Rachel Ray

 

E-text prepared by
Delphine Lettau and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.

 

Links to Volumes


 

 

 

RACHEL RAY

A Novel.

 

 

By ANTHONY TROLLOPE,

AUTHOR OF
“BARCHESTER TOWERS,” “CASTLE RICHMOND,” “ORLEY FARM,” ETC.

 

 

IN TWO VOLUMES.

Vol. I.

 

 

 

 

LONDON:
CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY.
1863.

[The right of Translation is reserved.]

 


 

LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET
AND CHARING CROSS.

 


 

CONTENTS.
 

 


 

RACHEL RAY.

 


 

 

CHAPTER I.

THE RAY FAMILY.
 

There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees;—for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary;—who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate reach. Of most women it may be said that it would be well for them that they should marry,—as indeed of most men also, seeing that man and wife will each lend the other strength, and yet in lending lose none; but to the women of whom I now speak some kind of marriage is quite indispensable, and by them some kind of marriage is always made, though the union is often unnatural. A woman in want of a wall against which to nail herself will swear conjugal obedience sometimes to her cook, sometimes to her grandchild, sometimes to her lawyer. Any standing corner, post, or stump, strong enough to bear her weight will suffice; but to some standing corner, post, or stump, she will find her way and attach herself, and there will she be married.

Such a woman was our Mrs. Ray. As her name imports, she had been married in the way most popular among ladies, with bell, book, and parson. She had been like a young peach tree that, in its early days, is carefully taught to grow against a propitious southern wall. Her natural prop had been found for her, and all had been well. But her heaven had been made black with storms; the heavy winds had come, and the warm sheltering covert against which she had felt herself so safe had been torn away from her branches as they were spreading themselves forth to the fulness of life. She had been married at eighteen, and then, after ten years of wedded security, she had become a widow.

Her husband had been some years older than herself,—a steady, sober, hardworking, earnest man, well fitted to act as a protecting screen to such a woman as he had chosen. They had lived in Exeter, both of them having belonged to Devonshire from their birth; and Mr. Ray, though not a clergyman himself, had been employed in matters ecclesiastical. He was a lawyer,—but a lawyer of that sort that is so nearly akin to the sacerdotal profession, as to make him quite clerical and almost a clergyman. He managed the property of the dean and chapter, and knew what were the rights, and also what were the wrongs, of prebendaries and minor canons,—of vicars choral, and even of choristers. But he had been dead many years before our story commences, and so much as this is now said of him simply to explain under what circumstances Mrs. Ray had received the first tinge of that colouring which was given to her life by church matters.

They had been married somewhat over ten years when he died, and she was left with two surviving daughters, the eldest and the youngest of the children she had borne. The eldest, Dorothea, was then more than nine years old, and as she took much after her father, being stern, sober, and steady, Mrs. Ray immediately married herself to her eldest child. Dorothea became the prop against which she would henceforth grow. And against Dorothea she had grown ever since, with the exception of one short year. In that year Dorothea had taken a husband to herself and had lost him;—so that there were two widows in the same house. She, like her mother, had married early, having joined her lot to that of a young clergyman near Baslehurst; but he had lived but a few months, and Mrs. Ray’s eldest child had come back to her mother’s cottage, black, and stiff, and stern, in widow’s weeds,—Mrs. Prime by name. Black, and stiff, and stern, in widow’s weeds, she had remained since, for nine years following, and those nine years will bring us to the beginning of our story.

As regards Mrs. Ray herself, I think it was well that poor Mr. Prime had died. It assured to her the support which she needed. It must, however, be acknowledged that Mrs. Prime was a harder taskmaster than Dorothea Ray had been, and that the mother might have undergone a gentler ruling had the daughter never become a wife. I think there was much in the hardness of the weeds she wore. It seemed as though Mrs. Prime in selecting her crape, her bombazine, and the models of her caps, had resolved to repress all ideas of feminine softness;—as though she had sworn to herself, with a great oath, that man should never again look on her with gratified eyes. The materials she wore have made other widows very pleasant to be seen,—with a sad thoughtful pleasantness indeed, but still very pleasant. There was nothing of that with Mrs. Prime. When she came back to her mother’s cottage near Baslehurst she was not yet twenty years old, but she was rough with weeds. Her caps were lumpy, heavy, full of woe, and clean only as decency might require,—not nicely clean with feminine care. The very stuff of which they were made was brown, rather than white, and her dress was always the same. It was rough, and black, and clinging,—disagreeable to the eye in its shape, as will always be the dress of any woman which is worn day after day through all hours. By nature and education Mrs. Prime was a prim, tidy woman, but it seemed that her peculiar ideas of duty required her to militate against her nature and education, at any rate in appearance. And this was her lot in life before she had yet reached her twentieth year!

Dorothea Ray had not been wanting in some feminine attraction. She had ever been brown and homely, but her features had been well-formed, and her eyes had been bright. Now, as she approached to thirty years of age, she might have been as well-looking as at any earlier period of her life if it had been her wish to possess good looks. But she had had no such wish. On the contrary, her desire had been to be ugly, forbidding, unattractive, almost repulsive; so that, in very truth, she might be known to be a widow indeed. And here I must not be misunderstood. There was nothing hypocritical about Mrs. Prime, nor did she make any attempt to appear before men to be weighted with a deeper sorrow than that which she truly bore; hypocrisy was by no means her fault. Her fault was this; that she had taught herself to believe that cheerfulness was a sin, and that the more she became morose, the nearer would she be to the fruition of those hopes of future happiness on which her heart was set. In all her words and thoughts she was genuine; but, then, in so very many of them she was mistaken! This was the wall against which Mrs. Ray had allowed herself to be fastened for many years past, and though the support was strong it must be admitted that it could hardly have been at all times pleasant.

