- CHAPTER XXXVII. AND LAST. HEART TO HEART.
|<< chapter 36||< chapter 1|
CHAPTER XXXVII. AND LAST.
HEART TO HEART.
BUT Cecil was not drowned, and in a short time their fears respecting him were lulled to rest. For before Mrs. Northland had entirely recovered from the death-like swoon into which the news had thrown her; by the time that she had staggered to her feet again, and, putting those aside who tried to stay her steps, had expressed her determination not to be kept from the presence of her son, the doctor bore down upon them with the glad intelligence that for the present they might lay aside their anxiety on Major Craven's behalf, for he had opened his eyes and spoken, and was already on the high road to recovery.
"Thank God!" ejaculated Mrs. Northland, and then she added, though apparently with an effort, "and the other?"
"The other gentleman is not yet conscious, I regret to say," replied the doctor, " but he breathes more freely, and there is every hope that our efforts" (he had by this time been joined by a brother practitioner) " will eventually be as successful in his case as in that of Major Craven."
"The other!" exclaimed Rachel; "what other?"| | 431
She had been so occupied with reviving her mother since the account of the accident reached her, that she had had no time to make further inquiries, and had believed, until then, that her brother was the only sufferer. Mrs. Northland knew who the other was (for she had seen both the inanimate bodies as they were carried up the stairs), so had Martha Wilson, who was now by her mistress' side, but they neither of them dared to mention the fact to Rachel, and as they hesitated, the doctor, who was a stranger to them all and had no idea of the connexion between the lady before him and his patient, settled the question by saying—
"Sir Raymond Norreys; at least so I understand his name to be from the servants."
"Raymond," shrieked Rachel; "my husband!"
"Hush!" exclaimed Mrs. Northland, too late, to the doctor; "this is Lady Norreys."
"I am very sorry," he commenced, looking awkward the while, but Rachel waited for no apologies. from the room she went, like an arrow from a bow, despite all entreaties from her mother or Lady Frances, and scaled the staircase to the upper regions. Mrs. Northland attempted to follow her, but fell back upon her chair, as she tried to walk.
"Go with her, please," she said, with quick entreaty, to the doctor. "Give her all the hope you can, she is very young;" and then as the medical man disappeared to execute her wishes, she sunk back upon her cushions and addressing Lady Frances, said—
"Oh, Frances! is it possible we are to have another loss? I think all this grief will be the death of me!"
But Rachel heard nothing of this. Swiftly and silently as she had sped from the lower room, did she enter the upper one, where Raymond Norreys had been laid. It happened to be the first she came across,—the same one on the landing where her father had so lately died. As she entered, she saw another stranger, together with some servants busily occupied near the bed with hot blankets and water-bottles; a man who, ignorant of her person, looked up jealously from his occupation, as she crossed the threshold, and authoritatively warned her off again.
"My dear lady, you must leave us, you must indeed. We | | 432 are doing all that is necessary for the case, and it is no sight for you."
But paying no heed to his words, she walked straight into the room. Then the other doctor followed her, and having whispered to his friend who she was, they said no more, but permitted her to have her way.
"I must see him," was all she had whispered, as she advanced towards the bed. Her voice was so determined, as well as her manner, and there was such a tone of low excitement running through her words, that, however much their ideas of propriety may have been shocked at the action, the medical men instinctively retreated a little from the side of their patient, and allowed her free access to him.
Yes! there he lay! her Raymond! her beloved, whom she had parted from in anger, but so short a time ago. There he lay, every vein in his body showing leaden colour through the clear dark skin; his eyes half-opened with a look that made her very soul recoil—it was so like death; his lithe, muscular limbs lying nerveless, rigid, and motionless by his side, and on his naked breast, suspended from a black ribbon, a tiny locket (even in that awful moment,Rachel recognised and remembered the far off time she had given him the childish trumpery toy), with all its gilding worn off, and a lock of ruddy chestnut hair curled round one side of it. As she stood and gazed upon him (though but for a moment), every tear dried in her eyes, whilst the hot fever came on upon her face and made them shine, with a false, unnatural brilliancy. She did not regard the presence of the doctors or the servants; she felt no shame, no reserve, in that dread hour; she only saw before her, as she thought, her dead! and with a hungry eager cry, Rachel threw herself upon the marble body, and burying her face against his, impressed kiss after kiss in rapid succession upon his eyes, his forehead, and his mouth.
