Rachel Ray, by Anthony Trollope

Mrs Rays Penitence

Another fortnight went by, and still nothing further was heard at Bragg’s End from Luke Rowan. Much was heard of him in Baslehurst. It was soon known by everybody that he had bought the cottages; and there was a widely-spread and well-credited rumour that he was going to commence the necessary buildings for a new brewhouse at once. Nor were these tidings received by Baslehurst with all that horror — with that loud clamour of indignation — which Tappitt conceived to be due to them. Baslehurst, I should say, as a whole, received the tidings with applause. Why should not Bungall’s nephew carry on a brewery of his own? Especially why should he not, if he were resolved to brew good beer? Very censorious remarks about the Tappitt beer were to be heard in all bar-rooms, and were re-echoed with vehemence in the kitchens of the Baslehurst aristocracy.

“It ain’t beer,” said Dr Harford’s cook, who had come from the midland counties, and knew what good beer was. “It’s a nasty muddle of stuff, not fit for any Christian who has to earn her victuals over a kitchen fire.”

It came to pass speedily that Luke Rowan was expected to build a new brewery, and that the event of the first brick was looked for with anxious expectation. And that false report which had spread itself through Baslehurst respecting him and his debts had taken itself off. It had been banished by a contrary report; and there now existed in Baslehurst a very general belief that Rowan was a man of means — of very considerable means — a man of substantial capital, whom to have settled in the town would be very beneficial to the community. That false statement as to the bill at Griggs’s had been sifted, and the truth made known — and somewhat to the disgrace of the Tappitt faction. The only article supplied by Griggs to Rowan’s order had been the champagne consumed at Tappitt’s supper, and for this Rowan had paid ready money within a week of the transaction. It was Mrs Cornbury who discovered all this, and who employed means for making the truth known in Baslehurst. This truth also became known at last to Mrs Ray — but of what avail was it then? She had desired her daughter to treat the young man as a wolf, and as a wolf he had been hounded off from her little sheep-cot. She heard now that he was expected back at Baslehurst — that he was a wealthy man; that he was thought well of in the town; that he was going to do great things. With what better possible husband could any young woman have been blessed? And yet she had turned him away from her cottage as though he had been a wolf!

It was from Mrs Sturt that Mrs Ray first learned the truth. Mr Sturt was a tenant on the Cornbury estate, and Mrs Sturt was of course well known to Mrs Cornbury. That lady, when she had sifted to the bottom the story of Griggs’s bill, and had assured herself that Rowan was by no means minded to surrender his interest in Baslehurst, determined that the truth should be made known to Mrs Ray. But she was not willing to call on Mrs Ray herself, nor did she wish to present herself before Rachel at the cottage, unless she could bring with her some more substantial comfort than could be afforded by simple evidence as to Rowan’s good character. She therefore took herself to Mrs Sturt, and discussed the matter with her.

“I suppose she does care about him,” said Mrs Cornbury, sitting in Mrs Sturt’s little parlour that opened out upon the kitchen garden. Mrs Sturt was also seated, leaning on the corner of the table, with the sleeves of her gown tucked up, ready for work when the Squire’s lady should be gone, but very willing to postpone her work as long as the Squire’s lady would stay and gossip with her.

“Oh! that she do, Mrs Butler — in her heart of hearts. If I know anything of true love, she do love that young man.”

“And he did offer to her? There can be no doubt about that, I suppose.”

“Not a doubt on earth, Mrs Butler. She never told me so outright — nor yet didn’t her mother — but if he didn’t, I’ll give my head for a cream cheese. Laws love you, Mrs Butler, I know what’s what well enough. I know when a girl’s wild and flighty, and thinks of things as she oughtn’t — and I know when she’s proper behaved, and gives a young man encouragement only when it becomes her.”

“Of course you do, Mrs Sturt.”

“It isn’t for me, Mrs Butler, to say anything against your papa. Nobody can have more respect for their clergyman than Sturt has and I; and before it was all settled like, Sturt never had a word with Mr Comfort about tithes; but, Mrs Butler, I think your papa was wrong here. As far as I can learn, it was he that told Mrs Ray that this young man wasn’t all that he should be.”

