THE midnight moon flung its broad beams over the glades and avenues of Armine, as Ferdinand, riding Miss Temple’s horse, reentered the park. His countenance was paler than the spectral light that guided him on his way. He looked little like a pledged and triumphant lover; but in his contracted brow and compressed lip might be read the determination of his soul. There was no longer a contest between poverty and pride, between the maintenance or destruction of his ancient house, between his old engagement and his present passion; that was past. Henrietta Temple was the light in the pharos amid all his stormy fortunes; thither he directed all the energies of his being; and to gain that port, or sink, was his unflinching resolution.
It was deep in the night before he again beheld the towers and turrets of his castle, and the ivy-covered fragment of the old Place seemed to sleep in peace under its protecting influence. A wild and beautiful event had happened since last he quitted those ancient walls. And what would be its influence upon them? But it is not for the passionate lover to moralise. For him, the regrets of the past and the chances of the future are alike lost in the ravishing and absorbing present. For a lover that has but just secured the object of his long and tumultuous hopes is as a diver who has just plucked a jewel from the bed of some rare sea. Panting and wild he lies upon the beach, and the gem that he clutches is the sole idea that engrosses his existence.
Ferdinand is within his little chamber, that little chamber where his mother had bid him so passionate a farewell. Ah! he loves another woman better than his mother now. Nay, even a feeling of embarrassment and pain is associated with the recollection of that fond and elegant being, whom he had recognised once as the model of all feminine perfection, and who had been to him so gentle and so devoted. He drives his mother from his thoughts. It is of another voice that he now muses; it is the memory of another’s glance that touches his eager heart. He falls into a reverie; the passionate past is acted again before him; in his glittering eye and the rapid play of his features may be traced the tumult of his soul. A doubt crosses his brow. Is he indeed so happy; is it not all a dream? He takes from his bosom the handkerchief of Henrietta Temple. He recognises upon it her magical initials, worked in her own fine dark hair. A smile of triumphant certainty irradiates his countenance, as he rapidly presses the memorial to his lips, and imprints upon it a thousand kisses: and holding this cherished testimony of his felicity to his heart, sleep at length descended upon the exhausted frame of Ferdinand Armine.
But the night that brought dreams to Ferdinand Armine brought him not visions more marvellous and magical than his waking life. He who loves lives in an ecstatic trance. The world that surrounds him is not the world of working man: it is fairy land. He is not of the same order as the labouring myriads on which he seems to tread. They are to him but a swarm of humble-minded and humble-mannered insects. For him, the human species is represented by a single individual, and of her he makes an idol. All that is bright and rare is but invented and devised to adorn and please her. Flowers for her were made so sweet and birds so musical. All nature seems to bear an intimate relation to the being we adore; and as to us life would now appear intolerable, a burthen of insupportable and wearying toil, without this transcendent sympathy, so we cannot help fancying that were its sweet and subtle origin herself to quit this inspired scene, the universe itself would not be unconscious of its deprivation, and somewhat of the world’s lustre might be missed even by the most callous.
The morning burst as beautiful as such love. A rosy tint suffused the soft and tremulous sky, and tinted with a delicate hue the tall trees and the wide lawns, freshened with the light and vanishing dew. The air was vocal with a thousand songs; all was bright and clear, cheerful and golden. Ferdinand awoke from delicious dreams, and gazed upon the scene that responded to his own bright and glad emotions, and inhaled the balmy air, ethereal as his own soul. Love, that can illumine the dark hovel and the dismal garret, that sheds a ray of enchanting light over the close and busy city, seems to mount with a lighter and more glittering pinion in an atmosphere as brilliant as its own plumes. Fortunate the youth, the romance of whose existence is placed in a scene befitting its fair and marvellous career; fortunate the passion that is breathed in palaces, amid the ennobling creations of surrounding art, and greets the object of its fond solicitude amid perfumed gardens, and in the shade of green and silent woods! Whatever may be the harsher course of his career, however the cold world may cast its dark shadows upon his future path, he may yet consider himself thrice blessed to whom this graceful destiny has fallen, and amid the storms and troubles of after-life may look back to these hours, fair as the dawn, beautiful as the twilight, with solace and satisfaction. Disappointment may wither up his energies, oppression may bruise his spirit; but baulked, daunted, deserted, crushed, lone where once all was sympathy, gloomy where all was light, still he has not lived in vain.
Business, however, rises with the sun. The morning brings cares, and although with rebraced energies and renovated strength, then is the season that we are best qualified to struggle with the harassing brood, still Ferdinand Armine, the involved son of a ruined race, seldom rose from his couch, seldom recalled consciousness after repose, without a pang. Nor was there indeed magic withal, in the sweet spell that now bound him, to preserve him, from this black invasion. Anxiety was one of the ingredients of the charm. He might have forgotten his own broken fortunes, his audacious and sanguine spirit might have built up many a castle for the future, as brave as that of Armine; but the very inspiring recollection of Henrietta Temple, the very remembrance of the past and triumphant eve, only the more forced upon his memory the conviction that he was, at this moment, engaged also to another, and bound to be married to two women.
Something must be done; Miss Grandison might arrive this very day. It was an improbable incident, but still it might occur. While he was thus musing, his servant brought him his letters, which had arrived the preceding day, letters from his mother and Katherine, his Katherine. They brought present relief. The invalid had not amended; their movements were still uncertain. Katherine, ‘his own Kate,’ expressed even a faint fond wish that he would return. His resolution was taken in an instant. He decided with the prescient promptitude of one who has his dearest interests at stake. He wrote to Katherine that he would instantly fly to her, only that he daily expected his attendance would be required in town, on military business of urgent importance to their happiness. This might, this must, necessarily delay their meeting. The moment he received his summons to attend the Horse Guards, he should hurry off. In the meantime, she was to write to him here; and at all events not to quit Bath for Armine, without giving him a notice of several days. Having despatched this letter and another to his mother, Ferdinand repaired to the tower to communicate to Glastonbury the necessity of his immediate departure for London, but he also assured that good old man of his brief visit to that city. The pang of this unexpected departure was softened by the positive promise of returning in a very few days, and returning with his family.
Having made these arrangements, Ferdinand now felt that, come what might, he had at least secured for himself a certain period of unbroken bliss. He had a faithful servant, an Italian, in whose discretion he had justly unlimited confidence. To him Ferdinand intrusted the duty of bringing, each day, his letters to his retreat, which he had fixed upon should be that same picturesque farm-house, in whose friendly porch he had found the preceding day such a hospitable shelter, and where he had experienced that charming adventure which now rather delighted than perplexed him.
MEANWHILE the beautiful Henrietta sat in her bower, her music neglected, her drawing thrown aside. Even her birds were forgotten, and her flowers untended. A soft tumult filled her frame: now rapt in reverie, she leaned her head upon her fair hand in charmed abstraction; now rising from her restless seat, she paced the chamber, and thought of his quick coming. What was this mighty revolution that a few short days, a few brief hours had occasioned? How mysterious, yet how irresistible, how overwhelming! Her father was absent, that father on whose fond idea she had alone lived; from whom the slightest separation had once been pain; and now that father claims not even her thoughts. Another, and a stranger’s, image is throned in her soul. She who had moved in the world so variously, who had received so much homage and been accustomed from her childhood to all that is considered accomplished and fascinating in man, and had passed through the ordeal with a calm clear spirit; behold, she is no longer the mistress of her thoughts or feelings; she had fallen before a glance, and yielded in an instant to a burning word!
But could she blame herself? Did she repent the rapid and ravishing past? Did regret mingle with her wonder? Was there a pang of remorse, however slight, blending its sharp tooth with all her bliss? No! Her love was perfect, and her joy was full. She offered her vows to that Heaven that had accorded her happiness so supreme; she felt only unworthy of a destiny so complete. She marvelled, in the meekness and purity of her spirit, why one so gifted had been reserved for her, and what he could recognise in her imperfect and inferior qualities to devote to them the fondness of his rare existence.
Ferdinand Armine! Did there indeed ever breathe, had the wit of poet ever yet devised, a being so choice? So young, so beautiful, so lively and accomplished, so deeply and variously interesting! Was that sweet voice, indeed, only to sound in her enchanted ear, that graceful form to move only for the pleasure of her watchful eye? That quick and airy fancy but to create for her delight, and that soft, gentle heart to own no solicitude but for her will and infinite gratification? And could it be possible that he loved her, that she was indeed his pledged bride, that the accents of his adoration still echoed in her ear, and his fond embrace still clung to her mute and trembling lips! Would he always love her? Would he always be so fond? Would he be as faithful as he was now devoted? Ah! she would not lose him. That heart should never escape her. Her life should be one long vigilant device to enchain his being.
What was she five days past? Is it possible that she lived before she met him? Of what did she think, what do? Could there be pursuits without this companion, plans or feelings without this sweet friend? Life must have been a blank, vapid and dull and weary. She could not recall herself before that morning ride to Armine. How rolled away the day! How heavy must have been the hours! All that had been uttered before she listened to Ferdinand seemed without point; all that was done before he lingered at her side, aimless and without an object.
