EARLY five years had elapsed between the event which formed the subject of our last chapter and the recall to England of the regiment in which Captain Armine now commanded a company. This period of time had passed away not unfruitful of events in the experience of that family, in whose fate and feelings I have attempted to interest the reader. In this interval Ferdinand Armine had paid one short visit to his native land; a visit which had certainly been accelerated, if not absolutely occasioned, by the untimely death of his cousin Augustus, the presumptive heir of Grandison. This unforeseen event produced a great revolution in the prospects of the family of Armine; for although the title and an entailed estate devolved to a distant branch, the absolute property of the old lord was of great amount; and, as he had no male heir now living, conjectures as to its probable disposition were now rife among all those who could possibly become interested in it. Whatever arrangement the old lord might decide upon, it seemed nearly certain that the Armine family must be greatly benefited. Some persons even went so far as to express their conviction that everything would be left to Mr. Armine, who everybody now discovered to have always been a particular favourite with his grandfather. At all events, Sir Ratcliffe, who ever maintained upon the subject a becoming silence, thought it as well that his son should remind his grandfather personally of his existence; and it was at his father’s suggestion that Ferdinand had obtained a short leave of absence, at the first opportunity, to pay a hurried visit to Grandison and his grandfather.
The old lord yielded him a reception which might have flattered the most daring hopes. He embraced Ferdinand, and pressed him to his heart a thousand times; he gave him his blessing in the most formal manner every morning and evening; and assured everybody that he now was not only his favourite but his only grandson. He did not even hesitate to affect a growing dislike for his own seat, because it was not in his power to leave it to Ferdinand; and he endeavoured to console that fortunate youth for his indispensable deprivation by mysterious intimations that he would, perhaps, find quite enough to do with his money in completing Armine Castle, and maintaining its becoming splendour. The sanguine Ferdinand returned to Malta with the conviction that he was his grandfather’s heir; and even Sir Ratcliffe was almost disposed to believe that his son’s expectations were not without some show of probability, when he found that Lord Grandison had absolutely furnished him with the funds for the purchase of his company.
Ferdinand was fond of his profession. He had entered it under favourable circumstances. He had joined a crack regiment in a crack garrison. Malta is certainly a delightful station. Its city, Valetta, equals in its noble architecture, if it even do not excel, any capital in Europe; and although it must be confessed that the surrounding region is little better than a rock, the vicinity, nevertheless, of Barbary, of Italy, and of Sicily, presents exhaustless resources to the lovers of the highest order of natural beauty. If that fair Valetta, with its streets of palaces, its picturesque forts and magnificent church, only crowned some green and azure island of the Ionian Sea, Corfu for instance, I really think that the ideal of landscape would be realised.
To Ferdinand, who was inexperienced in the world, the dissipation of Malta, too, was delightful. It must be confessed that, under all circumstances, the first burst of emancipation from domestic routine hath in it something fascinating. However you may be indulged at home, it is impossible to break the chain of childish associations; it is impossible to escape from the feeling of dependence and the habit of submission. Charming hour when you first order your own servants, and ride your own horses, instead of your father’s! It is delightful even to kick about your own furniture; and there is something manly and magnanimous in paying our own taxes. Young, lively, kind, accomplished, good-looking, and well-bred, Ferdinand Armine had in him all the elements of popularity; and the novelty of popularity quite intoxicated a youth who had passed his life in a rural seclusion, where he had been appreciated, but not huzzaed. Ferdinand was not only popular, but proud of being popular. He was popular with the Governor, he was popular with his Colonel, he was popular with his mess, he was popular throughout the garrison. Never was a person so popular as Ferdinand Armine. He was the best rider among them, and the deadliest shot; and he soon became an oracle at the billiard-table, and a hero in the racquet-court. His refined education, however, fortunately preserved him from the fate of many other lively youths: he did not degenerate into a mere hero of sports and brawls, the genius of male revels, the arbiter of roistering suppers, and the Comus of a club. His boyish feelings had their play; he soon exuded the wanton heat of which a public school would have served as a safety-valve. He returned to his books, his music, and his pencil. He became more quiet, but he was not less liked. If he lost some companions, he gained many friends; and, on the whole, the most boisterous wassailers were proud of the accomplishments of their comrade; and often an invitation to a mess dinner was accompanied by a hint that Armine dined there, and that there was a chance of hearing him sing. Ferdinand now became as popular with the Governor’s lady as with the Governor himself, was idolised by his Colonel’s wife, while not a party throughout the island was considered perfect without the presence of Mr. Armine.
Excited by his situation, Ferdinand was soon tempted to incur expenses which his income did not justify. The facility of credit afforded him not a moment to pause; everything he wanted was furnished him; and until the regiment quitted the garrison he was well aware that a settlement of accounts was never even desired. Amid this imprudence he was firm, however, in his resolution never to trespass on the resources of his father. It was with difficulty that he even brought himself to draw for the allowance which Sir Ratcliffe insisted on making him; and he would gladly have saved his father from making even this advance, by vague intimations of the bounty of Lord Grandison, had he not feared this conduct might have led to suspicious and disagreeable enquiries. It cannot be denied that his debts occasionally caused him anxiety, but they were not considerable; he quieted his conscience by the belief that, if he were pressed, his grandfather could scarcely refuse to discharge a few hundred pounds for his favourite grandson; and, at all events, he felt that the ultimate resource of selling his commission was still reserved for him. If these vague prospects did not drive away compunction, the qualms of conscience were generally allayed in the evening assembly, in which his vanity was gratified. At length he paid his first visit to England. That was a happy meeting. His kind father, his dear, dear mother, and the faithful Glastonbury, experienced some of the most transporting moments of their existence, when they beheld, with admiring gaze, the hero who returned to them. Their eyes were never satiated with beholding him; they hung upon his accents. Then came the triumphant visit to Grandison; and then Ferdinand returned to Malta, in the full conviction that he was the heir to fifteen thousand a year.
Among many other, there is one characteristic of capitals in which Valetta is not deficient: the facility with which young heirs apparent, presumptive, or expectant, can obtain any accommodation they desire. The terms; never mind the terms, who ever thinks of them? As for Ferdinand Armine, who, as the only son of an old baronet, and the supposed future inheritor of Armine Park, had always been looked upon by tradesmen with a gracious eye, he found that his popularity in this respect was not at all diminished by his visit to England, and its supposed consequences; slight expressions, uttered on his return in the confidence of convivial companionship, were repeated, misrepresented, exaggerated, and circulated in all quarters. We like those whom we love to be fortunate. Everybody rejoices in the good luck of a popular character; and soon it was generally understood that Ferdinand Armine had become next in the entail to thirty thousand a year and a peerage. Moreover, he was not long to wait for his inheritance. The usurers pricked up their ears, and such numerous proffers of accommodation and assistance were made to the fortunate Mr. Armine, that he really found it quite impossible to refuse them, or to reject the loans that were almost forced on his acceptance.
Ferdinand Armine had passed the Rubicon. He was in debt. If youth but knew the fatal misery that they are entailing on themselves the moment they accept a pecuniary credit to which they are not entitled, how they would start in their career! how pale they would turn! how they would tremble, and clasp their hands in agony at the precipice on which they are disporting! Debt is the prolific mother of folly and of crime; it taints the course of life in all its dreams. Hence so many unhappy marriages, so many prostituted pens, and venal politicians! It hath a small beginning, but a giant’s growth and strength. When we make the monster we make our master, who haunts us at all hours, and shakes his whip of scorpions for ever in our sight. The slave hath no overseer so severe. Faustus, when he signed the bond with blood, did not secure a doom more terrific. But when we are young we must enjoy ourselves. True; and there are few things more gloomy than the recollection of a youth that has not been enjoyed. What prosperity of manhood, what splendour of old age, can compensate for it? Wealth is power; and in youth, of all seasons of life, we require power, because we can enjoy everything that we can command. What, then, is to be done? I leave the question to the schoolmen, because I am convinced that to moralise with the inexperienced availeth nothing.
The conduct of men depends upon their temperament, not upon a bunch of musty maxims. No one had been educated with more care than Ferdinand Armine; in no heart had stricter precepts of moral conduct ever been instilled. But he was lively and impetuous, with a fiery imagination, violent passions, and a daring soul. Sanguine he was as the day; he could not believe in the night of sorrow, and the impenetrable gloom that attends a career that has failed. The world was all before him; and he dashed at it like a young charger in his first strife, confident that he must rush to victory, and never dreaming of death.
Thus would I attempt to account for the extreme imprudence of his conduct on his return from England. He was confident in his future fortunes; he was excited by the applause of the men, and the admiration of the women; he determined to gratify, even to satiety, his restless vanity; he broke into profuse expenditure; he purchased a yacht; he engaged a villa; his racing-horses and his servants exceeded all other establishments, except the Governor’s, in breeding, in splendour, and in number. Occasionally wearied with the monotony of Malta, he obtained a short leave of absence, and passed a few weeks at Naples, Palermo, and Rome, where he glittered in brilliant circles, and whence he returned laden with choice specimens of art and luxury, and followed by the report of strange and flattering adventures. Finally, he was the prime patron of the Maltese opera, and brought over a celebrated Prima Donna from San Carlo in his own vessel.
In the midst of his career, Ferdinand received intelligence of the death of Lord Grandison. Fortunately, when he received it he was alone; there was no one, therefore, to witness his blank dismay when he discovered that, after all, he was not his grandfather’s heir! After a vast number of trifling legacies to his daughters, and their husbands, and their children, and all his favourite friends, Lord Grandison left the whole of his property to his grand-daughter Katherine, the only remaining child of his son, who had died early in life, and the sister of the lately deceased Augustus.
What was to be done now? His mother’s sanguine mind, for Lady Armine broke to him the fatal intelligence, already seemed to anticipate the only remedy for this ‘unjust will.’ It was a remedy delicately intimated, but the intention fell upon a fine and ready ear. Yes! he must marry; he must marry his cousin; he must marry Katherine Grandison. Ferdinand looked around him at his magnificent rooms; the damask hangings of Tunis, the tall mirrors from Marseilles, the inlaid tables, the marble statues, and the alabaster vases that he had purchased at Florence and at Rome, and the delicate mats that he had himself imported from Algiers. He looked around and he shrugged his shoulders: ‘All this must be paid for,’ thought he; ‘and, alas! how much more!’ And then came across his mind a recollection of his father and his cares, and innocent Armine, and dear Glastonbury, and his sacrifice. Ferdinand shook his head and sighed.
‘How have I repaid them,’ thought he. ‘Thank God, they know nothing. Thank God, they have only to bear their own disappointments and their own privations; but it is in vain to moralise. The future, not the past, must be my motto. To retreat is impossible; I may yet advance and conquer. Katherine Grandison: only think of my little cousin Kate for a wife! They say that it is not the easiest task in the world to fan a lively flame in the bosom of a cousin. The love of cousins is proverbially not of a very romantic character. ’Tis well I have not seen her much in my life, and very little of late. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. Will she dare to despise me?’ He glanced at the mirror. The inspection was not unsatisfactory. Plunged in profound meditation, he paced the room.
It so happened that the regiment in which Captain Armine had the honour of commanding a company was at this time under orders of immediate recall to England; and within a month of his receipt of the fatal intelligence of his being, as he styled it, disinherited, he was on his way to his native land, This speedy departure was fortunate, because it permitted him to retire before the death of Lord Grandison became generally known, and consequently commented upon and enquired into. Previous to quitting the garrison, Ferdinand had settled his affairs for the time without the slightest difficulty, as he was still able to raise any money that he required.
On arriving at Falmouth, Ferdinand learnt that his father and mother were at Bath, on a visit to his maiden aunt, Miss Grandison, with whom his cousin now resided. As the regiment was quartered at Exeter, he was enabled in a very few days to obtain leave of absence and join them. In the first rapture of meeting all disappointment was forgotten, and in the course of a day or two, when this sentiment had somewhat subsided, Ferdinand perceived that the shock which his parents must have necessarily experienced was already considerably softened by the prospect in which they secretly indulged, and which various circumstances combined in inducing them to believe was by no means a visionary one.
His cousin Katherine was about his own age; mild, elegant, and pretty. Being fair, she looked extremely well in her deep mourning. She was not remarkable for the liveliness of her mind, yet not devoid of observation, although easily influenced by those whom she loved, and with whom she lived. Her maiden aunt evidently exercised a powerful control over her conduct and opinions; and Lady Armine was a favourite sister of this maiden aunt. Without, therefore, apparently directing her will, there was no lack of effort from this quarter to predispose Katherine in favour of her cousin. She heard so much of her cousin Ferdinand, of his beauty, and his goodness, and his accomplishments, that she had looked forward to his arrival with feelings of no ordinary interest. And, indeed, if the opinions and sentiments of those with whom she lived could influence, there was no need of any artifice to predispose her in favour of her cousin. Sir Ratcliffe and Lady Armine were wrapped up in their son. They seemed scarcely to have another idea, feeling, or thought in the world, but his existence and his felicity; and although their good sense had ever preserved them from the silly habit of uttering his panegyric in his presence, they amply compensated for this painful restraint when he was away. Then he was ever, the handsomest, the cleverest, the most accomplished, and the most kind-hearted and virtuous of his sex. Fortunate the parents blessed with such a son! thrice fortunate the wife blessed with such a husband!
It was therefore with no ordinary emotion that Katherine Grandison heard that this perfect cousin Ferdinand had at length arrived. She had seen little of him even in his boyish days, and even then he was rather a hero in their Lilliputian circle.
Ferdinand Armine was always looked up to at Grandison, and always spoken of by her grandfather as a very fine fellow indeed; a wonderfully fine fellow, his favourite grandson, Ferdinand Armine: and now he had arrived. His knock was heard at the door, his step was on the stairs, the door opened, and certainly his first appearance did not disappoint his cousin Kate. So handsome, so easy, so gentle, and so cordial; they were all the best friends in a moment. Then he embraced his father with such fervour, and kissed his mother with such fondness: it was evident that he had an excellent heart. His arrival indeed, was a revolution. Their mourning days seemed at once to disappear; and although they of course entered society very little, and never frequented any public amusement, it seemed to Katherine that all of a sudden she lived in a round of delightful gaiety. Ferdinand was so amusing and so accomplished! He sang with her, he played with her; he was always projecting long summer rides and long summer walks. Then his conversation was so different from everything to which she had ever listened. He had seen so many things and so many persons; everything that was strange, and everybody that was famous. His opinions were so original, his illustrations so apt and lively, his anecdotes so inexhaustible and sparkling! Poor inexperienced, innocent Katherine! Her cousin in four-and-twenty hours found it quite impossible to fall in love with her; and so he determined to make her fall in love with him. He quite succeeded. She adored him. She did not believe that there was anyone in the world so handsome, so good, and so clever. No one, indeed, who knew Ferdinand Armine could deny that he was a rare being; but, had there been any acute and unprejudiced observers who had known him in his younger and happier hours, they would perhaps have remarked some difference in his character and conduct, and not a favourable one. He was indeed more brilliant, but not quite so interesting as in old days; far more dazzling, but not quite so apt to charm. No one could deny his lively talents and his perfect breeding, but there was a restlessness about him, an excited and exaggerated style, which might have made some suspect that his demeanour was an effort, and that under a superficial glitter, by which so many are deceived, there was no little deficiency of the genuine and sincere. Katherine Grandison, however, was not one of those profound observers. She was easily captivated. Ferdinand, who really did not feel sufficient emotion to venture upon a scene, made his proposals to her when they were riding in a green lane: the sun just setting, and the evening star glittering through a vista. The lady blushed, and wept, and sobbed, and hid her fair and streaming face; but the result was as satisfactory as our hero could desire. The young equestrians kept their friends in the crescent at least two hours for dinner, and then had no appetite for the repast when they had arrived.
Nevertheless the maiden aunt, although a very particular personage, made this day no complaint, and was evidently far from being dissatisfied with anybody or anything. As for Ferdinand, he called for a tumbler of champagne, and secretly drank his own health, as the luckiest fellow of his acquaintance, with a pretty, amiable, and high-bred wife, with all his debts paid, and the house of Armine restored.
IT WAS settled that a year must elapse from the death of Lord Grandison before the young couple could be united: a reprieve which did not occasion Ferdinand acute grief. In the meantime the Grandisons were to pass at least the autumn at Armine, and thither the united families proposed soon to direct their progress. Ferdinand, who had been nearly two months at Bath, and was a little wearied of courtship, contrived to quit that city before his friends, on the plea of visiting London, to arrange about selling his commission; for it was agreed that he should quit the army.
On his arrival in London, having spoken to his agent, and finding town quite empty, he set off immediately for Armine, in order that he might have the pleasure of being there a few days without the society of his intended; celebrate the impending first of September; and, especially, embrace his dear Glastonbury. For it must not be supposed that Ferdinand had forgotten for a moment this invaluable friend; on the contrary, he had written to him several times since his arrival: always assuring him that nothing but important business could prevent him from instantly paying him his respects.