“Papa meant it for the best. There were strange things said about him, you know.”

“I never believes one word of what I hears, and never will. People are such liars; bean’t they, Mrs Butler? And I didn’t believe a word again him. He’s as fine a young man as you’d wish to see in a hundred years, and of course that goes a long way with a young woman. Well, Mrs Butler, I’ll tell Mrs Ray what you say, but I’m afeard it’s too late; I’m afeard it is. He’s of a stubborn sort, I think. He’s one of them that says, ‘If you will not when you may, when you will you shall have nay”.”

Mrs Cornbury still entertained hope that the stubbornness of the stubborn man might be overcome; but as to that she said nothing to Mrs Sturt.

Mrs Sturt, with what friendly tact she possessed, made her communication to Mrs Ray, but it may be doubted whether more harm than good was not thus done. “And he didn’t owe a shilling then?” asked Mrs Ray.

“Not a shilling,” said Mrs Sturt.

“And he is going to come back to Baslehurst about this brewery business?”

“There’s not a doubt in life about that,” answered Mrs Sturt. If these tidings could have come in time they would have been very salutary; but what was Mrs Ray to do with them now? She felt that she could not honestly withhold them from Rachel; and yet she knew not how to tell them without adding to Rachel’s misery. It was very improbable that Rachel should hear anything about Rowan from other lips than her own. It was clear that Mrs Sturt did not intend to speak to her, and also clear that Mrs Sturt expected that Mrs Ray would do so.

Rachel’s demeanour at this time was cause of great sorrow to Mrs Ray. She never smiled. She sought no amusement. She read no books. She spoke but little, and when she did speak her words were hard and cold, and confined almost entirely to household affairs. Her mother knew that she was not ill, because she ate and drank and worked. Even Dorothea must have been satisfied with the amount of needlework which she produced in these days. But though not ill, she was thin and pale, and unlike herself. But perhaps of all the signs which her mother watched so carefully, the signs which tormented her most were those everpresent lines on her daughter’s forehead — lines which Mrs Ray had now learned to read correctly, and which indicated some settled inward purpose, and an inward resolve that that purpose should become the subject of no outward discussion. Rachel had formerly been everything to her mother — her friend, her minister, her guide, her great comfort — the subject on which could be lavished all the soft tenderness of her nature, the loving object to whom could be addressed all the little innocent petulances of her life. But now Mrs Ray did not dare to be either tender with Rachel, or petulant. She hardly dared to speak to her on subjects that were not indifferent. On this matter of Luke Rowan she did not dare to speak to her. Rachel never upbraided her with words — had never spoken one word of reproach. But every moment of their passing life was an unspoken reproach, so severe and heavy that the poor mother hardly knew how to bear the burden of her fault.

As Mrs Ray became more afraid of her younger daughter she became less afraid of the elder. This was occasioned partly, no doubt, by the absence of Mrs Prime from the cottage. When there she only came as a visitor; and no visitor to a house can hold such dominion there as may be held by a domestic tyrant, present at all meals, and claiming an ascendancy in all conversations. But it arose in part also from the overwhelming solicitude which filled Mrs Ray’s heart from morning to night, as she watched poor Rachel in her misery. Her bowels yearned towards her child, and she longed to give her relief with an excessive longing. Had the man been a very wolf indeed — such were her feelings at present — I think that she would have welcomed him to the cottage. In ordering his repulse she had done a deed of which she had by no means anticipated the consequences, and now she repented in the sackcloth and ashes of a sorrow-stricken spirit. Ah me! what could she do to relieve that oppressed one! So thoroughly did this desire override all others in her breast, that she would snub Mrs Prime without dreading or even thinking of the consequences. Her only hopes and her only fears at the present moment had reference to Rachel. Had Rachel proposed to her that they should both start off to London and there search for Luke Rowan, I doubt whether she would have had the heart to decline the journey.