O Love! in vain they moralise; in vain they teach us thou art a delusion; in vain they dissect thine inspiring sentiment, and would mortify us into misery by its degrading analysis. The sage may announce that gratified vanity is thine aim and end; but the lover glances with contempt at his cold-blooded philosophy. Nature assures him thou art a beautiful and sublime emotion; and, he answers, canst thou deprive the sun of its heat because its ray may be decomposed; or does the diamond blaze with less splendour because thou canst analyse its effulgence?
A gentle rustling sounded at the window: Henrietta looked up, but the sight deserted her fading vision, as Ferdinand seized with softness her softer hand, and pressed it to his lips.
A moment since, and she had longed for his presence as the infant for its mother; a moment since, and she had murmured that so much of the morn had passed without his society; a moment since, and it had seemed that no time could exhaust the expression of her feelings. How she had sighed for his coming! How she had hoped that this day she might convey to him what last night she had so weakly, so imperfectly attempted! And now she sat trembling and silent, with downcast eyes and changing countenance!
‘My Henrietta!’ exclaimed Ferdinand, ‘my beautiful Henrietta, it seemed we never should meet again, and yet I rose almost with the sun.’
‘My Ferdinand,’ replied Miss Temple, scarcely daring to meet his glance, ‘I cannot speak; I am so happy that I cannot speak.’
‘Ah! tell me, have you thought of me? Did you observe I stole your handkerchief last night? See! here it is; when I slept, I kissed it and wore it next my heart.’
‘Ah! give it me,’ she faintly murmured, extending her hand; and then she added, in a firmer and livelier tone, ‘and did you really wear it near your heart!’
‘Near thine; for thine it is, love! Sweet, you look so beautiful today! It seems to me you never yet looked half so fair. Those eyes are so brilliant, so very blue, so like the violet! There is nothing like your eyes!’
‘Except your own.’
‘You have taken away your hand. Give me back my hand, my Henrietta. I will not quit it. The whole day it shall be clasped in mine. Ah! what a hand! so soft, so very soft! There is nothing like your hand.’
‘Yours is as soft, dear Ferdinand.’
‘O Henrietta! I do love you so! I wish that I could tell you how I love you! As I rode home last night it seemed that I had not conveyed to you a tithe, nay, a thousandth part of what I feel.’
‘You cannot love me, Ferdinand, more than I love you.’
‘Say so again! Tell me very often, tell me a thousand times, how much you love me. Unless you tell me a thousand times, Henrietta, I never can believe that I am so blessed.’
They went forth into the garden. Nature, with the splendid sky and the sweet breeze, seemed to smile upon their passion. Henrietta plucked the most beautiful flowers and placed them in his breast.
‘Do you remember the rose at Armine?’ said Ferdinand, with a fond smile.
‘Ah! who would have believed that it would have led to this?’ said Henrietta, with downcast eyes.
‘I am not more in love now than I was then,’ said Ferdinand.
‘I dare not speak of my feelings,’ said Miss Temple. ‘Is it possible that it can be but five days back since we first met! It seems another era.’
‘I have no recollection of anything that occurred before I saw you beneath the cedar,’ replied Ferdinand: ‘that is the date of my existence. I saw you, and I loved. My love was at once complete; I have no confidence in any other; I have no confidence in the love that is the creature of observation, and reflection, and comparison, and calculation. Love, in my opinion, should spring from innate sympathy; it should be superior to all situations, all ties, all circumstances.’
‘Such, then, we must believe is ours,’ replied Henrietta, in a somewhat grave and musing tone: ‘I would willingly embrace your creed. I know not why I should be ashamed of my feelings. They are natural, and they are pure. And yet I tremble. But so long as you do not think lightly of me, Ferdinand, for whom should I care?’
‘My Henrietta! my angel! my adored and beautiful! I worship you, I reverence you. Ah! my Henrietta, if you only knew how I dote upon you, you would not speak thus. Come, let us ramble in our woods.’
So saying, he withdrew her from the more public situation in which they were then placed, and entered, by a winding walk, those beautiful bowers that had given so fair and fitting a name to Ducie. Ah! that was a ramble of rich delight, as, winding his arm round her light waist, he poured into her palpitating ear all the eloquence of his passion. Each hour that they had known each other was analysed, and the feelings of each moment were compared. What sweet and thrilling confessions! Eventually it was settled, to the complete satisfaction of both, that both had fallen in love at the same time, and that they had been mutually and unceasingly thinking of each other from the first instant of their meeting.
The conversation of lovers is inexhaustible. Hour glided away after hour, as Ferdinand alternately expressed his passion and detailed the history of his past life. For the curiosity of woman, lively at all times, is never so keen, so exacting, and so interested, as in her anxiety to become acquainted with the previous career of her lover. She is jealous of all that he has done before she knew him; of every person to whom he has spoken. She will be assured a thousand times that he never loved before, yet she credits the first affirmation. She envies the mother who knew him as a child, even the nurse who may have rocked his cradle. She insists upon a minute and finished portraiture of his character and life.
Why did he not give it? More than once it was upon his lips to reveal all; more than once he was about to pour forth all his sorrows, all the entanglements of his painful situation; more than once he was about to make the full and mortifying confession, that, though his heart was hers, there existed another, who even at that moment might claim the hand that Henrietta clasped with so much tenderness. But he checked himself. He would not break the charm that surrounded him; he would not disturb the clear and brilliant stream in which his life was at this moment flowing; he had not courage to change by a worldly word the scene of celestial enchantment in which he now moved and breathed. Let us add, in some degree for his justification, that he was not altogether unmindful of the feelings of Miss Grandison. Sufficient misery remained, at all events, for her, without adding the misery of making her rival cognizant of her mortification. The deed must be done, and done promptly; but, at least, there should be no unnecessary witnesses to its harrowing achievement.
So he looked upon the radiant brow of his Henrietta, wreathed with smiles of innocent triumph, sparkling with unalloyed felicity, and beaming with unbroken devotion. Should the shade of a dark passion for a moment cloud that heaven, so bright and so serene? Should even a momentary pang of jealousy or distrust pain that pure and unsullied breast? In the midst of contending emotions, he pressed her to his heart with renewed energy, and, bending down his head, imprinted an embrace upon her blushing forehead.
They seated themselves on a bank, which, it would seem, Nature had created for the convenience of lovers. The softest moss, and the brightest flowers decked its elastic and fragrant side. A spreading beech tree shaded their heads from the sun, which now was on the decline; and occasionally its wide branches rustled with the soft breeze that passed over them in renovating and gentle gusts. The woods widened before them, and at the termination of a well-contrived avenue, they caught the roofs of the village and the tall grey tower of Ducie Church. They had wandered for hours without weariness, yet the repose was grateful, while they listened to the birds, and plucked wildflowers.
‘Ah! I remember,’ said Ferdinand, ‘that it was not far from here, while slumbering indeed in the porch of my pretty farm-house, that the fairy of the spot dropped on my breast these beautiful flowers that I now wear. Did you not observe them, my sweet Henrietta? Do you know that I am rather mortified, that they have not made you at least a little jealous?’
‘I am not jealous of fairies, dear Ferdinand.’
‘And yet I half believe that you are a fairy, my Henrietta.’
‘A very substantial one, I fear, my Ferdinand. Is this a compliment to my form?’
‘Well, then, a sylvan nymph, much more, I assure you, to my fancy; perhaps the rosy Dryad of this fair tree; rambling in woods, and bounding over commons, scattering beautiful flowers, and dreams as bright.’
‘And were your dreams bright yesterday morning?’
‘I dreamed of you.’
‘And when you awoke?’
‘I hastened to the source of my inspiration.’
‘And if you had not dreamt of me?’
‘I should have come to have enquired the reason why.’
Miss Temple looked upon the ground; a blended expression of mirth and sentiment played over her features, and then looking up with a smile contending with her tearful eye, she hid her face in his breast and murmured, ‘I watched him sleeping. Did he indeed dream of me?’
‘Darling of my existence!’ exclaimed the enraptured Ferdinand, ‘exquisite, enchanting being! Why am I so happy? What have I done to deserve bliss so ineffable? But tell me, beauty, tell me how you contrived to appear and vanish without witnesses? For my enquiries were severe, and these good people must have been less artless than I imagined to have withstood them successfully.’
‘I came,’ said Miss Temple, ‘to pay them a visit, with me not uncommon. When I entered the porch I beheld my Ferdinand asleep. I looked upon him for a moment, but I was frightened and stole away unperceived. But I left the flowers, more fortunate than your Henrietta.’
‘Never did I return home,’ continued Miss Temple, ‘more sad and more dispirited. A thousand times I wished that I was a flower, that I might be gathered and worn upon your heart. You smile, my Ferdinand. Indeed I feel I am very foolish, yet I know not why, I am now neither ashamed nor afraid to tell you anything. I was so miserable when I arrived home, my Ferdinand, that I went to my room and wept. And he then came! Oh! what heaven was mine! I wiped the tears from my face and came down to see him. He looked so beautiful and happy!’
‘And you, sweet child, oh! who could have believed, at that moment, that a tear had escaped from those bright eyes!’
‘Love makes us hypocrites, I fear, my Ferdinand; for, a moment before, I was so wearied that I was lying on my sofa quite wretched. And then, when I saw him, I pretended that I had not been out, and was just thinking of a stroll. Oh, my Ferdinand! will you pardon me?’
‘It seems to me that I never loved you until this moment. Is it possible that human beings ever loved each other as we do?’
