Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

Woman Against Woman, an electronic edition

by Florence Marryat [Marryat, Florence, 1837-1899]

date: [18--]
source publisher: Gall & Inglis
collection: Genre Fiction

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<< chapter 26 chapter 37 >>

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BUT at this juncture a vociferous peal at the hall-bell upset Mrs. Wilson in the midst of her cogitations, and made her grow paler still.

"I hope it isn't Mrs. Norreys come back again," she exclaimed; for, alarmed as she was at the turn affairs had taken, she was far more afraid of meeting the injured Rachel than even of encountering her infuriated mistress, such a coward had the knowledge of her share in the foul business made of her. And, therefore, having desired the old woman once more to answer the bell, and learn what was wanted at that hour of night, it was even greater joy to Caroline Wilson than it would otherwise, have been, to hear the somewhat coarse tones of her daughter Martha inquiring if she were at home.

"Martha, my girl," exclaimed the mother, flying down the staircase, and drawing her daughter into the warm passage, "is it really you? What brings you back to-night, my dear? Where have you been? Are you married? Oh, Martha, what a turn you've given me!"

And here Caroline Wilson, beneath the influence of almost the only admirable trait in her character, broke down, and was unable to proceed. But Martha answered none of her questions.

"Has my mistress been here?" were all the words that broke from her eager lips.

"Your mistress, child?" ejaculated her mother, "Who is your mistress, and what makes you come asking for her here?"

"Mrs. Raymond Norreys," replied Martha; "and I've followed her from London to-night. Is she in this house, mother?"

"And is that all you've got to say to me, Martha, child, on first meeting?" said Mrs. Wilson, reproachfully, "when you've led me such dances to find out your whereabouts, and made me fret more than enough into the bargain?"

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"Lor, mother, I'm very sorry, I'm sure," returned the girl, giving her a hasty kiss: "but, here, I've just arrived by the train, and walked every step from the inn; lost my way twice, too, and all to find my young mistress; and so you can't be surprised that I am anxious to have my questions answered first."

"Well, she has been here, Martha, but I didn't see her, being out, and she's been gone again a matter of an hour or more; and I can't tell you anything further."

"What did she come here for? to see Mrs. Arundel?"

"I suppose so."

"And where is Mrs. Arundel?"

"At Brighton, along with the Court people."

"Are they all gone too?" exclaimed Martha. "Then you may depend on it Mrs. Raymond has followed them, or is going to, and I must be back to Weybridge."

And she almost looked as if she intended to put her design into execution at once; but here her mother interposed, and justly. There could be no train to Brighton that night, and Mrs. Norreys was not likely to go by it, if there were. She would most probably sleep at Weybridge, and travel southward on the next morning.

Martha saw the sense of this, and agreed to stay the night at Laburnum Cottage with her mother.

But this point being settled, and the prodigal daughter led into the kitchen, and there set before a comfortable supper-table, her thoughts, instead of fixing themselves upon her mother and the good things before her, would fly back to her absent employer.

"If I could only be sure now where Mrs. Raymond is, and what she is agoing to do," she said, meditatively, and with utter disregard of the heaped-up plate before her, "I should feel so much easier."

But here Mrs. Wilson lost patience. They were alone now, the old woman having returned to her own home, and the mother was dying with impatience to hear the whole account of Martha's adventures since they had parted—the reason for her leaving the Court in so mysterious a manner, no less than by what strange course of events she came to call Mrs. Raymond Norreys her mistress, for this last circumstance | | 317 grated strangely upon Mrs. Wilson's feelings whenever she heard it mentioned.

"Lor bless me, Martha!" she exclaimed, pettishly, "can't you be forgetting Mrs. Raymond Norreys for half an hour, and talk of something else? She's no favourite of mine, as you have often heard, and I can't say I call it pretty behaviour in you to have engaged yourself into such a family, and without saying a word to me upon the subject first; but now you've had the grace to think of coming back to your mother, you might give her a little news of yourself, instead of letting your tongue run on about a young person that I certainly never liked, and have no great opinion of."

Martha Wilson's black eyes flashed at this uncommendatory mention of her absent benefactress. She was passionate and self-willed, but she had a large bump of gratitude, and in this instance she cultivated the virtue.

