- CHAPTER XXVI. RACHEL'S FLIGHT.
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BY the time that Rachel Norreys had passed through the gates of Abbey Lodge into the broad thoroughfare beyond, | | 303 the October afternoon had subsided into a foggy evening, and the lamps of London were alight. My heroine had not left her home with none but vague and misty notions floating through her brain, unknowing whether she intended roaming the streets all night, or sitting down on the first doorstop that she came across. People in the nineteenth century never do. Such incidents only suit romances of a past date; and we, who now live, are too much creatures of habit to be guided entirely by impulse when events of importance depend upon our actions. We have been too much used to lie down in our beds as night returns, and in all other respects to suit ourselves to the requirements of the civilized society we move in, to contemplate for a moment outraging its laws by anything so egregiously romantic as the above.
Rachel had come to the determination to leave her home very suddenly, but not so suddenly as to prevent her having, in the meanwhile, fully formed the plans she intended to pursue. Cabs and railway stations were no novelties to her, and she had little fear of journeying alone. Her object was to go to the Court, and there see Cecil Craven; and with that end in view, Waterloo Station must first be gained. And so, when her feet were turned away from the iron gate with that passionate plaint upon her lips, they were set in the direction of Knightsbridge and the Strand. She was so far beside herself that she did not at first think of hailing a cab, although the driver of every empty one that passed, implored her, with frantic gestures of his whip, to take a seat inside it. But the foggy air was cool and refreshing to her inflamed and heated face, and her head was full of bitter, miserable thoughts, which prevented her taking any heed to the failing of her feet and her increasing fatigue, but hurried her onwards towards her destination. Two ladies returning home in a brougham caught a glimpse of her drooping figure as it passed hastily beneath the lamplight, and the younger of the two had let down the misty glass, and looked after it as she said—
"There's a lady walking along the pavement, mamma, so like Rachel, and in mourning, too." And her companion had replied—| | 304
"My dear Christine, what a nonsensical idea!—as if Rachel would be out at this time of night, and alone;" for the fast-descending darkness made six o'clock seem almost night; and so the failing figure passed away into the gloom, and was forgotten, and the brougham rolled on towards the Abbey Lodge.
But Rachel Norreys was not fated to reach the Waterloo Station that evening unobserved. Martha Wilson next, returning from her very unsatisfactory errand, met the black-robed lady in the shadows, and, turning to look after her, marked something familiar in her hurried step, and followed her until the next tell-tale lamp disclosed—for Rachel wore no veil—the familiar features also.
"It is my mistress," soliloquized Martha, with amazement. "What on earth can she be doing here alone?"
For such an occurrence had never taken place since Martha entered service at the Abbey Lodge—that either of the young ladies should thread the streets unattended. Mrs. Norreys would have been shocked at such a proposition even in broad daylight; but dark, and with lamps lit, Martha, when she thought of it, could scarcely believe that her eyes were not playing her a trick.
"It can't be Mrs. Raymond," she said, as she passed her hand over the offending members; "and yet it must be, for I'd know her walk amongst a thousand, and I saw her face just now as plain as day. Anyway, I must satisfy myself, for it's the most curious thing I've come across for ever so long."
And with this intention, Martha retraced her steps, and followed quickly in the track of Rachel's retreating form. In the meanwhile she, wholly unheeding who should see or follow her, was only conscious that her limbs were failing, and that she could not walk much further. And once roused to noticing the fact, she discovered that she was very tired indeed, not being used to much walking, and that she had already taxed her strength almost beyond its powers. She had reached New Brompton by this time, and was near a cab-stand.
"How stupid of me not to have taken a cab at once," she thought, as she held up her hand. "I should have saved myself so much fatigue, and perhaps I have lost a train by | | 305 the neglect. To the Waterloo Station," she said, as she jumped into it, full of the latter fear, "and drive as quickly as you can."
But before the man had time to put her desire into execution, a head was thrust into the cab window, and the voice of Martha Wilson said—
"Mrs. Norreys, ma'am, please where are you going to? "
The sound of her familiar voice seemed to rouse Rachel from a waking dream. She stared at the girl's sympathetic face for one moment, and gave vent to an exclamation of pleasure.
"May I come, too, ma'am?" asked Martha, emboldened by the sound.
"Yes, yes!" said Rachel, hastily; and as soon as the words had left her lips her servant was on the opposite seat to her, and they were rattling over the stones of Knights-bridge towards the station.
