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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
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AT ONE of the most beautiful ports in the Mediterranean Major Ponsonby held the office of British Consul. The Parliamentary interest of the noble family with which he was connected had obtained for him this office, after serving his country, with no slight distinction, during the glorious war of the Peninsula. Major Ponsonby was a widower, and his family consisted of an only daughter, Henrietta, who was a child of very tender years when he first obtained his appointment, but who had completed her eighteenth year at the period, memorable in her life, which these pages attempt to commemorate. A girl of singular beauty was Henrietta Ponsonby, but not remarkable merely for her beauty. Her father, a very accomplished gentleman, had himself superintended her education with equal care and interest. In their beautiful solitude, for they enjoyed the advantage of very little society save that of those passing travellers who occasionally claimed his protection and hospitality, the chief, and certainly the most engaging pursuit of Major Ponsonby, had been to assist the development of the lively talents of his daughter, and to watch with delight, not unattended with anxiety, the formation of her ardent and imaginative character: he had himself imparted to her a skilful practice in those fine arts in which he himself excelled, and a knowledge of those exquisite languages which he himself not only spoke with facility, but with whose rich and interesting literature he was intimately acquainted. He was careful, also, that, although almost an alien from her native country, she should not be ignorant of the progress of its mind; and no inconsiderable portion of his income had of late years been expended in importing from England the productions of those eminent writers of which we are justly as proud as of the heroes under whose flag he had himself conquered in Portugal and Spain.
The progress of the daughter amply repaid the father for his care, and rewarded him for his solicitude: from the fond child of his affections she had become the cherished companion of his society: her lively fancy and agreeable conversation prevented solitude from degenerating into loneliness: she diffused over their happy home that indefinable charm, that spell of unceasing, yet soothing excitement, with which the constant presence of an amiable, a lovely and accomplished woman can alone imbue existence; without which life, indeed, under any circumstances, is very dreary; and with which life, indeed, under any circumstances, is never desperate.
There were moments, perhaps, when Major Ponsonby, who was not altogether inexperienced in the great world, might sigh, that one so eminently qualified as his daughter to shine even amid its splendour, should be destined to a career so obscure as that which necessarily attended the daughter of a Consul in a distant country. It sometimes cost the father’s heart a pang that his fair and fragrant flower should blush unseen, and waste its perfume even in their lovely wilderness; and then, with all a father’s pride, and under all the influence of that worldly ambition from which men are never free, he would form plans by which she might visit, and visit with advantage, her native country. All the noble cousins were thought over, under whose distinguished patronage she might enter that great and distant world she was so capable of adorning; and more than once he had endeavoured to intimate to Henrietta that it might be better for them both that they should for a season part: but the Consul’s daughter shrunk from these whispers as some beautiful tree from the murmurs of a rising storm. She could not conceive existence without her father — the father under whose breath and sight she had ever lived and flourished — the father to whom she was indebted, not only for existence, but all the attributes that made life so pleasant; her sire, her tutor, her constant company, her dear, dear friend. To part from him, even though but for a season, and to gain splendour, appeared to her pure, yet lively imagination, the most fatal of fortunes; a terrible destiny — an awful dispensation. They had never parted, scarcely for an hour; once, indeed, he had been absent for three days; he had sailed with the fleet on public business to a neighbouring port; he had been obliged to leave his daughter, and the daughter remembered those terrible three days like a frightful dream, the recollection of which made her shudder.
Major Ponsonby had inherited no patrimony — he possessed only the small income derived from his office, and a slender pension, which rewarded many wounds; but, in the pleasant place in which their lot was cast, these moderate means obtained for them not merely the necessaries, but all the luxuries of life. They inhabited in the town a palace worthy of the high, though extinct nobility, whose portraits and statues lined their lofty saloons, and filled their long corridors and graceful galleries; and about three miles from the town, on a gentle ascent facing the ocean, and embowered in groves of orange and olive trees, the fanciful garden enclosed in a thick wall of Indian fig and blooming aloes, was a most delicate casino, rented at a rate for which a garret may not be hired in England; but, indeed, a paradise. Of this pavilion Miss Ponsonby was the mistress; and here she lived amid fruit and flowers, surrounded by her birds: and here she might be often seen at sunset glancing amid its beauties, with an eye as brilliant, and a step as airy, as the bright gazelle that ever glided or bounded at her side.
ONE summer day, when everybody was asleep in the little sultry city where Major Ponsonby, even in his siesta, watched over the interests of British commerce — for it was a city, and was blessed with the holy presence of a bishop — a young Englishman disembarked from an imperial merchant brig just arrived from Otranto, and, according to custom, took his way to the Consul’s house. He was a man of an age apparently verging towards thirty; and, although the native porter, who bore his luggage and directed his path, proved that, as he was accompanied not even by a single servant, he did not share the general reputation of his countrymen for wealth, his appearance to those practised in society was not undistinguished. Tall, slender, and calm, his air, though unaffected, was that of a man not deficient in self-confidence; and whether it were the art of his tailor, or the result of his own good frame, his garb, although remarkably plain, had that indefinable style which we associate with the costume of a man of some mark and breeding.
On arriving at the Consul’s house, he was ushered through a large, dark, cool hall, at the end of which was a magnificent staircase leading to the suite of saloons, into a small apartment on the ground floor fitted up in the English style, which, although it offered the appearance of the library of an English gentleman, was, in fact, the consular office. Dwarf bookcases encircled the room, occasionally crowned by a marble bust, or bronze group. The ample table was covered with papers, and a vacant easy-chair was evidently the consular throne. A portrait of his Britannic majesty figured on the walls of one part of the chamber; and over the mantel was another portrait, which immediately engaged the attention of the traveller, and, indeed, monopolised his observation. He had a very ample opportunity of studying it, for nearly a quarter of an hour elapsed before he was disturbed. It was the full-length portrait of a young lady. She stood on a terrace in a garden, and by her side was a gazelle. Her form was of wonderful symmetry; but although her dress was not English, the expression of her countenance reminded the traveller of the beauties of his native land. The dazzling complexion, the large deep blue eye, the high white forehead, the clustering brown hair, were all northern, but northern of the highest order. She held in her small hand a branch of orange-blossom-the hand was fairer than the flower.
