Early after breakfast on that morning — that morning on which Tappitt had for a moment thought of braining Luke Rowan with the poker — Mrs Ray started from the cottage on her mission into Baslehurst. She was going to see her daughter, Mrs Prime, at Miss Pucker’s lodgings, and felt sure that the object of her visit was to be a further discourse on the danger of admitting that wolf Rowan into the sheepfold at Bragg’s End. She would willingly have avoided the conference had she been able to do so, knowing well that Mrs Prime would get the better of her in words when called upon to talk without having Rachel at her back. And indeed she was not happy in her mind. It had been conceded at the cottage as an understood thing that Rachel was to have this man as her lover; but what, if after all, the man didn’t mean to be a lover in the proper sense; and what, if so meaning, he should still turn out to be a lover of a bad sort — a worldly, good-for-nothing, rakish lover? “I wonder”, says the wicked man in the play, “I wonder any man alive, would ever rear a daughter!” Mrs Ray knew nothing of the play, and had she done so, she would not have repeated such a line. But the hardness of the task which Providence had allotted to her struck her very forcibly on this morning. Rachel was dearer to her than aught else in the world. For Rachel’s happiness she would have made any sacrifice. In Rachel’s presence, and sweet smile, and winning caresses was the chief delight of her excellence. Nevertheless, in these days the possession of Rachel was hardly a blessing to her. The responsibility was so great; and, worse than that as regarded her own comfort, the doubts were so numerous; and then, they recurred over and over again, as often as they were settled!
“I’m sure I don’t know what she can have to say to me.” Mrs Ray, as she spoke, was tying on her bonnet, and Rachel was standing close to her with her light summer shawl.
“It will be the old story, mamma, I’m afraid; my terrible iniquity and backslidings, because I went to the ball, and because I won’t go to Miss Pucker’s. She’ll want you to say that I shall go, or else be sent to bed without my supper.”
“That’s nonsense, Rachel. Dorothea knows very well that I can’t make you go.” Mrs Ray was wont to become mildly petulant when things went against her.
“But, mamma, you don’t want me to go?”
“I don’t suppose it’s about Miss Pucker at all. It’s about that other thing.”
“You mean Mr Rowan.”
“Yes, my dear. I’m sure I don’t know what’s for the best. When she gets me to herself she does say such terrible things to me that it quite puts me in a heat to have to go to her. I don’t think anybody ought to say those sort of things to me except a clergyman, or a person’s parents, or a schoolmaster, or masters and mistresses, or such like.” Rachel thought so too — thought that at any rate a daughter should not so speak to such a mother as was her mother; but on that subject she said nothing.
“And I don’t like going to that Miss Pucker’s house,” continued Mrs Ray. “I’m sure I don’t want her to come here. I wouldn’t go, only I said that I would.”
“I would go now, if I were you, mamma.”
“Of course I shall go; haven’t I got myself ready?”
“But I would not let her go on in that way.”
“That’s very easy said, Rachel; but how am I to help it? I can’t tell her to hold her tongue; and if I did, she wouldn’t. If I am to go I might as well start. I suppose there’s cold lamb enough for dinner?”
“Plenty, I should think.”
“And if I find poultry cheap, I can bring a chicken home in my basket, can’t I?” And so saying, with her mind full of various cares, Mrs Ray walked off to Baslehurst.
“I wonder when he’ll come.” Rachel, as she said or thought these words, stood at the open door of the cottage looking after her mother as she made her way across the green. It was a delicious midsummer day, warm with the heat of the morning sun, but not yet oppressed with the full blaze of its noonday rays. The air was alive with the notes of birds, and the flowers were in their brightest beauty. “I wonder when he’ll come.” None of those doubts which so harassed her mother troubled her mind. Other doubts there were. Could it be possible that he would like her well enough to wish to make her his own? Could it be that anyone so bright, so prosperous in the world, so clever, so much above herself in all worldly advantages, should come and seek her as his wife — take her from their little cottage and lowly ways of life? When he had first said that he would come to Bragg’s End, she declared to herself that it would be well that he should see in how humble a way they lived. He would not call her Rachel after that, she said to herself; or, if he did, he should learn from her that she knew how to rebuke a man who dared to take advantage of the humility of her position. He had come, and he had not called her Rachel. He had come, and taking advantage of her momentary absence, had spoken of her behind her back as a lover speaks, and had told his love honestly to her mother. In Rachel’s view of the matter no lover could have carried himself with better decorum or with a sweeter grace; but because he had so done, she would not hold him to be bound to her. He had been carried away by his feelings too rapidly, and had not as yet known how poor and lowly they were. He should still have opened to him a clear path backwards. Then if the path backwards were not to his mind, then in that case — I am not sure that Rachel ever declared to herself in plain terms what in such case would happen; but she stood at the door as though she was minded to stand there till he should appear upon the green.