In these days Mrs Prime came to the cottage regularly twice a week — on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Wednesdays she came after tea, and on Saturday she drank tea with her mother. On these occasions much was, of course, said as to the prospect of her marriage with Mr Prong. Nothing was as yet settled, and Rachel had concluded, in her own mind, that there would be no such wedding. As to Mrs Ray’s opinion, she, of course, thought there would be a wedding or that there would not, in accordance with the last words spoken by Mrs Prime to herself on the occasion of that special conversation.

“She’ll never give up her money,” Rachel had said, “and he’ll never marry her unless she does.”

Mrs Prime at this period acknowledged to her mother that she was not happy.

“I want”, said she, “to do what’s right. But it’s not always easy to find out what is right.”

“That’s very true,” said Mrs Ray, thinking that there were difficulties in the affairs of other people quite as embarrassing as those of which Mrs Prime complained.

“He says”, continued the younger widow, “that he wants nothing for himself, but that it is not fitting that a married woman should have a separate income.”

“I think he’s right there,” said Mrs Ray.

“I quite believe what he says about himself,” said Mrs Prime. “It is not that he wants my money for the money’s sake, but that he chooses to dictate to me how I shall use it.”

“So he ought if he’s to be your husband,” said Mrs Ray.

These conversations usually took place in Rachel’s absence. When Mrs Prime came Rachel would remain long enough to say a word to her, and on the Saturdays would pour out the tea for her and would hand to her the bread-and-butter with the courtesy due to a visitor; but after that she would take herself to her own bedroom, and only come down when Mrs Prime had prepared herself for going. At last, on one of these evenings, there came a proposition from Mrs Prime, that she should return to the cottage, and live again with her mother and sister. She had not said that she had absolutely rejected Mr Prong, but she spoke of her return as though it had become expedient because the cause of her going away had been removed. Very little had been said between her and her mother about Rachel’s love affair, nor was Mrs Prime inclined to say much about it now; but so much as that she did say: “No doubt it’s all over now about that young man, and therefore, if you like it. I don’t see why I shouldn’t come back.”

“I don’t at all know about it’s being all over,” said Mrs Ray, in a hurried quick tone, and as she spoke she blushed with emotion.

“But I suppose it is, mother. From all that I can hear he isn’t thinking of her; and I don’t suppose he ever did much.”

“I don’t know what he’s thinking about, Dorothea; and I ain’t sure that there’s any good talking about it. Besides, if you’re going to have Mr Prong at last —”

“If I did, mother, it needn’t prevent my coming here for a month or two first. It wouldn’t be quite yet certainly — if at all. And I thought that perhaps, if I am going to settle myself in that way, you’d be glad that we should be altogether again for a little while.”

“So I should, Dorothea — of course. I have never wanted to be divided from my children. Your going away was your own doing, not mine. I’m sure it made me so wretched I didn’t know what to do at the time. Only other things have come since, that have pretty nearly put all that out of my mind.”

“But you can’t think I was wrong to go when I felt it to be right.”

“I don’t know how that may be,” said Mrs Ray. “If you thought it right to go I suppose you were right to go; but perhaps you shouldn’t have had such thoughts.”

“Well, mother, we won’t go back to that.”

“No; we won’t, if you please.”

“This at any rate is certain, that Rachel, in departing from our usual ways of life, has brought great unhappiness upon herself. I’m afraid she is thinking of this young man now more than she ought to do.”

“Of course she is thinking of him. Why should she not think of him?”

“Why, mother! Surely it cannot be good that any a girl should think of a man who thinks nothing of her!”

Then Mrs Ray spoke out — as perhaps she had never spoken before.

“What right have you to say that he thinks nothing of her? Who can tell? He did think of her — as honestly as any man ever thought of the woman he wished to mate with. He came to her fairly, and asked her to be his wife. What can any man do more by a girl than that? And she didn’t say a word to him to encourage him till those she had a right to look to had encouraged him too. So she didn’t. And I don’t believe any woman ever had a child that behaved better, or truer, or more maidenly than she has done. And I was a fool, and worse than a fool, when I allowed anyone to have an evil thought of her for a moment.

“Do you mean me, mother?”

