The Ships of Tarshish
Chapter XVI. Rachel Sidonia
Chapter XVI. Rachel Sidonia.
Norval, as may be supposed, often looked in, as they say, upon Mandevil, while all these things were in progress. It would have been difficult, even to himself, for the former to have defined the feelings he experienced towards his friend. It was certain that he did not feel the same enthusiastic secret admiration which he did when in the palmy days of their first acquaintance, Mandevil, with his calm unswerving demeanour, so impressed him. But, on the other hand, his estimation of him had wonderfully recovered from the zerowards to which it had descended, before his being informed of Mandevil's accession to his important post.
It was rather curious that it should be so; for, according to what would have been the general view, Mandevil, in point of importance, was fifty times the personage he was; yet Norval was secretly swayed by so much of false judgment, that there was something about his friend which offended his taste. Perhaps, Mandevil may have purposely conduced to aggravate this feeling, in order to heighten the contrast when the time came for removing the curtains, and also to punish him a little for his defection. But page 56it was true. Mandevil, with hammer, vice, and file, and grimed hands, was not the hero such as was Mandevil the spotlessly gloved and untroubled of work of any description.
As for the profession to which he had turned, Norval showed great talent in it; and, what was less to be expected, he turned out a hard worker. This was, perhaps, greatly owing to the development of avarice, caused by the ready sale of his pictures. Mandevil cautioned him against letting this inducement lead him away from the main purpose of his art into superficiality, and advised, that whatever he did, he should do as well as possible. And when Norval, soon after, rather disdaining this homely advice, thought he could afford to scamp some of his drawings, he received a palpable confirmation of its truth, on being informed by his friend the dealer, that the unknown patrons, who purchased most of them, though partial to Norval'a productions, would decline any more unless they showed traces of greater pains taken with them.
It was on an afternoon in the autumn of 1866 that Norval happened to be at his friend's house.
"I say, Mandevil!" he said, "you know that handsome new house on the crest of the rising ground, about a hundred yards before you get here, on the other side of the way? It has a nice garden both in front and at back, and a lane runs down one side of the grounds."
"I do," answered Mandevil. "What about it?"
"What about it? Why, one of the loveliest beings that it has ever been my lot to behold resides in that house."
"When did you see her, then?" asked Mandevil.
"I've caught glimpses of her, enough to rouse my curiosity several times. To-day, as I was passing, seeing her in the back garden, I stole down the lane, and had a good view of her, from behind some bushes. And, ah!" continued Norval, heaving a mock gigantic sigh, as he' caught Mandevil watching him closely, "I'm afraid it's a-w-I up with Squeers—or, rather, your humble servant. Oh, that I knew some one that knew the family to introduce me."
"I know them," remarked Mandevil, quietly.
"You do!" exclaimed Norval. "How reticent we can be sometimes!"
"There are reasons," said Mandevil. "One is, I have only page 57seen you once or twice since the family came here. Another is, being foreigners, they wish to live in a very retired manner. However, as I am an intimate friend of theirs, their law of seclusion does not apply to any particular friend of mine, such as yourself. But you reproached me with secrecy. What will you say when I tell you that I had already planned the means of introducing you to the young lady, and was about to propose it to you this very day?"
"That you are a jolly kind fellow," answered Norval; "and that you always surprise me into being ashamed of myself, whenever I have been led into doubting you."
Mandevil, that same day, gratified his young friend by introducing him to the Sidonias in their elegant mansion.
It would lengthen this too much to follow out any episode, but we will anticipate time about a year in order to relate one incident, which perhaps it is more convenient to state here.
The scene was the same house, this time in the possession of Mandevil. The persons present were the Sidoniæ, father and daughter (Rachel), Mandevil, Norval, and one other the fairest of them all.
The conversation had come to a pause. Just then Rachel walked up to Mandevil, and asked mysteriously—
"Shall we show them to him now?"
On receiving assent Rachel approached Norval in a playful manner, as if they were on the best of terms, and in one of the sweetest of voices rendered more piquant by a slight foreign accent, said—
"Now, Randolph, we have to apologize for a sin of omission extending over several months—and also, though late, as far as we can to remedy it. We have a picture gallery upstairs, and though, I may say, a distinguished artist has been our constant visitor, we have never either availed ourselves of the advantage, or paid him the compliment of requiring and obtaining his opinion of it."
They proceeded to the picture gallery, Rachel's slight figure leading the way; then Mandevil, Sidonia, and that one other. From the direction in which Norval entered the room, his back was turned from the best lighted part of it. After noticing a few of the first pictures that came in view, he turned, and lo!—a sight which startled him amazingly; at the same time all his friends were observing him, and one another, with significant looks and page 58scarcely suppressed laughter. There in full light, all in a row—like the four-and-twenty fiddlers that history tells us of somewhere —were all the pictures ever sold for him by the dealer. Not one was wanting.
Gazing as one gazes in a horrid dream—awaking at length as one awakes out of a horrid dream, and finds it true—Norval flung himself on a sofa, and tore his hair, and bursting out into a loud demoniacal "Ha! ha!" of a laugh, exclaimed—
"Yes! I might have guessed it, had I not been such a self complacent Jackass."
And then he relapsed into moody silence quite pitiable to behold, with his head buried in his hands, and his elbows on his knees.
"I think we were foolish not to have foreseen this," said Rachel to Mandevil. "But go you and papa out and leave him to us."
Then Rachel and that other sat one on each side of him. They raised his head from his hands, and took his hands down, and Rachel rearranged his hair with her own fingers. All the time a healing mesmeric balm was being diffused over Norval's mortified feelings. At last he could no longer resist turning to Rachel with a happy though melancholy smile.
"Now," he said, "leave me for a little. This room is my valley of humiliation. I've just had my dreadful fight with Apollyon; and now I want to ruminate over the calm sweets of the valley, and enjoy its shady walks awhile."
"Very well, Randolph," said Rachel, as she and her companion went out. But at the door, as a thought struck her, she turned and looked quickly at him and said, "But you are not going to hurt the pictures, mind?—honour bright—for I like them the best of all."
Reassured by the look he gave her in answer, they left him to his quiet meditations.