- CHAPTER XXXIV. PRIDE BOLTS THE DOOR AGAINST HAPPINESS.
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PRIDE BOLTS THE DOOR AGAINST HAPPINESS.
STRIDING along in the keen night air, Raymond Norreys felt his hot heart burn within him as he recalled the past interview; the revelations of which it had been the occasion; and above all, the glorious, never-to-be-forgotten fact, that Rachel was innocent! Yes! if he was doomed never to call her really his; never to feel her heart throbbing against his own; to hear her lips repeat those blessed words, which now came back to him with feelings of intoxicating delight, "Raymond, I love you," still he would die the happier for knowing that his love, his wife, the only woman who had ever cost him more than a passing sigh, was pure, and innocent, and undefiled, as she on whom such love was staked, should be. Lost in thoughts like these, he arrived at Dr. Sherard's in a state of such excitement, that that worthy philanthropist, attributing his manner to his apprehension of the danger in which Mr. Northland lay, made the circumstance an extra reason for immediately turning out of his warm bed into the cold night air, and hastening to the relief of the patient. But when he arrived at the Marine Parade, alas! there was little for him to do. Twelve hours, or more, had then elapsed since the occurrence of the accident, and he found the internal wounds of the injured man in a state of high inflammation, which aggravated as it had been by the railway travelling and subsequent agitation, was beyond his power to subdue. All through that night, whilst Dr. Sherard sat by his bedside, vainly attempting to mitigate his sufferings, poor Gus Northland lay delirious and in the extremest pain, as he alternately called on his | | 394 daughter not to curse him, or pitifully implored his wife to say that the selfishness of his life, in accepting her offer to live upon her means and imperil her fame, had not been a little atoned for, by the last act of which he had been capable.
"I have set it all right," he would mutter between his wilder ravings, the old monotonous asseveration sounding so sadly familiar as it fell from his fevered lips—"I cheated the doctors. I did! and it's all right now. Margaret, tell me that it's all right."
His doctor said that there would be a great interval of pain by-and-bye, to be followed (but this he kept to himself for the present) by a longer interval still, an interval of everlasting rest, never to be again broken. But this was not made known at first, to the unprofessional watchers by the sick bed.
They were reduced by that time to their original number, for Raymond Norreys had left them again long before the morning, and taken his solitary way back to London. Not without an attempt, though, to conciliate Rachel—not without a few words exchanged with the woman who called herself his wife.
For having returned from his mission to fetch Dr. Sherard, he had deliberately sought an interview with her, and obtained it. Had he any hope in so doing? He must have had, else why did his cheeks flush as he found himself in her presence, and his dark eyes glow with excitement as he waited in expectation of her speaking to him first. Yet in vain; for though her features still bore traces of the exciting scene she had passed through, and she distinctly heard her husband enter, she never raised her head, or showed further signs of emotion at his approach, beyond the nervous movement of her graceful hands, which never ceased from the moment that he stood before her to cross and recross each other, interlacing the delicate fingers in their action. She was sitting in the drawing-room, where she had retreated on the doctor's arrival, and was alone. As Raymond caught sight of the determination pictured in her face, he crossed the threshold boldly, and closing the door behind him, set his back against it, as if to resent the possibility of their being disturbed.
And yet Rachel, guessing his identity by the quicker beating | | 395 of her heart, no less than by the hardihood of his mute approach, still would not look upward for fear of encountering his glance, but remained as he had found her, leaning over the table with an opened book before her, in which the printed characters were blurred and indistinct, and kept on changing their places, more and more rapidly, as his agitated voice fell on her ear.
"Rachel! I am going away."
Still her lips never moved, only the restless pretty fingers continued their irritating play.
"Do you hear me, Rachel?" he repeated; "I am going back to town."
Then she lifted her head slowly from her pretended occupation, and said, yet carefully avoiding his eye the while—
"I had hoped you would have had something more to say to me than that," he urged. "What I have heard this night with respect to the relationship existing between Craven and yourself, and your knowledge of it, whilst it cannot make me regret the tone I assumed at our last interview (because, whilst resting under the same belief, I should be compelled to act in a similar manner to-night) has still had the power to make me deeply deplore the unhappy necessity which prevented you from telling me the whole truth. If I used words to you that night, Rachel, which rankle in your heart now, I ask your pardon for them, and your forgetfulness if you can give it me."