Mrs. Ray had become a widow before she was thirty; and she had grieved for her husband with truest sorrow, pouring herself out at first in tears, and afterwards expending herself in long hours of vain regrets. But she had never been rough or hard in her widowhood. It had ever been her nature to be soft. She was a woman all over, and had about her so much of a woman’s prettiness, that she had not altogether divested herself of it, even when her weepers had been of the broadest. To obtain favour in men’s eyes had never been in her mind since she had first obtained favour in the eyes of him who had been her lord; but yet she had never absolutely divested herself of her woman charms, of that look half retreating, half beseeching, which had won the heart of the ecclesiastical lawyer. Gradually her weeds and her deep heavy crapes had fallen away from her, and then, without much thought on the matter, she dressed herself much as did other women of forty or forty-five,—being driven, however, on certain occasions by her daughter to a degree of dinginess, not by any means rivalling that of the daughter herself, but which she would not have achieved had she been left to her own devices. She was a sweet-tempered, good-humoured, loving, timid woman, ever listening and believing and learning, with a certain aptitude for gentle mirth at her heart which, however, was always being repressed and controlled by the circumstances of her life. She could gossip over a cup of tea, and enjoy buttered toast and hot cake very thoroughly, if only there was no one near her to whisper into her ear that any such enjoyment was wicked. In spite of the sorrows she had suffered she would have taught herself to believe this world to be a pleasant place, were it not so often preached into her ears that it is a vale of tribulation in which no satisfaction can abide. And it may be said of Mrs. Ray that her religion, though it sufficed her, tormented her grievously. It sufficed her; and if on such a subject I may venture to give an opinion, I think it was of a nature to suffice her in that great strait for which it had been prepared. But in this world it tormented her, carrying her hither and thither, and leaving her in grievous doubt, not as to its own truth in any of its details, but as to her own conduct under its injunctions, and also as to her own mode of believing in it. In truth she believed too much. She could never divide the minister from the Bible;—nay, the very clerk in the church was sacred to her while exercising his functions therein. It never occurred to her to question any word that was said to her. If a linen-draper were to tell her that one coloured calico was better for her than another, she would take that point as settled by the man’s word, and for the time would be free from all doubt on that heading. So also when the clergyman in his sermon told her that she should live simply and altogether for heaven, that all thoughts as to this world were wicked thoughts, and that nothing belonging to this world could be other than painful, full of sorrow and vexations, she would go home believing him absolutely, and with tear-laden eyes would bethink herself how utterly she was a castaway, because of that tea, and cake, and innocent tittle tattle with which the hours of her Saturday evening had been beguiled. She would weakly resolve that she would laugh no more, and that she would live in truth in a valley of tears. But then as the bright sun came upon her, and the birds sang around her, and some one that she loved would cling to her and kiss her, she would be happy in her own despite, and would laugh with a low musical sweet tone, forgetting that such laughter was a sin.

And then that very clergyman himself would torment her;—he that told her from the pulpit on Sundays how frightfully vain were all attempts at worldly happiness. He would come to her on the Monday with a good-natured, rather rubicund face, and would ask after all her little worldly belongings,—for he knew of her history and her means,—and he would joke with her, and tell her comfortably of his grown sons and daughters, who were prospering in worldly matters, and express the fondest solicitude as to their worldly advancement. Twice or thrice a year Mrs. Ray would go to the parsonage, and such evenings would be by no means hours of wailing. Tea and buttered toast on such occasions would be very manifestly in the ascendant. Mrs. Ray never questioned the propriety of her clergyman’s life, nor taught herself to see a discrepancy between his doctrine and his conduct. But she believed in both, and was unconsciously troubled at having her belief so varied. She never thought about it, or discovered that her friend allowed himself to be carried away in his sermons by his zeal, and that he condemned this world in all things, hoping that he might thereby teach his hearers to condemn it in some things. Mrs. Ray would allow herself the privilege of no such argument as that. It was all gospel to her. The parson in the church, and the parson out of the church, were alike gospels to her sweet, white, credulous mind; but these differing gospels troubled her and tormented her.

Of that particular clergyman, I may as well here say that he was the Rev. Charles Comfort, and that he was rector of Cawston, a parish in Devonshire, about two miles out of Baslehurst. Mr. Prime had for a year or two been his curate, and during that term of curacy he had married Dorothea Ray. Then he had died, and his widow had returned from the house her husband had occupied near the church to her mother’s cottage. Mr. Prime had been possessed of some property, and when he died he left his widow in the uncontrolled possession of two hundred a year. As it was well known that Mrs. Ray’s income was considerably less than this, the people of Baslehurst and Cawston had declared how comfortable for Mrs. Ray would be this accession of wealth to the family. But Mrs. Ray had not become much the richer. Mrs. Prime did no doubt pay her fair quota towards the maintenance of the humble cottage at Bragg’s End, for such was the name of the spot at which Mrs. Ray lived. But she did not do more than this. She established a Dorcas society at Baslehurst, of which she became permanent president, and spent her money in carrying on this institution in the manner most pleasing to herself. I fear that Mrs. Prime liked to be more powerful at these charitable meetings than her sister labourers in the same vineyard, and that she achieved this power by the means of her money. I do not bring this as a heavy accusation against her. In such institutions there is generally need of a strong, stirring, leading mind. If some one would not assume power, the power needed would not be exercised. Such a one as Mrs. Prime is often necessary. But we all have our own pet temptations, and I think that Mrs. Prime’s temptation was a love of power.

It will be understood that Baslehurst is a town,—a town with a market, and hotels, and a big brewery, and a square, and street; whereas Cawston is a village, or rather a rural parish, three miles out of Baslehurst, north of it, lying on the river Avon. But Bragg’s End, though within the parish of Cawston, lies about a mile and a half from the church and village, on the road to Baslehurst, and partakes therefore almost as much of the township of Baslehurst as it does of the rusticity of Cawston. How Bragg came to such an end, or why this corner of the parish came to be thus united for ever to Bragg’s name, no one in the parish knew. The place consisted of a little green, and a little wooden bridge, over a little stream that trickled away into the Avon. Here were clustered half a dozen labourers’ cottages, and a beer or cider shop. Standing back from the green was the house and homestead of Farmer Sturt, and close upon the green, with its garden hedge running down to the bridge, was the pretty cottage of Mrs. Ray. Mr. Comfort had known her husband, and he had found for her this quiet home. It was a pretty place, with one small sitting-room opening back upon the little garden, and with another somewhat larger fronting towards the road and the green. In the front room Mrs. Ray lived, looking out upon so much of the world as Bragg’s End green afforded to her view. The other seemed to be kept with some faint expectation of company that never came. Many of the widow’s neatest belongings were here preserved in most perfect order; but one may say that they were altogether thrown away,—unless indeed they afforded solace to their owner in the very act of dusting them. Here there were four or five books, prettily bound, with gilt leaves, arranged in shapes on the small round table. Here also was deposited a spangled mat of wondrous brightness, made of short white sticks of glass strung together. It must have taken care and time in its manufacture, but was, I should say, but of little efficacy either for domestic use or domestic ornament. There were shells on the chimneypiece, and two or three china figures. There was a birdcage hung in the window but without a bird. It was all very clean, but the room conveyed at the first glance an overpowering idea of its own absolute inutility and vanity. It was capable of answering no purpose for which men and women use rooms; but he who could have said so to Mrs. Ray must have been a cruel and a hardhearted man.