‘Signor Ferrers, I believe,’ said a shrill voice. The traveller started, and turned round. Before him stood a little, parched-up, grinning, bowing Italian, holding in his hand the card that the traveller had sent up to the Consul.
‘My name is Ferrers,’ replied the traveller, slightly bowing, and speaking in a low, sweet tone.
‘Signor Ponsonby is at the casino,’ said the Italian: ‘I have the honour to be the chancellor of the British Consulate.’
It is singular that a mercantile agent should be styled a Consul, and his chief clerk a chancellor.
‘I have the honour to be the chancellor of the British Consulate,’ said the Italian; ‘and I will take the earliest opportunity of informing the Consul of your arrival. From Otranto, I believe? All well, I hope, at Otranto?’
‘I hope so too,’ replied the traveller; ‘and so I believe.’
‘You will be pleased to leave your passport, sir, with me — the Consul will be most happy to see you at the casino: about sunset he will be very happy to see you at the casino. I am sorry that I detained you for a moment, but I was at my siesta. I will take the earliest opportunity of informing the Consul of your arrival; but at present all the consular messengers are taking their siesta; the moment one is awake I shall send him to the casino. May I take the liberty of inquiring whether you have any letters for the Consul?’
‘None,’ replied the traveller.
The chancellor shrugged his shoulders a little, as if he regretted he had been roused from his siesta for a traveller who had not even a letter of introduction, and then turned on his heel to depart.
The traveller took up his hat, hesitated a moment, and then said, ‘Pray, may I inquire of whom this is a portrait?’
‘Certainly,’ replied the chancellor; ”tis the Signora Ponsonby.’
IT WAS even upon as ignoble an animal as a Barbary ass, goaded by a dusky little islander almost in a state of nudity, that, an hour before sunset on the day of his arrival, the English traveller approached the casino of the Consul’s daughter, for there a note from Major Ponsonby had invited him to repair, to be introduced to his daughter, and to taste his oranges. The servant who received him led Mr. Ferrers to a very fine plane-tree, under whose spreading branches was arranged a banquet of fruit and flowers, coffee in cups of oriental filigree, and wines of the Levant, cooled in snow. The worthy Consul was smoking his chibouque, and his daughter, as she rose to greet their guest, let her guitar fall upon the turf. The original of the portrait proved that the painter had no need to flatter; and the dignified, yet cordial manner, the radiant smile, and the sweet and thrilling voice with which she welcomed her countryman would have completed the spell, had, indeed, the wanderer been one prepared, or capable of being enchanted. As it was, Mr. Ferrers, while he returned his welcome, with becoming complaisance, exhibited the breeding of a man accustomed to sights of strangeness and of beauty; and, while he expressed his sense of the courtesy of his companions, admired their garden, and extolled the loveliness of the prospect, he did not depart for a moment from that subdued, and even sedate manner, which indicates, the individual whom the world has little left to astonish, and less to enrapture, although, perhaps, much to please. Yet he was fluent in conversation, sensible and polished, and very agreeable. It appeared that he had travelled much, though he was far from boasting of his exploits. He had been long absent from England, had visited Egypt and Arabia, and had sojourned at Damascus. While he refused the pipe, he proved, by his observations on its use, that he was learned in its practice; and he declined his host’s offer of a file of English journals, as he was not interested in their contents. His host was too polished to originate any inquiry which might throw light upon the connections or quality of his guest, and his guest imitated his example. Nothing could be more perfectly well-bred than his whole demeanour — he listened to the major with deference, and he never paid Miss Ponsonby a single compliment: he never even asked her to sing; but the fond father did not omit this attention. Henrietta, in the most unaffected manner, complied with his request, because, as she was in the habit of singing every evening to her father, she saw no reason why he should, on this occasion, be deprived of an amusement to which he was accustomed. As the welcome sea-breeze rose and stirred the flowers and branches, her voice blended with its fresh and fragrant breath. It was a beautiful voice; and the wild and plaintive air in which she indulged, indigenous to their isle, harmonised alike with the picturesque scene and the serene hour. Mr. Ferrers listened with attention, and thanked her for her courtesy. Before they withdrew to the casino he even requested the favour of her repeating the gratification, but in so quiet a manner that most young ladies would have neglected to comply with a wish expressed with so little fervour.
The principal chamber of the casino was adorned with drawings by the Consul’s daughter: they depicted the surrounding scenery, and were executed by the hand of a master. Mr. Ferrers examined them with interest — his observations proved his knowledge, and made them more than suspect his skill. He admitted that he had some slight practice in the fine arts, and offered to lend his portfolio to Miss Ponsonby, if she thought it would amuse her. Upon the subject of scenery he spoke with more animation than on any other topic: his conversation, indeed, teemed with the observations of a fine eye and cultivated taste.
At length he departed, leaving behind him a very favourable impression. Henrietta and her father agreed that he was a most gentlemanlike personage-that he was very clever and very agreeable; and they were glad to know him. The major detailed all the families and all the persons of the name of Ferrers Of whom he had ever heard, and with whom he had been acquainted; and, before he slept, wondered, for the fiftieth time, what Ferrers he was.