Now came the hour of twilight. While in this fond strain the lovers interchanged their hearts, the sun had sunk, the birds grown silent, and the star of evening twinkled over the tower of Ducie. The bat and the beetle warned them to return. They rose reluctantly and retraced their steps to Ducie, with hearts softer even than the melting hour.
‘Must we then part?’ exclaimed Ferdinand. ‘Oh! must we part! How can I exist even an instant without your presence, without at least the consciousness of existing under the same roof? Oh! would I were one of your serving-men, to listen to your footstep, to obey your bell, and ever and anon to catch your voice! Oh! now I wish indeed Mr. Temple were here, and then I might be your guest.’
‘My father!’ exclaimed Miss Temple, in a somewhat serious tone. ‘I ought to have written to him today! Oh! talk not of my father, speak only of yourself.’
They stood in silence as they were about to emerge upon the lawn, and then Miss Temple said, ‘Dear Ferdinand, you must go; indeed you must. Press me not to enter. If you love me, now let us part. I shall retire immediately, that the morning may sooner come. God bless you, my Ferdinand. May He guard over you, and keep you for ever and ever. You weep! Indeed you must not; you so distress me. Ferdinand, be good, be kind; for my sake do not this. I love you; what can I do more? The time will come we will not part, but now we must. Good night, my Ferdinand. Nay, if you will, these lips indeed are yours. Promise me you will not remain here. Well then, when the light is out in my chamber, leave Ducie. Promise me this, and early tomorrow, earlier than you think, I will pay a visit to your cottage. Now be good, and tomorrow we will breakfast together. There now!’ she added in a gay tone, ‘you see woman’s wit has the advantage.’ And so without another word she ran away.
THE separation of lovers, even with an immediate prospect of union, involves a sentiment of deep melancholy. The reaction of our solitary emotions, after a social impulse of such peculiar excitement, very much disheartens and depresses us. Mutual passion is complete sympathy. Under such an influence there is no feeling so strong, no fancy so delicate, that it is not instantly responded to. Our heart has no secrets, though our life may. Under such an influence, each unconsciously labours to enchant the other; each struggles to maintain the reality of that ideal which has been reached in a moment of happy inspiration. Then is the season when the voice is ever soft, the eye ever bright, and every movement of the frame airy and picturesque; each accent is full of tenderness; each glance, of affection; each gesture, of grace. We live in a heaven of our own creation. All happens that can contribute to our perfect satisfaction, and can ensure our complete self-complacency. We give and we receive felicity. We adore and we are adored. Love is the May-day of the heart.
But a cloud nevertheless will dim the genial lustre of that soft and brilliant sky when we are alone; when the soft voice no longer sighs, and the bright eye no longer beams, and the form we worship no longer moves before our enraptured vision. Our happiness becomes too much the result of reflection. Our faith is not less devout, but it is not so fervent. We believe in the miracle, but we no longer witness it.
And as the light was extinguished in the chamber of Henrietta Temple, Ferdinand Armine felt for a moment as if his sun had set for ever. There seemed to be now no evidence of her existence. Would tomorrow ever come? And if it came, would the rosy hours indeed bring her in their radiant car? What if this night she died? He shuddered at this wild imagination. Yet it might be; such dire calamities had been. And now he felt his life was involved in hers, and that under such circumstances his instant death must complete the catastrophe. There was then much at stake. Had it been yet his glorious privilege that her fair cheek should have found a pillow on his heart; could he have been permitted to have rested without her door but as her guard; even if the same roof at any distance had screened both their heads; such dark conceptions would not perhaps have risen up to torture him; but as it was, they haunted him like evil spirits as he took his lonely way over the common to gain his new abode.
Ah! the morning came, and such a morn! Bright as his love! Ferdinand had passed a dreamy night, and when he woke he could not at first recognise the locality. It was not Armine. Could it be Ducie? As he stretched his limbs and rubbed his eyes, he might be excused for a moment fancying that all the happiness of yesterday was indeed a vision. He was, in truth, sorely perplexed as he looked around the neat but humble chamber, and caught the first beam of the sun struggling through a casement shadowed by the jessamine. But on his heart there rested a curl of dark and flowing hair, and held together by that very turquoise of which he fancied he had been dreaming. Happy, happy Ferdinand! Why shouldst thou have cares? And may not the course even of thy true love run smooth?
He recks not of the future. What is the future to one so blessed? The sun is up, the lark is singing, the sky is bluer than the love-jewel at his heart. She will be here soon. No gloomy images disturb him now. Cheerfulness is the dowry of the dawn.
Will she indeed be here? Will Henrietta Temple indeed come to visit him? Will that consummate being before whom, but a few days back, he stood entranced; to whose mind the very idea of his existence had not then even occurred; will she be here anon to visit him? to visit her beloved! What has he done to be so happy? What fairy has touched him and his dark fortunes with her wand? What talisman does he grasp to call up such bright adventures of existence? He does not err. He is an enchanted being; a spell indeed pervades his frame; he moves in truth in a world of marvels and miracles. For what fairy has a wand like love, what talisman can achieve the deeds of passion?
He quitted the rustic porch, and strolled up the lane that led to Ducie. He started at a sound: it was but the spring of a wandering bird. Then the murmur of a distant wheel turned him pale; and he stopped and leant on a neighbouring gate with a panting heart. Was she at hand? There is not a moment when the heart palpitates with such delicate suspense as when a lover awaits his mistress in the spring days of his passion. Man watching the sun rise from a mountain awaits not an incident to him more beautiful, more genial, and more impressive. With her presence it would seem that both light and heat fall at the same time upon his heart: his emotions are warm and sunny, that a moment ago seemed dim and frigid; a thrilling sense of joy pervades his frame; the air is sweeter, and his ears seem to echo with the music of a thousand birds.
The sound of the approaching wheel became more audible; it drew near, nearer; but lost the delicacy that distance lent it. Alas! it did not propel the car of a fairy, or the chariot of a heroine, but a cart, whose taxed springs bowed beneath the portly form of an honest yeoman who gave Captain Armine a cheerful good-morrow as he jogged by, and flanked his jolly whip with unmerciful dexterity. The loudness of the unexpected salute, the crack of the echoing thong, shook the fine nerves of a fanciful lover, and Ferdinand looked so confused, that if the honest yeoman had only stopped to observe him, the passenger might have really been excused for mistaking him for a poacher, at the least, by his guilty countenance.
This little worldly interruption broke the wings of Ferdinand’s soaring fancy. He fell to earth. Doubt came over him whether Henrietta would indeed come. He was disappointed, and so he became distrustful. He strolled on, however, in the direction of Ducie, yet slowly, as there was more than one road, and to miss each other would have been mortifying.
His quick eye was in every quarter; his watchful ear listened in every direction: still she was not seen, and not a sound was heard except the hum of day. He became nervous, agitated, and began to conjure up a crowd of unfortunate incidents. Perhaps she was ill; that was very bad. Perhaps her father had suddenly returned. Was that worse? Perhaps something strange had happened. Perhaps ———
Why! why does his face turn so pale, and why is his step so suddenly arrested? Ah! Ferdinand Armine, is not thy conscience clear? That pang was sharp. No, no, it is impossible; clearly, absolutely impossible; this is weak indeed. See! he smiles! He smiles at his weakness. He waves his arm as if in contempt. He casts away, with defiance, his idle apprehensions. His step is more assured, and the colour returns to his cheek. And yet her father must return. Was he prepared for that occurrence? This was a searching question. It induced a long, dark train of harassing recollections. He stopped to ponder. In what a web of circumstances was he now involved! Howsoever he might act, self-extrication appeared impossible. Perfect candour to Miss Temple might be the destruction of her love; even modified to her father, would certainly produce his banishment from Ducie. As the betrothed of Miss Grandison, Miss Temple would abjure him; as the lover of Miss Temple, under any circumstances, Mr. Temple would reject him. In what light would he appear to Henrietta were he to dare to reveal the truth? Would she not look upon him as the unresisting libertine of the hour, engaging in levity her heart as he had already trifled with another’s? For that absorbing and overwhelming passion, pure, primitive, and profound, to which she now responded with an enthusiasm as fresh, as ardent, and as immaculate, she would only recognise the fleeting fancy of a vain and worldly spirit, eager to add another triumph to a long list of conquests, and proud of another evidence of his irresistible influence. What security was there for her that she too should not in turn be forgotten for another? that another eye should not shine brighter than hers, and another voice sound to his ear with a sweeter tone?
Oh, no! he dared not disturb and sully the bright flow of his present existence; he shrank from the fatal word that would dissolve the spell that enchanted them, and introduce all the calculating cares of a harsh world into the thoughtless Eden in which they now wandered. And, for her father, even if the sad engagement with Miss Grandison did not exist, with what front could Ferdinand solicit the hand of his daughter? What prospect could he hold out of worldly prosperity to the anxious consideration of a parent? Was he himself independent? Was he not worse than a beggar? Could he refer Mr. Temple to Sir Ratcliffe? Alas! it would be an insult to both! In the meantime, every hour Mr. Temple might return, or something reach the ear of Henrietta fatal to all his aspirations. Armine with all its cares, Bath with all its hopes; his melancholy father, his fond and sanguine mother, the tender-hearted Katherine, the devoted Glastonbury, all rose up before him, and crowded on his tortured imagination. In the agony of his mind he wished himself alone in the world: he sighed for some earthquake to swallow up Armine and all its fatal fortunes; and as for those parents, so affectionate and virtuous, and to whom he had hitherto been so dutiful and devoted, he turned from their idea with a sensation of weariness, almost of dislike.