The other room which looked out upon the green was snug enough, and sufficed for all the widow’s wants. There was a little book-case laden with books. There was the family table at which they ate their meals; and there was the little table near the window at which Mrs. Ray worked. There was an old sofa, and an old arm-chair; and there was, also, a carpet, alas, so old that the poor woman had become painfully aware that she must soon have either no carpet or a new one. A word or two had already been said between her and Mrs. Prime on that matter, but the word or two had not as yet been comfortable. Then, over the fire, there was an old round mirror; and, having told of that, I believe I need not further describe the furniture of the sitting room at Bragg’s End.

But I have not as yet described the whole of Mrs. Ray’s family. Had I done so, her life would indeed have been sour, and sorrowful, for she was a woman who especially needed companionship. Though I have hitherto spoken but of one daughter, I have said that two had been left with her when her husband died. She had one whom she feared and obeyed, seeing that a master was necessary to her; but she had another whom she loved and caressed, and I may declare, that some such object for her tenderness was as necessary to her as the master. She could not have lived without something to kiss, something to tend, something to which she might speak in short, loving, pet terms of affection. This youngest girl, Rachel, had been only two years old when her father died, and now, at the time of this story, was not yet quite twenty. Her sister was, in truth, only seven years her senior, but in all the facts and ways of life, she seemed to be the elder by at least half a century. Rachel indeed, at the time, felt herself to be much nearer of an age with her mother. With her mother she could laugh and talk, ay, and form little wicked whispered schemes behind the tyrant’s back, during some of those Dorcas hours, in which Mrs. Prime would be employed at Baslehurst; schemes, however, for the final perpetration of which, the courage of the elder widow would too frequently be found insufficient.

Rachel Ray was a fair-haired, well-grown, comely girl,—very like her mother in all but this, that whereas about the mother’s eyes there was always a look of weakness, there was a shadowing of coming strength of character round those of the daughter. On her brow there was written a capacity for sustained purpose which was wanting to Mrs. Ray. Not that the reader is to suppose that she was masterful like her sister. She had been brought up under Mrs. Prime’s directions, and had not, as yet, learned to rebel. Nor was she in any way prone to domineer. A little wickedness now and then, to the extent, perhaps, of a vain walk into Baslehurst on a summer evening, a little obstinacy in refusing to explain whither she had been and whom she had seen, a yawn in church, or a word of complaint as to the length of the second Sunday sermon,—these were her sins; and when rebuked for them by her sister, she would of late toss her head, and look slily across to her mother, with an eye that was not penitent. Then Mrs. Prime would become black and angry, and would foretell hard things for her sister, denouncing her as fashioning herself wilfully in the world’s ways. On such occasions Mrs. Ray would become very unhappy, believing first in the one child and then in the other. She would defend Rachel, till her weak defence would be knocked to shivers, and her poor vacillating words taken from out of her mouth. Then, when forced to acknowledge that Rachel was in danger of backsliding, she would kiss her and cry over her, and beg her to listen to the sermons. Rachel hitherto had never rebelled. She had never declared that a walk into Baslehurst was better than a sermon. She had never said out boldly that she liked the world and its wickednesses. But an observer of physiognomy, had such observer been there, might have seen that the days of such rebellion were coming.

She was a fair-haired girl, with hair, not flaxen, but of light-brown tint,—thick, and full, and glossy, so that its charms could not all be hidden away let Mrs. Prime do what she would to effect such hiding. She was well made, being tall and straight, with great appearance of health and strength. She walked as though the motion were pleasant to her, and easy,—as though the very act of walking were a pleasure. She was bright too, and clever in their little cottage, striving hard with her needle to make things look well, and not sparing her strength in giving household assistance. One little maiden Mrs. Ray employed, and a gardener came to her for half a day once a week;—but I doubt whether the maiden in the house, or the gardener out of the house, did as much hard work as Rachel. How she had toiled over that carpet, patching it and piecing it! Even Dorothea could not accuse her of idleness. Therefore Dorothea accused her of profitless industry, because she would not attend more frequently at those Dorcas meetings.

“But, Dolly, how on earth am I to make my own things, and look after mamma’s? Charity begins at home.” Then had Dorothea put down her huge Dorcas basket, and explained to her sister, at considerable length, her reading of that text of Scripture. “One’s own clothes must be made all the same,” Rachel said when the female preacher had finished. “And I don’t suppose even you would like mamma to go to church without a decent gown.” Then Dorothea had seized up her huge basket angrily, and had trudged off into Baslehurst at a quick pace,—at a pace much too quick when the summer’s heat is considered;—and as she went, unhappy thoughts filled her mind. A coloured dress belonging to Rachel herself had met her eye, and she had heard tidings of—a young man!

Such tidings, to her ears, were tidings of iniquity, of vanity, of terrible sin; they were tidings which hardly admitted of being discussed with decency, and which had to be spoken of below the breath. A young man! Could it be that such disgrace had fallen upon her sister! She had not as yet mentioned the subject to Rachel, but she had given a dark hint to their afflicted mother.

“No, I didn’t see it myself, but I heard it from Miss Pucker.”

“She that was to have been married to William Whitecoat, the baker’s son, only he went away to Torquay and picked up with somebody else. People said he did it because she does squint so dreadfully.”

“Mother!”—and Dorothea spoke very sternly as she answered—”what does it matter to us about William Whitecoat, or Miss Pucker’s squint? She is a woman eager in doing good.”

“It’s only since he left Baslehurst, my dear.”

“Mother!—does that matter to Rachel? Will that save her if she be in danger? I tell you that Miss Pucker saw her walking with that young man from the brewery!”

