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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter V. Confessions

Chapter V. Confessions.

"Whew!" whistled Norval, "that accounts for the milk in the cocoa-nut. I see now why my lady bridled up so; and her nasty message to you, I can understand it now."

"I know," said Mandevil. "I heard it; and if it's any comfort to her, it did make me wince a little. But of course you know without my telling you, that the meeting them here was quite unexpected on my part."

"Of course I do," said Norval. "And now to tell you th truth, I never had any sympathy with my lady. She has always been very gracious and patronizing to me, but I know in her heart of hearts she only regards me as a bore of a poor relation and would be glad if I were to keep out of her sight indefinitely. I think I shall not go to see her at the hotel"

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"That is just like your impetuosity, Norval," said Mandevil; "but it would be very foolish. On my own account too, I should be sorry were you to break with her; for to confess the truth, though I have promised her ladyship, as far as my own volition is concerned, to renounce my suit, I have not entirely given up hope—very vague to me at the present, but still hope; you will see better when I tell you the details."

"Oh, well then, I will honour her with my presence," said Norval, "and, never mind, we'll defeat the proud dame yet. But tell me all about it, and then I'll know better how to act."

"I have not much to tell," answered Mandevil. "The beginning of it only happened about two weeks ago. My dream of happiness, as the poets say, 'though clouded by forebodings, occupied a week of that time—the remaining week I have been wandering about like my reputed ancestor, till I arrived here. But now to my affair.

"You know the jolly time we spent in the Tyrol together the summer of last year by that mountain lake, whither you had asked me to accompany you, and where we found your aunt and cousin, as you expected. How Lady Trousely was rather stiff at first with your humble servant, until after I had saved Florence's life when she slipped into the lake that evening, and so on, and how friendly we became afterwards, but you don't, or rather did not know, what a wrench it was to me when they left after the six weeks, which seemed so short to me. I instinctively shrunk from examining into the state of my own feelings. I suppose, too, I had an instinct of the state of Florence's mind, for next summer found me in the neighbourhood of where she and her mother were spending a few weeks. I had no fixed intentions, you know, of anything; for had the question come directly before my mind, I should not have felt justified, I confess. But I was continually in Florence's company. You know the summer open air sort of life in these places?"

"I wonder the old lady's Argus eyes were not on you sooner, though," said Norval.

"So have I since," said Mandevil, "but I think her pride helped to blind her. But besides that, my natural manner up to the last moment may have deceived her. For latterly I had really honestly resolved upon steeling my heart against all impression; in accordance with which purpose I had determined upon page 15taking my departure in a short time; and it was only by a sort of surprise that my fate—as far as it went—was fixed.

"You know what Box calls the celebrated falls of the Nesenbach, near Stuttgart?"

"Oh, yes; the Nesenbach! I know," answered Norval, "after passing under the city and emerging therefrom, it runs an open ditch alongside the Park down to the Neckar, in a beautiful stream like ink, without it's wholesome smell, but to the contrary. When I was in Stuttgart, I was told that the old King, on being applied to to have it covered up, answered solemnly that he wasn't going to blot out one of the rivers of his kingdom."

"However, for all that," continued Mandevil, "the Nesenbach is fair enough up by the waterfall, and it was there—to speak poetically—that my fate was sealed. There had been a party of us on a pic-nic at the Solitude. Florence was there. Her mother was to have gone too, but something at the last moment prevented her, or very likely I would not have occasion to be relating what I am to you. We returned from the Solitude by way of the waterfall, and had halted there for an hour's rest under the trees. Somehow Florence and I found ourselves alone on one of those rustic seats at the top of the fall. The rest of the party were either dispersed in the wood a little way, or were in the hollow below. I suppose I may spare you all the details—what she said, and what I said, and then what she said in answer to that, and so on. I told Florence that I was going away for good in a day or two. You know what I have always admired in her is the extreme naturalness and candour coming from her thorough honesty of mind, and which superficial observers might attribute to art. Well, she betrayed such emotion upon my making my statement, that I would have been more or less than man, as your poets say again, had I not yielded to my own feelings, and what was to come to pass did come to pass. It may seem curious to you, my manner of relating all this, but it is through trying to ease the weight off my memory a little.