He sat down on the trunk of a tree and buried his face in his hands. His reverie had lasted some time, when a gentle sound disturbed him. He looked up; it was Henrietta. She had driven over the common in her pony-chair and unattended. She was but a few steps from him; and as he looked up, he caught her fond smile. He sprang from his seat; he was at her side in an instant; his heart beat so tumultuously that he could not speak; all dark thoughts were forgotten; he seized with a trembling touch her extended hand, and gazed upon her with a glance of ecstasy. For, indeed, she looked so beautiful that it seemed to him he had never before done justice to her surpassing loveliness. There was a bloom upon her cheek, as upon some choice and delicate fruit; her violet eyes sparkled like gems; while the dimples played and quivered on her cheeks, as you may sometimes watch the sunbeam on the pure surface of fair water. Her countenance, indeed, was wreathed with smiles. She seemed the happiest thing on earth; the very personification of a poetic spring; lively, and fresh, and innocent; sparkling, and sweet, and soft. When he beheld her, Ferdinand was reminded of some gay bird, or airy antelope; she looked so bright and joyous!
‘He is to get in,’ said Henrietta with a smile, and drive her to their cottage. Have I not managed well to come alone? We shall have such a charming drive today.’
‘You are so beautiful!’ murmured Ferdinand.
‘I am content if you but think so. You did not hear me approach? What were you doing? Plunged in meditation? Now tell me truly, were you thinking of her?’
‘Indeed, I have no other thought. Oh, my Henrietta! you are so beautiful today. I cannot talk of anything but your beauty.’
‘And how did you sleep? Are you comfortable? I have brought you some flowers to make your room look pretty.’
They soon reached the farm-house. The good-wife seemed a little surprised when she observed her guest driving Miss Temple, but far more pleased. Henrietta ran into the house to see the children, spoke some kind words to the little maiden, and asked if their guest had breakfasted. Then, turning to Ferdinand, she said, ‘Have you forgotten that you are to give me a breakfast? It shall be in the porch. Is it not sweet and pretty? See, here are your flowers, and I have brought you some fruit.’
The breakfast was arranged. ‘But you do not play your part, sweet Henrietta,’ he said; ‘I cannot breakfast alone.’
She affected to share his repast, that he might partake of it; but, in truth, she only busied herself in arranging the flowers. Yet she conducted herself with so much dexterity, that Ferdinand had an opportunity of gratifying his appetite, without being placed in a position, awkward at all times, insufferable for a lover, that of eating in the presence of others who do not join you in the occupation.
‘Now,’ she suddenly said, sitting by his side, and placing a rose in his dress, ‘I have a little plan today, which I think will be quite delightful. You shall drive me to Armine.’
Ferdinand started. He thought of Glastonbury.
His miserable situation recurred to him. This was the bitter drop in the cup; yes! in the very plenitude of his rare felicity he expressed a pang. His confusion was not unobserved by Miss Temple; for she was very quick in her perception; but she could not comprehend it. It did not rest on her mind, particularly when Ferdinand assented to her proposition, but added, ‘I forgot that Armine is more interesting to you than to me. All my associations with Armine are painful. Ducie is my delight.’
‘Ah! my romance is at Armine; yours at Ducie. What we live among, we do not always value. And yet I love my home,’ she added, in a somewhat subdued, even serious tone; ‘all my associations with Ducie are sweet and pleasant. Will they always be so?’
She hit upon a key to which the passing thoughts of Ferdinand too completely responded, but he restrained the mood of his mind. As she grew grave, he affected cheerfulness. ‘My Henrietta must always be happy,’ he said, ‘at least, if her Ferdinand’s love can make her so.’
She did not reply, but she pressed his hand. Then, after a moment’s silence, she said, ‘My Ferdinand must not be low-spirited about dear Armine. I have confidence in our destiny; I see a happy, a very happy future.’
Who could resist so fair a prophet? Not the sanguine mind of the enamoured Ferdinand Armine. He drank inspiration from her smiles, and dwelt with delight on the tender accents of her animating sympathy. ‘I never shall be low-spirited with you,’ he replied; ‘you are my good genius. O Henrietta! what heaven it is to be together!’
‘I bless you for these words. We will not go to Armine today. Let us walk. And to speak the truth, for I am not ashamed of saying anything to you, it would be hardly discreet, perhaps, to be driving about the country in this guise. And yet,’ she added, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘what care I for what people say? O Ferdinand! I think only of you!’
That was a delicious ramble which these young and enamoured creatures took that sunny morn! The air was sweet, the earth was beautiful, and yet they were insensible to everything but their mutual love. Inexhaustible is the converse of fond hearts! A simple story, too, and yet there are so many ways of telling it!
‘How strange that we should have ever met!’ said Henrietta Temple.
‘Indeed, I think it most natural,’ said Ferdinand; ‘I will believe it the fulfilment of a happy destiny. For all that I have sighed for now I meet, and more, much more than my imagination could ever hope for.’
‘Only think of that morning drive,’ resumed Henrietta, ‘such a little time ago, and yet it seems an age! Let us believe in destiny, dear Ferdinand, or you must think of me, I fear, that which I would not wish.’
‘My own Henrietta, I can think of you only as the noblest and the sweetest of beings. My love is ever equalled by my gratitude!’
‘My Ferdinand, I had read of such feelings, but did not believe in them. I did not believe, at least, that they were reserved for me. And yet I have met many persons, and seen something more, much more than falls to the lot of women of my age. Believe me, indeed, my eye has hitherto been undazzled, and my heart untouched.’ He pressed her hand.
‘And then,’ she resumed, ‘in a moment; but it seemed not like common life. That beautiful wilderness, that ruinous castle! As I gazed around, I felt not as is my custom. I felt as if some fate were impending, as if my life and lot were bound up, as it were, with that strange and silent scene. And then he came forward, and I beheld him, so unlike all other men, so beautiful, so pensive! O Ferdinand! pardon me for loving you!’ and she gently turned her head, and hid her face on his breast.
‘Darling Henrietta,’ lowly breathed the enraptured lover, ‘best, and sweetest, and loveliest of women, your Ferdinand, at that moment, was not less moved than you were. Speechless and pale I had watched my Henrietta, and I felt that I beheld the being to whom I must dedicate my existence.’
‘I shall never forget the moment when I stood before the portrait of Sir Ferdinand. Do you know my heart was prophetic; I wanted not that confirmation of a strange conjecture. I felt that you must be an Armine. I had heard so much of your grandfather, so much of your family. I loved them for their glory, and for their lordly sorrows.’
‘Ah! my Henrietta, ’tis that alone which galls me. It is bitter to introduce my bride to our house of cares.’
‘You shall never think it so,’ she replied with animation. ‘I will prove a true Armine. Happier in the honour of that name, than in the most rich possessions! You do not know me yet. Your wife shall not disgrace you or your lineage. I have a spirit worthy of you, Ferdinand; at least, I dare to hope so. I can break, but I will not bend. We will wrestle together with all our cares; and my Ferdinand, animated by his Henrietta, shall restore the house.’
‘Alas! my noble-minded girl, I fear a severe trial awaits us. I can offer you only love.’
‘Is there anything else in this world?’
‘But, to bear you from a roof of luxury, where you have been cherished from your cradle, with all that ministers to the delicate delights of woman, to — oh! my Henrietta, you know not the disheartening and depressing burthen of domestic cares.’ His voice faltered as he recalled his melancholy father; and the disappointment, perhaps the destruction, that his passion was preparing for his roof.
‘There shall be no cares; I will endure everything; I will animate all. I have energy; indeed I have, my Ferdinand. I have, young as I may be, I have often inspirited, often urged on my father. Sometimes, he says, that had it not been for me, he would not have been what he is. He is my father, the best and kindest parent that ever loved his child; yet, what are fathers to you, my Ferdinand? and, if I could assist him, what may I not do for ———’
‘Alas! my Henrietta, we have no theatre for action. You forget our creed.’
‘It was the great Sir Ferdinand’s. He made a theatre.’
‘My Henrietta is ambitious,’ said Ferdinand, smiling.
‘Dearest, I would be content, nay! that is a weak phrase, I would, if the choice were in my power now to select a life most grateful to my views and feelings, choose some delightful solitude, even as Armine, and pass existence with no other aim but to delight you. But we were speaking of other circumstances. Such happiness, it is said, is not for us. And I wished to show you that I have a spirit that can struggle with adversity, and a soul prescient of overwhelming it.’
‘You have a spirit I reverence, and a soul I worship, nor is there a happier being in the world this moment than Ferdinand Armine. With such a woman as you every fate must be a triumph. You have touched upon a chord of my heart that has sounded before, though in solitude. It was but the wind that played on it before; but now that tone rings with a purpose. This is glorious sympathy. Let us leave Armine to its fate. I have a sword, and it shall go hard if I do not carve out a destiny worthy even of Henrietta Temple.’
