My Cousin Rachel Chapter 12

They all went off about six o’clock, as the vicar had to take evensong in another parish. I heard Mrs. Pascoe engage my cousin Rachel to pass an afternoon with her during the week, and each of the Pascoe daughters pressed their claims upon her too. One wanted advice upon a watercolor, another had a set of covers to be worked in tapestry and could not decide upon the wools, a third always read aloud to a sick woman in the village every Thursday, could my cousin Rachel possibly accompany her, the poor soul had such a wish to see her. “Indeed,” said Mrs. Pascoe, as we advanced through the hall to the front door, “there are so many people who desire to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Ashley, that I think you can reckon upon engagements every afternoon for the next four weeks.”

“She can do that very well from Pelyn,” said my godfather; “we are situated handily for visiting. More so than here. And I rather believe we are to have the pleasure of her company within a day or two.”

He glanced at me, and I made haste to reply and squash the idea before further entanglement was possible.

“Not so, sir,” I said, “my cousin Rachel remains here for the present. Before she becomes involved in any outside invitations she has the whole of the estate to visit. We begin tomorrow by taking tea at the Barton. The rest of the farms must be taken in their turn. Great offense will be given if she does not pay her respects to every one of the tenants in strict precedence.”

I saw Louise look at me wide-eyed, but I took no notice.

“Oh, well, yes of course,” said my godfather, in his turn surprised, “very right, very proper. I would have suggested conducting Mrs. Ashley myself, but if you are prepared to do so that is quite another matter. And if,” he went on, turning to my cousin Rachel, “you find yourself uncomfortable here—Philip will forgive me, I know, for saying this, but they have not been used to entertaining ladies here for many years, as you doubtless know, and things may be a little rough—or if you would like a woman’s company, I know my daughter will only be too ready to receive you.”

“We have a guest room at the vicarage,” said Mrs. Pascoe. “If at any time you should be lonely, Mrs. Ashley, always remember it is at your disposal. We should be so happy to have you with us.”

“Indeed, indeed,” echoed the vicar; and I wondered if another tag of poetry was ready on his lips.

“You are all very kind and more than generous,” said my cousin Rachel. “When I have done my duty here, on the estate, we will talk about it again, shall we? Meanwhile, believe me grateful.”

There was much clatter and chatter and saying of good-byes, and the carriages drove away down the drive.

We went back into the drawing room. The evening had passed pleasantly enough, heaven knows, but I was glad that they had gone and the house was silent once again. She must have had the same thought, for as she stood a moment, looking around her in the drawing room, she said, “I love the stillness of a room, after a party. The chairs are moved, the cushions disarranged, everything is there to show that people enjoyed themselves; and one comes back to the empty room happy that it’s over, happy to relax and say, ‘Now we are alone again.’ Ambrose used to say to me in Florence that it was worth the tedium of visitors to experience the pleasure of their going. He was so right.”

I watched her as she smoothed the covering of a chair, and touched a cushion. “You don’t have to do that,” I told her. “Seecombe and John and the rest will see to it tomorrow.”

“A woman’s instinct,” she said to me. “Don’t look at me; sit down and fill your pipe. Have you enjoyed yourself?”

“I have.” I lay sideways, sprawling on a stool. “I don’t know why,” I added, “usually I find Sundays a great bore. It’s because I’m not a conversationalist. All I had to do today was to sit back in my chair and let you do the talking for me.”

“That’s where a woman can be useful,” she said; “it’s part of their training. Instinct warns them what to do if conversation flags.”

“Yes, but you don’t make it obvious,” I said. “Mrs. Pascoe is very different. She goes on and on until one wants to scream. No man ever got a chance to talk on other Sundays. I can’t think what it is you did to make it all so pleasant.”

“So it was pleasant?”

“Why, yes, I’ve told you so.”

“Then you had better hurry up and marry your Louise, and have a real hostess, not just a bird of passage.”

I sat up on the stool, and stared at her. She was smoothing her hair before the mirror.

“Marry Louise?” I said. “Don’t be absurd. I don’t want to marry anyone. And she isn’t ‘my’ Louise.”

“Oh!” said my cousin Rachel. “I rather thought she was. At least, your godfather gave me that impression.”

She sat down on one of the chairs and took up her embroidery. Just then young John came in to draw the curtains, so I was silent. I was fuming, though. By what right did my godfather make such an assumption? I waited until John had gone.

“What did my godfather say?” I asked.