Though Mrs. Ray had been strongly inclined to throw what odium she could upon Miss Pucker, and though she hated Miss Pucker in her heart,—at this special moment,—for having carried tales against her darling, she could not deny, even to herself, that a terrible state of things had arrived if it were really true that Rachel had been seen walking with a young man. She was not bitter on the subject as was Mrs. Prime and poor Miss Pucker, but she was filled full of indefinite horror with regard to young men in general. They were all regarded by her as wolves,—as wolves, either with or without sheep’s clothing. I doubt whether she ever brought it home to herself that those whom she now recognized as the established and well-credited lords of the creation had ever been young men themselves. When she heard of a wedding,—when she learned that some struggling son of Adam had taken to himself a wife, and had settled himself down to the sober work of the world, she rejoiced greatly, thinking that the son of Adam had done well to get himself married. But whenever it was whispered into her ear that any young man was looking after a young woman,—that he was taking the only step by which he could hope to find a wife for himself,—she was instantly shocked at the wickedness of the world, and prayed inwardly that the girl at least might be saved like a brand from the burning. A young man, in her estimation, was a wicked wild beast, seeking after young women to devour them, as a cat seeks after mice. This at least was her established idea,—the idea on which she worked, unless some other idea on any special occasion were put into her head. When young Butler Cornbury, the eldest son of the neighbouring squire, came to Cawston after pretty Patty Comfort,—for Patty Comfort was said to have been the prettiest girl in Devonshire;—and when Patty Comfort had been allowed to go to the assemblies at Torquay almost on purpose to meet him, Mrs. Ray had thought it all right, because it had been presented to her mind as all right by the Rector. Butler Cornbury had married Patty Comfort and it was all right. But had she heard of Patty’s dancings without the assistance of a few hints from Mr. Comfort himself, her mind would have worked in a different way.

She certainly desired that her own child Rachel should some day find a husband, and Rachel was already older than she had been when she married, or than Mrs. Prime had been at her wedding; but, nevertheless, there was something terrible in the very thought of—a young man; and she, though she would fain have defended her child, hardly knew how to do so otherwise than by discrediting the words of Miss Pucker. “She always was very ill-natured, you know,” Mrs. Ray ventured to hint.

“Mother!” said Mrs. Prime, in that peculiarly stern voice of hers. “There can be no reason for supposing that Miss Pucker wishes to malign the child. It is my belief that Rachel will be in Baslehurst this evening. If so, she probably intends to meet him again.”

“I know she is going into Baslehurst after tea,” said Mrs. Ray, “because she has promised to walk with the Miss Tappitts. She told me so.”

“Exactly;—with the brewery girls! Oh, mother!” Now it is certainly true that the three Miss Tappitts were the daughters of Bungall and Tappitt, the old-established brewers of Baslehurst. They were, at least, the actual children of Mr. Tappitt, who was the sole surviving partner in the brewery. The name of Bungall had for many years been used merely to give solidity and standing to the Tappitt family. The Miss Tappitts certainly came from the brewery, and Miss Pucker had said that the young man came from the same quarter. There was ground in this for much suspicion, and Mrs. Ray became uneasy. This conversation between the two widows had occurred before dinner at the cottage on a Saturday;—and it was after dinner that the elder sister had endeavoured to persuade the younger one to accompany her to the Dorcas workshop;—but had endeavoured in vain.

 

 

CHAPTER II.

THE YOUNG MAN FROM THE BREWERY.
 

There were during the summer months four Dorcas afternoons held weekly in Baslehurst, at all of which Mrs. Prime presided. It was her custom to start soon after dinner, so as to reach the working room before three o’clock, and there she would remain till nine, or as long as the daylight remained. The meeting was held in a sitting room belonging to Miss Pucker, for the use of which the Institution paid some moderate rent. The other ladies, all belonging to Baslehurst, were accustomed to go home to tea in the middle of their labours; but, as Mrs. Prime could not do this because of the distance, she remained with Miss Pucker, paying for such refreshment as she needed. In this way there came to be a great friendship between Mrs. Prime and Miss Pucker;—or rather, perhaps, Mrs. Prime thus obtained the services of a most obedient minister. Rachel had on various occasions gone with her sister to the Dorcas meetings, and once or twice had remained at Miss Pucker’s house, drinking tea there. But this she greatly disliked. She was aware, when she did so, that her sister paid for her, and she thought that Dorothea showed by her behaviour that she was mistress of the entertainment. And then Rachel greatly disliked Miss Pucker. She disliked that lady’s squint, she disliked the tone of her voice, she disliked her subservience to Mrs. Prime, and she especially disliked the vehemence of her objection to—young men. When Rachel had last left Miss Pucker’s room she had resolved that she would never again drink tea there. She had not said to herself positively that she would attend no more of the Dorcas meetings;—but as regarded their summer arrangement this resolve against the tea-drinking amounted almost to the same thing.

It was on this account, I protest, and by no means on account of that young man from the brewery, that Rachel had with determination opposed her sister’s request on this special Saturday. And the refusal had been made in an unaccustomed manner, owing to the request also having been pressed with unusual vigour.

“Rachel, I particularly wish it, and I think that you ought to come,” Dorothea had said.

“I had rather not come, Dolly.”

“That means,” continued Mrs. Prime, “that you prefer your pleasure to your duty;—that you boldly declare yourself determined to neglect that which you know you ought to do.”

“I don’t know any such thing,” said Rachel.

“If you think of it you will know it,” said Mrs. Prime.

“At any rate I don’t mean to go to Miss Pucker’s this afternoon.”—Then Rachel left the room.

It was immediately after this conversation that Mrs. Prime uttered to Mrs. Ray that terrible hint about the young man; and at the same time uttered another hint by which she strove to impress upon her mother that Rachel ought to be kept in subordination,—in fact, that the power should not belong to Rachel of choosing whether she would or would not go to Dorcas meetings. In all such matters, according to Dorothea’s view of the case, Rachel should do as she was bidden. But then how was Rachel to be made to do as she was bidden? How was her sister to enforce her attendance? Obedience in this world depends as frequently on the weakness of him who is governed as on the strength of him who governs. That man who was going to the left is ordered by you with some voice of command to go to the right. When he hesitates you put more command into your voice, more command into your eyes,—and then he obeys. Mrs. Prime had tried this, but Rachel had not turned to the right. When Mrs. Prime applied for aid to their mother, it was a sign that the power of command was going from herself. After dinner the elder sister made another little futile attempt, and then, when she had again failed, she trudged off with her basket.