"No great opinion of her, haven't you?" she echoed, rather coarsely. "Then let me tell you, mother, that you'd better not say those words before me again, or perhaps I shall say something that you would rather not hear. No great opinion, indeed! Why, Mrs. Raymond Norreys is the sweetest and best and kindest young lady as ever I came across, and I'd lay down my life for her, that I would," reiterated the excited girl, as she brought down her heavy hand upon the deal table. "Now, look here, mother," she continued, turning away from her untasted food and speaking as it' she had intended to be not only heard but believed; "it don't signify telling you now, because it's a past matter, and I don't much care who knows it, but what drove her away from Aldershot barracks is what drove me away from Craven Court, and that was being spied after when I wished to go my own ways. It was dislike of that, and a wish for more freedom, that took me to London, and made me offer myself as lady's-maid to Mrs. Raymond Norreys, and a man was at the bottom of it all, as you may guess."

"Lor, my dear, who is he?" demanded Mrs. Wilson, interrupting her with true feminine curiosity.

"Pshaw! what signifies that?" said the girl, with a marked disdain. "You wont never know, mother, so it's use asking; and it's got nothing to do with my story. I hadn't been | | 318 in Mrs. Norreys' service long before she found out that I knew such a one, and warned me against him. I don't think she would ever have found it out of herself, bless you, she's a deal too unsuspicious; but the old lady and the other servants carried tales of me to her, and, in consequence, she told me I must give him up. She'd been so kind to me before that that I took courage to tell her the truth. No one had ever spoken to me as she had done, or I might have done the same to them. But your husband bullied me out of the barracks, and you set yourself as a judge over me, and I'm afraid I don't bear control well, mother; and from what you've told me of yourself, I should think I had most likely caught it of you. If my mistress had tried to bully me, I should have left her service; but she spoke as if she felt for me, and I couldn't stand that."

"Does she know who you are?" asked Mrs. Wilson.

"No, she doesn't," was the reply.

"Ah, if she did, you'd find it would make a difference in her."

"I don't believe it," rejoined Martha, stoutly. "She knows that I'm not the daughter of honest parents, for I told her so from the very first, and she said it only made her feel for me the more."

Caroline Wilson had shuddered as her daughter put the naked truth before her thus, but she made no remark upon it, and merely said, "Go on."

"When I told her all my trouble," resumed Martha, "what did she do? turn me out, or call me names?—neither. She set herself to work to find out who the man was who I had let myself be fooled into loving, for she was afraid, being a gentleman, that he wasn't a fit acquaintance for me."

"Oh! he's never a gentleman, Martha," exclaimed Mrs. Wilson, clasping her hands with a vivid recollection of what the acquaintanceship of gentlemen had ended in for herself.

"He was," answered her daughter. "He ain't nobody now, if you mean the man I love, for he's deceived me, and I shall never see him more, if I can help it."

"Deceived you, Martha, how?" demanded the mother, anxiously.

"Not as you seem to think, mother, though it might have | | 319 been so. I think it would have been so, except for Mrs. Raymond Norreys—except for my young mistress and her care of me. Why, she got even Mr. Norreys to take trouble for my sake, and find out all particulars about him, until my eyes were opened, and I saw for myself that the man was playing me false, that he only wanted to ruin me, and that no good could come of it. And that's the lady you've got no opinion of, mother. The only one as has ever drawed tears from my eyes, brought sense and reason to my help, and made me see my own danger. Would you have liked to have seen me ruined, mother? Would you have been pleased to see me come home this night, and to hear me say as I never could hold up my head again amongst honest women? Because that's what would have happened to me, most likely, before now, without it had been for the young Mrs. Norreys—for the lady as you've no opinion of. But I'd lay down my life for her, to-day, and will to-morrow, if required," repeated poor Martha, in the fulness of her gratitude.

Caroline Wilson had grown paler and paler during the course of her daughter's harangue. Here had her girl, for whose safety and well-being she was so anxious, been on the very brink of peril, and the woman who had saved her (when, as she said, no other could) had been the very one against whose peace of mind she had herself been plotting, in order to gratify the revenge of a mistress whom she despised and cared as little for, as she did for Rachel Norreys. What, would she not have given, as she sat that night listening to her daughter's recital of danger past, to have had that little note, that fragment of paper and that gold stud, once more in her own hands. But the deed was done, and not to be recalled. Good heavens! how she shivered. Was the fire lower, or had the night turned Suddenly cold? Her daughter saw her agitation, and noticed it.