“I don’t mean anybody except myself; so I don’t.” Mrs Ray as she spoke was weeping bitterly, and rubbing the tears from her red eyes with her apron. “I’ve behaved like a fool to her — worse than a fool — and I’ve broken her heart. Not think of him! How’s a girl not to think of a man day and night when she loves him better than herself? Think of him! She’ll think of him till she’s in her grave. She’ll think of him till she’s past all other thinking. I hate such cruelty, and I hate myself for having been cruel. I shall never forgive myself, the longest day I have to live.”

“You only did your duty, mother.”

“No; I didn’t do my duty at all. It can’t be a mother’s duty to break her child’s heart and to be set against her by what anybody else can say. She was ever and always the best child that ever lived; and she came away from him, and strove to banish him from her thoughts, and wouldn’t own to herself that she cared for him the least in the world, till he’d come here and spoken out straight, like a man as he is. I tell you what, Dorothea. I’d go to London, on my knees to him, if I could bring him back to her! I would. And if he comes here, I will go to him.”

“Oh, mother!”

“I know he loves her. He’s not one of your inconstant ones that take up with a girl for a week or so and then forget her. But she has offended him, and he’s stubborn. She has offended him at my bidding, and it’s my doing — and I’d humble myself in the dust to bring him back to her — so I would. Never tell me of her not thinking of him. I tell you, Dorothea, she’ll think of him always; not because she has loved him, but because she has been brought to confess her love.”

Mrs Ray was so strong in her mingled passion and grief, that Mrs Prime made no attempt to rebuke her. The daughter was indeed quelled by her mother’s vehemence, and felt that for the present the subject of Rachel’s love and Rachel’s lover was not a fitting one for the exercise of her own talents as a preacher. The tragedy had progressed beyond the reach of her preaching. Mrs Ray protested that Rachel had been right throughout, and that she herself had been wrong only when she had opposed Rachel’s wishes. Such a view of the matter was altogether at variance with that entertained by Mrs Prime, who was still of opinion that young people shouldn’t be allowed to please themselves, and who feared the approach of any lover who came with lute in hand, and with light, soft, loving, worldly words. Men and women, according to her theory, were right to marry and have children; but she thought that such marriages should be contracted not only in a solemn spirit, but with a certain dinginess of solemnity, with a painstaking absence of mirth, that would divest love of its worldly alloy. Rachel had gone about her business in a different spirit, and it may almost be said that Mrs Prime rejoiced that she had failed. She did not believe in broken hearts; she did believe in the efficacy of chastisement; and she thought that on the whole the present state of affairs would be beneficial to her sister. Had she been possessed of sufficient power she would now, on this occasion, have preached her sermon again as she had preached it before; but her mother’s passion had overcome her, and she was unable to express her convictions.

“I hope that she will be better soon,” she said.

“I hope she will,” said Mrs Ray.

At this moment Rachel came down from her own room and joined them in the parlour. She came in with that same look of sad composure on her face, as though she was determined to speak nothing of her thoughts to anyone, and sat herself down near to her sister. In doing so, however, she caught a glimpse of her mother’s face, and saw that she had been crying — saw, indeed, that she was still crying at that moment.

“Mamma,” she said, “what is the matter — has anything happened?”

“No, dear, nothing — nothing has happened.”

“But you would not cry for nothing. What is it, Dolly?”

“We have been talking,” said Dorothea. “Things in this world are not so pleasant in themselves that they can always be spoken of without tears — either outward tears or inward. People are too apt to think that there is no true significance in their words when they say that this world is a vale of tears.”

“All the same. I don’t like to see mamma crying like that.”

“Don’t mind it, Rachel,” said Mrs Ray. “If you will not regard me I shall be better soon.”

“I was saying that I thought I would come back to the cottage,” said Mrs Prime; “that is, if mother likes it.”

“But that did not make mamma cry.”

“There were other things arose out of my saying so.” Then Rachel asked no further questions, but sat silent waiting till her sister should go.