THE next morning, Mr. Ferrers sent his portfolio to Miss Ponsonby, to the Consuls house, in the city; and her father called upon him immediately afterwards, to return his original visit, and to request him to dine with them. Mr. Ferrers declined the invitation; but begged to be permitted to pay his respects again at the casino, in the evening. The major, under the circumstances, ventured to press his new acquaintance to comply with their desire; but Mr. Ferrers became immediately very reserved, and the Consul desisted.
Towards sunset, however, mounted on his Barbary ass, Mr. Ferrers again appeared at the gate of the casino, as mild and agreeable as before. They drank their coffee and ate their fruit, chatted and sang, and again repaired to the pavilion. Here they examined the contents of the portfolio:— they were very rich, for it contained drawings of all kinds, and almost of every celebrated place in the vicinity of the Mediterranean shores; Saracenic palaces, Egyptian temples, mosques of Damascus, and fountains of Stamboul. Here was a Bedouin encampment, shaded by a grove of palms; and there a Spanish Señorita, shrouded in her mantilla, glided along the Alameda. There was one circumstance, however, about these drawings, which struck Miss Ponsonby as at least remarkable. It was obvious that some pencil-mark in the corner of each drawing, in all probability containing the name and initials of the artist, had been carefully obliterated.
Among the drawings were several sketches of a yacht, which Mr. Ferrers passed over quickly, and without notice. The Consul, however, who was an honorary member of the yacht club, and interested in every vessel of the squadron that visited the Mediterranean, very naturally inquired of Mr. Ferrers, to whom the schooner in question belonged. Mr. Ferrers seemed rather confused; but at length he said: ‘Oh, they are stupid things: I did not know they were here. The yacht is a yacht of a friend of mine, who was at Cadiz.’
‘Oh, I see the name,’ said the major; ‘“The Kraken.” Why, that is Lord Bohun’s yacht!’
‘The same,’ said Mr. Ferrers, but perfectly composed.
‘Ah! do you know Lord Bohun?’ said Miss Ponsonby. ‘We have often expected him here. I wonder he has never paid us a visit, papa. They say he is the most eccentric person in the world. Is he so?’
‘I never heard much in his favour,’ said Mr. Ferrers. ‘I believe he has made himself a great fool, as most young nobles do.’
‘Well, I have heard very extraordinary things of him,’ said the Consul. ‘He is a great traveller, at all events, which I think a circumstance in every man’s favour.’
‘And then he has been a guerilla chieftain,’ said Miss Ponsonby; ‘and a Bedouin robber, and — I hardly know what else; but Colonel Garth, who was here last summer, told us the most miraculous tales of his lordship.’
‘Affectations!’ said Mr. Ferrers, with a sneer. ‘Bohun, however, has some excuses for his folly: for he was an orphan, I believe, in his cradle.’
‘Is he clever?’ inquired Miss Ponsonby.
‘Colonel Garth is a much better judge than I am,’ replied Mr. Ferrers. ‘I confess I have no taste for guerilla chieftains, or Bedouin robbers. I am not at all romantic.’
And here he attracted her attention to what he called an attempt at a bull-fight; the conversation dropped, and Lord Bohun was forgotten.
A fortnight passed away, and Mr. Ferrers was still a visitant of our Mediterranean isle. His intimacy with the Consul and his daughter remained on the same footing. Every evening he paid them a visit; and every evening, when he had retired, the major and his daughter agreed that he was a most agreeable person, though rather odd; the worthy Consul always adding his regret that he would not dine with him, and his wonder as to what Ferrers he was.
Now, it so happened that it was a royal birthday; and the bishop, and several of the leading persons of the town, had agreed to partake of the hospitality of the British Consul. The major was anxious that Mr. Ferrers should meet them. He discussed this important point with his daughter.
‘My darling, I don’t like to ask him: he really is such a very odd man. The moment you ask him to dinner, he looks as if you had offered him an insult. Shall we send him a formal invitation? I wonder what Ferrers he is? I should be gratified if he would dine with us. Besides, he would see something of our native society here, which is amusing. What shall we do?’
‘I will ask him,’ replied Miss Ponsonby. ‘I don’t think he could refuse me.’
‘I am sure I could not,’ replied the major, smiling.
And so Miss Ponsonby seized an opportunity of telling Mr. Ferrers that she had a favour to ask him. He was more fortunate than he imagined, was his courteous reply.
‘Then you must dine with papa, tomorrow.’
Mr. Ferrers’ brow immediately clouded.
‘Now, do not look so suspicious,’ said Miss Ponsonby. ‘Do you think that ours is an Italian banquet? Is there poison in the dish? Or do you live only on fruit and flowers?’ continued Miss Ponsonby. ‘Do you know,’ she added, with an arch smile, ‘I think you must be a ghoul.’
A sort of smile struggled with a scowl over the haughty countenance of the Englishman.
‘You will come!’ said Miss Ponsonby, most winningly.
‘I have already trespassed too much upon Major Ponsonby’s hospitality,’ muttered Mr. Ferrers; ‘I have no claim to it.’
‘You are our countryman.’
‘The common consequence of being a traveller.’
‘Yes — but — in short — I—’
‘You must come,’ said Miss Ponsonby, with a glance like sunshine.
‘You do with me what you like,’ exclaimed Mr. Ferrers, with animation. ‘Beautiful — weather,’ he concluded.
Mr. Ferrers was therefore their guest; and strange it is to say, that from this day, from some cause, which it is now useless to ascertain, this gentleman became an habitual guest at the Consul’s table; accepting a general invitation without even a frown; and, what is more remarkable, availing himself of it, scarcely with an exception.