It was with feelings of no common emotion, even of agitation, that Ferdinand beheld the woods of his ancient home rise in the distance, and soon the towers and turrets of Armine Castle. Those venerable bowers, that proud and lordly house, were not then to pass away from their old and famous line? He had redeemed the heritage of his great ancestry; he looked with unmingled complacency on the magnificent landscape, once to him a source of as much anxiety as affection. What a change in the destiny of the Armines! Their glory restored; his own devoted and domestic hearth, once the prey of so much care and gloom, crowned with ease and happiness and joy; on all sides a career of splendour and felicity. And he had done all this! What a prophet was his mother! She had ever indulged the fond conviction that her beloved, son would be their restorer. How wise and pious was the undeviating confidence of kind old Glastonbury in their fate! With what pure, what heart-felt delight, would that faithful friend listen to his extraordinary communication!
His carriage dashed through the park gates as if the driver were sensible of his master’s pride and exultation. Glastonbury was ready to welcome him, standing in the flower-garden, which he had made so rich and beautiful, and which had been the charm and consolation of many of their humbler hours.
‘My dear, dear father!’ exclaimed Ferdinand, embracing him, for thus he ever styled his old tutor.
But Glastonbury could not speak; the tears quivered in his eyes and trickled down his faded cheek. Ferdinand led him into the house.
‘How well you look, dear father!’ continued Ferdinand; ‘you really look younger and heartier than ever. You received all my letters, I am sure; and yours, how kind of you to remember and to write to me! I never forgot you, my dear, dear friend. I never could forget you. Do you know I am the happiest fellow in the world? I have the greatest news in the world to tell my Glastonbury — and we owe everything to you, everything. What would Sir Ratcliffe have been without you? what should I have been? Fancy the best news you can, dear friend, and it is not so good as I have got to tell. You will rejoice, you will be delighted! We shall furnish a castle! by Jove we shall furnish a castle! We shall indeed, and you shall build it! No more gloom; no more care. The Armines shall hold their heads up again, by Jove they shall! Dearest of men, I dare say you think me mad. I am mad with joy. How that Virginian creeper has grown! I have brought you so many plants, my father! a complete Sicilian Hortus Siccus. Ah, John, good John, how is your wife? Take care of my pistol-case. Ask Louis; he knows all about everything. Well, dear Glastonbury, and how have you been? How is the old tower? How are the old books, and the old staff, and the old arms, and the old everything? Dear, dear Glastonbury!’
While the carriage was unpacking, and the dinner-table prepared, the friends walked in the garden, and from thence strolled towards the tower, where they remained some time pacing up and down the beechen avenue. It was evident, on their return, that Ferdinand had communicated his great intelligence. The countenance of Glastonbury was radiant with delight.
Indeed, although he had dined, he accepted with readiness Ferdinand’s invitation to repeat the ceremony; nay, he quaffed more than one glass of wine; and, I believe, even drank the health of every member of the united families of Armine and Grandison. It was late before the companions parted, and retired for the night; and I think, before they bade each other good night, they must have talked over every circumstance that had occurred in their experience since the birth of Ferdinand.
HOW delicious after a long absence to wake on a sunny morning and find ourselves at home! Ferdinand could scarcely credit that he was really again at Armine. He started up in his bed, and rubbed his eyes and stared at the unaccustomed, yet familiar sights, and for a moment Malta and the Royal Fusiliers, Bath and his betrothed, were all a dream; and then he remembered the visit of his dear mother to this very room on the eve of his first departure. He had returned; in safety had he returned, and in happiness, to accomplish all her hopes and to reward her for all her solicitude. Never felt anyone more content than Ferdinand Armine, more content and more grateful.
He rose and opened the casement; a rich and exhilarating perfume filled the chamber; he looked with a feeling of delight and pride over the broad and beautiful park; the tall trees rising and flinging their taller shadows over the bright and dewy turf, and the last mists clearing away from the distant woods and blending with the spotless sky. Everything was sweet and still, save, indeed, the carol of the birds, or the tinkle of some restless bellwether. It was a rich autumnal morn. And yet with all the excitement of his new views in life, and the blissful consciousness of the happiness of those he loved, he could not but feel that a great change had come over his spirit since the days he was wont to ramble in this old haunt of his boyhood. His innocence was gone. Life was no longer that deep unbroken trance of duty and of love from which he had been roused to so much care; and if not remorse, at least to so much compunction. He had no secrets then. Existence was not then a subterfuge, but a calm and candid state of serene enjoyment. Feelings then were not compromised for interests; and then it was the excellent that was studied, not the expedient. ‘Yet such I suppose is life,’ murmured Ferdinand; ‘we moralise when it is too late; nor is there anything more silly than to regret. One event makes another: what we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens; and time can only prove which is most for our advantage. And surely I am the last person who should look grave. Our ancient house rises from its ruins; the beings I love most in the world are not only happy, but indebted to me for their happiness; and I, I myself, with every gift of fortune suddenly thrown at my feet, what more can I desire? Am I not satisfied? Why do I even ask the question? I am sure I know not. It rises like a devil in my thoughts, and spoils everything. The girl is young, noble, and fair, and loves me. And her? I love her, at least I suppose I love her. I love her at any rate as much as I love, or ever did love, woman. There is no great sacrifice, then, on my part; there should be none; there is none; unless indeed it be that a man does not like to give up without a struggle all his chance of romance and rapture.
‘I know not how it is, but there are moments I almost wish that I had no father and no mother; ay! not a single friend or relative in the world, and that Armine were sunk into the very centre of the earth. If I stood alone in the world methinks I might find the place that suits me; now everything seems ordained for me, as it were, beforehand. My spirit has had no play. Something whispers me that, with all its flush prosperity, this is neither wise nor well. God knows I am not heartless, and would be grateful; and yet if life can afford me no deeper sympathy than I have yet experienced, I cannot but hold it, even with all its sweet reflections, as little better than a dull delusion.’
While Ferdinand was thus moralising at the casement, Glastonbury appeared beneath; and his appearance dissipated this gathering gloom. ‘Let us breakfast together,’ proposed Ferdinand. ‘I have breakfasted these two hours,’ replied the hermit of the gate. ‘I hope that on the first night of your return to Armine you have proved auspicious dreams.’
‘My bed and I are old companions,’ said Ferdinand, ‘and we agreed very well. I tell you what, my dear Glastonbury, we will have a stroll together this morning and talk over our plans of last night. Go into the library and look over my sketch-books: you will find them on my pistol-case, and I will be with you anon.’
In due time the friends commenced their ramble. Ferdinand soon became excited by Glastonbury’s various suggestions for the completion of the castle; and as for the old man himself, between his architectural creation and the restoration of the family to which he had been so long devoted, he was in a rapture of enthusiasm, which afforded an amusing contrast to his usual meek and subdued demeanour.
‘Your grandfather was a great man,’ said Glastonbury, who in old days seldom ventured to mention the name of the famous Sir Ferdinand: ‘there is no doubt he was a very great man. He had great ideas. How he would glory in our present prospects! ’Tis strange what a strong confidence I have ever had in the destiny of your house. I felt sure that Providence would not desert us. There is no doubt we must have a portcullis.’
‘Decidedly, a portcullis,’ said Ferdinand; ‘you shall make all the drawings yourself, my dear Glastonbury, and supervise everything. We will not have a single anachronism. It shall be perfect.’
‘Perfect,’ echoed Glastonbury; ‘really perfect. It shall be a perfect Gothic castle. I have such treasures for the work. All the labours of my life have tended to this object. I have all the emblazonings of your house since the Conquest. There shall be three hundred shields in the hall. I will paint them myself. Oh! there is no place in the world like Armine!’
‘Nothing,’ said Ferdinand; ‘I have seen a great deal, but after all there is nothing like Armine.’
‘Had we been born to this splendour,’ said Glastonbury, ‘we should have thought little of it. We have been mildly and wisely chastened. I cannot sufficiently admire the wisdom of Providence, which has tempered, by such a wise dispensation, the too-eager blood of your race.’
‘I should be sorry to pull down the old place,’ said Ferdinand.
‘It must not be,’ said Glastonbury; ‘we have lived there happily, though humbly.’
‘I would we could move it to another part of the park, like the house of Loretto,’ said Ferdinand with a smile.
‘We can cover it with ivy,’ observed Glastonbury, looking somewhat grave.
The morning stole away in these agreeable plans and prospects. At length the friends parted, agreeing to meet again at dinner. Glastonbury repaired to his tower, and Ferdinand, taking his gun, sauntered into the surrounding wilderness.
But he felt no inclination for sport. The conversation with Glastonbury had raised a thousand thoughts over which he longed to brood. His life had been a scene of such constant excitement since his return to England, that he had enjoyed little opportunity of indulging in calm self-communion; and now that he was at Armine, and alone, the contrast between his past and his present situation struck him so forcibly that he could not refrain from falling into a reverie upon his fortunes. It was wonderful, all wonderful, very, very wonderful. There seemed indeed, as Glastonbury affirmed, a providential dispensation in the whole transaction. The fall of his family, the heroic, and, as it now appeared, prescient firmness with which his father had clung, in all their deprivations, to his unproductive patrimony, his own education, the extinction of his mother’s house, his very follies, once to him a cause of so much unhappiness, but which it now seemed were all the time compelling him, as it were, to his prosperity; all these and a thousand other traits and circumstances flitted over his mind, and were each in turn the subject of his manifold meditation. Willing was he to credit that destiny had reserved for him the character of restorer; that duty indeed he had accepted, and yet ——
He looked around him as if to see what devil was whispering in his ear. He was alone. No one was there or near. Around him rose the silent bowers, and scarcely the voice of a bird or the hum of an insect disturbed the deep tranquillity. But a cloud seemed to rest on the fair and pensive brow of Ferdinand Armine. He threw himself on the turf, leaning his head on one hand, and with the other plucking the wild flowers, which he as hastily, almost as fretfully, flung away.
‘Conceal it as I will,’ he exclaimed, ‘I am a victim; disguise them as I may, all the considerations are worldly. There is, there must be, something better in this world than power and wealth and rank; and surely there must be felicity more rapturous even than securing the happiness of a parent. Ah! dreams in which I have so oft and so fondly indulged, are ye, indeed, after all, but fantastical and airy visions? Is love indeed a delusion, or am I marked out from men alone to be exempted from its delicious bondage? It must be a delusion. All laugh at it, all jest about it, all agree in stigmatising it the vanity of vanities. And does my experience contradict this harsh but common fame? Alas! what have I seen or known to give the lie to this ill report? No one, nothing. Some women I have met more beautiful, assuredly, than Kate, and many, many less fair; and some have crossed my path with a wild and brilliant grace, that has for a moment dazzled my sight, and perhaps for a moment lured me from my way. But these shooting stars have but glittered transiently in my heaven, and only made me, by their evanescent brilliancy, more sensible of its gloom. Let me believe then, oh! let me of all men then believe, that the forms that inspire the sculptor and the painter have no models in nature; that that combination of beauty and grace, of fascinating intelligence and fond devotion, over which men brood in the soft hours of their young loneliness, is but the promise of a better world, and not the charm of this one.
‘But, what terror in that truth! what despair! what madness! Yes! at this moment of severest scrutiny, how profoundly I feel that life without love is worse than death! How vain and void, how flat and fruitless, appear all those splendid accidents of existence for which men struggle, without this essential and pervading charm! What a world without a sun! Yes! without this transcendent sympathy, riches and rank, and even power and fame, seem to me at best but jewels set in a coronet of lead!
‘And who knows whether that extraordinary being, of whose magnificent yet ruinous career this castle is in truth a fitting emblem — I say, who knows whether the secret of his wild and restless course is not hidden in this same sad lack of love? Perhaps while the world, the silly, superficial world, marvelled and moralised at his wanton life, and poured forth its anathemas against his heartless selfishness, perchance he all the time was sighing for some soft bosom whereon to pour his overwhelming passion, even as I am!
‘O Nature! why art thou beautiful? My heart requires not, imagination cannot paint, a sweeter or a fairer scene than these surrounding bowers. This azazure vault of heaven, this golden sunshine, this deep and blending shade, these rare and fragrant shrubs, yon grove of green and tallest pines, and the bright gliding of this swan-crowned lake; my soul is charmed with all this beauty and this sweetness; I feel no disappointment here; my mind does not here outrun reality; here there is no cause to mourn over ungratified hopes and fanciful desires. Is it then my destiny that I am to be baffled only in the dearest desires of my heart?’
At this moment the loud and agitated barking of his dogs at some little distance roused Ferdinand from his reverie. He called them to him, and soon one of them obeyed his summons, but instantly returned to his companion with such significant gestures, panting and yelping, that Ferdinand supposed that Basto was caught, perhaps, in some trap: so, taking up his gun, he proceeded to the dog’s rescue.
To his surprise, as he was about to emerge from a berceau on to a plot of turf, in the centre of which grew a large cedar, he beheld a lady in a riding-habit standing before the tree, and evidently admiring its beautiful proportions.
Her countenance was raised and motionless. It seemed to him that it was more radiant than the sunshine. He gazed with rapture on the dazzling brilliancy of her complexion, the delicate regularity of her features, and the large violet-tinted eyes, fringed with the longest and the darkest lashes that he had ever beheld. From her position her hat had fallen back, revealing her lofty and pellucid brow, and the dark and lustrous locks that were braided over her temples. The whole countenance combined that brilliant health and that classic beauty which we associate with the idea of some nymph tripping over the dew-bespangled meads of Ida, or glancing amid the hallowed groves of Greece. Although the lady could scarcely have seen eighteen summers, her stature was above the common height; but language cannot describe the startling symmetry of her superb figure.
There is no love but love at first sight. This is the transcendent and surpassing offspring of sheer and unpolluted sympathy. All other is the illegitimate result of observation, of reflection, of compromise, of comparison, of expediency. The passions that endure flash like the lightning: they scorch the soul, but it is warmed for ever. Miserable man whose love rises by degrees upon the frigid morning of his mind! Some hours indeed of warmth and lustre may perchance fall to his lot; some moments of meridian splendour, in which he basks in what he deems eternal sunshine. But then how often overcast by the clouds of care, how often dusked by the blight of misery and misfortune! And certain as the gradual rise of such affection is its gradual decline and melancholy setting. Then, in the chill, dim twilight of his soul, he execrates custom; because he has madly expected that feelings could be habitual that were not homogeneous, and because he has been guided by the observation of sense, and not by the inspiration of sympathy.
Amid the gloom and travail of existence suddenly to behold a beautiful being, and as instantaneously to feel an overwhelming conviction that with that fair form for ever our destiny must be entwined; that there is no more joy but in her joy, no sorrow but when she grieves; that in her sigh of love, in her smile of fondness, hereafter all is bliss; to feel our flaunty ambition fade away like a shrivelled gourd before her vision; to feel fame a juggle and posterity a lie; and to be prepared at once, for this great object, to forfeit and fling away all former hopes, ties, schemes, views; to violate in her favour every duty of society; this is a lover, and this is love! Magnificent, sublime, divine sentiment! An immortal flame burns in the breast of that man who adores and is adored. He is an ethereal being. The accidents of earth touch him not. Revolutions of empire, changes of creed, mutations of opinion, are to him but the clouds and meteors of a stormy sky. The schemes and struggles of mankind are, in his thinking, but the anxieties of pigmies and the fantastical achievements of apes. Nothing can subdue him. He laughs alike at loss of fortune, loss of friends, loss of character. The deeds and thoughts of men are tor him equally indifferent. He does not mingle in their paths of callous bustle, or hold himself responsible to the airy impostures before which they bow down. He is a mariner who, on the sea of life, keeps his gaze fixedly on a single star; and if that do not shine, he lets go the rudder, and glories when his barque descends into the bottomless gulf.
Yes! it was this mighty passion that now raged in the heart of Ferdinand Armine, as, pale and trembling, he withdrew a few paces from the overwhelming spectacle, and leant against a tree in a chaos of emotion. What had he seen? What ravishing vision had risen upon his sight? What did he feel? What wild, what delicious, what maddening impulse now pervaded his frame? A storm seemed raging in his soul, a mighty wind dispelling in its course the sullen clouds and vapours of long years. Silent he was indeed, for he was speechless; though the big drop that quivered on his brow and the slight foam that played upon his lip proved the difficult triumph of passion over expression. But, as the wind clears the heaven, passion eventually tranquillises the soul. The tumult of his mind gradually subsided; the flitting memories, the scudding thoughts, that for a moment had coursed about in such wild order, vanished and melted away, and a feeling of bright serenity succeeded, a sense of beauty and of joy, and of hovering and circumambient happiness.
He advanced, and gazed again; the lady was still there. Changed indeed her position; she had gathered a flower and was examining its beauty.
‘Henrietta!’ exclaimed a manly voice from the adjoining wood. Before she could answer, a stranger came forward, a man of middle age but of an appearance remarkably prepossessing. He was tall and dignified, fair, with an aquiline nose. One of Ferdinand’s dogs followed him barking.
‘I cannot find the gardener anywhere,’ said the stranger; ‘I think we had better remount.’