But here one of the doctors interposed:
"Forgive me, Lady Norreys, but we cannot possibly permit this. You forget that the patient's life is at stake, and if you wish our endeavours to be successful, you will leave us to pursue them alone."
At these words, Rachel raised herself at once from the body of Raymond. She felt ashamed that she should have so suf- | | 433 fered her feelings to overcome her prudence, and horrified to think that she might even have imperilled by it, that precious life. She turned to the medical men, as they resumed their efforts, and said hurriedly—
"I do not know who you are, gentlemen, but I thank you for reminding me of his danger. For God's sake persevere in your attempts, and do not leave off until you have recovered him. And Heaven bless you for them, whether you succeed or no. I am rich," she added, passionately, "but I do not wrong you, by supposing that that knowledge will increase your energy; although it can, and it shall, in any case, abundantly reward you; but if you save his life," she continued, with pleading pathos, that almost amounted to a cry of agony, as she clasped her hands together, "I will pray for you—God knows I will—to the very last hour of my existence. You can, you will save him; will you not?"
Her eyes were flashing like jewels now, as she seized one of the doctors by the arm, and her very soul seemed hanging on his answer.
"We are doing our very best, Lady Norreys," he answered gravely, "and we have, under Heaven, every hope of success. See how much more freely Sir Raymond breathes even now! You can best help us, my dear lady, by praying for a blessing upon our endeavours."
She did not speak to him again; she only took one more hurried glance at the dear face looking so free from all earthly passion, in its awful stillness, and then stole silently from the room.
Outside the door she encountered her mother, whose eyes asked the question which she dared not put into words.
"Better," replied Rachel, in low, measured tones—"a little better; he breathes. How is dear Cecil now?"
"Quite conscious, Rachel, though feeling weak, and anxious to see you. He is infinitely distressed about poor Raymond, for it appears that it was in the effort to save your brother's life that he has so nearly lost his own."
Cecil was nearly recovered, and only too willing to talk of the dancer he had gone through, and to land the courage and intrepidity of his friend, by which he had been rescued.| | 434
"If Norreys dies," he said several times during that afternoon, "I shall never hold up my head again."
But Norreys did not die. Half an hour after Rachel had seen him, he was pronounced to be in a fair way to live, and she was eager to be allowed to go to him. But this, Dr. Sherard (who had been summoned to his aid) would not hear of.
"Sir Raymond is excessively weak," he said, "and must be preserved from all agitation. We have not yet told him even where he is."
But as hour after hour went on, and still she was not admitted to his room, Rachel grew impatient. She waylaid Dr. Sherard, and attacked him upon the subject. She was longing to be near him—employed in his behalf—taking trouble for him. Now that he had been so nearly taken from her for ever, and in so noble a cause, Rachel felt as if she never could do enough to signify her gratitude and love to him.
"Not allowed to go to my husband!" she urged: "it is rather hard, Dr. Sherard, and when even the servants are allowed to pass in and out."
"The presence of servants can have no power to agitate Sir Raymond, Lady Norreys. I cannot say as much for yours. Besides (I grieve to tell you so),—but I do not think an interview with him would be productive of any pleasure to you just yet; because he has been very feverish all the afternoon, and a little delirium has set in—a passing weakness, doubtless, that will be gone with the morning, but, under the circumstances, it is best he should be kept perfectly quiet."
"Delirious—good heavens! Dr. Sherard, is he in danger?"
"Certainly not at present, Lady Norreys, and, in the meanwhile let me entreat you to keep your own mind quiet and at rest."
At rest! How easy to say so—to advise so! Rachel crept up to her own room after this little interview with the doctor, and, groping her way in the dark to the bedside, fell on her knees there, and remained so. Cecil was up again by this time, and seated in the arm-chair by the fire in the dining-room, being petted and made much of by his mother and Lady Frances, whilst he, who had rescued him from so dreadful a death—who had been the means of his sitting there ever | | 435 again; he—her darling—her soul's darling—her lover—her Raymond (Rachel disguised none of her feelings from herself or others now), had recovered his consciousness only to lose it again; had been resuscitated only to fall a prey, perhaps, to a wasting fever, such as her first father died of, which should sap all his strength and energy, and cut him down before her eyes by slow degrees. For Rachel was so miserable that she took a savage pleasure in making the worst of the case. So her mother found her an hour afterwards, when she crept upstairs to see what had become of her daughter, and to ask her why she did not join them in the warm, cheerful room below. But Rachel would not move out of the dark or the cold. They were congenial to her present state of feeling.