Could it be the Consul’s daughter that effected this revolution? Time may perhaps solve this interesting problem. Certainly, whether it were that she was seldom seen to more advantage than when presiding over society; or whether, elate with her triumph, she was particularly pleasing because she was particularly pleased; certainly Henrietta Ponsonby never appeared to greater advantage than she did upon the day of this memorable festival. Mr. Ferrers, when he quitted the house, sauntered to the mole, and gazed upon the moonlight sea.-A dangerous symptom. Yet the eye of Mr. Ferrers had before this been fixed in mute abstraction on many a summer wave, when Dian was in her bower; and this man, cold and inscrutable as he seemed, was learned in woman, and woman’s ways. Shall a Consul’s daughter melt a heart that boasted of being callous, and clear a brow that prided itself upon its clouds?
But if the state of Mr. Ferrers’ heart were doubtful, I must perforce confess that, as time drew on, Henrietta Ponsonby, if she had ventured to inquire, could have little hesitated as to the state of her own feelings. Her companion, her constant companion, for such Mr. Ferrers had now insensibly become, exercised over her an influence, of the power of which she was unconscious — only because it was unceasing. Had for a moment the excitement of her novel feelings ceased, she would have discovered, with wonder, perhaps with some degree of fear, how changed she had become since the first evening he approached their pleasant casino. And yet Mr. Ferrers was not her lover. No act — no word of gallantry — no indication of affection, to her inexperienced sense, ever escaped him. All that he did was, that he sought her society; but, then, there was no other. The only wonder was, that he should remain among them; but, then, he had been everywhere. The vague love of lounging and repose, which ever and anon falls upon men long accustomed to singular activity and strange adventure, sufficiently accounted for his conduct. But, whatever might be his motives, certain it is, that the English stranger dangerously interested the feelings of the Consul’s daughter; and when she thought the time must arrive for his departure, she drove the recollection from her mind with a swiftness which indicated the pang which she experienced by its occurrence. And no marvel either, that the heart of this young and lovely maiden softened at the thought, and in the presence of her companion: no marvel, and no shame, for nature had invested the Englishman with soul-subduing qualities. His elegant person; his tender, yet reserved manners; his experienced, yet ornate mind; the flashes of a brilliant, yet mellowed imagination, which ever and anon would break forth in his conversation: perhaps, too, the air of melancholy, and even of mystery, which enveloped him, were all spells potent in the charm that enchants the heart of woman. And the major, what did he think? The good Consul was puzzled. The confirmed intimacy between his daughter and his guest alike perplexed and pleased him. He certainly never had become acquainted with a man whom he would sooner have preferred for a son-in-law, if he had only known who he was. But two months, and more than two months, had elapsed, and threw no light upon this most necessary point of knowledge. The Consul hesitated as to his conduct. His anxiety almost mastered his good breeding. Now he thought of speaking to Mr. Ferrers, and then to his daughter. There were objections to each line of conduct, and his confidence in Mr. Ferrers was very great, although he did not exactly know who he was: he was decidedly a gentleman; and there was, throughout his conduct and conversation, a tone of such strict propriety; there was so much delicacy, and good feeling, and sound principle, in all he said and did, that the Consul at length resolved, that he had no right to suspect, and no authority to question him. He was just on the point, however, of conferring with his daughter, when the town was suddenly enlivened, and his attention suddenly engrossed, by the arrival of two other English gentlemen.
IT MUST be confessed that Captain Ormsby and Major M’Intyre were two very different sort of men to Mr. Ferrers. Never were two such gay, noisy, pleasant, commonplace persons. They were ‘on leave’ from one of the Mediterranean garrisons, had scampered through Italy, shot red-legged partridges all along the Barbary coast, and even smoked a pipe with the Dey of Algiers. They were intoxicated with all the sights they had seen, and all the scrapes they had encountered, which they styled ‘regular adventures’: and they insisted upon giving everyone a description of what everybody had heard or seen. In consequence of their arrival, Mr. Ferrers discontinued dining with his accustomed host; and resumed his old habit of riding up to the casino, every evening, on his Barbary ass, to eat oranges and talk to the Consul’s daughter.
‘I suppose you know Florence, Mr. Ferrers?’ said Major M’Intyre.
Mr. Ferrers bowed.
‘St. Peter’s, of course, you have seen?’ said Captain Ormsby.
‘But have you seen it during Holy Week?’ said the major. ‘That’s the thing.’
‘Ah, I see you have been everywhere,’ said the captain: ‘Algiers, of course?’
‘I never was at Algiers,’ replied Mr. Ferrers, quite rejoiced at the circumstance; and he walked away, and played with the gazelle.
‘By Jove,’ said the major, with elevated eyes, ‘not been at Algiers! why, Mr. Consul, I thought you said Mr. Ferrers was a very great traveller indeed; and he has not been at Algiers! I consider Algiers more worth seeing than any place we ever visited. Don’t you, Ormsby?’
The Consul inquired whether he had met any compatriots at that famous place. The military travellers answered that they had not; but that Lord Bohun’s yacht was there; and they understood his lordship was about to proceed to this island. The conversation for some time then dwelt upon Lord Bohun, and his adventures, eccentricities, and wealth. But Captain Ormsby finally pronounced ‘Bohun a devilish good fellow.’
‘Do you know Lord Bohun?’ inquired Mr. Ferrers.
‘Why, no!’ confessed Captain Ormsby: ‘but he is a devilish intimate friend of a devilish intimate friend of mine.’
Mr. Ferrers made a sign to Miss Ponsonby; she rose, and followed him into the garden. ‘I cannot endure the jabber of these men,’ said Mr. Ferrers.
‘They are very good-natured,’ said Miss Ponsonby.
‘It may be so; and I have no right to criticise them. I dare say they think me very dull. However, it appears you will have Lord Bohun here in a short time, and then I shall be forgotten.’
‘That is not a very kind speech. You would not be forgotten, even if absent; and you have, I hope, no thought of quitting us.’