‘Ah, me! what a pity!’ exclaimed the lady.
‘Let me be your guide,’ said Ferdinand, advancing.
The lady rather started; the gentleman, not at all discomposed, courteously welcomed Ferdinand, and said, ‘I feel that we are intruders, sir. But we were informed by the woman at the lodge that the family were not here at present, and that we should find her husband in the grounds.’
‘The family are not at Armine,’ replied Ferdinand; ‘I am sure, however, Sir Ratcliffe would be most happy for you to walk about the grounds as much as you please; and as I am well acquainted with them, I should feel delighted to be your guide.’
‘You are really too courteous, sir,’ replied the gentleman; and his beautiful companion rewarded Ferdinand with a smile like a sunbeam, that played about her countenance till it finally settled into two exquisite dimples, and revealed to him teeth that, for a moment, he believed to be even the most beautiful feature of that surpassing visage.
They sauntered along, every step developing new beauties in their progress and eliciting from his companions renewed expressions of rapture. The dim bowers, the shining glades, the tall rare trees, the luxuriant shrubs, the silent and sequestered lake, in turn enchanted them, until at length, Ferdinand, who had led them with experienced taste through all the most striking points of the pleasaunce, brought them before the walls of the castle.
‘And here is Armine Castle,’ he said; ‘it is little better than a shell, and yet contains something which you might like to see.’
‘Oh! by all means,’ exclaimed the lady.
‘But we are spoiling your sport,’ suggested the gentleman.
‘I can always kill partridges,’ replied Ferdinand, laying down his gun; ‘but I cannot always find agreeable companions.’
So saying, he opened the massy portal of the castle and they entered the hall. It was a lofty chamber, of dimensions large enough to feast a thousand vassals, with a dais and a rich Gothic screen, and a gallery for the musicians. The walls were hung with arms and armour admirably arranged; but the parti-coloured marble floor was so covered with piled-up cases of furniture that the general effect of the scene, was not only greatly marred, but it was even difficult in some parts to trace a path.
‘Here,’ said Ferdinand, jumping upon a huge case and running to the wall, ‘here is the standard of Ralph d’Ermyn, who came over with the Conqueror, and founded the family in England. Here is the sword of William d’Armyn, who signed Magna Carta. Here is the complete coat armour of the second Ralph, who died before Ascalon. This case contains a diamond-hilted sword, given by the Empress to the great Sir Ferdinand for defeating the Turks; and here is a Mameluke sabre, given to the same Sir Ferdinand by the Sultan for defeating the Empress.’
‘Oh! I have heard so much of that great Sir Ferdinand,’ said the lady. ‘He must have been the most interesting character.’
‘He was a marvellous being,’ answered her guide, with a peculiar look, ‘and yet I know not whether his descendants have not cause to rue his genius.’
‘Oh! never, never!’ said the lady; ‘what is wealth to genius? How much prouder, were I an Armine, should I be of such an ancestor than of a thousand others, even if they had left me this castle as complete as he wished it to be!’
‘Well, as to that,’ replied Ferdinand, ‘I believe I am somewhat of your opinion; though I fear he lived in too late an age for such order of minds. It would have been better for him perhaps if he had succeeded in becoming King of Poland.’
‘I hope there is a portrait of him,’ said the lady; ‘there is nothing I long so much to see.’
‘I rather think there is a portrait,’ replied her companion, somewhat drily. ‘We will try to find it out. Do not you think I make not a bad cicerone?’
‘Indeed, most excellent,’ replied the lady.
‘I perceive you are a master of your subject,’ replied the gentleman, thus affording Ferdinand an easy opportunity of telling them who he was. The hint, however, was not accepted.
‘And now,’ said Ferdinand, ‘we will ascend the staircase.’
Accordingly they mounted a large spiral staircase which filled the space of a round tower, and was lighted from the top by a lantern of rich, coloured glass on which were emblazoned the arms of the family. Then they entered the vestibule, an apartment spacious enough for a salon; which, however, was not fitted up in the Gothic style, but of which the painted ceiling, the gilded panels, and inlaid floor were more suitable to a French palace. The brilliant doors of this vestibule opened in many directions upon long suites of state chambers, which indeed merited the description of shells. They were nothing more; of many the flooring was not even laid down; the walls of all were rough and plastered.
‘Ah!’ said the lady, ‘what a pity it is not finished!’
‘It is indeed desolate,’ observed Ferdinand; ‘but here perhaps is something more to your taste.’ So saying, he opened another door and ushered them into the picture gallery.
It was a superb chamber nearly two hundred feet in length, and contained only portraits of the family, or pictures of their achievements. It was of a pale green colour, lighted from the top; and the floor, of oak and ebony, was partially covered with a single Persian carpet, of fanciful pattern and brilliant dye, a present from the Sultan to the great Sir Ferdinand. The earlier annals of the family were illustrated by a series of paintings by modern masters, representing the battle of Hastings, the siege of Ascalon, the meeting at Runnymede, the various invasions of France, and some of the most striking incidents in the Wars of the Roses, in all of which a valiant Armyn prominently figured. At length they stood before the first contemporary portrait of the Armyn family, one of Cardinal Stephen Armyn, by an Italian master. This great dignitary was legate of the Pope in the time of the seventh Henry, and in his scarlet robes and ivory chair looked a papal Jupiter, not unworthy himself of wielding the thunder of the Vatican. From him the series of family portraits was unbroken; and it was very interesting to trace, in this excellently arranged collection, the history of national costume. Holbein had commemorated the Lords Tewkesbury, rich in velvet, and golden chains, and jewels. The statesmen of Elizabeth and James, and their beautiful and gorgeous dames, followed; and then came many a gallant cavalier, by Vandyke. One admirable picture contained Lord Armine and his brave brothers, seated together in a tent round a drum, on which his lordship was apparently planning the operations of the campaign. Then followed a long series of unmemorable baronets, and their more interesting wives and daughters, touched by the pencil of Kneller, of Lely, or of Hudson; squires in wigs and scarlet jackets, and powdered dames in hoops and farthingales.
They stood before the crowning effort of the gallery, the masterpiece of Reynolds. It represented a full-length portrait of a young man, apparently just past his minority. The side of the figure was alone exhibited, and the face glanced at the spectator over the shoulder, in a favourite attitude of Vandyke. It was a countenance of ideal beauty. A profusion of dark brown curls was dashed aside from a lofty forehead of dazzling brilliancy. The face was perfectly oval; the nose, though small was high and aquiline, and exhibited a remarkable dilation of the nostril; the curling lip was shaded by a very delicate mustache; and the general expression, indeed, of the mouth and of the large grey eyes would have been perhaps arrogant and imperious, had not the extraordinary beauty of the whole countenance rendered it fascinating.
It was indeed a picture to gaze upon and to return to; one of those visages which, after having once beheld, haunt us at all hours and flit across our mind’s eye unexpected and unbidden. So great was the effect that it produced upon the present visitors to the gallery, that they stood before it for some minutes in silence; the scrutinising glance of the gentleman was more than once diverted from the portrait to the countenance of his conductor, and the silence was eventually broken by our hero.
‘And what think you,’ he enquired, ‘of the famous Sir Ferdinand?’
The lady started, looked at him, withdrew her glance, and appeared somewhat confused. Her companion replied, ‘I think, sir, I cannot err in believing that I am indebted for much courtesy to his descendant?’
‘I believe,’ said Ferdinand, ‘that I should not have much trouble in proving my pedigree. I am generally considered an ugly likeness of my grandfather.’
The gentleman smiled, and then said, ‘I hardly know whether I can style myself your neighbour, for I live nearly ten miles distant. It would, however, afford me sincere gratification to see you at Ducie Bower. I cannot welcome you in a castle. My name is Temple,’ he continued, offering his card to Ferdinand. ‘I need not now introduce you to my daughter. I was not unaware that Sir Ratcliffe Armine had a son, but I had understood he was abroad.’
‘I have returned to England within these two months,’ replied Ferdinand, ‘and to Armine within these two days. I deem it fortunate that my return has afforded me an opportunity of welcoming you and Miss Temple. But you must not talk of our castle, for that you know is our folly. Pray come now and visit our older and humbler dwelling, and take some refreshment after your long ride.’
This offer was declined, but with great courtesy. They quitted the castle, and Mr. Temple was about to direct his steps towards the lodge, where he had left his own and his daughter’s horses; but Ferdinand persuaded them to return through the park, which he proved to them very satisfactorily must be the nearest way. He even asked permission to accompany them; and while his groom was saddling his horse he led them to the old Place and the flower-garden.
‘You must be very fatigued, Miss Temple. I wish that I could persuade you to enter and rest yourself.’
‘Indeed, no: I love flowers too much to leave them.’
‘Here is one that has the recommendation of novelty as well as beauty,’ said Ferdinand, plucking a strange rose, and presenting it to her. ‘I sent it to my mother from Barbary.’
‘You live amidst beauty.’
‘I think that I never remember Armine looking so well as today.’
‘A sylvan scene requires sunshine,’ replied Miss Temple. ‘We have been most fortunate in our visit.’
‘It is something brighter than the sunshine that makes it so fair,’ replied Ferdinand; but at this moment the horses appeared.
YOU are well mounted,’ said Mr. Temple to Ferdinand.
”Tis a barb. I brought it over with me.’
”Tis a beautiful creature,’ said Miss Temple.
‘Hear that, Selim,’ said Ferdinand; ‘prick up thine ears, my steed. I perceive that you are an accomplished horsewoman, Miss Temple. You know our country, I dare say, well?’
‘I wish to know it better. This is only the second summer that we have passed at Ducie.’
‘By-the-bye, I suppose you know my landlord, Captain Armine?’ said Mr. Temple.
‘No,’ said Ferdinand; ‘I do not know a single person in the county. I have myself scarcely been at Armine for these five years, and my father and mother do not visit anyone.’
‘What a beautiful oak!’ exclaimed Miss Temple, desirous of turning the conversation.
‘It has the reputation of being planted by Sir Francis Walsingham,’ said Ferdinand. ‘An ancestor of mine married his daughter. He was the father of Sir Walsingham, the portrait in the gallery with the white stick. You remember it?’
‘Perfectly: that beautiful portrait! It must be, at all events, a very old tree.’
‘There are few things more pleasing to me than an ancient place,’ said Mr. Temple.
‘Doubly pleasing when in the possession of an ancient family,’ added his daughter.
‘I fear such feelings are fast wearing away,’ said Ferdinand.
‘There will be a reaction,’ said Mr. Temple.
‘They cannot destroy the poetry of time,’ said the lady.
‘I hope I have no very inveterate prejudices,’ said Ferdinand; ‘but I should be sorry to see Armine in any other hands than our own, I confess.’
‘I never would enter the park again,’ said Miss Temple.
‘So far as worldly considerations are concerned,’ continued Ferdinand, ‘it would perhaps be much better for us if we were to part with it.’
‘It must, indeed, be a costly place to keep up,’ said Mr. Temple.
‘Why, as for that,’ said Ferdinand, ‘we let the kine rove and the sheep browse where our fathers hunted the stag and flew their falcons. I think if they were to rise from their graves they would be ashamed of us.’
‘Nay!’ said Miss Temple, ‘I think yonder cattle are very picturesque. But the truth is, anything would look well in such a park as this. There is such a variety of prospect.’
The park of Armine indeed differed materially from those vamped-up sheep-walks and ambitious paddocks which are now honoured with the title. It was, in truth, the old chase, and little shorn of its original proportions. It was many miles in circumference, abounding in hill and dale, and offering much variety of appearance. Sometimes it was studded with ancient timber, single trees of extraordinary growth, and rich clumps that seemed coeval with the foundation of the family. Tracts of wild champaign succeeded these, covered with gorse and fern. Then came stately avenues of sycamore or Spanish chestnut, fragments of stately woods, that in old days doubtless reached the vicinity of the mansion house; and these were in turn succeeded by modern coverts.
At length our party reached the gate whence Ferdinand had calculated that they should quit the park. He would willingly have accompanied them. He bade them farewell with regret, which was softened by the hope expressed by all of a speedy meeting.
‘I wish, Captain Armine,’ said Miss Temple, ‘we had your turf to canter home upon.’
‘By-the-bye, Captain Armine,’ said Mr. Temple, ‘ceremony should scarcely subsist between country neighbours, and certainly we have given you no cause to complain of our reserve. As you are alone at Armine, perhaps you would come over and dine with us tomorrow. If you can manage to come early, we will see whether we may not contrive to kill a bird together; and pray remember we can give you a bed, which I think, all things considered, it would be but wise to accept.’
‘I accept everything,’ said Ferdinand, smiling; ‘all your offers. Good morning, my dearest sir; good morning, Miss Temple.’
‘Miss Temple, indeed!’ exclaimed Ferdinand, when he had watched them out of sight. ‘Exquisite, enchanting, adored being! Without thee what is existence? How dull, how blank does everything even now seem! It is as if the sun had just set! Oh! that form! that radiant countenance! that musical and thrilling voice! Those tones still vibrate on my ear, or I should deem it all a vision! Will tomorrow ever come? Oh! that I could express to you my love, my overwhelming, my absorbing, my burning passion! Beautiful Henrietta! Thou hast a name, methinks, I ever loved. Where am I? what do I say? what wild, what maddening words are these? Am I not Ferdinand Armine, the betrothed, the victim? Even now, methinks, I hear the chariot-wheels of my bride. God! if she be there; if she indeed be at Armine on my return: I’ll not see her; I’ll not speak to them; I’ll fly. I’ll cast to the winds all ties and duties; I will not be dragged to the altar, a miserable sacrifice, to redeem, by my forfeited felicity, the worldly fortunes of my race. O Armine, Armine! she would not enter thy walls again if other blood but mine swayed thy fair demesne: and I, shall I give thee another mistress, Armine? It would indeed be treason! Without her I cannot live. Without her form bounds over this turf and glances in these arbours I never wish to view them. All the inducements to make the wretched sacrifice once meditated then vanish; for Armine, without her, is a desert, a tomb, a hell. I am free, then. Excellent logician! But this woman: I am bound to her. Bound? The word makes me tremble. I shiver: I hear the clank of my fetters. Am I indeed bound? Ay! in honour. Honour and love! A contest! Pah! The Idol must yield to the Divinity!’
With these wild words and wilder thoughts bursting from his lips and dashing through his mind; his course as irregular and as reckless as his fancies; now fiercely galloping, now pulling up into a sudden halt, Ferdinand at length arrived home; and his quick eye perceived in a moment that the dreaded arrival had not taken place. Glastonbury was in the flower-garden on one knee before a vase, over which he was training a creeper. He looked up as he heard the approach of Ferdinand. His presence and benignant smile in some degree stilled the fierce emotions of his pupil. Ferdinand felt that the system of dissimulation must now commence; besides, he was always careful to be most kind to Glastonbury. He would not allow that any attack of spleen, or even illness, could ever justify a careless look or expression to that dear friend.
‘I hope, my dear father,’ said Ferdinand, ‘I am punctual to our hour?’
‘The sun-dial tells me,’ said Glastonbury, ‘that you have arrived to the moment; and I rather think that yonder approaches a summons to our repast. I hope you have passed your morning agreeably?’
‘If all days would pass as sweet, my father, I should indeed be blessed.’
‘I, too, have had a fine morning of it. You must come tomorrow and see my grand emblazonry of the Ratcliffe and Armine coats; I mean it for the gallery.’ With these words they entered the Place.
‘You do not eat, my child,’ said Glastonbury to his companion.
‘I have taken too long a ride, perhaps,’ said Ferdinand: who indeed was much too excited to have an appetite, and so abstracted that anyone but Glastonbury would have long before detected his absence.
‘I have changed my hour today,’ continued Glastonbury, ‘for the pleasure of dining with you, and I think tomorrow you had better change your hour and dine with me.’
‘By-the-bye, my dear father, you, who know everything, do you happen to know a gentleman of the name of Temple in this neighbourhood?’
‘I think I heard that Mr. Ducie had let the Bower to a gentleman of that name.’
‘Do you know who he is?’
‘I never asked; for I feel no interest except about proprietors, because they enter into my County History. But I think I once heard that this Mr. Temple had been our minister at some foreign court. You give me a fine dinner and eat nothing yourself. This pigeon is savoury.’
‘I will trouble you. I think there once was a Henrietta Armine, my father?’
‘The beautiful creature!’ said Glastonbury, laying down his knife and fork; ‘she died young. She was a daughter of Lord Armine; and the Queen, Henrietta Maria, was her godmother. It grieves me much that we have no portrait of her. She was very fair, her eyes of a sweet light blue.’
‘Oh! no; dark, my father; dark and deep as the violet.’
‘My child, the letter-writer, who mentions her death, describes them as light blue. I know of no other record of her beauty.’
‘I wish they had been dark,’ said Ferdinand recovering himself; ‘however, I am glad there was a Henrietta Armine; ’tis a beautiful name.’
‘I think that Armine makes any name sound well,’ said Glastonbury. ‘No more wine indeed, my child. Nay! if I must,’ continued he, with a most benevolent smile, ‘I will drink to the health of Miss Grandison!’