“I don’t remember, specifically,” she said; “I just think he felt it was an understood thing. He mentioned, driving back from church in the carriage, that his daughter had come over here to do the flowers, and that it had been such a handicap for you, brought up in a household of men; the sooner you married and had a wife to look after you the better. He said Louise understood you very well, as you did her. I hope you apologized for your bad manners on Saturday.”

“Yes, I apologized,” I said, “but it did not seem to make much difference. I have never met Louise in so vile a humor. By the way, she thinks you are beautiful. And so do the Miss Pascoes.”

“How very flattering.”

“And the vicar does not agree with them.”

“How distressing.”

“But he finds you feminine. Decidedly feminine.”

“I wonder in what way?”

“I suppose in a way different from Mrs. Pascoe.”

A bubble of laughter escaped from her, and she glanced up from her embroidery. “How would you define it, Philip?”

“Define what?”

“The difference in our femininity, Mrs. Pascoe’s and mine.”

“Oh, heaven knows,” I said, kicking the leg of the stool, “I don’t know anything about the subject. All I know is that I like looking at you, and I don’t like looking at Mrs. Pascoe.”

“That’s a nice simple answer, thank you, Philip.”

I might have said the same about her hands. I liked watching them too. Mrs. Pascoe’s hands were like boiled hams.

“It’s all nonsense about Louise, anyway,” I said, “so please forget it. I have never considered her as a wife, and don’t intend to.”

“Poor Louise.”

“Ridiculous of my godfather to have got such an idea into his head.”

“Not really. When two young people are of the same age, and thrown much together, and like each other’s company, it is very natural that onlookers should think of marriage. Besides, she is a nice, good-looking girl, and very capable. She would make you an excellent wife.”

“Cousin Rachel, will you be quiet?”

She looked up at me again, and smiled.

“And another thing you can be quiet about is this nonsense of visiting everybody,” I said, “staying at the vicarage, staying at Pelyn. What is wrong with this house, and with my company?”

“Nothing, as yet.”

“Well, then…”

“I will stay until Seecombe becomes tired of me.”

“Seecombe has nothing to do with it,” I said, “nor Wellington nor Tamlyn, nor anyone at all. I am the master here, and it has to do with me.”

“Then I must do as I am bid,” she answered; “that is part of a woman’s training too.”

I glanced at her suspiciously to see if she was laughing, but she was looking at her work and I could not see her eyes.

“Tomorrow,” I said, “I shall draw up a list of the tenants, in order of seniority. The ones who have served the family longest will be the first to be visited. We will start with the Barton, as arranged on Saturday. We will set forth at two o’clock every afternoon until there is not a single individual on the estate that you have not met.”

“Yes, Philip.”

“You will have to write a note of explanation to Mrs. Pascoe and those girls, explaining you are otherwise engaged.”

“I will do so tomorrow morning.”

“When we have finished with our own people, you will have to stay in the house three afternoons a week, I believe it is Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, in case you are called upon by the country.”

“How do you know the days?”

“Because I have heard them discussed often enough by the Pascoes and Louise.”

“I see. And do I sit alone here in the drawing room, or do you sit with me, Philip?”

“You sit alone. They will call upon you, not me. Receiving the county is not part of a man’s work.”

“Supposing I am invited out to dinner, may I accept?”

“You will not be invited. You are in mourning. If there is any question of entertaining, we shall do it here. But never more than two couples at a time.”

“Is that etiquette in this part of the world?” she asked.

“Etiquette be blowed,” I answered her. “Ambrose and I never followed etiquette; we made our own.”

I saw her bend her head lower over her work, and I had a shrewd suspicion it was to hide laughter, though what she was laughing at I could not say. I was not trying to be funny.

“I suppose,” she said, after a moment, “you would not care to draw up for me a little list of rules? A code of conduct? I could study it here, while I am waiting to be called upon. It would be very unfortunate if I made some social faux pas, according to your lights, and so disgraced myself.”

“You can say what you please, to whom you please,” I said; “all I ask is that you say it here, in the drawing room. Never allow anyone to enter the library, under any pretext whatsoever.”

“Why? What will be happening in the library?”

“I shall be sitting there. With my feet upon the mantel.”

“On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on Fridays too?”

“Not on Thursdays. On Thursdays I go into town to the bank.”

She held her skeins of silk closer to the candlesticks to examine the color, and then folded them and wrapped them in her work. She rolled the work into a bundle, and put it aside.

I glanced at the clock. It was early yet. Did she think of going upstairs so soon? I had a sense of disappointment.

“And when the country have finished calling upon me,” she said, “what happens then?”