"You're frightened, mother," she said, "at what I've go through, and you well may be. I'm frightened myself some-look back upon it; but it's past now, thank Heaven! I've done with it to-day, and for ever. But what do you think we owe the lady who has saved me from such a fate?"

Ah, what indeed! Something better than those treacherous, cowardly letters, that damning evidence to (at the worst) an | | 320 undecided guilt, that putting upon innocent words the deadliest and most shameful of constructions. But Mrs. Wilson had not the courage at once to speak of such. She only said, in answer to her daughter's question—

"What brought your mistress here to-night, Martha?"

"That I cannot say," returned the girl, again interrupting herself in the midst of the supper she had commenced to attack. "You know as much as I do now, mother. I left her at home this afternoon about four o'clock, or thereabouts, and, as I thought, quite happy, except for me (and when she tried to give me comfort I saw the tears stand in her blessed eyes, I did)," said Martha, digging her knuckles into her own as she spoke, "and she gave me leave to go out on a little business of my own. Well, as I was returning—late for the time of year, six o'clock, very likely, and all the lamps lighted—whom should I meet but my young mistress, walking in the streets alone! Lor, mother! she never goes out by herself in London; they're a deal too particular over her for that. Yet there she was, hurrying along, and directly I saw 'twas her I felt sure something had happened, and I cut after her as quick as I could, till I saw her call a cab against the Kensington Museum, and then I made bold to speak to her, and ask if I might go along with her; and she said yes; so I jumped in too, and we drove to the Waterloo Station, and then she wanted me to go back home again, saying she didn't want me; but I couldn't feel easy, so I followed her on to the platform, just as she was leaving the station in the Weybridge train, and she calls out to me from the window: 'Tell them at home that I shall be quite safe—that I am going to Mrs. Craven's.' Then I felt sure that something was wrong, and I left them at home to take care of themselves, and followed my mistress on here by the next train. And I should have caught her in this house too, and I wish I had, except for having to walk all the way in from Weybridge. What could have happened, mother, in an hour's time, to drive her out from home like that, and to distress her so; for I could see she was nearly bursting with grief. It wasn't my place to speak to her, or I could almost have asked the question, for all the kindness she's shown to me. And what can make her want to see Mrs. Arundel and Mrs. | | 321 Craven? What have they to do with my mistress? Can you guess? Why, my gracious! mother, what's come to you?"

She might well ask. Others, who had known Caroline Wilson all her life, would have stared, like Martha, to see her now, so strangely unlike her cold, unfeeling self, sink down upon her knees before her daughter, and bring her trembling hands before her face, to hide the blistering, repentant tears which trickled down her cheeks.

"And I've been saying all along," she sobbed, "that I could cut off my right hand to do a service for the creature as would bring you back to me, and this is the end of it! Driven from her home!—alone and suspected, and through me! Oh, Lor! shall I ever forgive myself?"

Martha heard the words, and starling up, shook off her mother's grasp, and stood aloof from her.

"What!" she exclaimed, "what do you say? Had you anything to do with this, mother—any hand in my young mistress's trouble? God forgive you, it' you have! Tell me!" she added, energetically—"tell me the truth! I will have it!"

"It wasn't me exactly," whined her mother—"indeed it wasn't, Martha; but Mrs. Norreys has been here in my absence, and found out everything for herself, I expect, and therefore I need not keep it a secret from you, since you wish to serve her. It is my mistress, Mrs. Arundel as has had a spite against her for a long time past."

"Had a spite against her!" ejaculated Martha. "Why, I thought they wire such friends.'"

"Yes, till a man came between them," said her mother. "You'll generally find a man a powerful enough reason to put the nearest friends asunder, Martha; and then Mrs. Arundel turned against her, and many's the time she's talked about having her revenge on her to me, and some weeks ago she made me give up a few things I had of Mrs. Norreys' in my possession, and put them to her own use."