‘Ah!’ exclaimed Ferdinand.
‘My child, what is the matter?’ inquired Glastonbury.
‘A gnat, a fly, a wasp! something stung me,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Let me fetch my oil of lilies,’ said Glastonbury; ”tis a specific’
‘Oh, no! ’tis nothing, only a fly: sharp at the moment; nothing more.’
The dinner was over; they retired to the library. Ferdinand walked about the room restless and moody; at length he bethought himself of the piano, and, affecting an anxiety to hear some old favourite compositions of Glastonbury, he contrived to occupy his companion. In time, however, his old tutor invited him to take his violoncello and join him in a concerto. Ferdinand of course complied with his invitation, but the result was not satisfactory. After a series of blunders, which were the natural result of his thoughts being occupied on other subjects, he was obliged to plead a headache, and was glad when he could escape to his chamber.
Rest, however, no longer awaited him on his old pillow. It was at first delightful to escape from the restraint upon his reverie which he had lately experienced. He leant for an hour over his empty fireplace in mute abstraction. The cold, however, in time drove him to bed, but he could not sleep; his eyes indeed were closed, but the vision of Henrietta Temple was not less apparent to him. He recalled every feature of her countenance, every trait of her conduct, every word that she had expressed. The whole series of her observations, from the moment he had first seen her until the moment they had parted, were accurately repeated, her very tones considered, and her very attitudes pondered over. Many were the hours that he heard strike; he grew restless and feverish. Sleep would not be commanded; he jumped out of bed, he opened the casement, he beheld in the moonlight the Barbary rose-tree of which he had presented her a flower. This consoling spectacle assured him that he had not been, as he had almost imagined, the victim of a dream. He knelt down and invoked all heavenly and earthly blessings on Henrietta Temple and his love. The night air and the earnest invocation together cooled his brain, and Nature soon delivered him, exhausted, to repose.
YES! it is the morning. Is it possible? Shall he again behold her? That form of surpassing beauty: that bright, that dazzling countenance; again are they to bless his entranced vision? Shall he speak to her again? That musical and thrilling voice, shall it again sound and echo in his enraptured ear?
Ferdinand had reached Armine so many days before his calculated arrival, that he did not expect his family and the Grandisons to arrive for at least a week. What a respite did he not now feel this delay! if ever he could venture to think of the subject at all. He drove it indeed from his thoughts; the fascinating present completely engrossed his existence. He waited until the post arrived; it brought no letters, letters now so dreaded! He jumped upon his horse and galloped towards Ducie.
Mr. Temple was the younger son of a younger branch of a noble family. Inheriting no patrimony, he had been educated for the diplomatic service, and the influence of his family had early obtained him distinguished appointments. He was envoy to a German court when a change of ministry occasioned his recall, and he retired, after a long career of able and assiduous service, comforted by a pension and glorified by a privy-councillorship. He was an acute and accomplished man, practised in the world, with great self-control, yet devoted to his daughter, the only offspring of a wife whom he had lost early and loved much.
Deprived at a tender age of that parent of whom she would have become peculiarly the charge, Henrietta Temple found in the devotion of her father all that consolation of which her forlorn state was susceptible. She was not delivered over to the custody of a governess, or to the even less sympathetic supervision of relations. Mr. Temple never permitted his daughter to be separated from him; he cherished her life, and he directed her education. Resident in a city which arrogates to itself, not without justice, the title of the German Athens, his pupil availed herself of all those advantages which were offered to her by the instruction of the most skilful professors. Few persons were more accomplished than Henrietta Temple even at an early age; but her rare accomplishments were not her most remarkable characteristics. Nature, which had accorded to her that extraordinary beauty we have attempted to describe, had endowed her with great talents and a soul of sublime temper.
It was often remarked of Henrietta Temple (and the circumstance may doubtless be in some degree accounted for by the little interference and influence of women in her education) that she never was a girl. She expanded at once from a charming child into a magnificent woman. She had entered life very early, and had presided at her father’s table for a year before his recall from his mission. Few women in so short a period had received so much homage; but she listened to compliments with a careless though courteous ear, and received more ardent aspirations with a smile. The men, who were puzzled, voted her cold and heartless; but men should remember that fineness of taste, as well as apathy of temperament, may account for an unsuccessful suit. Assuredly Henrietta Temple was not deficient in feeling; she entertained for her father sentiments almost of idolatry, and those more intimate or dependent acquaintances best qualified to form an opinion of her character spoke of her always as a soul of infinite tenderness.
Notwithstanding their mutual devotion to each other, there were not many points of resemblance between the characters of Mr. Temple and his daughter; she was remarkable for a frankness of demeanour and a simplicity yet strength of thought which contrasted with the artificial manners and the conventional opinions and conversation of her sire. A mind at once thoughtful and energetic permitted Henrietta Temple to form her own judgments; and an artless candour, which her father never could eradicate from her habit, generally impelled her to express them. It was indeed impossible even for him long to find fault with these ebullitions, however the diplomatist might deplore them; for Nature had so imbued the existence of this being with that indefinable charm which we call grace, that it was not in your power to behold her a moment without being enchanted. A glance, a movement, a sunny smile, a word of thrilling music, and all that was left to you was to adore. There was indeed in Henrietta Temple that rare and extraordinary combination of intellectual strength and physical softness which marks out the woman capable of exercising an irresistible influence over mankind. In the good old days she might have occasioned a siege of Troy or a battle of Actium. She was one of those women who make nations mad, and for whom a man of genius would willingly peril the empire of the world.
So at least deemed Ferdinand Armine, as he cantered through the park, talking to himself, apostrophising the woods, and shouting his passion to the winds. It was scarcely noon when he reached Ducie Bower. This was a Palladian pavilion, situated in the midst of beautiful gardens, and surrounded by green hills. The sun shone brightly, the sky was without a cloud; it appeared to him that he had never beheld a more graceful scene. It was a temple worthy of the divinity it enshrined. A façade of four Ionic columns fronted an octagon hall, adorned with statues, which led into a salon of considerable size and fine proportion. Ferdinand thought that he had never in his life entered so brilliant a chamber. The lofty walls were covered with an Indian paper of vivid fancy, and adorned with several pictures which his practised eye assured him were of great merit. The room, without being inconveniently crowded, was amply stored with furniture, every article of which bespoke a refined and luxurious taste: easy chairs of all descriptions, most inviting couches, cabinets of choice inlay, and grotesque tables covered with articles of vertu; all those charming infinite nothings, which a person of taste might some time back have easily collected during a long residence on the continent. A large lamp of Dresden china was suspended from the painted and gilded ceiling. The three tall windows opened on the gardens, and admitted a perfume so rich and various, that Ferdinand could easily believe the fair mistress, as she told him, was indeed a lover of flowers. A light bridge in the distant wood, that bounded the furthest lawn, indicated that a stream was at hand. What with the beauty of the chamber, the richness of the exterior scene, and the bright sun that painted every object with its magical colouring, and made everything appear even more fair and brilliant, Ferdinand stood for some moments quite entranced. A door opened, and Mr. Temple came forward and welcomed him with cordiality.
After they had passed a half-hour in looking at the pictures and in conversation to which they gave rise, Mr. Temple, proposing an adjournment to luncheon, conducted Ferdinand into a dining-room, of which the suitable decorations wonderfully pleased his taste. A subdued tint pervaded every part of the chamber: the ceiling was painted in grey tinted frescoes of a classical and festive character, and the side table, which stood in a recess supported by four magnificent columns, was adorned with choice Etruscan vases. The air of repose and stillness which distinguished this apartment was heightened by the vast conservatory into which it led, blazing with light and beauty, groups of exotic trees, plants of radiant tint, the sound of a fountain, and gorgeous forms of tropic birds.
‘How beautiful!’ exclaimed Ferdinand.
”Tis pretty,’ said Mr. Temple, carving a pasty, ‘but we are very humble people, and cannot vie with the lords of Gothic castles.’
‘It appears to me,’ said Ferdinand, ‘that Ducie Bower is the most exquisite place I ever beheld.’
‘If you had seen it two years ago you would have thought differently,’ said Mr. Temple; ‘I assure you I dreaded becoming its tenant. Henrietta is entitled to all the praise, as she took upon herself the whole responsibility. There is not on the banks of the Brenta a more dingy and desolate villa than Ducie appeared when we first came; and as for the gardens, they were a perfect wilderness. She made everything. It was one vast, desolate, and neglected lawn, used as a sheep-walk when we arrived. As for the ceilings, I was almost tempted to whitewash them, and yet you see they have cleaned wonderfully; and, after all, it only required a little taste and labour. I have not laid out much money here. I built the conservatory, to be sure. Henrietta could not live without a conservatory.’
‘Miss Temple is quite right,’ pronounced Ferdinand. ‘It is impossible to live without a conservatory.’
At this moment the heroine of their conversation entered the room, and Ferdinand turned pale. She extended to him her hand with a graceful smile; as he touched it, he trembled from head to foot.
‘You were not fatigued, I hope, by your ride, Miss Temple?’ at length he contrived to say.
‘Not in the least! I am an experienced horsewoman. Papa and I take very long rides together.’
As for eating, with Henrietta Temple in the room, Ferdinand found that quite impossible. The moment she appeared, his appetite vanished. Anxious to speak, yet deprived of his accustomed fluency, he began to praise Ducie.
‘You must see it,’ said Miss Temple: ‘shall we walk round the grounds?’
‘My dear Henrietta,’ said her father, ‘I dare say Captain Armine is at this moment sufficiently tired; besides, when he moves, he will like perhaps to take his gun; you forget he is a sportsman, and that he cannot waste his morning in talking to ladies and picking flowers.’
‘Indeed, sir, I assure you,’ said Ferdinand, ‘there is nothing I like so much as talking to ladies and picking flowers; that is to say, when the ladies have as fine taste as Miss Temple, and the flowers are as beautiful as those at Ducie.’
‘Well, you shall see my conservatory, Captain Armine,’ said Miss Temple, ‘and you shall go and kill partridges afterwards.’ So saying, she entered the conservatory, and Ferdinand followed her, leaving Mr. Temple to his pasty.
‘These orange groves remind me of Palmero,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Ah!’ said Miss Temple, ‘I have never been in the sweet south.’
‘You seem to me a person born to live in a Sicilian palace,’ said Ferdinand, ‘to wander in perfumed groves, and to glance in a moonlight warmer than this sun.’
‘I see you pay compliments,’ said Miss Temple, looking at him archly, and meeting a glance serious and soft.
‘Believe me, not to you.’
‘What do you think of this flower?’ said Miss Temple, turning away rather quickly and pointing to a strange plant. ‘It is the most singular thing in the world: but if it be tended by any other person than myself it withers. Is it not droll?’
‘I think not,’ said Ferdinand.
‘I excuse you for your incredulity; no one does believe it; no one can; and yet it is quite true. Our gardener gave it up in despair. I wonder what it can be.’
‘I think it must be some enchanted prince,’ said Ferdinand.
‘If I thought so, how I should long for a wand to emancipate him!’ said Miss Temple.
‘I would break your wand, if you had one,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Why?’ said Miss Temple.
‘Oh! I don’t know,’ said Ferdinand; ‘I suppose because I believe you are sufficiently enchanting without one.’
‘I am bound to consider that most excellent logic,’ said Miss Temple.
‘Do you admire my fountain and my birds?’ she continued, after a short pause. ‘After Armine, Ducie appears a little tawdry toy.’
‘Ducie is Paradise,’ said Ferdinand. ‘I should like to pass my life in this conservatory.’
‘As an enchanted prince, I suppose?’ said Miss Temple.
‘Exactly,’ said Captain Armine; ‘I would willingly this instant become a flower, if I were sure that Miss Temple would cherish my existence.’
‘Cut off your tendrils and drown you with a watering-pot,’ said Miss Temple; ‘you really are very Sicilian in your conversation, Captain Armine.’
‘Come,’ said Mr. Temple, who now joined them, ‘if you really should like to take a stroll round the grounds, I will order the keeper to meet us at the cottage.’
‘A very good proposition,’ said Miss Temple.
‘But you must get a bonnet, Henrietta; I must forbid your going out uncovered.’
‘No, papa, this will do,’ said Miss Temple, taking a handkerchief, twisting it round her head, and tying it under her chin.
‘You look like an old woman, Henrietta,’ said her father, smiling.
‘I shall not say what you look like, Miss Temple,’ said Captain Armine, with a glance of admiration, ‘lest you should think that I was this time even talking Sicilian.’
‘I reward you for your forbearance with a rose,’ said Miss Temple, plucking a flower. ‘It is a return for your beautiful present of yesterday.’
Ferdinand pressed the gift to his lips.
They went forth; they stepped into a Paradise, where the sweetest flowers seemed grouped in every combination of the choicest forms; baskets, and vases, and beds of infinite fancy. A thousand bees and butterflies filled the air with their glancing shapes and cheerful music, and the birds from the neighbouring groves joined in the chorus of melody. The wood walks through which they now rambled admitted at intervals glimpses of the ornate landscape, and occasionally the view extended beyond the enclosed limits, and exhibited the clustering and embowered roofs of the neighbouring village, or some woody hill studded with a farmhouse, or a distant spire. As for Ferdinand, he strolled along, full of beautiful thoughts and thrilling fancies, in a dreamy state which had banished all recollection or consciousness but of the present. He was happy; positively, perfectly, supremely happy. He was happy for the first time in his life, He had no conception that life could afford such bliss as now filled his being. What a chain of miserable, tame, factitious sensations seemed the whole course of his past existence. Even the joys of yesterday were nothing to these; Armine was associated with too much of the commonplace and the gloomy to realise the ideal in which he now revelled. But now all circumstances contributed to enchant him. The novelty, the beauty of the scene, harmoniously blended with his passion. The sun seemed to him a more brilliant sun than the orb that illumined Armine; the sky more clear, more pure, more odorous. There seemed a magic sympathy in the trees, and every flower reminded him of his mistress. And then he looked around and beheld her. Was he positively awake? Was he in England? Was he in the same globe in which he had hitherto moved and acted? What was this entrancing form that moved before him? Was it indeed a woman?
O dea certè!
That voice, too, now wilder than the wildest bird, now low and hushed, yet always sweet; where was he, what did he listen to, what did he behold, what did he feel? The presence of her father alone restrained him from falling on his knees and expressing to her his adoration.
At length our friends arrived at a picturesque and ivy-grown cottage, where the keeper, with their guns and dogs, awaited Mr. Temple and his guest. Ferdinand, although a keen sportsman, beheld the spectacle with dismay. He execrated, at the same time, the existence of partridges and the invention of gunpowder. To resist his fate, however, was impossible; he took his gun and turned to bid his hostess adieu.
‘I do not like to quit Paradise at all,’ he said in a low voice: ‘must I go?’
‘Oh! certainly,’ said Miss Temple. ‘It will do you a great deal of good.’
Never did anyone at first shoot more wildly. In time, however, Ferdinand sufficiently rallied to recover his reputation with the keeper, who, from his first observation, began to wink his eye to his son, an attendant bush-beater, and occasionally even thrust his tongue inside his cheek, a significant gesture perfectly understood by the imp. ‘For the life of me, Sam,’ he afterwards profoundly observed, ‘I couldn’t make out this here Captain by no manner of means whatsomever. At first I thought as how he was going to put the muzzle to his shoulder. Hang me if ever I see sich a gentleman. He missed everything; and at last if he didn’t hit the longest flying shots without taking aim. Hang me if ever I see sich a gentleman. He hit everything. That ere Captain puzzled me, surely.’
The party at dinner was increased by a neighbouring squire and his wife, and the rector of the parish. Ferdinand was placed at the right hand of Miss Temple. The more he beheld her the more beautiful she seemed. He detected every moment some charm before unobserved. It seemed to him that he never was in such agreeable society, though, sooth to say, the conversation was not of a very brilliant character. Mr. Temple recounted the sport of the morning to the squire, whose ears kindled at a congenial subject, and every preserve in the county was then discussed, with some episodes on poaching. The rector, an old gentleman, who had dined in old days at Armine Place, reminded Ferdinand of the agreeable circumstance, sanguine perhaps that the invitation might lead to a renewal of his acquaintance with that hospitable board. He was painfully profuse in his description of the public days of the famous Sir Ferdinand. From the service of plate to the thirty servants in livery, nothing was omitted.
‘Our friend deals in Arabian tales,’ whispered Ferdinand to Miss Temple; ‘you can be a witness that we live quietly enough now.’
‘I shall certainly never forget my visit to Armine,’ replied Miss Temple; ‘it was one of the agreeable days of life.’
‘And that is saying a great deal, for I think your life must have abounded in agreeable days.’
‘I cannot indeed lay any claim to that misery which makes many people interesting,’ said Miss Temple; ‘I am a very commonplace person, for I have been always happy.’