Mrs. Ray and Rachel were left sitting at the open window, looking out upon the mignionette. It was now in July, when the summer sun is at the hottest,—and in those southern parts of Devonshire the summer sun in July is very hot. There is no other part of England like it. The lanes are low and narrow, and not a breath of air stirs through them. The ground rises in hills on all sides, so that every spot is a sheltered nook. The rich red earth drinks in the heat and holds it, and no breezes come up from the southern torpid sea. Of all counties in England Devonshire is the fairest to the eye; but, having known it in its summer glory, I must confess that those southern regions are not fitted for much noonday summer walking.

“I’m afraid she’ll find it very hot with that big basket,” said Mrs. Ray, after a short pause. It must not be supposed that either she or Rachel were idle because they remained at home. They both had their needles in their hands, and Rachel was at work, not on that coloured frock of her own which had roused her sister’s suspicion, but on needful aid to her mother’s Sunday gown.

“She might have left it in Baslehurst if she liked,” said Rachel, “or I would have carried it for her as far as the bridge, only that she was so angry with me when she went.”

“I don’t think she was exactly angry, Rachel.”

“Oh, but she was, mamma;—very angry. I know by her way of flinging out of the house.”

“I think she was sorry because you would not go with her.”

“But I don’t like going there, mamma. I don’t like that Miss Pucker. I can’t go without staying to tea, and I don’t like drinking tea there.” Then there was a little pause. “You don’t want me to go;—do you, mamma? How would the things get done here? and you can’t like having your tea alone.”

“No; I don’t like that at all,” said Mrs. Ray. But she hardly thought of what she was saying. Her mind was away, working on the subject of that young man. She felt that it was her duty to say something to Rachel, and yet she did not know what to say. Was she to quote Miss Pucker? It went, moreover, sorely against the grain with her to disturb the comfort of their present happy moments by any disagreeable allusion. The world gave her nothing better than those hours in which Rachel was alone with her,—in which Rachel tended her and comforted her. No word had been said on a subject so wicked and full of vanity, but Mrs. Ray knew that her evening meal would be brought in at half-past five in the shape of a little feast,—a feast which would not be spread if Mrs. Prime had remained at home. At five o’clock Rachel would slip away and make hot toast, and would run over the Green to Farmer Sturt’s wife for a little thick cream, and there would be a batter cake, and so there would be a feast. Rachel was excellent at the preparation of such banquets, knowing how to coax the teapot into a good drawing humour, and being very clever in little comforts; and she would hover about her mother, in a way very delightful to that lady, making the widow feel for the time that there was a gleam of sunshine in the valley of tribulation. All that must be over for this afternoon if she spoke of Miss Pucker and the young man. Yes; and must it not be over for many an afternoon to come? If there were to be distrust between her and Rachel what would her life be worth to her?

But yet there was her duty! As she sat there looking out into the garden indistinct ideas of what were a mother’s duties to her child lay heavy on her mind,—ideas which were very indistinct, but which were not on that account the less powerful in their operation. She knew that it behoved her to sacrifice everything to her child’s welfare, but she did not know what special sacrifice she was at this moment called upon to make. Would it be well that she should leave this matter altogether in the hands of Mrs. Prime, and thus, as it were, abdicate her own authority? Mrs. Prime would undertake such a task with much more skill and power of language than she could use. But then would this be fair to Rachel, and would Rachel obey her sister? Any explicit direction from herself,—if only she could bring herself to give any,—Rachel would, she thought, obey. In this way she resolved that she would break the ice and do her duty.

“Are you going into Baslehurst this evening, dear?” she said.

“Yes, mamma; I shall walk in after tea;—that is if you don’t want me. I told the Miss Tappitts I would meet them.”

“No; I shan’t want you. But Rachel—”

“Well, mamma?”

Mrs. Ray did not know how to do it. The matter was surrounded with difficulties. How was she to begin, so as to introduce the subject of the young man without shocking her child and showing an amount of distrust which she did not feel? “Do you like those Miss Tappitts?” she said.

“Yes;—in a sort of a way. They are very good-natured, and one likes to know somebody. I think they are nicer than Miss Pucker.”

“Oh, yes;—I never did like Miss Pucker myself. But, Rachel—”

“What is it, mamma? I know you’ve something to say, and that you don’t half like to say it. Dolly has been telling tales about me, and you want to lecture me, only you haven’t got the heart. Isn’t that it, mamma?” Then she put down her work, and coming close up to her mother, knelt before her and looked up into her face. “You want to scold me, and you haven’t got the heart to do it.”

“My darling, my darling,” said the mother, stroking her child’s soft smooth hair. “I don’t want to scold you;—I never want to scold you. I hate scolding anybody.”

“I know you do, mamma.”

“But they have told me something which has frightened me.”

“They! who are they?”

“Your sister told me, and Miss Pucker told her.”

“Oh, Miss Pucker! What business has Miss Pucker with me? If she is to come between us all our happiness will be over.” Then Rachel rose from her knees and began to look angry, whereupon her mother was more frightened than ever. “But let me hear it, mamma. I’ve no doubt it is something very awful.”

Mrs. Ray looked at her daughter with beseeching eyes, as though praying to be forgiven for having introduced a subject so disagreeable. “Dorothea says that on Wednesday evening you were walking under the churchyard elms with—that young man from the brewery.”

At any rate everything had been said now. The extent of the depravity with which Rachel was to be charged had been made known to her in the very plainest terms. Mrs. Ray as she uttered the terrible words turned first pale and then red,—pale with fear and red with shame. As soon as she had spoken them she wished the words unsaid. Her dislike to Miss Pucker amounted almost to hatred. She felt bitterly even towards her own eldest daughter. She looked timidly into Rachel’s face and unconsciously construed into their true meaning those lines which formed themselves on the girl’s brow and over her eyes.

“Well, mamma; and what else?” said Rachel.

“Dorothea thinks that perhaps you are going into Baslehurst to meet him again.”

“And suppose I am?”