"I have nothing to forgive," she replied. "Under the circumstances, I have no doubt you were quite right to act as you did. It was unfortunate, nothing more."
"Nothing more, Rachel?"
There was such pathos in his voice as he put the question, that her courage sank beneath it. She knew how much more—she knew what misery she had felt in that separation; what magnitude her passionate love for him had seemed to acquire from each day of absence. But he had refused it. She had laid it at his feet with so many tears—with so much abandonment of feeling, and he had cast it from him. He had thrust it away—he had told her to give it to the next man (the next, good heavens!) who would care to take it | | 396 from her. He for whose sake, to try and dear herself in whose sight, she had beaten down her worst assailant—pride, had insulted and stung her on her tenderest and most vulnerable point; and the evil spirit had gone out and brought its seven other spirits worse than himself, and they sat and kept high holiday in Rachel's breast) that night. They, not she now answering for her, said.
"Nothing more! Resting under such a suspicion, I could not any longer share your home, your protection—to both of which I have felt, ever since our ill-fated meeting, that I have no claim. Therefore, I came to those on whom I have such, from whom I may take the necessaries of life; and not feel the obligation worse than their curse."
"But now—am I to leave you here, Rachel?"
"Leave me here!" she echoed vehemently. "Why not? Can you take me anywhere where I shall forget? Here, at least, they do not suspect me, have never suspected me; they take my love and do not spurn the gift." And as she spoke, overcome with the remembrance of her sorrow and her shame, Rachel's face crimsoned, and she burst into tears.
But Raymond's hot blood could no longer stand her insinuations with patience, and his next words were as vehement as her own.
"Who suspects you now?" he almost shouted—"who could have avoided it before, Rachel? Do you know that I can compel you to return with me to the Abbey Lodge?" She lifted her wet face then, and met, for the first time, his glowing eyes. She could, had she followed the dictates of her woman's nature, have knelt before him in that hour, and laid his foot upon her neck, so entirely did her heart own him for its lord; but the seven spirits were pressing hard upon her, as her love and womanhood fought feebly against them for a moment, and then sunk down again wounded (though not to death), unable for this time to prove victor.
"I know you could," she said, faintly, "but you would scarcely care, I fancy, to have my contempt as well as—as—my indifference."
"What did you say?" he demanded, in so loud a tone that it frightened her, yet she repeated her words at his re- | | 397 quest, although it was with the same bravado that makes a man risk his life because he is dared to do so.
Then Raymond's voice grew harsh and thick, and as if there was something in his throat which he could not swallow.
"That is all you have to say to me?" he said after a pause.
Very distinct his words were, although he had grasped the door handle as though to steady his frame.
"All," she whispered, after a slight hesitation.
"Then here let our interviews on this side the grave end," he exclaimed, angrily, as he passed hastily through the door, and closed it with a slam behind him.
As the sound struck her ear, Rachel started suddenly to her feet (she had preserved her sitting position hitherto), and pressed forward. For one moment she could scarcely believe that he was gone; for the next, that he would not return. Had he done so, he would have found the woman whom he had left apparently so indifferent as to whether he stayed or went, standing in the centre of the room with one hand pressed against her labouring bosom, as though she would stay its throbs, whilst she listened for some token of his return, with eyes wildly open and lips parted, and a look very like the coldness of despair creeping over her features, as the moments succeeded each other, and yet the door remained as he had left it. Worse still, for she now heard his footsteps distinctly descend the stairs, and reach the hall below. Only fearing she should lose him, as he threatened, for ever, already repenting of her affected disdain, Rachel sprung with one bound across the threshold to the landing beyond. Thence she heard her husband's voice in the passage conferring with another's, which she recognised as Cecil's. She tried to recall him—her head was whirling with the revulsion of feeling, which the sudden remorse that had attacked her, occasioned—her whole form was trembling violently, as she grasped the balustrades for support, but still her whitened lips essayed to speak the one word, "Raymond!" Twice it issued thence—not loudly, for the door of the adjacent bedroom stood half open, and she feared to attract the notice of those within it; not loudly, because her tongue was dry, and when she tried to render her voice clearer by swallowing, no moisture softened her throat, but in a distinct whisper, hard to listen to, painful to | | 398 pronounce, her husband's name twice sounded over the balustrades; but no answer came. He was talking rapidly, vehemently, with Cecil Craven, and in another minute the hall-door opened—a rush of cold night air poured into the house—and then it closed again, and one pair of feet (she knew them to be Cecil's) commenced to reascend the staircase; but before she could see him to communicate her wishes or her distress, Rachel saw and heard no more.