When the ladies withdrew there appeared but little inclination on the part of the squire and the rector to follow their example; and Captain Armine, therefore, soon left Mr. Temple to his fate, and escaped to the drawing-room. He glided to a seat on an ottoman, by the side of his hostess, and listened in silence to the conversation. What a conversation! At any other time, under any other circumstances, Ferdinand would have been teased and wearied with its commonplace current: all the dull detail of county tattle, in which the squire’s lady was a proficient, and with which Miss Temple was too highly bred not to appear to sympathise; and yet the conversation, to Ferdinand, appeared quite charming. Every accent of Henrietta’s sounded like wit; and when she bent her head in assent to her companion’s obvious deductions, there was about each movement a grace so ineffable, that Ferdinand could have sat in silence and listened, entranced, for ever: and occasionally, too, she turned to Captain Armine, and appealed on some point to his knowledge or his taste. It seemed to him that he had never listened to sounds so sweetly thrilling as her voice. It was a birdlike burst of music, that well became the sparkling sunshine of her violet eyes.
His late companions entered. Ferdinand rose from his seat; the windows of the salon were open; he stepped forth into the garden. He felt the necessity of being a moment alone. He proceeded a few paces beyond the ken of man, and then leaning on a statue, and burying his face in his arm, he gave way to irresistible emotion. What wild thoughts dashed through his impetuous soul at that instant, it is difficult to conjecture. Perhaps it was passion that inspired that convulsive reverie; perchance it might have been remorse. Did he abandon himself to those novel sentiments which in a few brief hours had changed all his aspirations and coloured his whole existence; or was he tortured by that dark and perplexing future, from which his imagination in vain struggled to extricate him?
He was roused from his reverie, brief but tumultuous, by the note of music, and then by the sound of a human voice. The stag detecting the huntsman’s horn could not have started with more wild emotion. But one fair organ could send forth that voice. He approached, he listened; the voice of Henrietta Temple floated to him on the air, breathing with a thousand odours. In a moment he was at her side, the squire’s lady was standing by her; the gentlemen, for a moment arrested from a political discussion, formed a group in a distant part of the room, the rector occasionally venturing in a practised whisper to enforce a disturbed argument. Ferdinand glided in unobserved by the fair performer. Miss Temple not only possessed a voice of rare tone and compass, but this delightful gift of nature had been cultivated with refined art. Ferdinand, himself a musician, and passionately devoted to vocal melody, listened with unexaggerated rapture.
‘Oh! beautiful!’ exclaimed he, as the songstress ceased.
‘Captain Armine!’ cried Miss Temple, looking round with a wild, bewitching smile. ‘I thought you were meditating in the twilight.’
‘Your voice summoned me.’
‘You care for music?’
‘For little else.’
Ferdinand Armine was not unworthy of singing with Henrietta Temple. His mother had been his able instructress in the art even in his childhood, and his frequent residence at Naples and other parts of the south had afforded him ample opportunities of perfecting a talent thus early cultivated. But to-night the love of something beyond his art inspired the voice of Ferdinand. Singing with Henrietta Temple, he poured forth to her in safety all the passion which raged in his soul. The squire’s lady looked confused; Henrietta herself grew pale; the politicians ceased even to whisper, and advanced from their corner to the instrument; and when the duet was terminated, Mr. Temple offered his sincere congratulations to his guest. Henrietta also turned with some words of commendation to Ferdinand; but the words were faint and confused, and finally requesting Captain Armine to favour them by singing alone, she rose and vacated her seat.
Ferdinand took up the guitar, and accompanied himself to a Neapolitan air. It was gay and festive, a Ritornella which might summon your mistress to dance in the moonlight. And then, amid many congratulations, he offered the guitar to Miss Temple.
‘No one will listen to a simple melody after anything so brilliant,’ said Miss Temple, as she touched a string, and, after a slight prelude, sang these words:—
Yes, weeping is madness,
Away with this tear,
Let no sign of sadness
Betray the wild anguish I fear.
When we meet him to-night,
Be mute then my heart!
And my smile be as bright,
As if we were never to part.
Girl! give me the mirror
That said I was fair;
Alas! fatal error,
This picture reveals my despair.
Smiles no longer can pass
O’er this faded brow,
And I shiver this glass,
Like his love and his fragile vow!
‘The music,’ said Ferdinand, full of enthusiasm, ‘is ———’
‘Henrietta’s,’ replied her father.
‘And the words?’
‘Were found in my canary’s cage,’ said Henrietta Temple, rising and putting an end to the conversation.
THE squire’s carriage was announced, and then came his lady’s shawl. How happy was Ferdinand when he recollected that he was to remain at Ducie. Remain at Ducie!
Remain under the same roof as Henrietta Temple. What bliss! what ravishing bliss! All his life, and his had not been a monotonous one; it seemed that all his life could not afford a situation so adventurous and so sweet as this. Now they have gone. The squire and his lady, and the worthy rector who recollected Armine so well; they have all departed, all the adieus are uttered; after this little and unavoidable bustle, silence reigns in the salon of Ducie. Ferdinand walked to the window. The moon was up; the air was sweet and hushed; the landscape clear, though soft. Oh! what would he not have given to have strolled in that garden with Henrietta Temple, to have poured forth his whole soul to her, to have told her how wondrous fair she was, how wildly bewitching, and how he loved her, how he sighed to bind his fate with hers, and live for ever in the brilliant atmosphere of her grace and beauty.
‘Good night, Captain Armine,’ said Henrietta Temple.
He turned hastily round, he blushed, he grew pale. There she stood, in one hand a light, the other extended to her father’s guest. He pressed her hand, he sighed, he looked confused; then suddenly letting go her hand, he walked quickly towards the door of the salon, which he opened that she might retire.
‘The happiest day of my life has ended,’ he muttered.
‘You are so easily content then, that I think you must always be happy.’
‘I fear I am not so easily content as you imagine.’
She has gone. Hours, many and long hours, must elapse before he sees her again, before he again listens to that music, watches that airy grace, and meets the bright flashing of that fascinating eye. What misery was there in this idea? How little had he seemed hitherto to prize the joy of being her companion. He cursed the hours which had been wasted away from her in the morning’s sport; he blamed himself that he had not even sooner quitted the dining-room, or that he had left the salon for a moment, to commune with his own thoughts in the garden. With difficulty he restrained himself from reopening the door, to listen for the distant sound of her footsteps, or catch, perhaps, along some corridor, the fading echo of her voice. But Ferdinand was not alone; Mr. Temple still remained. That gentleman raised his face from the newspaper as Captain Armine advanced to him; and, after some observations about the day’s sport, and a hope that he would repeat his trial of the manor tomorrow, proposed their retirement. Ferdinand of course assented, and in a moment he was ascending with his host the noble and Italian staircase: and he then was ushered from the vestibule into his room.
His previous visit to the chamber had been so hurried, that he had only made a general observation on its appearance. Little inclined to slumber, he now examined it more critically. In a recess was a French bed of simple furniture. On the walls, which were covered with a rustic paper, were suspended several drawings, representing views in the Saxon Switzerland. They were so bold and spirited that they arrested attention; but the quick eye of Ferdinand instantly detected the initials of the artist in the corner. They were letters that made his heart tremble, as he gazed with admiring fondness on her performances. Before a sofa, covered with a chintz of a corresponding pattern with the paper of the walls, was placed a small French table, on which were writing materials; and his toilet-table and his mantelpiece were profusely ornamented with rare flowers; on all sides were symptoms of female taste and feminine consideration.
Ferdinand carefully withdrew from his coat the flower that Henrietta had given him in the morning, and which he had worn the whole day. He kissed it, he kissed it more than once; he pressed its somewhat faded form to his lips with cautious delicacy; then tending it with the utmost care, he placed it in a vase of water, which holding in his hand, he threw himself into an easy chair, with his eyes fixed on the gift he most valued in the world.
An hour passed, and Ferdinand Armine remained fixed in the same position. But no one who beheld that beautiful and pensive countenance, and the dreamy softness of that large grey eye, could for a moment conceive that his thoughts were less sweet than the object on which they appeared to gaze. No distant recollections disturbed him now, no memory of the past, no fear of the future. The delicious present monopolised his existence. The ties of duty, the claims of domestic affection, the worldly considerations that by a cruel dispensation had seemed, as it were, to taint even his innocent and careless boyhood, even the urgent appeals of his critical and perilous situation; all, all were forgotten in one intense delirium of absorbing love.
Anon he rose from his seat, and paced his room for some minutes, with his eyes fixed on the ground. Then throwing off his clothes, and taking the flower from the vase, which he had previously placed on the table, he deposited it in his bosom. ‘Beautiful, beloved flower,’ exclaimed he; ‘thus, thus will I win and wear your mistress!’
RESTLESS are the dreams of the lover that is young. Ferdinand Armine started awake from the agony of a terrible slumber. He had been walking in a garden with Henrietta Temple, her hand was clasped in his, her eyes fixed on the ground, as he whispered delicious words. His face was flushed, his speech panting and low. Gently he wound his vacant arm round her graceful form; she looked up, her speaking eyes met his, and their trembling lips seemed about to cling into a ———
When lo! the splendour of the garden faded, and all seemed changed and dim; instead of the beautiful arched walks, in which a moment before they appeared to wander, it was beneath the vaulted roof of some temple that they now moved; instead of the bed of glowing flowers from which he was about to pluck an offering for her bosom, an altar rose, from the centre of which upsprang a quick and lurid tongue of fire. The dreamer gazed upon his companion, and her form was tinted with the dusky hue of the flame, and she held to her countenance a scarf, as if pressed by the unnatural heat. Great fear suddenly came over him. With haste, yet with tenderness, he himself withdrew the scarf from the face of his companion, and this movement revealed the visage of Miss Grandison.
Ferdinand Armine awoke and started up in his bed. Before him still appeared the unexpected figure. He jumped out of bed, he gazed upon the form with staring eyes and open mouth. She was there, assuredly she was there; it was Katherine, Katherine his betrothed, sad and reproachful. The figure faded before him; he advanced with outstretched hand; in his desperation he determined to clutch the escaping form: and he found in his grasp his dressing-gown, which he had thrown over the back of a chair.
‘A dream, and but a dream, after all,’ he muttered to himself; ‘and yet a strange one.’
His brow was heated; he opened the casement. It was still night; the moon had vanished, but the stars were still shining. He recalled with an effort the scene with which he had become acquainted yesterday for the first time. Before him, serene and still, rose the bowers of Ducie. And their mistress? That angelic form whose hand he had clasped in his dream, was not then merely a shadow. She breathed, she lived, and under the same roof. Henrietta Temple was at this moment under the same roof as himself: and what were her slumbers? Were they wild as his own, or sweet and innocent as herself? Did his form flit over her closed vision at this charmed hour, as hers had visited his? Had it been scared away by an apparition as awful? Bore anyone to her the same relation as Katherine Grandison to him? A fearful surmise, that had occurred to him now for the first time, and which it seemed could never again quit his brain. The stars faded away, the breath of morn was abroad, the chant of birds arose. Exhausted in body and in mind, Ferdinand Armine flung himself upon his bed, and soon was lost in slumbers undisturbed as the tomb.
FERDINAND’S servant, whom he had despatched the previous evening to Armine, returned early with his master’s letters; one from his ‘mother, and one from Miss Grandison.
They were all to arrive at the Place on the day after the morrow. Ferdinand opened these epistles with a trembling hand. The sight of Katherine’s, his Katherine’s, handwriting was almost as terrible as his dream. It recalled to him, with a dreadful reality, his actual situation, which he had driven from his thoughts. He had quitted his family, his family who were so devoted to him, and whom he so loved, happy, nay, triumphant, a pledged and rejoicing bridegroom. What had occurred during the last eight-and-forty hours seemed completely to have changed all his feelings, all his wishes, all his views, all his hopes! He had in that interval met a single human being, a woman, a girl, a young and innocent girl; he had looked upon that girl and listened to her voice, and his soul was changed as the earth by the sunrise. As lying in his bed he read these letters, and mused over their contents, and all the thoughts that they suggested, the strangeness of life, the mystery of human nature, were painfully impressed upon him. His melancholy father, his fond and confiding mother, the devoted Glastonbury, all the mortifying circumstances of his illustrious race, rose in painful succession before him. Nor could he forget his own wretched follies and that fatal visit to Bath, of which the consequences clanked upon his memory like degrading and disgraceful fetters. The burden of existence seemed intolerable. That domestic love which had so solaced his existence, recalled now only the most painful associations. In the wildness of his thoughts he wished himself alone in the world, to struggle with his fate and mould his fortunes. He felt himself a slave and a sacrifice. He cursed Armine, his ancient house, and his broken fortunes. He felt that death was preferable to life without Henrietta Temple. But even supposing that he could extricate himself from his rash engagement; even admitting that all worldly considerations might be thrown aside, and the pride of his father, and his mother’s love, and Glastonbury’s pure hopes, might all be outraged; what chance, what hope was there of obtaining his great object? What was he, what was he, Ferdinand Armine, free as the air from the claims of Miss Grandison, with all sense of duty rooted out of his once sensitive bosom, and existing only for the gratification of his own wild fancies? A beggar, worse than a beggar, without a home, without the possibility of a home to offer the lady of his passion; nay, not even secure that the harsh process of the law might not instantly claim its victim, and he himself be hurried from the altar to the gaol!
Moody and melancholy, he repaired to the salon; he beheld Henrietta Temple, and the cloud left his brow, and lightness came to his heart. Never had she looked so beautiful, so fresh and bright, so like a fair flower with the dew upon its leaves. Her voice penetrated his soul; her sunny smile warmed his breast. Her father greeted him too with kindness, and inquired after his slumbers, which he assured Mr. Temple had been satisfactory.
‘I find,’ continued Mr. Temple, ‘that the post has brought me some business today which, I fear, claims the morning to transact; but I hope you will not forget your promise. The keeper will be ready whenever you summon him.’
Ferdinand muttered something about trouble and intrusion, and the expected arrival of his family; but Miss Temple begged him to accept the offer, and refusal was impossible.
After breakfast Mr. Temple retired to his library, and Ferdinand found himself alone for the first time with Henrietta Temple.
She was copying a miniature of Charles the First. Ferdinand looked over her shoulder.
‘A melancholy countenance!’ he observed.
‘It is a favourite one of mine,’ she replied.
‘Yet you are always gay.’
‘I envy you, Miss Temple.’
‘What, are you melancholy?’
‘I have every cause.’
‘Indeed, I should have thought the reverse.’
‘I look upon myself as the most unfortunate of human beings,’ replied Ferdinand.
He spoke so seriously, in a tone of such deep and bitter feeling, that Miss Temple could not resist looking up at her companion. His countenance was gloomy.
‘You surprise me,’ said Miss Temple; ‘I think that few people ought to be unhappy, and I rather suspect fewer are than we imagine.’
‘All I wish is,’ replied he, ‘that the battle of Newbury had witnessed the extinction of our family as well as our peerage.’
‘A peerage, and such a peerage as yours, is a fine thing,’ said Henrietta Temple, ‘a very fine thing; but I would not grieve, if I were you, for that. I would sooner be an Armine without a coronet than many a brow I wot of with.’
‘You misconceived a silly phrase,’ rejoined Ferdinand. ‘I was not thinking of the loss of our coronet, though that is only part of the system. Our family, I am sure, are fated. Birth without honour, estates without fortune, life without happiness, that is our lot.’
‘As for the first,’ said Miss Temple, ‘the honourable are always honoured; money, in spite of what they say, I feel is not the greatest thing in the world; and as for misery, I confess I do not very readily believe in the misery of youth.’
‘May you never prove it!’ replied Ferdinand; ‘may you never be, as I am, the victim of family profligacy and family pride!’ So saying, he turned away, and, taking up a book, for a few minutes seemed wrapped in his reflections.
He suddenly resumed the conversation in a more cheerful tone. Holding a volume of Petrarch in his hand, he touched lightly, but with grace, on Italian poetry; then diverged into his travels, recounted an adventure with sprightliness, and replied to Miss Temple’s lively remarks with gaiety and readiness. The morning advanced; Miss Temple closed her portfolio and visited her flowers, inviting him to follow her. Her invitation was scarcely necessary, his movements were regulated by hers; he was as faithful to her as her shadow. From the conservatory they entered the garden; Ferdinand was as fond of gardens as Miss Temple. She praised the flower-garden of Armine. He gave her some account of its principal creator. The character of Glastonbury highly interested Miss Temple. Love is confidential; it has no fear of ridicule. Ferdinand entered with freedom and yet with grace into family details, from which, at another time and to another person, he would have been the first to shrink. The imagination of Miss Temple was greatly interested by his simple, and, to her, affecting account of this ancient line living in their hereditary solitude, with all their noble pride and haughty poverty. The scene, the circumstances, were all such as please a maiden’s fancy; and he, the natural hero of this singular history, seemed deficient in none of those heroic qualities which the wildest spirit of romance might require for the completion of its spell. Beautiful as his ancestors, and, she was sure, as brave, young, spirited, graceful, and accomplished, a gay and daring spirit blended with the mournful melody of his voice, and occasionally contrasted with the somewhat subdued and chastened character of his demeanour.