As Rachel had traversed those streets, alone and in the darkness, she had seemed to herself to be so utterly cut off from all with whom she had hitherto associated, that the sudden and unexpected appearance of Martha had come as a prestige that she still belonged, and should some day return, to them. But the next moment she recalled her intended destination and her purpose, and, remembering that she had not wished to leave a trace behind her of where she had retreated, felt sorry that she had allowed Martha to accompany her even part of the way. So she sat silent until she reached the station, leaning hack in the dark cab, and rendering even the shadows on her face invisible; and it was not the servant's part to break the reserve her mistress chose to maintain between them. But when they had arrived at Waterloo, and were about to descend upon the platform, Rachel said hurriedly, putting money into the other's hand—
"Martha, I am going into the country on business for a few days, and I do not want you to accompany me any further; so take this money, drive home in this same cab, and pay and dismiss the man at the Abbey Lodge. You will hear all about me to-morrow."
But there was a wildness in her eye—a hurried, tremulous cadence in her voice—an ill-concealed agitation pervading | | 306 her whole address—which told her servant that there wag something wrong. She received the money with thanks (it was a sovereign), and suffered her mistress to depart into the station, under the imagination that she was about to comply with her wishes; but when she was fairly lost to view, Martha paid the cabman his fare to Waterloo, and bade him drive away.
"There are plenty more cabs for me to return to Brompton in," she thought to herself, "when I am sure that my mistress isn't coming to any harm. I can't make it out at all. I left her right enough this afternoon, to my thinking, but there's something gone wrong now, or my name's not Martha. And she's been too good lately, bless her! to let me feel comfortable unless I am sure that she is so too. I must speak to her again before she starts, and make sure that it is all right."
But Martha's settlement with the cabman out of an unchanged sovereign, and her subsequent soliloquy and fear of following her mistress too soon, had kept her longer than was necessary upon the outer platform; for Rachel, on entering the station, had found a crush of people waiting to get their tickets, and, on inquiry, had ascertained that the half-past six train for Weybridge was about to start immediately.
"Any luggage, miss?" the porter had asked in addition. "You had better get your ticket, for the bell will ring directly."
And so when Martha followed her, the station was comparatively empty, and Rachel was already seated in the railway carriage. The girl had guessed her mistress meant Weybridge, by "the country," for she knew that she had lately come to England, and had not many friends, and so her first inquiry of the first man she encountered, was:
"Is the Weybridge train gone, sir?"
"Not yet," was the answer; "but just moving;" and Martha rushed upon the platform as he spoke.
Rachel's head was thrust out of the carriage window, as if she had almost expected her; but, in reality, she was bidding a mental farewell to the place which was her husband's home. Martha was by the side of the moving train directly.
"Ma'am!" she exclaimed, "you've taken me so of a sudden, and you've said so little, that I feel quite frightened, | | 307 and don't know what to think! When will you be back, ma'am, please?"
"I don't know," exclaimed Rachel, in her parting agitation. "I am not sure;" and then (with a sudden thought of the pain she would cause them at the Lodge by her flight and unknown destination), she exclaimed, "Tell them at home, that I shall be quite safe—that I am gone to Mrs. Craven's,"—and then the engine gave a hoarse shriek, and the station and Martha were things of the past.
"It can make no difference," thought Rachel, as she lay back wearily upon the cushion, "if they know where I am gone, or not. Raymond is too proud to reclaim me, until I wish to return to him, and that will be probably—never.—Never, now, at all events, until I bear an unblemished name, and he asks me to do so."
And as the remembrance of her rejected offer returned to poor Rachel's mind, she coloured with her shame and misery—and closed her eyes lest the other passengers might read her story in their troubled depths. But her last words to Martha on the platform had satisfied that young woman that something was wrong, as she had suspected.
"Tell them at home," she repeated to herself, as the long line of carriages left the station. "Then they don't know at the Lodge as Mrs. Raymond is travelling alone, that's evident; and it must be something very out of the common to take her away at this time of night. At home! No, they must find it out at home, the same way I have, by using their senses—for my place is to follow her. It's nothing to me, now, if mother or all the world knows where I am; and she's been too good to me, she has, for me to desert her when she will want me, most likely. Why, lor! she may have gone clean out of her senses—it looks like it when she goes tearing about the country like mad. Anyway, I'll be with her at Weybridge to-night, even if she sends me back to the Lodge tomorrow. Please, which is the next train to Weybridge?" she inquired of one of the officials near.