THE communion of this day, of the spirit of which the conversation just noticed may convey an intimation, produced an inspiriting effect on the mind of Ferdinand. Love is inspiration; it encourages to great deeds, and develops the creative faculty of our nature. Few great men have flourished who, were they candid, would not acknowledge the vast advantages they have experienced in the earlier years of their career from the spirit and sympathy of woman. It is woman whose prescient admiration strings the lyre of the desponding poet whose genius is afterwards to be recognised by his race, and which often embalms the memory of the gentle mistress whose kindness solaced him in less glorious hours. How many an official portfolio would never have been carried, had it not been for her sanguine spirit and assiduous love! How many a depressed and despairing advocate has clutched the Great Seal, and taken his precedence before princes, borne onward by the breeze of her inspiring hope, and illumined by the sunshine of her prophetic smile! A female friend, amiable, clever, and devoted, is a possession more valuable than parks and palaces; and, without such a muse, few men can succeed in life, none be content.
The plans and aspirations of Henrietta had relieved Ferdinand from a depressing burthen. Inspired by her creative sympathy, a new scene opened to him, adorned by a magnificent perspective. His sanguine imagination sought refuge in a triumphant future. That love for which he had hitherto schooled his mind to sacrifice every worldly advantage appeared suddenly to be transformed into the very source of earthly success. Henrietta Temple was to be the fountain, not only of his bliss, but of his prosperity. In the revel of his audacious fancy he seemed, as it were, by a beautiful retribution, to be already rewarded for having devoted, with such unhesitating readiness, his heart upon the altar of disinterested affection. Lying on his cottage-couch, he indulged in dazzling visions; he wandered in strange lands with his beautiful companion, and offered at her feet the quick rewards of his unparalleled achievements.
Recurring to his immediate situation, he resolved to lose no time in bringing his affairs to a crisis. He was even working himself up to his instant departure, solaced by the certainty of his immediate return, when the arrival of his servant announced to him that Glastonbury had quitted Armine on one of those antiquarian rambles to which he was accustomed. Gratified that it was now in his power to comply with the wish of Henrietta to visit his home, and perhaps, in truth, not very much mortified that so reasonable an excuse had arisen for the postponement of his intended departure, Ferdinand instantly rose, and as speedily as possible took his way to Ducie.
He found Henrietta in the garden. He had arrived, perhaps, earlier than he was expected; yet what joy to see him! And when he himself proposed an excursion to Armine, her grateful smile melted his very heart. Indeed, Ferdinand this morning was so gay and light-hearted, that his excessive merriment might almost have been as suspicious as his passing gloom the previous day. Not less tender and fond than before, his sportive fancy indulged in infinite expressions of playful humour and delicate pranks of love. When he first recognised her gathering a nosegay, too, for him, himself unobserved, he stole behind her on tiptoe, and suddenly clasping her delicate waist, and raising her gently in the air, ‘Well, lady-bird,’ he exclaimed, ‘I, too, will pluck a flower!’
Ah! when she turned round her beautiful face, full of charming confusion, and uttered a faint cry of fond astonishment, as she caught his bright glance, what happiness was Ferdinand Armine’s, as he felt this enchanting creature was his, and pressed to his bosom her noble and throbbing form!
‘Perhaps this time next year, we may be travelling on mules,’ said Ferdinand, as he flourished his whip, and the little pony trotted along. Henrietta smiled. ‘And then,’ continued he, ‘we shall remember our pony-chair that we turn up our noses at now. Donna Henrietta, jogged to death over dull vegas, and picking her way across rocky sierras, will be a very different person from Miss Temple, of Ducie Bower. I hope you will not be very irritable, my child; and pray vent your spleen upon your muleteer, and not upon your husband.’
‘Now, Ferdinand, how can you be so ridiculous?’
‘Oh! I have no doubt I shall have to bear all the blame. “You brought me here,” it will be: “Ungrateful man, is this your love? not even post-horses!”’
‘As for that,’ said Henrietta, ‘perhaps we shall have to walk. I can fancy ourselves, you with an Andalusian jacket, a long gun, and, I fear, a cigar; and I with all the baggage.’
‘Children and all,’ added Ferdinand.
Miss Temple looked somewhat demure, turned away her face a little, but said nothing.
‘But what think you of Vienna, sweetest?’ enquired Ferdinand in a more serious tone; ‘upon my honour, I think we might do great things there. A regiment and a chamberlainship at the least!’
‘In mountains or in cities I shall be alike content, provided you be my companion,’ replied Miss Temple.
Ferdinand let go the reins, and dropped his whip. ‘My Henrietta,’ he exclaimed, looking in her face, ‘what an angel you are!’
This visit to Armine was so delightful to Miss Temple; she experienced so much gratification in wandering about the park and over the old castle, and gazing on Glastonbury’s tower, and wondering when she should see him, and talking to her Ferdinand about every member of his family, that Captain Armine, unable to withstand the irresistible current, postponed from day to day his decisive visit to Bath, and, confident in the future, would not permit his soul to be the least daunted by any possible conjuncture of ill fortune. A week, a whole happy week glided away, and spent almost entirely at Armine. Their presence there was scarcely noticed by the single female servant who remained; and, if her curiosity had been excited, she possessed no power of communicating it into Somersetshire. Besides, she was unaware that her young master was nominally in London. Sometimes an hour was snatched by Henrietta from roaming in the pleasaunce, and interchanging vows of mutual love and admiration, to the picture-gallery, where she had already commenced a miniature copy of the portrait of the great Sir Ferdinand. As the sun set they departed in their little equipage. Ferdinand wrapped his Henrietta in his fur cloak, for the autumn dews began to rise, and, thus protected, the journey of ten miles was ever found too short. It is the habit of lovers, however innocent their passion, to grow every day less discreet; for every day their almost constant companionship becomes more a necessity. Miss Temple had almost unconsciously contrived at first that Captain Armine, in the absence of her father, should not be observed too often at Ducie; but now Ferdinand drove her home every evening, and drank tea at the Bower, and the evening closed with music and song. Each night he crossed over the common to his farmhouse more fondly and devotedly in love.
One morning at Armine, Henrietta being alone in the gallery busied with her drawing, Ferdinand having left her for a moment to execute some slight commission for her, she heard some one enter, and, looking up to catch his glance of love, she beheld a venerable man, of a mild and benignant appearance, and dressed in black, standing, as if a little surprised, at some distance. Herself not less confused, she nevertheless bowed, and the gentleman advanced with hesitation, and with a faint blush returned her salute, and apologised for his intrusion. ‘He thought Captain Armine might be there.’
‘He was here but this moment,’ replied Miss Temple; ‘and doubtless will instantly return.’ Then she turned to her drawing with a trembling hand.
‘I perceive, madam,’ said the gentleman, advancing and speaking in a soft and engaging tone, while looking at her labour with a mingled air of diffidence and admiration, ‘that you are a fine artist.’
‘My wish to excel may have assisted my performance,’ replied Miss Temple.
‘You are copying the portrait of a very extraordinary personage,’ said the stranger.
‘Do you think that it is like Captain Armine?’ enquired Miss Temple with some hesitation.
‘It is always so considered,’ replied the stranger. Henrietta’s hand faltered; she looked at the door of the gallery, then at the portrait; never was she yet so anxious for the reappearance of Ferdinand. There was a silence which she was compelled to break, for the stranger was both mute and motionless, and scarcely more assured than herself.
‘Captain Armine will be here immediately, I have no doubt.’
The stranger bowed. ‘If I might presume to criticise so finished a performance,’ he remarked, ‘I should say that you had conveyed, madam, a more youthful character than the original presents.’
Henrietta did not venture to confess that such was her intention. She looked again at the door, mixed some colour, and then cleared it immediately off her palette. ‘What a beautiful gallery is this!’ she exclaimed, as she changed her brush, which was, however, without a fault.
‘It is worthy of Armine,’ said the stranger.
‘Indeed there is no place so interesting,’ said Miss Temple.
‘It pleases me to hear it praised,’ said the stranger.
‘You are well acquainted with it?’ enquired Miss Temple.
‘I have the happiness to live here,’ said the stranger.
‘I am not then mistaken in believing that I speak to Mr. Glastonbury.’
‘Indeed, madam, that is my name,’ replied the gentleman; ‘I fancy we have often heard of each other. This a most unexpected meeting, madam, but for that reason not less delightful. I have myself just returned from a ramble of some days, and entered the gallery little aware that the family had arrived. You met, I suppose, my Ferdinand on the road. Ah! you wonder, perhaps, at my familiar expression, madam. He has been my Ferdinand so many years, that I cannot easily school myself no longer to style him so. But I am aware that there are now other claims ———’
‘My dearest Glastonbury,’ exclaimed Ferdinand Armine, starting as he reentered the gallery, and truly in as great a fright as a man could well be, who perhaps, but a few hours ago, was to conquer in Spain or Germany. At the same time, pale and eager, and talking with excited rapidity, he embraced his tutor, and scrutinised the countenance of Henrietta to ascertain whether his fatal secret had been discovered.
That countenance was fond, and, if not calm, not more confused than the unexpected appearance under the circumstances might account for. ‘You have often heard me mention Mr. Glastonbury,’ he said, addressing himself to Henrietta. ‘Let me now have the pleasure of making you acquainted. My oldest, my best friend, my second father; an admirable artist, too, I can assure you. He is qualified to decide even upon your skill. And when did you arrive, my dearest friend? and where have you been? Our old haunts? Many sketches? What abbey have you explored, what antique treasures have you discovered? I have such a fine addition for your herbal! The Barbary cactus, just what you wanted; I found it in my volume of Shelley; and beautifully dried, beautifully; it will quite charm you. What do you think of this drawing? Is it not beautiful? quite the character, is it not?’ Ferdinand paused for lack of breath.