“Of course we shall be very glad to have you back again if it suits you to come,” said Mrs Ray. “I don’t think it at all nice that a family should be divided — that is, as long as they are the same family.” Having received so much encouragement with reference to her proposed return, Mrs Prime took her departure and walked back to Baslehurst.

For some minutes after they had been so left, neither Mrs Ray nor Rachel spoke. The mother sat rocking herself in her chair, and the daughter remained motionless in the seat which she had taken when she first came into the room. Their faces were not turned to each other, but Rachel was so placed that she could watch her mother without being observed. Every now and again Mrs Ray would put her hand up to her eyes to squeeze away the tears, and a low gurgling sound would come from her, as though she were striving without success to repress her sobs. She had thought that she would speak to Rachel when Mrs Prime was gone — that she would confess her error in having sent Rowan away, and implore her child to pardon her and to love her once again. It was not, however, that she doubted Rachel’s love — that she feared that Rachel was casting her out from her heart, or that she was learning to hate her. She knew well enough that her child still loved her. It was this — that her life had become barren to her, cold, and altogether tasteless without those thousand little signs of ever-present affection to which she had been accustomed. If it was to be always thus between them, what would the world be to her for the remainder of her days? She could have borne to part with Rachel, had Rachel married, as in parting with her she would have looked forward to some future return of her girl’s caresses; and in such case she would at least have felt that her loss had come from no cessation of the sweet loving nature of their mutual connection. She would have wept as she gave Rachel over to a husband, but her tears would have been sweet as well as bitter. But there was nothing of sweetness in her tears as she shed them now — nothing of satisfaction in her sorrow. If she could get Rachel to talk with her freely on the matter, if she could find an opportunity for confessing herself to have been wrong, might it not be that the soft caresses would be restored to her — caresses that would be soft, though moistened with salt tears? But she feared to speak to her child. She knew that Rachel’s face was still hard and stern, and that her voice was not the voice of other days. She knew that her daughter brooded over the injury that had been done to her — though she knew also that no accusation was made, even in the girl’s own bosom, against herself. She thoroughly understood the state of Rachel’s mind, but she was unable to find the words that might serve to soften it.

“I suppose we may as well go to bed,” she said at last, giving the matter up, at any rate for that evening.

“Mamma, why were you crying when I came into the room?” said Rachel.

“Was I crying, my dear?”

“You are crying still, mamma. Is it I that make you unhappy?”

Mrs Ray was anxious to declare that the reverse of that was true — that it was she who had made the other unhappy; but even now she could not find the words in which to say this. “No,” she said; “it isn’t you. It isn’t anybody. I believe it’s true what Mr Comfort has told us so often when he’s preaching. It’s all vanity and vexation. There isn’t anything to make anybody happy. I suppose I cry because I’m foolisher than other people. I don’t know that anybody is happy. I’m sure Dorothea is not, and I’m sure you ain’t.”

“I don’t want you to be unhappy about me, mamma.”

“Of course you don’t. I know that. But how can I help it when I see how things have gone? I tried to do for the best, and I have —” broken my child’s heart, Mrs Ray intended to say; but she failed altogether before she got as far as that, and bursting out into a flood of tears, hid her face in her apron.

Rachel still kept her seat, and her face was still hard and unmoved. Her mother did not see it; she did not dare to look upon it; but she knew that it was so; she knew her daughter would have been with her, close to her, embracing her, throwing her arms round her, had that face relented. But Rachel still kept her chair, and Mrs Ray sobbed aloud.

“I wish I could be a comfort to you, mamma,” Rachel said after another pause, “but I do not know how. I suppose in time we shall get over this, and things will be as they used to be.”

“They’ll never be to me as they used to be before he came to Baslehurst,” said Mrs Ray, through her tears.

“At any rate that is not his fault,” said Rachel, almost angrily. “Whoever may have done wrong, no one has a right to say that he has done wrong.”

“I’m sure I never said so. It is I that have done wrong,” exclaimed Mrs Ray. “I know it all now, and I wish I’d never asked anybody but just my own heart. I didn’t mean to say anything against him, and I don’t think it. I’m sure I liked him as I never liked any young man the first time of seeing him, that night he came out here to tea; and I know that what they said against him was all false. So I do.”