"Quarter-past seven," he replied; and for three-quarters of an hour, Martha paced the platform, or sat in the second class waiting-room, puzzling her brain for some satisfactory reason of her young mistress's sudden flight and mysterious silence.| | 308
And Rachel, meanwhile, wrapt in her own misery, was flying onwards to the Weybridge station. It was half-past seven when she arrived there; but there was no lack of vehicles to take her to the Court.
"I shall find them all at dinner," she thought to herself, as the hired carriage turned into the drive-gates, and rattled up the long avenue. "I must ask to speak to Cecil, alone, first, for I could not tell the wretched story before Mrs. Craven."
But when the fly drew up before the portico of the house itself, and Rachel looked out eagerly, although she knew not why—she was surpised [sic] to see that the Court was wrapped in darkness, and that there were little signs of life about it.
"They must have gone out to dinner, somewhere," was her first idea, as the flyman's summons was answered by a maidservant, with a flaring candle. There were plenty of men-servants left in the house, but they were having a late dinner in the lower regions with a few choice friends, and therefore the answering of the door-bell was left to Martha's successor, or any one else who would take the trouble to do it.
"Is Mrs. Craven gone out?" was Rachel's first inquiry.
"Nobody's to home," was the uncouth reply.
"Where are they gone to?"
"I'm sure I don't know. I'll send somebody," and the girl and her candle disappeared together, leaving Rachel and the flyman, for about ten minutes, in total darkness.
"Don't appear as if any one was alive about here," was that gentleman's jocular remark, as he leant his hand upon the window-sash, and smiled confidentially at his fare. He thought there seemed a good chance of making a double business of it, and taking her back to the station again. But the ten minutes were over at last, and then the housekeeper, hearing there was a lady inquiring for Mrs. Craven, did Rachel the honour to bring herself upstairs:
"Lor, Mrs. Norreys!" she exclaimed, "who'd have thought of seeing you, ma'am? The stupid gal said as 'twas a lady of middle age. I hope nothing's gone wrong at Brompton, ma'am. I suppose you know as Mrs. Craven is down at Brighton, for a few weeks?"
"No, indeed I did not," said poor Rachel, feeling how | | 309 awkward her appearance there, without the support of the family, must seem.
"Is Major Craven at Brighton, also, or with his regiment?"
"Major Craven was here only yesterday, ma'am, to fetch a few things of his ma's which he was to take to Brighton for her, and he went, I believe, this morning. But he told me he was going to bring some friends here, for shooting, the day after to-morrow. So perhaps he is back at the camp by this time. You wished to see Mrs. Craven, ma'am?"
"Yes—I want to speak to her and Major Craven, on business." replied Rachel, her spirits at their very lowest ebb. "I suppose I should be almost certain of catching Major Craven at Brighton to-morrow?"
"Well, ma'am, I can't say, I'm sure, not knowing. Will you sleep here, to-night, ma'am?"
And the housekeeper did not look as if she seconded the proposal very warmly—"The house was clear of all noosances, thank 'evin, for the present, and she didn't want to be fussing over Mrs. Norreys—nor any one else," as she hospitably observed, when she returned to her co-mates. And Rachel remembered that she had brought no luggage; and shrank from the exposure, which the knowledge of that fact would render inevitable; and so she tried to answer briskly, that she had no such intention, and indeed only came to see Mrs. or Major Craven. And then, having procured their seaside address, she wished Mrs. Watson good-night, and told the flyman to drive back again; but once outside the gates, she bethought her of her friend Elise Arundel. Her cottage was close at hand—it was better she should go there for the night, than to an inn, and Elise, she was sure, would be glad to see her. Caroline Wilson was there, certainly, and Rachel was not desirous of meeting her just now; so sure was she of the woman's guilt; but even mixed up with that feeling came a courageous wish to confront her enemy, and boldly tax her with being the author of the anonymous letters which had so destroyed her peace. And she would tell Elise also. Elise, who had half suspected Caroline of treachery, at Gibraltar, and who, with such convincing proofs set before her of the truth of her suspicions, would surely dismiss her from her service and have no more to do with | | 310 her. And, although her friend could not help her, as far as that cruel oath bound her lips—still Elise knew she was innocent, and it would be something to tell her all her trouble, and to hear her say so.