"Leave me alone, mother," she said, "it is the kindest thing you can do. I feel until something is decided about Raymond, that I shall neither care to eat or sleep."
Dr. Sherard had not exaggerated the position in which Raymond Norreys lay; on the contrary, he had made lighter of it than he thought, in order to avoid alarming his wife. For the fact is, he was for some time after that, in great danger. The unusual excitement and fatigue which he had gone through for a fortnight previous to his immersion, and during which period he had taken very little food, and scarcely any rest, had ill-prepared his frame for the call which had been so suddenly made upon its powers. And to this reason was attributable, the tendency to fever which he displayed as soon as animation was restored—a tendency which before long resolved itself into a severe attack upon the brain,—under the influence of which Raymond Norreys hovered between life and death, till it seemed a lottery which should claim him. By the next day, indeed, Dr. Sherard was enabled to fulfil the hope he had held out to Rachel that she should then be admitted to her husband's presence, simply because he was so insensible to all outward objects, that it could not signify who attended on him, so that he was carefully and continuously watched. By the next day, a hospital nurse was installed in his room, for he had shown symptoms of becoming violent, and his mother and sister had been telegraphed for, and were staying in the same house,—Mrs. Northland thinking that she never could make enough of the mother whose son's | | 436 life had so nearly been given in exchange for that of her own child. By the next day, Cecil was walking about the house again, eager to do anything he could, to mitigate the suffering his wilfulness had been the means of entailing upon the whole family, and so anxious and heartbroken about the state of Raymond Norreys, that he had no time even to make love to Lady Frances, which defection on his part, that young lady (having recovered her own spirits) resented accordingly.
By the next day, little was heard about the house, which sorrow had for the second time so unexpectedly visited, but the whispered conferences which were continually taking place upon the staircase, and the harsh discordance of the sick man's voice, so strangely altered by delirium, as he gave vent in loud terms to the dictates of his disordered fancy; or sadder still, when his unnatural laugh, which made one shudder to listen to, rang over the upper-landing to the hall below.
But what of Rachel?
She was no longer to be found sitting in her usual attitude in idle thought, and gazing from the windows; nor yet thrown down by her bedside praying with tears and unuttered groans, and hands feebly outstretched into the darkness. She could not bear any longer to remain with folded palms communing with her sorrow. It had become too great a grief for that; had she done so, she would have gone mad. She would not even stay to receive comfort from her mother or his; she would put away from her Christine s pitying kiss; she would fly from the sound of Cecil's or Lady Frances' words of attempted consolation. They meant it kindly—only too much so, but had she given in to their desires, they would have driven her wild. No! while that unearthly laughter was pealing through the house—while those unmeaning words followed her wherever she went—she could not remain quiet; she would have died if they had forced her so to do. Days succeeded days, and still the cruel fever continued at its height, and still the delirium was unabated, and so were Rachel's strength and energy. In and out of that sick-chamber she crept; but she was generally inside of it, administering to his wants; giving him food or medicine; cooling his hot head with vinegar and water; or gently sponging his hands and | | 437 arms. Often she would sit by his bedside for hours together, his hands clasped in her own, whilst he would ramble on to her, in what might almost (so far as its intelligibility went) have been reckoned an unknown tongue, of scenes in which he had mixed, actions which he had done, and events which he had long before forgotten, and which only returned now, that he might torture his poor mind with the attempt to recollect them perfectly. He never seemed to know her; he called her by every name but her own—that he never mentioned—but his eyes would follow her light figure as it moved about his room, and his grasp would detain her by his side till she nearly dropped from fatigue, and when she left him he would murmur in a plaintive tone like a fretful child, and she would be back in a moment, ready to replace his head (where he evidently liked best to lay it) on her bosom. She did not stop to ask herself once what might be the issue of all this; she could not, dared not look beyond the present; and if a thought of the possible future ever loomed upon her mind, Rachel put it from her, with a shuddering horror, and only told herself that whatever happened, her place was here—her heart, her hope, was here; and that she and she only must nurse him, and live or die, according as he lived or died. The old hospital nurse, who did not see such charms in her patient as her employer did, was used to wondering during her moments of relaxation where "that poor creature, Lady Norreys, got her strength from, fort she had never been in bed, to her certain knowledge, since she had entered the house, which was a fortnight come Tuesday, and nursing the gentleman upstairs wasn't like ordinary nussing either, for a more refractory bit of flesh she never came across, and she'd nussed a many in her day."