And here Mrs. Wilson went into a lengthy description of Mrs. Norreys' flirtations with Major Craven at Gibraltar, and the scandal appertaining thereto, and how the proofs of such intimacy, having been preserved by her maid, were delivered over to her false friend, and by her forwarded with an | | 322 anonymous letter to her husband. "And I suppose that's what has made a quarrel between her and Mr. Norreys," she wound up with, "because I had orders to post the letters (there were two others for the Countess of Riversdale and Mrs. Craven) in London yesterday, and as I did not do so till very late, Mr. Norreys would have reached the Abbey Lodge this afternoon. But it wasn't all my fault, Martha, indeed."

"Wasn't all your fault!" repeated Martha, contemptuously. "Mother, I'm disgusted with you. Wasn't your fault! when you gave up all the proofs that were to destroy the happiness of these people. What did you keep them for?" she added, turning fiercely round upon her. "Suppose she did flirt—woman like—I'd lay ten to one there was nothing wrong about it, and I'm sure no lady in the land loves her husband more than she does now. I've seen her watch for his return for hours, and when his step was heard, such a beautiful smile would come over her face. She love another man, or go wrong with another man! I don't believe it, mother. That's left for women like you and me."

It was a bitter thrust, and Caroline Wilson felt it to be so; but she had no appeal to make in her own defence, and was compelled to remain silent and conscience-stricken before her indignant child. When the silence was again broken, it was still Martha's voice that spoke.

"What did my mistress fetch from here?"

"A blotting-case, with the papers in it, on which Mrs. Arundel tried her hand before she wrote the anonymous letters. There are copies of them all in it. They will tell Mrs. Norreys from whom the letters came."

"I'm glad of it—I'm very glad of it," exclaimed Martha. "Now the task will be easy. Mother, you must go with me to-morrow morning to Brighton."

"Martha, why? What do you mean? I cannot leave the cottage in Mrs. Arundel's absence."

"You must go with me to-morrow morning to Brighton," repeated her daughter, decisively, "in the same train with Mrs. Raymond if we can—in the next one if we cannot; and if Weybridge wasn't such a distance from here, and the night so dark, I wouldn't rest till I had walked in there again, and | | 323 told her so, and begged her pardon for the shameful part that you've taken in this business. But you shall beg it of her yourself to-morrow, mother."

At this pleasant prospect, Mrs. Wilson, having reseated herself at the supper-table, attempted another protest, to the effect that she couldn't leave Weybridge, and she couldn't meet Mrs. Norreys, &c. &c., but without gaining her point.

"Then I'll leave this house to-night," exclaimed Martha, rising as she spoke, "and you shall never see me more, mother. If you don't do as I say to-morrow, you must make up your mind to lose me again, for I swear to keep to my word. Now, is it to be so or not?"

Then Mrs. Wilson, in her dread of losing her daughter again, and her certainty of losing her situation, promised that she would do as Martha desired, and accompany or follow Mrs. Norreys to Brighton, there to beg her pardon, confess the share she had taken in the transaction, and bear witness against Mrs. Arundel for the same.

"That's right," exclaimed Martha. "You said you'd cut off your right hand for her, you know, and I don't ask quite so much as that. But this is only justice, and so much at least she deserves from you. She's given you back your daughter, mother, and you must give her back her husband, and the world's good opinion, and rid her of as false a friend as ever woman was cursed with. And perhaps when it's over you'll find that you've got the best of the bargain after all, for it's the only thing that could make me love you, and I believe my love's about the only thing you care to have."

And as Caroline Wilson saw the buxom form again dispose itself domestically beside her chair, she felt that the game before her was, for once in this world, worth the candle.

But October mornings are dark and cold, and by the time that Mrs. Wilson and her daughter had made the old woman understand that she was to be regnant at the cottage until their return, swallowed their breakfast, and walked into Weybridge, the seven o'clock train for Bishopstoke, into which poor sleepless Rachel, after hurriedly drinking a cup of coffee, had leapt, was already far on its way to that station, and all they had to do was to wait patiently for the next, which did not start till nine. And so Mrs. Raymond Norreys | | 324 had been in Brighton for a couple of hours, before their train rushed, panting, into the terminus, and disgorged them, to find their way as best they could to the house on the Marine Parade, where unsuspecting Mrs. Craven and her amiable and harmless friend had taken up their temporary quarters.

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