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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter XVII. Florence

Chapter XVII. Florence.

It was in June, 1867. It was in Lady Trousely's boudoir (that's the term, we believe), in Lady Trousely's town house, in Nobsquare, in the Metropolis.

And oh! for the pen of a ready writer—that is to say, of a page 59feminino-sensationo-romancist, lusciously and mouth-water-compellingly to describe the accessories!

Tangentially here we venture to suggest a bright and original idea with reference to the causes of success of some of the so-called sensational novels. Such success has chiefly been attributed to the excitement and gratification of the love of the mysterious afforded by the relation and development of crime, secret or otherwise. The critics who take that view, in other words, would make it appear that it was all owing to the plot. The plot, they say, is almost everything—the style, language, sentiments, descriptions, almost nothing, viewed as contributory to success. And then they analyze and make a specious show of proving their assertions.

They are wrong.

The great success has not been owing to the copious cullings from the fruitful fields of Murders, Madnesses, Fraudulencies, Forgeries, Brutalities, and Bigamies. All these subjects have previously been employed during all time, and with plots just as ingenious, but with unequal or comparatively little success.

What then is this popularity owing to? And now for our own bright Idea.

It is owing to a proper attention to the Eries.

The Unities—that general Oneness, that kind of Dovetailedness —are nothing to the Eries. The Unities about which poor Byron so raved,—and compared to the value of the observance of which in his "Sardanapalus," he esteems the beauty of the language and poetry as of very little account—we repeat, are nothing compared to the Eries.

Yes, it is the Upholst-ery, the Drap-ery, the Millin-ery, the Jewel-ery, the Perfum-ery, the Crock-ery (that is if China-ware be so meant), the man and stable Liv ery, with all the rest unnamed, and the delicious visions evoked by the masterly description of them, that does the work—not your Newgate Calendar affairs.

It is easy to follow out the manner in which success is commanded. It is only according to personal observation among own friends and relatives, when we believe that of the circulating-library supporters five to one are of the fairer sex. Of these five at least three are devotedly attached to the Eries. Thus you see that out of six readers three patronize the novels in question, while the patronage of the remaining three—that is, the one dry man and the two frumpish women, for they must be frumpish to slight page 60such delicious material,—is dissipated not only amongst the other more solid novels, but also books in general, such as dry scientific works,—the assembled Ologies and Ographies.

The fair Emmeline, the fair Sophia, the fair average young-lady reader in general are met together.—Asks one, "Has any one in general read Miss Gladden's last work,—it is the most beautiful that ever was written. The manner in which the heroine's head of fair hair is described surpasses description. There is something so—so weird about it. She marries ever so many thousands a year, and then to think she was only a governess.—Speaker burnt a candle and a half last night getting through it, for she couldn't leave it off after having once begun.

"And then how thoroughly the author knows how drawing-rooms and lady's bowers should be fitted up. Her descriptions of all things essential—such as knick-knacks (in short of all the assembled Eries), how delicious!"

The fair Sophia pricks up her ears at this. She too has fair hair; she too is a possible, or probable, governess, being one of a large family of daughters. She rushes off to secure the novel in question. It is already engaged. But she has the satisfaction of securing a fourth turn. At length, after having devoured it, she reclines—it may be in her summer bower, it may be on a lounge, or it may be on her midnight couch, sweetly dreaming the dreams that it has called forth. With what hand and eye of the master has the charming picture been sketched. Oh! shall she ever be able to call such fortune her own? No young man's slave will she be—rather an old man's darling—a rich old man's. Ah! that delicious touch of the rose-coloured curtains. Rosy as the light shed through them may her destiny be. And then the introduction of that crystal knick-knack and the what-not, just in the proper place; none but a genius could have done that.

Then there is Mrs. Airy Mood, who can suit various tastes—to each something good, but as before, all requiring thousands a year to keep it up. No more are these the days of sentimental Angelinas roaming about, like dear stupids that they are, looking for their long-lost Edwins, and taking up with dull old hermits, and bread and water, and fern root.

In place of such silly maidens, treading forlorn and lost with fainting steps and slow, the fastly-inclined Emmeline beholds—with approbation beholds—Mrs. Carlotta Spain's turn-out, with page 61the silver mountings, and the jingling equipments of her high-flyers; and also beholds Mrs. Carlotta Spain herself, that imperial votress of Fastdom fancy free, with her joyous air and firm bridle-hand.

Or more mildly mark Marie Dolphin and her surroundings. Caroline says that no one can accuse her of building too loftily—for she is of quite a sober turn. But if she thought that her future husband could not secure to her a bedroom done up in the exact manner Marie Dolphin's was, including that touching feature of the gilt edged blue morocco volume of morning meditations—why she would rather—be an old maid.

Fain would we also describe in captivating terms the surroundings of Lady Trousely.

But Ignoramuses must not rush in where it is only fit that angels should tread.

Simply then Lady Trousely sat in her boudoir, and she held converse with her daughter Florence, or rather she addressed her with words of mingled regret and remonstrance.