“I wonder when he’ll come.” She had watched her mother’s figure disappear along the lane, and had plucked a flower or two to pieces before she returned within the house. He will not come till the evening, she determined — till the evening, when his day’s work in the brewery would be over. Then she thought of the quarrel between him and Tappitt, and wondered what it might be. She was quite sure that Tappitt was wrong, and thought of him at once as an obstinate, foolish, pigheaded old man. Yes; he would come to her, and she would take care to be provided, in that article of cream which he pretended to love so well. She would not have to run away again. But how lucky on that previous evening had been that necessity, seeing that it had given opportunity for that great display of a lover’s excellence on Rowan’s part. Having settled all this in her mind, she went into the house, and was beginning to think of her household work, when she heard a man’s steps in the passage. She went at once out from the sitting-room, and encountered Luke Rowan at the door.
“How d’ye do?” said he. “Is Mrs Ray at home?”
“Mamma? — no, You must have met her on the road if you’ve come from Baslehurst.”
“But I could not meet her on the road, because I’ve come across the fields.”
“Oh! — that accounts for it.”
“And she’s away in Baslehurst, is she?”
“She’s gone in to see my sister, Mrs Prime.” Rachel, still standing at the door of the sitting-room, made no attempt of asking Rowan into the parlour.
“And mayn’t I come in?” he said. Rachel was absolutely ignorant whether, under such circumstances, she ought to allow him to enter. But there he was, in the house, and at any rate she could not turn him out.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a long time if you wait for mamma,” she said, slightly making way, so that he obtained admittance. Was she not a hypocrite? Did she not know that Mrs Ray’s absence would be esteemed by him as a great gain, and not a loss? Why did she thus falsely talk of his waiting a long time? Dogs fight with their teeth, and horses with their heels; swans with their wings, and cats with their claws — so also do women use such weapons as nature has provided for them.
“I came specially to see you,” said he; “not but what I should be very glad to see your mother, too, if she comes back before I am gone. But I don’t suppose she will, for you won’t let me stay so long as that.”
“Well, now you mention it, I don’t think I shall, for I have got ever so many things to do — the dinner to get ready, and the house to look after.” This she did by way of making him acquainted with her mode of life — according to the plan which she had arranged for her own guidance.
He had come into the room, had put down his hat, and had got himself up to the window, so that his back was turned to her. “Rachel,” he said, turning round quickly, and speaking almost suddenly. Now he had called her Rachel again, but she could find at the moment no better way of answering him than by the same plaintive objection which she had made before. “You shouldn’t call me by my name in that way, Mr Rowan; you know you shouldn’t.”
“Did your mother tell you what I said to her yesterday?” he asked.
“What you said yesterday?”
“Yes, when you were away across the green.”
“What you said to mamma?”
“Yes; I know she told you. I see it in your face. And I am glad she did so. May I not call you Rachel now?”
As they were placed the table was still between them, so that he was debarred from making any outward sign of his presence as a lover. He could not take her hand and press it. She stood perfectly silent, looking down upon the table on which she leaned, and gave no answer to his question. “May I not call you Rachel now?” he said, repeating the question.
I hope it will be understood that Rachel was quite a novice at this piece of work which she now had in hand. It must be the case that very many girls are not novices. A young lady who has rejected the first half-dozen suitors who have asked for her love must probably feel herself mistress of the occasion when she rejects the seventh, and will not be quite astray when she accepts the eighth. There are, moreover, young ladies who, though they may have rejected and accepted none, have had so wide an advantage in society as to be able, when the moment comes, to have their wits about them. But Rachel had known nothing of what is called society, and had never before known either the trouble or the joy of being loved. So when the question was pressed upon her, she trembled, and felt that her breath was failing her. She had filled herself full of resolutions as to what she would do when this moment came — as to how she would behave and what words she would utter. But all that was gone from her now. She could only stand still and tremble. Of course he might call her Rachel — might call her what he pleased. To him, with his wider experience, that now became manifest enough.
