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 29 chapter 37 >>

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CHAPTER XXX.
THE LAST OF TOM WHITE.

BUT the next morning all seemed changed. The day broke sadly enough for the whole Norreys family, for none of them had had any rest, and they met at the breakfast-table with a half-guilty consciousness that each one was responsible for the restraint which sat upon the whole party; and that it behoved somebody to take the initiative, and broach the painful subject which occupied their hearts. And yet neither had the courage to do so. The servants appeared at prayers, with an evident understanding between them that something had gone wrong respecting Mrs. Raymond Norreys, and cast many furtive and curious glances, in consequence, at the ladies of the family (Raymond not having put in an appearance) during | | 350 the reading of the morning lecture, as if they would satisfy themselves with regard to what they wanted to know, from the sit of Mrs. Norreys' cap, or the colour of Miss Norreys' neck-ribbon. And though they left the room no wiser than they had entered it, the universal scrutiny had not passed unobserved by the mother and daughter.

"My dear, this will never do," was Mrs. Norreys' remark to Christine, as soon as they were alone again; "the servants must have some reason given them for Mrs. Raymond's absence, or they will put the very worst construction on this unfortunate affair."

"Very true, mamma," replied Christine; "perhaps you had better consult Raymond about it, when he comes down."

But this consulting of Raymond was by no means an easy matter, for when he appeared, haggard and dissipated-looking, from the sleepless night he had passed, he seemed scrupulously to avoid the subject of Rachel, do what they would to lead the conversation in that direction. There were no traces left of that softened mood in him, to which Christine had been witness the night before—although it was evident that he had not forgotten it, from the trouble he took to elude meeting the glances of sympathy which she directed towards him. His sister fancied that he felt ashamed of having given way to tears before her: she had already determined that no one but herself should ever know of it, and she now resolved that, if possible, she would lead Raymond to believe that even she had forgotten the circumstance. But all her gentle endeavours failed to put him at his ease; for he was restless, and unmistakeably anxious to avoid notice, and when his mother casually addressed him, his answers were given in the same rough, harsh voice, that had characterized his speech of the night before. But still it was impossible that utter silence could be maintained between them on the subject of his wife, and therefore, after breakfast, when his mother saw that he was making preparations to leave the house, she drew him into the drawing-room, and closing the door, put the direct question to him—

"Raymond, you must tell me one thing before you go. What do you intend to do about your wife?"

"What can I do?" he rejoined, curtly; "she has left no traces of her destination."

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"I was scarcely alluding to your following her," replied Mrs. Norreys, "because I think it very unlikely that we shall not receive any intimation of, or from her, to-day—but, with respect to my servants, it must seem very strange to them."

"Your servants!" exclaimed Raymond, seizing his hat and making a rush for the hall door. "What do I care whether they think it strange or not strange. The strangest thing is your choosing me, to make the recipient of such a piece of folly." And more excited than she had ever seen him before, her son left the Abbey Lodge, slamming the old door after him as he went.

"I think your brother's grief must have driven him halt wild," Mrs. Norreys said afterwards, whimpering over Raymond's conduct to Christine; "he slammed the door right in my face."

"How you can worry the poor fellow about servants at such a time, I can't imagine," returned Christine; "it's enough to make him impatient, when he has such much more important things to think of. Tell me what you want, mamma, and I will settle it for you." And then the difficulty of satisfying the servants' curiosity with regard to her sister-in-law's movements, without too severely compromising the character of the latter, was confided by the mother to her clearer-headed daughter, and a remedy soon found by the latter.

"Why, mamma, it's the easiest thing in the world: we must pretend to have heard this morning—that is all. Leave it to me. I will make some casual remark to Elizabeth, and she will march downstairs immediately, red-hot to repeat it to all the others." And consequently, a few minutes afterwards, the said Elizabeth, did enter the servants' hall, looking extremely disappointed, and said, "Law! it was nothing after all, for Miss Norreys had just said to her, as she was arranging the bed-room: 'What do you think, Elizabeth? Mrs. Raymond has played us such a trick—she ran off all of a sudden yesterday afternoon, to spend a few days with a friend, and left us to guess what had become of her until this morning. Wasn't that a shame? And poor mamma and I were so frightened till Mr. Raymond came home last night.' So you see," added the abigail, "that there can't be nothing wrong, because Mr. Norreys knew all about it; but I call it a stupid | | 352 trick to play any one, that I do, raising a body's curiosity all for nothing—don't you?"

