Summary of† Rachel: A Tale, attributed to Jane Taylor (1817)
Tomkins is a thirty-year-old bachelor who is beginning to cast around for a wife.† He is grateful to be invited to stay with the Simpsons, old friends of his father, at a place sufficiently distant from London to provide new social opportunities for him; but he is also wary of finding such society somewhat dull.†
The day after his arrival at the Simpson household, Tomkins joins the family at church, but has to sit separately from the Simpsons, in the company of a middle-aged woman, Mrs Mason, and her two young companions, Sophia and Rachel, who differ greatly in their physical charms. The pretty one drops her Latin prayer book and Tomkins has to overcome his prejudice against classically-educated young ladies before later initiating enquiries about the fair lady's availability.
Once Mr Simpson and Tomkins have a chance to discuss the merits of the women, Tomkins learns that he will be brought to visit them next day.† The Simpsons seem amused that Tomkins is already smitten by the lovely Sophia Miller, but Mrs Simpson prefers plain Rachel Porter.
†The topic of conversation then switches to the Jenkins family, who are considered to be socially acceptable, as Mr Jenkins is a prosperous farmer and Mrs Jenkins is well received, despite her marked tendency to gossip.† They have three young daughters, and the Simpsons suggest a visit to encounter these young ladies. Thus, Tomkins experiences Mrs Jenkinsís powers of manipulative information-gathering for himself, and he soon takes his leave, feeling irritated by finding himself outmanoeuvred by his hostess.
By way of contrast, Mr Simpson now gives Tomkins a very positive description of Mrs Mason, the guardian of her two nieces and his pew-neighbour during the Sunday service.† This description is cut short when Mr Simpson and Tomkins arrive at the Lodge to invite the group of women to join the Jenkins as guests at the Simpsonsí house next day.† Tomkins then initiates a conversation with the lovely Sophia, while Rachel quietly mends a torn sheet.† By the time he takes his leave, Tomkins has decided that he dislikes Rachel for her lack of poise and charm, and relishes the company of the sensitive Sophia.
The Simpsonsí dinner in their drawing room turns out to be a sociable occasion, as the vicar and young Mr Clarkson are also included in the party.† Only Rachel seems determined not to participate in the various conversations, unless it is with Mr Clarkson.† Tompkins notices Rachelís willingness to talk to the young man, and this induces him to seek out Rachel later on; but he fails to engage her in conversation of any sort.† He resigns himself to the chattering attentions of the eldest Jenkins daughter.†
The company then take a walk and encounter a begging woman, Sally Burton, who is treated with particular kindness by Mrs Mason and Mrs Simpson.† Miss Jenkins shares her criticism of Mrs Masonís response to the begging woman with Tomkins, who disagrees with the young ladyís assessment, and says so.† Rachelís responses on the walk indicate to Tomkins that she is both intelligent and sensitive, but once the party has returned to the house, and accomplishments at the piano have been displayed by all the Jenkins girls and by Sophia, Rachel refuses to perform, explaining that she does not play.† The vicar confides in Tomkins that he has a low opinion of Rachelís intellect, although he partially excuses her as a victim of an inadequate education system.
Miss Jenkins introduces the topic of Sophiaís drawings, and Rachel responds rather rudely to this initiative.† It appears that she is irritated by most of her fellow guests, and this is confirmed when the cousins return home to the Lodge at the end of the evening.† Her aunt reproves her for her lack of social grace, but Rachel retorts that at least she is not an affected poser like Miss Jenkins.† Secretly, however, Rachel has approved of Tomkinsís disagreement with the vicar over the importance of a classical education for young ladies.
At breakfast next morning, Sophia openly expresses her approval of Tomkins, and is delighted with his early visit to their house, only just after the breakfast things have been cleared.† Tomkins enjoys Sophia Millerís company a great deal more than Miss Jenkinsís, but nonetheless he is disappointed when Sophia makes a derogatory remark about that young lady.† Rachelís appearance in an apron interrupts the conversation, but once it is resumed, Sophia sinks slightly further in his estimation when she fails to impress him with any genuine enthusiasm for her reading.
Rachelís brother, Robert, is awaiting news of a situation in one of the public offices, since he has refused to follow his father into the trade of London haberdashery.† One morning, Rachel takes delivery of an unstamped note from her brother announcing his arrival in the area and his need to see his sister, urgently and secretly, at the toll-bar that evening.† Rachel has some difficulty in meeting her brother privately, as he requests, but manages to shake off her cousin Sophiaís company by visiting Sally Burton. During this visit she is startled to encounter Tomkins, who is embarked on a mercy visit to the impoverished family. Rachel escapes from her visit as quickly as possible, and she finally manages to meet up with her brother.†
During their secret meeting, Rachel learns that Robert has fallen into debt and that the bailiffs are pursuing him.† She decides that he can stay cheaply at the Burtonsí cottage until the situation cools down, and he makes his way there while his sister hurries back to the Lodge.† Mrs Mason subsequently receives a letter from her sister, lamenting her son Robertís disappearance.† Rachel is very upset when her aunt says that she will feel obliged to report any sighting of Robert to his angry father immediately.
Rachel hurries off on another secret meeting to give this unpleasant news to her brother at the Burton familyís cottage.†† When she arrives there, she finds Sally Burton delighted with their new lodger, who has gone for a walk by the toll-bar.†† When Rachel finds her brother, he seems to accept that he must conceal himself elsewhere, and plans to move in with his friend, Tom, in Cumberland.† However, Rachel asks him to stay in the area long enough for her to plead his case by a letter to their father, and Robert agrees to this.† They part, and Rachel hurries home, but has to stop when she finds a five-barred gate has been fastened for the night.