“Why, then, you are obliged to return their calls, every single one of them. I will order the carriage every afternoon for two o’clock. I beg your pardon. Not every afternoon. But every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.”

“And I go alone?”

“You go alone.”

“And what do I have to do on Mondays and on Wednesdays?”

“On Mondays and on Wednesdays, let me see…” I considered rapidly, invention failing me. “Do you sketch at all, or sing? Like the Miss Pascoes? You could practice singing on the Mondays, and draw or paint upon the Wednesdays.”

“I neither sketch nor sing,” said my cousin Rachel, “and I am afraid you are drawing up for me a program of leisure for which I am entirely unsuited. If, instead of waiting for the county to call upon me, I call upon them for the purpose of giving them lessons in Italian, that would suit me much better.”

She rose to her feet, having snuffed the candles in the tall stand beside her. I stood up from my stool.

“Mrs. Ashley give lessons in Italian?” I said, in mock horror. “What a disgrace upon the name. Only spinsters give lessons, when they have no one to support them.”

“And what do widows do who find themselves in similar circumstances?” she asked.

“Widows?” I said, not thinking. “Oh, widows marry again as fast as possible, or sell their rings.”

“I see. Well, I intend doing neither. I prefer giving lessons in Italian.” She patted me on the shoulder and left the room, calling good night over her shoulder.

I felt myself go scarlet. Good God, what had I said? I had spoken without a thought of her condition, forgetting who she was and what had happened. I had fallen into the fun of conversation with her as I might have done with Ambrose in the past, and had let my tongue run away with me in consequence. Remarry. Sell her rings. What in heaven’s name could she have thought of me?

How blundering, how unfeeling, how altogether oafish and ill-bred I must have seemed. I could feel the color mount right up the back of my neck to the roots of my hair. Hell and damnation. No use apologizing. It would make too big a business of it. Better to let it go, and hope and pray she would forget. I was thankful nobody else had been present, my godfather, say, to draw me aside and frown at such breach of manners. Or suppose it had been at table, and Seecombe waiting, and young John? Remarry. Sell her rings. Oh, Lord… Oh, Lord… What on earth could have possessed me? I should not sleep now for the night, I should lie awake and toss and turn, and all the while hear that reply of hers, swift as lightning, “I intend doing neither. I prefer giving lessons in Italian.”

I called Don, and letting myself out by the side door I walked out in the grounds. As I walked it seemed to me that my offense grew worse instead of better. Coarse, unthinking, empty-headed lout… And what had she meant anyway? Was it possible that she had so little money that she was really serious in what she said? Mrs. Ashley give lessons in Italian? I remembered her letter to my godfather from Plymouth. That she planned, after a short rest, to go to London. I remembered what that man Rainaldi had said, that she was obliged to sell the villa in Florence. I remembered, or rather I realized, with the full force of its application, that in Ambrose’s will he had left her nothing, nothing at all. Every penny of his property belonged to me. I remembered, once again, the servant’s gossip. No provision made for Mrs. Ashley. What in the world would they think, in the servants’ hall, on the estate, in the neighborhood, in the country, if Mrs. Ashley went about giving lessons in Italian?

Two days ago, three days ago, I would not have cared. She could have starved, that other woman of my fancy, and deserved it. But not now. Now it was different. The whole situation had entirely changed. Something would have to be done about it, and I did not know what. I could not possibly discuss it with her. The very thought made me go scarlet again with shame and embarrassment too. Then, with a sensation of relief, I suddenly remembered that the money and the property were not yet legally mine, and would not become so until my birthday in six months’ time. Therefore it was out of my hands. It was the responsibility of my godfather. He was trustee to the estate, and my guardian. Therefore it was for him to approach my cousin Rachel and make some sort of provision for her out of the estate. I would go to see him about it at the first opportunity. My name need not come into the matter. It could seem as though it was just a piece of legal business that would have happened anyway, the custom in this country. Yes, that was the solution. Thank heaven I had thought of it. Italian lessons… How shaming, how appalling.

Feeling easier in mind I came back to the house, but I still had not forgotten the original blunder. Remarry, sell the rings… I came to the edge of the grass by the east front and whistled softly to Don, who was sniffing in the undergrowth. My footsteps crunched slightly on the gravel path. I heard a voice call down to me, “Do you often go walking in the woods at night?” It was my cousin Rachel. She was sitting, without a light, at the open window of the blue bedroom. My blunder came upon me with full force, and I thanked heaven she could not see my mind.

“At times,” I said, “when I have something on my mind.”

“Does that mean you have something on your mind tonight?”

