had stayed long enough at the Abbey Lodge, and had expressed a wish for their removal, and so she answered——
"Does your mother wish us to go, Raymond—is that it?"
"My mother?—no, nonsense!" he returned, pettishly; "she would be only too happy to keep us till doomsday, if we would stay;—I was thinking of your comfort, Rachel!"
"Oh, no, thank you, then!" she rejoined, hastily. "I am very comfortable here; I would rather stay, please, Raymond,—indeed I would!"
The idea of leaving the Abbey Lodge, when they had just begun to love her, scared Rachel; besides, she thought her husband would prefer her choosing to remain with his relations, whom he professed himself so much to love and honour.
"Oh! I'm glad to hear you are so comfortable!" he replied, almost sarcastically (ah! Raymond Norreys must have | | 264 suffered a great deal before such a trait as sarcasm could have developed itself in his generous nature); "I believe your bedroom is very comfortable, isn't it?—almost as jolly as this crib, which some might call inconveniently small;—however, I daresay I shall be in a smaller one still before long."
"What do you mean, Raymond?" demanded his wife.
"At sea, my dear," he rejoined, carelessly. "For such cabins as they give me would go into this room."
"Raymond!" she exclaimed, earnestly, "you are joking—are you not?"
"Joking!" he echoed; "why should you suppose that I am joking, Rachel? I have no intention of idling my whole life away on shore, you know; and, between you and I, from any enjoyment that I've derived from my holiday yet, I think I might just as well be afloat again, and earning a little money; and I could get appointed to a ship for the asking, for we lieutenants are in a little more request at sea than we are on shore, Miss Rachel!"
His tone was so light and careless, that, as she heard it, she turned cold.
"And me!" she gasped. The words really left her lips, but so indistinctly that Raymond did not catch them; but a slight sound which escaped her made him turn his eyes in her direction. He had just commenced to say——
"Well, I suppose we must consider the plan of separate houses quashed then," when he stopped short on catching sight of Rachel's figure. She had risen from the sofa, and was standing, leaning one hand upon the table, her face deadly pale, and her whole form trembling. Her husband tried to continue his sentence, but could not finish it in the same strain that he had commenced. "Well, never mind, Rachel," he said, "we can talk of it another time—or not at all, if you like it better."
Still he lingered, although he had moved towards the door with the evident intention of leaving the room; there was something in that pallid face and drooping figure which smote him terribly;—perhaps she had something to tell him.
"Rachel," he said, "have you anything you wish to say?"
She shook her head sadly. She could not, for the moment, speak; and men too often mistake such tongue-paralysing | | 265 nervousness on the part of women (not knowing it themselves) for obstinacy and self-will. Raymond did so.
"If she has anything to say," he thought, "she shall say it; I am not going to coax it from her word by word." And then he added, aloud, "All right, then; there is no need to worry yourself about it," and left her as he spoke. She groped her way into her bedroom, and tried to sit down quietly and think (she could not cry) what life would be to her now without her husband. In days gone by, when she had been a child, and loved him (but with, not one-tenth of the deep passion which was growing, day by day, upon her now), she had used to please herself and him with the idea how, when he went to sea, she would follow the track of his ship, and travel from port to port, so that his wife's face should be the first to greet him when he stepped on shore. And they had often laughed together, and planned with how small a box, how few articles of clothing, and how little money a sailor's wife might journey thus, and how much her husband would have to pay for the luxury of her love to double the pleasure of his brief holidays. And Raymond had said (she seemed to have forgotten these little things of the past until she discovered that she loved him, when they had all come back upon her memory with a rush,) that thousands and thousands of pounds could never seem too great a sum for him to give for one sight only of the little face he loved so much—for one kiss of those innocent, fresh lips. And now!—good heavens!—the difference in him and her. This was the greatest grief that Rachel had yet known—too great a one to cry or moan ever; all she could do with it was to sit alone in her own room and think, think, think, until her eyeballs felt hard and burning, and pained her when she closed the lids;—and her head was confused and dizzy, whether she looked back or forwards.