“You must give me leave for more than that, Rachel, if you would not send me away wretched. You must let me call you my own.” Then he moved round the table towards her; and as he moved, though she retreated from him, she did not retreat with a step as rapid as his own. “Rachel,’— and he put out his hand to her —“I want you to be my wife.” She allowed the tips of her fingers to turn themselves toward him, as though unable altogether to refuse the greeting which he offered her, but as she did so she turned away from him, and bent down her head. She had heard all she wanted to hear. Why did he not go away, and leave her to think of it? He had named to her the word so sacred between man and woman. He had said that he sought her for his wife. What need was there that he should stay longer?
He got her hand in his, and then passed his arm round her waist. “Say, love; say, Rachel — shall it be so? Nay, but I will have an answer from you. You shall look it to me, if you will not speak it;” and he got his head round over her shoulder, as though to look into her eyes.
“Oh, Mr Rowan; pray don’t — pray don’t pull me.”
“But, dearest, say a word to me. You must say some word. Can you learn to love me, Rachel?”
Learn to love him! The lesson had come to her very easily. How was it possible, she had once thought, not to love him.
“Say a word to me,” said Rowan. still struggling to look into her face; “one word, and then I will let you go.”
“Say to me, ‘Dear Luke, I will be your wife’.”
She remained for a moment quite passive in his hands, trying to say it, but the words would not come. Of course she would be his wife. Why need he trouble her further?
“Nay, but, Rachel, you shall speak, or I will stay with you here till your mother comes, and she shall answer for you. If you had disliked me I think you would have said so.”
“I don’t dislike you,” she whispered.
“And do you love me?” She slightly bowed her head. “And you will be my wife?” Again she went through the same little piece of acting. “And I may call you Rachel now?” In answer to this question she shook herself free from his slackened grasp, and escaped away across the room.
“You cannot forbid me now. Come and sit down by me, for of course I have got much to say to you. Come and sit down, and indeed I will not trouble you again.”
Then she went to him very slowly, and sat with him, leaving her hand in his, listening to his words, and feeling in her heart the full delight of having such a lover. Of the words that were then spoken, but very few came from her lips; he told her all his story of the brewery quarrel, and was very eloquent and droll in describing Tappitt as he brandished the poker.
“And was he going to hit you with it?” said Rachel, with all her eyes open.
“Well, he didn’t hit me,” said Luke; “but to look at him he seemed mad enough to do anything.” Then he told her how at the present moment he was living at the inn, and how it became necessary, from this unfortunate quarrel, that he should go at once to London. “But under no circumstances would I have gone”, said he, pressing her hand very closely, “without an answer from you.”
“But you ought not to think of anything like that when you are in such trouble.”
“Ought I not? Well, but I do, you see.” Then he explained to her that part of his project consisted in his marrying her out of hand — at once. He would go up to London for a week or two, and then, coming back, be married in the course of the next month.
“Oh, Mr Rowan, that would be impossible.”
“You must not call me Mr Rowan, or I shall call you Miss Ray.”
“But indeed it would be impossible.”
“Indeed it would. You can ask mamma — or rather, you had better give over thinking of it. I haven’t had time yet even to make up my mind what you are like.”
“But you say that you love me.”
“So I do, but I suppose I ought not; for I’m sure I don’t know what you are like yet. It seems to me that you’re very fond of having your own way, sir — and so you ought,” she added; “but really you can’t have your own way in that. Nobody ever heard of such a thing. Everybody would think we were mad —
“I shouldn’t care one straw for that.”
“Ah, but I should — a great many straws.”
He sat there for two hours, telling her of all things appertaining to himself. He explained to her that, irrespective of the brewery, he had an income sufficient to support a wife —“though not enough to make her a fine lady like Mrs Cornbury,” he said.
“If you can give me bread and cheese, it’s as much as I have a right to expect,” said Rachel.
“I have over four hundred a year,” said he: and Rachel, hearing it, thought that he could indeed support a wife. Why should a man with four hundred a year want to brew beer?
“But I have got nothing,” said Rachel; “not a farthing.”
“Of course not,” said Rowan; “it is my theory that unmarried girls never ought to have anything. If they have, they ought to be considered as provided for, and then they shouldn’t have husbands. And I rather think it would be better if men didn’t have anything either, so that they might be forced to earn their bread, only they would want capital.”
Rachel listened to it all with the greatest content, and most unalloyed happiness. She did not quite understand him, but she gathered from his words that her own poverty was not a reproach in his eyes, and that he under no circumstances would have looked for a wife with a fortune. Her happiness was unalloyed at all she heard from him, till at last he spoke of his mother.