‘I have remained here too long. Besides, I have no wish to play a second part to Lord Bohun.’
‘Who thinks of Lord Bohun? and why should you play a second part to anyone? You are a little perverse, Mr. Ferrers.’
‘I have been in this island ten weeks,’ said Mr. Ferrers, thoughtfully.
‘When we begin to count time, we are generally weary,’ said Miss Ponsonby.
‘You are in error. I would willingly compound that the rest of my existence should be as happy as the last ten weeks. They have been very happy,’ said Mr. Ferrers, musingly; ‘very happy, indeed. The only happy time I ever knew. They have been so serene, and so sweet.’
‘And why not remain, then?’ said Miss Ponsonby, in a low voice.
‘There are many reasons,’ said Mr. Ferrers; and he offered his arm to Miss Ponsonby, and they walked together, far away from the casino. ‘These ten weeks have been so serene, and so sweet,’ he continued, but in a calm voice, ‘because you have been my companion. My life has taken its colour from your character. Now, listen to me, dearest Miss Ponsonby, and be not alarmed. I love you!’
Her arm trembled in his.
‘Yes, I love you; and, believe me, I use that word with no common feeling. It describes the entire devotion of my existence to your life; and my complete sympathy with every attribute of your nature. Calm as may be my speech, I love you with a burning heart.’
She bowed her head, and covered her face with her right hand.
‘Most beauteous lady,’ continued Mr. Ferrers, ‘pardon me if I agitate you; for my respect is equal to my love. I stand before you a stranger, utterly unknown; and I am so circumstanced that it is not in my power, even at this moment, to offer any explanation of my equivocal position. Yet, whatever I may be, I offer my existence, and all its accidents, good or bad, in homage to your heart. May I indulge the delicious hope that, if not now accepted, they are at least considered with kindliness and without suspicion?’
‘Oh, yes! without suspicion,’ murmured Miss Ponsonby —‘without suspicion. Nothing, nothing in the world shall ever make me believe that you are not so good as you are ——— gifted.’
‘Darling Henrietta!’ exclaimed Mr. Ferrers, in a voice of melting tenderness; and he pressed her to his heart, and sealed his love upon her lips. ‘This, this is confidence; this, this is the woman’s love I long have sighed for. Doubt me not, dearest; never doubt me! Say you are mine; once more pledge yourself to me. I leave our isle this night. Nay, start not, sweet one. ’Tis for our happiness; this night. I shall return to claim my bride. Now, listen, darling! our engagement, our sweet and solemn engagement, is secret. You will never hear from me until we meet again; you may hear of me and not to my advantage. What matter? You love me; you cannot doubt me. I leave with you my honour: an honour never sullied. Mind that. Oh no, you cannot doubt me!’
‘I am yours: I care not what they say: if there be no faith and truth in you, I will despair of them for ever.’
‘Beautiful being! you make me mad with joy. Has fate reserved for me, indeed, this treasure? Am I at length loved, and loved only for myself!’
He has gone; Mr. Ferrers has departed. What an event! What a marvellous event! A revolution has occurred in the life of Henrietta Ponsonby: she was no longer her own mistress; she was no longer her father’s child. She belonged to another; and that other a stranger, an unknown, and departed being! How strange! And yet how sweet! This beautiful young lady passed her days in pondering over her singular position. In vain she attempted to struggle with her destiny. In vain she depicted to herself the error, perhaps the madness, of her conduct. She was fascinated. She could not reason; she could not communicate to her father all that had happened. A thousand times her lips moved to reveal her secret; a thousand times an irresistible power restrained them. She remained silent, moody, and restless: she plucked flowers, and threw them to the wind: she gazed upon the sea, and watched the birds in abstraction wilder than their wing: and yet she would not doubt her betrothed. That voice so sweet and solemn, and so sincere, still lingered in her ear: the gaze of that pure and lofty brow was engraven on her memory: never could she forget those delicate adieus!
This change in his daughter was not unmarked by the Consul, who, after some reflection, could not hesitate in considering it as the result of the departure of Mr. Ferrers. The thought made him mournful. It pained his noble nature, that the guest whom he so respected might have trifled with the affections of the child whom he so loved. He spoke to the maiden; but the maiden said she was happy. And, indeed, her conduct gave evidence of restlessness rather than misery; for her heart seemed sometimes exuberantly gay; often did she smile, and ever did she sing. The Consul was conscious there was a mystery he could not fathom. It is bitter for a father at all times to feel that his child is unhappy; but doubly bitter is the pang when he feels that the cause is secret.
Three months, three heavy months passed away, and the cloud still rested on this once happy home. Suddenly Lord Bohun arrived, the much talked-of Lord Bohun, in his more talked-of yacht. The bustle which the arrival of this celebrated personage occasioned in the consular establishment was a diversion from the reserve, or the gloom, which had so long prevailed there. Lord Bohun was a young, agreeable, and somewhat affected individual. He had a German chasseur and a Greek page. He was very luxurious, and rather troublesome; but infinitely amusing, both to the Consul and his daughter. He dined with them every day, and recounted his extraordinary adventures with considerable self-complacency. In the course of the week he scampered over every part of the island; and gave a magnificent entertainment on board the Kraken, to the bishop and the principal islanders, in honour of the Consul’s daughter. Indeed it was soon very evident that his lordship entertained feelings of no ordinary admiration for his hostess. He paid her on all occasions the most marked attention; and the Consul, who did not for a moment believe that these attentions indicated other than the transient feelings that became a lord, and so adventurous a lord, began to fear that his inexperienced Henrietta might again become the victim of the fugitive admiration of a traveller.