And so the flyman was ordered to drive to Laburnum Cottage. But here the same want of success seemed to pursue poor Rachel; for the cottage too was very dark, and repeated ringings at the bell only brought an old woman with weak eyes to the door, who appeared to know nothing, except that Mrs Arundel was not at home—down by the sea somewhere, she had heard, with the lady from over there (her palsied head indicating Craven Court, as she spoke); but she wasn't sure. Miss Emily was gone too, any way.
"And where is Mrs. Wilson?" Rachel next asked.
"Mrs. Wilson was gone out to tea somewhere, she believed—or into the town. She couldn't say. She'd been up to London yesterday—maybe she had gone again. Would the lady walk in?"
Yes, the lady (with a dim sense of waiting till Caroline's return, and then accusing her of her double dealing) would walk in and sit down for a few minutes. Another thought had also struck Rachel upon hearing of her friend's absence: she must sleep then at Weybridge, and she would borrow the few articles she required for the night from Mrs. Arundel's wardrobe. There could be nothing remarkable in taking such a liberty between two friends as close as she and Eliza had been; for they had often, when necessity required it, shared each other's belongings, as if they were their own. And so Rachel entered Laburnum Cottage, and desired the flyman to wait for her return, and the old woman to show her the way to Mrs. Arundel's bed-room.
"I am an old friend of your mistress," she said in explanation, "and I want to take one or two things out of her drawers. I shall leave a note for Mrs. Wilson, if she does not return before I leave, to say that I have done so."
And then the old woman, too stupid to feel astonished (she would have let one of the swell-mob in, on exactly the same terms), lighted another candle, and showed Rachel the way up to the first floor. It was a small room (as they all were), and left in the greatest disorder, for Eliza Arundel was an essen- | | 311 tially untidy woman, and Caroline Wilson had had apparently too much business of her own to transact since her departure, to find time to arrange her mistress's wardrobe. The bed was unmade; the toilet table was strewn with brushes and combs, bottles and bijouterie; and piled upon the chairs were various articles of clothing, just as they had been heaped there, when taken out from the chest of drawers for Mrs. Arundel to made a selection of what she wished packed for her seaside journey. As Rachel entered and held the candle above her head, she thought that tallow dip had never flared upon a scene of greater confusion than that which met her eye, she despaired at first of finding what she wanted. But setting down her candlestick (the old woman having deserted her, and beaten a retreat to the lower regions, whence she had been disturbed over her "drop o' tea,") Rachel commenced patiently to withdraw article after article from the piles of linen, as she searched for what she required. Even as she did so, and one or two trifles appeared amongst them that she had herself given to her friend—a handkerchief with "Elise" elaborately embroidered in one corner; a cut-glass scent-bottle, with a gold top, and a tiny ivory-backed prayer-book, carved and gilded—the warm feelings with which she had, even until lately, regarded Mrs. Arundel, rose up afresh in Rachel's heart, as the sight of her own little offerings, thus preserved, awakened the memory of the days, when they were used to be so very closely united.
"Dear Elise," she thought, "I believe she cares for me more truly than anyone else in the world. We have been rather separated of late, what with her sorrow and my new interests; but both seem passing away together, and perhaps before long we may come to be again what we have been—almost sisters."
And in the prospect of such a re-union, Rachel placed back into their places the little gifts which had emanated from herself, almost reverentially. As she did so, she moved some other item of the carelessly-arranged heap, and threw a bloting-book upon the ground. It was a useless, gaudy blotting-book (Eliza Arundel was very partial to gaudy things)—one of those without clasp or lock, and with pockets which let out their contents upon the slightest provocation; and as it | | 312 fell, every paper it contained lay scattered on the ground. Provoked at her own awkwardness, Rachel knelt upon the floor the better to collect the fallen sheets, and to replace them in their former receptacle. But with the first that she took into her hand, a loud exclamation burst from her lips, and she rose up hastily, and brought the light to bear upon the writing. Good heavens! the same—the very same, or so it looked—that Raymond had placed into her hands that day. There were the identical words, in the same characters, and even position: "To Mr. Norreys. Sir,—This comes from a friend!"
Had she then stumbled on the very proofs of Caroline Wilson's villany? Would her tongue be spared the loathsome task of accusation, and all her trouble be, to thrust these tell-tale sheets before her eyes, and dare her to deny they were her handiwork? Excited to the last degree, Rachel gathered up the remainder of the papers, and found they were mostly duplicates, or nearly so—evidently the trials which had been made before perfection in deception had been obtained. But as she sorted them, she came upon one which had been scribbled on, perhaps in a moment of self-reproachful thought—a moment when conscience had stayed the pen, and the writer had been forced to pause in her work of falsehood, and reinforce her courage before she could proceed; and pausing thus, not knowing what she did, had let her fingers move mechanically, and write not once or twice, but a dozen times her name, and the detection to her lie, "Eliza Arundel."