"Of course, one of the first things which occurred to me though with a sort of apprehensive foreboding, was to speak to Lady Tronsely. Florence, when I mentioned it, begged me to wait for two or three days. Though not so doubtful as myself, I suppose she, too, had an instinctive knowledge of the obstacles in our path. After waiting that time, she said she would rather page 16herself inform her mother of the engagement between us. But it was still two or three days after that before she did so. She said, in self-excuse, when alluding to it—

"'I know that I ought to; and though, of course, there is nothing to fear from my mother—why, does she not owe her having any child at all to you?—still, my happiness is so great now, that I shrink from the bare possibility of a break in it.'

"Upon my alluding to our disparity in rank, she would not acknowledge it, but said, 'It is the reverse, rather. What is our nobility of three or four generations—for it does not extend further —to your descent, which can be traced so far back.'"

"I say 'ditto' to her there," said Norval, "I'll give you my patent as the noblest fellow I ever came across. But what did she mean in particular? A little while ago, too, I noticed your saying something about your 'reputed ancestor.'"

"Well, you mustn't laugh, Norval," answered Mandevil, smiling; "but one day I had informed Florence of a fact communicated to me only about a year ago, that I was reputed to be the lineal representative of the, so-called, traditional character known as the 'Wandering Jew.'"

"Ha! ha!" laughed Norval. "Come, I shall think that the whole affair is a joke, if you talk that way; indeed, I would at once, except that I call to mind how Lady Trousely and Florence looked a little while ago. The Wandering Jew! Good! I'll tell you whose ancestor the Wandering Jew is, in my opinion, and that is—Mrs. Harris's."

"I knew you would laugh," said Mandevil, "and so did I, when I was first informed of it. But I was left with my confidence much shaken. I will have more, though, to say to you on that subject by-and-by. I must now proceed with what I was telling you.

"It was just a week after the happy afternoon at the waterfall, that I received an ominous short note from Lady Trousely, requesting the honour of an interview in her lodgings at Canstatt. I saw her. At the first glance I could perceive what was coming. She said, Florence had informed her, &c.; that the thing was impossible. It was true, that she owed her daughter's life to me; but that she also knew my spirit was too high, too noble, to found any claim upon that. There was another thing, too. Florence was entitled to ten thousand a year in her own right, and she was page 17sure I would shrink from the thought of being set down as a mercenary adventurer. This made me wince, though it was news to me. In fact, she is a shrewd woman, Norval; for she must have read my character thoroughly, to have used the arguments she did."

"You are about right there," said Norval; "but the more shame for her in not valuing you properly."

"In fact though (she continued) it was not equivalent wealth, or even rank, which she had in view, with respect to Florence. But that she would never consent with pleasure to her union with any man who had not acquired political distinction, or to that effect. Further, that they (her husband and herself) had no son; that the title and bulk of the estate would go to the heir-at-law; and that Florence and her wealth (derived from another source) by duty should contribute to strengthen their political party. Florence was a young girl, and was at an impressionable age, and was likely to mistake gratitude for affection; but she would soon be able to reconcile her happiness with her duty, were I to act loyally in future and abstain from agitating her. She seemed all through her discourse, or rather exposition of her will, to take it for granted that I would accede at once. To sum up, she had already other views for Florence."

"I know what that means," said Norval—"Lord Chestnut. He is the heir-at-law. He is under-secretary of something or another. Very grave and haw-hawish. Doesn't say too much, but looks inscrutable. Very promising man, his lordship—rising character. Oh, she is a hard, ambitious woman. Florence isn't a bit like her. Florence inherits her disposition from her father, and from her mother only the best part of her mother's beauty. But did you consent to give her up at once, then?"

"I ventured some opposition," said Mandevil; "among other things, I suggested that I should take the final decision from Lord Trousely."

"Oh, I am sure that did you no good," said Norval. "It is well known that her ladyship wears the inexpressibles. He is of a kind disposition, and, if it rested with him, you wouldn't have much to fear. It is whispered, that the reason she comes over on the Continent so often without him is, because she likes to have her own way so much."

"It was just as you imagine," answered Mandevil. "Directly page 18I suggested the thing, her eye seemed to flash a little, and she said it was utterly vain to dwell upon that idea, for that Lord Trousely was at one with her in the matter. Finally, I was obliged to acquiesce in her decision, or, at least, so far as this:— I undertook to release Florence from any engagement under which she might be conceived to be bound to me; that I would go on my travels, and that I would not attempt any communication with her without her mother's consent; for I put that condition in, I said, as I did not wish to give up all hope; at which her ladyship smiled a little grimly, saying, she had no objection to it, provided all the rest were observed loyally, which she was sure would be the case from her honourable opinion of my character."