“And does she dislike me?” asked Rachel, with dismay,
“It isn’t that she dislikes you, but she’s staying with that Mrs Tappitt, who is furious against me because — I suppose it’s because of this brewery row. But indeed I can’t understand it. A week ago I was at home there; now I daren’t show my nose in the house, and have been turned out of the brewery this morning with a poker.”
“I hope it’s nothing about me,” said Rachel.
“How can it be about you?”
“Because I thought Mrs Tappitt looked at the ball as though — But I suppose it didn’t mean anything.”
“It ought to be a matter of perfect indifference whether it meant anything or not.”
“But how can it be so about your mother? If this is ever to lead to anything —”
“Lead to anything! What it will lead to is quite settled.”
“You know what I mean. But how could I become your wife if your mother did not wish it?”
“Look here, Rachel; that’s all very proper for a girl, I dare say. If your mother thought I was not fit to be your husband, I won’t say but what you ought to take her word in such a matter. But it isn’t so with a man. It will make me very unhappy if my mother cannot be friends with my wife; but no threats of hers to that effect would prevent me from marrying, nor should they have any effect upon you. I’m my own master, and from the nature of things I must look out for myself.”
This was all very grand and masterful on Rowan’s part, and might in theory be true; but there was that in it which made Rachel uneasy, and gave to her love its first shade of trouble. She could not be quite happy as Luke’s promised bride, if she knew that she would not be welcomed to that place by Luke’s mother. And then what right had she to think it probable that Luke’s mother would give her such a welcome? At that first meeting, however, she said but little herself on the subject. She had pledged to him her troth, and she would not attempt to go back from her pledge at the first appearance of a difficulty. She would talk to her own mother, and perhaps his mother might relent. But throughout it all there ran a feeling of dismay at the idea of marrying a man whose mother would not willingly receive her as a daughter!
“But you must go,” she said at last. “Indeed you must. I have things to do, if you have nothing.”
“I’m the idlest man in the world at the present moment. If you turn me out I can only go and sit at the inn.”
“Then you must go and sit at the inn. If you stay any longer mamma won’t have any dinner.”
“If that’s so, of course I’ll go. But I shall come back to tea.”
As Rachel gave no positive refusal to this proposition, Rowan took his departure on the understanding that he might return.
“Goodbye,” said he. “When I come this evening I shall expect you to walk with me.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said she.
“Yes, you will; and we will see the sun set again, and you will not run from me this evening as though I were an ogre.” As he spoke he took her in his arms and held her, and kissed her before she had time to escape from him. “You’re mine altogether now,” said he, “and nothing can sever us. God bless you, Rachel!”
“Goodbye, Luke,” and then they parted.
She had told him to go, alleging her household duties as her ground for dismissing him; but when he was gone she did not at once betake herself to her work. She sat on the seat which he had shared with her, thinking of the thing which she had done. She was now betrothed to this man as his wife, the only man towards whom her fancy had ever turned with the slightest preference. So far love for her had run very smoothly. From her first meetings with him, on those evenings in which she had hardly spoken to him, his form had filled her eye, and his words had filled her mind. She had learned to love to see him before she understood what her heart was doing for her. Gradually, but very quickly, all her vacant thoughts had been given to him, and he had become the hero of her life. Now, almost before she had had time to question herself on the matter, he was her affianced husband. It had all been so quick and so very gracious that she seemed to tremble at her own good fortune. There was that one little cloud in the sky — that frown on his mother’s brow; but now, in the first glow of her happiness, she could not bring herself to believe that this cloud would bring a storm. So she sat there dreaming of her happiness, and longing for her mother’s return that she might tell it all — that it might be talked of hour after hour, and that Luke’s merits might receive their fitting mention. Her mother was not a woman who on such an occasion would stint the measure of her praise, or refuse her child the happiness of her sympathy.
But Rachel knew that she must not let the whole morning pass by in idle dreams, happy as those dreams were, and closely as they were allied to her waking life. After a while she jumped up with a start. “I declare there will be nothing done. Mamma will want her dinner though I’m ever so much going to be married.”
But she had not been long on foot, or done much in preparation of the cold lamb which it was intended they should eat that day, before she heard her mother’s footsteps on the gravel path. She ran out to the front door full of her own news, though hardly knowing as yet in what words she would tell it; but of her mother’s news, of any tidings which there might be to tell as to that interview which had just taken place in Baslehurst, Rachel did not think much. Nothing that Dorothea could say would now be of moment. So at least Rachel flattered herself. And as for Dorothea and all her growlings, had they not chiefly ended in this — that the young man did not intend to present himself as a husband? But he had now done so in a manner which Rachel felt to be so satisfactory that even Dorothea’s criticism must be disarmed. So Rachel, as she met her mother, thought only of the tale which she had to tell, and nothing of that which she was to hear.