But Rachel gained her strength from a source of which the hospital nurse, in her "ordinary nussings," knew nought; from a source that never wastes, that never fails, never runs dry—the inexhaustible fountain of a woman's love.
But a day came at last when Raymond Norreys was pronounced conscious and out of danger. A joyful, never-to-be-forgotten day, when Dr. Sherard announced the news publicly to the assembled family, and was received by a glad shout from Cecil, a flood of tears from the women of the party | | 438 and by Rachel (that morning, for a wonder, at the breakfast table) with a sudden flushing, a deadly pallor, and then a blind stumble forwards, as if she was groping her way in the darkness.
"She is fainting!" exclaimed Mrs. Northland and Mrs. Norreys, starting to her aid.
But she recovered herself almost immediately, and attempted to smile at them.
"No! I am not," she said, with difficulty. "I am only stunned with happiness! Oh! Dr. Sherard, may God's richest mercies be yours for ever!"
And as she spoke, she took the kind doctor's hand and pressed it to her lips. He, looking down upon her fragile figure, her large careworn eyes, and tremulous mouth, and recalling all the devotion he had seen her display during the last fortnight, felt infinitely moved.
"My dear lady," he said, "thank Heaven for your husband's life, not me. I have been able to do very little. His own excellent constitution has been his best doctor; but I trust now that he may be spared for many years to reward you for all your devotion, for I have seldom seen greater. But I must leave you now and go to him. I should prefer your not entering his room at present, as any great agitation might bring back the delirium, and we must have no relapses;" and saying so, he left them alone to talk over his good news.
Mrs. Northland folded Rachel in her arms as she congratulated her, but Mrs. Norreys was almost too agitated to say much.
"May God's blessing be on you!" she began.
"Oh! no!" exclaimed Rachel, while she caught the hand uplifted to her head, and pressed it to her heart instead; "no, dear Mrs. Norreys, don't say that, because I do not deserve it. I love him now as my life" she said, vehemently; "but I did not do so always, and I have made him very unhappy (oh! I dare not think now how unhappy). I have allowed my pride to step between us in all our little differences, and prevent the possibility of a reconciliation; but I have been bitterly punished for it. Oh, mother! Oh, Christine! can you, will you, forgive me, for the little care I have | | 439 hitherto taken of a heart so dear to you? For, indeed I love him now!"
"There is small need to tell us that, dear Rachel," replied Mrs. Norreys. "Whether the fault has been yours or Raymond's, we will trust that all the misery attendant on it, is over now and for ever, and that the sad trial we have just passed through will carry before it every recollection, but that of the wifely virtues it has called forth in you. And now, my love, you had better retire to your own room, and try and procure a little rest, before you are permitted to return to his side, for I am sure you sadly need it."
Even in a moment like this, Mrs. Norreys could not quite lose sight of her habitual prudence, and Rachel, unwilling to thwart her, and accompanied by Christine, professed to do as she desired. But it was an anxious, restless time for her, until she was told that she might once more seek his presence. Two hours afterwards the permission was her own. Dr. Sherard had prepared the patient's mind for her reception, by telling him gently where he was and how he came there.
But Raymond Norreys, after so long an illness, was not like the same creature that, full of hope and ardour, had leapt into the waters to rescue the brother of his wife, the trying fever having wasted his energy and powers of recollection. All remembrance of his interview with Cecil, and the bright future he had anticipated then, had been swept away before the confusion of delirium, and he was conscious of nothing now but a great despondency, consequent upon his extreme weakness. He lay feeling half dead, half alive, and wholly careless of what was before him, as Dr. Sherard broke to him a knowledge of the circumstances under which he came there, and the people by whom he was surrounded. He simply told him that his wife was one of them, and wished to see him. He did not dwell upon the fact that she had nursed him throughout his illness. Why should he? He left that tale of love for her own lips to mention. And then Rachel was informed that the way was cleared for her, and that she might reseek her husband's presence when she chose.
Quietly, almost timidly, upon receipt of it, she crept downstairs again, remembering as the did so, with a sudden pang | | 440 of what was almost fear, that she had not seen him conscious since that night.
When he had fondled and caressed her hand and laid his head upon her bosom, he had been insensible of who she was. Would he—ah! was it possible he could look coldly or indifferently, even angrily, upon her now? As Rachel surmised it, creeping down the bedroom staircase, she turned cold and leaned against the wall for a support. But his door was open, and she could hear his nurse contending with him about some medicine which he had apparently refused to take. Dr. Sherard was gone again, and they were alone. He had always been used to take his draughts from Rachel's hand, and she fancied that even in the midst of his ravings, the touch might have become familiar to him.