Raymond Norreys himself, dashing down the stairs and through the hall, had run his head against that of Cecil Craven.
"Hollao!" exclaimed the other, "where are you off to?"
"I am going back to town," said Raymond; "at least, I am going to the station, and shall wait there for the first train. I can be of no use here, and urgent business waits me at home."
"And what about your wife?"
"She will not return with me," he answered excitedly. "Craven, I do not believe she will ever return to me. That cursed pride has set itself up to such a degree between us, that if I were to humble myself in the dust before her, I believe that, womanlike, she would only delight in crushing me still more."
"I'd make her," replied Cecil, alluding to Rachel's return to her husband's protection.
"Not if you loved her as I do," said Raymond, in a low voice, and then stopped.
Men are shy of speaking to one another of their love for a woman, particularly when that love is true and deep, and unreturned.
"However, let that pass," he added presently, in a more cheerful tone; "I have news for you, Craven, and for Rachel also, which I wish you would tell her after my departure."
"All right; what is it?"
Then Raymond quickly detailed the circumstances of his altered fortunes and his newly acquired title; and Cecil Craven shook his hand heartily as he congratulated him Upon the same.
"There's not a man in the world I would sooner have heard it of than yourself, Norreys," he said warmly, "and that's the truth. A thousand congratulations, old fellow; of course you'll throw up the navy at once. And as to this | | 399 other business, it will all come right in time, depend upon it.
Raymond shook his head, but said nothing.
"I intend running over to Egham Priory to-morrow" added Cecil, in parting, "to set matters straight with my fiancée, for, of course, however unpleasant for her, we cannot for our own sakes, keep this business of my mother's marriage a secret from the world. I shall look you up in town on my return. In the meanwhile, good-bye, old fellow, and keep up your spirits."
And then Raymond Norreys unclasped his brotherly hand, and went forth alone (except for that heavy burden pressing on his heart) into the pitiless unsympathising night.
But when Cecil Craven, burning to retail the news he had just heard, had reached, by rapid strides, the top stair of the lofty narrow flight, he found his sister, the newly-made Lady Norreys, fainted on the landing.
In the meanwhile, Mrs. Northland (as we must henceforth call her), and Dr. Sherard, were engaged watching by the side of their delirious patient, and Sir Raymond Norreys having caught the earliest morning train, was flying back to London. How long the past day appeared in retrospect to him, as he lay back on the carriage cushions, and had nothing to do but to ponder on it! So many unforeseen events had crowded themselves into twenty-four hours, that he could hardly believe that only that space of time had elapsed since he walked into the Haymarket café, and recognised the murdered form of poor Tom White. And now, there were two of them gone, and a third likely, from all appearances, to follow. Well! after all, it was nothing more than had happened to others, from the same fatal cause. At the station Raymond had procured an evening paper, with an account of the railway accident, and a list of the killed and wounded. Fourteen of the first, of the latter, sixteen; altogether a goodly number. And amongst the killed, he here read of three and four belonging to the same family, and of them, two were girls in the very blush of youthful promise. There were worse cases apparently than those of men who had lived out the best part of their days. A little further down the list, was the description of a child, name unknown—had been | | 400 placed under the care of the guard, age apparently about four years, dressed in a tartan plaid frock, &c.; had on a comforter and muffatees of white and red wool, knitted by hand. As he read the description, Raymond remembered the poor woman who had been so anxious to learn the fate of her little child, and shuddered as he thought this might be the one she had asked for. "Comforter and muffatees, knitted by hand." Could the poor mother have made them herself, and sent them to be worn on this particular homeward journey, for fear her little one should feel the cold whilst travelling? A little thing to muse upon, but it attracted Raymond's attention, and set him thinking upon the troubles of other people, until he felt more reconciled to the contemplation of his own. He had plenty of work before him, not to say excitement, and as the train rushed into the Waterloo station again, he felt that he should have very little leisure for the next few days, to brood over the fresh disappointment that he had experienced.
