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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 7

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In accordance with my uncle's wish, which he had made known to Rayel, we buried him the day following his death in the sunny courtyard where he had spent the last days of his life. The funeral arrangements were made as simple as possible, so as to exclude all except the functionaries whose presence was absolutely necessary. A rector of the Church of England read the service for the dead before the body was borne to its grave by the undertaker. When this brief ceremony was over, and the great gates were closed again upon our seclusion, Rayel said to me:

"I must talk more with you now, if you will let me. He said you would help me after he was gone."

It seemed idle to assure him, who already knew my heart, of the happiness it would give me to fulfill the pledge of friendship made to my uncle.

"Do you expect to see him again?" I asked.

After a moment of the most serious reflection, he said:

"Oh, yes, I shall see him again--when I die, then I shall see him. He has gone to the Great Father, who gives life, and who takes it away."

I found that Rayel, although entirely ignorant of the creeds and dogmas prevailing among men, was profoundly religious, and that his simple faith was built upon the deepest foundations. He evidently gave much thought to the relationship between man and his Creator after he felt the sting of bereavement, but it was a subject to which he never referred in our conversation, unless, perchance, it drifted in upon us.

The weeks following my uncle's death, during which I was busy with preparation for the new life that awaited us, Rayel spent in his studio working over some unfinished pictures. At my urgent request, he completed the head whose resemblance to Hester Chaffin had so startled and amazed me the night I saw it first, and he regarded it with fonder interest than he was wont to bestow upon the work of his brush. I believe that face was the closest presentment of a human soul I shall ever see until standing, as I hope to stand some time, in the presence of the redeemed, where "that which is imperfect shall be put away." I have said that the picture bore a strong resemblance to Hester Chaffin, but her face contained only a suggestion of that fine quality which was so strongly presented in my cousin's ideal.

My uncle's fortune, as described in his will, amounted to nearly $250,000. The greater part of it--everything, indeed, but the house and grounds--was in cash, represented by certificates of deposit accompanying the will, and bonds of the United States. There was a considerable bequest for me, whom he had named as executor of the will, which, however, I determined never to apply to my own use, except in case of Rayel's death. A handsome annuity was provided for his only surviving servant. The remainder was left to Rayel.

Having arranged for the maintenance of the old mute at an asylum not far from the city, our preparations to leave were soon complete. I was elated at the prospect of resuming my relations with the busy world outside that lonely habitation. My first step was to visit a lawyer for the purpose of ascertaining the legal formalities which I must observe as executor of the will. Rayel wished to go with me, and I gladly assented, for it seemed wise as an initiatory step in the new life that was awaiting him. He waved his hand to the mute, who stood looking at us through the big gates after we had passed out into the road, and then he walked on beside me in silence. The sun-shot haze of a beautiful autumn day hung over the face of nature, and his eyes wandered down the long stretches of landscape, and into the depths of the distant sky, rapt by the vision that was unfolding before him. The changing phases of the town he regarded with curious interest, which often expressed itself in childish exclamations of surprise as we made our way through the crowded streets.

He was constantly calling my attention to things which, though familiar and commonplace to me, were little less than wonderful to him.

"Look!" said he, suddenly taking hold of my arm. "There is a woman!"

He spoke in an eager, excited whisper, and shyly stepped behind me as she passed us.

"They won't hurt you," said I, subduing my desire to laugh at his remark.

Such unfamiliar exposure to the public eye soon began to grate upon his nerves. I did not wonder at it, for nearly every one we met took a second look at his commanding figure, and some stared at him rudely. Remembering my own emotions when I first stood in his presence, I was not at all surprised that others were moved in a like manner. His were a face and form that stood out like those of some heroic statue in the throng of common mortals.

The proving and recording of the will was left entirely in the hands of a reputable lawyer, who said that these formalities would not detain us longer than a week.

We had determined to spend the winter in New York before going to England. Since reaching America my time had been quite filled with work until my entrance upon the utter isolation of my uncle's home. It was my earnest desire to see something of the big metropolis on the western Atlantic. Moreover, Mr. Earl had advised me in his letters to give Rayel a chance to know more of life in his own country before bringing him to England.