"If you please, mem, there's a young woman for the place of lady's-maid waiting to speak with you."
The voice of the speaker, being that of the individual whose hints for higher wages had been the cause of another maid being required, was high and sharp, and vinegary in the extreme.
"Where is she?" demanded Rachel, unclosing her door. | | 266 There had been several candidates for the situation since her return home, Miss Tagg's sister amongst the number, but they had all been too much in the style of Miss Tagg herself to please the quick imperious fancy of Rachel Norreys.
"In the dining-room, if you please, ma'am."
"Very well; I shall be down directly;" and in a few seconds, as she had said, she wearily descended.
The face of the girl, who rose upon her entrance, struck Rachel at once as an engaging and honest one. There was character, too, in the scrutinizing glance which she directed towards her would-be mistress, as much as in the return look which Rachel bestowed upon her. It was Martha Wilson, as may be supposed, but how she managed to get there has yet to be told. From the day that she had been ordered to confine her holiday-making to the company of her mother, she had resolved to leave Craven Court; and from the day that she had heard Miss Tagg boast of the interest which the younger Mrs. Norreys took in her sister, and divulge all she knew relative to that lady, Martha had determined that her second attempt at service should be made, if possible, in hers. She was young and inexperienced, and not living in her own house, she would not be so hard as to try and prevent a poor girl from ever enjoying herself. Having come to this resolution, Martha's task was easy. She had only, during the visits she so dutifully paid henceforward to Laburnum Cottage, to worm out from her mother all that she wished to know concerning Mrs. Raymond Norreys. This was not difficult, for Caroline Wilson was always ready to handle poor Rachel's name greatly to her disadvantage, and the dislike which her mother bore to her was no secret to Martha. But she was sharp enough to have discovered that her mother's dislikes need not be of necessity her own. She had studiously kept out of Rachel's way whilst she was at the Court (which as Martha was only third housemaid was not by any means a difficult task), for she was particularly anxious that, when she presented herself for service in Brompton, Mrs. Raymond Norreys should not be aware whence she came. This was the easier, since she had in her possession a written testimonial of her capabilities for dressmaking from the milliner with whom she had served her apprenticeship (usually given to each girl who had | | 267 fulfilled her time with credit), and this, Cecil Craven's recommendation of her to his mother's housekeeper having rendered unnecessary, had been retained by Martha as likely to serve her in another capacity, and it was so usual a thing for milliners' girls, having completed their time, to go out as ladies'-maids, that no one would think the occurrence a strange one. The only thing to be effected was the escape from Craven Court, and this was. nothing to a London-bred girl like Martha Wilson. She sacrificed a few weeks' wages, that was all; and all was nothing in her eyes, compared with the bliss of being within daily hail of the man she cared for, and liable at any moment of seeing the halo which surrounded him encircle herself. So, one morning, long before it was light, Martha Wilson was up, and on her way to Weybridge station, where she had already despatched her box by the aid of a friendly labourer, and by the time that the servants' breakfast was ready in the hall, she was in the train for London, where she presented herself the same afternoon for the inspection of Mrs. Raymond Norreys.
Her answers to the questions put to her respecting where she had lived, and with whom, were all perfectly satisfactory, as far as could be seen by the lady to whom they were addressed. She had served a seven years' apprenticeship with Miss Kennoway, of Oxford Street, whose written recommendation she presented for inspection. Since then she had been staying in the country with her parents, and had come up to London again expressly to get a situation as lady's maid, for which she was quite competent, except in the matter of dressing hair, in which art she was willing to take lessons. But Rachel always dressed her own hair, therefore the girl's ignorance in this respect was no drawback in her eyes. Furthermore, she gave her name as Martha Green (for she was resolved to drop the title to which she had no right, for fear of being discovered in her new situation, and to that end had cunningly contrived to insert the assumed one in her character), and wages were no object compared with a comfortable home. Rachel did not hesitate long. She liked the appearance of Martha's fresh-coloured face, her intelligent expression, and dark animated eyes, and she resolved from the first to take her into her service. However, to please | | 268 Mrs. Norreys, who was not so charmed with the girl's looks, she left the matter open until she had visited Miss Kennoway's establishment in person, and learnt what that individual had to say concerning Martha. The only circumstance which leaked out during this interview was that the name Martha had given to Rachel as her own was a feigned one. "Martha Green—Green," said Miss Kennoway knitting her eyebrows, and trying to collect her mental forces, as Rachel spoke of the girl under that appellation.