From the tone in which this question was asked it was clear to Mrs. Ray that she was expected to answer it. And yet what answer could she make?

It had never occurred to her that her child would take upon herself to defend such conduct as that imputed to her, or that any question would be raised as to the propriety or impropriety of the proceeding. She was by no means prepared to show why it was so very terrible and iniquitous. She regarded it as a sin,—known to be a sin generally,—as is stealing or lying. “Suppose I am going to walk with him again? what then?”

“Oh, Rachel, who is he? I don’t even know his name. I didn’t believe it, when Dorothea told me; only as she did tell me I thought I ought to mention it. Oh dear, oh dear! I hope there is nothing wrong. You were always so good;—I can’t believe anything wrong of you.”

“No, mamma;—don’t. Don’t think evil of me.”

“I never did, my darling.”

“I am not going into Baslehurst to walk with Mr. Rowan;—for I suppose it is him you mean.”

“I don’t know, my dear; I never heard the young man’s name.”

“It is Mr. Rowan. I did walk with him along the churchyard path when that woman with her sharp squinting eyes saw me. He does belong to the brewery. He is related in some way to the Tappitts, and was a nephew of old Mrs. Bungall’s. He is there as a clerk, and they say he is to be a partner,—only I don’t think he ever will, for he quarrels with Mr. Tappitt.”

“Dear, dear!” said Mrs. Ray.

“And now, mamma, you know as much about him as I do; only this, that he went to Exeter this morning, and does not come back till Monday, so that it is impossible that I should meet him in Baslehurst this evening;—and it was very unkind of Dolly to say so; very unkind indeed.” Then Rachel gave way and began to cry.

It certainly did seem to Mrs. Ray that Rachel knew a good deal about Mr. Rowan. She knew of his kith and kin, she knew of his prospects and what was like to mar his prospects, and she knew also of his immediate proceedings, whereabouts, and intentions. Mrs. Ray did not logically draw any conclusion from these premises, but she became uncomfortably assured that there did exist a considerable intimacy between Mr. Rowan and her daughter. And how had it come to pass that this had been allowed to form itself without any knowledge on her part? Miss Pucker might be odious and disagreeable;—Mrs. Ray was inclined to think that the lady in question was very odious and disagreeable;—but must it not be admitted that her little story about the young man had proved itself to be true?

“I never will go to those nasty rag meetings any more.”

“Oh Rachel, don’t speak in that way.”

“But I won’t. I will never put my foot in that woman’s room again. They talk nothing but scandal all the time they are there, and speak any ill they can of the poor young girls whom they talk about. If you don’t mind my knowing Mr. Rowan, what is it to them?”

But this was assuming a great deal. Mrs. Ray was by no means prepared to say that she did not object to her daughter’s acquaintance with Mr. Rowan. “But I don’t know anything about him, my dear. I never heard his name before.”

“No, mamma; you never did. And I know very little of him; so little that there has been nothing to tell,—at least next to nothing. I don’t want to have any secrets from you, mamma.”

“But, Rachel,—he isn’t, is he—? I mean there isn’t anything particular between him and you? How was it you were walking with him alone?”

“I wasn’t walking with him alone;—at least only for a little way. He had been out with his cousins and we had all been together, and when they went in, of course I was obliged to come home. I couldn’t help his coming along the churchyard path with me. And what if he did, mamma? He couldn’t bite me.”

“But my dear—”

“Oh mamma;—don’t be afraid of me.” Then she came across, and again knelt at her mother’s feet. “If you’ll trust me I’ll tell you everything.”

Upon hearing this assurance, Mrs. Ray of course promised Rachel that she would trust her and expected in return to be told everything then, at the moment. But she perceived that her daughter did not mean to tell her anything further at that time. Rachel, when she had received her mother’s promise, embraced her warmly, caressing her and petting her as was her custom, and then after a while she resumed her work. Mrs. Ray was delighted to have the evil thing over, but she could not but feel that the conversation had not terminated as it should have done.

Soon after that the hour arrived for their little feast, and Rachel went about her work just as merrily and kindly as though there had been no words about the young man. She went across for the cream, and stayed gossiping for some few minutes with Mrs. Sturt. Then she bustled about the kitchen making the tea and toasting the bread. She had never been more anxious to make everything comfortable for her mother, and never more eager in her coaxing way of doing honour to the good things which she had prepared; but, through it all, her mother was aware that everything was not right; there was something in Rachel’s voice which betrayed inward uneasiness;—something in the vivacity of her movements that was not quite true to her usual nature. Mrs. Ray felt that it was so, and could not therefore be altogether at her ease. She pretended to enjoy herself;—but Rachel knew that her joy was not real. Nothing further, however, was said, either regarding that evening’s walk into Baslehurst, or touching that other walk as to which Miss Pucker’s tale had been told. Mrs. Ray had done as much as her courage enabled her to attempt on that occasion.

When the tea-drinking was over, and the cups and spoons had been tidily put away, Rachel prepared herself for her walk. She had been very careful that nothing should be hurried,—that there should be no apparent anxiety on her part to leave her mother quickly. And even when all was done, she would not go without some assurance of her mother’s goodwill. “If you have any wish that I should stay, mamma, I don’t care in the least about going.”

“No, my dear; I don’t want you to stay at all.”

“Your dress is finished.”

“Thank you, my dear; you have been very good.”

“I haven’t been good at all; but I will be good if you’ll trust me.”

“I will trust you.”

“At any rate you need not be afraid to-night, for I am only going to take a walk with those three girls across the church meadows. They’re always very civil, and I don’t like to turn my back upon them.”

“I don’t wish you to turn your back upon them.”

“It’s stupid not to know anybody; isn’t it?”

“I dare say it is,” said Mrs. Ray. Then Rachel had finished tying on her hat, and she walked forth.

For more than two hours after that the widow sat alone, thinking of her children. As regarded Mrs. Prime, there was at any rate no cause for trembling, timid thoughts. She might be regarded as being safe from the world’s wicked allurements. She was founded like a strong rock, and was, with her stedfast earnestness, a staff on which her weaker mother might lean with security. But then she was so stern,—and her very strength was so oppressive! Rachel was weaker, more worldly, given terribly to vain desires and thoughts that were almost wicked; but then it was so pleasant to live with her! And Rachel, though weak and worldly and almost wicked, was so very good and kind and sweet! As Mrs. Ray thought of this she began to doubt whether, after all, the world was so very bad a place, and whether the wickedness of tea and toast, and of other creature comforts, could be so very great. “I wonder what sort of a young man he is,” she said to herself.