Of course, when he walked into the presence of his mother and sister that morning, with the astounding news upon his tongue, that by the two accidental deaths of the day before, he had become Sir Raymond Norreys, and that Gustavus Northland turning out to be the father of his wife, had removed the suspicion which had rested on her character with regard to Cecil Craven, they were nearly prostrated by the double intelligence. That her son should by such unexpected means have inherited the baronetcy and estates of Woolcombe Rise, was, to Mrs. Norreys, so much a subject for congratulation and self-satisfaction, that she was nearly beside herself with pleasure, and could talk and think of nothing else. Raymond was also very full of what he should do, and where he should go, and how he should act, when he had entered into possession; and only Christine (after she had once wished her brother joy of his good fortune) appeared to take no further interest in the future looming for them all.
"Why, what has come to you, Christine?" remarked Raymond, presently; "you don't seem half so glad on my account as I thought you would be."
"No one could be more so, Raymond," she replied; "but if (as you say) Mrs. Craven's story has cleared up all the | | 401 doubts that you had respecting Rachel, why is she not here with you? Why did not she return to Abbey Lodge when you did?"
Raymond looked suddenly grave again.
"That is more than I can tell you, Christine. I gave Rachel the option of doing so, but she refused to accompany me, and I shall not ask her again."
"But what were her reasons?" persisted Christine.
"God knows," he replied, sadly. "Rachel is one of those women who can never forgive an injury, however unintentional. I suppose that (although I had so good a cause for suspicion) she cannot bring herself to forget that I have suspected her, and her pride forbids her acknowledging that such is the case. She would have had me trust her implicitly, as I would an angel from heaven! through evil report and good report; but I am not saint enough to do it, whatever she may be to deserve it! And so the short interview we had was very stormy, and ended in her directly refusing to return of her own will to my protection. And that is all."
"Very reprehensible, indeed," put in Mrs. Norreys, with a feeble shake of the head, which the fact of her son being a baronet could not render altogether sad. "I am deeply grieved at Rachel's conduct, which is very wrong; very wrong, indeed."
"But I don't believe that that is all," exclaimed Christine, starting up with a vehemence which astonished her mother and brother. "There is more at the bottom of it than you have told us, Raymond, or than we can see. Rachel would never act so for a mere whim, or indulgence of so bad a feeling."
"Christine, my dear," said Mrs. Norreys, "you are forgetting yourself. Your brother must know best. This excitement on your part is very uncalled for."
"In this case I do not believe he knows best," still persisted the girl, her dark eyes beaming with generous ardour. "He loves Rachel more than I do, perhaps; but he does not judge her so fairly. Raymond, is it not so? Does not your heart tell you that there is something else standing as a barrier between Rachel and yourself, besides the justifiable suspicion you entertained for her?"| | 402
She repeated her question, but he did not answer. He stood conscience-stricken before her. Yes, he remembered only too well, when she had thrown herself upon his breast cast her arms about him, and poured forth those passionate words, "Raymond, I love you; indeed I do. I have been too foolish to tell you of it before: but indeed it is true"—he had untwined them roughly, those dear, tender arms, and thrust her from him, and told her to her face that she was false in even saying so. And as the recollection pressed upon him, Raymond Norreys felt as if, between love and regret and disappointment, he was going mad.
"Christine," he exclaimed, "for the sake of Heaven, cease to speak to me upon this subject! Whatever has been between my wife and me, is past. Whatever might have been, I believe to be also past. I entreat you not to revive a recollection which almost drives me crazy, by questions such as these. Rest satisfied that whosoever is in fault, Rachel, of her own self, told me last night, that if I did not wish to win her contempt as well as her indifference, I should not urge her return to my protection. If after words like those you think I am the man to sue her humbly for what I could demand, you do not yet know how much pride there dwells in your brother's heart. When she wishes to come back to me, Heaven is my witness how gladly I shall open my arms to receive her; till then, Christine, all I ask of you on the subject is—silence."
And after this demand on Raymond's part, neither his mother or his sister dared to give him for the present anything else.
The next week passed actively enough. There was of course a great deal to do preparatory to his entering upon the possession of Woolcombe Rise; but although Messrs. Packer and Milbury tried hard to thrust as many obstacles as they could in the way, and to swell their bill to the greatest extent known amongst lawyers, they could not, for all their sharpness, make the necessary legalities extend over more than a few days. By the time that the arrangements for the pompous funerals of Sir Archibald and his son were completed, all the preliminary forms were over, and the undisputed heir was at liberty to walk into Woolcombe Hall, and dispense his own orders. For the present they were few | | 403 for his mother refused, on any account, to leave the Abbey Lodge, and Sir Raymond had no wish to reign in solitary, miserable splendour, on his new domain; he therefore chose to remain his mother's guest, until affairs were a little more settled between his wife and himself. In the meanwhile, having sent in his resignation of the service to the Admiralty, the papers to that effect were being made out, at their leisure by that slow and steady company.