‘Well, do not despair,’ said Henrietta Temple; ‘riches did not make Sir Ferdinand happy. I feel confident the house will yet flourish.’
‘I have no confidence,’ replied Ferdinand; ‘I feel the struggle with our fate to be fruitless. Once indeed I felt like you; there was a time when I took even a fancied pride in all the follies of my grandfather. But that is past; I have lived to execrate his memory.’
‘Yes, to execrate his memory! I repeat, to execrate his memory! His follies stand between me and my happiness.’
‘Indeed, I see not that.’
‘May you never! I cannot disguise from myself that I am a slave, and a wretched one, and that his career has entailed this curse of servitude upon me. But away with this! You must think me, Miss Temple, the most egotistical of human beings; and yet, to do myself justice, I never remember having spoken of myself so much before.’
‘Will you walk with me?’ said Miss Temple, after a moment’s silence; ‘you seem little inclined to avail yourself of my father’s invitation to solitary sport. But I cannot stay at home, for I have visits to pay, although I fear you will consider them rather dull ones.’ ‘Why so?’
‘My visits are to cottages.’
‘I love nothing better. I used ever to be my mother’s companion on such occasions.’
So, crossing the lawn, they entered a beautiful wood of considerable extent, which formed the boundary of the grounds, and, after some time passed in agreeable conversation, emerged upon a common of no ordinary extent or beauty, for it was thickly studded in some parts with lofty timber, while in others the furze and fern gave richness and variety to the vast wilderness of verdant turf, scarcely marked, except by the light hoof of Miss Temple’s palfrey.
‘It is not so grand as Armine Park,’ said Miss Temple; ‘but we are proud of our common.’
The thin grey smoke that rose in different directions was a beacon to the charitable visits of Miss Temple. It was evident that she was a visitor both habitual and beloved. Each cottage-door was familiar to her entrance. The children smiled at her approach; their mothers rose and courtesied with affectionate respect. How many names and how many wants had she to remember! yet nothing was forgotten. Some were rewarded for industry, some were admonished not to be idle; but all were treated with an engaging suavity more efficacious than gifts or punishments. The aged were solaced by her visit; the sick forgot their pains; and, as she listened with sympathising patience to long narratives of rheumatic griefs, it seemed her presence in each old chair, her tender enquiries and sanguine hopes, brought even more comfort than her plenteous promises of succour from the Bower, in the shape of arrowroot and gruel, port wine and flannel petticoats.
This scene of sweet simplicity brought back old days and old places to the memory of Ferdinand Armine. He thought of the time when he was a happy boy at his innocent home; his mother’s boy, the child she so loved and looked after, when a cloud upon her brow brought a tear into his eye, and when a kiss from her lips was his most dear and desired reward. The last night he had passed at Armine, before his first departure, rose up to his recollection; all his mother’s passionate fondness, all her wild fear that the day might come when her child would not love her so dearly as he did then. That time had come. But a few hours back, ay! but a few hours back, and he had sighed to be alone in the world, and had felt those domestic ties which had been the joy of his existence a burthen and a curse. A tear stole down his cheek; he stepped forth from the cottage to conceal his emotion. He seated himself on the trunk of a tree, a few paces withdrawn; he looked upon the declining sun that gilded the distant landscape with its rich yet pensive light. The scenes of the last five years flitted across his mind’s eye in fleet succession; his dissipation, his vanity, his desperate folly, his hollow worldliness. Why, oh! why had he ever left his unpolluted home? Why could he not have lived and died in that sylvan paradise? Why, oh! why was it impossible to admit his beautiful companion into that sweet and serene society? Why should his love for her make his heart a rebel to his hearth? Money! horrible money! It seemed to him that the contiguous cottage and the labour of his hands, with her, were preferable to palaces and crowds of retainers without her inspiring presence. And why not screw his courage to the sticking-point, and commune in confidence with his parents? They loved him; yes, they idolised him! For him, for him alone, they sought the restoration of their house and fortunes. Why, Henrietta Temple was a treasure richer than any his ancestors had counted. Let them look on her, let them listen to her, let them breathe as he had done in her enchantment; and could they wonder, could they murmur, at his conduct? Would they not, oh! would they not, rather admire, extol it! But, then, his debts, his overwhelming debts. All the rest might be faced. His desperate engagement might be broken; his family might be reconciled to obscurity and poverty: but, ruin! what was to grapple with his impending ruin? Now his folly stung him; now the scorpion entered his soul. It was not the profligacy of his ancestor, it was not the pride of his family then, that stood between him and his love; it was his own culpable and heartless career! He covered his face with his hands; something touched him lightly; it was the parasol of Miss Temple.
‘I am afraid,’ she said, ‘that my visits have wearied you; but you have been very kind and good.’
He rose rapidly, with a slight blush. ‘Indeed,’ he replied, ‘I have passed a most delightful morning, and I was only regretting that life consisted of anything else but cottages and yourself.’
They were late; they heard the first dinner-bell at Ducie as they reentered the wood. ‘We must hurry on,’ said Miss Temple; ‘dinner is the only subject on which papa is a tyrant. What a sunset! I wonder if Lady Armine will return on Saturday. When she returns, I hope you will make her call upon us, for I want to copy the pictures in your gallery.’
‘If they were not heir-looms, I would give them you,’ said Ferdinand; ‘but, as it is, there is only one way by which I can manage it.’
‘What way?’ enquired Miss Temple, very innocently.
‘I forget,’ replied Ferdinand, with a peculiar smile. Miss Temple looked a little confused.
IN SPITE of his perilous situation, an indefinable sensation of happiness pervaded the soul of Ferdinand Armine, as he made his hurried toilet, and hastened to the domestic board of Ducie, where he was now the solitary guest. His eye caught Miss Temple’s as he entered the room. It seemed to beam upon him with interest and kindness. His courteous and agreeable host welcomed him with polished warmth. It seemed that a feeling of intimacy was already established among them, and he fancied himself already looked upon as an habitual member of their circle. All dark thoughts were driven away. He was gay and pleasant, and duly maintained with Mr. Temple that conversation in which his host excelled. Miss Temple spoke little, but listened with evident interest to her father and Ferdinand. She seemed to delight in their society, and to be gratified by Captain Armine’s evident sense of her father’s agreeable qualities. When dinner was over they all rose together and repaired to the salon.
‘I wish Mr. Glastonbury were here,’ said Miss Temple, as Ferdinand opened the instrument. ‘You must bring him some day, and then our concert will be perfect.’
Ferdinand smiled, but the name of Glastonbury made him shudder. His countenance changed at the future plans of Miss Temple. ‘Some day,’ indeed, when he might also take the opportunity of introducing his betrothed! But the voice of Henrietta Temple drove all care from his bosom; he abandoned himself to the intoxicating present. She sang alone; and then they sang together; and as he arranged her books, or selected her theme, a thousand instances of the interest with which she inspired him developed themselves. Once he touched her hand, and he pressed his own, unseen, to his lips.
Though the room was lit up, the windows were open and admitted the moonlight. The beautiful salon was full of fragrance and of melody; the fairest of women dazzled Ferdinand with her presence; his heart was full, his senses ravished, his hopes were high. Could there be such a demon as care in such a paradise? Could sorrow ever enter here? Was it possible that these bright halls and odorous bowers could be polluted by the miserable considerations that reigned too often supreme in his unhappy breast? An enchanted scene had suddenly risen from the earth for his delight and fascination. Could he be unhappy? Why, if all went darker even than he sometimes feared, that man had not lived in vain who had beheld Henrietta Temple! All the troubles of the world were folly here; this was fairy-land, and he some knight who had fallen from a gloomy globe upon some starry region flashing with perennial lustre.
The hours flew on; the servants brought in that light banquet whose entrance in the country seems the only method of reminding our guests that there is a morrow.
”Tis the last night,’ said Ferdinand, smiling, with a sigh. ‘One more song; only one more. Mr. Temple, be indulgent; it is the last night. I feel,’ he added in a lower tone to Henrietta, ‘I feel exactly as I did when I left Armine for the first time.’
‘Because you are going to return to it? That is wilful.’
‘Wilful or not, I would that I might never see it again.’
‘For my part, Armine is to me the very land of romance.’
‘It is strange.’
‘No spot on earth ever impressed me more. It is the finest combination of art and nature and poetical associations I know; it is indeed unique.’
‘I do not like to differ with you on any subject.’
‘We should be dull companions, I fear, if we agreed upon everything.’
‘I cannot think it.’
‘Papa,’ said Miss Temple, ‘one little stroll upon the lawn; one little, little stroll. The moon is so bright; and autumn, this year, has brought us as yet no dew.’ And as she spoke, she took up her scarf and wound it round her head. ‘There,’ she said, ‘I look like the portrait of the Turkish page in Armine Gallery.’
There was a playful grace about Henrietta Temple, a wild and brilliant simplicity, which was the more charming because it was blended with peculiarly high breeding. No person in ordinary society was more calm, or enjoyed a more complete self-possession, yet no one in the more intimate relations of life indulged more in those little unstudied bursts of nature, which seemed almost to remind one of the playful child rather than the polished woman; and which, under such circumstances, are infinitely captivating. As for Ferdinand Armine, he looked upon the Turkish page with a countenance beaming with admiration; he wished it was Turkey wherein he then beheld her, or any other strange land, where he could have placed her on his courser, and galloped away in pursuit of a fortune wild as his soul.
Though the year was in decay, summer had lent this night to autumn, it was so soft and sweet. The moonbeam fell brightly upon Ducie Bower, and the illumined salon contrasted effectively with the natural splendour of the exterior scene. Mr. Temple reminded Henrietta of a brilliant fête which had been given at a Saxon palace, and which some circumstances of similarity recalled to his recollection. Ferdinand could not speak, but found himself unconsciously pressing Henrietta Temple’s arm to his heart. The Saxon palace brought back to Miss Temple a wild melody which had been sung in the gardens on that night. She asked her father if he recollected it, and hummed the air as she made the enquiry. Her gentle murmur soon expanded into song. It was one of those wild and natural lyrics that spring up in mountainous countries, and which seem to mimic the prolonged echoes that in such regions greet the ear of the pastor and the huntsman.
Oh! why did this night ever have an end!
IT WAS solitude that brought despair to Ferdinand Armine. The moment he was alone his real situation thrust itself upon him; the moment he had quitted the presence of Henrietta Temple he was as a man under the influence of music when the orchestra suddenly stops. The source of all his inspiration failed him; this last night at Ducie was dreadful. Sleep was out of the question; he did not affect even the mimicry of retiring, but paced up and down his room the whole night, or flung himself, when exhausted, upon a restless sofa. Occasionally he varied these monotonous occupations, by pressing his lips to the drawings which bore her name; then relapsing into a profound reverie, he sought some solace in recalling the scenes of the morning, all her movements, every word she had uttered, every look which had illumined his soul. In vain he endeavoured to find consolation in the fond belief that he was not altogether without interest in her eyes. Even the conviction that his passion was returned, in the situation in which he was plunged, would, however flattering, be rather a source of fresh anxiety and perplexity. He took a volume from the single shelf of books that was slung against the wall; it was a volume of Corinne. The fervid eloquence of the poetess sublimated his passion; and without disturbing the tone of his excited mind, relieved in some degree its tension, by busying his imagination with other, though similar emotions. As he read, his mind became more calm and his feelings deeper, and by the time his lamp grew ghastly in the purple light of morning that now entered his chamber, his soul seemed so stilled that he closed the volume, and, though sleep was impossible, he remained nevertheless calm and absorbed.
When the first sounds assured him that some were stirring in the house, he quitted his room, and after some difficulty found a maid-servant, by whose aid he succeeded in getting into the garden. He took his way to the common where he had observed the preceding day, a fine sheet of water. The sun had not risen more than an hour; it was a fresh and ruddy morn. The cottagers were just abroad. The air of the plain invigorated him, and the singing of the birds, and all those rural sounds that rise with the husbandman, brought to his mind a wonderful degree of freshness and serenity. Occasionally he heard the gun of an early sportsman, to him at all times an animating sound; but when he had plunged into the water, and found himself struggling with that inspiring element, all sorrow seemed to leave him. His heated brow became cool and clear, his aching limbs vigorous and elastic, his jaded soul full of hope and joy. He lingered in the liquid and vivifying world, playing with the stream, for he was an expert and practised swimmer; and often, after nights of southern dissipation, had recurred to this natural bath for health and renovation.
The sun had now risen far above the horizon; the village clock had long struck seven; Ferdinand was three miles from Ducie Bower. It was time to return, yet he loitered on his way, the air was so sweet and fresh, the scene so pretty, and his mind, in comparison with his recent feelings, so calm, and even happy. Just as he emerged from the woods, and entered the grounds of Ducie, he met Miss Temple. She stared, and she had cause. Ferdinand indeed presented rather an unusual figure; his head uncovered, his hair matted, and his countenance glowing with his exercise, but his figure clothed with the identical evening dress in which he had bid her a tender good night.
‘Captain Armine!’ exclaimed Miss Temple, ‘you are an early riser, I see.’
Ferdinand looked a little confused. ‘The truth is,’ he replied, ‘I have not risen at all. I could not sleep; why, I know not: the evening, I suppose, was too happy for so commonplace a termination; so I escaped from my room as soon as I could do so without disturbing your household; and I have been bathing, which refreshes me always more than slumber.’
‘Well, I could not resign my sleep, were it only for the sake of my dreams.’
‘Pleasant I trust they were. “Rosy dreams and slumbers light” are for ladies as fair as you.’
‘I am grateful that I always fulfil the poet’s wish; and what is more, I wake only to gather roses: see here!’
She extended to him a flower.
‘I deserve it,’ said Ferdinand, ‘for I have not neglected your first gift;’ and he offered her the rose she had given him the first day of his visit. ”Tis shrivelled,’ he added, ‘but still very sweet, at least to me.’
‘It is mine now,’ said Henrietta Temple.
‘Ah! you will throw it away.’
‘Do you think me, then, so insensible?’
‘It cannot be to you what it is to me,’ replied Ferdinand.
‘It is a memorial,’ said Miss Temple.
‘Of what, and of whom?’ enquired Ferdinand.
‘Of friendship and a friend.’
”Tis something to be Miss Temple’s friend.’
‘I am glad you think so. I believe I am very vain, but certainly I like to be —— liked.’
‘Then you can always gain your wish without an effort.’
‘Now I think we are very good friends,’ said Miss Temple, ‘considering we have known each other so short a time. But then papa likes you so much.’
‘I am honoured as well as gratified by the kindly dispositions of so agreeable a person as Mr. Temple. I can assure his daughter that the feeling is mutual. Your father’s opinion influences you?’
‘In everything. He has been so kind a father, that it would be worse than ingratitude to be less than devoted to him.’
‘Mr. Temple is a very enviable person.’
‘But Captain Armine knows the delight of a parent who loves him. I love my father as you love your mother.’
‘I have, however, lived to feel that no person’s opinion could influence me in everything; I have lived to find that even filial love, and God knows mine was powerful enough, is, after all, but a pallid moonlight beam, compared with ———’
‘See! my father kisses his hand to us from the window. Let us run and meet him.’
THE last adieus are bidden: Ferdinand is on his road to Armine, flying from the woman whom he adores, to meet the woman to whom he is betrothed. He reined in his horse as he entered the park. As he slowly approached his home, he could not avoid feeling, that after so long an absence, he had not treated Glastonbury with the kindness and consideration he merited. While he was torturing his invention for an excuse for his conduct he observed his old tutor in the distance; and riding up and dismounting, he joined that faithful friend. Whether it be that love and falsehood are, under any circumstances, inseparable, Ferdinand Armine, whose frankness was proverbial, found himself involved in a long and confused narrative of a visit to a friend, whom he had unexpectedly met, whom he had known abroad, and to whom he was under the greatest obligations. He even affected to regret this temporary estrangement from Armine after so long a separation, and to rejoice at his escape. No names were mentioned, and the unsuspicious Glastonbury, delighted again to be his companion, inconvenienced him with no cross-examination. But this was only the commencement of the system of degrading deception which awaited him.
Willingly would Ferdinand have devoted all his time and feelings to his companion; but in vain he struggled with the absorbing passion of his soul. He dwelt in silence upon the memory of the last three days, the most eventful period of his existence. He was moody and absent, silent when he should have spoken, wandering when he should have listened, hazarding random observations instead of conversing, or breaking into hurried and inappropriate comments; so that to any worldly critic of his conduct he would have appeared at the same time both dull and excited. At length he made a desperate effort to accompany Glastonbury to the picture gallery and listen to his plans. The scene indeed was not ungrateful to him, for it was associated with the existence and the conversation of the lady of his heart: he stood entranced before the picture of the Turkish page, and lamented to Glastonbury a thousand times that there was no portrait of Henrietta Armine.
‘I would sooner have a portrait of Henrietta Armine than the whole gallery together,’ said Ferdinand.