“Why, yes,” I answered. “I came to a serious conclusion walking in the woods.”

“What was it?”

“I came to the conclusion that you were perfectly right to dislike the sound of me, before you saw me, and to consider me, as you did, conceited, pert and spoiled. I am all three, and worse than that besides.”

She learned forward, her arms upon the windowsill.

“Then walking in the woods is bad for you,” she said, “and your conclusions very stupid.”

“Cousin Rachel…”


But I did not know how to make my apology. The words that had strung themselves so easily to make a blunder in the drawing room would not come now that I wished the blunder remedied. I stood there below her window, tongue-tied and ashamed. Suddenly I saw her turn and stretch behind her, and then she leaned forward once again and threw something at me from the window. It struck me on the cheek and fell to the ground. I stooped to pick it up. It was one of the flowers from her bowl, an autumn crocus.

“Don’t be so foolish, Philip; go to bed,” she said.

She closed her window and drew the curtains; and somehow my shame went from me, and the blunder too, and I felt light of heart.

It was not possible to ride over to Pelyn in the early part of the week, because of the program I had drawn up for visiting the tenants. Besides, I could hardly have made the excuse of seeing my godfather without taking my cousin Rachel to call upon Louise. On Thursday my opportunity arrived. The carrier came from Plymouth with all the shrubs and plants that she had brought with her from Italy, and as soon as Seecombe gave her the news of this—I was just finishing my breakfast at the time—my cousin Rachel was dressed and downstairs, her lace shawl wound about her head, prepared to go out into the garden. The door of the dining room was open to the hall and I saw her pass. I went out to say good morning.

“I understood,” I said, “that Ambrose told you no woman was fit to look upon before eleven. What are you doing downstairs at half-past eight?”

“The carrier has come,” she said, “and at half-past eight on the last morning of September I am not a woman; I am a gardener. Tamlyn and I have work to do.”

She looked gay and happy as a child might do at the prospect of a treat.

“Are you going to count the plants?” I asked her.

“Count them? No,” she answered, “I have to see how many have survived the journey and which are worth putting in the soil at once. Tamlyn will not know, but I shall. No hurry for the trees, we can do that at our leisure, but I would like to see the plants in right away.” I noticed that she wore upon her hands an old rough pair of gloves, most incongruous on her neat small person.

“You are not going to grub about the soil yourself?” I asked her.

“But of course I am. You’ll see. I shall work faster than Tamlyn and his men. Do not expect me home for any midday meal.”

“But this afternoon,” I protested. “We were expected at Lankelly and at Coombe. The farm kitchens will be scrubbed, and tea prepared.”

“You must send a note postponing the visit,” she said. “I commit myself to nothing when there is planting to be done. Good-bye.” And she waved her hand at me and passed through the front door onto the gravel drive.

“Cousin Rachel?” I called at her from the dining room window.

“What is it?” she said over her shoulder.

“Ambrose was wrong in what he said of women,” I shouted. “At half-past eight in the morning they look very well indeed.”

“Ambrose was not referring to half-past eight,” she called back to me; “he was referring to half-past six, and he did not mean downstairs.”

I turned back laughing into the dining room, and saw Seecombe standing at my elbow, his lips pursed. He moved, with disapproval, to the sideboard, and motioned to young John to remove the breakfast dishes. One thing at least about this day of planting, I should not be wanted. I altered my arrangements for the morning, and giving orders for Gypsy to be saddled I was away on the road to Pelyn by ten o’clock. I found my godfather at home and in his study, and without any preamble I broached the subject of my visit.

“So you understand,” I said to him, “something will have to be done, and right away. Why, if it should reach Mrs. Pascoe’s ears that Mrs. Ashley considers giving lessons in Italian it would be about the county in twenty-four hours.”

My godfather, as I had expected, looked most shocked and pained.

“Oh, disgraceful,” he agreed, “quite out of the question. It would never do at all. The matter is a delicate one, of course. I must have time to think this out, how to approach the business.”

I became impatient. I knew his cautious legal frame of mind. He would fiddle-faddle with the job for days.

“We have no time to waste,” I said. “You don’t know my cousin Rachel as well as I do. She is quite capable of saying to one of the tenants, in her easy way, “Do you know of anyone who would like to learn Italian?” And where should we be then? Besides, I have heard gossip already, through Seecombe. Everyone knows that she has been left nothing in the will. All that must be rectified, and at once.”

He looked thoughtful, and bit his pen.