And the general opinion in the servants' hall, was that it was not only "stupid," but unpardonable to the last degree, particularly as they were led to expect, from the appearance of the two ladies at prayers, that there was something to be told, worth hearing. And the only consolation they could extract, was from the old cook turning up her eyes at the receipt of the lady's-maid's intelligence, and saying, "Well, she'd been in the family for thirty years, and ought to know her mistress's temper by this time, also ways; and all she could say was, that if these was the kind of tricks the young Missus was going to play upon her mother-in-law, there'd be a row worth listening to between them before long." But the knotty point of the servants' satisfaction having been attended to, no other difficulties presented themselves for immediate grappling with, and the day passed wearily away as the post was hourly, and eagerly watched for, in hopes that it might bring them news of the runaway. Christine and her mother enjoyed a very melancholy and almost silent drive together during the afternoon, for nothing short of death in the house would have induced Mrs. Norreys to lay aside that time-honoured custom; and even then she would have resumed it exactly at three o'clock, the day after the funeral. But their son and brother did not reappear to bear them company; and Christine's bright eyes filled with tears every time they encountered Rachel's guitar, or her feet passed Rachel's empty room, and her heart wondered how long it would be before the mystery was cleared up. Even when the next morning, bringing Mrs. Craven's letter for Raymond, set aside their worst fears, and they knew that Rachel was in safety with her friend, matters did not appear in the way for amendment. Christine had, of course, all faith in the statement of Mrs. Craven; and, assured of her sister-in-law's well-doing, and the baseness of the writer of the anonymous letters, would have been ready to reassume her usual cheerfulness, if she had been encouraged to do so by her mother or her brother.

But neither Mrs. Norreys nor Raymond believed in Mrs. Craven's epistle: of course (so they argued), she would try to screen Rachel; it was her object to do so—were not her | | 353 son, and her son's fiancée, both concerned in the removal of the imputation upon her fame; would they not both be heavy sufferers by the impracticability of such removal? of course Mrs. Craven was the very one who would defend and shelter Rachel Norreys, whatever her own conviction on the subject. And the discovery that Mrs. Arundel had been the writer of the anonymous letters, and the raker up of the scandal, was no proof that the scandal was such, since the very person whom it most concerned, had not a word to say in her own defence.

Raymond confessed that he had never quite liked, or trusted his wife's friend, from the beginning. He was glad that she had been shown up in her true colours; and since her motives in writing the letters about Rachel had most probably been simply spite, that she had been turned out of the family by whom she had hitherto been made so welcome; but all this did not remove one stain from Rachel, one doubt respecting her from her husband's heart. She had admitted Cecil Craven to a culpable familiarity with herself, and God only knew the rest. For Raymond's part, he scarcely dared to think of it. He answered Mrs. Craven's letter very briefly—but with decision. He was obliged to her for receiving Mrs. Norreys into her house, but he could not see in what measure the arguments she had favoured him with, removed the unpleasant impression under which he had laboured, since receiving the anonymous letters. When Mrs. Norreys could herself deny the statements made therein, he would be the first to disbelieve them.

He made no allusion to Rachel's returning to his protection, nor to his own distress at her absence; and Mrs. Craven, on receiving so cold and stern a reply, felt that her mission so far had failed, and that in order to restore these two people to mutual confidence but one thing remained to be done. But of that, more hereafter.

In the meanwhile, Raymond threw her letter in the fire, and wished that he could throw all remembrance from him in like manner. But the more he wished, the more impracticable the deed appeared to grow. The image of Rachel, as a child, as a woman, in her tears, her merriment, her silence, and her passion, hovered before him, sleeping or waking, and kept him perpetually upon the rack. And he had hoped so | | 354 much lately from her altered conduct to himself, and from the increasing love which she had manifested towards his mother and Christine. And now all his hopes were smashed—utterly and irrevocably ruined. He had sorely felt his sorry welcome home; he had fretted more than enough at times since then, but nothing that had ever grieved him yet could compare, in intensity, to the bitter disappointment, the baffled hopes, the tender feeling waiting upon outraged love, that Raymond Norreys experienced now.

And he was not good at bearing, without a murmur, an "undeserved lot." He was impatient under suffering,—fiercely so, at times, and ready to argue with his fate and curse it, when he could not prove his argument. And he tried to drown all this, as men (heedless of past failures) will try, in dissipation. He had never been a very careful liver (what sailors are?); and when Raymond Norreys said that he had dissipated, he meant it in the full meaning of the word; and in after days he was heard to confess, more than once, that during the first week of Rachel's desertion, he certainly had "kept it up."