Was it possible! By all the words, the promises, the mutual kindness which had passed between them; by all the laws of friendship, the sacredness of truth, the horror and the infamy of falsehood, was it possible that her betrayer, her enemy, the one who had so basely come behind the shield of an anonymous signature between her husband and herself, and parted them perhaps for ever, was Eliza Arundel?—the woman who had professed to be her bosom friend, the one most interested in her career; her almost sister?
Oh! shame upon such friendship! Silence for ever on so false a tongue! Tears, and our bitterest, for such outraged womanhood!| | 313
As the conviction of the dupe she had been made broke upon Rachel's mind, she let the papers (more truthful than their writer) fall from her lap upon the floor again, and laying down her head upon the table, cried as if her heart would break.
Sobs of strong pain, and gasps for the relief of nature, had burst from her as she stood an apparent criminal, convicted by the words of this false friend, before her husband's sight; deep sighs, and almost groans had rent her tortured bosom as she sped along upon her solitary journey, and felt each mile so quickly traversed, took her further from him and from her home, perhaps never to return; but no such tears had fallen from her eyes through all that day of pain, as came in showers from them now, when the thought of Eliza Arundel's treachery pressed upon her heart. They washed away before them a faith of years, a faith in all that was good and true and warm-hearted; for Rachel had loved this woman from association, although there was so little really to love or admire in her character. They had been more separate of late, because with Rachel, Love, as a passion the most potent of all feelings, had stepped between their hearts, usurping the powers of her own, and occupying her best thoughts; and When that is the case, women must expect to suffer a decrease of interest in the bosoms of their own sex. It is but right and natural it should be so, since Heaven decreed it; but still, with all that, Rachel had cared more for Mrs. Arundel than for any other female friend, and would have almost pledged her own life upon the faith of her affection.
And the work, the glance of a moment, and that moment an accidental one, had broken down all this for ever. As Rachel leant her head upon her hands, and cried for the desolation which the truth she had discovered seemed to create in her own breast, for the lowering which her sex had suffered in her eyes, the tears seemed to wipe out everything but a sense of the great wrong which she had suffered.
When she had at last exhausted all her grief, and, outwardly calm, rose up with the blotting-book and its collected papers in her hand, the name of Eliza Arundel bore no longer the same signification to her that it had done before. Her bosom friend was melted, gone away, had never been; and | | 314 she left her room prepared to seek and to confront an enemy of her own sex, to meet her as woman injured to woman injuring; and no two foes can be better matched to close with one another in the battles of life and love. Her object then was, not to meet Mrs. Wilson, lest the possession of her prize should be disputed; she therefore prepared at once to quit the cottage, and scribbling on a piece of paper that she had taken a blotting-case from Mrs. Arundel's bedroom, signed it with her name, and left it with the old woman, to be delivered to Caroline on her return.
Then, getting once more into the waiting fly, she desired the coachman to drive her to the Railway Hotel, at Weybridge, where she could pass the night, and be ready the first thing in the morning to start for Brighton. She felt impatient with the hours of darkness for going so slowly; she could not sleep even when she had laid herself down upon a bed, but lay awake, panting for the moment when she should stand once more in the presence of Eliza Arundel, and tell her to her face that she was false.
And when, about ten o'clock that evening, Caroline Wilson, knocking for admittance at Laburnum Cottage, was met by the old woman, with the scrap of paper that Rachel had left behind her in her hand, and some garbled story in her mouth of how a young lady in black had been, and come, and gone, &c. &c., Mrs. Arundel's coadjutor turned deadly pale, and deplored her own misfortune in having been absent on that particular occasion.
"You old fool!" she exclaimed, turning upon the woman in her wrath, "what business had you to let any one go into the bedroom, say what they would? The very blotting-book, I declare, with the identical papers in it! A nice scrape I shall get into when Mrs. Arundel comes to hear of it, and with Wilson also, for the matter of that. There'll be a regular blow-up between them all; and why on earth I didn't pack the things away days ago, I can't imagine. But who was to think of Mrs. Norreys herself coming down upon us? Well, it's a kind of fate, I suppose, and I may consider this situation as good as gone for ever.''
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