"Oh yes," said Norval, "she can always be very pleasant when she has her own way."

"I think she is not altogether hard-hearted, for she showed a little touch of pity at the conclusion. She said, as I rose, that she could feel for me, but that I would acknowlege, after a sufficient time, that she had been right. That she would always remember the debt of gratitude she owed me, both for the present as well as the past, and that she was willing to grant me a last interview with Florence, as it was to be the last. Her daughter, she said, was already prepared, but it would be more satisfactory for her to hear from myself. Saying which, she led me to the door of a room, which she opened then informing me that I should find Florence inside, and that she should return in a short time, left me."

"I don't believe in that crocodile sympathy," said Norval. "But what did poor Florence say to it all?"

"When I entered the room, she came quickly towards me, and took my hand without speaking, and rested her cheek on my shoulder. I did not kiss her, as it did not seem right after the promise I had given her mother; and to say the truth, there was too great a weight on my heart to permit me to feel demonstrative. Florence, though in ordinary so timid and retiring, was braver than I She was very pale, and appeared to have been in tears. After a minute or two thus, in which neither of us spoke, I led her to a seat, and then, taking another, told her of what had passed between her mother and myself. "When I told her of the promise I had given to release her, and to attempt no further communication from thenceforth; but that though she was released, page 19yet I would always consider myself bound the same (which last, I am afraid, was rather a breach of the spirit of my covenant)— when I told her, I must confess that her demeanour rather surprised me. She rose with a sort of resolved flush on her cheeks, came to me, and, stooping down, kissed me on the forehead. Then she sunk on a low seat, and looked up in my face while she said,—

"'Well, be it so; we will be parted as my mother has decreed. But mind—equally as you do not intend to give me up, neither will I you. I will yield so far as you have yielded; but they will find that I am not to be bartered. And now, I have a promise to require of you. In three years from the first of this month I shall be of age. I require you to come to me on that day, wherever I may be, and hear from my own lips whether I still love you. Not that I shall ever marry without my mother's consent. You need not hesitate on account of the engagement you have just made, as I shall see you in the presence of my father and mother. Send no previous notice; you will find me ready. There is only one thing more,—if you fail to come, I will take it as a confession that your feelings towards me are changed.'"

"I have," continued Mandevil, "given, as near as I can, her words to me. Of course I gave the required promise, which was too much after my own inclination not to be given gladly. And so we parted. And now you know how matters stand. You see I am not without a little hope."

"Yes!" said Norval; "the worst point in the case is the amount of money to which Florence will be entitled; I had no idea that she was a heiress, I thought she would have next thing to nothing, that is for one of her set, seeing the estates are entailed. But in these money-ruling days: ten thousand a year—the old lady's heart will be hardened ten times against letting the captive go."

"You've just hit the blot, Norval," said Mandevil; "six hundred as against ten thousand sounds like a Helswig-Schlosstein affair (I know that simile suits you), or, in other words, like a forlorn hope. It is what touched my sensitiveness most, and weakened my courage, or I would not have given in so easily, but Would have felt inclined to brave Lady Trousely, and have gone over at once to try her husband, in spite of her. I forgot to say page 20that when I mentioned the difference of wealth to Florence at our last interview, she said she did not care for the money, and she was certain I did not: let her retain as much as equalled my income, and let her mother have the rest."

"A very good idea!" exclaimed Norval; "but instead of her mother, hand over the remaining £9,400 to poor me, who have not £200 a year. I'll tell you what I could do though; I could keep it till you were safely married and then return it to you—just retaining a thousand a year, which you would not miss, by way of commission."

"But even upon the point of wealth, I have hopes also," said Mandevil; "for you must know that I have 'Great Expectations,' which I had dismissed from my mind. But the being brought near to despair has set me dreaming of them again. I will explain it all to you to-night, as well as my pedigree, which is concerned in it. I made you laugh by alluding to it, you know. But now it is getting dusk, and I'll tell you what I wish you to do; it is to call at once on Lady Trousely, and assure her from me that I had no idea she was here. Tell her not to let me drive her away, as I give my word of honour to depart to-morrow. I will wait for you at your lodgings."