‘I was just observing as you entered,’ said Glastonbury, very quietly, ‘to Miss ———’
‘I have several letters for you,’ said Ferdinand, interrupting him, and trembling from head to foot lest he might say Miss Grandison. ‘Do you know you are just the person I wanted to see? How fortunate that you should just arrive! I was annoyed to find you were away. I cannot tell you how much I was annoyed!’
‘Your dear parents?’ enquired Glastonbury.
‘Are quite well,’ said Ferdinand, ‘perfectly well. They will be so glad to see you, so very glad. They do so long to see you, my dearest Glastonbury. You cannot imagine how they long to see you.’
‘I shall find them within, think you?’ enquired Glastonbury.
‘Oh! they are not here,’ said Ferdinand; ‘they have not yet arrived. I expect them every day. Every day I expect them. I have prepared everything for them, everything. What a wonderful autumn it has been!’
And Glastonbury fell into the lure and talked about the weather, for he was learned in the seasons, and prophesied by many circumstances a hard winter. While he was thus conversing, Ferdinand extracted from Henrietta that Glastonbury had not been in the gallery more than a very few minutes; and he felt assured that nothing fatal had transpired. All this time Ferdinand was reviewing his painful situation with desperate rapidity and prescience. All that he aspired to now was that Henrietta should quit Armine in as happy ignorance as she had arrived: as for Glastonbury, Ferdinand cared not what he might suspect, or ultimately discover. These were future evils that subsided into insignificance compared with any discovery on the part of Miss Temple.
Comparatively composed, Ferdinand now suggested to Henrietta to quit her drawing, which indeed was so advanced that it might be finished at Ducie; and, never leaving her side, and watching every look, and hanging on every accent of his old tutor, he even ventured to suggest that they should visit the tower. The proposal, he thought, might lull any suspicion that might have been excited on the part of Miss Temple. Glastonbury expressed his gratification at the suggestion, and they quitted the gallery, and entered the avenue of beech trees.
‘I have heard so much of your tower, Mr. Glastonbury,’ said Miss Temple, ‘I am sensible, I assure you, of the honour of being admitted.’
The extreme delicacy that was a characteristic of Glastonbury preserved Ferdinand Armine from the dreaded danger. It never for an instant entered Glastonbury’s mind that Henrietta was not Miss Grandi–He thought it a little extraordinary, indeed, that she should arrive at Armine only in the company of Ferdinand; but much might be allowed to plighted lovers; besides, there might be some female companion, some aunt or cousin, for aught he knew, at the Place. It was only his parents that Ferdinand had said had not yet arrived. At all events, he felt at this moment that Ferdinand, perhaps, even because he was alone with his intended bride, had no desire that any formal introduction or congratulations should take place; and only pleased that the intended wife of his pupil should be one so beautiful, so gifted, and so gracious, one apparently so worthy in every way of his choice and her lot, Glastonbury relapsed into his accustomed ease and simplicity, and exerted himself to amuse the young lady with whom he had become so unexpectedly acquainted, and with whom, in all probability, it was his destiny in future to be so intimate. As for Henrietta, nothing had occurred in any way to give rise to the slightest suspicion in her mind. The agitation of Ferdinand at this unexpected meeting between his tutor and his betrothed was in every respect natural. Their engagement, as she knew, was at present a secret to all; and although, under such circumstances, she herself at first was disposed not to feel very much at her ease, still she was so well acquainted with Mr. Glastonbury from report, and he was so unlike the common characters of the censorious world, that she was, from the first, far less annoyed than she otherwise would have been, and soon regained her usual composure, and was even gratified and amused with the adventure.
A load, however, fell from the heart of Ferdinand, when he and his beloved bade Glastonbury a good afternoon. This accidental and almost fatal interview terribly reminded him of his difficult and dangerous position; it seemed the commencement of a series of misconceptions, mortifications, and misfortunes, which it was absolutely necessary to prevent by instantly arresting them with the utmost energy and decision. It was bitter to quit Armine and all his joys, but in truth the arrival of his family was very doubtful: and, until the confession of his real situation was made, every day might bring some disastrous discovery. Some ominous clouds in the horizon formed a capital excuse for hurrying Henrietta off to Ducie. They quitted Armine at an unusually early hour. As they drove along, Ferdinand revolved in his mind the adventure of the morning, and endeavoured to stimulate himself to the exertion of instantly repairing to Bath. But he had not courage to confide his purpose to Henrietta. When, however, they arrived at Ducie, they were welcomed with intelligence which rendered the decision, on his part, absolutely necessary. But we will reserve this for the next chapter.
MISS TEMPLE had run up stairs to take off her bonnet; Ferdinand stood before the wood fire in the salon. Its clear, fragrant flame was agreeable after the cloudy sky of their somewhat chill drive. He was musing over the charms of his Henrietta, and longing for her reappearance, when she entered; but her entrance filled him with alarm. She was pale, her lips nearly as white as her forehead. An expression of dread was impressed on her agitated countenance. Ere he could speak she held forth her hand to his extended grasp. It was cold, it trembled.
‘Good God! you are ill!’ he exclaimed. ‘No!’ she faintly murmured, ‘not ill.’ And then she paused, as if stifled, leaning down her head with eyes fixed upon the ground.
The conscience of Ferdinand pricked him. Had she heard ———
But he was reassured by her accents of kindness. ‘Pardon me, dearest,’ she said; ‘I am agitated; I shall soon be better.’
He held her hand with firmness while she leant upon his shoulder. After a few minutes of harrowing silence, she said in a smothered voice, ‘Papa returns tomorrow.’
Ferdinand turned as pale as she; the blood fled to his heart, his frame trembled, his knees tottered, his passive hand scarcely retained hers; he could not speak. All the possible results of this return flashed across his mind, and presented themselves in terrible array to his alarmed imagination. He could not meet Mr. Temple; that was out of the question. Some explanation must immediately and inevitably ensue, and that must precipitate the fatal discovery. The great object was to prevent any communication between Mr. Temple and Sir Ratcliffe before Ferdinand had broken his situation to his father. How he now wished he had not postponed his departure for Bath! Had he only quitted Armine when first convinced of the hard necessity, the harrowing future would now have been the past, the impending scenes, however dreadful, would have ensued; perhaps he might have been at Ducie at this moment, with a clear conscience and a frank purpose, and with no difficulties to overcome but those which must necessarily arise from Mr. Temple’s natural consideration for the welfare of his child. These, however difficult to combat, seemed light in comparison with the perplexities of his involved situation. Ferdinand bore Henrietta to a seat, and hung over her in agitated silence, which she ascribed only to his sympathy for her distress, but which, in truth, was rather to be attributed to his own uncertain purpose, and to the confusion of an invention which he now ransacked for desperate expedients.
While he was thus revolving in his mind the course which he must now pursue, he sat down on the ottoman on which her feet rested, and pressed her hand to his lips while he summoned to his aid all the resources of his imagination. It at length appeared to him that the only mode by which he could now gain time, and secure himself from dangerous explanations, was to involve Henrietta in a secret engagement. There was great difficulty, he was aware, in accomplishing this purpose. Miss Temple was devoted to her father; and though for a moment led away, by the omnipotent influence of an irresistible passion, to enter into a compact without the sanction of her parent, her present agitation too clearly indicated her keen sense that she had not conducted herself towards him in her accustomed spirit of unswerving and immaculate duty; that, if not absolutely indelicate, her behaviour must appear to him very inconsiderate, very rash, perhaps even unfeeling. Unfeeling! What, to that father, that fond and widowed father, of whom she was the only and cherished child! All his goodness, all his unceasing care, all his anxiety, his ready sympathy, his watchfulness for her amusement, her comfort, her happiness, his vigilance in her hours of sickness, his pride in her beauty, her accomplishments, her affection, the smiles and tears of long, long years, all passed before her, till at last she released herself with a quick movement from the hold of Ferdinand, and, clasping her hands together, burst into a sigh so bitter, so profound, so full of anguish, that Ferdinand started from his seat.
‘Henrietta!’ he exclaimed, ‘my beloved Henrietta!’
‘Leave me,’ she replied, in a tone almost of sternness.
He rose and walked up and down the room, overpowered by contending emotions. The severity of her voice, that voice that hitherto had fallen upon his ear like the warble of a summer bird, filled him with consternation. The idea of having offended her, of having seriously offended her, of being to her, to Henrietta, to Henrietta, that divinity to whom his idolatrous fancy clung with such rapturous devotion, in whose very smiles and accents it is no exaggeration to say he lived and had his being, the idea of being to her, even for a transient moment, an object of repugnance, seemed something too terrible for thought, too intolerable for existence. All his troubles, all his cares, all his impending sorrows, vanished into thin air, compared with this unforeseen and sudden visitation. Oh! what was future evil, what was tomorrow, pregnant as it might be with misery, compared with the quick agony of the instant? So long as she smiled, every difficulty appeared surmountable; so long as he could listen to her accents of tenderness, there was no dispensation with which he could not struggle. Come what may, throned in the palace of her heart, he was a sovereign who might defy the world in arms; but, thrust from that great seat, he was a fugitive without a hope, an aim, a desire; dull, timid, exhausted, broken-hearted!