One evening at the casino, his lordship noticed a drawing of his own yacht, and started. The Consul explained to him, that the drawing had been copied by his daughter from a sketch by an English traveller, who preceded him. His name was inquired, and given.
‘Ferrers!’ exclaimed his lordship. ‘What, has Ferrers been here?’
‘You know Mr. Ferrers, then?’ inquired Henrietta, with suppressed agitation.
‘Oh yes, I know Ferrers.’
‘A most agreeable and gentleman-like man,’ said the Consul, anxious, he knew not why, that the conversation would cease.
‘Oh yes, Ferrers is a very agreeable man. He piques himself on being agreeable — Mr. Ferrers.’
‘From what I have observed of Mr. Ferrers,’ said Henrietta, in a firm, and rather decided tone, ‘I should not have given him credit for any sentiment approaching to conceit.’
‘He is fortunate in having such a defender,’ said his lordship, bowing gallantly.
‘Our friends are scarcely worth possessing,’ said Miss Ponsonby, ‘unless they defend us when absent. But I am not aware that Mr. Ferrers needs any defence.’
His lordship turned on his heel, and hummed an opera air.
‘Mr. Ferrers paid us a long visit,’ said the Consul, who was now desirous that the conversation should proceed.
‘He had evidently a great inducement,’ said Lord Bohun. ‘I wonder he ever departed.’
‘He is a great favourite in this house,’ said Miss Ponsonby.
‘I perceive it,’ said Lord Bohun.
‘What Ferrers is he?’ inquired the Consul.
‘Oh, he has gentle blood in his veins,’ said Lord Bohun. ‘I never heard his breeding impeached.’
‘And I should think, nothing else,’ said Miss Ponsonby.
‘Oh, I never heard anything particular against Ferrers,’ said his lordship; ‘except that he was a roué, and a little mad. That is all.’
‘Enough, I should think,’ said Major Ponsonby, with a clouded brow.
‘What a roué may be, I can scarcely be supposed to judge,’ said Henrietta. ‘If, however, it be a man remarkable for the delicacy of his thoughts and conduct, Mr. Ferrers has certainly some claim to the title. As for his madness, he was our constant companion for nearly three months: if he be mad, it must be a very little indeed.’
‘He was a great favourite of Henrietta,’ said her father, with a forced smile.
‘Fortunate man!’ said the lord. ‘Fortunate Ferrers!’
Lord Bohun stepped into the garden with the Consul: Miss Ponsonby was left alone. Firm as had been her previous demeanour, now, that she was alone, her agitated countenance denoted the tumult of her mind. A roué! Could it be so! Could it be possible! Was she, while she had pledged the freshness of her virgin mind to this unknown man, was she, after all, only a fresh sacrifice to his insatiable vanity! Ferrers a roué! That lofty-minded man, who spoke so eloquently and so wisely, was he a roué, an eccentric roué; one whose unprincipled conduct could only be excused at the expense of the soundness of his intellect? She could not credit it; she would not credit it: and yet his conduct had been so strange, so mysterious, so unnecessarily mysterious: and then she recollected his last dark-muttered words: ‘You may hear of me, and not to my advantage.’ Oh, what a prophecy! And from him she had never heard. He had, at least, kept this sad promise. Very sorrowful was the Consul’s daughter. And then she bethought herself of his pledge, and his honour that had been never sullied. She buried her face in her hands — she conjured up to her recollection all that had happened since his arrival, perhaps his fatal arrival, in their island; all he had said and done, and seemed to think. She would not doubt him. It was madness for a moment to doubt him. No desolation seemed so complete, no misery so full of anguish, as such suspicion: she could not doubt him; all her happiness was hope. A gentle touch roused her. It was her gazelle; the gazelle that he had so loved. She caressed it, she caressed it for his sake: she arose and joined her father and Lord Bohun in the garden, if not light-hearted, at least serene.
THERE must have been something peculiarly captivating in the air of our island; for Lord Bohun, who, according to his own account, had never remained in any place a week in the whole course of his life, exhibited no inclination to quit the city where Major Ponsonby presided over the interests of our commerce. He had remained there nearly a month, made himself very agreeable, and, on the whole, was a welcome guest, certainly with the Consul, if not with the Consul’s daughter. As for the name of Mr. Ferrers, it occasionally occurred in conversation. Henrietta piqued herself upon the unsuspected inquiries which she carried on respecting her absent friend. She, however, did not succeed in eliciting much information. Lord Bohun was so vague, that it was impossible to annex a precise idea to anything he ever uttered. Whether Ferrers were rich or poor, really of good family, or, as she sometimes thought, of disgraceful lineage; when and where Lord Bohun and himself had been fellow-travellers — all was alike obscure and shadowy. Not that her noble guest was inattentive to her inquiries; on the contrary, he almost annoyed her by his constant devotion: she was almost, indeed, inclined to resent his singularly marked expressions of admiration as an insult; when, to her utter astonishment, one morning her father astounded her by an announcement that Lord Bohun had done her the honour of offering her his hand and heart. The beautiful Henrietta was in great perplexity. It was due to Lord Bohun to reject his flattering proposal without reservation: it was difficult, almost impossible, to convince her father of the expediency of such a proceeding. There was in the proposal of Lord Bohun every circumstance which could gratify Major Ponsonby. In the wildest dreams of his paternal ambition, his hopes had never soared higher than the possession of such a son-in-law: high born, high rank, splendid fortune, and accomplished youth, were combined in the individual whom some favouring destiny, it would seem, had wafted to this distant and obscure isle to offer his vows to its accomplished mistress. That his daughter might hesitate, on so brief an acquaintance, to unite her eternal lot in life with a comparative stranger, was what he had in some degree, anticipated; but that she should unhesitatingly and unreservedly decline the proposal, was conduct for which he was totally unprepared. He was disappointed and mortified — for the first time in his life he was angry with his child. It is strange that Lord Bohun, who had required a deputy to make, a proposition which, of all others, the most becomes and most requires a principal, should, when his fate was decided, have requested a personal interview with Miss Ponsonby. It was a favour which she could not refuse, for her father required her to grant it. She accordingly prepared herself for a repetition of the proposal from lips, doubtless unaccustomed to sue in vain. It was otherwise: never had Lord Bohun conducted himself in a more kind and unaffected manner than during this interview: it pained Miss Ponsonby to think she had pained one who was in reality so amiable: she was glad, however, to observe that he did not appear very much moved or annoyed. Lord Bohun expressed his gratitude for the agreeable hours he had spent in her society; and then most delicately ventured to inquire whether time might, perhaps, influence Miss Ponsonby’s determination. And when he had received her most courteous, though hopeless answer, he only expressed his wishes for her future happiness, which he could not doubt.