“What was all false, mamma?”

“About his going away in debt, and being a ne’er-do-well, and about his going away from Baslehurst and not coming back any more. Everybody has a good word for him now.”

“Have they, mamma?” said Rachel. And Mrs Ray learned in a moment, from the tone of her daughter’s voice, that a change had come over her feeling. She asked her little question with something of the softness of her old manner, with something of the longing loving wishfulness which used to make so many of her questions sweet to her mother’s ears. “Have they, mamma?”

“Yes they have, and I believe it was those wicked people at the brewery who spread the reports about him. As for owing anybody money, I believe he’s got plenty. Of course he has, or how could he have bought our cottages and paid for them all in a minute? And I believe he’ll come back and live at Baslehurst; so I do; only —”

“Only what, mamma?”

“If he’s not to come back to you I’d rather that he never showed his face here again.”

“He won’t come to me, mamma. Had he meant it, he would have sent me a message.”

“Perhaps he meant that he wouldn’t send the message till he came himself,” said Mrs Ray.

But she made the suggestion in a voice so full of conscious doubt that Rachel knew that she did not believe in it herself.

“I don’t think he means that, mamma. If he did why should he keep me in doubt? He is very true and very honest, but I think he is very hard. When I wrote to him in that way after accepting the love he had offered me, he was angered, and felt that I was false to him. He is very honest, but I think he must be very hard.”

“I can’t think that if he loved you he would be so hard as that.”

“Men are different from women, I suppose. I feel about him that whatever he might do I should forgive it. But then I feel, also, that he would never do anything for me to forgive.”

“I’ll never forgive him, never, if he doesn’t come back again.”

“Don’t say that, mamma. You’ve no right even to be angry with him, because it was we who told him that there was to be no engagement — after I had promised him.”

“I didn’t think he’d take you up so at the first word,” said Mrs Ray — and then there was again silence for a few minutes.

“Mamma,” said Rachel.

“Well, Rachel.”

Mrs Ray was still rocking her chair, and had hardly yet repressed that faint gurgling sound of half-controlled sobs.

“I am so glad to hear you say that you — respect him, and don’t believe of him what people have said.”

“I don’t believe a word bad of him, except that he oughtn’t to take huff in that way at one word that a girl says to him. He ought to have known that you couldn’t write just what letter you liked, as he could.”

“We won’t say anything more about that. But as long as you don’t think him bad —”

“I don’t think him bad. I don’t think him bad at all. I think him very good. I’d give all I have in the world to bring him back again. So I would.”

“Dear mamma!”

And now Rachel moved away from her chair and came up to her mother.

“And I know it’s been all my fault. Oh, my child, I am so unhappy! I don’t get half an hour’s sleep at night thinking of what I have done — I, that would have given the very blood out of my veins to make you happy.”

“No, mamma; it wasn’t you.”

“Yes, it was. I’d no business going away to other people after I had told him he might come here. You who had always been so good too!”

“You mustn’t say again that you wish he hadn’t come here.”

“Oh! but I do wish it, because then he would have been nothing to you. I do wish he hadn’t ever come, but now I’d do anything to bring him back again. I believe I’ll go to him and tell him that it was my doing.”

“No, mamma, you won’t do that.”

“Why should I not? I don’t care what people say. Isn’t your happiness everything to me?”

“But I shouldn’t take him if he came in that way. What! beg him to come and have compassion on me, as if I couldn’t live without him! No, mother; that wouldn’t do. I do love him. I do love him. I sometimes think I cannot live without his love. I sometimes feel as though stories about broken hearts might be true. But I wouldn’t have him in that way. How could he love me afterwards, when I was his wife? But, mamma, we’ll be friends again — shall we not? I’ve been so unhappy that you should have thought ill of him!”

That night the mother and daughter shared the same bed together, and Mrs Ray was able to sleep. She would not confess to herself that her sorrow had been lightened, because nothing had been said or done to lessen that of her daughter; but on the morrow Rachel came and hovered round her again, and the bitterness of Mrs Ray’s grief was removed.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43