But one day, during that week (it was the day after the funerals at Woolcombe Rise), a black-edged letter came from Brighton for Sir Raymond Norreys.
"Poor Northland's gone," he said to his mother and sister, in explanation of its appearance. "His injuries resulted in mortification. Craven writes that he is going to the Court to attend the funeral, and wants me to join him there. Of course I must go."
"And Mrs. Northland?" inquired Christine.
"Remains at Brighton for the present," he replied. "Craven says she is dreadfully cut up by the loss."
"Nothing more?" his sister ventured presently to say.
"Nothing," he rejoined. "What more do you want?"
She had hoped there would have been a word about Rachel, but, if so, Raymond did not choose to mention it.
After Mr. Northland's funeral, Major Craven returned to Brompton with Raymond Norreys.
"Craven and I are going down into Berkshire, to-morrow," the latter said, in explanation, "as I want to show him the place before he returns to Brighton."
"Does your mother make any stay at Brighton, Major Craven?" inquired Mrs. Norreys, of Cecil.
"Only a few weeks," he replied. "She is naturally shy of returning to the Court, whilst her story is so very fresh. I wish I could have avoided the publicity, for her sake, but it was impossible, particularly as the estate devolves upon me. Raymond and I are very important men, now, Mrs. Norreys—are we not?"
"Very much so," she replied. "I hope that you will each feel, as well as say so, for a great responsibility rests upon you both. I suppose you will be getting a wife next Major Craven?"
"As soon as I can," he answered, smiling; "but, of course, | | 404 this mourning for my step-father must put all such things off for a few months; but I have been down to Egham Priory, and, notwithstanding Lady Riversdale's horror at my poor mother's iniquity, have quite satisfied her scruples, as far as concerns myself, for Lady Frances is coming to stay with us at Brighton the week after next. My mother wants me to follow Norreys' example, and cut my profession; but I am rather prouder of my coat than he is, and will not hear of it, though I am afraid there will be no more foreign service for me after marriage."
A great deal more talk of the same kind, but not one word of Rachel—not even an allusion to her. Had Raymond sealed Major Craven's lips, as he had done their own? Christine watched and hoped in vain—no one started the subject, and so she lay wait for Cecil Craven, after dinner, in the hall, and seizing a favourable opportunity, caught him alone, and breathlessly made the inquiry of him—
"Major Craven, excuse my stopping you, but have you nothing to tell me about my—my sister, Rachel?"
"Your sister! Good heavens! Miss Norreys, do you really regard her as a sister? I am so glad to hear it. Let us go into the dining-room; I should so like to speak to you about it."
And when he turned to face her, beneath the gaslight, he saw her eyes were full of tears; thereupon, he grasped her hand—
"How good of you!" he said; "I see you feel for her. What is this wretched quarrel between them, Miss Norreys? I have sounded Rachel, and I have sounded your brother, but all I can extract from either of them is, that there is some barrier between them that can never be displaced, and that the kindest thing I can do, is not to ask any questions on the subject."
"Just what Raymond says to us," replied Christine; "and more, for he has positively forbidden our speaking of his wife. But tell me one thing, Major Craven—you are in your sister's confidence, I know—does she love my brother?"
"I am sure of it," replied Cecil, " although she has never told me so; but I can see it from her present depression and utter avoidance of his name. And with regard to him?"
"He worships her," said Christine, eagerly. "I believe | | 405 he would lay down his life for her. What shall we do, Major Craven? This misery must not go on."
"Of course not," he replied; "it shan't go on. Miss Norreys, it strikes me you are the very person to bring them together again. You must write to Rachel."
"Do you think it will be of any good?" she asked timidly.
"It cannot do any harm," he answered. "A brick wall could not divide them more effectually than they are now divided. Do try, Miss Norreys; this business cannot make you more unhappy than it does me."
"I will, indeed," she said. "Thank you for the advice."
"Thank you for all your goodness," he replied; "you are just the sister I could have wished Rachel to possess."
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