‘I feel,’ said Lord Bohun, as he was about to depart; ‘I feel,’ he said, in a very hesitating voice, ‘I am taking a great, an unwarrantable liberty; but believe me, dear Miss Ponsonby, the inquiry, if I could venture to make it, is inspired by the sincerest desire for your welfare.
Speak with freedom, Lord Bohun; you will ever, I am sure, speak with kindness.’
‘I would not willingly despair then, unless I believed that heart were engaged to another.’
Miss Ponsonby bent down and plucked a flower, and, her brow covered with blushes, with an agitated hand tore the flower to pieces.
‘Is this a fair inquiry?’ she murmured. ‘It is for your sake I inquire,’ answered Lord Bohun.
Now an irresistible conviction came over her mind that Lord Bohun was thinking of Ferrers, and a desire on her part as strong to learn at length something of her mysterious lover.
‘What, indeed, if I be not mistress of my heart?’ She spoke without raising her head.
‘In that case I will believe that it belongs to one worthy of such a treasure.’
‘You speak of Edmund Ferrers?’ said Miss Ponsonby.
‘You know him?’ she inquired, in a choking voice.
‘I know and honour him. I have long believed that the world did not boast a man more gifted; now I know that it does not possess a man more blessed.’
‘Shall you see him?’ she inquired in a quick tone.
‘Probably you will see him first; I am sufficiently acquainted with his movements to know that he will soon be here. This Greek boy whom you have sometimes noticed is his page; I wish him to join his master again; and methinks the readiest way will be to leave him in this isle. Here, Spiridion, bow to your new mistress, and be dutiful for her sake, as well as that of your lord’s. Adieu! dearest Miss Ponsonby!’
THIS strange conversation with Lord Bohun at parting, was not without a certain wild, but not unpleasing influence over the mind of Henrietta Ponsonby. Much as it at first had agitated her, its result, as she often mused over it, was far from being without solace. It was consoling, indeed, to know that one person, at least, honoured that being in whom she had so implicitly relied: Lord Bohun, also, had before spoken of Ferrers in a very different tone; but she felt confidence in the unusual seriousness of his last communication; and with satisfaction contrasted it with the heedlessness, or the levity, of his former intimations. Here, too, was the page of Ferrers, at her side — the beautiful and bright-eyed Spiridion. How strange it was! how very strange! Her simple life had suddenly become like some shifting fairy-tale; but love, indeed, is a fairy, and full of marvels and magic — it changes all things; and the quietest domestic hearth, when shadowed by its wing, becomes as rife with wonders and adventure as if it were the passionate theatre of some old romance. Yes! the bright-eyed Greek page of her mysterious and absent lover was at her side-but then he spoke only Greek. In vain she tried to make him comprehend how much she desired to have tidings of his master. The graceful mute could only indulge in airy pantomime, point to the skies and ocean, or press his hand to his heart in token of fidelity. Henrietta amused herself in teaching Spiridion Italian, and repaid herself for all her trouble in occasionally obtaining some slight information of her friend. In time she learned that Ferrers was in Italy, and had seen Lord Bohun before the departure of that nobleman. In answer to her anxious and often-repeated inquiries whether he would soon return, Spiridion was constant to his consoling affirmative. Never was such a sedulous mistress of languages as Henrietta Ponsonby. She learned, also, that an Albanian scarf, which the page wore round his waist, had been given him by his master when Spiridion quitted him; and Henrietta instantly obtained the scarf for a Barbary shawl of uncommon splendour.
Now, it happened one afternoon towards sunset, as the Greek page, rambling, as was his custom, over the neighbouring heights, beheld below the spreading fort, the neighbouring straits, and the distant sea, that a vessel appeared in sight, and soon entered the harbour. It was an English vessel — it was the yacht of Lord Bohun. The page started and watched the vessel with a fixed and earnest gaze; soon he observed the British Consul in his boat row to the side of the vessel, and also immediately return. At that moment the yacht hoisted a signal — upon a white ground a crimson heart — whereupon Spiridion, drawing from his breast a letter, kissed it twice, and bounded away.
He bounded away towards the city, and scarcely slackened his pace until he arrived at the Consul’s mansion — he rushed in, dashed up the staircase, and entered the saloons. At the window of one, gazing on the sunset, was Henrietta Ponsonby — her gaze was serious, but her beautiful countenance was rather tinged by melancholy than touched by gloom — pensive, not sorrowful. By her side lay her guitar, still echoing, as it were, with her touch; and near it the Albanian scarf, on which she had embroidered the name of her beloved. Of him, then, were her gentle musings? Who can doubt it? Her gentle musings were of him whom she had loved with such unexampled trust. Fond, beautiful, confiding maiden! It was the strength of thy mind as much as the simplicity of thy heart that rendered thee so faithful and so firm! Who would not envy thy unknown adorer? Can he be false? Suspicion is for weak minds and cold-blooded spirits. Thou never didst doubt; and thou wast just, for, behold, he is true!