Mrs. Prime’s return was always timed with the regularity of clockwork. At this period of the year she invariably came in exactly at half-past nine. Mrs. Ray was very anxious that Rachel should come in first, so that nothing should be said of her walk on this evening. She had been unwilling to imply distrust by making any special request on this occasion, and had therefore said nothing on the subject as Rachel went; but she had carefully watched the clock, and had become uneasy as the time came round for Mrs. Prime’s appearance. Exactly at half-past nine she entered the house, bringing with her the heavy basket laden with work, and bringing with her also a face full of the deepest displeasure. She said nothing as she seated herself wearily on a chair against the wall; but her manner was such as to make it impossible that her mother should not notice it. “Is there anything wrong, Dorothea?” she said.

“Rachel has not come home yet, of course?” said Mrs. Prime.

“No; not yet. She is with the Miss Tappitts.”

“No, mother, she is not with the Miss Tappitts:” and her voice, as she said these words, was dreadful to the mother’s ears.

“Isn’t she? I thought she was. Do you know where she is?”

“Who is to say where she is? Half an hour since I saw her alone with—”

“With whom? Not with that young man from the brewery, for he is at Exeter.”

“Mother, he is here,—in Baslehurst! Half an hour since he and Rachel were standing alone together beneath the elms in the churchyard. I saw them with my own eyes.”

 

 

CHAPTER III.

THE ARM IN THE CLOUDS.
 

There was plenty of time for full inquiry and full reply between Mrs. Ray and Mrs. Prime before Rachel opened the cottage door, and interrupted them. It was then nearly half-past ten. Rachel had never been so late before. The last streak of the sun’s reflection in the east had vanished, the last ruddy line of evening light had gone, and the darkness of the coming night was upon them. The hour was late for any girl such as Rachel Ray to be out alone.

There had been a long discussion between the mother and the elder daughter; and Mrs. Ray, believing implicitly in the last announcements made to her, was full of fears for her child. The utmost rigour of self-denying propriety should have been exercised by Rachel, whereas her conduct had been too dreadful almost to be described. Two or three hours since Mrs. Ray had fondly promised that she would trust her younger daughter, and had let her forth alone, proud in seeing her so comely as she went. An idea had almost entered her mind that if the young man was very steady, such an acquaintance might perhaps be not altogether wicked. But everything was changed now. All the happiness of her trust was gone. All her sweet hopes were crushed. Her heart was filled with fear, and her face was pale with sorrow.

“Why should she know where he was to be?” Dorothea had asked. “But he is not at Exeter;—he is here, and she was with him.” Then the two had sat gloomily together till Rachel returned. As she came in there was a little forced laugh upon her face. “I am late; am I not?” she said. “Oh, Rachel, very late!” said her mother. “It is half-past ten,” said Mrs. Prime. “Oh, Dolly, don’t speak with that terrible voice, as though the world were coming to an end,” said Rachel; and she looked up almost savagely, showing that she was resolved to fight.

But it may be as well to say a few words about the firm of Messrs. Bungall and Tappitt, about the Tappitt family generally, and about Mr. Luke Rowan, before any further portion of the history of that evening is written.

Why there should have been any brewery at all at Baslehurst, seeing that everybody in that part of the world drinks cider, or how, under such circumstances, Messrs. Bungall and Tappitt had managed to live upon the proceeds of their trade, I cannot pretend to say. Baslehurst is in the heart of the Devonshire cider country. It is surrounded by orchards, and farmers talk there of their apples as they do of their cheese in Cheshire, or their wheat in Essex, or their sheep in Lincolnshire. Men drink cider by the gallon,—by the gallon daily; cider presses are to be found at every squire’s house, at every parsonage, and every farm homestead. The trade of a brewer at Baslehurst would seem to be as profitless as that of a breeches-maker in the Highlands, or a shoemaker in Connaught;—but nevertheless Bungall and Tappitt had been brewers in Baslehurst for the last fifty years, and had managed to live out of their brewery.

It is not to be supposed that they were great men like the mighty men of beer known of old,—such as Barclay and Perkins, or Reid and Co. Nor were they new, and pink, and prosperous, going into Parliament for this borough and that, just as they pleased, like the modern heroes of the bitter cask. When the student at Oxford was asked what man had most benefited humanity, and when he answered “Bass,” I think that he should not have been plucked. It was a fair average answer. But no student at any university could have said as much for Bungall and Tappitt without deserving utter disgrace, and whatever penance an outraged examiner could inflict. It was a sour and muddy stream that flowed from their vats; a beverage disagreeable to the palate, and very cold and uncomfortable to the stomach. Who drank it I could never learn. It was to be found at no respectable inn. It was admitted at no private gentleman’s table. The farmers knew nothing of it. The labourers drenched themselves habitually with cider. Nevertheless the brewery of Messrs. Bungall and Tappitt was kept going, and the large ugly square brick house in which the Tappitt family lived was warm and comfortable. There is something in the very name of beer that makes money.

Old Bungall, he who first established the house, was still remembered by the seniors of Baslehurst, but he had been dead more than twenty years before the period of my story. He had been a short, fat old man, not much above five feet high, very silent, very hard, and very ignorant. But he had understood business, and had established the firm on a solid foundation. Late in life he had taken into partnership his nephew Tappitt, and during his life had been a severe taskmaster to his partner. Indeed the firm had only assumed its present name on the demise of Bungall. As long as he had lived it had been Bungall’s brewery. When the days of mourning were over, then—and not till then—Mr. Tappitt had put up a board with the joint names of the firm as at present called.