‘I wonder if there ever will be a portrait of Henrietta Armine. Come now, my dear Glastonbury,’ he continued, with an air of remarkable excitement, ‘let us have a wager upon it. What are the odds? Will there ever be a portrait of Henrietta Armine? I am quite fantastic today. You are smiling at me. Now do you know, if I had a wish certain to be gratified, it should be to add a portrait of Henrietta Armine to our gallery?’
‘She died very young,’ remarked Glastonbury.
‘But my Henrietta Armine should not die young,’ said Ferdinand. ‘She should live, breathe, smile: she ———’
Glastonbury looked very confused.
So strange is love, that this kind of veiled allusion to his secret passion relieved and gratified the overcharged bosom of Ferdinand. He pursued the subject with enjoyment. Anybody but Glastonbury might have thought that he had lost his senses, he laughed so loud, and talked so fast about a subject which seemed almost nonsensical; but the good Glastonbury ascribed these ebullitions to the wanton spirit of youth, and smiled out of sympathy, though he knew not why, except that his pupil appeared happy.
At length they quitted the gallery; Glastonbury resumed his labours in the hall, where he was copying an escutcheon; and after hovering a short time restlessly around his tutor, now escaping into the garden that he might muse over Henrietta Temple undisturbed, and now returning for a few minutes to his companion, lest the good Glastonbury should feel mortified by his neglect, Ferdinand broke away altogether and wandered far into the pleasaunce.
He came to the green and shady spot where he had first beheld her. There rose the cedar spreading its dark form in solitary grandeur, and holding, as it were, its state among its subject woods. It was the same scene, almost the same hour: but where was she? He waited for her form to rise, and yet it came not. He shouted Henrietta Temple, yet no fair vision blessed his expectant sight. Was it all a dream? Had he been but lying beneath these branches in a rapturous trance, and had he only woke to the shivering dulness of reality? What evidence was there of the existence of such a being as Henrietta Temple? If such a being did not exist, of what value was life? After a glimpse of Paradise, could he breathe again in this tame and frigid world? Where was Ducie? Where were its immortal bowers, those roses of supernatural fragrance, and the celestial melody of its halls? That garden, wherein he wandered and hung upon her accents; that wood, among whose shadowy boughs she glided like an antelope, that pensive twilight, on which he had gazed with such subdued emotion; that moonlight walk, when her voice floated, like Ariel’s, in the purple sky: were these all phantoms? Could it be that this morn, this very morn, he had beheld Henrietta Temple, had conversed with her alone, had bidden her a soft adieu? What, was it this day that she had given him this rose?
He threw himself upon the turf, and gazed upon the flower. The flower was young and beautiful as herself, and just expanding into perfect life. To the fantastic brain of love there seemed a resemblance between this rose and her who had culled it. Its stem was tall, its countenance was brilliant, an aromatic essence pervaded its being. As he held it in his hand, a bee came hovering round its charms, eager to revel in its fragrant loveliness. More than once had Ferdinand driven the bee away, when suddenly it succeeded in alighting on the rose. Jealous of his rose, Ferdinand, in his haste, shook the flower, and the fragile head fell from the stem!
A feeling of deep melancholy came over him, with which he found it in vain to struggle, and which he could not analyse. He rose, and pressing the flower to his heart, he walked away and rejoined Glastonbury, whose task was nearly accomplished. Ferdinand seated himself upon one of the high cases which had been stowed away in the hall, folding his arms, swinging his legs, and whistling the German air which Miss Temple had sung the preceding night.
‘That is a wild and pretty air,’ said Glastonbury, who was devoted to music. ‘I never heard it before. You travellers pick up choice things. Where did you find it?’
‘I am sure I cannot tell, my dear Glastonbury; I have been asking myself the same question the whole morning. Sometimes I think I dreamt it.’
‘A few more such dreams would make you a rare composer,’ said Glastonbury, smiling.
‘Ah! my dear Glastonbury, talking of music, I know a musician, such a musician, a musician whom I should like to introduce you to above all persons in the world.’
‘You always loved music, dear Ferdinand; ’tis in the blood. You come from a musical stock on your mother’s side. Is Miss Grandison musical?’
‘Yes, no, that is to say, I forget: some commonplace accomplishment in the art she has, I believe; but I was not thinking of that sort of thing; I was thinking of the lady who taught me this air.’
‘A lady!’ said Glastonbury. ‘The German ladies are highly cultivated.’
‘Yes! the Germans, and the women especially, have a remarkably fine musical taste,’ rejoined Ferdinand, recovering from his blunder.
‘I like the Germans very much,’ said Glastonbury, ‘and I admire that air.’
‘O! my dear Glastonbury, you should hear it sung by moonlight.’
‘Indeed!’ said Glastonbury.
‘Yes, if you could only hear her sing it by moonlight, I venture to say, my dear Glastonbury, that you would confess that all you had ever heard, or seen, or imagined, of enchanted spirits floating in the air, and filling the atmosphere with supernatural symphonies, was realised.’
‘Indeed!’ said Glastonbury, ‘a most accomplished performer, no doubt! Was she professional?’ ‘Who?’ inquired Ferdinand. ‘Your songstress.’
‘Professional! oh! ah! yes! No! she was not a professional singer, but she was fit to be one; and that is an excellent idea, too; for I would sooner, after all, be a professional singer, and live by my art, than marry against my inclination, or not marry according to it.’
‘Marry!’ said Glastonbury, rather astonished; ‘what, is she going to be married against her will? Poor devoted thing!’
‘Devoted, indeed!’ said Ferdinand; ‘there is no greater curse on earth.’
Glastonbury shook his head.
‘The affections should not be forced,’ the old man added; ‘our feelings are our own property, often our best.’
Ferdinand fell into a fit of abstraction; then, suddenly turning round, he said, ‘Is it possible that I have been away from Armine only two days? Do you know it really seems to me a year!’
‘You are very kind to say so, my Ferdinand,’ said Glastonbury.
IT IS difficult to describe the restlessness of Ferdinand Armine. His solitary dinner was an excuse for quitting Glastonbury: but to eat is as impossible as to sleep, for a man who is really in love. He took a spoonful of soup, and then jumping up from his chair, he walked up and down the room, thinking of Henrietta Temple. Then tomorrow occurred to him, and that other lady that tomorrow was to bring. He drowned the thought in a bumper of claret. Wine, mighty wine! thou best and surest consolation! What care can withstand thy inspiring influence! from what scrape canst thou not, for the moment, extricate the victim! Who can deny that our spiritual nature in some degree depends upon our corporeal condition? A man without breakfast is not a hero; a hero well fed is full of audacious invention. Everything depends upon the circulation. Let but the blood flow freely, and a man of imagination is never without resources. A fine pulse is a talisman; a charmed life; a balance at our bankers. It is good luck; it is eternity; it is wealth. Nothing can withstand us; nothing injure us; it is inexhaustible riches. So felt Ferdinand Armine, though on the verge of a moral precipice. To-morrow! what of tomorrow? Did tomorrow daunt him? Not a jot. He would wrestle with tomorrow, laden as it might be with curses, and dash it to the earth. It should not be a day; he would blot it out of the calendar of time; he would effect a moral eclipse of its influence. He loved Henrietta Temple. She should be his. Who could prevent him? Was he not an Armine? Was he not the near descendant of that bold man who passed his whole life in the voluptuous indulgence of his unrestrained volition! Bravo! he willed it, and it should be done. Everything yields to determination. What a fool! what a miserable craven fool had he been to have frightened himself with the flimsy shadows of petty worldly cares! He was born to follow his own pleasure; it was supreme; it was absolute; he was a despot; he set everything and everybody at defiance; and, filling a huge tumbler to the health of the great Sir Ferdinand, he retired, glorious as an emperor.
On the whole, Ferdinand had not committed so great an indiscretion as the reader, of course shocked, might at first imagine. For the first time for some days he slept, and slept soundly. Next to wine, a renovating slumber perhaps puts us in the best humour with our destiny. Ferdinand awoke refreshed and sanguine, full of inventive life, which soon developed itself in a flow of improbable conclusions. His most rational scheme, however, appeared to consist in winning Henrietta Temple, and turning pirate, or engaging in the service of some distant and disturbed state. Why might he not free Greece, or revolutionize Spain, or conquer the Brazils? Others had embarked in these bold enterprises; men not more desperate than himself, and not better qualified for the career. Young, courageous, a warrior by profession, with a name of traditionary glory throughout the courts of Christendom, perhaps even remembered in Asia, he seemed just the individual to carve out a glorious heritage with his sword. And as for his parents, they were not in the vale of years; let them dream on in easy obscurity, and maintain themselves at Armine until he returned to redeem his hereditary domain. All that was requisite was the concurrence of his adored mistress. Perhaps, after all his foolish fears and all his petty anxiety, he might live to replace upon her brow the ancient coronet of Tewkesbury! Why not? The world is strange; nothing happens that we anticipate: when apparently stifled by the common-place, we are on the brink of stepping into the adventurous. If he married Miss Grandison, his career was closed: a most unnatural conclusion for one so young and bold. It was evident that he must marry Henrietta Temple: and then? Why then something would happen totally unexpected and unforeseen. Who could doubt it? Not he!
He rose, he mounted his horse, and galloped over to Ducie Common. Its very aspect melted his heart. He called at the cottages he had visited two days before. Without enquiring after Miss Temple, he contrived to hear a thousand circumstances relating to her which interested and charmed him. In the distance rose the woods of Ducie; he gazed upon them as if he could never withdraw his sight from their deep and silent forms. Oh, that sweet bower! Why was there any other world but Ducie? All his brave projects of war, and conquest, and imperial plunder, seemed dull and vain now. He sickened at the thought of action. He sighed to gather roses, to listen to songs sweeter than the nightingale, and wander for ever in moon-lit groves.
He turned his horse’s head: slowly and sorrowfully he directed his course to Armine. Had they arrived? The stern presence of reality was too much for all his slight and glittering visions. What was he, after all? This future conqueror was a young officer on leave, obscure except in his immediate circle, with no inheritance, and very much in debt; awaited with anxiety by his affectionate parents, and a young lady whom he was about to marry for her fortune! Most impotent epilogue to a magnificent reverie!
The post arrived at Armine in the afternoon. As Ferdinand, nervous as a child returning to school, tardily regained home, he recognised the approaching postman. Hah! a letter? What was its import? The blessing of delay? or was it the herald of their instant arrival? Pale and sick at heart, he tore open the hurried lines of Katherine. The maiden aunt had stumbled while getting out of a pony phaeton, and experienced a serious accident; their visit to Armine was necessarily postponed. He read no more. The colour returned to his cheek, reinforced by his heart’s liveliest blood. A thousand thoughts, a thousand wild hopes and wilder plans, came over him. Here was, at least, one interposition in his favour; others would occur. He felt fortunate. He rushed to the tower, to tell the news to Glastonbury. His tutor ascribed his agitation to the shock, and attempted to console him. In communicating the intelligence, he was obliged to finish the letter; it expressed a hope that, if their visit were postponed for more than a day or two, Katherine’s dearest Ferdinand would return to Bath.
Ferdinand wandered forth into the park to enjoy his freedom. A burden had suddenly fallen from his frame; a cloud that had haunted his vision had vanished. To-day, that was so accursed, was to be marked now in his calendar with red chalk. Even Armine pleased him; its sky was brighter, its woods more vast and green. They had not arrived; they would not arrive tomorrow, that was certain; the third day, too, was a day of hope. Why! three days, three whole days of unexpected, unhoped-for freedom, it was eternity! What might not happen in three days! For three days he might fairly remain in expectation of fresh letters. It could not be anticipated, it was not even desired, that he should instantly repair to them. Come, he would forget this curse, he would be happy. The past, the future, should be nothing; he would revel in the auspicious present.
Thus communing with himself, he sauntered along, musing over Henrietta Temple, and building bright castles in the air. A man engaged with his ideas is insensible of fatigue. Ferdinand found himself at the Park gate that led to Ducie; intending only a slight stroll, he had already rambled half way to his beloved. It was a delicious afternoon: the heat of the sun had long abated; the air was sweet and just beginning to stir; not a sound was heard, except the last blow of the woodman’s axe, or the occasional note of some joyous bird waking from its siesta. Ferdinand passed the gate; he entered the winding road, the road that Henrietta Temple had so admired; a beautiful green lane with banks of flowers and hedges of tall trees. He strolled along, our happy Ferdinand, indefinite of purpose, almost insensible whether he were advancing or returning home. He plucked the wild flowers, and pressed them to his lips, because she had admired them; rested on a bank, lounged on a gate, cut a stick from the hedge, traced Henrietta Temple in the road, and then turned the words into Henrietta Armine, and so — and so — and so, he, at length, stared at finding himself on Ducie Common.
Beautiful common! how he loved it! How familiar every tree and rustic roof had become to him! Could he ever forget the morning he had bathed in those fresh waters! What lake of Italy, what heroic wave of the midland ocean, could rival in his imagination that simple basin! He drew near to the woods of Ducie, glowing with the setting sun. Surely there was no twilight like the twilight of this land! The woods of Ducie are entered. He recognised the path over which she had glided; he knelt down and kissed that sacred earth. As he approached the pleasure grounds, he turned off into a side path that he might not be perceived; he caught, through a vista, a distant glimpse of the mansion. The sight of that roof wherein he had been so happy; of that roof that contained all that he cared for or thought of in this world, overcame him. He leant against a tree, and hid his face.
The twilight died away, the stars stole forth, and Ferdinand ventured in the spreading gloom of night to approach the mansion. He threw himself upon the turf, and watched the chamber where she lived. The windows were open, there were lights within the room, but the thin curtains were drawn, and concealed the inmates. Happy, happy chamber! All that was bright and fair and sweet were concentrated in those charming walls!
The curtain is withdrawn; an arm, an arm which cannot be mistaken, pulls back the drapery. Is she coming forth? No, she does not; but he sees, distinctly he sees her. She sits in an old chair that he had often praised; her head rests upon her arm, her brow seems pensive; and in her other hand she holds a volume that she scarcely appears to read. Oh! may he gaze upon her for ever! May this celestial scene, this seraphic hour, never pass away. Bright stars! do not fade; thou summer wind that playest upon his brow, perfumed by her flowers, refresh him for ever; beautiful night be for ever the canopy of a scene so sweet and still; let existence glide away in gazing on yon delicate and tender vision!
Dreams of fantastic love: the curtain closes; a ruder hand than hers has shut her from his sight! It has all vanished; the stars seem dim, the autumnal air is dank and harsh; and where he had gazed on heaven, a bat flits wild and fleet. Poor Ferdinand, unhappy Ferdinand, how dull and depressed our brave gallant has become! Was it her father who had closed the curtain? Could he himself, thought Ferdinand, have been observed?
Hark! a voice softer and sweeter than the night breaks upon the air. It is the voice of his beloved; and, indeed, with all her singular and admirable qualities, there was not anything more remarkable about Henrietta Temple than her voice. It was a rare voice; so that in speaking, and in ordinary conversation, though there was no one whose utterance was more natural and less unstudied, it forcibly affected you. She could not give you a greeting, bid you an adieu, or make a routine remark, without impressing you with her power and sweetness. It sounded like a bell, sweet and clear and thrilling; it was astonishing what influence a little word, uttered by this woman, without thought, would have upon those she addressed. Of such fine clay is man made.
That beautiful voice recalled to Ferdinand all his fading visions; it renewed the spell which had recently enchanted him; it conjured up again all those sweet spirits that had a moment since hovered over him with their auspicious pinions. He could not indeed see her; her form was shrouded, but her voice reached him; a voice attuned to tenderness, even to love; a voice that ravished his ear, melted his soul, and blended with his whole existence. His heart fluttered, his pulse beat high, he sprang up, he advanced to the window! Yes! a few paces alone divide them: a single step and he will be at her side. His hand is outstretched to clutch the curtain, his —— — when suddenly the music ceased. His courage vanished with its inspiration. For a moment he lingered, but his heart misgave him, and he stole back to his solitude.
What a mystery is Love! All the necessities and habits of our life sink before it. Food and sleep, that seem to divide our being as day and night divide Time, lose all their influence over the lover. He is a spiritualised being, fit only to live upon ambrosia, and slumber in an imaginary paradise. The cares of the world do not touch him; its most stirring events are to him but the dusty incidents of bygone annals. All the fortune of the world without his mistress is misery; and with her all its mischances a transient dream. Revolutions, earthquakes, the change of governments, the fall of empires, are to him but childish games, distasteful to a manly spirit. Men love in the plague, and forget the pest, though it rages about them. They bear a charmed life, and think not of destruction until it touches their idol, and then they die without a pang, like zealots for their persecuted creed. A man in love wanders in the world as a somnambulist, with eyes that seem open to those that watch him, yet in fact view nothing but their own inward fancies.
Oh! that night at Ducie, through whose long hours Ferdinand Armine, in a tumult of enraptured passion, wandered in its lawns and groves, feeding on the image of its enchanting mistress, watching the solitary light in her chamber that was to him as the pharos to a mariner in a tumultuous voyage! The morning, the grey cold morning, came at last; he had outwatched the stars, and listened to the matins of the waking birds. It was no longer possible to remain in the gardens unobserved; he regained the common.