"Well you must take it then," she heard the nurse say, "for the doctor was most particular in his directions that you was to take 'em every hour, and it's the proper time. Come now, do take it like a good gentleman. "And then Raymond appeared to object again, for she added, though in a lower tone, and more to herself than him, "Well, I wish your lady was here, for any one so tiresome, for opposition and contrariness, I never came across."
Then Rachel darted into the room, and approaching the woman, took the glass from her hands.
"Give it to me," she whispered, "I will give it to Sir Raymond; you can go, nurse."
"It's the fever draught, my lady, and he must take it," was that worthy's final remark as she disappeared (infinitely glad of the release) to the kitchen quarters.
Then Rachel summoned up her courage and tried to steady her trembling limbs, as she carried the medicine to the bedside.
Raymond Norreys was lying on his back, vacantly staring at the ceiling. He was terribly changed, and looked more so, now that the excitement of delirium was past. His hair had been cut close to his head, his eyes were dull and sunken, his frame was wasted, and all the bright appearance of his youth seemed gone. When he caught sight of Rachel, his thin cheeks flushed and his eyes brightened, but he did not express any surprise at seeing her there. He was too thoroughly | | 441 languid and weak to feel any strong emotion; besides, since the doctor had apprised him of his situation, he had lain quiet, trying to collect his thoughts, and some of the past had come back to him, like an old story might do, that we have forgotten entirely, until we take the book up again. But Rachel, knowing that agitation might be very hurtful to him, tried as she caught his eye, to speak indifferently, in order that she might not excite him. Yet how her heart yearned to fold him next it in a strong embrace.
"Raymond," she almost whispered, in her effort to he calm, "this draught must be taken, Dr. Sherard said so. You must take everything that you possibly can now, to get up your strength."
"I don't want it," was the childish, fractious answer, as he tried to turn his head away. "It's of no use taking a lot of medicine."
"I am sure you will do so if I ask you." Her eyes were fixed upon his the while, and as she raised him from the pillow, and held the glass to his lips, he drank it off at once.
"I'm awfully weak," he said, as he sunk back upon his pillow with a sigh.
The ready tears welled into her eyes, but she tried to keep them from running over.
"You will soon be strong now, Raymond, if you take care of yourself."
"It was touch and go, wasn't it?'' he said presently. "I made certain, at one time, it was all over for both of us."
She was afraid of his dwelling on the horrors of that drowning scene, and tried to change the subject.
"Never mind that now, Raymond; it is all past, thank God. Your life and his have been most mercifully preserved. You should be very thankful."
"What for?" he demanded, turning his face towards her.
"Oh, Raymond!" she cried, her tears refusing any longer to be restrained, "you have been in great danger since that. For the last week we never thought you could have lived, but you have been brought through it. Is that nothing?"
"But I don't care to live, Rachel," he replied, using her name for the first time; "I would rather have died."
She was too much pained to answer, and he saw it.| | 442
"I would rather have died," he repeated, vehemently, a full recollection of the past pressing on him as he spoke. "I would rather have died in the water, or here, or anywhere, than rise up from this bed to go through the same suffering again, that life has hitherto brought me; for there is for me no living, Rachel (to be called such), without your love," and he turned his head, away again as he spoke.
Then her lips quivered, her eyes refilled, her whole face lighted up with a yearning sympathy—a deep, uncontrollable love—a passion that beat down pride beneath its feet, and would not be silent any longer.
"Raymond," she cried, "my love! my husband!"
He heard her, and he turned—turned with eyes through which his soul was beaming like a bright light flashing through a window pane.
"Rachel!" he said.
He did not ask if it was true—if she was certain that she did not deceive him or herself. He did not question for how long she had loved him, or wonder when the change had come. He only saw her face, and heard her voice, and knew it, oh! happy Raymond! for himself. Then he stretched out his feeble arms into the air, and held them to her; and as Rachel witnessed the weak effort, the mighty love surging in her own breast, in one moment swept all Pride and Self-deception and false Shame before it for ever; and with the glad cry of one who has wandered long, but sees his home open to receive him at the last, she sprung forward to meet their clasp—and heart lay against heart, in one long, passionate, never-to-be-again-severed embrace.THE END.
|<< chapter 36||< chapter 1|