What would old Mrs. Norreys, with her puritanical ideas and stiff-starched notions of propriety, have thought, if, in fancy, she could have followed her only son, during that brief, mad season, in which he thought he had found the waters of Lethe, to his ultimate discomfiture! What would she have thought, who made it her boast, and believed what she affirmed, that he had never in his life taken a glass of wine too much for him, could she have watched him occasionally between the chiming of the small hours, as he sat in places which he would have blushed the next day to have had to mention to her; perhaps, even to have had to recall to himself. Ah! those were sad hours for Raymond Norreys to look back upon, in after years—hours which were best unaccounted for, which he would have been happy to have been able to forget; but, during that evil time, chance (or so it seemed at first sight) threw in his way a motive for action, which, slight though it was, had the power to divert him from much that was wrong, and led eventually to a great and wonderful change in his fortunes. He was strolling late one night, or rather early one morning, for lack of better | | 355 employment, into a café near the Haymarket, where he had been in the habit, lately, of meeting several wild spirits of his acquaintance, when he saw, to his surprise, that the shutters were already up, and, on entering by a private door, found that the whole place was in a state of the greatest confusion and disorder—chairs, benches, and tables were upset—glass and china broken—liquor of various kinds spilled about the floor and wasted, whilst a crowd of gamesters, both male and female, were hiding away in some of the private rooms, and the proprietor of the café was in perfect despair at the wreck around him.

"Why, what's been the row?" exclaimed Raymond, as he sauntered into the dismantled bar, and spied the general mêlée.

"Oh, Mr. Norreys!" replied the man, who knew my hero by name, and finding himself alone with him, ventured to pronounce it; "we've had the bluebottles in here, and my number's down for a fine, as sure as can be; all along of that bully, Lord——(you know his name, sir, without my speaking it); and see the scrape he's got me in. However, I managed to get most of the lot smuggled into the lower billiard-room, and there they are, all locked up together; and I'm blest if they'll come out under an hour, for I'm convinced those bobbies are watching the house still, and will do so until they're tired."

"How did it happen?' inquired Raymond.

"As usual, sir, a row between two of them, and sides taken up. And I haven't told you the worst of it yet, for one of the gentlemen is so badly hurt about the head that I had him taken up to my wife's room, and she sent word just now, that she thought we ought to send for a doctor; and I shall catch it hot, if that's necessary. By-the-by, sir," continued the proprietor, slapping his thigh, "you know the gent well enough by sight, and, now I come to think of it, he bears the same name as yourself; though," he added in a tone of confidence, "that isn't known to everybody, and I should wish it to be between ourselves."

"The same name as mine?" returned Raymond; "not spelt the same though, I bet."

"Well, I don't know, sir, but if I'm not mistaken, I rather think it is—with a y and e, sir; yes, I rather think so."

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Raymond was just ruminating on the strangeness of the man's assertion, for he had believed their own family to be the only one spelling their name like himself, when a second messenger came from the upper regions to say "that the gentleman that was hurt was very bad indeed, and the mistress thought he was dying." Then the landlord's face grew pale at the idea of having a corpse in the house to account for, and a coroner's inquest sitting upon it; and he asked Raymond if he thought he ought to send for a doctor.

"Let us go and see him first," suggested Raymond, "the women may be mistaken;" and the landlord seized at the idea, and led the way up the dark staircase (for all the gas had been turned off at the approach of the policemen) to the site of his private apartments.

There, laid in a comfortably-enough furnished bed-room, and watched by a silken-dressed and ringletted woman, Raymond encountered, to his surprise, the scarcely-breathing form of the man who, under the name of Tom White, had taken the trouble to go out of his way, in attempting the seduction of poor Martha Wilson. He had met him too often lately, and watched him too narrowly, to be mistaken in his identity, even though his face and head were smeared with blood, and a large bandage hid the greater portion of his features. He was laid upon the sofa, but he appeared perfectly nerveless, as he hung over the side of it, with eyes turned upwards and mouth partially opened. The sight of him sobered poor Raymond (who had not been quite sober before) completely.

"Good heavens!" he said, "he looks very bad; how long ago did it happen?"

"About two hours, sir," replied the woman, "and it's a dreadful cut—right across the back of his head—done with a bronze lampstand, one of the girls told me; but the hair is quite driven into the wound, so that I can't tell whether it's very deep or not."

"Has he spoken at all?" inquired Raymond.

"Not a word, sir," she replied; "and I think he had a kind of fit just now, for he stretched himself out, and worked about a good deal, but he didn't make the least sound."

"I think you should send for a doctor at once," said Ray- | | 357 mond to the landlord; "the man is seriously hurt, if no! dying. If he dies in your house without assistance, you will suffer for it."