But Mrs Ray was so full of her tale, was so conscious of the fact that her tidings were entitled to the immediate and undivided attention of her daughter, and from their first greeting on the gravel path was so ready with her words, that Rachel, with all the story of her happiness, was for a while obliterated.
“Oh, my dear,” said Mrs Ray, “I have such news for you!”
“So have I, mamma, news for you,” said Rachel, putting out her hand to her mother.
“I never was so warm in my life. Do let me get in; oh dear, oh dear! It’s no good looking in the basket, for when I came away from Dorothea I was too full of what I had just heard to think of buying anything.”
“What have you heard, mamma?”
“I’m sure I hope she’ll be happy; I’m sure I do. But it’s a great venture, a terribly great venture.”
“What is it, mamma?” And Rachel, though she could not yet think that her mother’s budget could be equal in importance to her own, felt that there was that which it was necessary that she should hear.
“Your sister is going to be married to Mr Prong.”
“Yes, my dear. It’s a great venture; but if any woman can live happy with such a man, she can do so. She’s troubled about her money — that’s all.”
“Marry Mr Prong! I suppose she may if she likes. Oh dear! I can’t think I shall ever like him.”
“I never spoke to him yet, so perhaps I oughtn’t to say; but he doesn’t look a nice man to my eyes. But what are looks, my dear? They’re only skin deep; we ought all of us to remember that always, Rachel; they’re only skin deep; and if, as she says, she only wants to work in the vineyard, she won’t mind his being so short. I dare say he’s honest — at least I’m sure I hope he is.”
“I should think he’s honest, at any rate, or he wouldn’t be what he is.”
“There’s some of them are so very fond of money — that is, if all that we hear is true. Perhaps he mayn’t care about it; let us hope that he doesn’t; but if so he’s a great exception. However, she means to have it tied up as close as possible, and I think she’s right. Where would she be if he was to go away some fine morning and leave her? You see, he’s got nobody belonging to him. I own I do like people who have got people belonging to them; you feel sure, in a sort of way, that they’ll go on living in their own houses.”
Rachel immediately reflected that Luke Rowan had people belonging to him — very nice people — and that everybody knew who he was and from whence he came.
“But she has quite made up her mind about it,” continued Mrs Ray; “and when I saw that I didn’t say very much against it. What was the use? It isn’t as though he wasn’t quite respectable. He is a clergyman, you know, my dear, though he never was at any of the regular colleges; and he might be a bishop, just as much as if he had been; so they tell me. And I really don’t think that she would ever have come back to the cottage — not unless you had promised to have been ruled by her in everything.”
“I certainly shouldn’t have done that;” and Rachel, as she made this assurance with some little obstinacy in her voice, told herself that for the future she meant to be ruled by a very different person indeed.
“No, I suppose not; and I’m sure I shouldn’t have asked you, because I think it isn’t the thing, dragging people away out of their own parishes, here and there, to anybody’s church. And I told her that though I would of course go and hear Mr Prong now and then if she married him, I wouldn’t leave Mr Comfort, not as a regular thing. But she didn’t seem to mind that now, much as she used always to be saying about it.”
“And when is it to be, mamma?
“On Friday; that is, tomorrow.”
“That is, she’s to go and tell him tomorrow that she means to take him — or he’s to come to her at Miss Pucker’s lodgings. It’s not to be wondered at when one sees Miss Pucker, really: and I’m not sure I’d not have done the same if I’d been living with her too; only I don’t think I ever should have begun. I think it’s living with Miss Pucker has made her do it; I do indeed, my dear. Well, now that I have told you, I suppose I may as well go and get ready for dinner.”
“I’ll come with you, mamma. The potatoes are strained, and Kitty can put the things on the table. Mamma,’— and now they were on the stairs —“I’ve got something to tell also.”
We’ll leave Mrs Ray to eat her dinner, and Rachel to tell her story, merely adding a word to say that the mother did not stint the measure of her praise, or refuse her child the happiness of her sympathy. That evening was probably the happiest of Rachel’s existence, although its full proportions of joy were marred by an unforeseen occurrence. At four o’clock a note came from Rowan to his “Dearest Rachel’— saying that he had been called away by telegraph to London about that “horrid brewery business”. He would write from there. But Rachel was almost as happy without him, talking about him, as she would have been in his presence, listening to him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01