She is very disconcerted to be rescued from this situation by none other than Tomkins, who has been told at the cottage that Rachel has ďgone to meet the strangerĒ.† He helps her over the gate and the couple walk on in silence, he wondering whom she was meeting and she very puzzled by his silence.† Eventually, he quizzes her about her attitude to those who are imprudent and dishonest about their motives.† He then takes his leave from her at the front gate of her auntís house, where she enters to a frosty reception.
Much to her surprise, she soon realises that the jealous Sophia and her concerned aunt have both concluded that she has secretly been meeting Tomkins!† Rachel feels relieved at this misapprehension until her aunt announces that she may not walk alone in future.†† Several days pass without Rachel being able to meet Robert, and the only diversion in that time is a visit to the Simpsons, where her aunt is surprised to observe that there seems little interest between Tomkins and Rachel.† Tomkins walks to the Lodge to collect Sophia , who is to join the party for tea.† He is disappointed to find that she is apparently moved to tears by a very frivolous book, yet she does not seem in the least distressed when the servant, Molly, accidentally scalds her arm.
The couple make their way to the Simpsonsí house, and Rachel rushes by them, summoned by the boy to help Molly in her distress.† Sophia comments on her cousinís rudeness, but Tomkins is impressed at Rachelís urgent concern for the injured Molly.†† The confusion of rushing hither and thither later allows Rachel the chance of a hurried outdoor meeting with her brother, who is horrified to realise that his sister's reputation is being questioned.† He wants to explain the whole matter to their aunt immediately, but Rachel favours waiting for a reply from her father.†
Their rushed conversation is now interrupted by the arrival of the three Jenkins girls.† Rachel pretends to be giving directions to a stranger, but swiftly ensures that she and Robert might meet again at the forthcoming fair.† However, the Jenkins girls are suspicious about what they have seen, and the eldest daughter is particularly irritated by the confusion over whether her unlikely rival, Rachel, is secretly meeting Tomkins or the handsome stranger.† In contrast, Mrs Mason is no longer suspicious about Rachel's involvement with Tomkins, and relations between aunt and niece are much improved.
The young people make up a party to go to the fair.† The party, which comprises two of the Jenkins girls, Mr Clarkson, Tomkins, Sophia and Rachel, divides up, and Tomkins's group is delayed on the two-mile walk to the town by Miss Jenkins's accidental tearing of her dress while executing a graceful leap from a gate.† Rachel quickly darns the tear, using her emergency sewing kit, but the extra time required means that they lose sight of the others.
When they arrive in the crowded town, they cannot find the rest of their party, and Rachel and Miss Jenkins take refuge in a genteel shop while Tomkins embarks upon a search.† Eventually, he comes upon a scene of public disorder, and is startled to encounter Mrs Burton's lodger, holding the senseless Sophia in his arms.† Tomkins asks the stranger to bring Sophia to a nearby house while he rushes off to find Mary.† He duly rescues a shaken Mary from the unhappy scene of Clarkson brawling with a townsman.† Tomkins and Mary then rejoin the stranger and Sophia, and Tomkins thanks the gentleman for his assistance, explaining that Clarkson had been distracted by the various shows, allowing the ladies to be regarded as available, and had then punched a showman who had expressed a lively interest in Sophia.
With the exception of Clarkson, the whole party is then reunited in the shop, and Rachel is overjoyed to see her brother with the others until she realises that he is still incognito. They are both clearly disconcerted to meet and part in these circumstances, as their companions notice only too easily; the Jenkins girls recognising that this is a repeat of an earlier meeting which they witnessed.† Rachel barely has a chance to wish Robert well on his journey to his friend and to assure him that she will write.† The company start the walk home, none of them much pleased with such a troubled day at the fair.
During the course of this homeward walk, Miss Jenkins and Sophia agree that Miss Jenkins will come to inform Mrs Mason of Rachel's wayward behaviour next morning.† Miss Jenkins arrives just after Tomkins, and launches into her attack on Rachel's morality with considerable panache. The accusation leads Mrs Mason to realise that Rachel must have been meeting her brother, but Rachel, having heard Miss Jenkins out, simply quits the room with controlled contempt and considerable dignity.† Tomkins is much impressed by Rachel's behaviour, though still perplexed by the mysterious stranger in her life.
Three weeks later, Tomkins is about to return to London, rather to Rachel's distress as she has become conscious that she does care about her reputation in society, and, in particular, about Tomkins's opinion of her.† Mrs Mason has decided to send Rachel back home to London, since the damage to her reputation has not been repaired by any explanation from Rachel herself - she is too proud to explain her actions in the face of groundless suspicions.† Tomkins and Rachel meet outside by chance, shortly before they are both due to depart, and yet again, Tomkins is impressed by Rachel's intelligent sensitivity, but there is still no establishment of mutual understanding between them.
However, the situation is joyfully changed for Rachel when news comes through from home that Robert is forgiven and wanted back to take up his new appointment.† She now tells her aunt the whole story, including Robert's present whereabouts, and he is sent for, arriving back in the area within a few days, this time to be formally welcomed as Mrs Mason's nephew and Rachel's brother.† The gossips are silenced, and Tomkins is not only acquainted with the truth just before his departure to London, but also befriended by Robert so that they are travel-companions on the journey.† Rachel is to remain with Mrs Mason after all, forgiven for her obstinacy, and possessing a more sensitive understanding of Mrs Mason's guidance about social proprieties.
However, Tomkins is not eager to return to London after his four-month absence, since he has "found an intelligent being, with whom he would have been well contented to pass the remainder of his life".† Only his planned return visit will establish who this companion is, but the reader concludes that Rachel will at last be reciprocally loved, and, in contrast to Mrs Jenkins's high hopes, that Tomkins' bride is not to be one of the Jenkins girls!