"No, ma'am; I have had no girl of that name in my establishment lately. Mary Green, perhaps."
"No; Martha Green," persisted Rachel; "at least, I am almost sure of it; perhaps I mistook the writing; it may have been Mary."
"But Mary Green is still with me, ma'am; her time is not up till Christmas twelvemonth, and she has no testimonial of efficiency from our house. Now if it had been Martha Wilson, a fresh-coloured young woman, with dark hair and eyes, I could understand it. She left me between two and three months ago."
"The girl I speak of certainly answers to your description," returned Rachel; "but I am sure the surname's Green."
"Then I am afraid, ma'am, some one has imposed upon you with a false certificate." And Miss Kennoway being very busy, and (as Rachel was not a customer) evidently anxious to take her departure, the latter left her in peace. But she did not relate at the Abbey Lodge all that she had learnt. Martha was to return that evening and hear her decision, and Rachel had taken such a fancy to her that she wanted to speak to her alone upon the subject first. So she only repeated what was the truth, that Miss Kennoway had given the girl an excellent character for honesty and good work, and that was all she could be expected to know about her. But when the evening arrived, and with it Martha, Rachel propounded at once to her the question.
"Martha, I am afraid you have given me a false name; how is that? I have been to Miss Kennoway to-day, and she says if that certificate is yours, that your name is Wilson, and not Green. Then Martha grew the colour of a peony, and, stammering, said,—indeed, indeed she had had no wish to | | 269 deceive Mrs. Norreys, but Wilson was not her name, no more than Green. She had no name. She was a love-child; it was hard to say so, but she hoped the lady would think no worse of her for it. That was her reason. She was unhappy at home, and wanted to go out to service, but it was the truth, indeed. The lady did not appear as if she would be hard. She seemed wonderfully moved, in consideration of such a little and common thing as "no name" claimed amongst the poor. She rose up from her seat, and drew nearer to the confused and shame-stricken girl.
"No name," she murmured softly. "No name! Poor girl, why should I think the worse of you for that, if you yourself are honest. I could only pity you—oh, so very very deeply—for knowing yourself the subject of so dreadful a misfortune."
The name of Wilson conveyed no light to Rachel; why should it? there were thousands of that name all over England. She only disliked the sound, because it reminded her of Caroline.
"I am very glad you told me, Martha. I will keep your secret, even from my friends, and would rather call you by the name of Green than that of Wilson; so let me know you so henceforward. No name! no father! Poor unhappy girl!"
She seemed to be speaking more to herself than to the girl before her—almost (if one could but credit it) of herself, the intonation was so pitifully true. Martha Green had recovered her composure by this time, and thanked her mistress.
"I will serve you faithfully, ma'am, indeed I will, if you will try me, for I believe you are the first lady as ever I've met who would not think harm of me from what I've told you."
"I am not the one to do it," replied Rachel, sadly; "the circumstances you mention could only make me feel for you more. I will engage you, Martha, as my servant, and I trust you to serve me well."
The new lady's-maid was installed in office the day after, and for a while, notwithstanding the covert sneers of Mrs. Norreys' abigail, and the openly-expressed opinions of Mrs. Norreys herself, that the new-comer was rather "dressy," all went well with her. She did her duty, and Rachel demanded | | 270 nothing more. She had several times asked for leave to "step out for a minute" in the evenings, and her mistress had readily granted it. She was inexperienced in the ways of servants; she saw no harm in a young girl threading the streets of London by night, and she thought it very natural that Martha should occasionally like a little pleasure. But the day came when her mother-in-law said to her—
"My dear Rachel, do you not think that your maid has a great deal of liberty? She appears to be out almost every night; do you think it prudent to allow it, so young as she is?"
