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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter IV. A Rencounter

Chapter IV. A Rencounter.

As Norval and Mandevil were sitting in silence a few minutes after Box's departure, the boughs rustled at a sudden curve of the path close by, and two ladies appeared before them.

One was elderly, very handsome, but rather too dignified-page 12looking. The other was apparently about eighteen; also very handsome. We shall not attempt to describe her beauty, for it was simply indescribable. The effect of their sudden appearance upon the two friends was apparently startling. Norval sprang forward, saying to Mandevil—"Hallo! my aunt and cousin."

The elder lady, while giving him her hand, glanced in a half-surprised manner sideways towards Mandevil (who saluted her), and then a cold haughty look settled on her face as she acknowledged his salutation stiffly, with a slight inclination. Norval, who, while shaking hands, had turned quickly to look after Mandevil, was astonished to see him flush and then turn deadly pale, as though under great emotion. Turning to the younger lady, he was struck with a similar display on her part. In answer to his salutation, she made an incoherent return, and seemed as though she did not know where to look. Then he said to the elder lady—

"You have quite startled me, Lady Trousely; I had no idea you were in Heidelberg, I thought you were still in Canstatt."

"You should have inquired of your friend Mr. Mandevil; he seems to be well informed of our movements; for though we only arrived here yesterday afternoon, he has found time to follow. If you wish to see more of us, you will find us at the hotel by the station, this evening. To morrow we depart. I had intended to have stayed several days here," she continued, raising her voice rather, "but I now see reason to alter my mind. Perhaps you will be good enough to tell your friend so. Good afternoon."

So saying, the handsome lady swept onwards, followed by her daughter, who gave an involuntary glance in Mandevil's direction as she moved away. Norval rejoined his companion, who had fallen back into his seat, with his head sunk on his chest, and face showing yet the traces of his emotion; but now the blood had come back into his cheeks, perhaps the sooner for his having heard the last words of the late speaker.

"Well! for the life of me," said Norval, "I can't make out what all this means. Here is Lady Trousely and Florence, whose life you saved in the Tyrol, and with whom I thought you were the best of friends, and lo! when I see you meet, you look at one another like strange cats, then away she sweeps like a tragedy queen, while you, Mandevil, I can't describe what you look like— but what can be the matter with you?"

page 13

"Cannot you guess, Norval?" said Mandevil, looking up and smiling, having by this time recovered his serenity. "The most natural explanation in this case is the true one."

"Nonsense! you don't say so?" returned Norval eagerly. "Stay, I will tell you a secret hitherto locked up in my own breast. You know how proud I am of my cousin Florence, and what a stunning girl I think she is. Well I have often thought that there is only one man that I know of worthy of her—and that man is you. When you were describing your sentiments with respect to Gladwyn just now, I thought—'them's my sentiments' exactly with respect to yourself. But still, you don't mean to say that anything has passed between you? Though, by the old lady's looks there must be something in the wind."

"You are too flattering to your humble servant," replied Mandevil; "but in return for your secret I will tell you another. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I hardly know which, 'something' as you express it, has passed between us."

"You've not been rejected, I'm sure; Florence ought to be too sensible a—but there's no accounting for taste, as the dairymaid said when she kissed the cow. Which is it, accepted or rejected?"

"To speak strictly," answered Mandevil, "both—accepted by Florence, but rejected by the mother on her daughter's behalf."