What should he do! whither should he wend his course? To Armine? Oh! not to Armine; never could he return to Armine without the heart of Henrietta Temple. Yes! on that great venture he had now resolved; on that mighty hazard all should now be staked. Reckless of consequences, one vast object now alone sustained him. Existence without her was impossible! Ay! a day, a day, a single, a solitary day, should not elapse without his breathing to her his passion, and seeking his fate from her dark eyes.
He strolled along to the extremity of the common. It was a great table land, from whose boundary you look down on small rich valleys; and into one of these, winding his way through fields and pastures, of which the fertile soil was testified by their vigorous hedgerows, he now descended. A long, low farmhouse, with gable ends and ample porch, an antique building that in old days might have been some manorial residence, attracted his attention. Its picturesque form, its angles and twisted chimneys, its porch covered with jessamine and eglantine, its verdant homestead, and its orchard rich with ruddy fruit, its vast barns and long lines of ample stacks, produced altogether a rural picture complete and cheerful. Near it a stream, which Ferdinand followed, and which, after a devious and rapid course, emptied itself into a deep and capacious pool, touched by the early sunbeam, and grateful to the swimmer’s eye. Here Ferdinand made his natural toilet; and afterwards slowly returning to the farm-house, sought an agreeable refuge from the sun in its fragrant porch.
The farmer’s wife, accompanied by a pretty daughter with downcast eyes, came forth and invited him to enter. While he courteously refused her offer, he sought her hospitality. The good wife brought a table and placed it in the porch, and covered it with a napkin purer than snow. Her viands were fresh eggs, milk warm from the cow, and bread she had herself baked. Even a lover might feed on such sweet food. This happy valley and this cheerful settlement wonderfully touched the fancy of Ferdinand. The season was mild and sunny, the air scented by the flowers that rustled in the breeze, the bees soon came to rifle their sweetness, and flights of white and blue pigeons ever and anon skimmed along the sky from the neighbouring gables that were their dovecotes. Ferdinand made a salutary, if not a plenteous meal; and when the table was removed, exhausted by the fatigue and excitement of the last four-and-twenty hours, he stretched himself at full length in the porch, and fell into a gentle and dreamless slumber.
Hours elapsed before he awoke, vigorous indeed, and wonderfully refreshed; but the sun had already greatly declined. To his astonishment, as he moved, there fell from his breast a beautiful nosegay. He was charmed with this delicate attention from his hostess, or perhaps from her pretty daughter with those downcast eyes. There seemed a refinement about the gift, and the mode of its offering, which scarcely could be expected from these kind yet simple rustics. The flowers, too, were rare and choice; geraniums such as are found only in lady’s bower, a cape jessamine, some musky carnations, and a rose that seemed the sister of the one that he had borne from Ducie. They were delicately bound together, too, by a bright blue riband, fastened by a gold and turquoise pin. This was most strange; this was an adventure more suitable to a Sicilian palace than an English farm-house; to the gardens of a princess than the clustered porch of his kind hostess. Ferdinand gazed at the bouquet with a glance of blended perplexity and pleasure; then he entered the farmhouse and made enquiries of his hostess, but they were fruitless. The pretty daughter with the downcast eyes was there too; but her very admiration of the gift, so genuine and unrestrained, proved, if testimony indeed were necessary, that she was not his unknown benefactor: admirer, he would have said; but Ferdinand was in love, and modest. All agreed no one, to their knowledge, had been there; and so Ferdinand, cherishing his beautiful gift, was fain to quit his new friends in as much perplexity as ever.
IT WAS about two hours before sunset that Captain Armine summoned up courage to call at Ducie Bower. He enquired for Mr. Temple, and learned to his surprise that Mr. Temple had quitted Ducie yesterday morning for Scotland. ‘And Miss Temple?’ said Ferdinand. ‘Is at home, Sir,’ replied the servant. Ferdinand was ushered into the salon. She was not there. Our hero was very nervous; he had been bold enough in the course of his walk from the farmhouse, and indulged in a thousand imaginary conversations with his mistress; but, now that he was really about to meet her, all his fire and fancy deserted him. Everything occurred to him inauspicious to his suit; his own situation, the short time she had known him, his uncertainty of the state of her affections. How did he know she was not engaged to another? why should she not be betrothed as well as himself? This contingency had occurred to him before, and yet he had driven it from his thoughts. He began to be jealous; he began to think himself a very great fool; at any rate, he resolved not to expose himself any further. He was clearly premature; he would call tomorrow or next day: to speak to her now was certainly impossible.
The door opened; she entered, radiant as the day! What a smile! what dazzling teeth! what ravishing dimples! her eyes flashed like summer lightning; she extended to him a hand white and soft as one of those doves that had played about him in the morning. Surely never was anyone endued with such an imperial presence. So stately, so majestic, and yet withal so simply gracious; full of such airy artlessness, at one moment she seemed an empress, and then only a beautiful child; and the hand and arm that seemed fashioned to wave a sceptre, in an instant appeared only fit to fondle a gazelle, or pluck a flower.
‘How do you do?’ she said; and he really fancied she was going to sing. He was not yet accustomed to that marvellous voice. It broke upon the silence, like a silver bell just touched by the summer air. ‘It is kind of you to come and see a lone maiden,’ she continued; ‘papa has deserted me, and without any preparation. I cannot endure to be separated from him, and this is almost the only time that he has refused my solicitation to accompany him. But he must travel far and quickly. My uncle has sent for him; he is very unwell, and papa is his trustee. There is business; I do not know what it is, but I dare say not very agreeable. By-the-bye, I hope Lady Armine is well?’
‘My papa has deserted me,’ said Ferdinand with a smile. ‘They have not yet arrived, and some days may yet elapse before they reach Armine.’
‘Indeed! I hope they are well.’
‘Yes; they are well.’
‘Did you ride here?’
‘You did not walk?’
‘I hardly know how I came; I believe I walked.’
‘You must be very tired; and you are standing! pray sit down; sit in that chair; you know that is your favourite chair.’
And Ferdinand seated himself in the very chair in which he had watched her the preceding night.
‘This is certainly my favourite chair,’ he said; ‘I know no seat in the world I prefer to this.’
‘Will you take some refreshment? I am sure you will; you must be very tired. Take some hock; papa always takes hock and soda water. I shall order some hock and soda water for you.’ She rose and rang the bell in spite of his remonstrance.
‘And have you been walking, Miss Temple?’ enquired Ferdinand.
‘I was thinking of strolling now,’ she replied, ‘but I am glad that you have called, for I wanted an excuse to be idle.’
An hour passed away, nor was the conversation on either side very brilliantly supported. Ferdinand seemed dull, but, indeed, was only moody, revolving in his mind many strange incidents and feelings, and then turning for consolation in his perplexities to the enchanting vision on which he still could gaze. Nor was Miss Temple either in her usually sparkling vein; her liveliness seemed an effort; she was more constrained, she was less fluent than before. Ferdinand, indeed, rose more than once to depart; yet still he remained. He lost his cap; he looked for his cap; and then again seated himself. Again he rose, restless and disquieted, wandered about the room, looked at a picture, plucked a flower, pulled the flower to pieces.
‘Miss Temple,’ he at length observed, ‘I am afraid I am very stupid!’
‘Because you are silent?’
‘Is not that a sufficient reason?’
‘Nay! I think not; I think I am rather fond of silent people myself; I cannot bear to live with a person who feels bound to talk because he is my companion. The whole day passes sometimes without papa and myself exchanging fifty words; yet I am very happy; I do not feel that we are dull:’ and Miss Temple pursued her work which she had previously taken up.
‘Ah! but I am not your papa; when we are very intimate with people, when they interest us, we are engaged with their feelings, we do not perpetually require their ideas. But an acquaintance, as I am, only an acquaintance, a miserable acquaintance, unless I speak or listen, I have no business to be here; unless I in some degree contribute to the amusement or the convenience of my companion, I degenerate into a bore.’
‘I think you are very amusing, and you may be useful if you like, very;’ and she offered him a skein of silk, which she requested him to hold.
It was a beautiful hand that was extended to him; a beautiful hand is an excellent thing in woman; it is a charm that never palls, and better than all, it is a means of fascination that never disappears. Women carry a beautiful hand with them to the grave, when a beautiful face has long ago vanished, or ceased to enchant. The expression of the hand, too, is inexhaustible; and when the eyes we may have worshipped no longer flash or sparkle, the ringlets with which we may have played are covered with a cap, or worse, a turban, and the symmetrical presence which in our sonnets has reminded us so oft of antelopes and wild gazelles, have all, all vanished, the hand, the immortal hand, defying alike time and care, still vanquishes, and still triumphs; and small, soft, and fair, by an airy attitude, a gentle pressure, or a new ring, renews with untiring grace the spell that bound our enamoured and adoring youth!
But in the present instance there were eyes as bright as the hand, locks more glossy and luxuriant than Helen’s of Troy, a cheek pink as a shell, and breaking into dimples like a May morning into sunshine, and lips from which stole forth a perfume sweeter than the whole conservatory. Ferdinand sat down on a chair opposite Miss Temple, with the extended skein.
‘Now this is better than doing nothing!’ she said, catching his eye with a glance half-kind, half-arch. ‘I suspect, Captain Armine, that your melancholy originates in idleness.’
‘Ah! if I could only be employed every day in this manner!’ ejaculated Ferdinand.
‘Nay! not with a distaff; but you must do something. You must get into parliament.’
‘You forget that I am a Catholic,’ said Ferdinand.
Miss Temple slightly blushed, and talked rather quickly about her work; but her companion would not relinquish the subject.
‘I hope you are not prejudiced against my faith,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Prejudiced! Dear Captain Armine, do not make me repent too seriously a giddy word. I feel it is wrong that matters of taste should mingle with matters of belief; but, to speak the truth, I am not quite sure that a Howard, or an Armine, who was a Protestant, like myself, would quite please my fancy so much as in their present position, which, if a little inconvenient, is very picturesque.’
Ferdinand smiled. ‘My great grandmother was a Protestant,’ said Ferdinand, ‘Margaret Armine. Do you think Margaret a pretty name?’
‘Queen Margaret! yes, a fine name, I think; barring its abbreviation.’
‘I wish my great grandmother’s name had not been Margaret,’ said Ferdinand, very seriously.
‘Now, why should that respectable dame’s baptism disturb your fancy?’ enquired Miss Temple.
‘I wish her name had been Henrietta,’ replied Ferdinand. ‘Henrietta Armine. You know there was a Henrietta Armine once?’
‘Was there?’ said Miss Temple, rising. ‘Our skein is finished. You have been very good. I must go and see my flowers. Come.’ And as she said this little word, she turned her fair and finely-finished neck, and looked over her shoulder at Ferdinand with an arch expression of countenance peculiar to her. That winning look, indeed, that clear, sweet voice, and that quick graceful attitude, blended into a spell which was irresistible. His heart yearned for Henrietta Temple, and rose at the bidding of her voice.
From the conservatory they stepped into the garden. It was a delicious afternoon; the sun had sunk behind the grove, and the air, which had been throughout the day somewhat oppressive, was now warm, but mild. At Ducie there was a fine old terrace facing the western hills, that bound the valley in which the Bower was situate. These hills, a ridge of moderate elevation, but of picturesque form, parted just opposite the terrace, as if on purpose to admit the setting sun, like inferior existences that had, as it were, made way before the splendour of some mighty lord or conqueror. The lofty and sloping bank which this terrace crowned was covered with rare shrubs, and occasionally a group of tall trees sprang up among them, and broke the view with an interference which was far from ungraceful, while plants, spreading forth from large marble vases, had extended over their trunks, and sometimes, in their play, had touched even their topmost branches. Between the terrace and the distant hills extended a tract of pasture-land, green and well-wooded by its rich hedgerows; not a roof was visible, though many farms and hamlets were at hand; and, in the heart of a rich and populous land, here was a region where the shepherd or the herdsman was the only evidence of human existence. It was thither, a grateful spot at such an hour, that Miss Temple and her companion directed their steps. The last beam of the sun flashed across the flaming horizon as they gained the terrace; the hills, well wooded, or presenting a bare and acute outline to the sky, rose sharply defined in form; while in another direction some more distant elevations were pervaded with a rich purple tint, touched sometimes with a rosy blaze of soft and flickering light. The whole scene, indeed, from the humble pasture-land that was soon to creep into darkness, to the proud hills whose sparkling crests were yet touched by the living beam, was bathed with lucid beauty and luminous softness, and blended with the glowing canopy of the lustrous sky. But on the terrace and the groves that rose beyond it, and on the glades and vistas into which they opened, fell the full glory of the sunset. Each moment a new shadow, now rosy, now golden, now blending in its shifting tints all the glory of the iris, fell over the rich pleasure-grounds, their groups of rare and noble trees, and their dim or glittering avenues.
The vespers of the birds were faintly dying away, the last low of the returning kine sounded over the lea, the tinkle of the sheep-bell was heard no more, the thin white moon began to gleam, and Hesperus glittered in the fading sky. It was the twilight hour!
That delicious hour that softens the heart of man, what is its magic? Not merely its beauty; it is not more beautiful than the sunrise. It is its repose. Our tumultuous passions sink with the sun, there is a fine sympathy between us and our world, and the stillness of Nature is responded to by the serenity of the soul.
At this sacred hour our hearts are pure. All worldly cares, all those vulgar anxieties and aspirations that at other seasons hover like vultures over our existence, vanish from the serene atmosphere of our susceptibility. A sense of beauty and a sentiment of love pervade our being. But if at such a moment solitude is full of joy, if, even when alone, our native sensibility suffices to entrance us with a tranquil yet thrilling bliss, how doubly sweet, how multiplied must be our fine emotions, when the most delicate influence of human sympathy combines with the power and purity of material and moral nature, and completes the exquisite and enchanting spell!
Ferdinand Armine turned from the beautiful world around him to gaze upon a countenance sweeter than the summer air, softer than the gleaming moon, brighter than the evening star. The shadowy light of purple eve fell upon the still and solemn presence of Henrietta Temple. Irresistible emotion impelled him; softly he took her gentle hand, and, bending his head, he murmured to her, ‘Most beautiful, I love thee!’
As, in the oppressive stillness of some tropic night, a single drop is the refreshing harbinger of a slower that clears the heavens, so even this slight expression relieved in an instant the intensity of his over-burthened feelings, and warm, quick, and gushing flowed the words that breathed his fervid adoration. ‘Yes!’ he continued, ‘in this fair scene, oh! let me turn to something fairer still. Beautiful, beloved Henrietta, I can repress no longer the emotions that, since I first beheld you, have vanquished my existence. I love you, I adore you; life in your society is heaven; without you I cannot live. Deem me, oh! deem me not too bold, sweet lady; I am not worthy of you, yet let me love! I am not worthy of you, but who can be? Ah! if I dared but venture to offer you my heart, if that humblest of all possessions might indeed be yours, if my adoration, if my devotion, if the consecration of my life to you, might in some degree compensate for its little worth, if I might live even but to hope ———
‘You do not speak. Miss Temple, Henrietta, admirable Henrietta, have I offended you? Am I indeed the victim of hopes too high and fancies too supreme? Oh! pardon me, most beautiful, I pray your pardon. Is it a crime to feel, perchance too keenly, the sense of beauty like to thine, dear lady? Ah! tell me I am forgiven; tell me indeed you do not hate me. I will be silent, I will never speak again. Yet, let me walk with you. Cease not to be my companion because I have been too bold. Pity me, pity me, dearest, dearest Henrietta. If you but knew how I have suffered, if you but knew the nights that brought no sleep, the days of fever that have been mine since first we met, if you but knew how I have fed but upon one sweet idea, one sacred image of absorbing life, since first I gazed on your transcendent form, indeed I think that you would pity, that you would pardon, that you might even ———
‘Tell me, is it my fault that you are beautiful! Oh! how beautiful, my wretched and exhausted soul too surely feels! Is it my fault those eyes are like the dawn, that thy sweet voice thrills through my frame, and but the slightest touch of that light hand falls like a spell on my entranced form! Ah! Henrietta, be merciful, be kind!’
He paused for a second, and yet she did not answer; but her cheek fell upon his shoulder, and the gentle pressure of her hand was more eloquent than language. That slight, sweet signal was to him as the sunrise on the misty earth. Full of hope, and joy, and confidence, he took her in his arms, sealed her cold lips with a burning kiss, and vowed to her his eternal and almighty love!
He bore her to an old stone bench placed on the terrace. Still she was silent; but her hand clasped his, and her head rested on his bosom. The gleaming moon now glittered, the hills and woods were silvered by its beam, and the far meads were bathed with its clear, fair light. Not a single cloud curtained the splendour of the stars. What a rapturous soul was Ferdinand Armine’s as he sat that night on the old bench, on Ducie Terrace, shrouding from the rising breeze the trembling form of Henrietta Temple! And yet it was not cold that made her shiver.
The clock of Ducie Church struck ten. She moved, saying, in a faint voice, ‘We must go home, my Ferdinand!’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53