And she had bid him leave her. Leave her! Henrietta Temple had bid him leave her! Did he live? Was this the same world in which a few hours back he breathed, and blessed his God for breathing? What had happened? What strange event, what miracle had occurred, to work this awful, this portentous change? Why, if she had known all, if she had suddenly shared that sharp and perpetual woe ever gnawing at his own secret heart, even amid his joys; if he had revealed to her, if anyone had betrayed to her his distressing secret, could she have said more? Why, it was to shun this, it was to spare himself this horrible catastrophe, that he had involved himself in his agonising, his inextricable difficulties. Inextricable they must be now; for where, now, was the inspiration that before was to animate him to such great exploits? How could he struggle any longer with his fate? How could he now carve out a destiny? All that remained for him now was to die; and, in the madness of his sensations, death seemed to him the most desirable consummation.
The temper of a lover is exquisitely sensitive. Mortified and miserable, at any other time Ferdinand, in a fit of harassed love, might have instantly quitted the presence of a mistress who had treated him with such unexpected and such undeserved harshness. But the thought of the morrow, the mournful conviction that this was the last opportunity for their undisturbed communion, the recollection that, at all events, their temporary separation was impending; all these considerations had checked his first impulse. Besides, it must not be concealed that more than once it occurred to him that it was utterly impossible to permit Henrietta to meet her father in her present mood. With her determined spirit and strong emotions, and her difficulty of concealing her feelings; smarting, too, under the consciousness of having parted with Ferdinand in anger, and of having treated him with injustice; and, therefore, doubly anxious to bring affairs to a crisis, a scene in all probability would instantly ensue; and Ferdinand recoiled at present from the consequences of any explanations.
Unhappy Ferdinand! It seemed to him that he had never known misery before. He wrung his hands in despair; his mind seemed to desert him. Suddenly he stopped; he looked at Henrietta; her face was still pale, her eyes fixed upon the decaying embers of the fire, her attitude unchanged. Either she was unconscious of his presence, or she did not choose to recognise it. What were her thoughts?
Still of her father? Perhaps she contrasted that fond and faithful friend of her existence, to whom she owed such an incalculable debt of gratitude, with the acquaintance of the hour, to whom, in a moment of insanity, she had pledged the love that could alone repay it. Perhaps, in the spirit of self-torment, she conjured up against this too successful stranger all the menacing spectres of suspicion, distrust, and deceit; recalled to her recollection the too just and too frequent tales of man’s impurity and ingratitude; and tortured herself by her own apparition, the merited victim of his harshness, his neglect, or his desertion. And when she had at the same time both shocked and alarmed her fancy by these distressful and degrading images, exhausted by these imaginary vexations, and eager for consolation in her dark despondency, she may have recurred to the yet innocent cause of her sorrow and apprehension, and perhaps accused herself of cruelty and injustice for visiting on his head the mere consequences of her own fitful and morbid temper. She may have recalled his unvarying tenderness, his unceasing admiration; she may have recollected those impassioned accents that thrilled her heart, those glances of rapturous affection that fixed her eye with fascination. She may have conjured up that form over which of late she had mused in a trance of love, that form bright with so much beauty, beaming with so many graces, adorned with so much intelligence, and hallowed by every romantic association that could melt the heart or mould the spirit of woman; she may have conjured up this form, that was the god of her idolatry, and rushed again to the altar in an ecstasy of devotion.
The shades of evening were fast descending, the curtains of the chamber were not closed, the blaze of the fire had died away. The flickering light fell upon the solemn countenance of Henrietta Temple, now buried in the shade, now transiently illumined by the fitful flame.
On a sudden he advanced, with a step too light even to be heard, knelt at her side, and, not venturing to touch her hand, pressed his lips to her arm, and with streaming eyes, and in a tone of plaintive tenderness, murmured, ‘What have I done?’
She turned, her eyes met his, a wild expression of fear, surprise, delight, played over hen countenance; then, bursting into tears, she threw her arms round his neck, and hid her face upon his breast.
He did not disturb this effusion of her suppressed emotions. His throbbing heart responded to her tumultuous soul. At length, when the strength of her passionate affections had somewhat decreased, when the convulsive sobs had subsided into gentle sighs, and ever and anon he felt the pressure of her sweet lips sealing her remorseful love and her charming repentance upon his bosom, he dared to say, ‘Oh! my Henrietta, you did not doubt your Ferdinand?’
‘Dearest Ferdinand, you are too good, too kind, too faultless, and I am very wicked.’
Taking her hand and covering it with kisses, he said in a distinct, but very low voice, ‘Now tell me, why were you unhappy?’
‘Papa,’ sighed Henrietta, ‘dearest papa, that the day should come when I should grieve to meet him!’
‘And why should my darling grieve?’ said Ferdinand.
‘I know not; I ask myself, what have I done? what have I to fear? It is no crime to love; it may be a misfortune; God knows that I have almost felt to-night that such it was. But no, I never will believe it can be either wrong or unhappy to love you.’
‘Bless you, for such sweet words,’ replied Ferdinand. ‘If my heart can make you happy, felicity shall be your lot.’
‘It is my lot. I am happy, quite happy, and grateful for my happiness.’
‘And your father-our father, let me call him [she pressed his hand when he said this]— he will be happy too?’
‘So I would hope.’
‘If the fulfilment of my duty can content him,’ continued Ferdinand, ‘Mr. Temple shall not repent his son-in-law.’
‘Oh! do not call him Mr. Temple; call him father. I love to hear you call him father.’
‘Then what alarms my child?’
‘I hardly know,’ said Henrietta in a hesitating tone. ‘I think — I think it is the suddenness of all this. He has gone, he comes again; he went, he returns; and all has happened. So short a time, too, Ferdinand. It is a life to us; to him, I fear,’ and she hid her face, ‘it is only ——— a fortnight.’
‘We have seen more of each other, and known more of each other, in this fortnight, than we might have in an acquaintance which had continued a life.’
‘That’s true, that’s very true. We feel this, Ferdinand, because we know it. But papa will not feel like us: we cannot expect him to feel like us. He does not know my Ferdinand as I know him. Papa, too, though the dearest, kindest, fondest father that ever lived, though he has no thought but for my happiness and lives only for his daughter, papa naturally is not so young as we are. He is, too, what is called a man of the world. He has seen a great deal; he has formed his opinions of men and life. We cannot expect that he will change them in your, I mean in our favour. Men of the world are of the world, worldly. I do not think they are always right; I do not myself believe in their infallibility. There is no person more clever and more judicious than papa. No person is more considerate. But there are characters so rare, that men of the world do not admit them into their general calculations, and such is yours, Ferdinand.’
Here Ferdinand seemed plunged in thought, but he pressed her hand, though he said nothing.
‘He will think we have known each other too short a time,’ continued Miss Temple. ‘He will be mortified, perhaps alarmed, when I inform him I am no longer his.’
‘Then do not inform him,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Let me inform him,’ continued Ferdinand, giving another turn to his meaning, and watching her countenance with an unfaltering eye.
‘Dearest Ferdinand, always prepared to bear every burthen!’ exclaimed Miss Temple. ‘How generous and good you are! No, it would be better for me to speak first to my father. My soul, I will never have a secret from you, and you, I am sure, will never have one from your Henrietta. This is the truth; I do not repent the past, I glory in it; I am yours, and I am proud to be yours. Were the past to be again acted, I would not falter. But I cannot conceal from myself that, so far as my father is concerned, I have not conducted myself towards him with frankness, with respect, or with kindness. There is no fault in loving you. Even were he to regret, he could not blame such an occurrence: but he will regret, he will blame, he has a right both to regret and blame, my doing more than love you — my engagement — without his advice, his sanction, his knowledge, or even his suspicion!’
‘You take too refined a view of our situation,’ replied Ferdinand. ‘Why should you not spare your father the pain of such a communication, if painful it would be? What has passed is between ourselves, and ought to be between ourselves. If I request his permission to offer you my hand, and he yields his consent, is not that ceremony enough?’
‘I have never concealed anything from papa,’ said Henrietta, ‘but I will be guided by you.’
‘Leave, then, all to me,’ said Ferdinand; ‘be guided but by the judgment of your own Ferdinand, my Henrietta, and believe me all will go right. I will break this intelligence to your father. So we will settle it?’ he continued enquiringly.
‘It shall be so.’
‘Then arises the question,’ said Ferdinand, ‘when it would be most advisable for me to make the communication. Now your father, Henrietta, who is a man of the world, will of course expect that, when I do make it, I shall be prepared to speak definitely to him upon all matters of business. He will think, otherwise, that I am trifling with him. To go and request of a man like your father, a shrewd, experienced man of the world like Mr. Temple, permission to marry his daughter, without showing to him that I am prepared with the means of maintaining a family, is little short of madness. He would be offended with me, he would be prejudiced against me. I must, therefore, settle something first with Sir Ratcliffe.
Much, you know, unfortunately, I cannot offer your father; but still, sweet love, there must at least be an appearance of providence and management. We must not disgust your father with our union.’
‘Oh! how can he be disgusted?’