"I will send immediately," replied the proprietor, seriously alarmed at the appearance of his customer. "If you could stay here for a little, sir, you would greatly oblige me."

And Raymond, who felt a strange interest in the man, from the circumstance of his having been brought under his notice on the subject of Martha, readily promised compliance, and took his seat by the side of the sofa. He had forgotten what the landlord had said, relative to his bearing the same name as himself. But when the doctor came, and, having examined the wound, pronounced it to be a very dangerous fracture of the skull, and the patient at that moment to be labouring under congestion of the brain in consequence, he turned to Raymond and asked if he had been in any way connects with the unfortunate affair.

"Not at all, I am happy to say," was his frank rejoinder "I arrived long after it had happened, and am only here at the request of the landlord. Do you think he will recover?'

"Are you a relation of his?" was the return question.

"None, not even a friend. I have met the man occasionally before, but am ignorant of his very name."

"Then I may as well tell you—there is no chance for him. If his combatant could be traced, it would be a case of manslaughter. His friends should be communicated with."

"I don't know who they are," said Raymond.

"Have you searched his pockets?" demanded the medical man.

"Scarcely. It was no business of mine," he replied shortly.

"Then I think, under the circumstances, I shall be justified in doing so, though I do not expect he will ever revive sufficiently to recognise any one again. We are about to look in this gentleman's pockets to see if we can discover who his friends are," he added to the landlord, who now re-entered.

"I can tell you his name, sir, and I'm sure I wish now I'd never heard it, for this is by no means the first scrape he's got me in, though I suppose it's likely to prove the last. He is a Mr. Norreys, same name as this gentleman here."

"It is not an uncommon name," said Raymond, still ad- | | 358 hering to the notion that the stranger's patronymic must be spelt "Norris." But when the doctor had taken a whole packet of papers from the dying man's pockets, and was turning them over in his hands, he remarked casually—

"Spelt in this manner, it is an uncommon name, sir—Norreys. We don't often meet it so, now-a-days."

"Will you allow me to look at that envelope for a minute?" said Raymond, interested in the discussion, and when the doctor, complying with his request, passed the paper over to him, and the following address met his astonished eyes, he could scarcely believe for the moment that he saw correctly: "Archibald Norreys, Esq., 14a, Albany, London." But before he had time to express his surprise, the doctor tossed him another.

"Very little doubt about this, sir," he remarked. "Here is an unposted letter, evidently intended for some relative of the patient's." And Raymond read: "To Sir Archibald Norreys, Bart., Woolcombe Rise, Berks." He remained so long gazing at the two envelopes, and lost in surprise at their superscription, that the doctor became impatient.

"Now, sir, there is no time for wool-gathering—we must go to business. Perhaps you find you do know this gentleman's friends, as you appear so interested in the addresses of his letters?"

"I told you, Mr. Norreys, the name was spelt the same," whispered the landlord, at the same moment reading the papers over his shoulder.

"I believe I do," he said, answering the doctor's remark alone. "What should be done next?"

He did not think it worth while to tell them that it was his cousin that was lying in a state of stupor before them; and that until this moment he had been ignorant of his residence in town—almost ignorant of his existence.

"The next thing to be done is to communicate with his nearest relative, and since you seem to have some knowledge on the subject, I think you will be the best person to do so, if you will take the trouble."

"I do not mind the trouble," returned Raymond, "but I am not certain of this gentleman's identity. I suspect, however, that he is the son of this Sir Archibald Norreys, of Woolcombe Rise."

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"Whew!" whistled the doctor; "Sir Archibald must look" out for another heir, then, I am afraid."

"If I undertake to telegraph to him," replied Raymond, quietly,"what shall I say?"

The doctor's remark had stirred up new and strange thoughts in his breast, but with a heavy trouble weighing him down, they did not excite him so much as they might otherwise have done, and he remained, to all outward appearance, as unconcerned as he had been before they had been suggested to his mind.

"Simply that Mr. Norreys has sustained a fracture of the skull, and that if he wishes to see him alive, he had better come to town at once. That is all that can be said, beside giving the address. It is no place for a gentleman to die in, and if he could be moved with any degree of safety I would have him taken to my own quarters, but his sole chance lies in perfect quiet. I shall stay with him myself, and if you will kindly see to the telegram being sent to Woolcombe Rise as early as possible, you will be doing him the best service you can."

"I will drive direct from here to the station," observed Raymond in reply, "and the message shall be sent the first moment practicable. I shall look round here in the course of the morning, Mr. Barnett," he added, having ascertained the name of the practitioner, "so, until then, good day to you."

And full of thought, still more sad than that with which he had entered it, Raymond Norreys left the café again.

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