“That Italian adviser said nothing of her circumstances,” he said. “It is unfortunate that I cannot discuss the matter with him. We have no means of knowing the extent of her private income, or what settlement was made upon her by her previous marriage.”

“I believe everything went to pay Sangalletti’s debts,” I said. “I remember Ambrose said as much in his letters to me. It was one of the reasons why they did not come home last year, her financial affairs were so involved. No doubt that is why she has to sell that villa. Why, she may scarcely have a penny to her name. We must do something for her, and today.”

My godfather sorted his papers spread upon the desk.

“I am very glad, Philip,” he said, glancing at me over his spectacles, “that you have changed your attitude. I was most uncomfortable before your cousin Rachel came. You were prepared to be very unpleasantly rude, and do absolutely nothing for her, which would have caused a scandal. At least you now see reason.”

“I was mistaken,” I said shortly; “we can forget all that.”

“Well then,” he answered, “I will write a letter to Mrs. Ashley, and to the bank. I will explain to her, and to the bank, what the estate is prepared to do. The best plan will be to pay a quarterly check, from the estate, into an account which I will open for her. When she moves to London, or elsewhere, the branch there will have instructions from us here. In six months’ time, when you become twenty-five, you will be able to handle the business yourself. Now, as to the sum of money every quarter. What do you suggest?”

I thought a moment, and named a figure.

“That is generous, Philip,” he said, “rather overgenerous. She will hardly need as much as that. Not at the moment, at least.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, don’t let’s be niggardly,” I said. “If we do this thing, let us do it as Ambrose would have done it, or not at all.”

“H’m,” he said. He scribbled a figure or two on his blotter.

“Well, she should be pleased by this,” he said; “it should atone for any disappointment with the will.”

How hard and cold-blooded was the legal mind. Scratching away there with his pen at sums and figures, reckoning up shillings and pence, how much the estate could afford. Lord! how I hated money.

“Hurry, sir,” I said, “and write your letter. Then I can take it back with me. I can ride to the bank also, so that they have your letter too. My cousin Rachel can then draw from them at once.”

“My dear fellow, Mrs. Ashley will hardly be as pushed as that. You are going from one extreme to the other.”

He sighed, and drew a sheet of paper before him on the blotter.

“She was correct when she said you were like Ambrose,” he replied.

This time, when he wrote his letter, I stood over him, so that I could be certain what he said to her. He did not mention my name. He talked of the estate. It was the wish of the estate that provision should be made for her. The estate had decided upon the sum to be paid quarterly. I watched him like a hawk.

“If you do not wish to seem mixed up in the affair,” he said to me, “you had better not take the letter. Dobson has to go your way this afternoon. He can take the letter for me. It will look better.”

“Excellent,” I said, “and I will go to the bank. Thank you, uncle.”

“Don’t forget to see Louise before you go,” he said; “I think she is somewhere in the house.”

I could have done without Louise, in my impatience to be off, but I could not say so. She was in the parlor, as it happened, and I was obliged to pass the open door from my godfather’s study.

“I thought I heard your voice,” she said. “Have you come to spend the day? Let me give you some cake and fruit. You must be hungry.”

“I have to go at once,” I said, “thank you, Louise. I only rode over to see my godfather on a business matter.”

“Oh,” she said, “I see.” Her expression, that had been cheerful and natural at sight of me, turned back to the stiff look of Sunday. “And how is Mrs. Ashley?” she said.

“My cousin Rachel is well, and exceedingly busy,” I said. “All the shrubs she brought home from Italy have arrived this morning, and she is planting them out with Tamlyn in the forcing ground.”

“I should have thought you would have stayed at home to help her,” said Louise.

I don’t know what it was about the girl, but this new inflection in her voice was strangely irritating. I was reminded suddenly of her behavior in old days, when we would be running races in the garden, and just as I would be happily employed she would for no reason shake her curls and say to me, “I don’t think, after all, I want to play,” and would stand looking at me with this same stubborn face.

“You know perfectly well I am a fool at gardening,” I said, and then, from devilry, I added, “Haven’t you got over your ill-humor yet?”

She drew herself up, and flushed. “Ill-humor? I don’t know what you mean,” she said quickly.

“Oh yes, you do,” I answered. “You were in a vile humor the whole of Sunday. It was most noticeable. I wonder the Pascoe girls did not remark upon it.”

“The Pascoe girls,” she said, “like everyone else, were probably far too busy remarking something else.”

“And what was that?” I asked.

“How simple it must be for a woman of the world, like Mrs. Ashley, to twist a young man like yourself around her finger,” said Louise.

I turned on my heel and left the room. I could have struck her.