When at last the faithful old mute had gone to his new home, and we had turned our backs upon the silent and deserted mansion, Rayel was moved to bitter tears. The thought of its loneliness, now that its master was dead and we were leaving it, perhaps forever, brought sad feelings to my heart. How calmly the old pines whispered together as we walked down the road that morning I shall not soon forget.

We reached the American metropolis early in October, three years after my first arrival there from England. I rented comfortable apartments on Fifth Avenue, near Madison Square. As soon as Rayel had recovered from the fatigue and excitement of the trip, we set about unpacking his pictures and getting them framed. Our lightest room was reserved for a studio, and the paintings were hung under Rayel's direction.

We were scarcely settled in our new home when we received an unexpected call from a newspaper reporter. He had learned from an art dealer that we had some remarkable old paintings, and humbly begged the privilege of looking at them. We made him welcome, of course, but I explained to him that the collection was wholly the work of my cousin, who was not yet old himself. In answer to his questions I assured him that the paintings would not be exhibited in the National Academy, and that my cousin's work had never appeared in any art exhibition whatever, at which he seemed greatly surprised. Rayel was still shy of strangers, and, as he was evidently a little annoyed at the presence of our visitor, I shielded him from the need of taking any part in our conversation.

The next morning an article appeared in one of the leading dailies, which subjected us to a glare of publicity not at all to our taste.

It went on to say that Signor Lanion, a young Spanish artist, had just arrived in New York and had taken apartments at No. Fifth Avenue. "Lanion" was the name which had appeared on our bill for picture-framing, the clerk who had waited on us having taken it down incorrectly. "Unfortunately," the article continued, "Signor Lanion does not speak English, and for that reason the reporter was unable to interview him."

The paper described Rayel's personal charms at much length, and claimed the credit of having discovered a genius who, although still a youth, had done work worthy of an acknowledged master.

We had deep respect for the influence of that newspaper before another week ended. Art managers, tailors, advertising agents, auctioneers and numerous men and women prompted by no motive but idle curiosity, besieged us until we bolted our doors in dismay against all comers. The mail, too, brought us missives of varying import from persons who had read the article, one of which was a polite letter from Francis Paddington, a Wall Street broker, whose name I had heard frequently during my American travels.

"It was not stated," said he, referring to the newspaper article, "whether or not any of Signor Lanion's paintings are for sale. If they are, I would be glad to look at them with a view to making some purchases for my art collection."

The letter suggested an idea worth considering. Rayel worked rapidly and had already painted more pictures than we could hang to advantage in any but the most liberal quarters. He was at a loss to understand just what was meant by selling the pictures, but he was willing to sell them if they were not to be destroyed--at least some of them. Accordingly I wrote Mr. Paddington, appointing an hour when we would be glad to see him or his representative at our rooms. The gentleman himself did us the honor to call. After looking at the paintings, he expressed his willingness to buy the entire collection. I told him, however, that we would not part with more than ten canvases, and he seemed glad to buy even that number at a price which was so far in excess of our expectations that I was loath to accept it. Our beloved "Woman"--that was the title we had given Rayel's strangely derived conception--was among the paintings included in the sale to Mr. Paddington. Rayel thought he could reproduce it, and for days after it was gone he made ineffectual efforts to paint another woman after the ideal of our hearts. But, alas! try as he would, that face never came back to his canvas. Many beautiful faces were conjured by his masterful touch, but they were other faces, and none of them satisfied us. The failure made Rayel unhappy, and tears came to his eyes when the "Woman" was referred to, as if he were mourning the loss of a dear friend.

Our patron had conceived a great liking for us, and we were soon invited to visit his house "and meet a few of his friends at dinner." It would give us an opportunity to see the "Woman"--perhaps to buy her back again--and we were strongly inclined to take advantage of it. Our patron's residence was one of the largest and most elegant on Fifth Avenue. It was a matter of common fame that his entertainments were the cause of more envy and heartburning in the fashionable sisterhood than any other events of the season. I had some doubt about the propriety of taking Rayel to such a place, unaccustomed as he was to the refinements and conventionalities of fashionable life. However, he had set his heart upon going--he was so eager to see his beloved picture--and I did not oppose his wish. In writing our acceptance of the invitation I corrected Mr. Paddington's error regarding our name, and explained the rechristening we had received in the public prints. _

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