Rachel Ray


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


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A Novel.








Vol. I.






[The right of Translation is reserved.]















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.

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