And Rachel answered, carelessly at first, that Martha was always in when she required her services, and she thought servants were all the better for a little relaxation. But Mrs. Norreys having been reared with different ideas, and carrying them out, found by-and-by that her own abigail was getting profoundly discontented with the scarcity of leave which she obtained in comparison with the liberty permitted to the new-comer, and brought many and grievous tales against Martha to her mistress, mixed up with her own complaints. Consequently, the next thing which Rachel heard was, that her maid not only had letters brought to her by private messengers, but that she was often out of the house when she had given her lawful mistress no intimation of the fact; and that she had been seen, on more occasions than one, walking and talking with a man outside the Abbey Lodge, and sometimes late at night.
"And I am sorry to trouble you again, my dear Rachel," Mrs. Norreys wound up with; "but really it is a circumstance that you must speak to Martha about. Such a thing has never been allowed in the Lodge before, and we shall have all the other servants discontented, added to which, my dear, it is not safe, especially in a place like London. We know very little about the girl, and the next thing will be, that she will bring the man into the house. Good gracious, at this rate, the whole place may be robbed before we know where we are!"
And Rachel, although she felt the task set her to be a great trouble and nuisance, had no alternative but to speak to Martha about what she had heard on the very first oppor- | | 271 tunity that she found for doing so. Her accusation, notwithstanding its truth, took the girl wonderfully aback. She had not been aware that her assignations with Mr. Tom White outside the Abbey Lodge gates had been either seen or noticed. She had just begun to settle down comfortably in her place, and to feel attached to her young mistress, and now the awful words that Rachel thought it her duty to use—"I could not allow such a thing in the house, Martha; if you persist in such an acquaintance I am afraid we shall have to part," struck her like a knell.
For this she had been turned out of the barracks, thrust from beneath the roof of her legal and natural protectors; for this she had thrown up her situation at Craven Court, and left her mother without a line to trace her whereabouts; for this she supposed she should have to leave this place also, where she was so comfortable, and thought it probable she should remain so long. Would it not be the same wherever she went? would not her fatal attachment to this great Unknown pursue her, and be condemned by all who became aware of its existence. The idea was too much for poor Martha. She had been impudent to her mother's husband and defiant to her mother herself; but Rachel's kindness, and the sense of desolation which was creeping over her, broke her down entirely. Her head drooped lower and lower as her mistress expressed her disapprobation of her conduct, and before she had concluded, Martha's face was in her hands, and she had sunk down on the ground against a chair, sobbing with all her might.
Her distress touched Rachel; she had never seen anything like tears upon her servant's face before, and Martha's grief, like her nature, was very violent and stormy. Therefore she drew near the girl—and laid her own small hand upon the other's palm, and spoke kind words, trying to soothe the tempest of her grief. Little by little, she drew from her the whole story of her love; of how she had met the man who called himself Tom White, of the words he had used towards her, the promises he had made, and the presents he had given. Rachel was young in years, but not in heart; her quick comprehension told her in a moment with how much danger such an intimacy as her maid described must be | | 272 fraught to a girl in her station of life if—as Martha affirmed—her lover was a gentleman. She tried to place the circumstances and probability of their issue in a plain, everyday light before the eyes of the uneducated woman—attempted to make her answer to herself the question, to what end a gentleman could pay attention to a milliner's apprentice; and to make her comprehend, by her own reasoning rather than by what her mistress said to her, that if he really loved her—as he said he did—he would speak his mind out like an honest man, or leave her to herself and safety. She drew a mental picture of Martha in those splendid rooms of his that she described as having seen, and placing it before her, without a single dash of spurious colouring to make it brighter, made her ask herself what she could do there? how she would look and act, if even she were asked to go, which yet was more than doubtful? There was but one way in which a gentleman would take her to his home—and when Rachel spoke gently on this subject, not to wound the other's coarser feelings—her own voice would falter and become low, and Martha's cheeks, which were honest, she thanked Heaven, yet, would redden as much as any lady's in the land when Shame is talked of.