It was believed in Baslehurst that Mr. Bungall had not bequeathed his undivided interest in the concern to his nephew. Indeed people went so far as to say that he had left away from Mr. Tappitt all that he could leave. The truth in that respect may as well be told at once. His widow had possessed a third of the profits of the concern, in lieu of her right to a full half share in the concern, which would have carried with it the onus of a full half share of the work. That third and those rights she had left to her nephew,—or rather to her great-nephew, Luke Rowan. It was not, however, in this young man’s power to walk into the brewery and claim a seat there as a partner. It was not in his power to do so, even if such should be his wish. When old Mrs. Bungall died at Dawlish at the very advanced age of ninety-seven, there came to be, as was natural, some little dispute between Mr. Tappitt and his distant connection, Luke Rowan. Mr. Tappitt suggested that Luke should take a thousand pounds down, and walk forth free from all contamination of malt and hops. Luke’s attorney asked for ten thousand. Luke Rowan at the time was articled to a lawyer in London, and as the dinginess of the chambers which he frequented in Lincoln’s Inn Fields appeared to him less attractive than the beautiful rivers of Devonshire, he offered to go into the brewery as a partner. It was at last settled that he should place himself there as a clerk for twelve months, drawing a certain moderate income out of the concern; and that if at the end of the year he should show himself to be able, and feel himself to be willing, to act as a partner, the firm should be changed to Tappitt and Rowan, and he should be established permanently as a Baslehurst brewer. Some information, however, beyond this has already been given to the reader respecting Mr. Rowan’s prospects. “I don’t think he ever will be a partner,” Rachel had said to her mother, “because he quarrels with Mr. Tappitt.” She had been very accurate in her statement. Mr. Rowan had now been three months at Baslehurst, and had not altogether found the ways of his relative pleasant. Mr. Tappitt wished to treat him as a clerk, whereas he wished to be treated as a partner. And Mr. Tappitt had by no means found the ways of the young man to be pleasant. Young Rowan was not idle, nor did he lack intelligence; indeed he possessed more energy and cleverness than, in Tappitt’s opinion, were necessary to the position of a brewer in Baslehurst; but he was by no means willing to use these good gifts in the manner indicated by the sole existing owner of the concern. Mr. Tappitt wished that Rowan should learn brewing seated on a stool, and that the lessons should be purely arithmetical. Luke was instructed as to the use of certain dull, dingy, disagreeable ledgers, and informed that in them lay the natural work of a brewer. But he desired to learn the chemical action of malt and hops upon each other, and had not been a fortnight in the concern before he suggested to Mr. Tappitt that by a salutary process, which he described, the liquor might be made less muddy. “Let us brew good beer,” he had said; and then Tappitt had known that it would not do. “Yes,” said Tappitt, “and sell for twopence a pint what will cost you threepence to make!” “That’s what we’ve got to look to,” said Rowan. “I believe it can be done for the money,—only one must learn how to do it.” “I’ve been at it all my life,” Tappitt said. “Yes, Mr. Tappitt; but it is only now that men are beginning to appreciate all that chemistry can do for them. If you’ll allow me I’ll make an experiment on a small scale.” After that Mr. Tappitt had declared emphatically to his wife that Luke Rowan should never become a partner of his. “He would ruin any business in the world,” said Tappitt. “And as to conceit!” It is true that Rowan was conceited, and perhaps true also that he would have ruined the brewery had he been allowed to have his own way.

But Mrs. Tappitt by no means held him in such aversion as did her husband. He was a well-grown, good-looking young man for whom his friends had made comfortable provision, and Mrs. Tappitt had three marriageable daughters. Her ideas on the subject of young men in general were by no means identical with those held by Mrs. Ray. She was aware how frequently it happened that a young partner would marry a daughter of the senior in the house, and it seemed to her that special provision for such an arrangement was made in this case. Young Rowan was living in her house, and was naturally thrown into great intimacy with her girls. It was clear to her quick eye that he was of a susceptible disposition, fond of ladies’ society, and altogether prone to those pleasant pre-matrimonial conversations, from the effects of which it is so difficult for an inexperienced young man to make his escape. Mrs. Tappitt was minded to devote to him Augusta, the second of her flock,—but not so minded with any obstinacy of resolution. If Luke should prefer Martha, the elder, or Cherry, the younger girl, Mrs. Tappitt would make no objection; but she expected that he should do his duty by taking one of them. “Laws, T., don’t be so foolish,” she said to her husband, when he made his complaint to her. She always called her husband T., unless when the solemnity of some special occasion justified her in addressing him as Mr. Tappitt. To have called him Tom or Thomas, would, in her estimation, have been very vulgar. “Don’t be so foolish. Did you never have to do with a young man before? Those tantrums will all blow off when he gets himself into harness.” The tantrums spoken of were Rowan’s insane desire to brew good beer, but they were of so fatal a nature that Tappitt was determined not to submit himself to them. Luke Rowan should never be partner of his,—not though he had twenty daughters waiting to be married!

Rachel had been acquainted with the Tappitts before young Rowan had come to Baslehurst, and had been made known to him by them all collectively. Had they shared their mother’s prudence they would probably not have done anything so rash. Rachel was better-looking than either of them,—though that fact perhaps might not have been known to them. But in justice to them all I must say that they lacked their mother’s prudence. They were good-humoured, laughing, ordinary girls,—very much alike, with long brown curls, fresh complexions, large mouths, and thick noses. Augusta was rather the taller of the three, and therefore, in her mother’s eyes, the beauty. But the girls themselves, when their distant cousin had come amongst them, had not thought of appropriating him. When, after the first day, they became intimate with him, they promised to introduce him to the beauties of the neighbourhood, and Cherry had declared her conviction that he would fall in love with Rachel Ray directly he saw her. “She is tall, you know,” said Cherry, “a great deal taller than us.” “Then I’m sure I shan’t like her,” Luke had said. “Oh, but you must like her, because she is a friend of ours,” Cherry had answered; “and I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if you fell violently in love with her.” Mrs. Tappitt did not hear all this, but, nevertheless, she began to entertain a dislike to Rachel. It must not be supposed that she admitted her daughter Augusta to any participation in her plans. Mrs. Tappitt could scheme for her child, but she could not teach her child to scheme. As regarded the girl, it must all fall out after the natural, pleasant, everyday fashion of such things; but Mrs. Tappitt considered that her own natural advantages were so great that she could make the thing fall out as she wished. When she was informed about a fortnight after Rowan’s arrival in Baslehurst that Rachel Ray had been walking with the party from the brewery, she could not prevent herself from saying an ill-natured word or two. “Rachel Ray is all very well,” she said, “but she is not the person whom you should show off to a stranger as your particular friend.”

“Why not, mamma?” said Cherry.<