Poor Florence, who has been lost sight of so long, sat there, paler, thinner, but perhaps more beautiful than before. Poor Florence, like Mandevil, all this time had kept her loyalty, her love, her faith, nor swerved from truth her constant mind so fixed. But long suspense and silence had been much harder for her to bear than for him. True to the conditions with her mother, they had exchanged no communications during the nigh three years that had elapsed, directly or indirectly. But Mandevil had the continual excitement of his gigantic enterprise, and above all, the secret consciousness of power which he held in his hands, with the certainty of carrying his way whenever he should choose—all these he had to bear him up. Florence knew nothing of these secret things in their favour. Whatever she had become acquainted with concerning his movements, through her cousin Norval, such as his having entered into some business or another, in a subordinate position, only appeared to render the prospect more hopeless, as regarded the prejudices standing in the way.

"Now, Florence," said her mother, "I wish to speak earnestly with you. I have forborne, hitherto, because I have been waiting in the expectation of seeing your good sense awakened, and causing you of your own self to respond to my desires. You know how delicately and devotedly Lord Chestnut during the last three years has tried to gain your favour. You know how the hearts of page 62your father and myself are set upon the match, and how desirable it is in every way, personally, in point of fortune, and, above all, high political distinction. Well, this morning he has called and made a definite offer. I suppose—and he's quite right if it is so—that he is tired of hanging on any longer, and being treated in the unsatisfactory manner that he has been. So I must entreat of you, my dear, to make up your mind seriously and sensibly to accept him, for I am very much afraid that unless he receives encouragement now, it will be the last chance that we shall have. Lady Grably and her daughter Augusta, who is certainly a fine girl, would jump to secure him—and the moment of reaction after refusal will be most favourable for their designs."

"Mother," answered Florence, "you said just now that you had forborne hitherto to speak with me on this subject. And if so, it is only in terms of your promise with regard to the conditions agreed to between us, that if I observed them faithfully, you would at least urge no other suit upon me."

"True, my dear," returned Lady Trousely; "but then I never dreamt of these conditions extending over so long a period. I have waited patiently for one, two, and nearly three years, and I have reasonably supposed that whatever promise I may have made has been discharged by lapse of time. As for that person—I will not mention his name—through whom it originated, and whom we have, I am glad to say, lost sight of ever since, I can never imagine that any considerations in connection with him still influence you in the matter."

Florence looked steadily down on the carpet, with a hectic spot on her cheek, as if in deep thought, but did not speak. Her mother waited for a minute, as though expecting her to do so, and then continued in her most insinuating of maternal tones:—

"Well, my love, they say that 'silence shows consent,' and I hope that it is so in the present instance. May I then return Lord Chestnut a favourable answer?"

"Why," said Florence, as if at length arousing herself to utterance by a painful effort—"why did not Lord Chestnut come boldly and speak for himself?"

"I suppose, my dear," answered Lady Trousely, "it was because he misjudged your sentiments through your manner, and was unwilling to risk wounding his feelings of, I may say, proper pride, by a personal interview."

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"No!" exclaimed Florence, "it was because be knew the truth. He knows that my love is already given to another man—that I have no longer any power over it, and yet he persists in his addresses to me. I wonder what such men are made of. I know that were I a man I should scorn to offer myself to any girl whose love I did not know to be perfectly free."

"Oh, Florence!" said her mother, "do you wish to cause me the greatest distress that could befall me? It is impossible that you can still be thinking of that man—I cannot believe you. If it was most objectionable then, it is utterly out of the question now. Why, do you know I have been informed that he is now connected with trade in some way or another, that is to say, he holds a situation in some manufacturing establishment, and has actually been seen like a common blacksmith in his shirt-sleeves and with grimed hands."

"And he is quite right," said Florence. "Were I a man I should act in the same manner. He is contributing to the power and dignity of his country. Is it not better and more patriotic to be doing thus, than to be continually engaged, as Lord Chestnut and those like him, in spinning those fine diplomatic cobwebs which every now and then are swept away accompanied by the derision of the whole world? I must say the truth—you would not have me deny it—I do still love him."

"Then I suppose, Florence," said her mother, coldly, "we may expect at any time to witness the family's degradation. Our only hope now is in him—that his feelings to you have changed, or that we may be able to buy him off."

Poor Lady Trousely! If at that moment she could have become possessed of the truth, how infinitely small she would have felt with her grandiloquent sneers about purchasing.

"Mother!" exclaimed Florence, warmly, "you have no right to speak in that way. You forget your own dignity and sense of justice in doing so. You know that there is not a man in the whole world more honourable or less mercenary than he is. You know he has observed his word honourably. He has not attempted any communication with me since, directly or indirectly. It is true, as you say, his feelings to me may have changed. At any rate I shall know in a few weeks. I shall be of age on the 1st of August."

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"What do you mean by 'knowing soon,' and 'being of age'?" asked her mother.

"Before we parted," said the daughter, "I required a promise from him, in case his feelings to me remained unchanged in three years, to meet me on that day in yours and my father's presence, and then we would try to gain your consent. And that he should hear from me then whether my love to him still remained. But not that I would ever marry without your consent. At the same time I claim not to be urged to marry any one else against my inclination. If he did not come at the time appointed, I would consider it to be a confession that he loved me no longer. So you see, mother, there is a chance in your favour. He may not come. But it is not long to wait, and at least leave me in peace until then."

"Yes! and by that time the Grablys will have secured the prize they have been manœuvring for so long," answered Lady Trousely, almost spitefully. "I have lately been reading a novel called, 'A School for Dreamers.' I recommend it to your particular attention, and only hope a fate similar to that pictured in it may not be yours."