‘Dear one! This, then, is what I propose; that, as tomorrow we must comparatively be separated, I should take advantage of the next few days, and get to Bath, and bring affairs to some arrangement. Until my return I would advise you to say nothing to your father.’
‘How can I live under the same roof with him, under such circumstances?’ exclaimed Miss Temple; ‘how can I meet his eye, how can I speak to him with the consciousness of a secret engagement, with the recollection that, all the time he is lavishing his affection upon me, my heart is yearning for another, and that, while he is laying plans of future companionship, I am meditating, perhaps, an eternal separation!’
‘Sweet Henrietta, listen to me one moment. Suppose I had quitted you last night for Bath, merely for this purpose, as indeed we had once thought of, and that your father had arrived at Ducie before I had returned to make my communication: would you style your silence, under such circumstances, a secret engagement? No, no, dear love; this is an abuse of terms. It would be a delicate consideration for a parent’s feelings.’
‘O Ferdinand! would we were united, and had no cares!’
‘You would not consider our projected union a secret engagement, if, after passing tomorrow with your father, you expected me on the next day to communicate to him our position. Is it any more a secret engagement because six or seven days are to elapse before this communication takes place, instead of one? My Henrietta is indeed fighting with shadows!’
‘Ferdinand, I cannot reason like you; but I feel unhappy when I think of this.’
‘Dearest Henrietta! feel only that you are loved. Think, darling, the day will come when we shall smile at all these cares. All will flow smoothly yet, and we shall all yet live at Armine, Mr. Temple and all.’
‘Papa likes you so much too, Ferdinand, I should be miserable if you offended him.’
‘Which I certainly should do if I were not to speak to Sir Ratcliffe first.’
‘Do you, indeed, think so?’
‘Indeed I am certain.’
‘But cannot you write to Sir Ratcliffe, Ferdinand? Must you really go? Must we, indeed, be separated? I cannot believe it; it is inconceivable; it is impossible; I cannot endure it.’
‘It is, indeed, terrible,’ said Ferdinand. ‘This consideration alone reconciles me to the necessity: I know my father well; his only answer to a communication of this kind would be an immediate summons to his side. Now, is it not better that this meeting should take place when we must necessarily be much less together than before, than at a later period, when we may, perhaps, be constant companions with the sanction of our parents?’
‘O Ferdinand! you reason, I only feel.’
Such an observation from one’s mistress is rather a reproach than a compliment. It was made, in the present instance, to a man whose principal characteristic was, perhaps, a too dangerous susceptibility; a man of profound and violent passions, yet of a most sweet and tender temper; capable of deep reflection, yet ever acting from the impulse of sentiment, and ready at all times to sacrifice every consideration to his heart. The prospect of separation from Henrietta, for however short a period, was absolute agony to him; he found difficulty in conceiving existence without the influence of her perpetual presence: their parting even for the night was felt by him as an onerous deprivation. The only process, indeed, that could at present prepare and console him for the impending sorrow would have been the frank indulgence of the feelings which it called forth. Yet behold him, behold this unhappy victim of circumstances, forced to deceive, even for her happiness, the being whom he idolised; compelled, at this hour of anguish, to bridle his heart, lest he should lose for a fatal instant his command over his head; and, while he was himself conscious that not in the wide world, perhaps, existed a man who was sacrificing more for his mistress, obliged to endure, even from her lips, a remark which seemed to impute to him a deficiency of feeling. And yet it was too much; he covered his eyes with his hand, and said, in a low and broken voice, ‘Alas! my Henrietta, if you knew all, you would not say this!’
‘My Ferdinand,’ she exclaimed, touched by that tender and melancholy tone, ‘why, what is this? you weep! What have I said, what done? Dearest Ferdinand, do not do this.’ And she threw herself on her knees before him, and looked up into his face with scrutinising affection.
He bent down his head, and pressed his lips to her forehead. ‘O Henrietta!’ he exclaimed, ‘we have been so happy!’
‘And shall be so, my own. Doubt not my word, all will go right. I am so sorry, I am so miserable, that I made you unhappy to-night. I shall think of it when you are gone. I shall remember how naughty I was. It was so wicked, so very, very wicked; and he was so good.’
‘Gone! what a dreadful word! And shall we not be together tomorrow, Henrietta? Oh! what a morrow! Think of me, dearest. Do not let me for a moment escape from your memory.’
‘Tell me exactly your road; let me know exactly where you will be at every hour; write to me on the road; if it be only a line, only a little word; only his dear name; only Ferdinand!’
‘And how shall I write to you? Shall I direct to you here?’
Henrietta looked perplexed. ‘Papa opens the bag every morning, and every morning you must write, or I shall die. Ferdinand, what is to be done’?’
‘I will direct to you at the post-office. You must send for your letters.’
‘I tremble. Believe me, it will be noticed. It will look so — so — so — clandestine.’
‘I will direct them to your maid. She must be our confidante.’
”Tis only for a week.’
‘O Ferdinand! Love teaches us strange things.’
‘My darling, believe me, it is wise and well. Think how desolate we should be without constant correspondence. As for myself, I shall write to you every hour, and, unless I hear from you as often, I shall believe only in evil!’
‘Let it be as you wish. God knows my heart is pure. I pretend no longer to regulate my destiny. I am yours, Ferdinand. Be you responsible for all that affects my honour or my heart.’
‘A precious trust, my Henrietta, and dearer to me than all the glory of my ancestors.’
The clock sounded eleven. Miss Temple rose. ‘It is so late, and we in darkness here! What will they think? Ferdinand, sweetest, rouse the fire. I ring the bell. Lights will come, and then ———’ Her voice faltered.
‘And then ———’ echoed Ferdinand. He took up his guitar, but he could not command his voice.
”Tis your guitar,’ said Henrietta; ‘I am happy that it is left behind.’
The servant entered with lights, drew the curtains, renewed the fire, arranged the room, and withdrew.
‘Little knows he our misery,’ said Henrietta. ‘It seemed strange, when I felt my own mind, that there could be anything so calm and mechanical in the world.’
Ferdinand was silent. He felt that the hour of departure had indeed arrived, yet he had not courage to move. Henrietta, too, did not speak. She reclined on the sofa, as it were, exhausted, and placed her handkerchief over her face. Ferdinand leant over the fire. He was nearly tempted to give up his project, confess all to his father by letter, and await his decision. Then he conjured up the dreadful scenes at Bath, and then he remembered that, at all events, tomorrow he must not appear at Ducie. ‘Henrietta!’ he at length said.
‘A minute, Ferdinand, yet a minute,’ she exclaimed in an excited tone; ‘do not speak, I am preparing myself.’
He remained in his leaning posture; and in a few moments Miss Temple rose and said, ‘Now, Ferdinand, I am ready.’ He looked round. Her countenance was quite pale, but fixed and calm.
‘Let us embrace,’ she said, ‘but let us say nothing.’
He pressed her to his arms. She trembled. He imprinted a thousand kisses on her cold lips; she received them with no return. Then she said in a low voice, ‘Let me leave the room first;’ and, giving him one kiss upon his forehead, Henrietta Temple disappeared.
When Ferdinand with a sinking heart and a staggering step quitted Ducie, he found the night so dark that it was with extreme difficulty he traced, or rather groped, his way through the grove. The absolute necessity of watching every step he took in some degree diverted his mind from his painful meditations. The atmosphere of the wood was so close, that he congratulated himself when he had gained its skirts; but just as he was about to emerge upon the common, and was looking forward to the light of some cottage as his guide in this gloomy wilderness, a flash of lightning that seemed to cut the sky in twain, and to descend like a flight of fiery steps from the highest heavens to the lowest earth, revealed to him for a moment the whole broad bosom of the common, and showed to him that nature to-night was as disordered and perturbed as his own heart. A clap of thunder, that might have been the herald of Doomsday, woke the cattle from their slumbers. They began to moan and low to the rising wind, and cluster under the trees, that sent forth with their wailing branches sounds scarcely less dolorous and wild. Avoiding the woods, and striking into the most open part of the country, Ferdinand watched the progress of the tempest.
For the wind had now risen to such a height that the leaves and branches of the trees were carried about in vast whirls and eddies, while the waters of the lake, where in serener hours Ferdinand was accustomed to bathe, were lifted out of their bed, and inundated the neighbouring settlements. Lights were now seen moving in the cottages, and then the forked lightning, pouring down at the same time from opposite quarters of the sky, exposed with an awful distinctness, and a fearful splendour, the wide-spreading scene of danger and devastation.
Now descended the rain in such overwhelming torrents, that it was as if a waterspout had burst, and Ferdinand gasped for breath beneath its oppressive power; while the blaze of the variegated lightning, the crash of the thunder, and the roar of the wind, all simultaneously in movement, indicated the fulness of the storm. Succeeded then that strange lull that occurs in the heart of a tempest, when the unruly and disordered elements pause, as it were, for breath, and seem to concentrate their energies for an increased and final explosion. It came at last; and the very earth seemed to rock in the passage of the hurricane.
Exposed to all the awful chances of the storm, one solitary being alone beheld them without terror. The mind of Ferdinand Armine grew calm, as nature became more disturbed. He moralised amid the whirlwind. He contrasted the present tumult and distraction with the sweet and beautiful serenity which the same scene had presented when, a short time back, he first beheld it. His love, too, had commenced in stillness and in sunshine; was it, also, to end in storm and in destruction?
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49