A fluttering sound roused her — she turned her head, and expected to see her gazelle: it was Spiridion; his face was wreathed with smiles as he held towards her a letter. She seized it — she recognised in an instant the handwriting she had so often studied — it was his! Yes! it was his. It was the handwriting of her beloved. Her face was pale, her hand trembled; a cloud moved before her vision; yet at length she read, and she read these words:—
‘If, as I hope, and as I believe, you are faithful to those vows which since my departure have been my only consolation, you will meet me tomorrow, two hours before noon, in our garden. I come to claim my bride; but until my lips have expressed to you how much I adore you, let nothing be known to our father.’
MY DEAREST Henrietta,’ said the Consul as he entered, ‘who, think you, has returned? Lord Bohun.’
‘Indeed!’ said Henrietta. ‘Have you seen him?’ ‘No. I paid my respects to him immediately, but he was unwell. He breakfasts with us tomorrow, at ten.’
The morrow came, but ten o’clock brought no Lord Bohun; and even eleven sounded: the Consul sought his daughter to consult her — he was surprised to learn that Miss Ponsonby had not returned from her early ramble. At this moment a messenger arrived from the yacht to say that, from some error, Lord Bohun had repaired to the casino, where he awaited the Consul. The major mounted his barb, and soon reached the pavilion. As he entered the garden, he beheld, in the distance, his daughter and — Mr. Ferrers. He was, indeed, surprised. It appeared that Henrietta was about to run forward to him; but her companion checked her, and she disappeared down a neighbouring walk. Mr. Ferrers advanced, and saluted her father —
‘You are surprised to see me, my dear sir?’
‘I am surprised, but most happy. You came, of course, with Lord Bohun?’
Mr. Ferrers bowed.
‘I am very desirous of having some conversation with you, my dear Major Ponsonby,’ continued Mr. Ferrers.
‘I am ever at your service, my dearest sir, but at the present moment I must go and greet his lordship.’
‘Oh, never mind Bohun,’ said Mr. Ferrers, carelessly. ‘I have no ceremony with him — he can wait.’
The major was a little perplexed.
‘You must know, my dearest sir,’ continued Mr. Ferrers, ‘that I wish to speak to you on a subject in which my happiness is entirely concerned.’
‘Proceed, sir,’ said the Consul, looking still more puzzled.
‘You can scarcely be astonished, my dearest sir, that I should admire your daughter.’
The Consul bowed.
‘Indeed,’ said Mr. Ferrers; ‘it seems to me impossible to know her and not admire: I should say, adore her.’
‘You flatter a father’s feelings,’ said the Consul.
‘I express my own,’ replied Mr. Ferrers. ‘I love her — I have long loved her devotedly.’
‘Hem!’ said Major Ponsonby.
‘I feel,’ continued Mr. Ferrers, ‘that there is a great deal to apologise for in my conduct, towards both you and herself: I feel that my conduct may, in some degree, be considered even unpardonable: I will not say that the end justifies the means, Major Ponsonby, but my end was, at least, a great, and, I am sure a virtuous one.’
‘I do not clearly comprehend you, Mr. Ferrers.’
‘It is some consolation to me,’ continued that gentleman, ‘that the daughter has pardoned me; now let me indulge the delightful hope that I may be as successful with the father.’
‘I will, at least, listen with patience, to you, Mr. Ferrers; but I must own your meaning is not very evident to me: let me, at least, go and shake hands with Lord Bohun.’
‘I will answer for Lord Bohun excusing your momentary neglect. Pray, my dear sir, listen to me. I wish to make you acquainted, Major Ponsonby, with the feelings which influenced me when I first landed on this island. This knowledge is necessary for my justification.’
‘But what is there to justify?’ inquired the major.
‘Conceive a man born to a great fortune,’ continued Mr. Ferrers, without noticing the interruption, ‘and to some accidents of life, which many esteem above fortune; a station as eminent as his wealth — conceive this man master of his destiny from his boyhood, and early experienced in that great world with which you are not unacquainted — conceive him with a heart, gifted, perhaps, with too dangerous a sensibility; the dupe and the victim of all whom he encounters — conceive him, in disgust, flying from the world that had deceived him, and divesting himself of those accidents of existence which, however envied by others, appeared to his morbid imagination the essential causes of his misery — conceive this man, unknown and obscure, sighing to be valued for those qualities of which fortune could not deprive him, and to be loved only for his own sake — a miserable man, sir!’
‘It would seem so,’ said the Consul.
‘Now, then, for a moment imagine this man apparently in possession of all for which he had so long panted; he is loved, he is loved for himself, and loved by a being surpassing the brightest dream of his purest youth: yet the remembrance of the past poisons, even now, his joy. He is haunted by the suspicion that the affection, even of this being, is less the result of his own qualities, than of her inexperience of life — he has everything at stake — he dares to submit her devotion to the sharpest trial — he quits her without withdrawing the dark curtain with which he had enveloped himself — he quits her with the distinct understanding that she shall not even hear from him until he thinks fit to return; and entangles her pure mind, for the first time, in a secret from the parent whom she adores. He is careful, in the meanwhile, that his name shall be traduced in her presence — that the proudest fortune, the loftiest rank, shall be offered for her acceptance, if she only will renounce him, and the dim hope of his return. A terrible trial, Major Ponsonby!’
‘Indeed, most terrible.’
‘But she is true — truer even than truth — and I have come back to claim my unrivalled bride. Can you pardon me? Can you sympathise with me?’
‘I speak, then ———’ murmured the astounded Consul —
‘To your son, with your permission-to Lord Bohun!’
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