These conversations did not all happen in one day; nor was it even in one confidential hour that Rachel drew from Martha the story of her love. But little by little it oozed out from the woman's overladen breast, at first in her own defence, then as a relief—and lastly, with an agonized cry for help, as the probable issue of her attachment was set before her in its proper light. This is the part of my story, which if detailed, and canvassed thoroughly, might almost fill another volume, but which, though leading to a circumstance of importance, and therefore necessary to be touched upon, is of itself so apart from the fortunes of my hero and heroine, that to do more than skim it lightly would be to exceed the duty of their biographer. But having learned the history of her lady's-maid, Rachel's next concern was to lead Martha to act in the future as might be best for herself. She could not ask her to give up at once this man's acquaintance (no true woman would have done it, being asked without a better proof of his unworthiness than mere assurance), but her | | 273 object was thenceforward to try and find out, and make the girl herself attempt the same, what was his mind towards her. And busied with such thoughts, and full of trouble for herself, Rachel found the autumn drag on drearily. Sometimes she felt it almost too heavy for endurance, and nightly she cried to Heaven to send a way or means by which her path might be made straight before her.
At this time she was greatly given to sitting writing by herself; sometimes little histories of her own heart to give to Raymond, by which it might be made quite clear to him why she had not cherished the same love to greet him with which she had promised so to keep when they had parted; sometimes long letters to ask him to be merciful, to tell him that she bore a heavy secret at her heart, which was wearing her life away—and clouding all her happiness—and that she longed for his sympathy in her discomfort and his guidance, even though she must not tell it him; sometimes she poured out passionate effusions that she loved him, loved him—and should die unless he let her tell him so, and echoed back the assurance to her fainting heart. And these last she would generally write in the dusk, or late at night, and, reading the next morning, would blush over them and cry, as she felt that no written words could ever say how much she cared for him; and if they could, that she should never have the courage to send them on their mission. One night she even went so far as to lay a tiny note upon his desk when she retired to rest—only a few paltry words—to say that she was sorry—oh! so sorry, Raymond, for the past, and that—that she was his affectionate wife,
But taken with a sudden fright lest he should never read them, or reading, feel indifferent, or angry, crept in again softly in her nightgown, and abstracted the note before he could return to claim it, and took it back with her to bed, and laying it under her pillow wept herself to sleep.
How foolish! some will exclaim, perhaps—how weak! how worse than childish! only one word required to make them both happy, and such a fuss made about saying it.
Yes; only one word, and a very common one; but still | | 274 a word, fair lady, which under the same circumstances you might have found it very difficult even for your courageous self to utter; for this barrier had been raised between the husband and the wife—not by her , but him. It was Raymond who had said he would not claim her ever, and had left the proud, sensitive heart henceforward to do its own wooing.
And Rachel's pride had rebelled at his late treatment of her, and it had made the task before her still more difficult than it had been before; but with all her anxiety and suspense, she never thought of making a confidant in this, except, in Heaven's good time, the only one who had the right to know it. Else, had she been so disposed, Christine would have been very happy to cry over her troubles with her, and suggest impossible remedies; but poor Christine had her own little cloud looming in the distance. Her spirits had not been so bright since Rachel's return to Craven Court, and that the latter soon discovered; but her sister-in-law (beyond allowing that something connected with Mr. Alexander Macpherson had certainly vexed her) would not plead guilty to the charge. The fact is, she had no tangible source of trouble, it was only dawning upon her that, notwithstanding her prospects in life were supposed to be settled, there was an unsatisfied want ever making itself known when she thought of the future before her. A fearful "only," though, for a woman to combat with; and sweet, loving Christine Norreys deserved a better fate than to be left to grapple with it alone. But at present it was too much a shadow and an unreality to be spoken of, except to her own heart.
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